An Obscure Gettysburg

On February 7, 2013 · 5 Comments

This is the story of John Kennedy. No, not that John Kennedy! I’m referring to John Wright Kennedy who I guarantee you know nothing about, nor should you. It’s about how a formative event in his life resulting in the naming of a town twenty years later. He was a farmer who underwent a harrowing ordeal, lived to tell about it, who went back to a quiet agrarian life and survived to a ripe old age.

Tangentially, I suppose it’s also about the huge paper trails we leave behind since every bit of information I discovered for this story I found online in less than an hour. If I could learn this much about someone who passed away nearly a century ago, imagine how much people will find out about you and I a hundred years from now in our digital wakes.

Mr. Kennedy was born in Stamford, New York (map), on April 18, 1838, a child of Scottish immigrants as the census records describe it. This put him at a prefect age to serve in the military when the U.S. Civil War broke out in 1861. Stamford straddled the line between Delaware and Schoharie Counties, and he joined many of his neighbors when they enrolled in the Union Army in nearby Schenectady to form Co. F of the 134th New York Infantry on August 22, 1862. He mustered in as a Private and worked his way up to Sergeant, then was commissioned as a Lieutenant and eventually gained a promotion to Captain.

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The regiment was attached to XI Corps of Army of the Potomac, a corps best remembered for its role in the Battles of Chancellorsville in Virginia and Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, in mid-1863, and in not an entirely flattering light. The Eleventh Corps was caught unprepared at Chancellorsville and was routed on the first day of Gettysburg, retreating through the streets of the town before reaching the high ground of Cemetery Hill. They redeemed themselves somewhat on the second day with a valiant defense of the hill, although XI Corps never truly recovered its reputation and was later dismantled and spread amongst other units. The 134th New York was in the thick of the battle at Gettysburg and lost 42 killed 141 wounded and 59 missing. This put 242 of the regiment’s 400 soldiers out of action in a single battle.

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The 134th New York monument at Gettysburg in the distance. See photo.

John Kennedy never make it to Cemetery Hill. He became one of the 59 missing on July 1, 1863. It turned out he was captured by the Confederate army on the first day at Gettysburg. He became a prisoner of war and was moved to Richmond, Virginia. The story didn’t end there, however. Kennedy escaped imprisonment and rejoined his unit in Savannah, Georgia in December 1864. He then served in the Union army for the remainder of the war, finally mustering out with his company on June 10, 1865.

He relocated to South Dakota sometime after the war, establishing a home and a farm in Potter County. Others moved to the area and it was time to form a town. They needed a name for their new settlement. As Genealogy Trails explains,

The group [of Civil War veterans] sought to name the new town Meade in honor of General Meade, renowned for his leadership in the Battle of Gettysburg. When the Post Office rejected that name because it was already too popular, Captain John W. Kennedy, a member of Gen. Howard’s 11th Corps during the Battle of Gettysburg, submitted the name Gettysburg instead. That was accepted.

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Gettysburg, South Dakota has more than 1,100 residents today and is the seat of government for Potter County. In 1991, the two Gettysburg towns became "sister cities." Kennedy passed away on February 13, 1918, in Gettysburg — the one in South Dakota — and was buried there. His tombstone noted that he fought at Gettysburg.

I can’t think of any other town named explicitly to commemorate a battle, by a veteran of the battle. I hope I can discover others.

Journey Through Hallowed Ground

On December 14, 2010 · 4 Comments

The article is a bit self-indulgent today. I’ve been fascinated for quite a while with the National Scenic Byway that has been designated the "Journey Through Hallowed Ground.". Much of my life has centered on places along this 180-mile line, and I’ve driven portions of it literally hundreds of times. I’ve also visited many but not all of the sites that are considered integral to the Hallowed Ground, as might be expected both by my physical proximity and my dual interests in history and geography.

So what do I do when I don’t find the maps on the official website satisfactory for my purposes? I create my own. They’ve developed nice enough maps but the interactive ones cover only a single county each. I wanted everything on a single map. Fortunately the website provides a convenient list of waypoints to make this a fairly simple exercise (even if a few of them weren’t entirely correct).

View Journey Through Hallowed Ground in a larger map

Perhaps a few people on the Intertubes will also find it useful. I’ve set the map option to "public" hoping others may benefit even if I developed it primarily for personal enjoyment.

The hallowed ground covers a remarkably compact territory considering its significance during the first century of United States history. Founding fathers and early presidents including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe called this home. Hugely important Civil War battles including Gettysburg, Antietam, and First and Second Manassas, plus dozens of smaller engagements ravaged the landscape. It’s hard to move even a few miles around here without running into something of profound historical significance.

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There are some lesser-known places I’ve wanted to visit. The Graffiti House tops that list. Both Union and Confederate armies stopped here frequently as they marched along the ancient Carolina Road between various campaigns. It also served as a Confederate field hospital during the nearby Battle of Brandy Station (the largest cavalry engagement in U.S. history). Soldiers from both armies left extensive doodles and writings on the wall, which were covered-up with wallpaper after the war and forgotten about until the 1990’s. The home only recently passed into the hands of a foundation that will protect it. They’ve also made it available for limited public viewing.

There seems to be quite a divergence in the historical significance of sites included on the list. Obviously, few are going to argue that Gettysburg and Monticello aren’t historic. Some of the places, however, appear to have been added to fill out the map or drive tourism to some of the more obscure corners. The Point of Rocks bridge? Really?

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I guess I’ll always think of this bridge as an easy way across the border into nearby Maryland when I was newly of drinking age, and wanted cheap booze. That liquor store even had a drive-through window! It was quite a striking contrast to the state-run Virginia liquor stores that had all the ambiance of the old Soviet Union.

Some grounds, even among the hallowed grounds, are more hallowed than others.

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