Lt. Henry Kingsbury's Contribution at the Base of Burnside Bridge at Antietam
by Gordon Thorsby
Lt. Henry W. Kingsbury, (From Time Life Series, Brian Pohanka Collection)
History doesn’t know much about one Henry W. Kingsbury, but his life was one of participating in making America a free country with other well-known participants in the mid-1800’s.
Henry Walter Kingsbury (1837-1862) was born on Christmas Day, in Chicago, IL, and he was a “military brat.” His father, Julius, (1797-1856), a West Point graduate was posted at Sackett’s Harbor, NY and Ft. Brady, Michigan. It was at Sackett’s Harbor where Julius Kingsbury became friends with a young Lt. Simon Bolivar Buckner. They both served under Winfield Scott in Mexico and Julius eventually reached the rank of Major. Upon Julius’ death, Ambrose E. Burnside (future Union General) was appointed financial guardian of the family estate. It was his father who encouraged his children to do great things.
Henry received an appointment to the Military Academy and was graduated early at the outbreak of the war in 1861. He graduated fourth in his class and was named adjutant of the Corps of Cadets. He received an immediate commission on 5/6/1861, at the age of 23, with the 5th U.S. Artillery. From June-December,1861 he served as an acting Aide-de-Camp on the staff for Major General Irvin McDowell while he performed duties in the 5th U.S. Artillery.
The opposing sides wintered In December,1861 and Henry returned home and married Eveline “Eva” McLean Taylor. With Eva, Henry became part of two more well-known families. Eva’s maternal grandfather was Supreme Court Justice John McLean and Eva’s paternal uncle was Zachary Taylor, General in the Mexican War and twelfth U.S. President.
When Kingsbury returned from his wedding, he trained new volunteers in the battery. Many men were detached from the infantry as a result of heavy casualties at First Bull Run. Kingsbury believed he was meant to lead men. When Lt. Charles Griffin, commander of the battery was promoted to Infantry Brigade command, Kingsbury was promoted to command of Battery D, 5th U.S. Artillery. McClellan's Spring Offensive took the Army of the Potomac to the Peninsula and the battery was with the V Corps. In April, Kingsbury received notice of his appointment as Colonel of the newly mustered 11th Connecticut Infantry, but it would have to wait since he was in the field and would not be able to return to Washington until July.
At Gaines Mill on June 27, 1862, Battery D was held in reserve until Porter's right was threatened by pressure from Stonewall Jackson's brigades. Military organization in 1862 attached batteries to divisions and "D" was attached to Morell's 1st Division. The guns of Kingsbury's battery near the McGhee House drew the attention of Confederate batteries and battery went into action. From several directions Lee's guns attempted to silence them, but they could not accomplish their goal. The battery's shells would stop one advance and then swivel to counter another advance. Infantry regiments advanced across the field to take the guns, but canister and infantry support stopped each attempt. As dusk approached, breakthroughs all along the line threatened the exposed battery, it withdrew across the Chickahominy to live another day. Four days later, the battery was in the line of forty guns that devastated each and every Confederate line that advanced up the slope of Malvern Hill.
When Kingsbury returned from the Peninsula, he took his place as Colonel and got a chance to make a greater difference. It was evident that training had been extremely poor for the new recruits. Kingsbury immediately changed the officer organization and made the men ready for battle. It would not be long. Kingsbury was about to lead the regiment into the bloodiest day for America on Sept. 17, 1862, and at Rohrbach Bridge (now named Burnside Bridge.)
Paintings of the attack are in error in the assault of the bridge. Before the bridge was an open
field for about 300 yards that had to be crossed. It did not take a genius to see that an approaching line across the open ground would be wholesale slaughter, but he ordered the regiment forward in a left and right wing. The left wing would skirmish and draw fire, while Kingsbury and the right would reach and hopefully cross the bridge.
The attack started at about 11 A.M. The 11th advanced and the left drew immediate and sharp fire with men dropping everywhere. The rest of Colonel George Crook’s Second Brigade was behind. The right continued forward but the right took increasing casualties and Kingsbury concluded that taking the bridge was not possible. “Arriving near the bridge, Kingsbury shouted for his men to take cover, but there was little other than the fence along the road and a handful of trees near the creek’s bank.” Kingsbury’s men stayed with him as he led the charge. Said one, “We followed him, but I doubt if we would have followed any other officer.” It was somewhere in the field as he approached the fence that Kingsbury was hit in the heal. He reached the fence, but he knew the position was untenable. Men fired and they fell, and the regiment’s strength ebbed on the East bank of the creek. As Kingsbury moved along the line, he received a second wound in the shoulder that put him onto the ground. An effort was made by a captain and two men to move him rearward, but the party drew its own fire and Kingsbury received a wound in the right leg and then a final and mortal ball in the abdomen.
The regiment could neither advance nor could it fall back, so they stayed until the bridge was stormed at 1 PM in the afternoon. Kingsbury, severely wounded, was eventually carried off the field and taken to Rohrbach Farm. With four wounds, Henry Walter Kingsbury lingered in pain until the next day when breathed his last breath. Henry had given his all.
His body was transported down to Washington and he was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. Henry’s wife, Eva gave birth to a son and she named him Henry Walter Kingsbury Jr. on Palm
Sunday 1863. In a way, Henry W. Kingsbury's influence carried on.
Henry's sister, Mary, was the only sibling left by1862. Mary was probably not at Henry's wedding in Connecticut. Mary Jane Kingsbury married Simon B. Buckner, who was in the Confederate Army. Buckner would eventually become a Lt. General and after Mary's death, Buckner became Governor of Kentucky. Mary died in 1874 of Consumption (TB) and is buried in Kentucky.
Note: Henry's mother was Jane Creed Stebbins. His mother and father were married at Ft. Brady (current day Sault Ste. Marie). The language spoken there at the time would have been mostly French. She outlived them all passing in 1892 at the age of 82.
If one were to briefly describe Henry Kingsbury it would be:
A young artillery officer of the great "West Point Battery", with kindness to all, related to American Presidents, Union and Confederate Generals, Supreme Court Justices, and other important leaders met his death leading an infantry regiment across a river at a place forever known as Burnside Bridge.
The photograph is from the Time/Life Civil War, collection of Brian Pohanka.
Two of the 11th Connecticut's officers died in gallant rush on Burnside Bridge
By D. SCOTT HARTWIG, 1/14/2020.
SIMON BOLIVAR BUCKNER: BORDERLAND KNIGHT by Arndt M. Stickles (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1940.
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