Joel S. Kennard

Joel Stevens Kennard (1819-1901)

As contributed by Lila Porterfield

Born in Greene County, Alabama, in October 1819 (day not proved but supposedly either 13, 18, or 19) to Michael and Mary “Polly” Stevens Kennard, Joel Stevens Kennard was named for his mother’s brother and was the last of twelve children. His parents were some of the earliest settlers of this part of Alabama. Early in 1828, when Joel was eight years old, his father died.

Presumably, because there were so many waterways in that part of Alabama and one of which, the Black Warrior River, was navigable by steamboats on average about five months of the year,1 Joel had exposure to a life on the water and decided to join the Navy rather than pursue the life of a farmer or merchant. On March 10, 1837, at age 17, he received an Acting Appointment as Midshipman through the “care Hon. Mr. King.”2 The “Hon. Mr. King” is almost certainly William Rufus King who, in 1837, was a United States Senator from Alabama. On 5 Jul 1838, from Pensacola Bay, Joel acknowledged his warrant as Midshipman via a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, Mahlon Dickerson.

Joel was a career naval officer, rising from his appointment as Acting Midshipman to Lieutenant at his resignation from the USN, 22 April 1861. According to the Registers of Orders issued to Commissioned and Warrant Officers, he served several tours of duty at sea as well as postings at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. as follows:

Jun 1837 – 30 Apr 1841 attached to West India Squadron aboard Natchez
23 Aug 1841 – Jul 1842 aboard Levant, protecting American interests in the Caribbean and South Atlantic; and Receiving Ship at Norfolk
8 Jul 1842 – 10 May 1843 at Midshipman School in Philadelphia; passed examination on 10 May 1843 to rank of Passed Midshipman
19 Jun 1842 – 1 May 1845 aboard Macedonian, cruising the West Indies and along west coast of Africa as a deterrent to Caribbean pirates
21 Aug 1845 – 15 Dec 1846 posted to Hydrology office, Washington, D.C.
15 Dec 1846 – 1 Oct 1847 aboard store ship Fredonia, serving in Mexican War
1 Oct 1847 – 30 May 1849 posted to Naval Observatory, Washington, D.C.
20 May 1849 – Oct 1850 aboard Mississippi and Constitution in Mediterranean Sea
24 Oct 1850 Commissioned as Lieutenant
11 Feb 1851 – 1852 posted to Naval Observatory, Washington, D.C.
1856 aboard Savannah

The entries in the Registers of Orders stop at this point. The following information of his postings came from newspaper accounts:

5 May 1857 – 20 Dec 1857 Executive Officer aboard Dale on coast of Africa 3
1860 aboard Savannah and Wave, Vera Cruz, Mexico 4
1860-1861 at Naval Observatory5

After nearly 25 years in the United States Navy, he resigned his commission on 22 Apr 1861 and by 27 Apr 1861 was in Montgomery, Alabama, to offer his services to the Confederacy6. According to a letter written by his wife, Harriet, on 30 Apr [1861] to Olivia Worden (wife of John L. Worden, who had served with Joel aboard the Savannah and at the Naval Observatory and later commanded the Union Monitor), “my husband felt with many other officers that he could no longer remain in the U.S. Army [sic]. Being a Southerner, he could not fight against the South.” Receiving the rank of Lieutenant in the Confederate Navy, Joel wasposted to Savannah where he served for the entirety of the war. He took part in the Battle of Port Royal, S.C., and ran a blockade to provision Ft. Pulaski. He commanded several ships, including the C.S.S. Sampson, C.S.S. Isondiga, and the C.S.S. Macon defending the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. On 4 April 1865, he was given temporary command of the Leesburg “for the removal of torpedoes from the Savannah River and the transportation of the families of Confederate officers (sent out of Savannah by the United States authorities) from Sister’s Ferry to this city [Augusta].”7

At the end of the war, he wasted no time filing his amnesty papers. On 31 May 1865 he took the Oath of Allegiance at Port Royal, S.C., and received permission to travel to Washington, D.C., where he filed his application for amnesty with President Andrew Johnson. It was noted in his file that he “has dark complexion, dark hair, and blue eyes; and is 5 feet 11 inches high.” It was also noted that during his USN career, he had “performed 15 years & 4 months sea duty, and 7 years 5 months shore duty”.8

Joel married Harriet Macomb Hanson on 23 May 1846 in Washington, D.C. Harriet was the daughter of Isaac K. Hanson, a life-long clerk in the Register’s Office, and the great granddaughter of Robert Hanson Harrison, personal secretary to George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Harriet had three brothers all of whom died in military service: Capt. Weightman K. Hanson, Capt. Charles Heitman Hanson, and Passed Midshipman John Jones Hanson.9 While they lived in Washington, D.C., Joel and Harriet had five children: Maria (b. May 1849), Mary (b. Oct. 1851), John (b. ca 1855), Isaac Briceland (b. ca 1857), and Weightman K. (b. ca 1859). A third daughter, Jane Lewis was born around August 1861 and died 9 months later in May 1862 in Athens, Ga. It was likely in early 1862 that Harriet Kennard and her children moved from Savannah as refugees to Athens, Ga., where they appear to have lived for the remainder of the war. It was here presumably that Joel’s and Harriet’s seventh child, William Kelly, was born in 1863/4. Harriet died in November 1866, probably in Savannah, but is listed in the death register of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Athens and, therefore, likely buried in Athens, Ga.

It appears that Joel moved his family back to Savannah late in 1865 after filing his petition for amnesty, his wife and older daughter having taken their amnesty oaths September 14, 1865 in Athens. His occupations in Savannah following the war were Superintendent of Dredging on the Savannah River and inspector for the U.S. Engineer’s Office. It was not until March 1877 that the U.S. Congress passed the act removing his “political disabilities” from the war.10 This act was passed to restore the full benefits of citizenship, such as the right to vote, to those who had participated in the rebellion.

There are some underlying tragic elements of his life beginning with the death of his father when Joel was only eight years old. During his long life, he buried an infant daughter; his wife’s early death in 1866 left him with six children to raise; one son (Weightman) committed suicide at age 17; another son (William) died under suspicious circumstances in Chicago around age 30; a third son (John) died of paralysis before age 40; the only son (Briceland) to survive him had four times been an inmate at the Georgia state mental asylum in Milledgeville and died there two years after Joel died; one daughter (Mary) never married; the other daughter (Maria) married but her husband died at age 44. Joel never remarried and moved many times while in Savannah. There is no evidence that he bought property in Savannah but in the 1880s and 1890s he bought land in Athens, Ga., and in Habersham County, Ga. where he resided for short periods of time while maintaining residence in Savannah. He died 1 Nov. 1901 in Athens and is buried there in Oconee Hill Cemetery with his sons Isaac, Weightman, and William, his daughter Mary, his daughter Maria and her husband William, and most probably his daughter Jane Lewis and his wife Harriet. His son John is buried in Savannah, the only member of the family buried there.

From the correspondence in the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion it is obvious that Joel was a brave and highly respected officer, his opinion was valued, and he successfully performed his duties, including some dangerous assignments. The personal respect accorded him in his civil service is shown simply by the fact that he served on the Vestry at his church in Savannah, was listed on Savannah’s Roll of Honor in 1868, and in June 1871 was requested by the family to be a pallbearer for his former commander, Josiah Tattnall.11 In 1883 he was called “one of Savannah’s sterling citizens”12 and in his obituary was referred to as a “gallant soldier.”13 He appears to have been the type of man who did not seek fame but worked hard at his duties, was dependable, and was respected by his co-workers, friends, and family.

1. Snedecor, V. Gayle. Snedecor’s 1855-1856 Directory of Green County, Alabama. Eutaw, Ala.: unknown, 1856, p. 69-70.

2. NARA RG45: Naval Records Collection and Library, entry 147, Registers of Orders Issued to Commissioned and Warrant Officers, photocopy.

3. The New York Herald, 5 April 1857, accessed on on 22 April 2008.

4. The Constitution, Washington, D.C., March 31, 1860, accessed on on 22 April 2008.

5. Amnesty petition of J.S. Kennard, accessed on, images 228756-74, 76, 79, 85, 87, 95 on 28 April 2008.

6. Register of Officers of Confederate States Navy 1861-1865 as compiled & revised by Office of Naval Records & Library, US Navy Dept, p. 106.

7. United States Navy. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Washington: GPO, 19–, v. 16, p. 515.

8. Amnesty petition of J.S. Kennard, accessed on, images 228756-74, 76, 79, 85, 87, 95 on 28 April 2008.

9. Photocopy of letter from Harriet Kennard to Jefferson Davis, dated 29th Oct [1861] from Savannah, Ga. This letter is part of the service record of Wm. A. Yonge, Harriet’s cousin, and is a recommendation for his promotion to Lieutenant. Photocopies of file from NARA.

10. United States. The Statutes at Large of the United States from December, 1875 to March 1877. [v. XIX]. Washington: GPO, 1877, p. 546.

11. Savannah Morning News, 16 June 1871, p. 3.

12. The Atlanta Constitution, 28 Jul 1883, p. 2.

13. Savannah Morning News, 3 November 1901, p. 4.