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Lived to fight another battle

Monday, April 18, 2011 - 10:19 am

On July 29, 1861, at the age of 23, my great-great-uncle Gideon Kennedy joined the 19th Indiana Volunteer Regiment for a three-year enlistment. His regiment was one of five that comprised the famous “Iron Brigade.” Other regiments of the Brigade were the 2nd, 6th and 7th Wisconsin, and eventually the 24th Michigan. Also known as the “Black Hat Brigade” because they wore the tall black regular army dress hat instead of the typical blue cap, it was the only all-western brigade in the Army of the Potomac. The nickname Iron Brigade was coined at the battle of South Mountain in September 1862 by Gen. George McClellan due to the men's exceptional courage in battle. They would not break and run, and “stood like iron.”

After leaving Indianapolis for Washington, D.C., Pvt. Kennedy trained and encamped with the Army of the Potomac until his first major battle. On Aug. 28, 1862, on the eve of the Second Battle of Bull Run, his brigade was ambushed at Brawner's Farm near Manassas, Va., by Stonewall Jackson's Division. Severely wounded by a Minie ball injury to his jaw, Pvt. Kennedy eventually recovered and fought at Gettysburg in the crucial opening battle on July 1, 1863, at McPherson's Ridge. At the end of 1863, he re-enlisted early and was granted a Christmas furlough and a $400 bonus. He went on to fight several other battles, including the Wilderness, and witnessed Lee's surrender at Appomattox in April 1865. Pvt. Kennedy returned to Indiana at war's end and became a farmer in Nashville, Mich., where he lived and worked until his death in 1933 at the age of 95.

The 19th Indiana had the highest percentage of men killed in battle from Indiana. When the war ended, the Iron Brigade also led all other federal brigades in the percentage of battle death.

There is a website that has most of the same pictures I'm submitting about Pvt. Kennedy at www. 19thindianaironbrigade.com. Pvt. Kennedy was also referenced in the book “Iron Men Iron Will” by Craig L. Dunn (page 74).

Mike E. Evans, Fort Wayne

Wounded and left for dead

This well-known image shows Charles Augustus Keeler, great-grandfather of Fort Wayne resident Gary Lane, in dress uniform. Keeler enrolled in the 6th Wisconsin Regiment of the famous “Iron Brigade” in June 1861. Members of the Iron Brigade wore black Hardee hats as headgear rather than the blue kepis usually associated with Union forces.

The Iron Brigade was composed entirely of westerners, but fought in the eastern theater. They immediately gained a fierce reputation. Confederates called them “them damn black hat fellers,” recognizing them as unyielding fighters even in the early years of the war, when many Union forces in the east collapsed under pressure.

Keeler was badly wounded through both ankles on July 1, 1863, the first day of Gettysburg. Fighting had been close, and before passing out from blood loss, Keeler was able to tie off his wounds with a sash taken from a Confederate flag bearer who had fallen nearby. When he regained consciousness, he found he had been taken from the field and stacked among the dead.

The Iron Brigade had been 1,885 men strong going into Gettysburg, but 1,153 (61 percent) were casualties there.

Keeler recovered from his wounds and mustered out as a sergeant in November 1865. He later served as a member of the U.S. Life Saving crew on Lake Michigan. He died in 1913.

Gary A. Lane, Fort Wayne