Whether by voluntary enlistment or draft, the Civil War that began in April 1861 took fathers and sons away for years — and sometimes forever.
Michael Kennedy of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, was in the first wave of men to enlist after President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers to defend the Union. The son of Sylvester and Mary Kennedy joined the 16th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment at Camp Randall in Madison on November 21, 1861. The regiment mustered into service on January 31, 1862 and left the state on March 13 en route to Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee. After several days encampment along the Tennessee River, the 16th Wisconsin was attached to the Sixth Division, Army of the Tennessee, commanded by Brigadier Gen. Benjamin M. Prentiss.
Early on April 6, Capt. Edward Saxe of the 16th Wisconsin’s Company A was ordered to make an advance toward the Confederate line. Within a short distance, an enemy volley killed Saxe and Sgt. John Williams. Thus opened the deadly Battle of Shiloh. The Battle of Shiloh went down in the annals of war as one of the bloodiest ever fought. It was a turning point for the Union. For much of the day, a desperate battle raged back and forth between Union and Confederate forces.
“The rebel hordes were coming on in front and flank, rolling up great columns like the waves of the ocean,” wrote Pvt. David G. James. Companies were moved in and out as ammunition and supplies ran short. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant told Gen. Prentiss if he could hold his position until sundown the army would be safe. Prentiss and his troops held until 5:30 p.m., when they were surrounded and more than 1,000 men taken prisoner. April 6 closed “at that time the bloodiest battle ever fought on the American continent,” James wrote. Prentiss’ Sixth Division suffered 236 killed and 928 wounded, in addition to the 1,008 captured.
At some point in wild battle, Kennedy was seriously wounded and captured by Confederate forces. Union troops were not able to recover bodies or make a full accounting of the missing until April 7, 1862. Kennedy was held prisoner at Corinth, Mississippi, where he died from his wounds on April 26, 1862. He was 20 years old.
We don’t know how much the captivity contributed to Kennedy’s death. Confederate prison camps were notorious for squalid conditions and severe mistreatment of Union soldiers. Kennedy was one of 39 soldiers from the 16th Wisconsin who later died from wounds sustained in the Battle of Shiloh. Overall, the 16th Wisconsin suffered 62 dead and 189 wounded in the battle. Kennedy is buried at Sacred Hearts Cemetery.
(This story was excerpted from “Catholic Pioneers on the Prairie,” a 28-page booklet written on the founding of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church.)
©2015 The Hanneman Archive