May 18, 1806 - February 3, 1879
George Cadwalader was born on May 16, 1806, into a prominent Philadelphia family. His grandfather was General John Cadwalader of revolutionary war fame; his father was a general in the Pennsylvania Militia during the War of 1812. Following his graduation from the University of Pennsylvania in 1823, George Cadwalader studied law and was admitted to the bar. He was a successful lawyer and real estate investor, eventually managing the business interests of the Penn family.
In 1824 Cadwalader formed the Philadelphia Grays, an artillery company in the Pennsylvania State Militia, serving as captain. In 1832 he was elected brigadier general of the First Brigade, First Division of the Pennsylvania State Militia. In that capacity he was involved in the Philadelphia anti-Catholic riots of 1844. In early July, during three days of rioting in Southwark, a largely Catholic neighborhood in South Philadelphia, Cadwalader ordered his troops to fire into the crowd of nativists trying to break into a church. The street battle resulted in the deaths of twelve rioters and two militiamen.
In the U.S.-Mexico War, Cadwalader, a Democrat, was appointed brigadier general of Volunteers following passage of the Ten Regiment bill in February 1847. Arriving in Vera Cruz on June 1, he marched a week later with 500 men in response to a call for assistance from Colonel James McIntosh. Commanding a supply column of 700 men, 130 wagons, and 500 pack mules, McIntosh had encountered strong guerrilla activity along the National Road and was forced to halt at Paso de Ovejas, 25 miles west of Vera Cruz. The guerillas may have known that McIntosh was transporting $350,000 in specie destined for General Scott’s army. On June 11, Cadwalader and McIntosh fought Mexican guerillas at the National Bridge, taking the bridge at a cost of ten U.S. troops killed and thirty wounded. Guerrillas ambushed the column the following day, and again on June 19. Led by Father Caledonio Domeco Jarauta, the guerrillas planned to ambush the column at the La Hoya pass, ten miles west of Jalapa. Colonel Francis M. Wynkoop, commander of the U.S. garrison at the castle of Perote, twenty miles further west, learned of the planned ambush and sent four infantry companies and Captain Samuel Walker’s company of Mounted Rifles to attack the guerillas from the west. With this assistance, Cadwalader managed to push through the pass and on to Perote.
Cadwalader played a major role in the battles outside the Mexican capital in early September 1847. When his commanding officer, General Gideon Pillow, was wounded as the attack on Chapultepec began, Cadwalader led the 3rd division’s three attacking columns and stormed the castle. After the fortress surrendered, he accepted the sword of General Nicolas Bravo. For his actions at Chapultepec, he was brevetted major general in the regular army. Cadwalader returned to the United States in the spring of 1848.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Governor Andrew Curtin appointed Cadwalader a major general in the Pennsylvania Volunteers. In April 1862, he commanded a division in the Army of the West at Corinth, Mississippi. Later that year he was recalled to Washington, D.C., where he served in a series of minor assignments until his retirement in 1865.
Following the Civil War he helped found the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, a fraternal organization for former army and navy officers which still exists today. He was a member of the New York Yacht Club and maintained a house in Newport, Rhode Island. He died in Philadelphia on February 3, 1879, at age 73.
Cadwalader Family Papers, Collection 1454, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Johnson, Timothy D. A Gallant Little Army: The Mexico City Campaign. Lawrence, KS: The University of Kansas Press, 2007.
The Philadelphia Grays’ Collection of Official Reports of Brigadier General George Cadwalader’s Services During the Campaign of 1847 in Mexico. Philadelphia: T.K. and P.G. Collins, Printers, 1848.