The Youngest Confederate
To the Editor of the State :
A request has lately been made in the Charleston Sunday News for the name of the youngest Confederate soldier. I think Columbia can claim him, and that his name was James Kelly, aged 9 or 10 years, in 1864, as enrolled in Co. C, (Capt. Mankin) Seventh South Carolina battalion, Hagood’s brigade.
His father was an Irishman, a plasterer and a widower, who had enlisted in Co. C, and, having no relative with whom to leave his boy, he brought him with him into camp. They shared the single ration and the bivouac throughout our Virginia campaign until the battle of the Weldon Railroad on the 21st of August, 1864. I reported the father as among the missing for some weeks, and we concluded that he was killed, and had him so marked on the roll. After that the little boy had nowhere else to go, and so he followed us from camp to camp, getting his food and clothing from his father’s old comrades.
When the fact was brought to the attention of Col. J. H. Rion, he had the boy enrolled in Co. C. He reorganized the drummer corps. Broughton, the oldest of the drummer boys,was large enough to go into ranks, so he was relegated to his company. Young Kelly was invested with Broughton’s drum and togged out in a Confederate uniform. He made a queer looking soldier. His cap was too big for him, and his pants were rolled up to his knees, and the sleeves of his jacket were cuffed nearly to his elbows. Putting him on the roll gave him his rations. He drummed with Launey Hill, the other drummer boy for the battalion, until the surrender. What has become of him? I never have heard of him since.
He did nothing to distinguish himself, but his father was a splendid soldier. I had forgotten his name, and I wrote for the names of the boy and his father to the custodian of the Confederate rolls of the South Carolina volunteers, and he sent me, as copied by him from the original rolls:
“Pleasonton Kelly, supposed killed on Weldon Railroad in battle; missing”
About a year ago I wrote for you an account of the Weldon Railroad battle. It was during the lives of the principal heroes of my sketch, Gen. Johnson Hagood and Capt. Dove Segars of Co. F, Seventh South Carolina battalion. Both have now crossed the river.
Capt. Segars wrote me under date of the 15th October, 1897, from Kershaw, S. C., and in his letter he mentions the elder Kelly. You will excuse me, therefore, for publishing a portion of his letter:
Adj. Wm. M. Thomas, 92 Broad street, Charleston, S. C.
My Dear Old Friend: * * * I received the Columbia State, dated 3d October, inst. I certainly feel greatly complimented by your pen, to receive such recollections from one I know so well, and to know they are true. It affords me unspeakable pleasure, and I can say to you that I appreciate it the more as you know what you write, and as I know you to be a pure gentleman, and as brave a son as South Carolina ever sent to battle for her rights. I recollect when we were cut all to pieces at the Weldon Railroad and what few scattering men were on the field, I called to them “to rally.” You were the first man to come forward. You came up cool and laughing and said: “Captain, I am here, and am ready to go with you anywhere.” And an old man from Columbia, named Kelly, came up, and repeated the same words that you had said. I consider that men who can act in that way under such circumstances are true men as tramped the soil of South Carolina. Long may the Lord bless and spare you is my sincere prayer. Respectfully,
Until Capt. Segars recalled the Kelly incident to me it had passed from my mind. Now that I am claiming for Kelly’s boy the record of the most youthful Confederate, if that boy is alive, he can at least be- proud of his father. Capt. Segars and I dressed the last line and P. Kelly, being in it, must have been killed by the sweeping Federal fire which followed the shooting of Capt. Daly by Gen. Hagood. Had he survived he would have been promoted to a lieutenancy, according to the order of Col. Rion, to promote every man who I could identify as having been with me on the last line.
WM. M. THOMAS,
92 Broad street, Charleston S. C.1
- “The Youngest Confederate.” Anderson (SC) Intelligencer. September 7, 1908, p. 3 col. 5 ↩