Myles Walter Keogh (March 25, 1840 – June 25, 1876) was an Irishman who fought in Italy during the 1860 Papal War before volunteering for the Union side in the American Civil War (1861 to 1865). During the war years, he was promoted from the rank of Captain to that of Major, finally being awarded the brevet rank of Lieutenant Colonel. After the Civil War ended, Keogh received a permanent commission as Captain of Company I, 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment commanded by George Armstrong Custer during the Indian Wars of the 1870s. Myles Keogh was killed with Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, June 25 1876.
Learn more about Myles Keogh at www.myleskeogh.org.
Myles Keogh was born in Orchard House, Leighlinbridge, County Carlow, Ireland on the 25th of March, 1840. He was baptised 'Myles Tomás Keogh' although he was known as Myles Walter for most of his life. Anecdotally, it is believed that the reason for Tomás (Irish language spelling of Thomas) at baptism is due to the Catholic clergy's requirement that only a saint's name may be adopted at this religious ceremony.
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 and ravaged the country between 1845 and 1850 - Keogh's childhood days. However, two, or possibly three, of Keogh's siblings did die young, apparently from typhoid - a disease associated with the famine and 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'. - “At Classics” was recorded as the reason for leaving in 1852. He was long thought to have attended St. Patrick’s College in Carlow but that college has not found any proof of his attendance. It is possible that he attended St. Mary's Knockbeg College where the lay pupils were educated.
By 1860, a twenty year old Myles Keogh had volunteered, along with almost one thousand of his countrymen, to rally to the defence of Pope Pius IX following a call to arms by the Catholic clergy in Ireland. By August 1860, Keogh was appointed second lieutenant of his unit in the Battalion of St. Patrick, Papal Army under the command of General Christophe Léon Louis Juchault de Lamoricière. He was posted at Ancona, a central port city of Italy. The Papal forces were defeated in September in the Battle of Castelfidardo, and Ancona was surrounded. The soldiers, although having admirable defence, were forced to surrender and Keogh was imprisoned at Genoa. After his quick release by exchange, Keogh went to Rome and was invited to wear the spirited green uniforms of the Company of St. Patrick as a member of the Vatican Guard. During his service, the Holy See awarded him the Medaglia for gallantry - the Pro Petri Sede Medal - and also the Cross of the Order of St. Gregory - Ordine di San Gregorio.
Now that the fighting was over and duties of the Vatican Guard were more mundane, Keogh saw little purpose in remaining at Rome. With Civil War raging in America, Secretary of State William H. Seward began seeking experienced European officers to serve the Union, and called upon a number of prominent clerics to assist in his endeavour. John Hughes, Archbishop of New York, travelled to Italy to recruit veterans of the Papal War, and met with Keogh and his comrades. Thus in March 1862 Keogh resigned his commission in the Company of Saint Patrick, and with his senior officer – 30-year-old Daniel J. Keily of Waterford - returned briefly to Ireland, then boarded the steamer 'Kangaroo' bound from Liverpool to New York, where the vessel arrived April 1. Another Papal comrade, Joseph O'Keeffe – 19-year-old nephew of the Bishop of Cork - met with Keogh and Keily in Manhattan.
Through Secretary Seward's intervention, the three were given Captains' rank 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. They notably stormed after Jackson’s army in the Shenandoah Valley and nearly captured the furious leader at the Battle of Port Republic. Jackson may have slipped into the hills, but Keogh’s courageousness during his first engagement did not go unnoticed. George B. 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 transfered to his personal staff. He was only to be with 'Little Mac' for a few months but served the General during the Battle of Antietam. After McClellan's removal from command in November 1862, the admirable traits identified in his first six months in the Union army came to the fore when he and his Papal comrade, Joseph O’Keeffe, were reassigned to General John Buford’s staff.
1864 - Major Myles Keogh standing
Although held in reserve with the rest of the Union cavalry for the winter of 1862 and during the Battle of Fredericksburg, Myles Keogh and O’Keeffe served Buford with obedience and gallantry during the Stoneman Raid in April 1863 and the enormous battle on June 9 at Brandy Station, which was practically all cavalry. Buford's 1st Division of cavalry fought with distinction in June 1863 as they skirmished with their much vaunted Confederate foe, led by JEB Stuart in Loudoun County, Virginia - most notably at Upperville.
On June 30th, Buford, with Keogh by his side, rode into the small town of Gettysburg. Very soon, Buford realised that he was facing a superior force of rebels to his front and set about creating a defence against the Confederate advance. He was acutely aware of the importance of holding the tactically important high ground about Gettysburg and so he did, beginning one of the most iconic battles in American military history. His intelligent defensive troop alignments, coupled with the bravery and tenacity of his dismounted men, allowed the 1st Corp, under General John Reynolds, time to come up in support and thus maintain a Union foothold at strategically important positions. Despite Lee’s barrage attack of 140 cannons and a final infantry attack on the third day of the battle, the Union army won a highly significant victory. The importance of Buford's leadership and tactical foresight on July 1st cannot be overstated in its contribution to this victory. Significantly, Myles Keogh received his first brevet for courage and gallantry service during the battle and was promoted to the rank of Major.
The battle was over and so were over 50,000 men’s lives with it. However this was a turning point in the war, and Buford’s health. By the winter 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 at West Point Cemetery, as Keogh attended his funeral at Washington and rode with his body on the train.
Major Keogh was now appointed as aide de camp to General George 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.
Although Stoneman's Union cavalry did destroy the railroads, the onslaught on Macon failed from the beginning and on July 31, 1864, Keogh and Stoneman’s command were surrounded in Georgia. They were captured after their horses were shot out from under them. Keogh was held for 2 1/2 months as a prisoner of war before being released through Union general William Tecumseh Sherman’s efforts. Keogh received a further brevet with promotion to lieutenant colonel for his service during the Civil War.
The praise garnered from the commanders Myles Keogh served with during the war years was indeed high:
"Whether on staff duty or commanding detachments on dangerous and delicate service, he was alike successful, and his soldierly bearing and spirit were a model. He is par excellence a cavalry officer"
– Major General Jacob D. Cox, Commander 3rd Division of the XXIII Corps of the Army of the Ohio
"He is one of the most gallant and efficient young cavalry officers I have ever known"
– Major General John M. Schofield, U.S. Secretary of War and commanding General of the United States Army.
"His record had been remarkable for the short time he had been in the army. He appeared to a most gentlemanlike man, of soldierly appearance, and I was exceedingly glad to have him as an aide."
– General George B. McClellan, the commander of the Potomac Army
"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
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 in the 4th Cavalry on May 4, 1866. He never served with that unit and was promoted to Captain, 7th Cavalry, on July 28, 1866 and assigned to Ft. Riley in Northeast Kansas to become the Captain of Company “I” under the command of George Armstrong Custer.
After the war, he obtained a commission as a captain in the Regular Army as part of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment under George Armstrong Custer and was given command of I Company. 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, though he seems not to have fallen prey to the chronic alcoholism that destroyed the careers of many fellow officers of the frontier Regular Army. There was more than a tinge of melancholy in Keogh's nature, which seemed somehow at odds with his handsome, dashing persona. While he was not given to self-analysis, Keogh once noted - "A certain lack of sensitiveness is necessary to be successful. . . . This lack of sensitiveness I unfortunately do not inherit." Keogh was also fond of the ladies, though he never married, and carried a photograph of fellow officer Thomas McDougall's sister with him to the Little Bighorn.
In the summer of 1874, Keogh was on leave to visit his homeland on a seven-month leave of absence, while Custer was leading a controversial expedition through the Black Hills. During this second 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, Keogh returned to Fort Abraham Lincoln for his old duty with Custer, and it would be his last days. As a precaution, he purchased a $10,000 life insurance policy and wrote a letter of warning to his close friends in the Throop-Martin family, Auburn, 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.” He gave out copies of his will to comrades, and left behind personal papers which instructions that they be burned if he was killed.
Perhaps the strongest testimony to Keogh's bravery and leadership ability came 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, perhaps because of the "medicine" the Indians saw in the Agnus Dei ("Lamb of God") he wore on a chain about his neck. Keogh's left knee had been shattered by a bullet that corresponded to a wound through the chest and flank of his horse, indicating that horse and rider may have fallen together prior to the last rally.
The badly injured animal was found on the fatal battlefield, and nursed back to health as a regimental mascot. This horse, Comanche, is considered the only military survivor of the battle, though several other badly wounded horses were found and destroyed at the scene. His bloody gauntlet and the guidon of his Company I were recovered by the army three months after Little Bighorn at the Battle of Slim Buttes.
His Papal medals are now in the possession of his family (see Myles Keogh: the Life and Legend of an "Irish Dragoon" in the Seventh Cavalry, p.157), though the story has been told that they wound up around the neck of Sitting Bull (according to Ray O'Hanlon of the New York Irish Echo.
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 an impressive military procession to the cemetery.