Jumping in with both feet

Contemporary Newspaper view of the Union fleet passing Port Hudson published by Harper’s Weekly Newspaper April 18, 1863; Wikipedia public domain image

As a follow up to the blog post regarding an Andrew Cannonier of St Kitts, I have fallen down a rabbit hole with another Andrew Cannonier, who left the beautiful island of St Christopher and jumped, with both feet, into life as an American.

I have found multiple Andrew Cannoniers in Kittitian records of the 19th century – the previous blog post’s slave holder of 1817 (so born in the late 18th century), and two more who show up in later birth and death records. One, described as a white planter, was born about 1804 and died in 1865. Another was having children in the late 1860s, so was probably born somewhat later. Yet another namesake appeared in Brooklyn, NY in the 1860s.

From various United States records, it seems that this Andrew Cannonier was born about 1843. In the 1870 United States census and his Brooklyn death record, his place of birth is given as the West Indies, but in the 1877 death record of his young son (named – of course – Andrew), father Andrew’s birthplace is listed as “St Christopher island”. He came to the US about 1862, and became a United States citizen in 1866. He married an American-born lady named Mary Ann in the late 1860s, and they lived in Brooklyn, NY. Andrew took up the career of hat maker, as the 1870 census gives his occupation as journeyman hatter, and later city directories list him as a full fledged hatter. His death came at the young age of 44, of tuberculosis and pneumonia. Interestingly, the death certificate lists his father’s birthplace as England, and his mother’s as Denmark. This information can’t be taken as the gospel truth, as it was probably given to the authorities by his wife. Even so, it may be that his father was actually born in England but came to live in St Kitts. More likely, the entry was referring to the fact that St Kitts was a British territory. Similarly, his mother could have been born in Denmark, or she was from one of the Danish West Indian islands – St Thomas, St John, or St Croix. His racial designation in US records is white.

Besides the more mundane aspects of Andrew’s life as a West Indian immigrant living in New York City, one fact jumps out – he was in the United States only about a year when he volunteered to fight in the Civil War.

Andrew joined the 159th Regiment Infantry, NY Volunteers. This regiment was formed in late 1862, with men recruited in New York City and the Hudson River Valley area of New York State. After only about three weeks of basic training on Staten Island, the soldiers were shipped to Louisiana, and up the Mississippi River. The environment there must have been more familiar to Andrew Cannonier than Brooklyn, with steamy hot weather, tropical vegetation, and sugar cane plantations. The 159th participated in two major Civil War actions in the area, the battle of Irish Bend, and the assault on Port Hudson.

The fighting at Port Hudson, on a high bluff alongside the Mississippi River,  was intended to open up the river to the Union Army after New Orleans fell to northern forces. While the Union Army repeatedly bombarded the southern stronghold with heavy fire from ground artillery and gunboats in the river, the Confederates dug into trenches. As the fighting dragged on for almost two months, the Confederate forces were surrounded and gradually ran out of food and ammunition, and lost so many men to war wounds and disease that defense became hopeless. The southern commanding officer finally surrendered on July 9th, 1863 when he learned that Vicksburg Mississippi, further up the Mississippi, had fallen to the Union army on July 4th. Of the approximately 42.500 troops involved in the fighting at Port Hudson, estimated casualties were 5,000 on the Union side, and 7,208 among the Confederates.

In an official congratulation issued from the headquarters of the 159th Regiment, following the fall of Port Hudson, a number of soldiers were cited for

“having been especially noted for soldierly conduct and valor in the face of the enemy.”

Among the 30 or so men singled out was Private Andrew Cannonier, for his service at Irish Bend and Port Hudson. He was promoted to corporal in September of 1863. His service record shows that he was “returned to ranks” in August of 1865, meaning demoted to private, but was promoted back to corporal the next month. A cut in rank could have been caused by a relatively minor infraction, like being found drunk. A first person account of the 159th’s experiences during the Civil War recounted that by the summer of 1865, the war was over, and the regiment was stationed in Savannah, Georgia. While the men were drilled frequently in an attempt to maintain order and discipline, there were still problems among the ranks. On August 3rd, one soldier was accidentally shot and killed by another soldier. On August 7th,

“Second principal musician George D. Dayton was reduced to the ranks and returned to company B, and nearly every sargeant and corporal were reduced to the ranks the same day for breach of discipline in being absent without leave.”

One unusual detail on the 159th was their mascot. In the spring of 1864, the regiment’s colonel was presented with the gift of a live bear cub. The young bear marched at the front of the troops, under the supervision of one of the drummers. He became very popular with crowds, especially in public parades like one that occurred in Washington DC when the 159th marched past the US Capital and the White House. The poor animal came to a tragic end one morning in October of 1865, in an old railroad building in Georgia where the men were stationed. A sudden and devastating fire swept through the structure, killing the bear, who had been left inside, tied to a pole.

UPDATE December 2019:

Andrew’s motivation for joining the army may not have been all that patriotic regarding his newfound country. I’ve found a newspaper clipping from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle dated October 10, 1862. The brief notice states:

“An affray occurred last evening among the seaman onboard the ship J. P. Whitney, lying at the Atlantic Dock, during which one of the seamen named Andrew Cannonier stabbed another of the sailors in the neck, inflicting a frightful wound, from the effects of which the victim is not expected to recover. Cannonier has been arrested and is held to await the result of the wounded man’s injuries.

Andrew’s occupation was listed as sailor in his 1862 civil war muster record. The stabbing took place on October 9th, and he signed up for the military on October 11th, so there is clearly no coincidence here. It’s possible that he somehow used his enlistment as a way to escape prosecution on charges of assault or even murder.


  1. Civil Registrations, 1859-1932, Basseterre (St Christopher) Registrar, filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1990.
  2. New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center, “159th Infantry Regiment, Civil War“, 2018.
  3. American Battlefield Trust, Port Hudson, 2019.
  4. Springfield Museums, Collections
  5. The 159th regiment infantry, New York State volunteers, in the war of the rebellion, 1862-1865, compiled and published by William F. Tiemann, 1891.


  1. Marilynn Simmons said:

    This is vey interesting. Who are you ? What is your name? Did you write the article ‘Cannonier what’s in a name’also?

    February 16, 2019
    • dreamer said:

      I have emailed you offline 🙂

      February 16, 2019

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