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John Wesley Henderson Papers, 1864-1867

Microfilm Roll MF 1769



Henderson, John Wesley, 1838-1893.


There are many inconsistencies between and within the various sources of information on the life of John Wesley Henderson. Researchers interested in his life history or that of other family members may wish to consult source documents to analyze the information for themselves (1). The synthesis that follows appears to be the most plausible explanation based on the weight of available evidence.

John Wesley Henderson was born 2 May 1838, in Hendersonville (Mercer County), Pennsylvania, the child of Margaret (Henderson) McQuatty and her husband, whose first name is unknown. (2). Margaret died before the child was three months old. Soon thereafter his father left to go west, and the family never had further contact with him.

John-along with a cousin, Justus, who was also fatherless-was raised by his maternal grandfather, John Carnahan Henderson, who lived in Worth Township in Mercer County. (3) When they became adults, both cousins legally changed their surnames to Henderson. (4)

John W. Henderson, often called by his nickname Jack, enlisted in Company E of the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry, also known as the 161 st Pennsylvania Regiment, on 27 September 1862. His military service summary shows that at the time of enlistment he lived in Clintonville, Pennsylvania. He was promoted to corporal on 13 June 1863 and discharged 17 June 1865. (5)

After the war Jack returned to Venango County and worked as a farmer or farmhand. During this period he married Mary Jane Allen, a woman two years younger than he, and together they had seven children from 1867 through 1881. (6)

In the spring of 1877, the family moved to Smith County, Kansas, where they obtained from the federal government a tract of land four miles southeast of Smith Centre (now Smith Center). Jack became a prosperous farmer. In 1886 and again in 1888 he was elected county probate judge. (7) During his life, he was a member of the International Order of Odd Fellows and the Grand Army of the Republic.

In 1890 he suffered a serious injury while hitching an agitated horse, and he never completely recovered. During 1892 his condition deteriorated, and he died 10 February 1893 at the age of 54. He was buried in Fairview Cemetery north of Smith Center. Mary Jane was interred next to him after her death in 1925.

(1)Sources consulted were:

Bates, Samuel P[enniman]. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865. Harrisburg, Pa.: State printer, 1869 - 71. Vol. 4, pp. 950 - 56, 974 - 76, 987 - 91. [Kansas State Historical Society Library call number GL 973.74 P38b v.4]

Daughters of the American Revolution, Sarah Steward Chapter (Smith Center, Kans.). Tombstone Inscriptions. Smith Center, Kans.: the Chapter, c1989 - , vol. 2, p. 36. [K 929.3 -Sm5ce]

“Death of J. W. Henderson,” Pioneer - Bulletin (Smith Center, Kans.), 16 Feb. 1893, p. [1]. [Newspaper microfilm S 1082]

“Death of J. W. Henderson,” Smith County Journal (Smith Center, Kans.), 16 Feb. 1893, p. [8]. [Newspaper microfilm S 1469]

Henderson, Oren V. Descendants of Robert Henderson . . .Durham, N. H.: the Author [1947], entry 3, p. 31; entry 23, p. 54; entries 97 - 98, p. 95. [GL BBB H383]

(2)“Death of J. W. Henderson,” Pioneer - Bulletin (Smith Center, Kans.), 16 Feb. 1893, p. [1], Kansas State Historical Society newspaper microfilm S-1082 (hereafter Pioneer - Bulletin). Oren V. Henderson, Descendants of Robert Henderson . . . (Durham, N. H.: the Author [1947], entry 23 (p. 54) and entry 97 (p. 95) (hereafter Henderson), give his birth date as January 1838 and 1838 [month unknown], respectively.

(3)Henderson, entry 23 (p.54). The entry for John Wesley Henderson, no. 97 (p. 95), states that his father died shortly after his birth, and the baby’s mother and grandfather raised him until she married again; entry 23 mentions no second marriage but says she died 31 July 1838.

(4)Justus also served in the Union Army in the Civil War and later came to Kansas; cf. Henderson, entry 98 (p. 95).

(5)Henderson, entry 97, states that he transferred to Company I, but Samuel P[enniman] Bates, History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865 (Harrisburg, Pa: State printer, 1869 - 71), vol. 4, pp. 974 - 76, 987 - 91, does not substantiate this.

(6)Henderson, entry 97, lists the seven children as Sarah Ann (married surname Smith), John Wynn, John Jay, William Coleman, Munson Meade, Clyde Glenn, and Juliette; birth dates are given in the source document. Pioneer-Bulletin states that John W. Henderson was married twice, and that he and his other wife had a son in addition to the seven children from his other marriage.

(7)Henderson, entry 97, “Death of J. W. Henderson,” Smith County Journal (Smith Center, Kans.), 16 Feb. 1893, p. [8], Kansas State Historical Society newspaper microfilm S 1469. Pioneer - Bulletin states that he was appointed to a vacant judgeship.

Scope and Content

The two John Wesley Henderson diaries provide a glimpse of the life of a cavalry soldier on duty in Virginia during the latter half of the Civil War. During that period, Henderson’s unit, the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry, participated in General Ulysses S. Grant’s May - June 1864 Spring Campaign through Virginia; the Battle of Cold Harbor, 31 May - 12 June 1864; Grant’s encounters with Confederate General Robert E. Lee along the line from Richmond to Petersburg; and the battle at Five Forks west of Petersburg, 2 April 1865. The 16 th Pennsylvania Cavalry was assigned to the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, Cavalry Corps, of the Army of the Potomac during most of the time period included in the diaries. After the Confederate surrender in April 1865, the unit was part of the Department of Virginia.

The diaries relate both the boredom and the excitement of being a soldier. Battles and, more frequently, skirmishes with Confederates are described in varying detail. Henderson describes fighting at Chancellorsville, 4 - 7 May 1864; Haw’s Shop, 28 May; Cold Harbor, 1 - 2 June; the Wilderness, 10 - 11 June; White House, 20 - 21 June; Malvern Hill, 27 July; Deep Bottom, 12 - 13 August; along the line of the Weldon Railroad, 21 August; Hancock’s Station, 28 - 29 August; Hatcher’s Run, 27 October 1864 and 5 - 6 February 1865; around Petersburg, 25 - 30 March; Dinwiddie Court House, 31 March; and Petersburg, 2 April 1865, as well as less - severe skirmishes and shelling consistently throughout the narrative. Interspersed with these accounts of combat are entries reflecting the daily routine of a soldier: picket duty, alerts, inspections, paydays, letters from home, and monotony.

Throughout the war, John Wesley Henderson made daily entries. Usually he mentioned the weather, particularly so if he was exposed to it for long periods of time. Due to the ink he used, many entries are faint and somewhat difficult to read. Faint images may have been filmed several times at different exposures to achieve maximum legibility. Henderson often gave brief descriptions of the places he encountered. Blank pages have not been filmed, although dates with no entries are noted below in the descriptions of each diary.

The first diary began with the 16th Pennsylvania marching to Front Royal, Virginia, and from there via Manassas to the unit’s winter quarters near Warrenton. At the end of February, Henderson was part of a detachment of 300 men, 100 each from the 4th and 6th Pennsylvania and the 1st Maine, under the command of Colonel John P. Taylor of the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry (44th Pennsylvania Regiment) that marched to General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick’s headquarters near the Rapidan River. There, they were attached to the 1st Brigade, 3rd Division. From there they went to Spotsylvania Court House, where they destroyed buildings along the railroad, and the outskirts of Richmond, where they shelled the city. They then traveled to Yorktown via Williamsburg. At Yorktown, they sailed to Alexandria, where Henderson rejoined the 16th. The regiment marched toward Richmond, meeting resistance the entire way. They circled Richmond, going through Petersburg, Cold Harbor, King William, and Aylett. Throughout the summer they marched through eastern Virginia with the rest of the Army of the Potomac in an attempt to take Richmond that was stymied by Lee’s forces. In mid-July Henderson fell ill, possibly contracting malaria, which effectively kept him from fighting until the end of August. In early October he again was sick, either with or compounded by knee injuries. There is a “memoranda” section in the back of the diary in which Henderson listed clothing and equipment and other articles drawn as well as personal notes.

The second diary has much less combat described in it because of the North’s tactical advantage during the year 1865. Henderson noted on 15 January an injury to his chest that must have been minor. He mentioned the defeat of Confederate gunboats on 23 January, presumably as they tried to sail toward Richmond on the James River. He described the Battle of Five Forks, 29 - 31 March, and the fighting his unit did at Dinwiddie Court House as the fiercest combat they experienced in the war. On 23 April, two weeks after Lee’s surrender, Henderson went to Richmond, and from there to Petersburg and Lynchburg. On 14 June, he wrote of helping draft a resolution describing the mood of the troops, but no additional information about the subject or intended recipient of the resolution was given. He visited Richmond for several days, 19 - 24 June, and from there he sailed for Baltimore via Norfolk and Fort Monroe, Virginia. From Baltimore, he took the train to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and from Harrisburg to his home, arriving in Venango on 7 July.

After the war, entries in his diary were sporadic. He wrote faithfully for a few weeks, describing farm work he did and a serious back injury on 18 July, but after 20 July the daily entries ceased. He resumed writing 30 and 31 August, describing a trip he took to Petroleum Centre, Pennsylvania. On 3 - 6 October he wrote of another journey to Youngstown, Ohio, and the Mahoning County (Ohio) Fair in Canfield. There are no entries for the period 7 October through 10 November.

Entries for the ten days between 11 and 20 November were marked 1867, and the days of the week he wrote in the book reflect that year rather than 1865. During this period he wrote primarily of the weather and the onset of winter.

He wrote again on 24 November. He probably made this entry in 1865, as he recorded visiting a farrier which would have been improbable on Sunday, 24 November 1867. There are no entries for 25 November through 6 December. Presumably the remaining entries are also 1865. There are no entries for the period 10 - 30 December, and only the day of the week, Sunday, noted in the space for 31 December 1865. On the following page is an entry which appears to be that of the final day of the year.

Henderson recorded some cash accounts for the months of March and April 1865 in the space provided in the back of the diary.

No part of this collection contains information on Henderson’s residence in Smith County, Kansas.

Contents List


Coll. 765

Diaries, 1864-1867

Volume 1: January - December 1864

Volume 2: 1865, 1867

Microfilm List

Microfilm MF 1769

This microfilm contains two volumes of John Wesley Henderson’s diaries, 1864 - 1867, while he was a soldier in the 16 th Pennsylvania Cavalry (161 st Pennsylvania Regiment) and after the war, when he was a farmer or farmhand in Venango County, Pennsylvania. The entire John Wesley Henderson collection (no. 765) has been reproduced on microfilm. This film, and other microfilm mentioned in this collection register, may be borrowed from the Kansas State Historical Society through interlibrary loan.

This material was microfilmed in 1998 by the Kansas State Historical Society (Topeka).

Related Records and Collections

There are many diaries and other manuscripts in the collections of the Kansas State Historical Society (KSHS) relating to the Civil War. Included are a large number of soldiers’ diaries, some from servicemen in Kansas regiments, many others from soldiers in States to the east. Researchers should consult appropriate catalogs and finding aids.

Manuscript collections at the KSHS relating to service in Pennsylvania regiments include the John Pressler miscellaneous collection containing his reminiscences of the Wilderness campaign, 1864, from his service in the 45th Pennsylvania Regiment and Civil War letters, 1861 - 1864, of Amon William Wakefield, an officer in the 49th Pennsylvania Regiment, on microfilm roll MS 178.04. The John I. Speer (no. 506) and George Washington Martin (no. 431) collections contain documents relating to a reunion of Pennsylvania veterans in Salina, Kansas, on July 4 1895.

The KSHS library also has an immense collection of published material on the war including regimental histories and lists of those who served from regiments from both Union and Confederate States.

Additional Information for Researchers


The original diaries were given to the Kansas State Historical Society by J. Jay Henderson, one of John Wesley Henderson’s sons, in 1947.


The Kansas State Historical Society does not own literary property rights to these records. The subject of copyright was not addressed at the time the diaries were donated, consequently we presume that literary rights belong to John Wesley Henderson’s heirs or assigns.

Notice: This material may be protected by copyright law (title 17, U.S. Code). The user is cautioned that the publication of the contents of this microfilm may be construed as constituting a violation of literary property rights. These rights derive from the principle of common law, affirmed in the copyright law of 1976 as amended, that the writer of an unpublished letter or other manuscript has the sole right to publish the contents thereof unless he or she affirmatively parts with that right; the right descends to his or her legal heirs regardless of the ownership of the physical manuscript itself. It is the responsibility of a user or his or her publisher to secure the permission of the owner of literary property rights in unpublished writing.

Collection register written by Robert L. Knecht, February 1998.