John Kyle, 1807 -1870, a remarkable & courageous soldier who changed the course of American military history

John Kyle, was born in the village of Tullow in the county of Carlow, Ireland in 1807 and joined the Welsh 41st Regiment of Foot on the 27th March 1825 aged 18 as the Regiment was stationed in Ireland at the time. He served a total of 26 years and 53 days in his beloved Welch Regiment, 17 of those years he served abroad, before his retirement on the 7th June 1851, ironically in Ireland again.

The medals of Sergeant Major John Kyle. Left to right. Army of India medal with bar AVA, Afghanistan medal for 1842, Meritorious Service Medal, & Royal Humane Society medal for saving life.

On looking at his service papers it is interesting to note that after serving for nearly four years as a Private he was tried by Court Martial and imprisoned for six weeks which was remitted to 21 days from 29th December 1829 to the 18th January 1830. Again in 1842 whilst at the zenith of his career and serving as the Regiment’s most senior non commissioned officer – Sergeant Major Kyle was tried by a Regimental Court Martial for being drunk and assaulting a Colour Sergeant, for which he was found guilty and sentenced to a reduction in rank to Private for two days, Corporal for a further two days, and then Sergeant for a further five years before finally resuming his rank as Sergeant Major on promotion in 1847. As his discharge papers reveal, he was a brave soldier in the field, which is a very rare comment to have been written.

John Kyle’s remarkable service record

Sergeant David Haslock who served with John Kyle throughout the First Afghan War wrote the following in his diary dated  13th February 1845 “The silver medals conferred on us by Her Gracious Majesty for victories gained in Afghanistan were presented to us by Lieutenant Colonel Gore Brown CB who made an appropriate speech on the occasion and we replied with three British cheers. This is an honour that the soldiers are delighted to win and wear on their left breast.” “All the armies of heaven and earth who brought me safe through and out of those wars, he ordained that I should escape the edge of the enemies’ sword  in that campaign , many hundreds of which were never buried but still lie where they fell in the Mountain passes, but many hundreds of us were spared to march in honour under the triumphal arch and return to our native land, meet our dear friends and receive from the throne of our kingdom the very great badge of honour that money cannot purchase.”

Colonel Gore Brown CB who served as a Major in the 41st Foot during the Afghan Campaign and who presented the medals to the 41st Foot  at Carmarthen in 1845

What most military historians fail to realise these days is that these very special medals were presented to the 41st Regiment of foot whilst stationed at Picton Barracks in Carmarthen as a mark of respect to Major General Sir William Nott GCB, their Commander in Chief in Afghanistan who had died the previous month and was buried in Carmarthen.

One remarkable piece of military history unknown to most historians of today is the connection that John Kyle had in the creation of a small but significant role his former Corporal played in the American Civil War by the name of Patrick Roynane Cleburne…..Patrick Ronayne Cleburne became the highest-ranking Irish-born officer in American military history, attaining the rank of Major General. He was born into a neighbouring County to John Kyle in Southern Ireland. He entered the Civil War as commander of the Yell Rifles, which became part of the First Arkansas Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He became a drugstore owner and lawyer in his new Arkansas hometown of Helena (Phillips County) and was a delegate to the Democratic Convention in 1858.
Pat Cleburne was born in Ovens, County Cork, Ireland, on March 16, 1828, at Bride Park Cottage to Joseph Cleburne, a doctor, and Mary Anne Ronayne Cleburne. He was the third child and second son of a Protestant, middle-class family that included children Anne, William, and Joseph. His mother died when Cleburne was eighteen months old, and his father married Isabella Stewart. There were three half-siblings born to this union: Isabella, Robert, and Christopher. When Cleburne was eight, the family moved to Grange Farm, near Ballincollig. Cleburne attended Church of Ireland Reverend William Spedding’s boarding school nearby. His father died suddenly of typhus in November 1843, having contracted it from a patient, and “Ronayne,” as his family called him, was expected to carry on the family profession of medicine. He apprenticed for two years, with plans to enrol in Apothecary Hall in Dublin. However, Cleburne failed the entrance exam in February 1843. Too humiliated to return home, he enlisted in the Forty-first Regiment of Foot of the British army, expecting to be sent to India. Instead, the regiment was posted to Mullingar for civil duties in Ireland stemming from the crisis of the Great Famine.
For three and a half years, Cleburne was posted at barracks around famine-stricken Ireland. He served during the turbulent months of the 1848 Young Ireland Rebellion and received a promotion to Corporal on July 1, 1849 on the recommendation of his Sergeant Major –JOHN KYLE. He returned home to find the family farm in arrears for six months rent. His stepmother suggested the oldest four children emigrate.
On November 5, 1849, Cleburne, his older sister Anne, and brothers William and Joseph boarded the Bridgetown for America and landed in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Christmas Day. Employment was a priority, and the siblings headed up the Mississippi River looking for work. Patrick found a job as a druggist at Nash and Grant’s Drugstore in Helena after arriving in April 1850. Immediately following his five-year wait for naturalization, he passed the Arkansas bar examination in 1856. He supported law partner Thomas Hindman in his bid for the Senate against Know – Nothing candidate W. D. Rice. Cleburne was wounded when Rice ambushed him and Hindman in a Helena street in 1856.
Cleburne adopted his new country thoroughly. He joined many social clubs and affiliations, which brought him close to the citizenry of Helena. Cleburne’s politics mirrored Arkansas’s Southern stance, and he joined the Democratic Party in 1855 during their fight against the Know-Nothing party in the 1856 elections. Cleburne never owned slaves and voiced his opposition to the institution, yet he valued the right and desire of a section of the country to govern itself. Much of his philosophy was based on witnessing the Irish fight for independence. This acceptance endeared him to the Arkansans whom he would command in battle.
Local plantation owners and well-respected citizens formed a militia company called the Yell Rifles, named for Arkansas governor Archibald Yell. They elected Cleburne captain, and the company was thoroughly drilled in the skills he learned in the British army under Sergeant Major Kyle of the 41st Foot. The Yell Rifles, along with similar groups from around the state, travelled to Little Rock (Pulaski County) hoping to seize the Federal Arsenal in February, 1861. Federal troops abandoned the arsenal without a fight on February 8. Arkansas seceded on May 6 and joined the Confederate States of America.
The Yell Rifles became part of the First Arkansas Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Cleburne was elected colonel. The First Arkansas was attached to the Army of Tennessee, the main Confederate army in the western theatre. Cleburne was promoted to brigadier general in March 1862, and his brigade participated in the Battle of Shiloh in April and the 1862 Kentucky Campaign that summer. At the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky, on August 30, Cleburne was struck in the face by shrapnel and forced to leave the field. He remained away from the army until his recovery six weeks later, when he returned to duty for the Battle of Perryville in October. On December 14, 1862, Cleburne was promoted to major general. He commanded a division at the Battle of Murfreesboro in east Tennessee. During 1863, Cleburne participated in battles at Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge. On November 27, 1863, his division made a stand at Ringgold Gap, Georgia, as the rearguard protecting the retreating Confederate army. His 4,000 men held back 15,000 of General Joseph Hooker’s Union troops.
Cleburne received a Congressional citation from the Confederate capital for his victory over Hooker’s army at Ringgold. He used this show of support from the Confederate government to discuss his proposal to enlist slaves before the Confederate commanders. Cleburne believed that if slaves in the South were offered military service in exchange for their freedom, the foreign support and manpower issues would be resolved, as well as the slavery dilemma. His superiors did not see his vision, and his idea was suppressed, despite a similar suggestion from General Robert E. Lee. Eventually Lee’s request was put into writing, and the Confederate Congress passed the act to enlist slaves in 1865. However, it came too late to avert losing the war.
In 1864, Cleburne became engaged to Susan Tarleton of Mobile, Alabama, and a fall wedding seems to have been planned. Cleburne returned to the front at Dalton, Georgia, and faced Union General William T. Sherman’s troops during the Atlanta Campaign from May through August. In September 1864, Cleburne, under the command of Confederate General John Bell Hood, proceeded north to Nashville to attack the Union army under General George H. Thomas.

Major General Patrick Cleburne, formerly a Corporal in the 41st Foot under John Kyle


Cleburne died while leading a charge on the Union breastworks on November 30, 1864, in Franklin, Tennessee. He was buried at St. John’s Church cemetery in Columbia, Tennessee. In 1870, his body was re-interred in Helena in the Helena Confederate Cemetery within Maple Hill Cemetery.

When the 2nd Carmarthenshire Rifle Corps was established it was singularly fortunate in the appointment of its officers. Capt. Edwardes, who assumed the command at the unanimous request of the corps, was an efficient soldier, having spent several years in one of the regiments of the line, in which he was distinguished for all the best qualities of a well-disciplined soldier. The other officers, although new to the profession, were gentlemen of intelligence, in the prime of life, and with ample leisure speedily to acquire a practical knowledge of their duties. But much as the corps is indebted to the officers who have been most active and diligent, it owes in a very great measure the compliment which was specially paid to it at the Review at Gloucester to Sergeant Major Kyle, who with remarkable patience and ability went through the tedious labour of instructing the volunteers for many hours every day during the last summer. He spared no pains, grudged no amount of toil, never tired in explaining the true principles of the drill. It mattered not who the volunteer was that sought instruction, nor at what hour or personal inconvenience to himself, he was always ready and willing to help him. And, then, there is no drill sergeant in the service more competent than Sergeant Major Kyle-at Gloucester he was the first- and Captain Edwardes says “Of his qualities as a soldier I need not speak – the medals which cover his breast show of what stuff he is made.” This soldier-like compliment was confirmed by a hundred voices, cheering most lustily. It was no more, then, than the veteran sergeant deserved, to have presented to him some durable acknowledgment of his valuable services. A subscription list was some months since opened, and £30 was immediately obtained, the subscriptions being strictly confined to the 2nd Carmarthenshire. Many not connected with the corps, but who admire the sergeant’s devotion and energy, would have been glad to add their tokens. This was not permitted, and the testimonial is the more complimentary owing to it. The presentation was unavoidably delayed until last night. For two months the corps has not been able to drill regularly on account of the inclemency of the weather. The wool-room has now been fitted up for the purpose, and on Monday the drill was commenced in it. Last night was, therefore, the second time the corps has occupied their new premises, and it was properly chosen as a fitting occasion to present the testimonial. And at the conclusion of the drill, Capt. Edwardes said they were met there this evening, not only for the purpose of drill but to present their late drill-instructor, Sergeant Major Kyle, with a slight token of the respect they bear to him, for the very effective manner in which he had discharged his duties. (Cheers). He could safely say that they were at least as well up in their drill as their neighbours, but that would shortly be-proved. What they had accomplished was due in a great measure to Sergeant-major Kyle, who, from the moment of his appointment, was ever ready and willing to instruct them at any moment not merely in the ordinary hours of drill, but at any hour of the day – it mattered not when. (Cheers). Then, again, he was always punctually at his post. (Applause). They would remember that at first they drilled three times a-day at 7 o’clock in the morning, at half-past 2, and at 7 in the evening, and they would agree with him that no exertions were spared to make the corps really efficient. (Cheers.) He believed that if they had been inspected two months ago they would have mustered much better than they could now. The weather had been very much against them for the last two months, and having no suitable place for drill, they had not been as attentive as he deserved. But now he had obtained the use of this large room, which was suitably fitted up, the winter would present no obstruction to drill, and he hoped they would be able to perfect themselves before the spring. (Cheers). He thought it right to mention that some members of the corps had to his surprise said, “Catch me in the Wool Room,” and if he did catch them here he would tell them something they did not like. (Applause). He had his eye upon them, and should watch them closely. On Monday next he should commence the fines, and unless just cause was shown the fine should be enforced. What did they enroll for? Was it to wear a uniform – or to carry a rifle? Surely they aimed at becoming efficient soldiers. (Cheers). He could safely say that they were extremely fortunate in securing the services of Sergeant Major Kyle, on whose qualities as a soldier it was useless for him to dwell-the medals which covered his breast showed of what stuff he is made. (Loud cheers). The gallant Captain then formally presented to Sergeant Major Kyle a purse containing thirty gold sovereigns, amidst the vociferous cheers of the corps. The purse, specially knit for the occasion, is of silk, with steel beads and rings, and is very handsome. On a silver plate attached to it is the following inscription Presented by the Officers, Non-commissioned Officers, and Privates’ of the 2nd Carmarthenshire Rifle Volunteers to their late drill-instructor, Sergeant Major Kyle – October, 1860.” Sergeant Major Kyle, who was heartily cheered, said he begged to return them his most sincere and heartfelt thanks for the handsome and substantial testimonial which they had presented to him. He never dreamed that his poor services would have been so richly rewarded. When he commenced instructing them, seven or eight months ago, he knew well the good materials he had to work upon, and that the efficiency of the corps rested very much with himself. He had, therefore, given himself to his duties earnestly, and they had responded to his call nobly, and the result of their drill was seen at Gloucester, where all he had told them was fully borne out, for they were universally admitted to be second to no corps on the field, and in his heart and soul he believed they were not. He had now left them officially, but he was ready at their call at any moment when it did not interfere with his military duties elsewhere. He should be most happy to help them in any way. (Cheers.) But, they should attend drill – nothing call be done without it. He knew what they could do if they liked-they might become perfect in drill. If they were regular in drill during the winter they would soon be as efficient as any of the best disciplined regular soldiers of the line. (Applause) They had from the first given him the utmost satisfaction and pleasure. He bad received every support and assistance from the officers and particularly from Captain Edwardes, who from his practical knowledge on the parade ground where it was given in a most gentlemanly and handsome manner, and by his internal organization of the corps it has attained a proper footing. (Cheers.) If ho had on any occasion, in his anxiety to push them forward in their exercise, over- stepped the bounds of courtesy, he hoped they would forgive him. (Applause). He again thanked them from his soul for this (holding the purse in his hand) very beautiful and handsome testimonial, which he should ever retain as a lasting memorial of his gratifying connection with the 2nd Carmarthenshire Volunteer Rifle Corps. (Applause). He had unintentionally forgotten to thank Colonel  Scott for the valuable advice and assistance which he had afforded him in the execution of his duty. (Cheers), Capt. Edwardes said that the formation of a second company was in progress, and those who wished to volunteer into it could obtain all the information they require at the office of Mr. George Thomas, solicitor. He had already twenty-five to draft off, and he under- stood others were prepared to enrol, and the sooner they did so the better. The proceedings terminated, and the corps was then dismissed. The above article appeared in the CARMARTHEN JOURNAL PAGE 5, 23RD NOVEMBER 1860

Finally, It would be inappropriate not to mention that shortly before his retirement from the army whilst the Regiment was stationed at King Charles Fort on the Southerly outcrops of Kinsale in Ireland, John Kyle rescued a Private soldier from drowning and saved his life by diving into the raging waters of the Irish Sea, regardless of his own personal safety and whilst in full uniform, brought him ashore between the jagged shoreline.

A copy of the Royal Humane Society certificate awarding John Kyle a bronze medal for successfully saving a man from drowning

Unfortunately we don’t have the name of that soldier but it goes to show that right up until the end of his career he thought nothing of his own safety but the safety of his men, now that’s what you call a real hero.


We regret to record the death of Sergeant-Major Kyle, well known in the town and county from his being for many years on the staff of Carmarthenshire Militia as drill instructor to the volunteers of Carmarthen. In early life he saw a good deal of active service in India, and, on the regiment being ordered home, it was sent to Carmarthen about the time of the Rebecca riots, and soon afterwards the deceased retired, receiving a pension. He was then placed on the staff of the militia, but left a few years ago, much to the regret of the regiment. Sergeant-Major Kyle was warmly attached to the volunteer movement, and from the formation of the Carmarthen corps (with a slight interval) he acted as their drill instructor, and he will be remembered with affection by his comrades in arms. His conduct as a soldier, husband, father, and friend was that of an upright and worthy man, and his somewhat sudden decease will be lamented by many friends and acquaintances. He caught cold at drill on the 11th inst, inflammation of the liver supervened; and, after severe suffering, he expired on Thursday, He will be interred with military honours this afternoon.


John Kyle’s grave at St David’s Cemetery Carmarthen.
Translate »