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The following text is reproduced from (the report of the) Twenty-Fifth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 12th, 1894.

p9 John C. Kelton
No. 1519. Class of 1851.
Died, July 15, 1893, at the Soldiers' Home, Washington, D. C., aged 65.

Brigadier-General John Cunningham Kelton, Adjutant-General, was born in Delaware county, Pennsylvania, June 24, 1828; his parents soon afterwards removing to Lancaster county. His father, Robert Kelton, a leading iron master and influential citizen of Lancaster county, and afterwards of Philadelphia, was a grandson of James Kelton, who came from Scotland to London Grove, Chester county, in 1735, where his house is still standing; his son, James, the father of Robert, was a resident of the same place, and represented Chester county in the Assembly and Senate fourteen years. The mother of John C., Margaretta Ross Cunningham, was a daughter of General John W. Cunningham, an honored and influential citizen of New London, Chester county, Pennsylvania, who also served several years in the State Legislature, and a grand-daughter of Captain Allan Cunningham, of Scotch ancestry, born in county Armagh, Ireland, who came to Chester county, Pennsylvania, in 1765, and commanded a company in the Army of the Revolution at the battle of Brandywine.

Robert Kelton was a friend and admirer of the "great commoner," Thaddeus Stevens, in whose district he resided, and with whom he sympathized in his efforts for justice, charity and good will for all men; he seems to have transmitted to his son this trait which was a prominent characteristic of General Kelton, p10whose generous sympathies were ever with the unfortunate and the oppressed.

In the winter of 1847, at the age of nineteen, he was appointed from Lancaster a Cadet at the United States Military Academy from the Eighth Congressional District of Pennsylvania, on the recommendation of the Hon. John Strohm, member of Congress from that district, which was later represented by the Hon. Thaddeus Stevens, and entered the Academy the first of the following July. The following extracts from his letters to his father and sister during his course there show some of his tastes, sentiments and aspirations while a Cadet.

To his father: "It has just occurred to me that I should like to be versed in the noble art of self defence. *** I think sparring or boxing, besides being a most gentlemanly exercise and accomplishment, is in a great degree necessary to one who has espoused the military profession, as it fits him for hardship, and may possibly come into play."

He then requested his father to send him two pairs of boxing gloves and two boxing shirts, by express to S. M. Havens, Esq. ("Benny"), Garrison's Landing. This beginning, no doubt, laid the foundation of his skill and interest in the manly exercises of which, during his after life, he was a prominent teacher and patron.

To his sister: "The wishes of those I love shall be ever respected by me; the happiness of those I cherish as ardently as I do life itself, shall never be imperilled by conduct alike prejudicial to morals and health, and the little home examples and precepts shall be as intensely remembered here, away from fond restraining eyes, as they were in years gone by, when a mother's lips inculcated them and a mother's look enforced them. When I forget that I am remembered in a mother's and sister's prayers, or when I blot from my memory's page the teachings of childhood's hour, and forget the lap that nursed me, or the beaming eyes that were on me, and the hand that upheld me when my infant feet first essayed their function — not till then shall I disremember that it is a holy duty to make home happy, and not till then shall p11I become a recreant to a parent's wishes and a parent's hopes. *** I must insist on mother being of the party [to visit him] not that I would love to see any one less, but because I would love to see mother more."

To his father a few months before his graduation; "I take an interest and pleasure in attending to the wants of others, for doing which greater opportunities will be offered me in the dragoons than in any other branch of the service, and this is one reason which has actuated me in my preference. It is not the only duty of an officer to command; he has other duties as necessary and as imperative. The wants and the happiness of the soldiers under him claim at all times his attention, particularly on frontier service, where his power is almost unlimited, and where the least selfishness would entail much misery on those who can make no appeal. It appears to me to be the greatest pleasure to have the welfare of others devolve upon you and with such feelings as these, I am persuaded that my proper sphere of action would be in the Dragoons."

From one holding such principles of action in early manhood, everything was to be expected, and his after-career amply fulfilled these expectations. He was graduated in June, 1851, No. 26 in a class of 42, but from lack of vacancies in the Dragoons was appointed to the Infantry, a Brevet Second Lieutenant in the Sixth, and joined his company at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, the last of the following September, reaching it by steamer from Galena. He was promoted Second Lieutenant in Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Alexander's Company, "C," at the same post, 31st of December following. Service with Captain Alexander he found very agreeable. Here he made friends with an Indian boy by "some little kindness," whose father, "Hor-pan," came from a long distance to thank him and ask him to buy the "boy" a gun, which he did. In 1853 his station was changed to Fort Ridgely, and in 1854 to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, on Recruiting Service; in 1855, to Fort Laramie, where he was appointed Quartermaster of his Regiment, which duty he relinquished on receiving detail to the Military Academy at West Point in 1857. During the years of p12frontier service he was much interested in the Indians, hunting and camping with them, learning their habits and peculiarities, and showing himself a friend to them. At West Point, as Assistant Instructor of Tactics, and later as Instructor in the use of Small Arms, Military Gymnastics, etc., he was notably enterprising and efficient: while on this duty he placed the latter portion of the academic instruction in his charge on a substantial footing of usefulness and importance, from which it has since developed into its present unexcelled condition, with a fine gymnasium building and equipment. During part of 1859‑60 he availed himself of leave of absence to visit Europe, and acquire by observation a knowledge of the progress and condition of this and other fields of professional usefulness. In 1861 he published a manual of the Bayonet for the Army and Militia. The exercises of this manual were taught the Cadets, and Bayonet Exercise has since been a part of a soldier's instruction.

The opening of the Rebellion found him at West Point. In January, 1861, he writes to his father: "I hold to the Union party whatever the issue, peace, if possible, but a thirty years' war rather than secession. ** The Cadets from the seceding States have resigned. ** The General Government will continue to act with magnanimity until forbearance ceases to be a virtue." In this we find no uncertain ring of patriotism. On the 30th of April, 1861, Lieutenant Kelton was ordered to St. Louis, Missouri, for duty in the Subsistence Department, and on May 11th following, was appointed Assistant Adjutant-General, with the brevet rank of Captain. He was assigned to duty as Adjutant-General, Department of the West, General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Lyon, commanding, performing also the duties of Chief Commissary of Subsistence of the Department, and of Purchasing and Depot Commissary in St. Louis. While so employed he writes, in June, to his father: "I hear nothing more of being relieved, I apply for nothing; knowing the difficulties the Departments have in procuring officers to administer affairs, I do not wish to add in any way to the embarrassment of any department. If I am wanted for anything, my services will be called for. I yield my p13preferences to the good of the service. It would be strange if I did not, when I hold my life so cheaply at my country's service."

Here we find the patriotism and devotion to a soldier's duty which his life exemplified. When General Fremont took command of the Western Department in July following, Captain Kelton was appointed Colonel Ninth Missouri Volunteers, and announced in orders as Acting Brigadier-General, and assigned to command of the Second Brigade, Second Division (Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pope's) of the Western Department; his Brigade, consisting of the Ninth Missouri, the Fifth Iowa, and the Thirty-seventh Illinois Regiments. This Brigade was stationed at Booneville and Otterville, Missouri, in observation of the movements of the enemy. In November following when General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Halleck took command of the Department of Missouri, Colonel Kelton returned to staff duty under circumstances as set forth in the following extract from a letter of Major-General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Schuyler Hamilton:

"He was in command of a Brigade in military operations in Missouri, was Colonel of the Ninth Missouri Volunteers, September 19th, 1861, with prospects of becoming a very highly distinguished general officer. Owing to Major-General Halleck's persistent demands to have a regular officer for Adjutant-General on his staff, by order of Adjutant-General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.L. Thomas, Colonel J. C. Kelton was compelled to sacrifice his brilliant prospects and accept the office of Adjutant-General under General Halleck. He did it pro bono publico, faithfully, honestly, and without murmur. Such noble devotion should not be forgotten. I was Acting Chief of Staff to General Halleck at the time and know all the facts."

When Major-General Halleck was assigned to the command of the Department of Mississippi, Colonel Kelton continued with him, having been appointed January 4th, 1862, Colonel and Additional Aide-de‑Camp. Colonel Kelton was engaged with General Halleck in the advance upon, the siege and occupation of Corinth, Mississippi, and when General Halleck was transferred to Washington to command the Army, in March, 1862, he took Colonel Kelton with him as Adjutant-General, on which duty p14Colonel Kelton was employed until Lieutenant-General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant, in March, 1864, assumed command of the Army, when General Halleck, as Chief of Staff of the Army, retained Colonel Kelton with him in the performance of his duties. At the conclusion of the War, Colonel Kelton received on his rank of Major and Assistant Adjutant-General in the Army to which he had been promoted July 17th, 1862, the brevets of Lieutenant-Colonel, Colonel, and Brigadier-General for "most valuable and arduous services during the Rebellion, both in the field and at headquarters." April, 1865, when General Halleck was transferred to the command of the Military Division of the James, with headquarters at Richmond, Va., Colonel Kelton went with him as Chief of Staff. In April, 1865, General Kelton was ordered to duty in the Adjutant-General's Office in charge of the "Appointment" branch of the office, a difficult duty which he performed with marked ability. On the 23rd of March, 1866, he was promoted to the grade of Lieutenant-Colonel in the Adjutant General's Department. May 31st, 1866, he was honorably mustered out of his war commission of Colonel and Additional Aide-de‑Camp, with others of that grade.

While on duty in Washington he became engaged to Miss Josephine Parmly Campbell, daughter of William S. Campbell, for many years Consul at Dresden, Germany, she being then on a visit to this country. In July, 1870, when ordered to duty in San Francisco on the staff of Major-General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Schofield, commanding the Division of the Pacific, he obtained a leave of absence, and on the 30th of April in that year married Miss Campbell at the home of her family in Dresden. Their home was established later in San Francisco, where he remained until September, 1885, on the staffs of Major-Generals Schofield, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.McDowell and Pope, taking an active and lively interest in the various duties of his office, and especially in target practice, which came into pronounced prominence during this period. In connection with work done here, he compiled a volume of "Select Songs for Special Occasions" with words and music, for the use of the enlisted men, with a view to enliven the long evenings in garrison life at p15isolated frontier stations; this was printed and gratuitously distributed by him. The work included songs of patriotism, home and fireside, religion, etc.

June 15th, 1880, he was promoted to the grade of Colonel and Assistant Adjutant-General. October, 1885, he was again ordered to duty in the Adjutant-General's Office, this time as principal assistant. While on this duty the following extracts from the correspondence of the War Department are of interest:

General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Sherman, in writing of General Kelton to the President, says: "In the vicissitudes of service we often came together, giving me fair opportunities to observe his character. Always the perfect gentleman, of bright intellect, serving others rather than himself, and an Adjutant faithful to his chief, yet gentle and courteous to inferiors, often dealing with men of strong natures, he harmonized instead of antagonizing them. In several instances he might have played a more ambitious role, but he clung to his immediate sphere of usefulness and duty."

General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Sheridan, while commanding the Army, says of him: "There is no man in the service who has devoted himself more to the duties of his profession than Colonel Kelton, and in all the situations he has held, during and since the War, he has given satisfaction. As an officer of the Adjutant-General's Department he has been on the highest plane of official excellence, competent and agreeable. I feel that I am indebted to him, incidentally, for a thoughtful consideration in the early part of the War that gave me afterwards much honor and rank in the Army."

On the retirement of General Drum he was appointed Adjutant-General of the Army, with the rank of Brigadier-General, June 7th, 1889. While Adjutant-General of the Army, General Kelton labored with assiduity to promote the welfare of the enlisted men, by obtaining legislation to remedy the evils of desertion, giving discharge by purchase after one year's faithful service and the option of discharge after three years' service; by improving their table fare through the use of the savings of the rations for supplying articles for food, and no longer for the purchase of table furniture, books, etc.; by assisting to secure the p16addition to the ration of the present vegetable component; by encouraging and upbuilding the post canteen as a co-operative store for supplying at a minimum cost the soldiers' necessaries; by urging and securing an equitable scale of maximum punishments by Courts Martial for the offenses of enlisted men, and thus securing a more uniform relation between offense and punishment; by assisting in securing a summary Court for the speedy trial of minor offenses, with a view to a minimum length of confinement for such offenses; by using every possible means to establish a high standard of character and qualifications for recruits for the Army. In general his effort was directed towards securing for the Army a high class of men, and supplying them with good food, good instruction, good treatment from their officers and non-commissioned officers, and the best comfort and means of contentment their location permitted, well judging that the Government would in this way secure a loyal and efficient Army, in condition to be most serviceable in its times of need.

General Kelton was also much interested in the militia, its needs and advancement were near his heart; with voice and pen he advocated an efficient militia, and encouraged and cheered the efforts of those who were working in this direction.

During the latter portion of his service as Adjutant-General, he was a sufferer from the diseases which finally terminated his life, and somewhat circumscribed his activity; but his interest never flagged and he was continually, when able, at work for more and better results in these directions.

June 24, 1892, having reached the age prescribed by law for retirement, that fact was announced by the Secretary of War (Elkins) with the following well merited encomium:

"The Secretary of War cannot let this occasion pass without calling the attention of the Army to the valuable and distinguished services rendered by General Kelton, covering a period of more than forty years, in all of which his efforts have been used for a high and rising standard of professional excellence and ambition in the Army. His influence and efforts towards establishing in the Army what was once explicitly mentioned in the p17Army Regulations, 'a gradual and universal subordination or authority, which, without loss of force, shall be even, mild and paternal, and which, founded in justice and firmness, shall maintain all subordinates in the strictest observance of duty,' are worthy of high praise; his vigilant care of the true interests of the soldier, his professional and personal advancement and the happiness of his daily life in the service has never relaxed.

The Secretary of War joins with the Army in expressing the wish that General Kelton may feel sure in his retirement that his earnest and wise efforts for the welfare of the service are bearing good fruit."

The seventh of July following he was appointed Governor of the Soldiers' Home in Washington. This was certainly an appropriate field for his last Army service. Here he labored early and late for the welfare of the soldiers in their old age and disability — the soldiers whose cause he had espoused from his early manhood. In the performance of his duties here he died July 15th, 1893, in the full hope that he would be received at the last great day with the words: "Well done, good and faithful servant." He left directions for a simple and inexpensive funeral like that of a private soldier, with the old soldiers for pall bearers, inviting all the inmates of the Home to attend. His wishes were carried out, and the old soldiers, even those in hospital, turned out, and in double rank with hat in hand, saluted as the funeral cortege passed from the Chapel of the Home, the Chapel which he had so much embellished, and of which he was a regular attendant. The same old veterans at once asked the privilege of erecting a monument, and their granite shaft now marks the spot where rests the "Soldiers' Friend."

Mrs. Kelton with three sons and four daughters, survive him, and cherish the memory of the home life in which his unselfish and affectionate character was expressed in daily intercourse, binding the family together as a unit. Mrs. Kelton has always been heart and hand with her husband in his efforts to bring happiness to all those who came under their influence, and especially to p18their home, where her courage and devotion excited the admiration of their friends.

Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Samuel Breck.


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