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  • CDV of Lieut. Joseph Kerin, 6th U.S. Cavalry

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    CDV of Lieut. Joseph Kerin, 6th U.S. Cavalry - Inventory Number: CDV 322

    Lieut. Kerin was captured and confined in Libby Prison.  He Escaped thru tunneling out of the prison with fellow prisoners.

    Accompanying the cdv of Kerin are two original images of Libby Prison taken during the war.  

    Joseph Kerin:

    Enlisted on 8/5/1858 as a Private.

    On 8/5/1858 he mustered into US Army 6th Cavalry 

    (Subsequent service in US Army until retiring 06/28/1878)

    He was listed as:

    * POW 6/9/1863 Brandy Station, VA (Confined at Macon, GA & Columbia, SC)

    Promotions:

    * Corpl 

    * Sergt 

    * 2nd Lieut 10/26/1861 

    * 1st Lieut 5/27/1862 by Brevet (Hanover Court House, VA)

    * 1st Lieut 12/23/1862 

    * Adjutant 5/18/1863 

    * Capt 4/1/1865 by Brevet (Beverly Ford, VA)

    * Capt 7/28/1866 

    Other Information:

    Born in Ireland

    Died 9/24/1890

    (Prior service in US Army from 01/03/1853 until 01/03/1858)

     

    Joseph Kerin was born in Ireland. He enlisted in Company B, 2nd U.S. Dragoons on January 3, 1853. He joined the company in Texas the following month, and served at Fort Belknap until 1855. In the fall of 1855, the company moved from Fort Belknap to Fort Riley, Kansas. Kerin was involved with his company in the Kansas troubles in 1856, and accompanied the Mormon expedition to Utah in 1857 before his enlistment expired on January 3, 1858.

    Kerin returned to the army five months later, enlisting in the General Mounted Service at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania on August 5, 1858. He served there as a private, corporal, sergeant and finally first sergeant of the Permanent Troop until October 1861.

    He served as the Drill Instructor for the Anderson Troop, Pennsylvania Volunteers in September 1861, and was appointed a second lieutenant, 6th U.S. Cavalry on October 26, 1861.

    Lieutenant Kerin joined the regiment the following month, and was assigned to Captain John Savage’s Company H. He accompanied the regiment to the Peninsula in March 1862, and distinguished himself several times during the campaign. He was engaged in the siege of Yorktown and the battle of Williamsburg, where he captured a Confederate captain. He also participated in engagements at Slatersville, New Kent Court House, Cumberland landing, White House, New Bridge, Mechanicsville, and Hanover Court House. He was brevetted first lieutenant on May 27, 1862 for gallant and meritorious service at the battle of Hanover Court House. He was also present during the destruction of bridges on the North Anna River and the action at Ashland. Following the engagement at Ashland, he served as an acting assistant general for the brigade of regular cavalry during the pursuit of Stuart during his first ride around the Army of the Potomac and the first three days of the Seven Days Battles. He rejoined his company following the retreat to Harrison’s Landing, and was engaged at Charles City, Haxall’s Landing and New Market Road.

    In the absence of Captain Savage, he commanded Company H from September 1862 to April 1863. During the Maryland campaign, he saw action at Sugar Loaf Mountain, Antietam, scouting in Loudon and Fauquier counties, the pursuit of Stuart on his second ride around the Army of the Potomac, and an action at Charlestown. Lieutenant Kerin was then appointed Provost Marshall of the Cavalry Division, Army of the Potomac, in which capacity he served during the actions at Philomont, Unionville, Upperville, Barbour’s Crossroads, Amissville, and the battle of Fredericksburg. Kerin was promoted to first lieutenant, 6th Cavalry on December 23, 1862.

    Kerin rejoined the regiment in March 1863, and was present with his company during Stoneman’s Raid. He was taken prisoner while fighting at Beverly Ford during the battle of Brandy Station, and spent the remainder of the war in various Confederate prisons. He was confined at Libby Prison, Virginia, Macon, Georgia and Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina. He escaped once on his way to Columbia by jumping from the train, but was recaptured. He escaped a second time from Columbia, but was recaptured by the aid of dogs. Lieutenant Kerin was exchanged in March 1865, and was brevetted captain on April 1, 1865 for gallant and meritorious service in the battle of Beverly Ford on June 9, 1863.

    The 6th U.S. Infantry Regimental history states that Kerin was one of the 109 soldiers who tunneled out of the Infamous Libby Prison.  Details of the escape:

    The building which became the prison was originally a large loft-style tenement built between 1845 and 1852. Captain Luther Libby, a native of Maine, leased the building in 1854, turning it into a warehouse and running a chandler's shop in the west building (the right portion of the warehouse in the above photograph). With the start of the Civil War, most of Libby's business dried up, as he mainly dealt with Northern ships.

    Shortly after the battle of First Manassas (Bull Run), so many Northern prisoners were taken that the Confederate government began confiscating appropriate "housing." Captain Libby was given 48 hours to vacate the premises (he was likely accused of Union sympathies, despite the fact that one of his sons had enlisted in the Rebel forces). Because of the rapidity with which the Rebel government flipped the property, the business sign L. LIBBY & SON, SHIP CHANDLERS on the building was left intact. This sign gave the prison its name.

    The top two of the three floors were where the many prisoners were held, while the first floor was the guard quarters. The basement floor was used as a storage cellar, a jail, a carpenter shop, and an abandoned kitchen. [Once used by the inmates, this kitchen became so badly infested with rats, it was shut down and was given the name "Rat Hell."] The windows were barred, but otherwise allowed the weather in. At some point, the prison's capacity was reported as 1200 men, but probably exceeded that figure.

    Overcrowding, a lack of proper sanitation, and short rations were the order of the day. Any sick Union prisoner placed in Libby Prison would usually die within days. The prisoners ate the same rations as their Rebel guards, sometimes receiving "beef, bread, and soup in the early days of captivity. As the war progressed and the Confederate cause began to flounder, the prisoners more usually were given sweet potatoes and cornbread. An estimated 25,000 to 50,000 Federal prisoners passed through Libby.

    Escape from Libby Prison

    In late 1863, a group of Union officers began preliminary plans for an escape from the Confederate hellhole. By removing a stove on the first floor and chipping their way into the adjoining chimney, the officers constructed a cramped but effective passage for access to the eastern basement. After gaining access to the basement, it was determined that a tunnel could be dug from the basement of the prison to Kerr's Warehouse to the east.

    The plotters organized themselves into 3 five-man digging squads, using a broken shovel and two knives for tools. Most of their work took place at night, as the Confederate guards were more aware of absent prisoners during daylight hours. The men dug in almost complete darkness, and had to put up with the lack of oxygen in the diggings and the squealing of the many rats. Fortunately, Rat Hell was covered with a two-foot layer of straw, which provided a hiding place for the dirt, as well as a hiding place for the Union diggers if a Rebel guard unexpectedly came into the basement.

    The first tunneling attempt struck the timber foundation of the building; the second tunnel came out short of the warehouse – and within touching distance of a Confederate sentry. This mistake fortunately was down a slope not readily seen by the sentries and was quickly covered up. After 38 days of digging, the men broke through to the surface, coming out in a storage shed of Kerr's Warehouse.

    Colonel Thomas E. Rose, the escape leader, surveyed the location of the tunnel exit, and proclaimed to his diggers, "The Underground Railroad to God's country is open!" Sometime after sundown on the night of February 9, 1864 Union officers began emerging from the tunnel in groups of two or three. They then began casually strolling out the front gate of the warehouse and began heading North.

    In all, 109 Federal officers emerged from the tunnel. It was not until late in the day of February 10 that continued roll calls failed to account for the missing men. Frantic messages went out to local Confederate forces to apprehend the escapees. Nonetheless, over twelve hours passed before any Rebel response occurred.

    Aftermath

    Once the Confederates were made aware of the escape, search parties managed to recapture 48 of the prisoners, returning them to the prison. Two men tried to swim the James River and drowned. That left 59 Union officers who escaped back to Union lines. The event was a tremendous morale boost for the Union Army.

    After spending a month with the regiment in Maryland, he was assigned to duty mustering volunteer regiments from June 1865 to January 1866. Lieutenant Kerin returned to the regiment in Texas, serving seven months with it before he was promoted to captain on July 28th.

    Following his promotion, he served on a military commission in Houston before he was transferred back to Carlisle Barracks. After a brief stint of recruiting duty, he was assigned command of the Permanent Troop. He also served as the Treasurer and an Instructor of Tactics at Carlisle Barracks until April 1867. Another stint of recruiting followed this assignment until December 1868, this time Philadelphia and Boston, with a brief return to Carlisle for strike duty over the holidays of 1867-1868.

    Captain Kerin served with his regiment at Fort Richardson, Texas until April, when he was assigned to two months of regimental recruiting duty. Following this, he was in charge of the Shreveport Arsenal and grounds until November 1869.

    Captain Joseph Kerin retired from the army on June 28, 1878 and died on September 24, 1890.


    6th Cavalry Regiment: 

    The 3rd US Cavalry Regiment was organized on 3 May 1861 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was commanded by COL David Hunter, and second in command was LTC William H. Emory. The Regiment's designation was changed to the 6th U.S. Cavalry on 10 August 1861 due to a reorganization of US Cavalry regiments; the Regiment of Mounted Rifles took on the name of the 3rd Cavalry instead. The troopers were recruited from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Western New York. Arriving in Washington D.C. by company between 12 October and 23 December, the regiment joined the Union Army of the Potomac and began its training with a strength of 34 officers and 950 men. Due to supply shortages, all but one squadron was equipped as light cavalry, armed with pistols and sabers. It wasn't until 10 March that the rest of the regiment received carbines. The 6th Cavalry left winter quarters on 10 March 1862 and was assigned to General Philip St. George Cooke's command, who ordered them to make a reconnaissance of Centreville, VA, Manassas, and Bull Run. On 27 March, the regiment embarked for Fort Monroe and arrived three days later.

    Upon arrival, the 6th Cavalry served as forward scouts for the Army of the Potomac's advance units throughout the Peninsular Campaign and received its baptism of fire on 5 May 1862 after the Siege of Yorktown. After pursuing General Joseph E. Johnston's force of retreating Confederates through the city, the armies met at the Battle of Williamsburg on 5 May, and the 6th Cavalry made a name for themselves when CPT Sanders executed a bold counter charge into the teeth of Confederate artillery and a superior force of horsemen and managed to drive them off. The 6th Cavalry continued to serve as scouts for the Army of the Potomac until the evacuation at Harrison's Landing, where they served as rear guards for the evacuating forces. Arriving in Alexandria, Virginia on 2 September 1862, the 6th was in near constant contact with the Confederates for three months and engaging in skirmishes such as those at Falls Church, Sugar Loaf Mountain, Middletown, and Charleston. The regiment marched to the Rappahannock River on 24 November and remained in the vicinity until the men marched on Fredericksburg, Virginia on 12 December.

    During the Battle of Fredericksburg, the 6th Cavalry sent a squadron across the pontoon bridge over the Rappahannock River in order to reconnoiter the enemy positions. The Confederate's infantry line was developed, and the squadron withdrew after receiving fire from an enemy artillery battery, losing 2 men and 8 horses wounded. After reporting this information to General Ambrose Burnside, the Union commander, the regiment was withdrawn to Falmouth, Virginia, where it remained encamped until 13 April 1863. The 6th was one of the Union cavalry regiments that participated in Stoneman's 1863 raid, and during the action, LT Tupper and 10 troopers managed to capture General J. E. B. Stuart's chief quartermaster.

    On 9 June 1863, the 6th Cavalry fought in the Battle of Brandy Station after crossing the Rappahannock River. During this famous engagement, the regiment charged the Confederates and lost 4 officers and 63 men killed, wounded, or captured out of 254 engaged. Charging the Confederate guns, LT Madden was hit by an exploding shell, and LT Kerin was captured when the regiment began reforming from the charge. The troopers were moved to the extreme right of the line in order to repulse a Confederate flank attack and charged into the action. Here, LT Ward was killed, and LT Stroll was wounded. LT Stroll was fired upon as he fell and the soldiers who attempted to bear him away were shot down by rebel gunfire. The 6th was to be rear guard of the retiring Union force, and, led by LT Tupper, it checked the enemy at every stop and prevented the harassment of the column. This was one of the most serious cavalry actions of the war, and the 6th lost a quarter of its troopers.

    Battle of Fairfield:

    During the Gettysburg Campaign, and overseen by larger events ongoing nearby, on 3 July 1863, Major Starr with 400 troopers dismounted his men in a field and an orchard on both sides of the road near Fairfield, Pennsylvania. Union troopers directed by their officers took up hasty defensive positions on this slight ridge. They threw back a mounted charge of the 7th Virginia Cavalry (CSA), just as Chew's Battery (CSA) unlimbered and opened fire on the Federal cavalrymen. Supported by the 6th Virginia Cavalry (CSA), the 7th Virginia charged again, clearing Starr's force off the ridge and inflicting heavy losses. Jones (CSA), outnumbering the Union forces by at least 2 to 1, pursued the retreating Federals for three miles to the Fairfield Gap, but was unable to catch his quarry.

    "The fight made at Fairfield by this small regiment (6th U.S. Cavalry) against two of the crack brigades of Stuart's cavalry, which were endeavoring to get around the flank the Union army to attack the (supply) trains, was one of the most gallant in its history and no doubt helped influence the outcome the battle of Gettysburg. The efforts of these rebel brigades were frustrated and their entire strength neutralized for the day by the fierce onslaught of the small squadrons. The regiment was cut to pieces, but it fought so well that the squadrons were regarded as the advance of a large body of troops. The senior officer of those attacking CSA brigades was later adversely criticized for allowing his command to be delayed by such an inferior force. Had the regiment not made the desperate stand, the two brigades of Virginians might have caused grave injury in the Federal rear, before sufficient force could have been gathered in their front."

    Private George Crawford Platt, later Sergeant, an Irish immigrant serving in Troop H, was awarded the Medal of Honor on 12 July 1895, for his actions that day at Fairfield. His citation reads, "Seized the regimental flag upon the death of the standard bearer in a hand-to-hand fight and prevented it from falling into the hands of the enemy."

    His "commander," Lieutenant Carpenter, of Troop H, was one of only three officers of the 6th U.S. Cavalry to escape from the deadly melee at Fairfield. He was an eyewitness and documented Private Platt's "beyond the call of duty" behavior that day.  Louis H. Carpenter was brevetted from lieutenant to lieutenant colonel for his actions that day and later during the Indian Wars he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

    Post-Gettysburg

    Shortly after the Battle of Fairfield, the regiment made a reconnaissance of Funkstown, Maryland on 10 July 1863, and was heavily engaged in the Battle of Funkstown losing 1 officer and 85 men killed, wounded, and missing.  Arriving at Germantown, Maryland on 8 August, the 6th Cavalry replaced its tremendous casualties and trained and occasionally fought in minor battles with rebel scouts. Leaving winter quarters on 4 May 1864, the Cavalry, under General Sheridan were heavily engaged four days later in the Battle of Todd's Tavern. The 6th US Cavalry participated in several other raids and battles in 1864 under the command of General Sheridan and as a part of the Union Cavalry Corps. These battles include, the Battle of Yellow Tavern, where J. E. B Stuart was killed, the Battle of Trevilian Station, the Battle of Berryville, the Battle of Opequon, and the Battle of Cedar Creek.

    On 27 February, the 6th Cavalry broke camp from its winter quarters and engaged the Confederate Army on 30 March 1865 at the Battle of Dinwiddie Court House. Here, the men of the 6th held out against repeated enemy attacks until their ammunition was exhausted, and during their withdrawal, Confederate troops captured a LT Nolan and 15 6th Cavalry troopers.  On 1 April 1865, at the Battle of Five Forks, the 6th Cavalry wheeled to the right of the enemy's positions and advanced until sunset when the battle was won. The regiment then began a pursuit of the retreating enemy and participated in the Battle of Sailor's Creek, resulting in the capture of roughly 7,000 Confederate prisoners. During this battle, the 6th was ordered to capture a series of log huts. Some of the men in the ranks hesitated; they were cautious and wary of death so close to the perceived end of the war, but LT McClellan, a veteran of the antebellum Army, turned and exclaimed, "Men, let us die like soldiers!" Soon the troopers charged under heavy fire and took the log huts with the loss of three wounded.

    At the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse on 9 April 1865, the 6th charged at a gallop on the enemy's left flank, but were met with a white flag of surrender.  Soon after (at 4 p.m. that day), the rest of Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia would surrender, precipitating the end of the Confederacy and the American Civil War. According to the US Army Center of Military History, "The records of casualties during the Rebellion show seven officers killed, 53 men killed in action and 53 other deaths; 122 wounded in action and 17 by accident; 438 missing, most of these being captured at Fairfield and in other charges,—making a total of 689 enlisted men."


    Inventory Number: CDV 322