Justly deserved honor for patriot Phil Kearny


Standing orders have arrived per digital dispatch: U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Philip Kearny, commander of the New Jersey 1st Brigade in the Civil War who was killed at the Battle of Chantilly in September 1862, has been accepted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.

A news release issued Jan.17 by a spokeswoman from the Hall announced that the man for whom the Town of Kearny is named is one of 15 candidates voted into the Hall’s Class of 2016.

Fellow classmates include singer/composer/actress/entertainer/publisher Connie Francis, formerly known as Concetta Rose Maria Franconero, formerly of Belleville; and heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner of Bayonne.

Others selected for admission are: author Carol Higgins Clark and news anchor Connie Chung (Arts & Letters); businessman Alfred Koeppe and NY Waterway founder Arthur Imperatore Sr. (Enterprise); TV personality Kelly Ripa, actor Ray Liotta, pop-rock musician Tommy James, rapper Wyclef Jean of the Fugees and Francis (Performing Arts); non-denominational spiritual teacher/activist Peace Pilgrim and Kearny (Public Service); and professional soccer midfielder Carli Lloyd, former president/GM of the WNBA’s New York Liberty Carol Blazejowski, NFL Pro-Bowler Rosey Grier and Wepner.

Induction ceremonies are slated for May 7 at the Convention Hall at Asbury Park.

Asked about the selection process, Hall spokeswoman Emaleigh Kaithern said: “We start with a master list of 400 which is narrowed to 100, then narrowed to 50 names which are presented to the public for a vote.”

Asked for a final tabulation, Kaithern said: “We do not share vote tallies.”

Barbara Toczko, who chairs the Kearny Museum Committee, and Councilwoman Carol Jean Doyle beat the drums for the general’s inclusion in last year’s class.

A former history teacher, Toczko said her interest was piqued two years ago after realizing that Kearny was one of two New Jersey dignitaries (Richard Stockton, signer of the Declaration of Independence is the other) represented in Statuary Hall in the nation’s capitol building but absent from the Garden State’s Hall of Fame.

That omission cried out to Toczko for correction so she decided to go to bat for the general. “I want to thank everyone who voted for Gen. Kearny,” she said.

For Doyle, “the first hurdle was just to get him on the ballot. That was our first campaign.”

This she and Toczko set out to do with pleas sent via social media, fliers, word of mouth, etc. “I reached out far and wide, even as far as friends on the West Coast,” Doyle said.

“Patte Blood, our superintendent of schools, also made sure the word got out through the school community and the thing must mushroomed and kept going,’’ she said.

“I’m very honored and proud that so many people voted, especially since this year the town of Kearny is celebrating its 150th anniversary and the New Jersey Hall of Fame mobile museum will be making a visit to Kearny.”

The Hall’s Kaithern confirmed that the mobile museum is slated to arrive in Kearny on Sept. 23.

As a mobile Hall docent, Toczko will presumably have a chance to introduce the general to visiting Kearny youths.

Another fan of the general, local author/Civil War expert William Styple, hailed the arrival of the general in the Hall “great news,” particularly since the military figure “has a lot of support, from what I saw on social media, not just from local residents, but from throughout the state and the Civil War history community.”

And those supporters, Styple suggested, would have included the various branches of the general’s descendants, scattered through New Jersey, New York, California, Florida, Missouri and Virginia.

Styple, who has been researching a book on the general for many years, had the “great honor” to have attended last year’s Kearny family reunion, with about two dozen family members, in Cape May where Philip Kearny’s first wife Diana is buried.

Providing further context for why the general belongs in the Hall, Styple said the Kearny Irish-American family was “very prominent in the state, dating from the 1600s, when the progenitors settled in Monmouth County. … New Jersey has been home of the Kearnys for almost 400 years.”

During the Civil War, Styple said, when Gen. Kearny was placed in charge of the New Jersey 1st Brigade, “his men were volunteers, the best young men of the state. He trained them, became like a father to them. He made them soldiers and they never forgot that.”

Survivors of battles fought under the general “paid tribute to his memory with statutes and other honors,” Styple said.

After he was killed by rebels during a skirmish at Chantilly, Va., Sept. 1, 1862, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee took pains to ensure that his body, along with his horse, Bayard, was properly returned to the Union lines.

On Sept. 5, when the general’s remains were laid out for viewing at Bellegrove, his Kearny estate, “thousands came through to view the casket,” Styple said. “The next day, another procession came through, which somewhat delayed transport of the body for burial in Trinity Churchyard, New York.”

Half a century later, at the insistence of Medal of Honor winner Charles F. Hopkins, who had fought with the general in the 1st Brigade, Kearny’s remains were exhumed and re-interred at Arlington National Cemetery, where an equestrian statue was erected in his honor – one of only two such distinctions in Arlington.

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