John Kennedy (1834–1910)
John Kennedy was a Union artilleryman who won a Medal of Honor for gallantry in the 1864 Battle of Trevilian Station in Virginia. He spent the last part of his life in Arkansas and is buried in Oakland and Fraternal Cemetery in Little Rock (Pulaski County).
John Kennedy was born on May 14, 1834, in County Cavan, Ireland. Immigrating to the United States, he enlisted in the Second U.S. Artillery, Battery M, on December 16, 1857, at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, committing to a five-year term of service.
Kennedy had served during the 1858 Utah Expedition before the Civil War began and was involved in many actions with Battery M in the Eastern Theater during the Civil War. Kennedy and the Second U.S. Artillery were serving in Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer’s cavalry division when Major General Philip Sheridan’s horsemen conducted a raid to destroy railroad lines in Virginia to mask the movement of General Ulysses S. Grant’s Union army during the Overland Campaign.
On June 11, 1864, Sheridan’s troops clashed with Confederate cavalry at Trevilian Station. Custer’s troops ran into the rear of the Confederate army and captured a wagon train but were soon surrounded. During the fighting, Kennedy’s twelve-pounder brass artillery piece was targeted by charging Confederate horsemen. While the cannon’s limber (the wheeled cart that carries gunpowder and ammunition) was saved, Kennedy and four other artillerymen stood their ground and defended their gun. Kennedy remembered, “With the ammunition gone, in the tussle, we used our pistols. When we emptied them we took the sponge staves and handspikes and used them freely until overpowered, by them actually riding us down. I was fencing with the handspike with a cavalryman when another came in rear and knocked me down.”
While the captured gun was later rescued in a charge led by Custer himself, Kennedy and Private Charles O’Neil were captured. The other men at the gun were killed or wounded, among the forty-four casualties Battery M suffered in the battle. The two privates were taken to Andersonville prison in Georgia, where O’Neil died. Kennedy survived and returned to the army.
Kennedy married Margaret Kirker Woodlock in 1878, and they had two daughters and two sons, in addition to a son from Margaret’s first marriage. Kennedy eventually served thirty-three years at posts that included Baltimore, Maryland, and Little Rock, where he enlisted for his last term of service with the Second Artillery on November 28, 1886. He retired as an ordnance sergeant in 1891 and lived with his family at 1308 Welch Street in Little Rock for the last twenty-one years of his life.
On June 11, 1892, twenty-eight years after the action at Trevilian Station, Lieutenant Carle E. Woodruff nominated Kennedy for a Medal of Honor, an effort endorsed by Major Alexander Pendleton, who had commanded the Second U.S. Artillery in the battle. Kennedy received the medal on August 19, 1892, with a citation that said he “remained at his gun, resisting with its implements the advancing cavalry, and thus secured the retreat of his detachment.”
Kennedy died in Little Rock on September 28, 1910, and is buried in Oakland and Fraternal Cemetery in Little Rock, where he lies in Willow Lot 298 beside his wife. The Sgt. John Kennedy Field Office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency in Fort Smith (Sebastian County) is named in his honor.
For additional information:
McKinney, Joseph W. Trevilian Station: June 11–12, 1864. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., 2016.
Medal of Honor Recipients 1863–1978, Prepared for the Committee on Veterans Affairs United States Senate, February 14, 1979. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1979.
“Retired Officer Is Dead.” Arkansas Gazette, September 29, 1910, p. 24.
Swank, Walbrook Davis. Battle of Trevilian Station: The Civil War’s Greatest and Bloodiest All Cavalry Battle. Shippensburg, PA: Burd Street Press, 1994.
Wittenberg, Eric J. Glory Enough for All: Sheridan’s Second Raid and the Battle of Trevilian Station. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007.
Mark K. Christ
Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated: 02/10/2020