June 10, 2021
Written by 
Luke F. McCusker III

Outrage, and Then a Rest: Learning about John R. Kenly, U.S.A.

Col. John R. Kenly

"Reported Killed at the Battle of Front Royal VA on May 23, 1862".

A favorite son of Baltimore, Kenly had been seriously injured. Erroneous reporting of his death led to city wide rioting, with Southern sympathizers being targeted by pro-Union men.

“On Monday afternoon an attack was made on five of the shops and buildings of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Corporation, near the Mount Clare Depot, by a large party of disorderly persons claiming to be Union men….who beat and wounded several unoffending workmen, who they accused…..of being secessionists".

"On Tuesday the same gang renewed their attack, and wounded two other workmen. Gen. Dix arrested the ringleaders which act created a vast amount of excitement among the Union men….”

Thomas J. Scharf, Chronicles of Baltimore

Workers at Baltimore and Ohio Railroad's Mount Clare Station were under attack on May 26, 1862. A false rumor had spread that Col. John R. Kenly, favorite son and leader of 1st Maryland Regiment was killed in battle. Kenly had been injured and captured by Marylanders fighting for the South at Front Royal.

Northern supporters were outraged, and Southern sympathizers were attacked on sight by angry mobs of Baltimoreans, including workers in the railroad's Mount Clare maintenance shops.

Union men did a fair amount of rioting around Baltimore in May, 1862. Downtown businesses were threatened with destruction unless they flew the Stars and Stripes, and suspected Southern sympathizers were chased and pummeled by outraged supporters of Federal troops.

Thomas J. Scharf reported in his book, "Chronicles of Baltimore" that the turmoil occurred in the B & O Railroad workshops over a two day period, where workers who were suspected of supporting the Southern cause were accused, and then attacked. Scharf lived in the neighborhood, and likely knew of these events firsthand.

John Reese Kenly was born in Maryland on January 11, 1818 and was the son of Edward Kenly, a judge and an Old Defender (War of 1812 veteran). His ancestors came to America from Ireland in the 1700’s.

John served in the Mexican War, and was thanked for “distinguished gallantry” by the Maryland State Legislature.

Kenly was admitted to the bar in 1845, and was practicing law in 1860. He was a neighbor to the B & O Railroad shops, living at 441 W. Baltimore Street, near Pearl Street. His home was later renumbered as 617 W. Baltimore Street.

John R. Kenly was appointed Provost Marshal of Baltimore City in May, 1861, serving as the head of the Police Department. Among his first tasks was placing former Marshal George P. Kane in prison at Fort McHenry. Kane had been a colleague of his since their Mexican War days.

Col. Kenly was appointed head of Baltimore's Camp Carroll (located in present day Carroll Park) by President Lincoln in June, 1861. He led the Maryland Infantry Brigade from June 11, 1861 to August 24, 1865.

Photo just above is presented Courtesy of Museum friend Daniel Carroll Toomey, Author of "Hero at Front Royal: The Life of General John R. Kenly". His book is an excellent resource on this subject.

Col. Kenly was an Honor Guard of Lincoln’s casket on April 21, 1865 at Baltimore’s Merchant Exchange Building. He practiced law in Baltimore for many years, and was active in military organizations. Kenly was President of the Union Veterans Association of Maryland at the time of his death on December 20, 1890.  His funeral service was attended by men from both the Mexican and Civil Wars.

Gen. Bradley T. Johnson, who led Southern troops against him at Front Royal, VA helped lay his former adversary to rest at Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore, where he joined several Union and Confederate Generals.

Receive your Baltimore Irish History fix directly to your inbox

Get more ideas on what to do on the
Baltimore Travel Guide.