Kenny Garvin

1839 - 1864

Civil War

Their Story

Kenney Garvin was born a slave in 1839 in Barren County, Kentucky. He was owned by Elizabeth A. Watkins.  Her daughter, Laura Belle Garvin, inherited Kenney when her mother died in 1860.

African Americans held in bondage usually had just one or two given names. One given name was selected by the family and kept secret and one given by the slave owner. If a last name was needed, the slave owner’s family name was often used.[1]

Kenney Garvin enlisted in the Union Army on July 3, 1864, at Bowling Green, Kentucky, at the age of 25.  He had been a farmer.[2] Mrs. Garvin filed claims for compensation for three of her slaves: Kenney, Nelson, and William. She listed her address as Horse Cave, Hart County, Kentucky.  She was awarded $300 for each slave as compensation for the loss of the slaves. It appears from the service records of the three slaves that she gave her consent for all of them to enlist.

The person owning a slave who joined the U.S. Army could file a claim for compensation for that slave.  The owner had to show proof of ownership, and proof that they had stayed loyal to the Union. While slavery was outlawed by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865, the claims were paid well into the 1870s.  See the attached Claim Forms Mrs. Garvin Filed for compensation.

Kenney was assigned to Company E of the 108th Infantry Regiment[3] (U.S. Colored Troops Infantry),[4] and enrolled by Captain Hobson.[5] Kentucky provided 13% of the African American soldiers who enlisted in the Union Army, second only to the state of Louisiana.[6] The regiment performed garrison and guard duty at various points in Kentucky and then was sent to the Rock Island Prison Barracks at the newly established Rock Island Arsenal.[7] The 108th served as guards at the barracks[8] which held Confederate prisoners of wars, which created an uproar among the prisoners. The 108th’s time there was not easy due to trouble with the prisoners and handling disease outbreaks. In the first few weeks after arriving, more than 200 of the 108th Soldiers reported sick or not fit for duty.

In late 1864, conditions at the prison went from bad to worse. A small marsh had formed at the southwest corner of the prison due to poor drainage, which became a breeding ground for disease.[9] Out of the 12,400 men confined during the 20 months of operation at Rock Island, 1,964 prisoners and 171 guards died from disease. Buried in the nearby cemetery are 49 members of the 108th Infantry Regiment.[10]

Pvt. Kenney Garvin died on December 10, 1864, in the Rock Island Post Hospital of paralysis, which is the loss of the ability to move and sometimes feel anything in part or most of the body, typically because of illness, poison, or injury.  The record does not show what caused Kenney’s paralysis.

Claim Forms Mrs. Garvin Filed Taken from Fold3 Page 15 Civil War Service Records (CMSR) – Union – Colored Troops 56th-138th Infantry, Garvin, Kenny, Page 15. (Accessed 6/2/2023)

[1] Surnames for African-Americans – Former Slaves |

[2] Page 4 Civil War Service Records (CMSR) – Union – Colored Troops 56th-138th Infantry – Fold3

[3] Soldier Details – The Civil War (U.S. National Park Service) (

[4] PVT Kenney Garvin (1839-1864) – Find a Grave Memorial

[5] Page 15 Civil War Service Records (CMSR) – Union – Colored Troops 56th-138th Infantry – Fold3

[6] Colored Troop Regiments from Kentucky, U.S. Civil War · Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (

[7] Highlighting contributions of the 108th US Colored Troops at Rock Island Arsenal | Article | The United States Army

[8] Battle Unit Details – The Civil War (U.S. National Park Service) (

[9] Rock Island Prisoner of War Camp (

[10] Rock Island Prisoner of War Camp – US Civil War (