How to get out of the Army
The Union Army’s officer corps was not always made of the best material. Henry Kelly appears to prove that point. The question is, `who was Henry Kelly?’
Henry C. Kelly had a long and not altogether happy army career during the Civil War. He seems to have enlisted first as a private in Co. C, 2nd Iowa Infantry. He next appears on the record as a first lieutenant in Captain Simmon’s Company, 1st Regiment Alabama Infantry African Descent, at the age of 21 years, mustering at Corinth, Mississippi, where this photograph was taken (here wearing captain’s bars and an artillery officer’s cap badge, which may be explained by his pension application) on May 21, 1863, for three years’ service.
Kelly, 5’8″, dark complexioned, with blue eyes and black hair, a coppersmith by trade, was born December 6, 1836, in Brooklyn, New York. He was married twice, first to Julia McCarthy at St. Patrick’s Church, Chicago, in 1855, and then in 1859 to Catherine Ball in St. Michael’s Church, Chicago. Seven children were born to the couple.
His regiment served on garrison duty at Corinth and Memphis, from where, in March 1864, an unsettled Kelly wrote his superiors asking for leave so he could take his family, evidently with him, to Illinois, because “their situation here is … very unpleasant. I have been in service two years and had never had a leave of absence.”
On June 10, 1864, the regiment, now the 55th U.S.C.T., fought at Brice’s Crossroads. Kelly, however, was not with them and on July 11 he was seen at the sutler’s store at Fort Pickering, Memphis, drinking beer. Then, according to the charge in his court martial, he “did in the presence of Mrs. LF. Randolph, a lady teacher of this command, and in the presence of other colored ladies and enlisted men of Co. J 55th Infantry, wilfully commit a `nuisance’ by exhibiting his private parts and urinating in the presence of the before mentioned parties.” The following is taken from the almost surreal text of the court martial:
“Q: You are certain he was making water at the time you saw him, and that he was not emptying water from a pitcher?
A: Yes, I am
Q: How do you know that it was Lieut. Kelly…?
A: I saw his face. I know him when I see him.
Q: How do you know that he was discharging the water that you saw from his `private parts’?
A: I saw his ‘privates’ and saw the ‘water’ coming out.
Q: Are you sure that it was water you saw Lieut. Kelly discharging?
A: Yes, sir, I am sure it was water.
Q: How do you know it was water?
A: I never heard of a gentleman discharging anything but water from his privates…”
Q: … what does the process of urinating consist of?
A: It consists of passing water through the privates of a person, to the best of my knowledge.
Q: Might not Lieut. Kelly have been emptying water form some vessel?
A: No, sir!
Q: How to you know?
A: From my own observation…”
On June 22 Kelly tendered “my unconditional and immediate resignation … on account of serious difficulties in which I have become involved and are of such a nature that they can never be reconciled.” This was approved enthusiastically by his commander who recommend that it be accepted “as he is entirely worthless to the service as an officer.”
However Kelly did not leave the service. On January 20, 1865, he again tendered his “immediate and unconditional resignation,” pleading pecuniary losses since entering the service and being unable to support his family on an officer’s salary. Again his commanding officer forwarded it for approval: “This officer has lost all interest in the service and is determined to get out in some way or other. I would therefore recommend that his resignation is accepted at once.”
At the inspector general’s office in Memphis the documents were referred to Major Lyman W. Clark, 108th Illinois, who noted that, from the evidence of his fellow officers, “It is his firm determination to get out of the service, either honorably or dishonorably, and he apparently cares but little which.”
The saga does not end there: On February 7, 1865, after reviewing the correspondence. Brigadier General Benjamin S. Roberts, commander of the District of West Tennessee, ordered “the immediate arrest and close confinement in strong stockade of Ist Lieutenant H.C. Kelly…”
On the 16th Kelly protested that “I have been confined in this prison for the past nine days, and that no copy of the Charges has been furnished me. [The law] provides that, when an officer is arrested, a copy of charges must be furnished him, within eight days thereafter, or the arrest ceases.” Roberts returned the papers: “charges are being made … and Lt. Kelly will be tried by Court Martial at an early date, and furnished with the charges.”
Eleven days later came the reasons: “… this officer was arrested and confined by Genl Roberts for swindling the men of his command out of money by borrowing and refusing to pay in direct violation of orders … as all the witnesses … have gone with their command, I respectfully recommend that he be sent in arrest to this command at New Orleans.” The orders for him to be sent there, or wherever his regiment was, came on March 2.
Still nothing appears to have been settled. On May 12, 1865, a month after the end of the war, Kelly wrote once again, this time to the adjutant general in Washington, D.C, from Port Hudson, Louisiana, where his regiment was now encamped: “I have the honor to tender my resignation … for the following reasons.
“I entered the State service of Iowa on the 25th day of April… 1861, since when I have been constantly on duty.
“My private affairs demand my immediate attention, and believing that officers who can simply enlisted for the continuance of the war can leave the Army with safety to the Country, I trust that I can be spared without injury to the service…”
Major J.B. McCord, now in command of the regiment, forwarded the application with the endorsement, “Respectfully forwarded and earnestly recommended.”
No doubt to the relief of all concerned, Special Orders No. 132 from headquarters, Department of the Gulf, May 19, 1865, announced that “1st Lieutenant H.C. Kelly … is honorably discharged [from] the military service of the United States…” Kelly returned to Chicago where he seems to have lived until his death.
The puzzle of Kelly’s early war service is only deepened by his application for a pension in 1899. This states that “he first enlisted at Cairo, Ill., Jan. 1862, as a coppersmith, and served on the U.S.S. Swallow, then to the Champion after the destruction of the Swallow, then the Sovereign. After being absent on sick furlough about six months, was assigned to the Fairplay as Asst. Engineer. Was finally discharged from the Sovereign after a service of about ten months. That he never served on the G[un] B[oat] Benton in 1862, or at any other time, but did work on the Benton, fitting pipes, &c. That he was appointed 2nd Lt. Battery G 1 st Tenn Lt Arty about Dec. 1862, and remained with said Battery until finally discharged in Feb. 1865.” Or, as Kelly stated in his 1907 pension declaration, March 1865.
In fact, there is no listing for a Henry Kelly as an assistant engineer on the U.S. Navy roster. However, a Captain Henry C. Kelly is listed in Tennessee records as commanding Co. G, 1 st Tennessee Light Artillery Battalion, which was organized November 1, 1863 and mustered out of service July and August 1865.
Kelly died from a cerebral hemorrhage on March 16, 1909, aged 71, and was buried at Rosy Hill Cemetery, Chicago. His widow Catherine lived on in Chicago until May 1919.
Copyright Military Images Jan/Feb 2003
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