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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: McKee, Lt. Col. David (1828-1862)


b. St. Louis, Missouri, 1828
d. Murfreesboro, Tennessee, December 31, 1862

Col. David McKee was a lawyer, politician, and noble-hearted soldier in Wisconsin during the Civil War. As a strong abolitionist, McKee understood slavery was at the heart of the rebellion and promptly enlisted in the Union Army. He was quickly promoted, and proved to be a gallant leader throughout his military career.

Early Life

McKee was born to Irish immigrants in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1828. The family moved to Grant County, Wisconsin, in 1832 when his father went to work in the lead mines. He was sent back to St. Louis to be trained in the law. McKee represented Potosi in the state legislature in 1850 and opened a law practice in Lancaster in 1859.

Civil War Service

As soon as the war broke out in April 1861, McKee recruited Co. C, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry, from the mining region around Lancaster. He was elected its captain, and led them into fire for the first time at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861.

In March 1862, McKee was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 15th Wisconsin Infantry and helped lead its advance from the Mississippi River into Tennessee. He fought at the Battle of Perryville on October 8, 1862, and the following month led an expedition down the Cumberland River west of Nashville. His troops marched about 100 miles in five days, captured 46 prisoners, and returned without causalities.

McKee was known for his personal bravery. "No more daring officer was in the army," commented his brigade commander. At the Battle of Stones River at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on December 31, 1862, he was leading his regiment's charge into battle when he was shot in the forehead and instantly killed.

Links to Learn More

Biographical sketch by E.B. Quiner on pages 1012-1014 of his book, "Military History of Wisconsin" (Chicago, 1866)

View original documents about Lt. Col. McKee

[Source: Quiner, E.B. The Military History of Wisconsin (Chicago, 1866); Gaff, Alan, and Maureen Gaff. Our Boys: A Civil War Photograph Album. (Vernon, Indiana, 1996): 37-44. ]
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