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Stankie...who?

Updated: Oct 7, 2023

There is a battery position located within the fort at Fort Donelson National Battlefield. Chances are if you have visited Fort Donelson you have walked over to see the 8-inch siege howitzer near Tour Stop 3 as it is not a piece one normally sees in such a setting. And then you see the name of the battery commander - Stankiewicz, and possibly think "Stanke...who?" It is not a name that appears with any frequency in the Western Theater, yet Peter K. Stankiewicz has a bit of an interesting story.


First, an attempt at proper pronunciation is in order. The Anglo pronunciation is stan-ka-vick, but the Polish version is a bit more tongue-twisting, and as Stankiewicz was born in Poland, stan-key-ah-veesh is about the closest I can come up with.


Born in Krakow, Poland, perhaps on August 1st, 1810, Stankiewicz had been a pre-war regular (his year of birth is somewhat of a mystery). Stankiewicz enlisted on May 9th, 1835 for a three year term at Fort Washington, being described at the time as having hazel eyes, brown hair, fair complexion, and standing five feet, seven and one-quarter inches tall. Like many foreigners serving in the United States military, he deserted, twice, only to be apprehended both times within a few days. Both of these desertions occurred during the fall of 1836. Stankiewicz appears to have become inured to military life, as he would re-enlist on June 18th, 1838 in New Orleans for another three year term. When that term expired Stankiewicz would extend once again, this time as a sergeant. During the Mexican War Stankiewicz served in Company I of the Fourth United States Infantry (this is the same company that one Hiram Ulysses Grant would serve as a second lieutenant). Upon Stankiewicz's return from the war he would marry Anna Caroline Austed in 1849. Caroline would file a pension in 1890 under Stankiewicz's Mexican War service.


Upon the start of the Civil War Stankiewicz would muster in at Nashville on May 14th, 1861, his rank being first lieutenant, for a twelve month term in the Provisional Army of Tennessee. By September 1st he was mustered into the service of the Confederate States Army,Stankiewicz now being stationed at Fort Henry, serving in the Rock City Artillery, variously known as Company B, First Tennessee Artillery and as "Tillman's" Battery.* While at Fort Henry Stankiewicz would request thirty-two each of knapsacks, haversacks and canteens for his command, approved by Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman. Ironically the requisition was received in Jackson, Mississippi two days after the fall of Fort Henry. The battery at Fort Henry consisted of two six pounder field pieces (one iron, one brass) and one twelve pounder brass howitzer, as indicated on a "Memorandum of Public Property" that Stankiewicz had completed while stationed at the fort. He would later be assigned to command a battery across the Tennessee River at Fort Heiman. In early February 1862, as the Federals closed in on Fort Henry, Stankiewicz was part of the Confederate force that escaped from Fort Henry to Fort Donelson, leaving Tilghman to his fate at the former fort.

Stankiewicz Battery location within Fort Donelson

Stankiewicz, now an "acting captain" as appointed by Brigadier General Gideon Pillow, would be placed in charge of a battery of three guns, consisting of two nine pounder iron pieces and one eight inch howitzer. The battery position overlooked both Hickman Creek and a low lying area between the battery's position and high ground to the west. The guns were crewed by the remaining men from Stankiewicz's Rock City Artillery as well as a detachment of the Maury Light Artillery Battery. Stankiewicz's battery would be engaged to some good effect during the February 15th fighting between the Federal division under Charles F. Smith and the defending Confederates under Simon B. Buckner. Ironically, the battery is one of the few units not to have a War Department tablet at Fort Donelson.

The battery's position is indicated by the orange oval. Map from the author's The War Department Tablets of Fort Donelson guide.

Surrendering with the garrison of Fort Donelson on February 16th, 1862, Captain Stankiewicz would be sent to Camp Chase, then transferred to Johnson's Island on May 16th, both of these locations being prisoner of war camps in Ohio. He would be sent to Vicksburg on September 1st and exchanged on October 7th. Stankiewicz would tender his "unconditional and immediate" resignation on January 21st, 1863 near Port Hudson, Louisiana, citing that he was over and above the age listed in the Conscription Acts. However, he would be captured again near Nashville on April 21st, 1863 and sent to military prison in Louisville, Kentucky. On May 8th he would be sent to Fort Delaware in Delaware.


On June 26th, 1863, Colonel William Hoffman, Commissary General of Prisoners, would send a letter to Brigadier General Albin Schoepf, commanding Fort Delaware, that would confirm Stankiewicz's release as a prisoner of war contingent upon Stankiewicz's taking the oath of allegiance. Stankiewicz, also under a parole, could not travel south of the latitude of Philadelphia. Stankiewicz applied for this limit to be expanded to allow him to travel to St. Louis, where his wife and four children were residing and in need of Stankiewicz to provide for them, although Stankiewicz himself had been in very bad health during his confinement at Fort Delaware.


In the St. Louis City Directory, Stankiewicz and his wife were both listed, Peter as a riverman, and Caroline as a dressmaker, located at 1 Rutger Street (another directory from that same year would list Stankiewicz as a steamboatman). Unfortunately, the Stankiewicz story ends here, as I have been unable to find any additional information on the captain, and would welcome any input.

 

*About the battery - here are the battle unit details from the National Park Service site:


Taylor's-Stankiewicz's-Weller's Battery (also called Rock City Artillery) was organized at Nashville, Tennessee, during the summer of 1861. Although the company was mustered into Confederate service as light artillery, it appears to have always manned the heavy guns. One section was stationed at Fort Henry, Tennessee, and another at Fort Heiman, Kentucky. The section at Fort Henry was captured, and the men at Fort Heiman withdrew to Fort Donelson and were subsequently captured when it fell. After being exchanged, it was assigned to the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, ordered to Port Hudson, and captured in July, 1863. Again exchanged, the unit served as infantry, then as light artillery, and in January, 1864, merged into the 1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery Regiment. Its captains were Peter Stankiewicz, Jesse Taylor, F. J. Weller.

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