Crittenden, George Bibb (1812–1880)

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

George Bibb Crittenden, United States, Texas, and Confederate States army officer, was born on March 20, 1812, in Russellville, Kentucky, the eldest son of John Jordan and Sally (Lee) Crittenden. The elder Crittenden was United States attorney general and a senator. George Crittenden graduated from West Point with the class of 1832 and was brevetted a second lieutenant in the Fourth United States Infantry. He fought in the Black Hawk War before he resigned on April 30, 1833, to study law at Transylvania University. He later moved to Texas and accepted a commission in the Army of the Republic of Texas. In 1842 he served as second lieutenant of Capt. William Ryon's company in the unfortunate Mier expedition and was captured by Mexican forces after the battle of Mier. On January 14, 1843, he was declared unfit to travel by a Mexican army surgeon and placed in a hospital at Matamoros. By the end of February former president Andrew Jackson had interceded on Crittenden's behalf to secure his release from Antonio López de Santa Anna. In 1846, at the start of the Mexican War, Crittenden rejoined the United States Army as a captain in the Mounted Rifles and was brevetted major for "gallant and meritorious conduct" at the battles of Contreras and Churubusco. Although he was cashiered in August 1848, he was reinstated to his former rank the following March and in 1856 had risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Soon after the outbreak of the Civil War Crittenden entered the Confederate Army as an infantry colonel; he was commissioned a brigadier general on August 15, 1861, and a major general on November 9, 1861 and given command of the Southern effort to liberate Kentucky. In January 1862 he took command of Brig. Gen. Felix Kirk Zollicoffer's small army, unfavorably located at Mill Springs, Kentucky, and there was ingloriously defeated by Union forces under Brig. Gen. George H. Thomas at the battles of Mill Springs and Logan's Crossroads. Crittenden was said to have been drunk on the field, and an outraged public demanded his removal from command. He was subsequently placed in charge of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston's reserve corps at Iuka, Mississippi. His career was shattered beyond repair, however, when he was discovered drunk at his post with his troops "in a wretched state of discipline." He was arrested and subjected to a court-martial by Maj. Gen. William J. Hardee.

Crittenden resigned from the army on October 23, 1862, but continued to serve in various subordinate roles in western Virginia under the command of Gen. John S. Williams. After the war he lived in Frankfort, Kentucky, where he was appointed state librarian. He died on November 27, 1880. He was a member of the Whig party and the brother of Thomas Leonidas Crittenden, a major general in the Union army; their father, the author of the Crittenden Compromise, remained an ardent Unionist until his death in 1863.

Patricia L. Faust, ed., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper and Row, 1986). Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (2 vols., Washington: GPO, 1903; rpt., Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965). Joseph Milton Nance, ed., Mier Expedition Diary: A Texas Prisoner's Account by Joseph D. McCutchan (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1978). Jon L. Wakelyn, Biographical Dictionary of the Confederacy (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1977). Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Gray (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959).
Time Periods:
  • Civil War

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Crittenden, George Bibb,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 01, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994

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