Thursday, October 25, 2012

Faces of the Civil War: Captain Willard Kinsley

Captain Willard Kinsley of the 39th Massachusetts was mortally wounded 
at the Battle of White Oak Road in Virginia on March 31, 1865. 
 I bought this carte-de-visite at the Harwinton (Conn.) Antiques Show
 in early September.
A  week before the Civil War ended, Willard C. Kinsley, a captain in the 39th Massaschusetts Infantry, was mortally wounded at the Battle of White Oak Road, near Petersburg, Va. A brickmaker from Somerville, Mass., he was only 25 years old.

Kinsley was among the first men from Somerville, a town just north of Boston, to enlist after the rebels attacked Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. After mustering out of the 5th Massachusetts, a three-month regiment, he was commissioned into Company E of the 39th Massachusetts on Aug. 9, 1862. His brother, Frederick, was also an officer in the 39th Massachusetts.

Called the Somerville Guard, Kinsley's company traveled in less-than-auspicious fashion as it was sent from Massachusetts to the front.

"Amid the cheers of throngs of people, we depart from Boston in a 'first-class' car, but before we reached our destination, we were riding in cattle cars,"  John Henry Dusseault, a 1st sergeant in the regiment, wrote in his diary. "This was due, of course, to the congested condition of transportation, as everything at that time was moving towards the seat of war. At Philadelphia the citizens gave the travelers a dinner, as they did to all the regiments which passed through their city. This dinner was at Cooper-Shop Eating House, a place which many Northern soldiers must remember."

Kinsley quickly rose through the ranks, promoted to 1st lieutenant on  Nov. 13, 1862, and captain of Company K on March 30, 1864. At the Battle of Weldon Railroad on Aug. 21, 1864, Captain Frederick Kinsley was among 13 men from Somerville who were captured.  (He was paroled about a month before Willard died; seven men from Somerville captured at the battle died in rebel prisons.)

As the Federals chased Robert E. Lee's depleted army across Virginia in the spring of 1865, the Rebels put up a surprisingly tough fight near White Oak Road on March 31. Williard Kinsley was wounded and died two days later. A week later, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.

"By his death the Regiment lost one of its most popular and beloved officers, as well as one of its best soldiers," Dusseault wrote. " ...Corporal Elkanah Crosby helped to take him from the battlefield. As the enemy were close at hand, Captain Kinsley begged his men to leave him and take care of themselves, but this they would not do."

Kinsley's remains were returned to Somerville, where he was given a public funeral. In 1870, the Somerville Grand Army of the Republic post was named after him.

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