Monday, March 25, 2013

Myles Walter Keogh, born March 25, 1840

Myles Keogh was born in Orchard House, County Carlow, Ireland on March 25, 1840. He was one of 13 children born to John and Margarete Keogh.
The farming carried out at Keogh's home place in Leighlinbridge was arable, barley being the main crop; this meant that the Keogh family were largely unaffected by the hunger and poverty that accompanied the Irish Potato Famine that ravaged the country between 1845 and 1850 – Keogh's childhood days.  However, some of Keogh's siblings did die young, apparently from typhoid,  an illness that Myles also suffered as a boy.

He attended the National School in Leighlinbridge where he was enrolled under the spelling 'Miles Kehoe'. 

By 1860, a twenty year old Myles Keogh had volunteered, along with over one thousand of his countrymen, to rally to the defense of  Pope Piux IX following a call to arms by the Catholic clergy in Ireland. Keogh was appointed second lieutenant of his unit in the Battalion of St. Patrick, Papal Army. He was posted at Ancona, Italy. The Papal forces were defeated in September, and Ancona was surrounded. The soldiers were forced to surrender and Keogh was imprisoned at Genoa. After his quick release by exchange, Keogh went to Rome.

He was 21 years old when the Civil War began.

John Hughes, Archbishop of New York, travelled to Italy to recruit veterans of the Papal War, and met with Keogh and his comrades.  In March 1862, Keogh resigned his commission in the Company of Saint Patrick, returned briefly to Ireland, then boarded the steamer "Kangaroo" bound from Liverpool to New York, where the vessel arrived April 2, 1862.

Through Secretary Seward's intervention, he was were given the rank of Captain and on April 15 assigned to the staff of Irish-born Brigadier General James Shields, whose forces were about to confront the Confederate army of Stonewall Jackson.
George McClellan, the commander of the Potomac Army, was impressed with Keogh, describing the young Captain as "a most gentlemanlike man, of soldierly appearance," whose "record had been remarkable for the short time he had been in the army." On McClellan's request, Keogh was temporarily transferred to his personal staff. He was to be with 'Little Mac' for only a few months but served the General during the Battle of Antietam
After McClellan's removal from command in November 1862, he was reassigned to General  John Buford's staff.  
John Buford (seated) and staff - Keogh is on the far left
On June 30, 1863, Buford, with Keogh by his side, rode into Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Buford realized that he was facing a superior force of rebels to his front and set about creating a defense against the Confederate advance. He was acutely aware of the importance of holding the tactically important high ground ad so he did, beginning one of the most iconic battles in American military history. The Union army won a significant victory. Myles Keogh received his first brevet for "gallant and meritorious services" during the battle and was promoted to the rank of Major.

In  the winter of 1863, Buford would succumb to typhoid. Keogh would stay by his side and care for him, while they rested in Washington at the home of an old friend General George Stoneman. Buford was buried West Point Cemetery.

Major Keogh was appointed as aide de camp to General Stoneman. In July 1864, Stoneman raided to the south and southeast, destroying railroads and industrial works. Their risky raids behind Confederate lines were also designed to free federal prisoners held at Macon, Georgia, and liberate the nearly 30,000 captives at Andersonville prison.  On July 31, 1864, Keogh and Stoneman’s commands were surrounded during the Battle of Sunshine Church, Georgia. They were captured after both their horses were shot out from under them. Keogh was held for 2½ months as a prisoner of war before being released through Union general William Sherman's efforts. Keogh would later receive a promotion to lieutenant colonel  for his gallantry at the Battle of Dallas.

"Major Keogh is one of the most superior young officers in the army and is a universal favourite with all who know him"
— General George Stoneman, Chief of Cavalry, Army of the Potomac
General George Stoneman
Keogh was with Stoneman’s cavalry in North Carolina when word was received of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. In May, 1865, Keogh traveled to Washington to attend the Grand Review of the Union armies.  Keogh would return to Tennessee, remaining with Stoneman at Knoxville for Reconstruction duty.
At the war’s end, although he had the brevet rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the union army, he accepted a commission as a Second Lieutenant on May 4, 1866. He was promoted to Captain, 7th Cavalry, on July 28, 1866 and assigned to Fort Riley in Kansas to become the Captain of Company I under the command of George Armstrong Custer. 
Officers of the 7th Cavalry – Myles W. Keogh, seated front
He was generally well liked by fellow officers although the isolation of military duty on the western frontier often weighed heavily upon him. When depressed, he occasionally drank to excess.  

Keogh was also fond of the ladies, though he never married: "My great weakness is the love I have for the fair sex, and pretty much all my trouble comes from or can be traced to that charming source. . . I never propose to form any ties. I might often have married for money but I never gave it a moment's serious thought & never propose to."

Keogh had sole responsibility for defending the Smoky Hill route against Indian raids from late 1866 to the summer of 1867. When Philip Sheridan took over from Winfield Scott Hancock in 1868, there is evidence that it was to Keogh he turned for first-hand information on conditions on the front line.  And while with Sully's expedition later that year, Keogh was fighting Indians almost every day.  It was in one such fight that his new mount, Comanche, received his first wound and, as the story goes, his name.

In the summer of 1874, Keogh visited his homeland of Ireland on a seven-month leave of absence, while Custer was leading a controversial expedition through the Black Hills. During this visit home he deeded his inherited Clifden estate in Kilkenny to his sister Margaret. He enjoyed his stay in his homeland, feeling the necessity to support his sisters after the death of both parents.

In October 1874, Keogh returned to Fort Abraham Lincoln for duty with Custer.  He purchased a $10,000 life insurance policy and wrote a letter to his close friends in the Throop-Martin family, New York, outlining his burial wishes:
"We leave Monday on an Indian expedition & if I ever return I will go on and see you all. I have requested to be packed up and shipped to Auburn in case I am killed, and I desire to be buried there. God bless you all, remember if I should die—you may believe that I loved you and every member of your family—it was a second home to me.”
Keogh, 36 years old, died at Custer's Last Stand – the Battle of the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876. The senior captain among the five companies wiped out with Custer that day, and commanding one of two squadrons within the Custer detachment, Keogh died in a "last stand" of his own, surrounded by the men of Company I. When the sun-blackened and dismembered dead were buried three days later, Keogh's body was found at the center of a group of troopers that included his two sergeants, company trumpeter and guidon bearer. The slain officer was stripped but not mutilated. Keogh's left knee had been shattered by a bullet that corresponded to a wound through the chest and flank of his horse, Comanche, indicating that horse and rider may have fallen together prior to the last rally.  The badly injured animal was found on the battlefield and nursed back to health as a regimental mascot, where he remained until his death in 1890. Comanche was one of only two U.S. military horses buried with full military honors. Comanche was considered the only military survivor of the battle, though several other badly wounded horses were found and destroyed at the scene.
Keogh's remains were interred in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York on October 26, 1877, an occasion marked by city-wide official mourning and a military procession to the cemetery. The Throop-Martin family, with whom Keogh, was responsible for his burial in their Fort Hill plot and the design of his monument. At the base of decorative, white obelisk there is an inscription taken from the poem, The Song of the Camp by Bayard Taylor:
"Sleep soldier still in honored rest, Your truth and valor wearing; The bravest are the tenderest, The loving are the daring."
Keogh's Gravesite

Keogh Battlefield Marker in 1879
Fort Keogh, in southeastern Montana, was named after Keogh. The 55,000 acre fort is today an agricultural experiment station. Miles City, Montana is located two miles from the old fort.

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