The Bible that Stopped a Yankee Bullet

Darlington, Confederate Veterans' reunion 1912
South Carolina Confederate Veterans’ Reunion about 1912. John H. Kelly is pictured standing, fifth from the left.

 

In the spring of 1861 Company G was placed under Brigadier General J.E.B. Stuart’s command to join the rearguard of the army near Yorktown. It was at this time that Company G united with a part of Captain Harrington’s Company of the 9th Regiment and formed Company E. of the 6th South Carolina Volunteers, with James Lide Coker as Captain and E. W. Cannon Lieutenant and John Hicks Kelley corporal.

It happened during the battle of Williamsburg Virginia which arose from events that began on the night of May 3, when Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston unexpectedly withdrew his forces from the Warwick Line at the Battle of Yorktown.  Union Major General George B. McClellan was taken by surprise and was unprepared to mount an immediate pursuit. On the morning of May 4, he ordered cavalry commander Brigadier General. George Stoneman to pursue Johnson’s rearguard and sent approximately half of his Army of the Potomac along behind Stoneman, under the command of Brigadier General Edwin V. Sumner.

By May 5, Johnston’s army was making slow progress on muddy roads and Stoneman’s cavalry was skirmishing with Brigadier General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry, Johnston’s rearguard. To give time for the bulk of his army to get free, Johnston detached part of his force to make a stand at a large earthen fortification, Fort Magruder, straddling the Williamsburg Road (from Yorktown), constructed earlier by Brigadier General John B. Magruder.

It was on May 6th that Corp. Kelly met with an incident so remarkable that even today, the tails of the event live on. Longstreet’s Division was trying to keep in check the advance of Mc­Clellan’s troops. Longstreet’s men were in line of battle as Company E passed through Williamsburg on way to camp there to get some food and rest, as for several days they had been in skirmishes or on picket duty. Near Fort MaGruder they were allowed to stack arms and lie down for sleep, if they could. At daylight they were up and in battle ar­ray; in a short time three companies of the 6th Regiment under Lt. Col. Steadman marched to small redoubt near Fort MaGruder. Here we met Hancock’s Division but were so w

Law, Thomas Hart
Thomas Hart Law – Presented the Bible to John Hicks Kelley upon his entry into the Army.

ell protected, that not a man of the company was hurt. A well aimed shot from an enemy sharpshooter struck Corporal Kelley in the chest as he was returning fire on.  He fell and by the visible damage to his jacket was thought to have been killed.  Stunned, he eventually shook off the shock to reveal that the Bible in his pocket had stopped the bullet.  The minnie ball entered the lower right corner of the Bible and was stopped in Second Kings, thus saving his life.  The Bible had been a gift from his Sunday school teacher  – Thomas Hart Law,
when he entered the Army.  This battle claimed the lives of 1,682 Confederate soldiers and 2,283 Union soldiers.

It should be noted that the battle of Seven Pines on May 31, 1861 was a disastrous battle for this Company.  Many of the men were either killed or wounded.  Corporal Kelley was among those that were wounded.  He lay bleeding to death on the battlefield, shot in the left arm with the artery cut.  Major Gilliard was the first to stop and give him aid.  He tied the arm with his canteen strap as a way to check bleeding. Due to his weakened state he was not able to travel and Gilliard had to leave him.  A short while later the Colonel of the 8th Regiment of Virginia was passing, he noticed him and inquired who he was.  Upon finding out that he belonged to the 9th South Carolina he said he could not pass without aiding one of the soldiers of that Regiment. He later stated that he had admired them for their bravery and he could not let one of them die, without an effort to save him.  He detailed four men to carry him to the hospital. From there he was sent to Richmond, then home on furlough to be nursed and cared for.  This was followed by nine month’s suffering and a weakened arm that would last for lifetime.

Being unfit for service Corporal Kelley was granted an honorable discharge on account of his wound.  Undeterred by his physical condition, he later re-enlisted for home service. Here again he had a close call, having been shot at by Potter’s Raiders and narrowly escaped capture in Sumter County, while trying to check the depredations of these stragglers, following in the wake of Sherman’s army. The tales of his escaping on horseback are still told today among family.

John Hicks Kelley was a native of Darlington County and was born near Hartsville on May 24th, 1841.  He was the grandson of Jacob Kelley of Kelleytown and later in his life he served Darlington County as Coroner.  He was selected to fill the unexpired term of Robert Parnell on December 28, 1910 and was elected on his own right in 1912.  He served a total of 14 years.

This Bible, a cherished family heirloom, has been donated to the Darlington County Historical Commission by Paul Howle.  Paul is a true lover of history and is a regular wordpress blogger at  Idle Musings of an Insomniac – Paul Howle’s random thoughts on life.

John Hicks KelleyJohn Hicks Kelley

May 24, 1839 – February 13 1927

Married to Sarah Harrell and had five children, William Kelly, Junius A. Kelly, Mamie Kelly (Mrs. R.E. Howle), Lila Miller Kelly (Mrs. Albert Parrott) and Pauline Kelly (Mrs. John H. Peterson).

 

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Paul Howle says:

    Hey Brian. Great job! You’re a talented writer. I love how you placed this small incident in the broader context of the war at large.

    A couple of little things I noticed:

    (1) First graf: “Hicks,” not Hick.

    (2) Fourth graf: “tales,” not “tails.” And “Corporal,” not “Carpal;” “shock” not “chock.”

    (3) JHK’s children were: William Kelly, Junius A. Kelly, Mamie Kelly (Mrs. R.E. Howle), Lila Miller Kelly (Mrs. Albert Parrott) and Pauline Kelly (Mrs. John H. Peterson).

    Again, wonderful job. Do me a big favor and let me know if you get this.

    Paul

    Like

  2. Thanks Paul….I will be the first to admit where i fall short….proofing is a weakness!!! I have actually went back in and correct one of those, and will up date the others now. I appreciate it!!

    Like

  3. vanns4 says:

    Brain what a great story and history lesson.You always do a great job.Thanks Mr.Paul Howell for donating this bible to the Darlington County Historic Commission.

    Like

  4. Kristen says:

    Greetings from Idaho! I’m bored to tears at work so I decided to
    browse your site on my iphone during lunch break. I enjoy the info you provide here
    and can’t wait to take a look when I get home. I’m shocked at how fast your blog loaded on my cell
    phone .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyways, wonderful blog!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you very much! We love connecting people with their history and appreciate you taking time to read through it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. vanns4 says:

    Kristen Brain Gandy does a fantastic job.This is Brian’s calling and he does his job very well.I have known Brian and his family for many years and they are great people.We all lived out in the country and we all attended the same country elementary school.Brian Antioch days were the good old days for sure.That would be a great project Brian to do.Do a blog about the history of Antioch Elementary School.My dad is 79 years old and he at attened Antioch also.Let me know if you do Thanks buddy.

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