29 April 2014
Remembering Our Civil War Heritage and Heroes:
Henry Kennerly: From the Upper Missouri to the Missouri Confederacy
By Ken Robison
For The River Press
April 24, 2014
This is the twenty-fifth installment of a monthly series commemorating Union and Confederate veterans of the Civil War who came to Montana after the war. This month features the adventures of a young man who had lived on the Upper Missouri before the Civil War, returned to “The States” to fight for the Confederacy, and then came back to leave his mark in frontier Montana. Descendants of Montana Civil War veterans are encouraged to send their stories to firstname.lastname@example.org
When the Civil War erupted in April 1861 the Upper Missouri region that became Montana was a vast land of many cultures. In addition to the thousands of Native Americans populating the dozen tribes, just a small number of American, Canadian, French, Metis, Spanish, and Mexicans were present, primarily involved in the fur and robe trade.
One of the Americans on the Upper Missouri in 1861 was Henry Atkinson Kennerly who was born at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis December 2, 1835, the son of George H. and Alziere Menard Kinnerly. His father had served as U. S. Army quartermaster-general before becoming a prominent merchant, while his mother came from the fur trading Menard family related through marriage to explorer William Clark. The Kennerlys were friends of another important fur trade family, the Chouteaus.
Nineteen year-old Henry Kennerly first came to the Upper Missouri in 1855 as private secretary and clerk for senior Indian Commissioner Alfred Cumming as Cumming and Governor Isaac I. Stevens of Washington Territory negotiated a treaty with the Blackfoot Nation, Gros Ventre, Flathead Nation, and Nez Perce. This treaty began a new era for Native Indian-American relations in the Upper Missouri region. The treaty council culminated American efforts to impose peace and order among the Indian nations along both the east and west slopes of the northern Rocky Mountains.
Commissioner Cumming and his party departed St. Louis on June 6, 1855 on the steamboat St. Mary, commencing the long trip up the Missouri River. Accompanying Cumming were Kennerly, Charles P. Chouteau, son of Pierre Chouteau, Jr. and director of operations for the American Fur Company, owners of the St. Mary, and Major Alexander Culbertson, supervisor of company operations on the Upper Missouri. St. Mary also carried American Fur Company trade goods as well as treaty annuity goods for the various tribes. In this early steamboat era, goods were off-loaded at Fort Union to proceed laboriously up river to Fort Benton by mackinaw boats.
The Cumming party proceeded by the Northern Overland route, arriving at Fort Benton on August 19th. There, couriers were dispatched to summon the tribes to a treaty council. Kennerly, with a guide, was detailed to search for the tribes of the Blackfoot Nation including chiefs Little Dog and Lame Bull. The council was finally convened near the mouth of the Judith River on October 16th, and the Lame Bull Treaty was concluded and dated the next day although the distribution of presents and annuities continued until October 20th. Two days later Cumming and Kennerly departed to return to St. Louis.
In the spring of 1856, Kennerly again ascended the Missouri to Fort Benton, this time employed by the American Fur Company. In the fall of that year he descended the Missouri to northern Nebraska Territory (which became Dakota Territory in 1861). By late May 1857, a new fur trade coalition was formed in opposition to Chouteau’s American Fur Company. Robert Campbell joined forces with Frost, Todd and Company. Daniel M. Frost and John Blair Todd established a trading post at Vermillion and hired Henry Kennerly to operate their post serving both the Army at Fort Randall and nearby Indian tribes. Kennerly was also named register of land with his office in Vermillion. Henry was reunited with his brother Lewis Hancock Kennerly was also working for Frost and Todd in the area.
As the dark clouds of the Civil War began to form in Missouri in 1859-60, both Frost and Lewis Kennerly returned to become leaders in the pro-secession Missouri Volunteer Militia. That brigade deployed to the Kansas border on the Southwest Expedition in November 1860 with both Lewis and another brother Samuel Kennerly in their ranks.
When the Civil War began in Missouri in May 1861 with the Camp Jackson Affair, Brigadier General Daniel M. Frost commanded the secessionist Missouri Volunteer Militia that included Lewis and Samuel Kennerly as well as their teenage third brother, James Amadee Kennerly. After the surrender of the Militia to Captain Nathaniel Lyon’s loyal Union regiments on May 10th, Frost and the three Kennerlys broke their paroles to join the Confederate-aligned Missouri State Guard under General Sterling Price.
The Kennerlys all became commissioned officers with the 1st Missouri Infantry Regiment, one of the most effective regiments in Price’s Army. The 1st Missouri was composed largely of the young men who had been captured at Camp Jackson. The 1st Missouri fought in nine pitched battles including Shiloh, Corinth, Tuscumbia Bridge, Altoona, and Franklin. Commanding the 1st Missouri was Colonel John Stevens Bowen, married to Mary Kennerly, sister to the Kennerly brothers.
All of the Kennerlys, Sam, Jim, and Lew, served as officers in the hard fighting 1st Missouri Infantry Regiment. Eighteen-year-old James enlisted as a drummer boy, but soon became bandmaster of the regimental band. Later in the war, he commanded Company A. Following the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee on November 30, 1864, one of Lieut. Kennerly’s men in Company A wrote: “Our appalling loss was not generally realized until the next morning, when a ghastly sight was revealed to those still living. . . . Our regiment had but three officers left for duty, Capt. James Wickersham and Lieuts. James Kennerly and Patrick Collins. Our army was a wreck. Our comrades were lying in the embrace of death. So many young hearts were stilled forever which a few hours ago beat high in the prospect of soon being at home in Missouri.” On April 9, 1865 Lieut. James Kennerly and most his men of Company A were captured at the conclusion of the siege of Fort Blakely, Alabama. He was held at Ship Island, a desolate barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, and at Parish Prison, New Orleans, before being paroled at the end of the war.
Lieut. Lewis Kennerly of Company D served as adjutant for General Bowen. Lewis was severely wounded in the hip and thigh in the Peach Orchard at the battle of Shiloh. Promoted to Captain, he was wounded again a year later during the 1st Missouri Brigade’s action at Grand Gulf, Mississippi. Despite his wounds, Lewis was promoted to Major, appointed Judge Advocate, and ordered to staff duty. He served to the end of the war.
Lieut. Samuel Augustin Kennerly of Company C mustered in to the 1st Missouri Infantry at Memphis on June 22, 1861. He participated in battles of Shiloh, Corinth, and Baker Creek, South Carolina where on May 16, 1863, he was wounded and left for dead until found on the battlefield by his sister, Mary Kennerly Bowen. Captured by Union troops, Major General Ulysses Grant ordered that 445 wounded rebel soldiers be paroled including Sam Kennerly. Sam was promoted to Captain and remained on sick leave from May through October 1863 and spent another six months in and out of military hospitals. Captain Samuel Kennerly rejoined the 1st Missouri and took command of Company A in time for skirmishes at Lovejoy’s Station, Clayton, Georgia during Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. There, on the final day of fighting on September 5th, he was killed and buried on the battlefield close to where he fell.
After John Bowen’s capture at Camp Jackson, his wife Mary Kennerly smuggled his unit’s flag out of camp by wrapping it around her waist as a sash. He then broke parole to secure a commission as a Confederate colonel and raised the 1st Missouri Infantry Regiment. A brigadier general, in March 1862 he was severely wounded at Shiloh. Recovering, Bowen took command of the 1st Missouri Brigade, when he distinguishing himself early in the Vicksburg campaign and was promoted to major general. He fell gravely ill during the siege of Vicksburg, and died nine days after the Confederate fortress surrendered July 4th. Wife Mary endured the long siege at Vicksburg to be with her husband and saved two 1st Missouri battle flags from capture by hiding them in her husband’s ambulance.
In September 1862, Henry Kennerly was elected to the Dakota territorial House of Representatives that met at Yankton on December 12th. After adjournment of the legislature January 9, 1863, Kennerly returned to St. Louis to join his three fighting brothers in the 1st Missouri Infantry of the Confederate Army. Little is known of Henry’s service except for the fact that he served as a staff officer for at least one year and suffered a wound below the knee before accepting a discharge.
In the spring of 1864, Kennerly returned to the Upper Missouri disembarking on the Fort Benton levee where he was engaged as clerk for the American Fur Company until it sold out the next year.
The mid 1860s began the wild and wooly days of Fort Benton, the head of navigation on the Missouri River. Dozens of steamboats with vast quantities of cargo landed at the levee each summer. The rough streets of the town were roamed by the rich and famous, scoundrels and killers, fur and robe traders, merchants and gamblers, Native Indians and soldiers, Irish Fenians and exiled Metis, and, eventually by women and children. Henry Kennerly was in his element.
In November 1865, Acting Governor Thomas Francis Meagher and Gad Upson, Indian agent to the Blackfeet, arranged a peace treaty. Thousands of Blackfeet assembled at Fort Benton for the ceremony, camping out along the Fort Benton bottom. Two decades later the Fort Benton River Press of December 24, 1884 gave this account.
A large train of the Diamond R transportation company was also camped on the flats. They had transported a four-pound howitzer on the back of a faithful mule from the steamer Shreveport that had unloaded her cargo at Cow Island. The howitzer had been left for the protection of the freight and came with the last of the supplies.
The men in charge of the ‘little gun’ conceived the idea of showing the immense congregation of Indians its strength by discharging it from the back of a mule. The howitzer, loaded with grapeshot, was securely fastened upon the back of a large, sleepy looking train mule with the muzzle pointed toward the tail, and the patient, unsuspecting animal was led to the bank of the river near the present site of T. C. Power & Bro.’s store, and a target set up across the river. The rear of the mule was aligned with the target, and the train men, officers, curious old timers, and wondering Indians were arranged in a semi-circle around the mule.
The appointed chief of ceremonies advanced and when all was in readiness inserted a time fuse in the touch-hole of the howitzer and then retired. In a short time the quiet, unruffled mule heard a fizzing just back of his ears, which made him uneasy, and he immediately began to turn his head to investigate. As he did so his body turned and the howitzer began to take in other points of the compass. The mule became more excited as his curiosity became more and more intense, and in a few seconds he either had his four feet in a bunch, making more revolutions a minute than the bystanders dared to count, with the howitzer threatening destruction to everybody within a radius of a quarter of a mile, or he suddenly would try standing on his head with his heels and howitzer at a remarkable angle in the air. The train men and Indians scattered pell mell over the flat toward the bluffs, running as if they thought that in flight lay their only safety, and that, too, at a rate of speed much greater than grapeshot. Judging from the alacrity with which Col. Broadwater, H. A. Kennerly, Joe Healy and Mose Solomon slid over the bank of the river, they were not opposed to immersion; Matt Carroll, George Steell and James Arnoux sprinted toward the store, Hi Upham, John J. Healy and Bill Hamilton began to throw up breastworks with their sheath knives, while I. G. Baker and one or two of the peace commissioners were turning back-springs toward the fort.
While the mule, with his heels in mid-air, was shaken with the most violent agitation, there was a puff of smoke, a thud, and the mule—oh, where was he? Ask of the winds, for not a soul saw him, and they will tell you a lonely, forlorn mule might have been seen turning over and over until he tumbled over the bank with his howitzer and cast anchor in the river. The shot went toward the fort, striking the figure of a buffalo [weather vane] that was used as an advertisement at the fort, and which hung there until the last two or three years, and which many of the citizens of Fort Benton will remember was well perforated with balls. Further investigation has brought to light the fact that X. Beidler was the commander in chief elected, and that it was his first buffalo. [X. Beidler being the famed vigilante hangman and U.S. Marshall in the new territory.]
Most other accounts have the Native Indian guests sitting stoically in their circle, wondering about the antics of the white man.
Henry Kennerly began as a clerk and over time became a trader in the Blackfeet trade, the agent for a succession of T. C. Power & Bro.-owned trading post in Blackfeet Country. Tom C. Power and his younger brother John arrived on the Upper Missouri in 1867 to form a powerful trading company. Kennerly operated Power’s Willow Rounds post on the Marias River. In 1872 Kennerly moved to Power’s Fort Maginnis on Badger Creek to capture more of the Canadian Blackfoot trade. About 1874 Kennerly married Mary Successful Kill or Good Killing, a Blackfoot woman, and raised their children Bertia, Perry, Hattie, Agnes, and Jerome, and adopted child Sarah Wright. Kennerly remained at the Maginnis post until 1880.
From his arrival in the new Montana Territory, Henry Kennerly took an active interest in politics and served as a Democrat in the territorial House of Representatives for three terms (1867, 1869, 1880). He continued his political years serving two years as Choteau County treasurer, four years as assessor, and a short tenure as sheriff. While holding county offices, Kennerly lived with his family on a ranch at the mouth of Kennerly Coulee on the Teton River, about thirty-five miles west of Fort Benton.
After his political years, Kennerly ranched on Birch Creek, a tributary of the Two Medicine River on the Blackfeet Reservation. In 1896 he remarried another Piegan woman, Marguerite “Maggie” Gobert., daughter of (Old) Mountain Chief “Neat-A-Sin-Ne.” To this union were born two sons James Otis and Leo Menard.
Kennerly keenly felt the responsibility to educate his children. In March 1890 he arrived in Great Falls with 39 multiracial children from the Piegan Agency including his two oldest sons. He put the children on the eastbound train destined for Carlisle Indian Industrial School, the first native children to attend Carlisle from this region. Kennerly then placed his younger children at Holy Family Mission on the Two Medicine River on the reservation. To finance the education of his children, Kennerly secured a position (1890-1891) as Issue Agent on the Blackfeet Reservation, serving from the office at Piegan. From 1894 on he served as deputy U.S. Customs Officer, stationed at the Blackfeet Agency, then just east of Browning, where he also operated a trading post.
By 1899 Kennerly had lost his eyesight forcing his retirement. A letter of April 22, 1899 reported to the Great Falls Tribune:
“Henry A. Kennerly, well known throughout the state, now resides at Blackfoot station; he is totally blind but is enjoying good health. Mr. Kennerly is an old confederate soldier who participated in several battles and was on the staff of one of the southern generals at the capture of Vicksburg, where General [Ulysses] Grant, upon seeing him, shook hands very cordially, as they were intimate friends before the war, the general having met his wife at the home of Mr. Kennerly’s sister.” [Henry Kennerly’s oldest sister Eliza Clark Kennerly Stevenson was one year younger than Julia Dent Grant and the two were prominent in St. Louis society.]
The aging Henry Kennerly moved to the home of adopted daughter, Mrs. Sarah Wright Allison, in Cut Bank. The Allisons cared for Kennerly for more than a decade, and during the winter of 1912-1913 they assisted him in recording his recollections of life on the Upper Missouri. Tragically, most of this manuscript later was destroyed by fire, with only his account of the Blackfeet Council of 1855 surviving.
On Tuesday, July 8, 1913, the old Confederate soldier, fur trader, legislator, and pioneer on the Upper Missouri, Henry Atkinson Kennerly died at the Allison home, at the age of seventy-three.
Ken Robison is a local historian and author of Montana Territory and the Civil War: A Frontier Forged on the Battlefield.
Photo: 1. A scene at the Blackfeet Treaty Council of 1855 where Kennerly served as secretary for Commissioner Cumming.
Photo: 2. Kennerly with other Fort Benton traders at Sioux City in 1866. Back row left to right: Mose Solomon; African American Bob Mills; John Largent. Seated left is Joe Kipp; right is Henry Kennerly.