Researching Civil War Photo: Gloria Vanderbilt’s Great Grandfather

Introduction: In this article, Melissa Davenport Berry writes about researching a Civil War photo of one of Gloria Vanderbilt’s ancestors. Melissa is a genealogist who has a blog, AnceStory Archives, and a Facebook group, New England Family Genealogy and History.

Heritage Collectors’ Society asked me to research a few photographs recently. Among the collection was this photo of Union General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick (1836-1881).

Photo: Hugh Judson Kilpatrick
Photo: Hugh Judson Kilpatrick. Credit: Heritage Collectors’ Society.

I started my hunt using GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, and found a nice write up on his military career in the San Francisco Call Bulletin.

An article about Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, San Francisco Call Bulletin newspaper article
San Francisco Call Bulletin (San Francisco, California), 22 September 1911, page 7

From this and other articles, I learned that Hugh Kilpatrick was a Union cavalry officer during the Civil War, earned the nickname “Kill-Cavalry,” and achieved the rank of brevet brigadier general. He was born in Deckertown, New Jersey, and graduated from West Point (1861). He served in the Gettysburg campaign and on Sherman’s march to the sea.

In 1864 Kilpatrick led a calvary expedition of 5,000 men around Robert E. Lee’s army near Richmond, Virginia, attempting to relieve union prisoners at Libby prison. The expedition failed in its main objective, but “inflicted considerable loss on the Confederates by destroying their railroads and bridges and cutting up several of their regiments.”

Continuing my research, I found this article in the Augusta Chronicle which referenced General Kilpatrick’s sister. Her name was Adeline “Phebe” Kilpatrick, who married Abiah Wilson in Deckertown, New Jersey.

An article about Hugh Judson Kilpatrick's family, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 15 February 1904
Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 15 February 1904, page 6

The couple purchased (about 1870) a plantation called “Innisfail” in Morgan County, Georgia, once the summer residence of Robert Taylor, a Confederate general in the Georgia State Militia. Kilpatrick’s nephews Dr. A. O. Wilson and Walter Wilson stayed on the property when their father returned to New Jersey.

Walter told reporters a war tidbit about his uncle:

“General Kilpatrick was a self-made man, and graduated at West Point when Gen. Pierce M. B. Young was a cadet. …during a certain battle [Battle of Big Bethel, 10 June 1861] in the Civil War, a Confederate officer who had been in his class at West Point recognized the general across the lines and pointed him out to a sharpshooter, who sent a bullet though his knee wounding him for life.”

The House of the Ferret antique shop in South Deerfield, Massachusetts, has a sampler made by Adeline “Phebe” when she was 14 years old. The sampler contains the verse:

And must this body die
This mortal frame decay
And must these active limbs of mine
Lie moldering in the clay

Photo: sampler made by Adeline “Phebe” Kilpatrick, sister of Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, at age 14
Photo: sampler made by Adeline “Phebe” Kilpatrick, sister of Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, at age 14. Credit: Rita King, owner of House of the Ferret antique shop, South Deerfield, Massachusetts.

After the Civil War, Hugh Kilpatrick served as U.S. Minister to Chile and married a wealthy Chilean woman, Luisa Fernandez de Valdivieso.

Photo: Luisa and Hugh Kilpatrick
Photo: Luisa and Hugh Kilpatrick. Credit: Ohio History Collection, Sherman Family Papers, P 42; Box 1, Folder 1, Page 6, Image Number 22.

They had two daughters: Julia Mercedes Kilpatrick (who married U.S. Army Brigadier General William Carroll Rafferty); and Laura Isabel Delphine Kilpatrick (who married Harry Hays Morgan).

Laura and Harry Morgan had twin daughters: Thelma (who married Marmaduke Furness and became Viscountess Furness); and Gloria (who married Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt).

Photo: twin daughters of Laura and Harry Morgan: Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt (left) with her identical twin, Thelma Morgan, Viscountess Furness, in 1955
Photo: twin daughters of Laura and Harry Morgan: Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt (left) with her identical twin, Thelma Morgan, Viscountess Furness, in 1955. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Gloria and Reginald Vanderbilt had a daughter, Gloria Vanderbilt, who became a famous artist and socialite.

When Kilpatrick’s great granddaughter Gloria Vanderbilt made her debut as a fashion designer, she told the Dallas Morning News, “I wanted to make something of myself… Maybe the drive is in my genes,” which derived from both sides of her potent pedigree. Gloria’s four marriages are catalogued in this article, which she claims no fame to, but her “workhorse” ethic is in her blood.

An article about Gloria Vanderbilt, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 30 September 1979
Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 30 September 1979, page 163

Well, Gloria is a tight fit to her forbearer great grandfather Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, who distinguished himself as a battle lord and a Chilean minister. Perhaps she inherited her fondness of home fashion and needlecraft from her great Aunt Phebe.

Gloria, dubbed “the Renaissance Woman” in the creative field, proved to supersede all her ancestor’s fame with her Murjani fashion enterprise. No one can accuse Gloria of riding anyone’s coattails as she asserted: “My track record stands for itself.”

Other famous kin in Gloria’s line include Anderson Cooper, Julia Ward Howe, Robert Trent Paine, and J. P. Morgan.

Further Reading:


  • Colonel Simon Kilpatrick (1794-1860) and Julia Wickham (1799-1876), daughter of William Wickham (177-1852) and Phebe Rose Meeker (1781-1856). Children: Hugh Judson Kilpatrick (1836-1881), married Luisa Fernandez de Valdivieso (1847-1926); William Wickham Kilpatrick (1826-1855), married Berta Quick; Charity M. Kilpatrick (1825-1868), married John B. Decker (1803-1886); Phebe Adaline Kilpatrick (1821-1901), married Abiah Wilson (1814-1882), son of Abiah Wilson and Mary Lobden.
  • Children of Hugh Judson and Louisa Kilpatrick: Julia Mercedes Kilpatrick (1867-1958), married William Carroll Rafferty (1859-1941); Laura Isabel Delphine Kilpatrick (1869-1956), married Harry Hays Morgan (1860-1933). Child: Gloria Laura Mercedes Morgan (1904-1965), married Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt (1880-1925). Child: Gloria Vanderbilt (1924-2019).
  • Child from Hugh Judson Kilpatrick’s first marriage to Alice Shailer (1841-1863): son Judson Beaumont Kilpatrick (1862-1864).

10 thoughts on “Researching Civil War Photo: Gloria Vanderbilt’s Great Grandfather

  1. Great article Melissa. I love the stories with background from the past and connections to living generations. Keep them coming.

  2. Interesting insight into this woman’s work ethic and continued family contributions to varied aspects of our history!

  3. A wonderful, interesting article. I had read the auto(?)biography of Gloria Vanderbilt years ago and did not realize that her mother was descended from Union General Kilpatrick. That makes her lifestory richer in a lot of ways.

    1. Thank you Janet! I appreciate it. I think Gloria was very proud of her heritage, especially Kilpatrick. It was a fun find.

  4. Ooh, let me think back to gifts of G. Vanderbilt eye shadows for family, and lovely jeans. I think I stayed in the jeans for the true life of the denim. Loved them.

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