Killed by guerillas

30 October 2021

I found a couple of excellent accounts which nicely bracket the military career of Captain Samuel A. McKee, 2nd United States Infantry. They are too good not to share and I hope both of my readers will appreciate them.

McKee was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, USA on 5 August 1861 and First Lieutenant 5 days later.

He led Company I of the 2nd US at Antietam, part of a consolidated battalion of companies from the 2nd and 10th United States Infantry regiments. They crossed the creek over the middle bridge about midday on 17 September 1862 and pushed a line of skirmishers up the pike toward Sharpsburg.

Battalion commander Lieutenant John Poland reported “Lieutenant McKee, commanding Companies I and A, Second Infantry, while deploying to the front, was severely wounded and compelled to leave the field.

Assistant Surgeon Alfred Woodhull picked up the story:

I crossed the crest myself when I saw walking along the road to the creek Lieutenant McKee, Second Infantry, apparently wounded. I crossed over to him and found a triangular piece of shrapnel, about three-fourths of an inch on a side, with one of its angles imbedded in the sternum. He was also feeling some shock. I turned back with him looking for a convenient place to dress the wound, but found none until we came near the bridge … approaching the bridge I found a small house on the south side of the road, that had been abandoned, and that I used for a dressing station – one could hardly call it a hospital – and there cared for the wounded who drifted back, until it was dark and after.

After Antietam McKee was promoted to Captain of Company K, he was honored by brevet to Major for his actions at Chancellorsville, and he was wounded again, at Gettysburg in July 1863. Then, as Heitman has it, he was “killed 11 Apr 1864 by guerrillas near Greenwich, Va.

For another perspective, here’s a narrative of that event from Confederate cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart:

Privates Richard Lewis and A. A. Marsteller, both of Company H, Fourth Virginia Cavalry, met with a party of 4 officers of the regular army, U. S. Army (a captain and 3 lieutenants). These two gallant scouts attacked the party, Lewis confronting the leading two while Marsteller presented his pistol at the two in rear. One of these (Captain McKee, of the Second U. S. Infantry) offered resistance, but was eventually killed, not, however, until he had fired twice at his assailant. The captain’s comrade took advantage of this encounter and escaped. Marsteller having dispatched McKee, re-enforced Lewis, when the two remaining officers surrendered. They are First Lieutenants Butler and Burns [Byrne], of the Second U. S. Infantry, evidently veterans promoted for meritorious conduct from the ranks. They have been brought safely through to my headquarters. This all took place within a short distance of the camp of a portion of the Fifth Corps.


The two Lieutenants captured at Greenwich were James Butler and Thomas Byrne. Both former pre-war enlisted men and immigrants, from England and Ireland respectively. Both were First Sergeants of their companies at Antietam – Butler of Company C, Byrne commanded Company A there.

Probably not coincidentally, three Second Infantry Lieutenants (Butler, Byrne, and Francis E. Lacey) were dismissed from the service on 21 April 1864 for “having absented themselves from their camp in violation of orders” but were reinstated by President Lincoln on 22 July. It’s not much of a stretch to guess that the third Lieutenant at Greenwich – the one who escaped – was Lacey.

Lacey was also a pre-war regular soldier and was First Sergeant of Company I of the Second at Antietam. He relieved McKee in command after his wounding there.


While you’re here, you should know that he was not the only Captain Samual A. McKee to fight in the American Civil War. They’re easily confused and his record is often mixed with that of Captain Samuel A. McKee of the 62nd and 155th Pennsylvania Infantry regiments.

Here’s that Captain:

Both men were from near Pittsburg, PA, both are buried in the Allegheny Cemetery there, both were on the Maryland Campaign in the Fifth Army Corps, and they were both killed in action in Virginia in 1864.


Lieutenant Poland’s Report on the action of the 2nd & 10th US Infantry at Antietam and Shepherdstown is from the The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (ORs): Series 1, Vol 19, Part 1 (Serial No. 27) , pp. 362-364.

Surgeon Woodhull’s account is from Louis C. Duncan’s The Medical Department of the United States Army in the Civil War (c. 1916). There’s a copy online from the Hathi Trust.

“Heitman” is the Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (1903) by Francis Bernard Heitman. That volume is online from the Hathi Trust and others.

General Stuart’s Report of 14 April 1864 is also in the ORs: Series 1, Vol. 33 (Ser. No. 60), pp. 267-268.

He also wrote:

The commanding general’s attention is respectfully invited to these instances of the exhibition of extraordinary bravery and individual prowess. These officers were all armed and mounted; were veterans of the Regular Army – one says twenty years in the service.

Would it be improper to send this report to His Excellency the President?

It was endorsed and passed to the President by General R.E. Lee and Secretary of War Seddon.

Greenwich, VA is a tiny community in Prince William County between Manassas and Warrenton [google map].

By Special Orders, Numbers 154, paragraph 49, War Department, Adjutant-General’s Office, April 21, 1864, Lieutenants Lacey, Byrne, and Butler were dismissed the service of the United States, but this dismissal was revoked, by direction of the President, in Special Orders, Numbers 254, paragraph 43, War Department, Adjutant-General’s Office, July 22, 1864.

The photograph of the Middle (or Orndorff) Bridge over the Antietam was taken a few days after the battle by Alexander Gardner. The view is west toward Sharpsburg, the direction the 2nd & 10th US advanced. It’s from the Library of Congress.

The picture of Captain Samuel A McKee, 155th Pennsylvania Infantry, is from Under the Maltese Cross, Antietam to Appomattox, the loyal uprising in western Pennsylvania, 1861-1865; Campaigns 155th Pennsylvania regiment (1910). It’s online from the Internet Archive and other repositories.

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