Kearny was born in New York, 2 June 2, 1815 and after his mother died when he was 9, he spent his childhood and youth with his maternal grandfather, a man of wealth and high social position. Kearny’s uncle, Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny, was a U.S. dragoon and Philip favored a military life, but his grandfather, who had lost all his sons, persuaded him to go to Columbia University.
After graduating in 1833, Kearny traveled widely. When his grandfather died, leaving him a million dollars, he returned home and in 1837 obtained a commission as 2d lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Dragoons. After 2 years’ service with them, the secretary of war sent him to the French Cavalry School at Saumur to study cavalry tactics. While there, Kearny saw action in Algiers, serving with the Chasseurs d’Afrique.
On his return to the U.S., he served as aide-de-camp to, successively, Alexander Macomb and Winfield Scott, generals-in-chief of the army. In the Mexican War, Kearny accompanied Scott to Mexico City and at Churubusco was wounded so severely that his left arm had to be amputated. He was brevetted major for gallantry and, after service in California, resigned from the army, married, and made his home in New Jersey.
The military attracted him again in 1859, when he served in Napoleon III’s Imperial Guard in the Italian War, winning the French Legion of Honor for bravery at Solferino. When the Civil War started, Kearny was appointed brigadier general of volunteers, commanding a brigade of New Jersey regiments in Brig. Gen. William B. Franklin’s division. One of the best known and respected soldiers in the army, he distinguished himself during the Peninsula Campaign, rising to major general t command of the 1st Division of Maj. Gen. Samuel P. Heitzelman’s III Corps.
Second Bull Run, he accidentally rode into the enemy lines during the indecisive Battle of Chantilly, 1 Sept 1862, and was killed instantly. He was buried in Trinity Churchyard in New York City but was later moved to the National Cemetery at Arlington, Va. The New Jersey town in which he had resided was renamed Kearny in his honor.