Saturday, March 28, 2015

Myles to go: Stoneman's rock star

Myles Keogh had been promoted to lieutentant colonel
in 1872 when he posed for this portrait in his dress uniform.

BOONE, N.C.
     For Myles Keogh, the road to glory led from Ireland to the Vatican and from Gettysburg to Little Bighorn—by way of Boone.
     The 25-year-old Keogh was Gen. George Stoneman's most trusted soldier and was at the head of the Federal cavalry when they rode into Boone 150 years ago today.
     Major Keogh was a 19th-century rock star who still has a flock of admirers ready to defend him if you dare call him a soldier of fortune or say he spoke with an Irish brogue. Check out myleskeogh.org
     Keogh exuded courage, confidence, and Irish-spring masculinity. "My great weakness," he once said (imagine these words in an Irish lilt, not a brogue), "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."
     Think Stonewall Jackson with a dash of Michael Jackson. Keogh was fearless and charismatic, loyal yet vain. 
     Understandably, other soldiers were jealous of him. "We did not like the style of Captain Myles Keogh; there was altogether too much style," Ohio Capt. Theodore Allen said. "He was as handsome a young man as I ever saw. His uniform was spotless and fitted him like the skin on a sausage."
     Yet generals almost universally respected him. Two described him as gallant. Another said, "He was a born soldier."
     In Stoneman's division, Gen. George Thomas called Keogh "a young officer of intelligence and integrity," and Gen. Alvan Gillem said, "He has garnered high praise from his superior officers. ... He is unsurpassed in dash."
     Even the crusty Stoneman seemed charmed. "Major Keogh is one of the most superior young officers in the army and is a universal favourite with all who know him," the general wrote.
     So how did the cosmopolitan Keogh wind up in Boone?
     In 1860, at age 20, Keogh was among a thousand Irishmen who volunteered to go to Rome to fight in the Papal Wars for Pope Pius IX. At 22, he answered a call from the Catholic Archbishop of New York on behalf of Secretary of State William Seward, who was seeking to hire experienced European soldiers to bolster the faltering Union army.
     Keogh and Stoneman became acquainted through the death of Gen. John Buford in 1863. Keogh had endeared himself to Buford with his heroism at Gettysburg. A few months later, Buford became sick with typhoid, the same disease that had killed two of Keogh's siblings. In his final days, Buford moved into Stoneman's rented home on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, where Keogh cared for him as he died. Stoneman led Buford's funeral procession in New York City (attended by President Lincoln) and Keogh personally accompanied the body to West Point for burial.
Myles Keogh (left) with the staff of Gen. John Buford (seated)
     When Stoneman returned to lead the cavalry in 1864, he chose Keogh as his aide-de-camp. The title is French for "assistant in the field" and gave him great authority. The 1862 Army officers' manual says: 
The Senior Aide-de-Camp is attached to the person of the general, and receive orders only from him. Their function are difficult and delicate. Often enjoying the full confidence of the general, they are employed in representing him, in writing orders, in carrying them in person if necessary, in communicating them verbally upon the battlefield and fields of maneuver. It is important that aide-de-camp should know well the position of troops, routes, post, quarters of generals, composition of columns, and orders of corps; facility in the use of the pen should be joined with exactness of expression; upon fields of battle they watch the movements of the enemy; not only grand maneuvers but special tactics should be familiar to them. It is necessary that their knowledge be sufficiently comprehensive to understand the object and purpose of all orders, and also to judge, in the varying circumstances of a battlefield, whether it is not necessary to modify an order when carried in person, or if there be time to return for new instructions.
     Keogh was alongside Stoneman when Confederates captured them July 31, 1864, in Georgia, after they both had horses shot out from under them. They were imprisoned together in Macon and Charleston until Gen. Sherman negotiated their release in a prisoner swap on Sept. 30. "I thank God I was thought enough of by Genl. Sherman to be specially exchanged," Keogh wrote to his sister Ellen. "I should have died in a very short time & as it is I am almost broken down."
     Keogh was Stoneman's point man on his raid the previous December to Saltville, Va., and he was instrumental in organizing and equipping the troops who rode into Boone. Stoneman could ride in the rear of the cavalry because he trusted Keogh to lead the way and make on-the-spot decisions. 
     Keogh made it unscathed through nearly 80 battles and skirmishes during the Civil War. Presumably, he left the raid after Salisbury and returned to Tennessee with Gen. Stoneman, because he is not mentioned in subsequent reports. 
     He became a U.S. citizen in 1869. Following the war, he joined Gen. George Custer in the Indian terrorities. The solitude was hard on him, and like many soldiers of his era, he began drinking too much. He sensed something ominous in the Dakotas. 
     At age 35, Keogh wrote his will and bought a $10,000 life insurance policy. Less than a year later, on June 25, 1876, he and Custer were among 268 U.S. soldiers massacred at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.


Only Myles Keogh could steal the spotlight from George Armstrong Custer. In this 1875 photo, Keogh is front and center, and the young lady checking him out is Nellie Wadsworth, who was supposedly Custer's mistress. The famous Gen. Custer is at the far right with an unidentified damsel, while Custer's wife Libbie is on the porch eying Long Soldier, a seven-foot-tall Lakota Indian. Tom Custer (far left) was the first two-time winner of the Medal of Honor and is snuggling up to Emma Wadsworth, Nellie's sister. Boston Custer, George and Tom's kid brother, is getting the cold shoulder from Nellie. Also on the porch are James Calhoun (another Medal of Honor winner) and his wife Margaret, who was the Custers' sister. Officially, this is a portrait of the officers of the 7th Cavalry. Unofficially, they represent "the Custer clan." Keogh, Calhoun, and the Custer brothers all were killed June 25, 1876 at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  The wet-plate photo was taken by O.S. Goff at Gen. Custer's home at Fort Lincoln in the Dakota Territory. I hope you will agree that this picture is worth a 195-word caption and is more intriguing than most soap operas.

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely love that picture and hope some day to visit Fort Lincoln.

    ReplyDelete