William McKernan, also known as “McKerwan,” was born in 1837, in (possibly White Oak, Livingston County,) Michigan, the son of John (1784-1857) and Margaret (Mossy, b. 1804).
William’s parents were both born in Ireland but wre married in 1820 in Orange County, New York, where they resided for some years. Sometime around 1833 the family left New York and moved west, settling in Northfield, Washtenaw County, Michigan, and around 1836 moved to White Oak Township, Ingham County. By 1850 William was attending school with siz of his siblings and living on the family farm in White Oak. John died in April of 1857 in White Oak and was presumably buried there.
William, who was one of 16 children (eight boys and eight girls) was 24 years old and living in Muskegon County, Michigan, where he was probably working in the lumber industry, when he enlisted in Company H on May 6, 1861. (Company H, formerly the “Muskegon Rangers,” was made up largely of men from the vicinity of Muskegon and Newaygo counties.)
He was wounded in the foot by gunfire on May 31, 1862, at Fair Oaks, Virginia, and subsequently hospitalized at Judiciary Square hospital in Washington, DC, where he died of his wounds on July 6, 1862.
While recovering from his own wounds near Alexandria, Virginia, Peter Bergervin, who had been a sergeant in Company H, wrote on July 18 to William’s sister, “Mrs. Brannan,” who was back in Michigan.
I am under the painful responsibility of informing you that your dear beloved brother died in Washington Hospital Judiciary Square July 6th. The cause of this long delay on my part for not writing sooner, is on account of your address not having it with me. The last letter I sent you before you got the money [?] I was then nearly certain that he would not live for he was very bad & was getting worse & worse all the time. As concerning his death I have little to say. He died very easy, was well taken care of until the last moment & was decently buried. I will now bring this to a close by endeavoring to explain to you what few effects he has got here coming to him. He has here one shoulder strap coat one pair of pants one pair of shoes one cap & he has paid up to May 1st, 1862 so he has pay coming from that date up to July 6th/1862 & there is his bounty money & Land Warrant if such can be got. About that you can tell as well as I can where you are by applying to some ____. Now then to get these things, as I understand his father is dead [so his] mother is next legal person to get it & no [other] person can so long [as] she is living. More than this. Mrs. McKernan has to prove herself by proper authority in the town or country where she lives that she is the identical mother of this said deceased William McKernan. For this she can apply [to a justice of the peace or mayor of the city after she has forwarded sufficient papers to prove this she then has to make an application stating all concerning his death, what battle he was wounded [in], the state & where he died & when & also stating the names of all his effects & up to what date he was paid & stating about his bounty money & land warrant. I suppose you know when he was wounded & where it was. [It was at] the battle of Fair Oaks on the 31st of May. [He was] shot through the foot. Now I think that the rest you can see for your self on this letter. More I think the surest way for you to get this is to apply to some member of Congress or a Senator if I was going to remain here I could get it for you & it would not cost a cent but I was wounded at the same battle William was & have now got well & in a day or 2 I am going back [to] join the Regiment again. This [is] all I can think of. Any further information needed on my part will be rendered with pleasure. Direct to P. P. Bergervin, Co. H, 3rd Regt Mich Vol. Washington D. C.
William was buried on July 7 in the Military Asylum cemetery (Soldier's Home National cemetery), section C no. 2996.
Another brother, Captain Phillip McKernan of Company B, Twenty-seventh Michigan, also died during the war.
In 1862 William’s mother, who was unable to read or write and living in Michigan, applied for and received a dependent’s pension no. 61,246.