Illustration of Robert Patterson

On paper, Irish-born Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson (1792-1881) was the perfect person to lead the Department of Pennsylvania in 1861. He served in the Pennsylvania militia during the War of 1812, led troops to suppress two separate riots in Philadelphia, and fought in the Mexican War as a high-ranking officer. He owned several cotton mills, which unfortunately for him, stood to lose substantial amounts of money at the outbreak of the Civil War.

Never-the-less, his patriotism and loyalty to Pennsylvania led him to take up arms once again. His performance for his few months in command was lackluster and hesitant. He withdrew in the face of the numerically-inferior Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s army in the Shenandoah Valley, allowing Johnston to reinforce P. G. T. Beauregard at the First Battle of Bull Run. Patterson was widely blamed for the Union defeat and was unceremoniously expelled from command in late July 1861.

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