Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Confederate Images: Private John A. Kile, Co. C 18th LA Infantry

By Joey Oller and Ginny Tobin
   Owensboro, the county seat of Daviess county, has a distinctly southern atmosphere, which makes even the casual visitor feel welcome.  The beautifully kept Confederate monument on the courthouse lawn speaks volumes of the pride of Daviess countians feel in their past and the soldiers who cast their lot with the Confederacy.  The statue gleams brightly in the sun during the day and a spotlight is trained on it so that even the night does not hide it from the eyes of passersby.  In an era when most Confederate monuments are falling in despair and talk of removing them in some locations, such care and concern is refreshing.
   Also in the nearby beautiful Elmwood Cemetery lay more than fifty valiant Confederate soldiers-some who gave their lives in the great cause and others who outlived their country by many years.  Each stone has a story to tell, each grave holds a hero.  
    Owensboro citizens are uniformly friendly and welcoming to strangers, and when reading the history of the area, it is tempting to believe that it has always been so—consider the story of “Private  A. Kyle”,  whose tragic death was mourned by the city filled with people he had never met.
   After the battle of Shiloh, captured Confederate prisoners were transported by river to Louisville Military Prison.  The people of Owensboro saw many of these boats pass their shore on April 17, 1862.  One of these prisoners never made it to Louisville, but was left on the shipping dock-dead.
 A box was discovered on the dock with "A KYLE, CO C 18th LA. VOL. INF" and the words "DEAD REBEL" scratched on it.  Inside the box was stuffed a soldier measuring over 6 ft. in height.  The crew or Union guards apparently cared very little how the body was disposed of since it was abandoned in such a heartless manner.
   Many Owensboro citizens were incensed by this action.  They held a meeting to arrange a suitable burial for the dead soldier who was so far from home.
   Dr. Gustavus Tyler donated a grave in his own family plot at Elmwood Cemetery.  While preparing the body for burial, a scrap of paper was discovered in his pocket.  It could have been written by Kyle as an inspiration before going into battle.  Perhaps it was part of a letter some dear friend had given him or it may have been composed by a fellow comrade who watched the soldier die on the enemy prison boat.  Whatever the origin of the note, the words touched the hearts of those who read the words: "What more can a man do than to die in defense of his country"
   Private Kyle was not known to the citizens of Owensboro, but they made him one of their own as people gathered to watch the funeral procession.  It was reported that 1,500 citizens in a city of 3,000 attended the services at a local church.  A new coffin draped with a flag then made its way to its resting place.  Dr. Tyler would later make it his duty to purchase a large marble monument inscribed with Private Kyle's story.
   Louisville Journal Editor, George Prentice, a vocal opponent of the
Confederacy, though both his sons were fighting in the Southern Army, printed the Owensboro paper's account of the funeral and added his own statement: "The comments of the Owensboro paper explain and go far to justify the recently promulgated order forbidding the burial of the rebel dead in our state" (This venomous remark makes one wonder how Prentice arranged the burial at Louisville's Cave Hill cemetery for his own son Courtland after his death at the battle of Augusta.)
   More than 100 years later, the story of Private Kyle would again capture the heart of another Daviess countian.  After reading the inscription on the Kyle monument, a local youth contacted Louisiana State University to search for more information on this soldier.  It was discovered that the correct spelling of the soldier's name was Kile and that he had been listed as missing since the battle of Shiloh.   A search for Kile descendants conducted by the University at the time failed.
   On Confederate Memorial Day in 1964, a service was held for Pvt. Kile's gravesite in section A of Elmwood Cemetery.  The Civil War Round Table, reenactors and the ladies of the Owensboro United Daughters of the Confederacy joined together to honor their adopted son.  Among the floral tributes was an offering from Kile's home state of Louisiana.
   In 1995, a Kile family genealogist, Ginny Tobin, made contact with a librarian in Owensboro, looking for the gravesite of a John A. Kile, who had been left on the dock in 1862. This connection after 133 years gave us the missing pieces of the puzzle for us and his descendants:
   John’s parents, Jacob Kile and his wife Sarah (Airhart), came to Louisiana from Monroe County, Tennessee about 1839. Jacob and Sarah settled in Natchitoches Parish, just south of Cloutierville, and it was there in 1840, their first child John A. Kile was born. Sarah died in 1856.
   The Kiles were neighbors and friends of Francois and Sarah Elizabeth (Wrinkle) Adle. Their children were playmates. When Francois died, March 8, 1857, Jacob was administrator of his estate. On April 1, 1858 Jacob and Sarah Elizabeth were married.
   Sarah Elizabeth had six daughters with Francois, one of whom was Rosanna Francine. The childhood friendship between John Kile and Francine blossomed into love and on September 6, 1860, the then technically step-siblings  were married at Cloutierville by Justice of the Peace Adam Carnahan.
   On August 21, 1861, a daughter was born to John and Francine. The country was in the grips of the War and John, along with his boyhood friends from Cloutierville, was anxious to get into the struggle. On September 9th of that year Capt. John D. Woods organized the Natchitoches Rebels at Cloutierville, but John’s baby daughter was only nineteen days old and he did not feel he could leave Francine at that time.  According to family legend he named the baby Sarah Alease, probably for both grandmothers.
   When Sarah Alease was six weeks old John bade farewell to his family and traveled to Camp Moore where on October 5, 1861 he enlisted in Co. C (The Natchitoches Rebels) of the 18th Louisiana Infantry. From there the company went to New Orleans where three additional companies joined them, completing the regiment.
   In mid-February 1862, the Eighteenth Louisiana left New Orleans for Corinth, Mississippi, to defend the vital railroads in that area.
   Capt. Woods' Company of the Eighteenth Louisiana Regiment went into battle at Shiloh on April 6th with forty-two men; twenty-six were killed or wounded, including Pvt. John A. Kile. He, along with other Confederate prisoners, was put aboard a Federal gun boat for transport to a prisoner-of-war camp at Louisville, but during the trip up the Ohio River he died of his wounds. His body was deposited on the wharf at Owensboro, Kentucky, clad only in a red undershirt and stuffed into a box too short for Kile's tall frame.
   So now the tragic story of Pvt. John A. Kile is full circle, and though he is no longer unknown, he will always be Owensboro’s adopted “unknown soldier” of the Confederacy, Louisianan in life, a Kentuckian in death.
----Sources for this article:  Breckinridge Chapter UDC records, The Owensboro Messenger, The Confederate Veteran, The Daviess County Library.  A special thanks to Darlene Mercer for her help.
 (c) Kentucky Division SCV

1 comment:

TeaLady said...

Thanks for this.