91st PA: Stephen Kelly

Stephen Kelly

Before the war

He was born in 1833/34 (3 (27 in 1861), 20 [54 at death in 1889], 21 [44 in 1880], 24 [26 in 1860], 26 [56 at death]). He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (3, 20, 21, 24).

In 1860, he was living in the 2nd ward, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (24). He was living with William and Mary Kelly (presumably his parents), along with Kate and Mary (presumably his siblings) (24). He was an ornamental painter (24).

When he enlisted, he was a painter (3).


When he enlisted, he was 5 feet 7-1/2 inches tall, had a dark complexion, blue eyes, and dark hair (3).

During the war

He enlisted and was mustered into service for three years in company E on 21 August 1861, at Philadelphia Pennsylvania (1, 3, 17, 18, 27, 28). He was enlisted by Captain Lentz, and mustered into service by Colonel Reiff (3).

On 11 April 1863, he returned to the regiment from the Ambulance Corps (8).

On 9 October 1863, he was reported regained from missing in action (12).

On 30 December 1863, Sinex reported that he was one of 38 men who had less than fifteen months to serve who were unwilling to reenlist (6). On 2 January 1864, he was transferred to the 155th Pennsylvania Infantry, while those eligible were on veterans' leave (13).

On 15 April 1864, Lieutenant Colonel Sinex recommended him for a detail, in compliance with general order 18 (8 April 1864) from the Army Headquarters (7). He does not say what the detail was for.

According to Bates (1), he died and is buried in the National Cemetery, Gettysburg, section A, grave 88, according to his burial record. This was an error (10, 14, 16, 17, 18). Perhaps someone died after he had picked up Kelly's canteen or clothes from his knapsack, which he left at Little Round Top when the regiment was ordered to the Wheatfield (10, 14, 16, 17, 18).

He was mustered out on 8 September 1864, at Weldon Railroad, Virginia, when his term expired (1!, 3, 5 [9 September], 15, 17, 18). He was a private, in company E (27, 28).

After the war

Some time after the war, he found his own grave in the Gettysburg Pennsylvania National Cemetery, while wandering through the cemetery and casually reading tombstones (9, 10, 16, 17, 18, 19). He returned annually to decorate the grave (9, 10, 14, 17). He tried to convince the War Department he was alive, even submitting an affidavit from Eli Sellers, but failed (18).

He was a member of ED Baker Post 8, in Philadelphia, of the GAR (10, 17, 18).

In 1870, William Kelly (presumably his father) was living at 949 South 9th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (25).

In 1880, he was living at 949 South Ninth Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (21). He was living with his nephew George Nugent (21). He was widowed (or divorced) (21). He was a house painter (21).

He attended the August 1883 encampment of the GAR at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (16). At that point, he had not convinced the War Department he was still alive (16).

He attended the 1884 meeting of the 91st's Survivor's Association (2).

He never married (18, 20 [widower]). He "lived like a hermit at his house", which was "a dilapidated-looking place" (18). He was a Roman Catholic (18).

Probably in fall 1887, he was living at 949 South 9th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (22). Probably in fall 1888, he was still living there, and was a painter (23).

On 29 January 1889, he died at his home, in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, on 4 February 1889 (4 [4 Feb], 18 [29 Jan], 20 [29 Jan], 26). He died of dropsy from disease of liver (20). He was a chair maker (20). On 4 February 1889, he was buried in plot 29, Philadelphia National Cemetery (4, 19, 20). The funeral services were held on Sunday afternoon, in the Baker Post Hall, at Broad Street and Columbia Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (18, 19, 20, 26). The Post chaplain, Reverend John W Sayers, of the Hancock Street Methodist Episcopal Church, conducted the services at the hall, and Reverend J W Ferguson conducted the graveside services (19).

He wanted to be buried in "his" grave in the Gettysburg National Cemetery, but he was not (10, 11). It is now marked "Unknown" (11).


1 Bates, Samuel Penniman. History of Pennsylvania volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg: B. Singerly, state printer, 1869-71. 5 volumes. 'Ninety-first regiment', volume 3, pages 186-233. (In the roster)

2 The ninety-first [account of the 1884 meeting]. Grand Army Scout and Soldiers' Mail, 20 December 1884, page 6 column 2.

3 descriptive roll, company E, entry 46 (Stephen Kelly)

4 Philadelphia National Cemetery interment index (searched 2 Nov 2000)

5 company E, register of men discharged, number 25 (Stephen Kelly)

6 letter, Sinex to Marvin, 30 December 1863

7 letter, Sinex to Marvin, 15 April 1864

8 consolidated morning report, 11 April 1863 (Private Kelly)

9 e-mail, 21 March 2002, from Chris, citing On the bloodstained field

10 [article], [Gettysburg PA] Compiler 5 February 1889

11 e-mail, Chris Buckingham, reporting Gettysburg Cemetery records

12 consolidated morning report, 91st PA, 9 October 1863 (Stephen Kelly)

13 consolidated morning report, 91st PA, 2 January 1864 (Kelly)

14 William C Reiff, 'The soldier that was not buried'. National Tribune 17 August 1905, page 3, column 6 (Stephen Kelly)

15 consolidated morning report, 91st Pennsylvania, 10 September 1864 (Privt Kelly)

16 'Gettysburg'. Philadelphia Inquirer 30 August 1883 (Stephen Kelly)

17 'Decorates his own grave'. Rocky Mountain News (Denver CO), 30 June 1886 page 8 column C (Stephen Kelley)

18 'A man twice dead'. Weekly Register-Call (Central City CO), 15 February 1889 (issue 35), column F (Stephen Kelly)

19 'He's dead sure now'. The North American (Philadelphia PA), 4 February 1889, column B (Stephen Kelly)

20 death certificate, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 29 January 1889 (Steven Kelly)

21 1880 US census, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, supervisor's district 1, enumeration district 48, microfilm series T9, film 1168, page 245 = 4 D handwritten (Stephen Kelly)

22 1888 Gopsill's Philadelphia directory, p.941 (Stephen Kelly)

23 1889 Gopsill's Philadelphia directory, p.961 (Stephen Kelly)

24 1860 US census, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, ward 2, microfilm series M653, film 1152, page 625 = 259 handwritten (Stephen Kelly)

25 1870 Gopsill's Philadelphia city directory, page 844 (accessed 19 June 2009 on Footnote) (William Kelly)

26 death notice, Philadelphia Inquirer 2 February 1889 (Stephen Kelly)

27 index to compiled service records of volunteer Union soldiers who served in organizations from the state of Pennsylvania (Stephen Kelly)

28 index to compiled service records of volunteer Union soldiers who served in organizations from the state of Pennsylvania (Stephen Kelley)

Sources checked unsuccessfully

pension index, by name
Ancestry index (accessed 12 June 2005)
Gopsill's Philadelphia city directory
the 1890 Gopsill's Philadelphia city directory, page 993, does not have a Stephen Kelly living at 949 South 9th Street, or a Stephen Kelly who was a painter (searched 19 June 2009, at Footnote)


Stephen Kelly in the 91st PA database

1860 census

[1860 US census, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, ward 2, microfilm series M653, film 1152, page 625 = 259 handwritten]
[identification is probable, given his address in 1880 and the 1870 directory information]
Dwelling number1729    
Family number2024    
NameWilliam KellyMary "Stephen "Kate "Mary "
OccupationWeaver Ornamental PainterFringe WeaverSewing Machine operator
Value of real estate owned     
Value of personal estate200    
Place of birthIrelandDoPaDoDo
Married within year     
Attended school within year     
Cannot read & write11   
Deaf, dumb, blind, etc.     

1870 Gopsill's Philadelphia directory

[1870 Gopsill's Philadelphia city directory, page 844 (accessed 19 June 2009 on Footnote)]
[Stephen Kelly is not in the directory]

Kelly William, chairmaker, h 949 S 9th

1880 census

[1880 US census, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, supervisor's district 1, enumeration district 48, microfilm series T9, film 1168, page 245 = 4 D handwritten]
[identification is very probable: the 1879 Gopsill's Philadelphia directory lists two Stephen Kelly's, one a painter at 949 S 9th St, and the other a turner living at 1517 Cadwalader; the 1889 directory had a Stephen Kelly living at 949 S 9th, and he is not present in the 1890 directory]
street nameNinth Street
house number949 
dwelling visit #35 
family visit #46 
nameKelly StephenNugent George
month born if born in year  
relationship Nephew
single 1
married during year  
occupationHouse PainterChair Caner
months unemployed  
currently ill?  
school this year  
can't read  
can't write  
father's birthplaceIrelandPenna
mother's birthplaceIrelandPenna

index to compiled service records

[index to compiled service records of volunteer Union soldiers who served in organizations from the state of Pennsylvania]
[transcribed 9 July 2014, from Fold3]

Kelly Stephen
Co. E, 91 Pennsylvania Inf.
Pvt | Pvt
See also [blank]


[card 2, transcribed 16 July 2014]

Kelley Stephen
Co. E, 91 Pennsylvania Inf.
Pvt | Pvt
Original filed under
Kelly Stephen


1888 Philadelphia directory

[1888 Gopsill's Philadelphia directory, p.941]
" [sc. Kelly] Stephen, h 949 S 9th

1889 Philadelphia directory

[1889 Gopsill's Philadelphia directory, p.961]
" [sc. Kelly] Stephen, painter, h 949 S 9th

Decorates his own grave

[source: 'Decorates his own grave'. Rocky Mountain News (Denver CO), 30 June 1886 page 8 column C]
[This article is also printed in other newspapers:
with the opening 'Special Dispatch to the Globe-Democrat', at St Louis Globe-Democrat (St Louis, MO) 14 June 1886, page 4, column D
without a 'special dispatch' reference) in The Milwaukee Sentinel (Milwaukee WI) 20 June 1886, page 10, column B
under the title 'A queer case', in The Atchison Daily Globe (Atchison KS) 16 July 1886, column F]
[The North American (Philadelphia PA), 17 July 1886, column C gets his service wrong in a brief note: "The records falsely show that Stephen Kelly, a New York veteran [sic], is buried at Gettysburg. He goes there to decorate his own grave every Fourth."]

An Old Veteran Who is Declared by the War Department to be Dead.

A special dispatch to the Globe-Democrat from Philadelphia says: On the rolls of post No. 8, of the Grand Army of the Republic, there is the name of a man who, though alive, is officially dead, and every year he decorates what is said to be his own grave in the National cemetery, on the battlefield of Gettysburg. His name is Stephen Kelly. In explaining this strange state of affairs to-day he said:

"When a few years after the close of the war I visited the Gettysburg cemetery and found a grave marked with my name I was shocked, but am [sic] used to it now. I am reasonably well and happy, notwithstanding that my comrades insist occasionally that I shall visit the historical burial ground and spread flowers over my own grave. It's a mistake, of course; I ain't dead, but can't get the cemetery people to acknowledge that fact. I was mustered in on August 21, 1861, and was mustered out, as this certificate will show you, in 1864, honorably discharged at the end of my service."

The papers were duly examined and found to be correct.

"Bates' history," continued he, "and the records show that I was killed and buried at Gettysburg. The only trouble is that some other poor fellow killed in that bloody battle was buried for me. How the mistake occurred, or who the unfortunate soldier was, I could never find out, but I suppose some of my personal belongings, lost during the heat of the fight, and bearing my name, were found on the dead soldier, and he was buried as Stephen Kelly. I go up every year to decorate my own grave."

Mr. Kelley was a member of Company E, Ninety-first Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, and served out his term of three years.

A man twice dead

[source: 'A man twice dead'. Weekly Register-Call (Central City CO), 15 February 1889 (issue 35), column F]
[note that according to his death certificate and the 1880 census, he was widowed]
[This is also printed, with some changes, in the Star and Sentinel (Gettysburg PA), 5 February 1889, page 4. In particular, the initial paragraph is: "Many of our readers will remember the veteran Stephen Kelly, a comrade of Post 8 of Philadelphia, who was a regular visitor to the Encampment at Gettysburg, and will regret to learn of his death on Tuesday last. Kelly enlisted in 1861 in the 91st Pa. Vols and served his enlistment. The Philadelphia Record publishes these facts in reference to him, which are substantially correct. While attending a summer encampment of the G.A.R. at Gettysburg, Kelly visited the National Cemetery and while wandering among the graves [etc.]".]

He Will Have Two Graves in Different Places.
His Name is in Gettysburg Cemetery, But His Body Will Rest in Germantown

Death has has [sic] at last closed the career of a Pennsylvania volunteer soldier, who, according to the records of the war department at Washington, D.C., has been officially dead and buried for twenty-five years, although he was still in the land of the living until a few days ago. This man, who will have two separate graves, (one in the National cemetery at Gettysburg and the other in Germantown) is Stephen Kelly, who died on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 1889, at his home in Philadelphia. The Record gives the following facts regarding Kelly:


At the breaking out of the war, Kelly left his work, and on August 21, 1861, enlisted for three years in Company E, Ninety-first Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers. He served out his time of enlistment, and after the war took up his residence in Philadelphia, in the house were [sic] he died. He became a member of E. D. Baker Post No. 8, G.A.R., together with a number of his old comrades. While attending the summer encampment of the Grand Army at Gettysburg, Kelly visited the National soldiers' cemetery.


While wandering among the graves and carelessly reading the inscription [sic], his attention was attracted by a stone upon which he read: "Stephen Kelly, Company E, Ninety-first Regiment, P.V." As we was the only person of that name in that regiment, he was astonished, and afterwards remarked to his comrades: "I suppose that is my grave, but I am sure that I am not dead and buried. It is not often that a person has the privilege of standing on his own grave."


He reported the fact to the members of his regiment and to the superintendent of the cemetery, and the latter endeavored to have the mistake rectified. Kelly notified the war department and submitted an affidavit from Col. Eli G. Sellers, who commanded the Ninety-first Regiment, to the effect that he was not dead. The secretary of war, however, paid no attention to the matter and it was dropped. Every year afterward Kelly visited the grave and strewed flowers upon it.


Mr. Kelly was known among his friends as a man of scrupulous exactness and while in the army he had his name attached to every article about his person. A canteen marked with his full name and connection was lost on the field of battle and was found beside the body of a soldier who was killed. As the body bore nothing to identify it, it was inferred from the flask close by that the man was Stephen Kelly, and as such he was buried and his grave marked. Bates' history of Pennsylvania Volunteers contains a record of the enlistment and discharge of Kelly, and also his burial record, thus: "Died--Buried in National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pa., Section A, grave 88."


Kelly was never married, and lived like a hermit at his house, which is a dilapidated-looking place. He was taken ill a few weeks ago, and refused to be removed to a more cheerful place or to have a nurse. Although Kelly was a Roman Catholic, he left a will directing Baker Post to hold the usual Grand Army services over his body. On Sunday afternoon the services were held in the Post hall, at Broad street and Columbia avenue, under the direction of Rev. John Sayers, department chaplain of the G.A.R. The body was taken to the vault in Monument cemetery and on the following day removed to the Soldiers' cemetery at Germantown.

'He's dead sure now'

['He's dead sure now'. The North American (Philadelphia PA), 4 February 1889, column B]

Stephen Kelly, the Grand Army Man, Buried Yesterday Afternoon.

"Poor fellow, he's gone."

"Yes, he's dead."

"He was a good soldier."

"Ay, a firm friend and a true man."

"Eccentric of habit, though."

"You're right, there, comrade."

Two grizzled men in the uniform of the Grand Army of the Republic stood in front of E. D. Baker Post No. 8 Hall, Broad and Columbia avenge [sic], yesterday afternoon. The hall was crowded. Men in blue were everywhere. In the big room was a casket covered with the American flag.

The two old veterans on the street referred to Stephen Kelly, the Pennsylvania volunteer who died in his lonely house at 949 south Ninth street last Tuesday. According to the War Department records Kelly had been dead for the past twenty-five years. But Mr. Kelly wasn't, and he knew it. That is to say, while a tombstone marked the supposed resting place of his body in the National Soldiers' Cemetery at Gettysburg Kelly was in this city. While attending an encampment at Gettysburg he wandered through the National Cemetery.

"Goodness," he exclaimed, starting back.

There in front of him was a tombstone bearing his name.

Afterwards Kelly remarked to one of his comrades:

"Well, I guess that's my grave, but I'm not dead nor buried yet."

Kelly belonged to Company E, Ninety-first Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers. Kelly reported the case to the War Department.

When in the army Kelly marked his name on all his personal effects. A soldier was found dead on the battlefield. By his side lay a canteen, on which was Stephen Kelly. Naturally it was believed he was the dead man, and he was buried as such.

Rev. John W. Sayers, of the Hancock street M.E. Church, conducted the funeral services at the hall. Rev. Mr. Sayers is the chaplain of the Post. Several military organizations attended the funeral. At the cemetery Rev. J. W. Ferguson conducted the services.

The body was placed in a vault in Monument Cemetery. To-day it will be removed to the Soldiers' Cemetery at Germantown.

death notice

[death notice, Philadelphia Inquirer 2 February 1889, Stephen Kelly]

KELLY.--On January 29, 1889, STEPHEN KELLY, aged 56 years.

The Ninety-first Regiment, P.V.V. Association, Post 8, G.A.R., and friends of deceased, are invited to attend funeral services, at E.D. Baker Hall, Columbia avenue, west of Broad street, Sunday, February 3, at 2 o'clock.

death certificate

[death certificate, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 29 January 1889, Steven Kelly]
[given the 1880 census occupation, I'm dubious he was a chair maker--but note that his nephew's occupation was 'chair caner']
[thanks to Ed McLaughlin for finding this!]

1. Name of Deceased, Steven Kelly
2. Color, White
3. Sex, Male
4. Age, Fifty four yrs.
5. Widower
6. Date of Death, Jan. 29" 1889
7. Cause of Death, Dropsy from disease of liver
F. [?] M. Tudor M.D.
Residence, 1335 Wharton st.

8. Occupation, chair maker
9. Place of Birth, Phila.
10. When a Minor, [blank]
11. Ward, 29th
12. Street and Number, Post No 8 Headquarters Broad + Col. Ave
13. Date of Burial, Feb 4th 1889
14. Place of Burial, National Cemetery, Pittville [?], Phila
Henry Deperver + Son Undertakers
Residence, 1007 Poplar St 1633 S 11th St.

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revised 15 Jul 14
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