Deacon Kenneston sent his only sons to war

The price of war came home to Kenduskeag during late winter 1863.
In August 1862, brothers Leonard E. Kenneston and Thomas E. Kenneston left Kenduskeag to join Co. H, 16th Maine Infantry Regiment. Their mother, Julia, had died two years earlier; their 65-year-old father, Thomas Beath Kenneston, did not want his only sons to join the Army, but he could not legally stop them.
They enlisted “from a true love of their country,” the Bangor Daily Whig and Courier reported on Wednesday, March 11, 1863. They left their sisters Margaret and Sarah at home with their father, who was a deacon at the Congregational church in Kenduskeag.
“Leonard was a worthy member” of that church, the Daily Whig and Courier reported, and “Thomas was known to have been deeply interested in religious matters, and lived a very blameless life.” He “was a member of the Penobscot Musical Association” and “was a great lover of music — a very good tenor singer — a warm friend, and genial companion.”
The Kennestons both sang in the church choir. “Both men were of excellent character,” the paper noted.
Leonard, the eldest brother, was 26 when he and 24-year-old Thomas marched off to war with Capt. John Ayer of Bangor. They served capably with the 16th Maine, which underwent its baptism under fire while charging Confederate troops southeast of Fredericksburg on Saturday, Dec. 13, 1862.
There John Ayer took a bullet in his right knee and fell wounded; Confederate troops captured him. As for the Kenneston (spelled “Kenniston” in the newspaper) brothers, during the battle “they escaped uninjured, although Thomas was said to be the first man in the regiment to leap into the enemy’s entrenchments” that Saturday afternoon, according to the Daily Whig and Courier.
“But they came out of the engagement completely exhausted,” the paper reported.
After Fredericksburg the 16th Maine boys pitched camp and suffered horribly from sickness. The Kenneston brothers fell ill; like so many other Maine soldiers that terrible winter, they did not survive.
Bronchitis killed Thomas at an Army hospital in Windmill Point, Va. on Jan. 25. “Lung fever” killed Leonard at a rudimentary Army hospital at Belle Plain, Va. on Feb. 8. Their comrades buried both men in inadequately marked graves.
The elderly Thomas B. Kenneston would have nothing of it. “Their bodies were disinterred in Virginia” and shipped north to Kenduskeag, where they arrived in the evening on Saturday, March 7, the Daily Whig and Courier reported.
The funeral took place on Sunday, March 8, “notwithstanding the severity of the storm,” an eyewitness told the Daily Whig and Courier. “The funeral … was largely attended, and [was] one of great solemnity.”
The church choir closed the double funeral with “an original requiem, written for the occasion:
“Brothers rest — your work is done.
“Ye can join our songs no more.
“Mournful are our broken members.
“We shall see thee never more.
“Farewell.”
Leonard and Thomas were laid side by side in the Kenduskeag Village Cemetery. A double gravestone marks their final resting place. An engraving on their joint stone reminds passersby that “they died for their Country.”
Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jive with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.