Saturday, February 11, 2012

Col. John H. McHenry, Jr. & the 17th Kentucky: Genesis

When President Lincoln called upon the states to form volunteer militia in 1861, men of various backgrounds became colonels by appointment and were charged with the task of forming regiments.  Some appointees had military backgrounds, but most were political favorite sons.  Col. John Hardin McHenry, Jr.  met both qualifications.

By all accounts Col. McHenry was well respected by the men he led into battle and the officers he served.  His father had represented Ohio County in the 29th Congress as a member of the Whig Party before moving to Owensboro to practice law.  After completing three years at the US Military Academy (West Point)  McHenry, Jr. had transferred to the University of Louisville and acquired a degree in law.  He then returned to Owensboro where he practiced until the summer of 1861.

When called upon by the Kentucky State Legislature, he gathered a handful of volunteers from Owensboro and was presented with the colors that were to be carried throughout the regiment's history.  The flag was hand stitched by loyal ladies of Owensboro and featured the state seal on a field of blue with "17th REGT. KY. VOLS." in a gold scroll beneath the seal. It had the traditional gold fringe along it's borders which designates military colors. This fledgling regiment then traveled to the McHenry family farm at Hartford, Ohio County, KY and established Camp Calloway which he named for Chesley Calloway, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War.**

In September of 1861, Gen. S.B. Buckner (CS) occupied Bowling Green Kentucky which lies about 70 miles north of Nashville.  This provided a great stimulus for volunteers from both sides in the neutral state of Kentucky and regiments began forming throughout the central and western portions of the state.  Many stories were told of men banding together to seek the camps of their choice, sometimes skirmishing in the woods along their way. There is little documentary support for these tales but they would not have been a part of the official record.

With this incursion by Gen. Buckner, a small band of volunteers under the command of Col. Pierce  B. Hawkins (later to become the nucleus of the 11th Regiment, Kentucky Infantry) joined McHenry at Camp Calloway where their ranks began to swell.  Outgrowing their present location and in the interest of force consolidation, the two fledgling regiments marched to  Calhoun, McLean County, Kentucky in November 1861.  There the 11th and 17th regiments joined several units under the command of Brig. General Thomas L. Crittendon.  Other units at Calhoun were the 25th Kentucky Infantry under Col. James Shackleford, Burbidge's 26th Kentucky Infantry,  the 3rd Kentucky Cavalry under Col. James Jackson, four regiments of Indiana infantry (31st, 42nd, 43rd & 44th) and a battery of artillery.   No one anticipated the action these troops would see over the next three years as they were assigned to the Armies of the Ohio, the Tennessee and the Cumberland, frequently fighting shoulder to shoulder, side by side.

On January 4, 1862 Capt. John E. Edwards, Third United States Cavalry, Regular Army served as mustering officer for the 692 men (including Field and Staff) of the 17th and they became a part of the United States Army.*

*  Blackburn, John, A Hundred Miles, A Hundred Heartbreaks, 1972. Self Published
Library of Congress 72-93774

**Helen McKeown (Ohio County Genealogical Society & Ohio County Museum Board), personal communication, April,2012

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