About General Stephen Watts Kearny
Stephen Watts Kearny (pronounced /ˈkɑrni/ KAR-nee; surname also appears as Kearney in some historic sources (August 30, 1794 – October 31, 1848), was one of the foremost antebellum frontier officers of the United States Army. He is remembered for his significant contributions in the Mexican-American War, especially the conquest of California. The Kearny code, which sought to govern government behavior toward Californios, was named after him.
Kearny was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Philip Kearny, Sr. and Susanna Watts. His maternal grandparents were the wealthy merchant Robert Watts of New York and Mary Alexander, the daughter of Major General "Lord Sterling" William Alexander and Sarah "Lady Sterling" Livingston of American Revolutionary War fame. Stephen Watts Kearny went to public schools. After high school, he attended Columbia University in New York City for two years. He joined the New York Militia soon after he left school, setting the course of the rest of his life.
In the late 1820s after his career was established, Kearny met, courted and married Mary Radford, the stepdaughter of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The couple had eleven children, of whom several died in childhood.
Kearny served as a First Lieutenant in the War of 1812, and at the end of the war, he chose to remain in the US Army. He was assigned to the western frontier under command of Gen. Henry Atkinson. In 1819, he was a member of the expedition to explore the Yellowstone River in present-day Montana and Wyoming. The 1819 expedition journeyed only as far as present-day Nebraska, where it established Cantonment Missouri, later renamed Fort Atkinson. Kearny was also on the 1825 expedition that reached the mouth of the Yellowstone River. During his travels, he kept extensive journals, including his interactions with Native Americans.
In 1826, Kearny was appointed as the first commander of the new Jefferson Barracks in Missouri south of St. Louis. While stationed there, he was often invited to the nearby city, the center of fur trade, economics and politics of the region. By way of Meriwether Lewis Clark, Sr., he was invited as a guest of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
While at the Jefferson Barracks, Kearny organized a regiment of dragoons on the lines of a cavalry unit. The U.S. Cavalry eventually grew out of this regiment, earning Kearny his nickname as the "father of the United States Cavalry". The regiment was stationed at Fort Leavenworth in present-day Kansas, and Kearny was promoted to the rank of Colonel. He was also made commander of the Army's Third Military Department, charged with protecting the frontier and preserving peace among the tribes of Native Americans on the Great Plains.
By the early 1840s, when emigrants began traveling along the Oregon Trail, Kearny often ordered his men to escort the travelers across the plains to avoid attack by the Native Americans. The practice of the military's escorting settlers' wagon trains would become official government policy in succeeding decades. To protect the emigrants, Kearny established a new post along Table Creek near present-day Nebraska City, Nebraska. The outpost was named Fort Kearny. However, the Army realized the site was not well-chosen, and the post was moved to the present location on the Platte River in central Nebraska.
Mexican-American War (1846-1848):
Gen. Kearny proclaiming New Mexico part of the United States, August 15, 1846 on the Plaza in Las Vegas, New Mexico.At the outset of the Mexican-American War, Kearny took a force of 1,700 men to Santa Fe, New Mexico. His Army of the West consisted of two regiments of Missouri volunteers, a regiment of New York volunteers (who would later travel by ships to California), artillery and infantry battalions, 300 of Kearny's 1st Dragoon Regiment, and the famous Mormon Battalion. Kearny easily took control of the area. He was named its military governor on August 18, 1846. He ensured that a civilian government was in place within just one month.
Kearny set out for California on September 25 with a force of only 300 men. En route he learned that California was presumably under American control, so he sent 200 dragoons back to Santa Fe. His weary 100 dragoons, having suffered along the way, narrowly defeated a Californio-Mexican cavalry under Andres Pico at the Battle of San Pasqual. Kearny was slightly wounded, but he linked up with US naval forces who were in San Diego, under the command of Commodore Robert F. Stockton. The combined Army and Navy force consolidated its control over San Diego in December. In January 1847 they won the battles of San Gabriel and La Mesa and took control of Los Angeles.
As ranking Army officer, Kearny claimed command of the area at the end of hostilities, which began an unfortunate rivalry with Stockton. When Mexican forces in California capitulated on January 13, they did not do so to Stockton or Kearny, but to Stockton's aide, Lt. Col. John C. Frémont. Stockton seized on this event and appointed Frémont military governor of the area. Kearny appealed to Washington. Receiving confirmation of his authority, Kearny took command. He had Frémont relieved, arrested, and later convicted at a court-martial, though Frémont quickly received a presidential pardon.
Kearny remained military governor of California through August, when he traveled to Washington, D.C. and was welcomed as a hero. He was appointed governor of Veracruz, and later of Mexico City. He also received a brevet promotion to major general in September 1848, over the heated opposition of Frémont's father-in-law, Senator Thomas Hart Benton.
After contracting yellow fever in Veracruz, Kearny had to return to St. Louis. He died there in October at the age of 54. He was buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery, now a National Historic Landmark in St. Louis.
Kearny is the namesake of Kearny, Arizona and Kearney, Nebraska. Many schools are named after Kearny, including Kearny Elementary in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Kearny High School in the San Diego neighborhood of Kearny Mesa. Kearny Street, in downtown San Francisco, is also named for him, as is a street in Fort Leavenworth. Camp Kearny in San Diego, a U.S. military base which operated from 1917 to 1946 on the site of today's Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, was named in his honor. Fort Kearny in Nebraska is also named for him.
His bother was Major General Philip Kearny, Jr. of American Civil War fame. Fort Phil Kearny in Wyoming and Fort Kearny in Washington D.C. are named for him.
Kearny Mesa, an area of San Diego, was later named after him.
Maj. Gen. Stephen W. Kearny, Military Governor of California's Timeline
August 30, 1794
Newark, Essex County, New Jersey, United States
October 31, 1848
St. Louis, St. Louis County, Missouri, United States
St. Louis, St. Louis County, Missouri, United States