John Doby Kennedy

John Doby Kennedy

By Mac Wyckoff

John D. Kennedy survived fifteen wounds in six different battles to become one 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 Marye's 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, as 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.