“Kill Your Darlings”: Kris White, Phil Kearny, and a Toast to Papa Hemingway

“Kill your darlings,” Hemingway said. He was talking about revision. Sometimes a writer needs to delete something that doesn’t belong or no longer works, or maybe sometimes he has to rewrite it—and that can all be tough to do because, after all, the writer has put so much time into each story, into each sentence, into each word. It’s tough to chop up something you’ve put so much effort into.

But writing isn’t sentimental business—not good writing, anyway. If a piece of writing doesn’t work, no matter how hard you worked on it or how much you love it, it has to go.

For that reason, as Kris and I finished up the revised draft of our latest book, Phil Kearny had to go.

Chancellorsville’s Forgotten Front focuses on the battles of Second Fredericksburg and Salem Church. By that point in the war—May 3-4, 1863—the hard-fighting Union general had been dead and buried almost eight months to the day (he was killed Sept. 1 at Chantilly and later buried at Arlington National Cemetery, where a fine equestrian statue now stands over his grave).

As part of the narrative, we were writing about the New Jersey Brigade’s initial deployment on May 3 for the Battle of Salem Church. The brigade had once been Kearny’s, and Kris decided to insert a nod to the tough-as-nails commander. I couldn’t blame him: Kearny’s story is a great one. His loss was a keen blow to the Union. In a narrative that tries to draw attention to things forgotten, a quick remembrance of Kearny didn’t sound like a bad idea at all.

Unfortunately, quick as it was, the story felt too tangental for that spot in the story. The battle was ramping up, troops were changing formation from line of march into line battle, banners were waving, flags were flying. Soldiers gritted their teeth and waited for impact. In the midst of that rising action, the reference to Kearny felt out of place.

He had to go. The rhythm of the piece demanded it. Reluctantly, Kris let me cut the passage. Somewhere in the future, Papa Hemingway nodded his approval (and then, perhaps, slammed down a shot of whiskey to salute a kindred spirit–as surely he and Kearny would have been and as surely as he and Kris would have been, too).

The nice thing about having a blog, though, is that such “darlings” can find new life. While Phil Kearny got chopped from the manuscript, I thought I’d bring him ’round here and introduce you:

On the north side of the road, swinging from column into line, was Col. Henry Brown’s fine New Jersey Brigade. The brigade had once been commanded by Brig. Gen. Philip Kearny, a one-armed, no-nonsense general from a well-to-do New York family who had experience in both the United States and French armies. Though influential, Kearny was unable to obtain a command in his home state due to a controversial divorce. Instead, Kearny skipped over the border to the Garden state and found a commission there, assuming command of the New Jersey Brigade.

The men lacked discipline, apparently. When the general entered their camp for the first time, he was dressed as a civilian, wearing a cap and carrying a cane. When he came upon the guardhouse, he found the men drinking whiskey. The general promptly smashed the bottle with his cane, and in the following weeks, whipped the New Jersey men into excellent fighting shape.

I liked Kris’s writing here, and I liked Kearny’s story. I didn’t want either to be forgotten.

Mr. Hemingway, the next shot is on us.

11 Responses to “Kill Your Darlings”: Kris White, Phil Kearny, and a Toast to Papa Hemingway

  1. Oh, sorry, where are my manners? I meant to say, “please” tell us about the divorce.

  2. A long story short…Phil was a man of means, his family had a great deal of money and influence. He traveled the world, served in the United States and French armies. While in the US army he married a woman named Diana Bullitt and the two produced four children. They did not have the happiest of marriages. She was unhappy with Phil and the fact that the army was his second wife.

    Following his wounding in the Mexican American War the marriage really went south. He was to leave the army, he didn’t so he and Diana separted.

    Phil (36) traveld to Paris where he met a woman 16 years his junior. She was engaged, he married, and the two began a very public affair. He and Agnes (the mistress) lived together in both Paris and New York. Phil asked Dianafor a divorce she refused. He and Agnes still lived together, though now in New Jersey.

    Finally in 1858 Diana consented that she would divorce Phil, only if the terms stipulated that he could not marry anyone as long as Agnes lived. The divorce went through in the state of New York and Agnes and Phil got married. How you ask? They married in New Jersey, his lawyers found a loophole in the decree, but New York did not see eye to eye with the ruling of the New Jersey courts and Phil was unable to travel to New York for a time because he could have been arrested for bigamy.

  3. Well, that certainly was controversial, and would be even today. Diana didn’t want him, Army and all, but she wasn’t going to let anyone else have him! Speaking of which, did he remain in the Army all of this time? It sounds as though he left the service at some point based on his location throughout the drama. Otherwise he surely would have had orders to some dreadful post in the West or Florida which would have tested even Agnes’s love!

  4. This is one of my favorite posts! My “darlings” don’t even get a “few kind words” over their grave any more, plus isn’t it just like some of us to want to know about a juicy bit of gossip? Battles & Leaders be damned! Give me Scandals and Rumors!

  5. Mr. Mackowski’s post is a gem…as I am finding to be the case of many posts on Emerging Civil War. The reader is informed on multiple levels–craft, historical detail, the importance of place to an understanding of the past, and the joyous burden of interpreting the Civil War for generations to come. I’m looking forward to the publication of Chancellorsville’s Forgotten Front.

    1. Thanks, Ted. I’m glad you’re enjoying the site so much. It is certainly a lot of fun to work on, and it’s a privilege to be working with so many great historians.

      We’ll keep readers posted about “Forgotten Front,” so stay tuned!

  6. Nothing brings these principal characters of the war to life as much as their personal stories. We tend to concentrate (perhaps rightly) on wartime exploits, successes and failures) but often understanding each persons background offers explanations for their behavior. Of course, we’re always drawn to scandals, horse thieves and outlaws!

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