Robert Patterson, portrait made during Mexican-American War
January 12, 1792|
Cappagh, County Tyrone, Ireland
|Died||August 7, 1881
|Allegiance|| United States of America
|Years of service||1812–1815; 1846–1848; 1861|
|Commands held||Pennsylvania Militia
Army of the Shenandoah
|Other work||cotton miller, writer|
Robert Patterson (January 20, 1792 – August 7, 1881) was a United States major general during the Mexican-American War and the American Civil War. During the onset of the latter, he commanded a brief engagement with Colonel Thomas J. Jackson on July 2, 1861, at the Battle of Hoke's Run and produced an early Union victory. His inability to contain a smaller Confederate army under General Joseph E. Johnston within the Shenandoah Valley was a proximate cause for the Union Army's defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, but among Johnston's stated reasons for avoiding pursuit of the shattered Union Army as it fled in retreat to Washington, the size, integrity and mobility of Patterson's Army is prominent. Shortly after First Bull Run, the three-month term of the volunteers who comprised a majority of his army expired, Patterson was honorably discharged with them, and his active military career ended.
Early life and War of 1812
Patterson was born in Cappagh, County Tyrone, Ireland. His family was banished from Ireland due to his father's involvement as an insurrectionist. In 1799 he emigrated to the United States, where he eventually became involved in banking at a young age. Patterson received his education in public schools and afterward became a clerk in a Philadelphia counting house. He volunteered for service during the War of 1812 and rose from captain to colonel in the 2nd Pennsylvania Militia before joining the United States Army. He served in the Quartermaster General Department and was discharged in 1815 as a captain. After the war, he became influential in politics in Pennsylvania.
Mexican-American War service
Patterson was commissioned a major general of volunteers at the outbreak of the Mexican-American War and commanded the 2nd Division, Army of Occupation, during the Tampico Expedition. He was considered for command of the expedition to Veracruz which eventually went to Winfield Scott. He was, however, placed in command of the expedition's Volunteer Division and saw action during the Siege of Veracruz and at the Battle of Cerro Gordo, where he was wounded. He led the American pursuit of the Mexican Army and was the first to enter Jalapa. While the U.S. Army was stationed at Jalapa, Patterson returned to the U.S. with other volunteer units whose enlistment time had expired. He then resumed his business interests in Pennsylvania, where he acquired 30 cotton mills and became quite wealthy. He again was an influential figure in Philadelphia politics.
Civil War service
The American Civil War brought Patterson back to military service. He was appointed major general of Pennsylvania volunteers and commanded the Department of Pennsylvania and the Army of the Shenandoah. In 1861, Winfield Scott, now General-in-Chief of the U.S. Army, gave Patterson vague orders to retake Harpers Ferry. Patterson failed to immediately act on these orders, was outmaneuvered after the Battle of Hoke's Run, and a Confederate army at Winchester, Virginia, under Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, was able to march without interference to reinforce the Confederates at the First Battle of Bull Run. Patterson, widely criticized for his failure to contain the enemy forces, was mustered out of the Army in late July 1861.
Patterson again returned to his cotton milling business and wrote a book, A Narrative of the Campaign in the Valley of the Shenandoah, in 1861, published in 1865. He was also President of the Aztec Club of 1847 from 1867 to 1881 and was a Companion of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.
Patterson died in Philadelphia and is buried there in Laurel Hill Cemetery. His son Francis Engle Patterson and his son-in-law John Joseph Abercrombie were both Union generals during the American Civil War.
- Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.