January 17, 2012

Better Know an Officer: Capt. William G. Kendrick

Capt. William G. Kendrick (WGK)
Name:  Capt. William G. Kendrick, Company A, 79th Pennsylvania (later a 14th Corps staff officer)
Born:  August 26, 1815, Cecil County, Maryland
Died:  February 10, 1897, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Pre-war Life:  Sailor from 1837 to 1847.  Married Anna Louise Stoddart in 1849 in Delaware and had several children.  Supervised bricklaying contract for Lancaster County Courthouse.  Local government connections.  
Post-war Life:  Architect in Lancaster.  Moved to Springfield, Ohio, and Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he died.   
Key Events: Captured with men by Morgan's raiders while on work detail in May 1862.  Battle of Chickamauga.  

On the battlefield, very few men acted like they had less to lose that Capt. William G. Kendrick, but when it came to returning home to their families few men acted like they were missing out on so much by being away in the army.  Kendrick, the senior captain of the 79th Pennsylvania and seemingly Col. Hambright's right-hand man, made a name for himself as a daredevil: first when narrowly escaping cannibals while sailing around the world, then as a captain in the 79th Pennsylvania, and later as a staff officer to Brig. Gen. James Negley of the 14th Corps.       

Fortunately, Kendrick left behind one of the best collections of private letters related to the 79th Pennsylvania, which his descendents have published and made available <here> (warning: file size is very large).  Kendrick writes to his wife with extreme self-confidence regarding his competence as a leader, his favored status among Col. Hambright's line officers, and a bluntness about those he deems poor officers. His letters recounting his close calls in battles and the risks he took on independent expeditions must have terrified his wife.  I'd call him arrogant or narcissistic, but he has some pretty good letters of recommendation in his file to back him up, including one from Gen. George H. Thomas.  Kendrick also writes openly about homesickness and the emotional challenges of leaving his wife and young children and going off to war.

Louisa Stoddart Kendrick (WGK)

Kendrick appears to have had talents in the building trades which he employed during the building boom of the 1850s in Lancaster.  Searching the Lancaster Intelligencer for his name during the 1850s gives some of the details of work he supervised, including a contract for $8,800 to do the brick masonry work for the Lancaster County Courthouse.  Before the war, it also appears Kendrick was active in Lancaster City's Know Nothing Party during the 1850s before getting in trouble for some breaching some secret related to the order.  The economic downtown appears to have hit Kendrick hard though, as he repeatedly states that we would resign as soon as he had enough money to stabilize his family's situation.

Lancaster County Courthouse, built 1852-5.  (Source and info)
Highlights of Kendrick's tenure as officer included dining with Confederate cavalryman John Hunt Morgan after a telegraph detail Kendrick led was captured by him in 1862, working hard as a staff officer during the Battle of Chickamauga, and then supposedly giving up a cot he found to Gen. Thomas the night after the 14th Corps made its famous stand at Chickamauga.  Earlier in the war, Kendrick led a detachment of the 79th Pennsylvania on a daylong expedition into the countryside, and the next post will focus on the excitement that resulted from the excursion.

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