David R. Jones and Henry W. Kingsbury were comrades on opposite sides during America’s bloodiest day.
The American Civil War, like all wars of its kind, produced its share of tragic confrontations between friends and relatives. General John Gibbon of Iron Brigade fame had three brothers who served the Confederacy, and the Crittenden family of Kentucky would see its sons serve as high-ranking officers on both sides. Even President Abraham Lincoln had to deal with division in his own family. During the war, the widow of Confederate General Benjamin Helms lived in the White House for a time as the guest of her sister—Mary Todd Lincoln. Perhaps the most famous case of friends waging war against each other was dramatized in the movie Gettysburg, based on the book The Killer Angels. During Pickett’s Charge, Confederate Brigadier General Lewis Armistead led his brigade against his old friend, Union Major General Winfield Scott Hancock. Armistead was killed, and Hancock seriously wounded.
Another tragic encounter took place during the Battle of Antietam at Burnside’s Bridge, where Confederate Brig. Gen. David R. Jones confronted his brother-in-law and close friend, Colonel Henry W. Kingsbury, commander of the 11th Connecticut Infantry. Neither would survive for long.
David Rumph Jones, born in Orangeburg District, S.C., on April 5, 1825, was raised in Georgia. Not known for his academic prowess, he graduated 41st of 49 in the West Point class of 1846. He was noted, however, for his fencing and horsemanship. His class turned out to be one of the academy’s most famous, including George McClellan, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, George Pickett, A.P. Hill and Jesse Reno. Tall, stately and gregarious, Jones was nicknamed “Neighbor” for his outgoing personality. After graduation he was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to the 2nd U.S. Infantry.
With the outbreak of the Mexican War, Jones did not have to wait long before putting into practice his training as a soldier. He participated in the siege and capture of Vera Cruz and the campaign for Mexico City, serving as his regiment’s adjutant. He was brevetted first lieutenant for gallantry at the battles of Contreras and Churubusco. Following the war, Jones spent most of his time on duty in California, and then served as an instructor of infantry tactics at West Point. During his tour with the Regular Army, Jones married Rebecca Taylor, the daughter of career Army officer Colonel Joseph P. Taylor. The marriage brought him connections to President Zachary Taylor, Joseph’s brother, and future Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who married one of Rebecca’s cousins. His friendship with Rebecca’s future brother-in-law, however, proved to be the most meaningful—and the most tragic. Her sister married Henry W. Kingsbury, the son of another career Army officer, Major Julius Kingsbury.
Henry Kingsbury was in many ways nothing like his brother-in-law. Although the Kingsbury family’s roots were in New England, he was in reality an “army brat.” One of seven children born to Major Kingsbury and his wife, Henry and his sister Mary were the only two to reach adulthood. Although growing up on the frontier at Army posts was difficult for them, their father had made several sound investments and had a comfortable income when poor health forced him to retire from the Army. Mary, like her brother, developed a connection with the future Southern nation, marrying Simon B. Buckner, who would become a Confederate general. Entering West Point in 1856, Henry was faced with family tragedy almost immediately when his long-ailing father died. It was Buckner and an old family friend, Ambrose E. Burnside, who handled Julius Kingsbury’s estate.
Despite his grief, Kingsbury did well at West Point, receiving from one of his classmates the accolade that he seemed destined for “a career which nothing but death could terminate in failure.” Graduating fourth in his class in 1861, he finished first in artillery tactics and was the adjutant of the Corps of Cadets his senior year. Burnside, now a general in the expanded Army preparing to wage war against the seceding states, wanted young Kingsbury to join his staff. Given Kingsbury’s high finish at West Point, however, Burnside had to let him assume a more valuable position. With the Civil War having broken out only a few months before his graduation, Kingsbury was commissioned a second lieutenant and quickly assigned to duty as an aide-de-camp to Irvin McDowell, commander of the Union Army of Northeastern Virginia. Later that year, he married Eva Taylor, Rebecca Jones’ sister, in Washington, D.C.
While Kingsbury was beginning his military career in the Union Army, his friend, and new brother-in-law, had been doing everything in his power to help start the war. Southern secession was looming after the election of Abraham Lincoln in the fall of 1860 when Jones was ordered to report for duty on the West Coast in early 1861. Protesting this assignment, he offered to take the duty if it were postponed until March 20. Because Jones was a Southerner, the War Department naturally suspected his motives and turned him down.
Those suspicions were well grounded—Jones resigned his commission on February 10 in a letter sent from Augusta, Ga. Less than two months later he was serving as an aide to General P.G.T. Beauregard at the siege of Fort Sumter. In that capacity Jones played a prominent role during the surrender negotiations and traveled to the fort twice to parley with its commander, Major Robert Anderson. He was even credited by some sources as being the Confederate officer who lowered the Star-Spangled Banner from the fort after its surrender. A few months later, while his brother-in-law was serving under McDowell at the First Battle of Manassas, Jones, a newly commissioned brigadier general, commanded a Confederate brigade on the opposite bank of Bull Run at McLean’s Ford.
Kingsbury’s next assignment allowed him to take advantage of his success at West Point in artillery tactics. Assigned to command Battery D, 5th U.S. Artillery, he joined the Army of the Potomac under McClellan. Kingsbury distinguished himself at the battles of Gaines’ Mill and Malvern Hill. His battery was credited in Brig. Gen. George Sykes’ report with having saved the flank of Sykes’ division at Gaines’ Mill.
After commanding a brigade in Brig. Gen. James Longstreet’s Division following the First Battle of Manassas, Jones was transferred in February 1862 to the command of a Georgia brigade. In March he was promoted to major general and given command of a small division under Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder. Although he was close to the enemy during the Confederate retreat up the Peninsula, Jones’ Division saw little action until after the Battle of Seven Pines and the appointment of General Robert E. Lee to command of the Army of Northern Virginia. Assigned with the rest of Magruder’s command to defend the Richmond trenches while Lee used the majority of his army to turn McClellan’s right flank, Jones and his division participated only in the battles of Golding’s Farm and Malvern Hill. His division took part in the final assault on Malvern Hill, and Jones later described the Union artillery fire there as “truly terrific.” He did not know at the time that some of the fire had come from his brother-in-law’s battery.
Kingsbury’s distinguished service in the Peninsula campaign put him in the enviable position of being sought for promotion and more prominent service. Despite his obvious love of artillery, he was under a great deal of pressure to accept an infantry command from his native New England. Finally assenting, Kingsbury took over the newly formed 11th Connecticut, with promotion to colonel shortly after the Seven Days’ battles. The regiment was stationed at Fort Monroe after participating in the Roanoke expedition as part of the IX Corps. The transfer also had the added benefit of uniting Kingsbury with an old family friend: Burnside was the corps’ commander. Kingsbury’s appointment, however, was not initially popular with the Connecticut men. Determined to lead one of the finest regiments in the Union Army, Kingsbury was a strict disciplinarian with both officers and men. He did his best to whip the new regiment into shape, starting with the officers. When several proved incompetent, he replaced them with men from the ranks. This caused quite a stir, and several of the better officers threatened to resign. The young colonel was roundly criticized for his “West Point” ways. His persistence eventually paid off, though, and as time passed the men of his regiment learned to appreciate his methods.
Kingsbury often rode ahead during marches to select the best available campsite. He made sure that his men were adequately supplied with blankets and other essentials and that their food was properly prepared. He supervised the preparation of rice, banned the distribution of seafood when many of his men fell ill after consuming it and ordered that steak, usually only on the menu for officers, be served to the entire regiment. Eventually the regiment gained the reputation of being the “cleanest, most orderly, and best trained outfit in the division.” With this notoriety, the soldiers began to realize that Kingsbury’s methods were not only reducing the usual deaths from sickness but also turning them into an effective fighting unit. They would need all the training and discipline he could give them for the task that lay ahead.
After the defeat of the Army of the Potomac during the Seven Days’ campaign, Lee turned his attention to Union Maj. Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia. Jones’ Division, now part of Longstreet’s command, moved north to face the new Union threat to Virginia. Jones’ Division played a central role in the ensuing Confederate victory at the Second Battle of Manassas. In late August 1862, Jackson’s wing marched around Pope’s army and then positioned itself defensively in an unfinished railroad cut near Manassas. With Jackson under heavy pressure from Pope by August 27, Longstreet’s wing quickly moved to assist. Its path was blocked by Union troops at Thoroughfare Gap, but Jones’ Division, along with Hood’s Texas Brigade, forced the gap and opened the way for Jackson’s relief.
On August 30, Longstreet, with Jones commanding his right, launched a fearsome attack along the Warrenton Turnpike that threw Pope’s army into chaos. Sweeping forward, the Union line was pushed back to Chinn Ridge and finally to Henry House Hill. A final assault by Jones’ Division, however, failed to break the last Union line there, and Federals were able to continue their retreat to Washington. Despite the failure of the final Confederate assault, Pope’s army was thoroughly defeated. With this victory, Lee would turn his army toward Maryland for what he hoped would be the final blow to end the war.
As August turned to September, McClellan, back from the Virginia Peninsula, was placed in command of a new Army of the Potomac and ordered to engage Lee. As the armies headed toward a ridge and a creek just north of Sharpsburg, Md., Jones and Kingsbury were also headed toward a fateful meeting at a bridge just south of that town.
In the midst of the most dangerous crisis the Union had faced since the fighting began, all available Union units were concentrated near Washington for the campaign that many believed would decide the outcome of the war and the fate of the Union. McClellan had reorganized the army for the campaign, and Burnside was placed in charge of a wing that included his IX Corps and the I Corps, under the command of Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker. Burnside’s wing covered the far left of the army, marching close to the Potomac River as it went in search of Lee.
Jones, with his division, crossed the Potomac at White’s Ford on September 6, and camped with the rest of Lee’s army at Frederick, Md. His division had grown from two brigades to six by the beginning of the Maryland campaign. With a Union force in Lee’s rear at Harpers Ferry, and McClellan showing few signs of showing up at Frederick anytime soon, Lee issued his fateful Special Orders, No. 191, which divided his army into five parts in the face of the enemy. While Jackson moved with his command to encircle the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry, Jones’ Division moved with Longstreet toward Hagerstown, arriving there on September 13. Unfortunately for Lee, McClellan got his hands on a lost copy of the orders and moved with uncharacteristic quickness against the isolated division of Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill at South Mountain. With the arrival of McClellan at South Mountain, Longstreet’s wing made a forced march on September 14 to reinforce the heavily outnumbered Confederates. Arriving late in the day, Jones’ men shored up the line at both Turner’s and Fox’s gaps until nightfall brought an end to the battle.
When the IX Corps made the attack on the Confederate position at Fox’s Gap, the 11th Connecticut saw its first action with Kingsbury in command. Major General Jesse Reno was in direct command of the fighting. The 11th Connecticut was not put into action until late in the day, and visibility was poor during its advance. In all, however, it was a good beginning for the regiment and its new commander. It had faced the enemy, come under fire and suffered some casualties, but had not been too heavily engaged. As the sun finally set on South Mountain, the regiment felt assured it could handle the rigors of combat and would not falter under Kingsbury.
Lee, refusing to give up the campaign despite the setback at South Mountain, retreated to nearby Sharpsburg. He expected Jackson’s command, which had taken the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry, to join him soon. Jones’ Division was on the far right, defending the southernmost of three bridges crossing Antietam Creek. His position was a good one, with a steep hill commanding the bridge. The road leading to the bridge, known at the time as the Lower Bridge and afterward as Burnside’s Bridge, also provided an excellent field of fire, since the road paralleled the creek on both of its approaches. His only major weakness—and it was a major one—was that his entire division numbered fewer than 3,500 men. Like the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia, his command had suffered not only from casualties during the two previous campaigns but also from soldiers falling out because of hard marches and insufficient supplies of food and clothing. By the evening of September 16, Jones was reinforced with the arrival of Brig. Gen. John Walker’s Division, increasing the strength of his line and allowing him to cover the fords south of Lower Bridge.
The Army of the Potomac arrived shortly after Lee took up his position on the west bank of Antietam Creek, and it was obvious to everyone from the generals down to the privates that a major battle was about to take place. McClellan’s plan of attack was to flank the Confederate left with the I and XII corps. This created a problem for the IX Corps. With the separation of the I Corps from Burnside’s command, he now had only the IX Corps as the battle began to take shape. Burnside considered this a demotion, and he entered the battle in a bad mood. As September 17 dawned, his command structure was in disarray. Burnside insisted on maintaining his position as wing commander and simply relayed orders to the acting IX Corps commander, Brig. Gen. Jacob Cox, who had taken over after Reno’s death at South Mountain. This meant Cox was caught at the center of a growing feud between Burnside and McClellan. The IX Corps was ordered to perform a diversionary attack on the Lower Bridge, and the situation did not bode well for success. It was also a unique moment for Kingsbury and Jones, who found themselves on opposite sides of the creek. For the first time in the war, their commands were facing each other directly, with a bloody battle about to begin.
The Union plan of attack for taking the Lower Bridge has been the subject of controversy ever since the guns fell silent after the battle. Many, both then and now, believed that the proper way to attack the bridge was to attempt to wade the creek in a massive assault. This, however, was not the way a bridge assault was taught at any of the military schools in the United States or Europe. Military conventions at the time held that a three-pronged attack was the proper way to assault a bridge. The first unit would create a diversion by attacking the bridge directly, while a second unit would find an undefended place to cross and assault the bridge from the rear. When the bridge was taken, a third unit would then rush across and capture any high ground behind the bridge. This was the battle plan on the morning of September 17. While elements of the IX Corps attacked the bridge directly, Brig. Gen. Isaac Rodman’s division was assigned the task of finding a suitable ford to flank the bridge and attack from behind. Jones’ Division held one of the strongest defensive positions on the field that day. The stone quarry used to make the Lower Bridge was on the bluff facing the bridge from the Confederate side and provided an excellent natural redoubt. Although the Confederate force defending the bridge was small—just one brigade under Brig. Gen. Robert Toombs—it could rake any unit attempting to advance on the bridge with fire from almost point-blank range.
Around 10 a.m. McClellan, seeing that things were going poorly for his army on the northern end of the battlefield, ordered Burnside to move forward immediately. Colonel George Crook was ordered to attack the Lower Bridge, with the 11th Connecticut proceeding first to act as skirmishers. This required Kingsbury and his men to move quickly to the bridge and then find shelter to cover the advance of Crook’s brigade. It was a dangerous assignment, and one that seemed likely to result in heavy casualties. When Kingsbury ordered the regiment forward, the men spread out to the left and descended the steep slope facing the bridge. Reaching level ground just before the bridge, they rushed the 50 feet to the bank of the creek. While moving from the slope to the creek, they received withering fire from the Confederates on the west bank. Kingsbury was on the road to the bridge and near the bank, trying to keep his regiment moving. His prominent position made him a special target. He was hit twice and then a third time while his men were trying to get him to the rear. A fourth bullet hit Kingsbury in the abdomen. The seriously wounded colonel was taken to the Rohrbach farmhouse just behind the bridge to be treated, but everyone knew the case was hopeless. Civil War wounds to the abdomen were almost always fatal. The question surrounding his death was not a matter of if, but when.
While Kingsbury was being taken to the rear, Crook’s attack on the Lower Bridge ended in failure. Despite losing Walker’s Division and one of its own brigades, which left to reinforce the northern end of the battlefield, Jones’ Division, now reduced to about 2,800 men, held its position stubbornly against successive assaults by the IX Corps. Toombs’ Brigade, however, was running dangerously short of ammunition, and Rodman’s division, after several failures, had finally found a usable ford, crossed the Antietam and was now to the rear of the Confederate position. The third assault on the bridge by the 51st New York and 51st Pennsylvania finally carried the position around 1 p.m., but a failure to supply the assaulting force with adequate ammunition delayed the IX Corps at that point for two more hours.
Despite the pause, the situation on the south end of the battlefield was desperate for Jones and his Confederates. With the vastly undermanned Army of Northern Virginia pushed to its limits in the fighting on the northern end of the field and at Bloody Lane in the center, Lee had no reinforcements to send Jones. His only hope lay in the ability of Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill to march his division from Harpers Ferry to the battlefield before Jones’ line was broken. Although Hill, who had remained at Harpers Ferry to complete the surrender of the garrison, had left early that morning, marching 18 miles quickly was nearly an impossible feat for a large body of Civil War soldiers.
Fighting desperately as they slowly retreated before the overwhelming forces that Burnside brought to bear, Jones’ men were pushed to the streets of Sharpsburg. With Lee’s army on the verge of being pushed out of the town, Hill arrived just in time to save it. For Jones, though, it was not a moment for celebration. While interviewing prisoners of the 11th Connecticut, he learned of his brother-in-law’s mortal wound. It was a blow that turned the gregarious “Neighbor” Jones into a man overcome with grief and guilt. Not only had one of his best friends been mortally wounded in the battle, it was men in his command, under his orders, who had done the deed. By nature an optimist, Jones fell into depression. When Lee later attempted to speak with him about the success gained on the field that day and his hopes for a positive conclusion to the battle the next day, Jones gave no response. His silence shocked Lee.
Back at the Rohrbach farmhouse, Kingsbury and 97 other wounded members of the 11th Connecticut fought for their lives under the care of Union surgeons. Still thinking of his soldiers as his life ebbed away, Kingsbury ordered the surgeons to “take care of the men” when they attempted to spend additional time with him because of his rank. Late that evening a special visitor arrived at the hospital to see him, a tearful General Burnside. Still charged with responsibility for the estate of Kingsbury’s father, Burnside asked the young colonel if his papers and will were in order. Kingsbury replied that they were, and then pleaded, “Please General, take care of my child as you have taken care of me.” Late on September 18, Kingsbury died of his wounds. He was 26 years old. Three months later, in December, his wife Eva gave birth to Henry W. Kingsbury Jr. in Washington.
David R. Jones, who had suffered from poor health for many years, never again commanded his division. Shortly after the battle, he asked to be relieved. His replacement, ironically, was West Point classmate George Pickett, who would lead the division at Gettysburg in the famous charge that bears his name. On his return to Richmond, Jones’ disposition and condition worsened. On January 15, 1863, just four months after the Battle of Antietam, he suffered a massive heart attack and died. He was 39 years old. Most of his comrades and friends, in both armies, were convinced that he had died of a broken heart.
Jerry W. Holsworth, who writes from Winchester, Va., has authored numerous articles and is a former Antietam National Battlefield ranger.
Originally published in the September 2006 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.