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John Doby Kennedy

By Mac Wyckoff


John D. Kennedy survived fifteen wounds in 
six different battles to becomeone of the younger 
generals of the Civil War. In all my years of studying
the war, I have never found someone who felt the sting
of a bullet more often.To his credit he choose not to resign,
which as an officer he could have done, but to continue on
until the final surrender of his command.

Kennedy was born on January 5, 1840 in Camden, South Carolina, 
the hometown of his friend and commanding officer 
Joseph Kershaw. Kennedy attended South Carolina College
between 1855 and 1857, studied law and passed the bar
exam a few weeks before the outbreak of war. Ironically, 
he worked in the law office of William Zack Leitner 
who would serve under Kennedy during the war.

He also served as a lieutenant in a Camden
pre-war militia unit. On April 9, 1861 he became captain 
of Company E, 2nd South Carolina. His men mostly came from
Camden with a few like Richard Kirkland, "The Angel 
of Maryes’ Heights" lived in the outlying rural areas
of the Kershaw District.

His regiment saw its first action at 1st Manassas 
where Kennedy was one of five captains in the regiment
(exactly half of them) to be wounded. In January of 1862, 
General Milledge L. Bonham resigned as the brigade
commander as a result of a feud with President Jefferson
Davis. Kershaw,s senior colonel, was promoted to brigade
command and Kennedy, as senior available captain, became 
regimental commander. During the May 13 re-organization, 
Kennedy was re-elected colonel. He came down with a fever 
after the Battle of Savage Station on June 29, 1862 which 
apparently caused him to miss the charge upon Malvern Hill 
two days later. He participated in the Maryland Campaign 
and was hit in the instep and Achilles tendon while crossing 
a fence along the Hagerstown Pike in the regiment’s initial 
assault at Antietam. He was present at 
Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. He was wounded 
severely in the hand and 
slightly in the hip at Gettysburg. Since he was still on 
furlough in late August of 1863, he probably did not 
fight at Chickamauga. At Knoxville in mid-November of 1863 
he was again severely wounded, this time in the shoulder. 
He apparently returned just prior to the Battle of the 
Wilderness.  Early in that battle he was struck in the 
shoulder. Although it was a flesh wound he nearly 
died from loss of blood and  was absent until 
December of 1864. Kershaw’s Brigade had been 
decimated by the loss of regimental and brigade 
commanders during the prior months. Upon his return 
he was elevated to brigadier general to command the 
brigade. In January of 1865, the brigade went to 
South Carolina to help defend the men’s home state 
against General William T. Sherman. 
After retreating across the state line, Kennedy led 
his brigade at the battles of  Averasboro and Bentonville 
in North Carolina. The brigade was part of the force 
surrendered by General Joseph Johnston to Sherman at 
the Bennett House on April 26, 1865 and they were 
paroled six days later at Greensboro.

Kennedy returned to Camden to practice law and was 
elected to Congress that Fall. However, like some 
other Southerners,  he was denied his seat when 
he refuse to take the "iron-clad oath."  He was 
prominent in state politics as a member of the state 
legislature from 1878-1882 and was elected lieutenant 
governor in 1880. He lost the 1882 election for governor, 
but served as Consul General to Shanghai, China 
under President Cleveland from 1885-1889. He died 
suddenly of a stroke on April 14, 1896 and is buried 
in Camden’s Quaker Cemetery with Kershaw, 
Kirkland  and many others who served under him in 
the 2nd South Carolina. He is described as 
"an accomplished scholar and highly gifted intellectually." 
At least some of his writings were destroyed by fire 
in the late 1980’s before I had a chance to 
read them and make copies.

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