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    Archive Belonging to John Kennedy of the 72nd NY Infantry. A small archive relating to Private John Kennedy. Included are 23 letters from John to his sister, Elisa Jane Kennedy, as well as a legal document, a carte de visite of Daniel Sickles, and 2 letters from Kennedy's regiment. The majority of letters are four pages in length on bifolia measuring 4.75" x 8", although some of the longer descriptions of battles spill onto additional pages. John enlisted at the age of 34 and was mustered into Co. D of the New York 72nd Infantry. The regiment was formed by Daniel Sickles as part of his Excelsior Brigade, and it saw action at Williamsburg, Fair Oaks, Malvern Hill, the Second Battle of Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. Sadly, Kennedy was killed at the Battle of Chancellorsville while trying to help his wounded lieutenant off the battlefield.

    John Kennedy enlisted at Dunkirk, New York on May 23, 1861, and was stationed in Washington D.C. through the summer and into the fall. However, by February of the next year, Kennedy had moved into Ohio and writes to his sister about deserters on both the Union and Confederate sides, showing the contrast between the two sides. The February 2 letter reads, in part:

    "There was four of our regiment deserted but not to the rebels. We have caught 3 of them. The one from our company they have not got yet but they have heard where he was. I hope they will never get him. They will be shot. Our boy was a good one. The captain took a dislike to him...Our battle is going to be the big one in Virginia. It is the one that will end the war, so the northern states think. we have two rebel deserters here. They say they have very little to eat or wear and skin plasters for money. They say that we will beat them easy. There is two thousand that will not fight when we cross over. That is what they say."

    Just over two weeks later, on the 19th, Kennedy wrote to boast of the Union's success and he even included a carte de visite of the brigade's general, Daniel Sickles, for his sister to admire. He writes of the pursuit of the rebel army, saying, "Our rifles are all tried. We have to carry as little as we can: two blankets and two days' provisins and forty rounds of ball cartridges. We are kept in readiness and everything is ready at a moment's warning. The rebels are leaving the river and we will have to cross it...We are whipping the rebels pretty bad. We have Roanoke Island and Fort Henry and Fort Donaldson. We are doing great business. It is our turn next. Ours, the Gran Army of the Republic, will have the big fight. We all think our fight will end the war. It will be a hard one. The rebels say they will give no quarters, but we do not care for that. We will whip them anyhow." Unfortunately, Kennedy's optimism for a swift end to the war was not to be.

    Fighting in Virginia, Kennedy participated in the Seven Days Battle, and his July 15, 1862 letter describes to Elisa both the strength of the Union army as well as the bravery of the Confederates: "The rebels commenced at Mechanicsville, a way on our right. Our division lay in the center and we were very strongly fortified. Our men whipped them twice on our right. We could not see the battle there but we could hear the cannons roar. Our men fired eighty cannon a minute - grape and canister. The rebels were mowed down the same as mowing wheat. They would march up four men deep and try to take our cannon and they would get blown away like chaff before the wind...we had to fight for two hours. When we got close enough, we charged bayonets on them and they ran away and we after them. We took two of their cannon and a lot of prisoners. The prisoners said they had two men to our one. They said they had no breakfast but plenty of whiskey. They all had their canteens full of it."

    Further on, in the same letter, Kennedy speaks of the "rebel yell" and how "They do not cheer like our men. They had their canteens full of whiskey and gun powder to make them fight better." Once the battle was over, Kennedy was struck by the horrors of the wounded and dead that were left across the battlefield. He describes to his sister, "One of the battles we left all of our wounded on the field and there was a great many that died and all the dead not buried. Some of our wounded that came in a few days ago said that it was awful. The wounded eat all that they had in their haversacks and then died and their wounds all crawling with vermin. The last big battle we did not bury any of our dead or the rebels either and the whole field and woods are covered with bones. The day after the battle it rained so we did nothing, only get our wounded off, and the next day it was very warm and we could not go near them. The rebels all turned black as negros and our men all white. The doctor says that the whiskey does it. I never want to see such sights again."

    As the war dragged on, Lincoln was growing increasingly frustrated by the failures of General McClellan. After McClellan failed to pursue the rebels after the Battle of Antietam, Lincoln relieved him of his command and promoted Ambrose Burnside to lead the Army of the Potomac. On November 24, 1862, Kennedy wrote to Elisa about the sad departure of McClellan, who was beloved by his soldiers. In part:

    "McClelland passed where we were and we went to see him and he spoke a little. Said he was sorry he had to leave. Told us to be as faithful to Burnside as we were to him. We had our new flag and the old one. He asked the color bearer how long he carried the old flag and he told them 18 months and he took hold of his hand and shook it and told him to be faithful. He took the old one. It will hardly hold together. It is full of bullet holes. He raised it up and kissed it and he held it some time and wept like a child. We all felt bad to see him leave. There was only our regiment thus we shook hands with him. There was more wet eyes than I have seen in some time."

    John Kennedy survived both the Second Battle of Bull Run and the Battle of Fredericksburg, but was sadly killed at Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863. Elisa received two letters about her brother's death. First from his captain, C.K. Abell, who wrote on May 21, "It becomes my painful duty to inform you that your brother, John Kennedy, was killed at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia on the morning of May 3rd. He was shot while helping Lieutenant Brooks to the rear. It was impossible to obtain his body as we were driven from the field. I am proud to say your brother fell fighting nobly while doing his duty like a soldier and a man." A week or so later, Kennedy's friend G.W. Hayden wrote to Elisa with deepest sympathies and advice about procuring the money her brother had left her in his will. He wrote Jun 3, "I would have written before now but we thought that he might have been taken prisoner. I have learned since by our lieutenant that was wounded and taken prisoner, that John was killed trying to get him out. I am very sorry for he was my comrade when I was in the regiment and he told me if anything happened to him to be sure and write to you and tell you about his money that he has in the bank...when you go to Dunkirk, you can stop by my house and I know that my wife will make you welcome and will be glad to see you as you are from Old Niagara. So when you go you must stop there as it was John's request to me."

    Also included is the legal document, dated September 19, 1804, which records the transfer of John's property to his sister. This small archive is full of details of Kennedy's war experiences and of numerous key battles such as the Seven Days Battle, the Second Battle of Bull Run, and the Battle of Fredericksburg. It would be an excellent addition to any collection.

    Condition: Letters range from very good to fair, with varying degrees of toning, creasing and separations, and some spots of soiling. There are a few areas of paper loss. Text is bold and legible.




    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2018
    25th Thursday
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