Ranald Slidell Mackenzie


Ranald Slidell Mackenzie was born in Westchester County, New York, July 27, 1840.  His family surname was not actually Mackenzie, for his father (a brother of the Confederate diplomat, John Slidell, of the Mason and Slidell affair) had added Mackenzie to his own name out of admiration for a maternal uncle. By virtue of the Slidell relationship Mackenzie became connected by marriage with Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard, whose second wife was the sister of John Slidell's wife. For a brief time just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, Beauregard was superintendent of the Military Academy and thus Mackenzie's commanding officer. Mackenzie, who had commenced his higher education at Williams in 1855, withdrew in order to accept an appointment to West Point, where he was graduated on June 17, 1862, ranking first in the class. Posted to the Corps of Engineers, the young second lieutenant rendered notable service at Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and in U. S. Grant's Overland campaign of 1864 which resolved itself into the siege of Petersburg and Richmond.

During this period Mackenzie was brevetted repeatedly for gallantry and in July, 1864, became colonel of the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, a volunteer regiment which was hastily transported to Washington the same month to oppose Jubal Early's raid against the capital. Thereafter, while following the fortunes of Philip H. Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley, he commanded a brigade in Wheaton's division of Wright's VI Corps until he was wounded at Cedar Creek on October 19. After his recovery and promotion to the rank of brigadier general, he was transferred with most of Sheridan's forces to the Petersburg front. Here Mackenzie commanded a division of cavalry in the Army of the James; his performance led Grant to remark, "I regarded Mackenzie as the most promising young officer in the army." At the close of the war he was brevetted major general of volunteers and brigadier general in the Regular Army, and on March 6, 1867, he became colonel of the 41st Infantry. On December 15, 1870, he was transferred to the 4th Cavalry and commenced a series of campaigns against the Plains Indians which far outshone the exploits of General G. A. Custer. In 1873 he led the celebrated raid into Coahuila which destroyed the villages of a renegade band of Lipans and Apaches who had been marauding at will in the United States; this gross violation of Mexican sovereignty was undertaken on the verbal orders of Sheridan. After the Custer debacle Mackenzie so soundly thrashed the victorious and belligerent northern Cheyennes in the Powder River expedition that they soon after surrendered. He subsequently was instrumental in pacifying the tribes over a vast territory in Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Wounded six times during the Civil War, he received a seventh wound, which caused him agonizing pain for the rest of his life, in an Indian fight on the Staked Plain in 1871. In 1884 he was retired with the rank of brigadier general for disability in line of duty. His constitution wrecked by wounds and prolonged exposure during his arduous years of service, Mackenzie's mind ultimately gave way, and he died at New Brighton, Staten Island, New York on January 19, 1889. He was buried at West Point.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.