The Boy General of the Confederacy
John Herbert Kelly came to be known as, The Boy General of the Confederacy. He was the youngest brigadier general in the Confederate States Army at the time of his promotion. He was born on March 31, 1840, in Carrollton, Alabama. Both his parents died when he was a child, and he was raised by his grandmother, Harriet Herbert Hawthorne.
When he was seventeen, he received an appointment to West Point through the help of his uncles. He left the academy a few months before his graduation in 1861 to join the Confederate Army after Alabama seceded from the Union.
Kelly began as a second lieutenant and was assigned to Fort Morgan until the fall of 1861. He later became captain and assistant adjutant general on Brigadier General William J. Hardee’s staff during their travels to Missouri. In 1862, Kelly became major of the 9th Arkansas Infantry Battalion and led them into battle at Shiloh before becoming colonel of the 8th Arkansas Infantry Regiment.
During the Battle of Chickamauga, Kelly commanded a large brigade. The 5th Kentucky, 58th North Carolina, 63rd Virginia, and 65th Georgia Infantry Regiments were in his command. Despite losing 300 men within an hour and having his horse shot out from under him, his bravery prompted Generals Cleburne, Liddell, and Preston to request a promotion for him. General Cleburne even told Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon of Kelly, “I know no better officer of his grade in the service.”
On November 16, 1863, John Kelly was promoted to brigadier general at the age of 23. His brigade played a key role in the Confederate victory at the Battle of Pickett’s Mill. In August and September 1864, Kelly’s Brigade fought at Franklin, Tennessee during Wheeler’s raid on Sherman’s railroad supply line.
The Boy General of the Confederacy’s Untimely Death
Leading a charge at a skirmish near Franklin on September 2, 1864, Kelly was shot in the chest by a Union sharpshooter. Doctors tried to treat him, but he was too badly hurt to be moved when Confederate forces retreated. Resulting in his capture by Union forces on September 3rd. He died the following day in his bed at the Harrison House.
The Boy General of the Confederacy was buried in the gardens of the Harrison House just south of Franklin on the day of his death. In 1866, his body was moved and reburied in Magnolia Cemetery in Mobile, Alabama. Despite his short life, Kelly’s bravery, determination, and dedication to the Confederate cause continue to inspire and be remembered.
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