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.
The Intertubes wants to know and I’m happy to oblige. This is one of those occasional articles that regular 12MC readers may want to skip because it doesn’t involve much from an intellectual standpoint. I keep receiving search engine queries about the 100th meridian west of Greenwich, specifically the list of United States counties that the line intersects as it splits the nation figuratively into eastern and western halves. I can’t figure out why anyone would want or need to compile such a list, however, Google and the like believe that it exists and that I own it. I don’t, or rather I didn’t. Now I do. It’s here at the bottom of this article.
View 100th Meridian West – twelvemilecircle.com in a larger map
The 100th meridian fascinates many people in a mystical Great Plains way. I’ve written about it previously, both from a Canadian perspective and a USA perspective. Not only does the meridian cleave nicely through the middle of the North American continent geographically, it creates a divide meteorologically. The landscape tends to be wetter on the east side and dryer on the west, resulting in differences in farming, settlement, ecosystem and ultimately culture. The 100th meridian is so much more than an arbitrary line, albeit that’s exactly what it is from a technical perspective, it serves as a vague psychological transition.
This is the result. Feel free to open the image in another tab and view it in full size. I’ve compressed it here for purposes of squishing it into a blog format. I’ve color-coded it by state to make it easier to follow.
I rather enjoyed drawing the map even if it was a bit tedious at times. Mapquest was actually more useful to this effort than Google Maps. Mapquest provides all county lines automatically. I had to check county-by-county to confirm that I was still straddling the 100th meridian. Borders don’t always run straight and sometimes I had to check multiple county locations or even consult other sources. I’m pretty sure this is a definitive list although errors always seem to find a way to creep-in. I’ll be glad to make corrections as necessary.
The meridian passes from north to south through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. I found some interesting peculiarities along the way. You’ll notice a few clusters of side-by-side counties. Those are locations where a county may have only a tiny knob clipped by the line.
Gosper County, NE was a good example of that. It’s roughly rectangular with a small square appended to its southwestern edge, almost as an afterthought (map)(1). The meridian passed through part of the square. Harper/Ellis and Beaver Counties in Oklahoma also raised an eyebrow. It appeared that the meridian ran right down the eastern edge of Beaver. However — and I checked this in a couple of different places — Beaver fell completely west of the line by a few hundred feet. Notice how Beaver Co. doesn’t extend quite as far east as the Texas-Oklahoma border when it cuts south, which absolutely does follow the 100th meridian.
Speaking of that, does the meridian cut through those Texas-Oklahoma border counties or not? Some people may say that it does not because the theoretical width of the meridian is infinitesimally small approaching zero, and the two states and their respective border counties only "touch" not "cross" the meridian. I’m inclined to say that it does happen although for a more practical reason: I’m willing to bet that there are enough minor border oscillation due to tiny surveying errors that someone could find genuine instances of those counties actually crossing the meridian (maybe by only a few feet) if we looked hard enough. I’m too lazy to confirm that, though. Bear in mind that there is plenty of precedence in U.S. law to recognize these kinds of surveying errors as true boundaries if they’ve been observed as such historically.
Finally, there was also good reason for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad to put the two sundials in their Dodge City, KS railroad station. The meridian fell only a mile away from the station (map) even though Central Time has crept slowly towards the western edge of Kansas over ensuing years.
Here is the list, from north to south.
- Keya Paha
- Ellis, OK
- Lipscomb, TX
- Hemphill, TX
- Roger Mills, OK
- Wheeler, TX
- Beckham, OK
- Collingsworth, TX
- Harmon, OK
- Childress, TX
(1)I discovered a neat little trick I spotted on some random website while researching this article. Did you know that you can perform a Google Analytics review on any link created by the Google URL Shortener? Maybe I was the only one who didn’t know that? Anyway, all you need to do is append either a "+" or a ".info" to the shortened URL. For example, here is a shortened URL I created for Kansas Mountain Time: For a map = http://goo.gl/maps/073xz; for Analytics = http://goo.gl/maps/073xz+ or http://goo.gl/maps/073xz.info. I’m not sure whether I’ll ever have any practical purpose for this feature, however it’s an interesting oddity to pack away in my toolbox. And who was the person from Argentina that clicked on the link, I wonder?
No less than the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is responsible for the claim, which it considers "Other Interstate Trivia" by the way, that: "All but five state capitals are served by the interstate highway system. Those that are not served are: Juneau, AK; Dover, DE; Jefferson City, MO; Carson City, NV; and Pierre, SD." Every other website that features this interesting tidbit seems to feed directly from the FHWA source. Most don’t even bother to change the language. They simply cut-and-paste the quote verbatim without attribution and present it as fact.
It seems odd to our sensibilities that the capital city of a given state might not be served by an interstate highway. One imagines that if any place were able to secure the necessary Federal highway funds it would be the center of a state’s political universe. How can a capital city, one wonders, live practically off-the-grid like that? Is the claim factual? In a strict technical sense, yes as of the date I posted this article. However, as with many things discussed on 12MC, a closer examination reveals nuance and shades of gray. A city isn’t isolated just because an interstate highway doesn’t run up to its doorstep. Keep that in mind as we proceed.
Let’s start with the easy one. Three guesses why Juneau, Alaska isn’t served by the interstate highway system. Right.
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Juneau grew along a narrow flatland, hemmed-in between a tall ridge of coastal mountains on one side and and the Gastineau Channel on the other. That was perfectly fine when boats were a primary means of transportation. It’s considered a detriment in an automobile-oriented culture. Juneau’s Glacier Highway does continue to push farther north along the coastline (much farther than when I went "Out the Road" a number of years ago). Perhaps someday their road will extend all the way to Skagway through some engineering miracle and massive amounts of oil revenue to finally connect Juneau to the outside world by road. However, even if it ever did, it would still be a long way from interstate quality. Ships and airplanes seem to be a better option for Juneau. It might be easier to simply move the capital elsewhere.
Jefferson City, Missouri and Pierre, South Dakota also come close to proving the adage. Access to either one is considerably easier than Juneau, though. Both have four-lane highways leading from an interstate in at least one direction albeit these access roads have plenty of at-grade intersections. That condition by itself fails to meet interstate highway standards. I’m sure there are plenty of other reasons too. The Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce has pushed for a road that would become Interstate 570. However it remains only a pipe-dream at this time without any meaningful planning or funding. I couldn’t find any similar efforts in Pierre. Apparently they’re satisfied with the existing 4-lane road. At-grade crossings are less of a problem in a rural area within the Great Plains. Much of the 34 mile stretch of U.S. Route 83 extending between Interstate 90 and Pierre traverses the Fort Pierre National Grassland.
Carson City, Nevada and Dover, Delaware are different stories. Carson City will likely drop from the list before too long. It is served by U.S. Route 395 that drops south from Interstate 80 at Reno. Much of Route 395 has already been upgraded to interstate standards. Construction continues and before long it will become Interstate 580. Readers can track progress through a Nevada Department of Transportation site dedicated to keeping the public informed.
The extension of I-580 from the Mt. Rose Highway to Bowers Mansion cutoff will connect Reno and Carson City, effectively completing I-580 in Washoe County. NDOT has been planning for several decades to improve I-580 to freeway standards for its entire length in Nevada. Piece by piece, the long-range plan is taking shape.
It could be finished this year and suddenly a thousand unoriginal websites shamelessly copying from the Federal Highway Administration verbatim will be wrong. Incorrect information on the Intertubes? I know, I know… heaven forbid.
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U.S. Route 1 as it drops south from Interstate 95 between Newark and Wilmington down to Dover sure looks like it must be a prominent freeway based on the map. Indeed it is, and it’s even constructed to interstate highway standards. It’s a toll road, the 51-mile Korean War Veterans Memorial Highway. Nonetheless it is not an interstate highway, not even a secrete one. I don’t know why. If someone in authority in Delaware snapped his or her fingers and planted a few signs it could qualify as an interstate highway. That would instantly drop Dover from the list.
Final verdict: the FHWA list of five is correct. However one state capital has a road that’s an interstate highway equivalent and another will have an actual interstate highway soon.
Let’s not forget about Honolulu, Hawaii, either. It’s not on the list because it is served by an interstate highway.
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There are a number of interstate highways in Hawaii although, paradoxically, none of them are actually interstate for the obvious reason. An interstate highway has to adhere to specific design characteristics but it doesn’t have to cross a state border, oddly enough.