Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Gettysburg 150th Part 2 - The Story of John Callis and Thomas Kenan

June 26, 2013
Today's officers share in a unique story that truly illustrates the 'small world' we all live in.  It is one of my personal favorites from the greater Gettysburg story and it sheds light on the ties that bind us all.

Raleigh, NC, 22 August, 1893.

Gen.  John B. Callis, Lancaster, Grant County, Wisconsin.
My Dear Sir :—Upon a recent visit to Gettysburg and going over the ground where the first day's battle as fought, I was forcibly reminded of the circumstances under which I met you, and which have been related by me to others, numbers of times in the last thirty years.

You and I were in opposing commands. You were Lieutenant-Colonel of the Seventh Wisconsin, and I was Colonel of the Forty-third North Carolina Infantry, Daniel's Brigade, Rodes' Division, Ewell's Corps. After the engagement had continued for some time the Union forces fell back and occupied Seminary Ridge, and later in the afternoon this became the point of attack by the Confederates and was carried by them. The firing having ceased and comparative quiet restored, Lieutenant Shepherd, of my regiment, reported to me that among the wounded in our front was Lieutenant-Colonel Callis, of the Seventh Wisconsin, and that he(or his father's family) "was from Fayetteville, X. C, Shepherd himself being also a Fayetteville man. This fact no doubt interested him. Thereupon I went forward and found you lying a little beyond the crest of the ridge, and about the spot where I stood the other day at Gettysburg.  After some conversation and doing what I could in your behalf, I caused you to be carried to the building near by, in which the wounded Union soldiers were placed for immediate treatment. I think it was the large brick Seminary building. And shortly afterwards one of my men handed me a pair of splendid spurs which he said you had presented to me. I sent them home and have prized them highly ever since. I well remember telling you that "You are now my prisoner, and I'll treat you well ; I may be yours later on." And so it happened, for I was wounded on Gulp's Hill on 3 July, taken off the field, placed in an ambulance and captured on the retreat on the night of 4 July, with many other wounded Confederates, and was a prisoner until the war closed.

43rd NC Monument along E Confederate Ave near Culps Hill
I hope we will meet at 'Gettysburg again, not on a hostile, but on a friendly historic field, when our performances will be impressed with a character different from that of 1863. A committee has been appointed by the government, charged with the duty of marking the lines of the Confederate troops in the interest of history, and I have been in correspondence with Colonel Bachelder, its chairman, in reference to that matter. I may therefore go to Gettysburg again, and, if so, will write you, and request your presence at that time.

I will be pleased to learn your military career after the time referred to above. The Adjutant-General of your State, upon my application, gave me your address.
Yours truly,
Thos. S. Kenan

To this letter the following reply was received:

Lancaster, Wis., 3 September, 1893.

Colonel Thos. S. Kenan, Raleigh, N. C:
My Dear Colonel:—Your favor of a recent date is before me and its contents highly appreciated. It contains convincing evidence of the fact that we met in deadly combat on the historic field of Gettysburg 1 July, 1863, over thirty years ago—I now carrying a souvenir in the shape of a minie ball in my right lung, and you bearing honorable scars, evidencing the fact that we both fought desperately for the causes we individually thought just. And now after thirty years we are exchanging friendly greetings. Thus it is ‘paritur pax belIo.’  I have always admired a gentleman who never forgets that he is a gentleman no matter what his environs may be, and must say that I took you to be such, when you kindly treated me as your prisoner of war on the field at Gettysburg, hence the presentation of my spurs, I thinking I would have no more use for them. I was doubtless somewhat delirious with pain when you came up to me, but the facts were so indelibly fixed on my mind that they are as fresh to me as though they were of yesterday, and are as follows: On the morning of 1 July, 1863, about 9:30 o'clock, the Iron Brigade, composed of the Second, Sixth and Seventh Wisconsin, Nineteenth Indiana and Twenty-fourth Michigan, charged General Archer's Brigade on Willoughby's Run and captured General Archer and most of his brigade. In this charge my horse was killed and I was slightly wounded, and not taking time to shed my spurs, I went in on foot. We held Willoughby's Run until 3 o'clock in the afternoon, when Ave found ourselves in the little end of a "V" being flanked on the right and left by A. P. Hill's and Ewell's Corps. General Reynolds, of our first corps having been killed and General Meredith, commanding our brigade, and most of our field officers, having been wounded or killed in the morning, what was left of our brigade was in a tight place. We moved by the right of companies to the rear, making the Seminary on the Ridge our objective point. Being closely pursued by the Confederates, we faced, wheeled into line and fired; then again by the right of companies to the rear, loading on the march, and, as before, wheeled into line and fired. We executed the same movement with terrible effect.

Worm fence along Herbst Woods with McPherson Barn in the distance.
Many a brave North Carolinian bit the dust in that movement before we reached the Seminary. At this juncture I was shot in the right breast, the ball entering my lung, and here it still remains. Captain Hobert, of my regiment, made a detail, with himself, to take me off the field. They carried me over the pike into a field near the old railroad grade, where they were compelled to surrender and were taken prisoners to the rear, leaving me where you found me. The first thing I remember, I was surrounded by private Confederate soldiers, who were curiously examining my uniform, they taking my coat off, in the side pocket of which was my pocket book containing $220 in greenbacks and gold, with papers by which I might be identified should I be found dead on the field. They went and sat down on the railroad grade near by and were examining the contents of the pocketbook when an officer came to me and saw my condition. He interrogated me as to my rank, regiment, name and nativity, and in stooping over me to catch my words I though I could see signs of pity depicted on his face, which gave me hope. I asked him to unbuckle the spur from my boot. He did so and seeing the other foot bootless, he asked its meaning. I told him some of the men had pulled it off without unbuckling the spur and that it nearly tore the leg off. He looked around and found the boot with the spur on it; he took it off and threw the boots and spurs by my side, asking at the same time if they had taken anything else from me. I told them they had taken my coat and money. He inquired who they were, and I, pointing to them on the railroad grade, said, "There they are now." He looked and saw them and ordered them to restore the pocketbook and money, which they did—he placing the book and money in an inside pocket of my coat. I told him to take the money and send it to my family, as I feared it would be an incentive for the men to finish me and take the money as soon as his back was turned on me. He replied, "I will see that you are taken care of," and I soon found myself in charge of two Confederates, one a German and one an Irishman, with a negro to bring water and pour on my wounds, and faithfully too, they did their whole duty. I looked around and found that you were not in sight. I told the men that I was glad that I had given you my spurs as a partial reward for your kindness, and the Irishman replied, ''Yis, sor, he's a mighty foine man, so he is sor." And the German said, ''Yah, he bin so better as glide." I think this was the first thing that provoked a smile since I had been shot. You know it rained that night, which was a God-send to me, for it cooled the fever that was burning in me. In this condition I lay on the field until the afternoon of 3 July, when the Confederates commenced falling back over me, and I fearing the cavalry and artillery might crush me, begged the men to take me to some place of safety, and they took me to a little house just across the pike and left me on the porch until the owner of the house came, who was a kind-hearted old Pennsylvania German, and he took me in and placed me on a straw bed in the corner of the room. The two men having heard that you were killed dodged into the cellar and remained there all night. On the morning of the 4th, General Buford's Cavalry came in pursuit of the Confederate forces and his chief surgeon caused me to be taken into the city where I received the best of care in a private house for three months before I could be removed to my home. * * (Here followed an account of his subsequent military services, promotion to Brigadier-General and election to Congress in 1868.)

Monument to the 7th Wisconsin at the edge of Herbst Woods
I have told the story of the spurs and your kindness until it has become a "campfire story" all over the State, and told it as I relate it to you ; and I wish there were more frequently such interchange of friendly greetings between ex-Confederate and Union soldiers as this between you and me.

I was born in Fayetteville, NC, 3 January, 1828. When I was ten years old my father removed to Benton county, Tennessee, and in 1840 to Lancaster, Grant county, Wisconsin, while it was a Territory. After I was of age I was actively engaged in business pursuits until 1861, when the call to arms was sounded in tones of thunder from the mouth of the first gun that was fired on the proud emblem of our nationality, then floating over the walls of Fort Sumter. I then conceived it to be not only my privilege, but my patriotic duty to abandon my business, my home and my family for a time and go to battle for the Nation's safety. My father, whose memory I revere, viewing the situation from a Southern standpoint, but at the same time being honest in his convictions, advised otherwise, saying that I was going to war  with my own flesh and blood, as all of our relatives lived in the South, but I followed the dictates of my own convictions and went, and ever since have been proud of having done my duty. * * *

Keep the spurs. Colonel, with my blessing, but I hope the occasion may never come for you to use them so vigorously that you will think yourself criminally guilty of cruelty to animals, as I have, many times. Pardon me, if I have deployed my skirmish line of thought on untenable ground, in this my disconnected answer to your tersely written communication on 22 August. With assurances of my highest regard and sincere desire for mutual and perpetual good feeling and friendly relations, I am very respectfully yours,
John B. Callis.
P. S. —I shall be more than glad to meet you at Gettysburg as indicated in your favor, my health permitting.

The ill health of General Callis prevented his meeting Colonel Kenan at Gettysburg as proposed, and he died in the year 1897.

From: Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-65. Volume V.  Thomas Kenan and John Callis. pp 611-616.  1901.  Also reprinted in North Carolina Remembers Gettysburg.  Michael C. Hardy. pp 92-97. 2011.

Thomas Kenan
43rd North Carolina
Daniel's Brigade, Rodes' Division, Ewell's Corps

Thomas Stephen Kenan was born in Kenansville, North Carolina in 1838 and was an 1857 graduate of the University of North Carolina.  He and his brother were involved in a local militia unit at the outbreak of the war.  The company, of which Kenan was Captain, became part of the 12th North Carolina before being consolidated into the new 43rd North Carolina.  Kenan was elected Colonel and led the regiment through all its travails up to Gettysburg.  On the morning of July 1 the regiment was heavily engaged against the Stone's Bucktail Brigade and portions of Cutler's Brigade.  The regiment was not engaged on the second day of the battle, but moved to the Confederate left to support Johnson's Division's attack against Culps Hill where they were again engaged on the morning of July 3.  Kenan survived not only Gettysburg, but the entire war.  Afterwards he was engaged in politics through the state General Assembly of North Carolina, UNC's Board of Trustees and a number of other posts.  He died in 1911.

Lieutenant Colonel
John Benton Callis
7th Wisconsin
Meredith's Brigade, Wadsworth's Division, Reynolds' First Corps

John Callis was born on January 3, 1828 in Fayetteville, North Carolina and had a fluid life as a youth, moving to Tennessee and later Lancaster, Wisconsin.  In his antebellum adult days he moved to California as a mercantile and was involved in the mining business.  He later returned to Wisconsin where he enlisted in the 7th Wisconsin as a Lieutenant at the outbreak of the war.  As a result of attrition, Callis became the commander of the 7th Wisconsin in the famed Iron Brigade during the Maryland Campaign in 1862.  At Gettysburg on July 1 he was severely wounded in the chest and his recovery was a long road.  He never again served in the field with the Army of the Potomac, taking command as superintendent of the War Department in Washington D.C. at the end of the war.  After the conflict he moved around a bit and became a congressman before his death in 1898.


Joseph Barnett Family History:

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