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John H. McHenry, Jr.
Commander, 17th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry

John Hardin McHenry, Jr. was born in Hartford, Ohio County, Kentucky, on February 21, 1832. He was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, and was there for three years. He returned to Kentucky and completed his education at the University of Louisville, obtaining a degree in Law. He opened a law practice in Owensboro, Kentucky. When the War Between the States began, he was commissioned a Colonel of Volunteers in the U.S. Army. He began to recruit in Owensboro, and the loyal ladies of the city presented him with Regimental Colors for the 17th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry. He went to Hartford, his home, and established Camp Calloway (named after Chester Calloway, a Revolutionary War Soldier.) He also established regimental-recruiting camps in Owensboro, Henderson, and Calhoun. While being organized, Colonel McHenry led portions of the regiment on a raid of Confederate postions in and around Woodbury and Big Hill near Morgantown [See report] The regiment was mustered in Calhoun, Kentucky, on the banks of the Green River, on January 4th, 1862.

Soon afterward he led his regiment to Fort Donelson, and then Shiloh. The 17th and the 25th, were the first Kentucky volunteer regiments organized to leave the state for combat. They were heavily engaged at Fort Donelson [See report] and Shiloh [See report] , and suffered such casualties from battle and sickness that they were consolidated under the 17th. General Lew Wallace said of the Kentuckians, "Col. Jas. M. Shackelford, 25th Ky., and Col. John H. McHenry, 17th Ky., and their field and company officers all won honor and lasting praise; nor can less be given to the valor and endurance of the men who composed their regiments."

From Shiloh, Colonel McHenry led his consolidated regiment to Corinth where they were engaged in heavy skirmishing [See report]. From Corinth, Colonel McHenry led the 17th under Buell's Army in pursuit of General Braxton Bragg. They were at Springfield during the Battle of Perryville guarding supply trains, they were called up, but did not see action as they arrived on the battlefield after the engagement had ended. The Regiment remained in Kentucky providing patrols and a deterrent to Bragg from re-entering the state.

On December 4, 1862 under General Order Number 199, War Department, Colonel McHenry was dismissed for issuing an order directing his men to return run-away slaves to their masters, in violation of Additional Articles of War (see Article 42, OR.) Upon his departure, Colonel McHenry issued a special order encouraging his men to faithfully follow their new commander.

Many Kentucky legislators and newspapers around the country supported Colonel McHenry and his actions. Shortly thereafter President Lincoln wrote to Secretary of War Stanton: "I have a strong inclination to give Colonel McHenry another chance. What says the Secretary of War?" We have no record of Secretary Stanton's response; however, Colonel McHenry was never recalled.

Colonel McHenry returned home to Owesboro as an attorney. He ran for a seat in Congress but was unsuccessful. He remained involved in politics and formed a movement know as "The Union Democratic Movement" that protested the appointment of former rebels to state positions.

Outside of politics, McHenry was very active in his community in his profession and as a citizen. He served a the Grand Master of the Ancient Order of united Workmen and was a mason.

Colonely McHenry married Josephine Phillips in 1868. In 1891 he became the postmaster of Owensboro. He died in that office on July 8, 1893.

Mark S. Carroll
Lieutenant Colonel (Retired)
U.S. Army
Updated: June 27, 2001

A Hundred Miles a Hundred Heartbreaks, pp. 17-18 & 107-114
Official Records
Collins, Lewis History of Kentucky Vol. 1, p. 117
For a full story of the 17th, and to view reports and orders of Colonel McHenry, see the 17th Timeline and related links at

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