Posted by Ancestry Team on October 13, 2014 in Entertainment, Research

At Ancestry, we truly believe that there is a story in every family tree—you just have to find it. Anderson Cooper is one of the rare individuals whose storied ancestors aren’t just known by him, they are known by everyone. As the son of Gloria Vanderbilt, her history is just a Wikipedia article away, so he wanted to learn more about his father’s family in the South.

In looking at his tree, we realized his paternal Cooper line had ties to the Confederacy, and his maternal Kilpatrick line traced back to the infamous Union General “Kill Cavalry” Kilpatrick. Did these men ever cross paths? Having a clear objective and a manageable scope of research kept us on target.

A humble farmer from Alabama, Cooper’s 2nd great-grandfather Burrell C. Cooper enlisted as a private in company D of the 40th Alabama Infantry, leaving a wife and child back home. He was almost the same age as Captain Kilpatrick when he enlisted with his brother-in-law Appleton Bull. Civil War Muster Rolls, coupled with a regiment specific history, were key in learning about Burrell’s military service and movements.

While we don’t know a lot about Burrell’s early life (as it appears he was an orphan), Hugh Judson Kilpatrick’s life left us lots to uncover. His West Point Academy Application shows he was well connected and highly recommended. (His papers were addressed to then-Secretary of War Jefferson Davis soon to be President of the Confederate States of America).

Kilpatrick was commissioned as a Captain at the outbreak of the war in 1861, in the 5th New York Infantry. In 1863, Kilpatrick’s leadership at Brandy Station during Gettysburg earned him a brigadier general’s star. During the Atlanta Campaign in 1864, General Sherman described Kilpatrick summarily by saying, “I know that Kilpatrick is a hell of a damned fool, but I want just that sort of man to command my cavalry on this expedition.”


In creating timelines for both men, and comparing them side by side, a point of contact emerged: the Battle of Resaca. On May 12th and 13th 1864, Kilpatrick’s cavalry scouted the area of Resaca, Georgia, before leading the advance charge. Kilpatrick lead an initial cavalry charge against the Rebels. This initial charge protected and informed the main army by testing out the boundaries, size, and position of their opponent. They were better suited for the task because they could travel faster. Their information helped those higher in command decide where they would line up the infantry. The cavalry’s job generally was also to fight anywhere and everywhere, and be as surprising and disruptive to the enemy as possible.


Having a map of the area and the company’s movements is helpful.

During that first exploratory charge of his cavalry, Kilpatrick was positioned on the right of the army, likely entering on Snake Creek Gap Road.

A lucky shot fired at him “ripped through the neck of Kilpatrick’s mount, entered the inner side of the rider’s left thigh, and bored through his hip.

Thrown from the saddle by the slug’s impact, he writhed on the ground, bleeding heavily, and cried out, ‘Shot in the ass, by God! That will be a … pretty story to go back to New Jersey!’” The severe injury forced him to recuperate for two months.

The day after Kilpatrick was carried off the Resaca battlefield, Burrell and Appleton entered it with their Confederate company.

Anderson did not realize his ancestors had fought on opposite sides of the same battlefield. Burrell’s regiment attacked at 5:00 pm on May 14, and held the line until midnight, when they fell back to the main Confederate line. The Battle of Resaca has since been deemed “inconclusive” as to who won the engagement, though it is widely considered the first battle of what is now referred to as the Atlanta Campaign or Sherman’s march to the sea. Close to six thousand men were killed at Resaca.

After Resaca, the 40th Alabama Infantry’s next engagement was ten days later, at the Battle of New Hope Church. Burrell’s pension record states that during New Hope, “he was wounded in the right hand, losing the finger next to the little finger [ring finger] on the right hand and partially paralyzing the right arm.” Less than a month after Burrell’s injury, Appleton Bull was captured at Big Shanty, Georgia, and send to federal prison at Rock Island, Illinois.  Burrell was sent home after his injury, and suffered the effects of it the rest of his life. He struggled to provide for his family of six children as a farmer with a lame arm, and died at the age of 54.

Sometimes it is easy to focus on the famous or flashy names and characters in our family history. However it’s important to give equal time to the lesser known, and to see both sides of every conflict and story.



They travel the world to chase the story, but this time the story is their own. Join the journalists of CNN as they explore their … roots. More behind the scene stories:


  1. Jean

    Having a map of the battle movements of my great grandfathers would be awesome. Where should I look? One was in Co. G, 5th SC Cavalry. Another was in Co. C, 13th SC Infantry.

  2. Pamela Gibbons

    Thank You, Anderson, for Sharing….. Your Father and Brother would be Extremely Proud and Overwhelmed with Your Success!! I Try To Never Miss Your Shows…. If your Tough questions are answered with Disdain, Disrespect, or Stupidity….You Never Lose Your Professionalism…. Your Replies are To The Point and Always With CLASS! Your Steely Blue Eyes Speaks Volumes! Your Reporting Brings Class and Professionalism back to Journalism! Something that’s been amiss for a Very Long Time!! KUDOS TO CNN! Thank You!

  3. Pamela

    Thank You, Anderson for Sharing! Your Father and Brother would be Extremely Proud of You! I so Enjoy your Shows and Your Professionalism coupled with Your Intelligent Questions and Replies… KUDOS TO YOU AND CNN!

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