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John McIntosh Kell, 1823-1900
Recollections of a Naval Life: Including the Cruises of the Confederate States Steamers, "Sumter" and "Alabama"
Washington: The Neale Company, 1900.


John McIntosh Kell, a celebrated naval officer, was born in McIntosh County, Georgia in 1823. When he was four years old, his father died, and his mother, Marjory Spalding Baillie, raised him at Laurel Grove, the family's cotton and rice plantation near the Georgia coast. In 1841 Kell began his naval career when he enrolled in the Navy School (later the United States Naval Academy). He graduated in 1848 and was commissioned as a midshipman. In 1861, with the outbreak of the Civil War, Kell resigned from the U.S. Navy and was appointed a commander in the Georgia Navy. In April 1861, Kell became a first lieutenant aboard the CSS Sumter. He also served in the same capacity on the CSS Alabama. The Alabama had great success and became something of a legend before the USS Kearsage sank it off the coast of Cherbourg, France in June 1864. After the war Kell turned to farming in Sunnyside, Georgia as a means of supporting his wife, Julia Blanche Munroe, and their eight surviving children. In 1886 the governor of Georgia appointed him adjutant-general, a position he continued to hold under the three following governors. After suffering a stroke in 1895, he dictated his memoirs to his wife. Kell died at age seventy-seven in 1900.

John McIntosh Kell divided his memoir, Recollections of a Naval Life Including the Cruises of Confederate Steamers "Sumter" and "Alabama" (1900), into two sections in order to reflect the great changes the Civil War caused in his professional and personal life. The first section serves as a travelogue of Kell's journeys as a U.S. Naval officer. In addition to commenting on the differences between northern and southern hospitality, he carefully records the landscapes, customs, and inhabitants he encounters throughout Asia and South America. Interspersed with his reflections are letters written home to his wife and mother documenting his experiences. In the second half of his memoir Kell focuses on his travels and conquests aboard two Confederate battleships: the Sumter and the Alabama. His tenure with the Confederate Navy took him abroad once again. He was highly successful in disarming Union battleships; however, his luck changed dramatically in the infamous battle with the USS Kearsarge in June 1864. Kell recounts his anguish over the sinking of his battleship, incorporating newspaper clippings and personal letters about the event. Of note is a favorable response from Walt Whitman claiming that Kell's account of the battle published in Century magazine was among the best literature of the secession era. Penniless, lacking a profession, and grieving over the death of two children, Kell documents his return home and his attempt at farming. He concludes his memoir on an upbeat note with several congratulatory letters regarding his appointment as adjutant-general to the Governor of Georgia.

Works Consulted: Garraty, John A. and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Harris Henderson
Armistead Lemon

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