A Civil War Biography

John Herbert Kelly

Kelly was born 31 March 1840 in Pineapple, Pickens County, Alabama. Orphaned in childhood, he managed an appointment to West Point and would have graduated with the June 1861 class but he resigned on 29 December 1860 after South Carolina seceded.

Kelly joined the Confederate service as a second lieutenant in the artillery then was promoted to major and assigned to the staff of Major General William J. Hardee who commanded the III Corps in General Albert Sidney Johnston's Army of the Mississippi. Kelly was promoted to major and commanded the 9th Arkansas battalion attached to the 3rd Brigade of Hardee's III Corps at Shiloh. The battalion was re-designated the 14th Arkansas when it reached regimental strength. Kelly was promoted to colonel and commanded the 8th Arkansas attached to the 2nd Brigade/ 2nd Division/ Hardee's Corps in General Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee at Perryville and Murfreesboro. At Chickamauga Kelly commanded the 3rd Brigade/ 2nd Division/ Simon Buckner's Corps. Kelly was promoted to brigadier general on 16 November 1863 making him the youngest general in the Confederacy.

He was promoted over a more senior colonel, Robert C. Trigg, having been strongly recommended by Bragg. Trigg was backed by the other faction, led by Lieutenant General James Longstreet, of the very polarized command structure within the Army of Tennessee. Four days before his promotion became official, 12 November, Kelly was reassigned to command a brigade in Major General Joseph Wheeler's cavalry division which he commanded through the Atlanta campaign. The transfer may have resulted from Kelly signing Major General Patrick R. Cleburne's memorandum concerning the emancipation of slaves willing to fight for the Confederacy.

Kelly was mortally wounded during a raid on Union Major General William T. Sherman's communication lines on 2 September 1864 near Franklin, Tennessee. Kelly died two days later, 4 September, at the age of 24 at the Harrison House in Franklin where he was temporarily buried before being removed to Mobile, Alabama. The Harrison House was the same house where the six Confederate generals, including Cleburne, killed in the battle of Franklin were initially taken to.

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