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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Civil War Photographer Mathew Benjamin Brady

Mathew Benjamin Brady, one of the earliest photographers in American history and best known for his scenes of the American Civil War, dies in New York City on January 15, 1896.

Brady leaves little record of his life before photography. Speaking to the press in the last years of his life, he states that he was born between 1822 and 1824 in Warren County, New York, near Lake George. He is the youngest of three children to Irish immigrant parents, Andrew and Samantha Julia Brady. In official documents before and during the war, however, he claims to have been born in Ireland.

At age 16, Brady moves to Saratoga, New York, where he meets portrait painter William Page and becomes Page’s student. In 1839, the two travel to Albany, New York, and then to New York City, where he continues to study painting with Page, and also with Page’s former teacher, Samuel F. B. Morse. Morse had met Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre in France in 1839, and returned to the United States to enthusiastically push the new daguerreotype invention of capturing images. At first, Brady’s involvement was limited to manufacturing leather cases that hold daguerreotypes. But soon he becomes the center of the New York artistic colony that wishes to study photography. Morse opens a studio and offers classes. Brady is one of the first students.

In 1844, Brady opens his own photography studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street in New York, and by 1845, he begins to exhibit his portraits of famous Americans, including the likes of Senator Daniel Webster and poet Edgar Allan Poe. In 1849, he opens a studio at 625 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., where he meets Juliet Handy, whom he marries in 1850 and lives with on Staten Island. His early images are daguerreotypes, and he wins many awards for his work. In the 1850s ambrotype photography becomes popular, which gives way to the albumen print, a paper photograph produced from large glass negatives most commonly used in American Civil War photography.

In 1850, Brady produces The Gallery of Illustrious Americans, a portrait collection of prominent contemporary figures. The album, which features noteworthy images including the elderly Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage, is not financially rewarding but invites increased attention to his work and artistry. In 1854, Parisian photographer André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri popularizes the carte de visite and these small pictures rapidly become a popular novelty, with thousands being created and sold in the United States and Europe.

At first, the effect of the American Civil War on Brady’s business is a brisk increase in sales of cartes de visite to departing soldiers. He readily markets to parents the idea of capturing their young soldiers’ images before they might be lost to war by running an ad in The New York Daily Tribune. However, he is soon taken with the idea of documenting the war itself. He first applies to an old friend, General Winfield Scott, for permission to have his photographers travel to the battle sites, and eventually, he makes his application to President Abraham Lincoln himself. Lincoln grants permission in 1861, with the proviso that Brady finance the project himself.

His efforts to document the American Civil War on a grand scale by bringing his photographic studio onto the battlefields earns Brady his place in history. His first popular photographs of the conflict are at the First Battle of Bull Run, in which he gets so close to the action that he barely avoids capture. While most of the time the battle has ceased before pictures are taken, he comes under direct fire at the First Battle of Bull Run, Petersburg, and Fredericksburg.

Brady also employs Alexander Gardner, James Gardner, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, William Pywell, George N. Barnard, Thomas C. Roche, and seventeen other men, each of whom is given a traveling darkroom, to go out and photograph scenes from the American Civil War. He generally stays in Washington, D.C., organizing his assistants and rarely visiting battlefields personally.

This may be due, at least in part, to the fact that Brady’s eyesight has begun to deteriorate in the 1850s. Many of the images in Brady’s collection are, in reality, thought to be the work of his assistants. He is criticized for failing to document the work, though it is unclear whether it is intentional or due simply to a lack of inclination to document the photographer of a specific image. Because so much of his photography is missing information, it is difficult to know not only who took the picture, but also exactly when or where it was taken.

In October 1862 Brady opens an exhibition of photographs from the Battle of Antietam in his New York gallery, titled The Dead of Antietam. Many images in this presentation are graphic photographs of corpses, a presentation new to America. This is the first time that many Americans see the realities of war in photographs, as distinct from previous “artists’ impressions.”

Brady, through his many paid assistants, takes thousands of photos of American Civil War scenes. Much of the popular understanding of the Civil War comes from these photos. There are thousands of photos in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress taken by him and his associates. The photographs include Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and soldiers in camps and battlefields. The images provide a pictorial cross reference of American Civil War history. He is not able to photograph actual battle scenes, as the photographic equipment in the day is still in the infancy of its technical development and requires that a subject be still for a clear photo to be produced.

Following the conflict, a war-weary public loses interest in seeing photos of the war, and Brady’s popularity and practice decline drastically.

During the war, Brady spends over $100,000 (equivalent to $1,691,000 in 2020) to create over 10,000 plates. He expects the U.S. government to buy the photographs when the war ends. When the government refuses to do so he is forced to sell his New York City studio and go into bankruptcy. The United States Congress grants Brady $25,000 in 1875, but he remains deeply in debt. The public was unwilling to dwell on the gruesomeness of the war after it has ended, and so private collectors are scarce.

Depressed by his financial situation and loss of eyesight, and devastated by the death of his wife in 1887, Brady dies penniless in the charity ward of Presbyterian Hospital in New York City on January 15, 1896, from complications following a streetcar accident. His funeral is financed by veterans of the 7th New York Infantry Regiment. He is buried in the Congressional Cemetery, which is located in Barney Circle, a neighborhood in the Southeast quadrant of Washington, D.C.

Brady photographs 18 of the 19 American presidents from John Quincy Adams to William McKinley. The exception is the 9th President, William Henry Harrison, who dies in office three years before Brady starts his photographic collection. He photographs Abraham Lincoln on many occasions. His Lincoln photographs have been used for the $5 bill and the Lincoln penny. One of his Lincoln photos is used by the National Bank Note Company as a model for the engraving on the 90c Lincoln Postage issue of 1869.

(Pictured: “Mathew B. Brady,” oil on canvas by Charles Loring Elliott, 1857, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)


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The Battle of Chantilly

The Irish 6th Louisiana fights at the Battle of Chantilly (or Ox Hill, the Confederate name), which takes place on September 1, 1862, in Fairfax County, Virginia, as the concluding battle of the northern Virginia campaign of the American Civil War. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson‘s corps of the Army of Northern Virginia attempts to cut off the line of retreat of the Union Army of Virginia following the Second Battle of Bull Run but is attacked by two Union divisions. During the ensuing battle, Union division commanders Isaac Stevens and Philip Kearny are both killed, but the Union attack halts Jackson’s advance.

On the morning of September 1, 1862 Union Maj. Gen. John Pope orders Maj. Gen. Edwin Vose Sumner of the II Corps, Army of the Potomac, to send a brigade north to reconnoiter. The army’s cavalry is too exhausted for the mission. But at the same time, he continues his movement in the direction of Washington, D.C., sending Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell‘s III Corps to Germantown (on the western border of modern-day Fairfax, Virginia), where it can protect the important intersection of Warrenton Pike and Little River Turnpike that the army needs for the retreat. He also sends two brigades from Maj. Gen. Jesse L. Reno‘s IX Corps, under the command of Brig. Gen. Isaac Stevens, to block Jackson. Maj. Gen. Philip Kearny’s division from the III Corps follows later that afternoon.

Jackson resumes his march to the south, but his troops are tired and hungry and make poor progress as the rain continues. They march only three miles and occupy Ox Hill, southeast of Chantilly Plantation, and halt, while Jackson himself takes a nap. All during the morning, Confederate cavalry skirmish with Union infantry and cavalry. At about 3:00 PM, Stevens’s division arrives at Ox Hill. Despite being outnumbered, Stevens chooses to attack across a grassy field against Brig. Gen. Alexander Lawton‘s division in the Confederate center. The Union attack is initially successful, routing the brigade of Colonel Henry Strong and driving in the flank of Captain William Brown, with Brown killed during the fighting. The Union division is driven back following a counterattack by Brig. Gen. Jubal Early‘s brigade. Stevens is killed during this attack at about 5:00 PM by a shot through his temple.

A severe thunderstorm erupts about this time, resulting in limited visibility and an increased dependence on the bayonet, as the rain soaks the ammunition of the infantry and makes it useless. Kearny arrives about this time with his division to find Stevens’s units disorganized. Perceiving a gap in the line he deploys Brig. Gen. David B. Birney‘s brigade on Stevens’s left, ordering it to attack across the field. Birney manages to maneuver close to the Confederate line but his attack stalls in hand-to-hand combat with Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill‘s division. Kearny mistakenly rides into the Confederate lines during the battle and is killed. As Kearny’s other two brigades arrive on the field, Birney uses the reinforcements as a rear guard as he withdraws the remainder of the Union force to the southern side of the farm fields, ending the battle.

That night, Maj. Gen. James Longstreet arrives to relieve Jackson’s troops and to renew the battle the following morning. The lines are so close that some soldiers accidentally stumble into the camps of the opposing army. The Union army withdraws to Germantown and Fairfax Court House that night, followed over the next few days by retreating to the defenses of Washington D.C. The Confederate cavalry attempts a pursuit but fails to cause significant damage to the Union army.

The fighting is tactically inconclusive. Although Jackson’s turning movement is foiled and he is unable to block the Union retreat or destroy Pope’s army, National Park Service historians count Chantilly as a strategic Confederate victory because it neutralizes any threat from Pope’s army and clears the way for Lee to begin his Maryland campaign. The Confederates claim a tactical victory as well because they hold the field after the battle. Two Union generals are killed, while one Confederate brigade commander is killed. Pope, recognizing the attack as an indication of continued danger to his army, continues his retreat to the fortifications around Washington, D.C. Lee begins the Maryland Campaign, which culminates in the Battle of Antietam, after Pope retreats from Virginia. The Army of the Potomac, under Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, absorbs the forces of Pope’s Army of Virginia, which is disbanded as a separate army.

The site of the battle, once rural farmland, is now surrounded by suburban development in Fairfax County. A 4.8 acre (19,000 m²) memorial park, the Ox Hill Battlefield Park, is located off of State Route 608 (West Ox Road) and lies adjacent to the Fairfax Towne Center shopping area, and includes most of the Gen. Isaac Stevens portion of the battle, about 1.5% of the total ground. The park is under the jurisdiction of the Fairfax County Park Authority. In January 2005, the Authority approves a General Management Plan and Conceptual Development Plan that sets forth a detailed history and future management framework for the site.

A small yard located within the nearby Fairfax Towne Center has been preserved to mark the area crossed by Confederate troops to get to the Ox Hill battlefield.

(Pictured: Color lithograph “General Kearney’s gallant charge,” published by John Smith, 804 Market St., Philadelphia. From the Library of Congress.)


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Death of Myles Walter Keogh, Last Man Killed at the Battle of Little Big Horn

Myles Walter Keogh, soldier in the United States Army, is the last man killed at the Battle of Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876 according to the Sioux. His horse is the only U.S. survivor.

Keogh is born in Orchard House in Leighlinbridge, County Carlow, on March 25, 1840. He attends the National School in Leighlinbridge and is long thought to have attended St. Patrick’s College in Carlow but that college has no record of his attendance. It is possible that he attends St. Mary’s Knockbeg College.

By 1860, a twenty-year-old Keogh volunteers, along with over 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 is 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. Once the fighting is over and duties of the Pontifical Swiss Guard become more mundane, Keogh sees little purpose in remaining in Rome. In March 1862, with civil war raging in America, he resigns his commission in the Company of St. Patrick and sets out for New York City, arriving on April 2.

Keogh actively participates in several prominent American Civil War battles including the Shenandoah Valley, the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Fredericksburg, and the Battle of Gettysburg.

Perhaps the strongest testimony to Keogh’s bravery and leadership ability comes at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, on June 25, 1876. The senior captain among the five companies wiped out with General George Armstrong Custer that day, and commanding one of two squadrons within the Custer detachment, Keogh dies in a “last stand” of his own, surrounded by the men of Company I. When the sun-blackened and dismembered dead are buried three days later, Keogh’s body is found at the center of a group of troopers. The slain officer is stripped but not mutilated, perhaps because of the “medicine” the Indians see in the Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”) he wears on a chain about his neck or because many of Sitting Bull‘s warriors are believed to be Catholic. Keogh’s left knee has been shattered by a bullet that corresponds 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 is found on the fatal battlefield, and nursed back to health as the 7th Cavalry’s regimental mascot, which he remains until his death in 1890. This horse, Comanche, is considered the only U.S. military survivor of the battle, though several other badly wounded horses are found and destroyed at the scene. Keogh’s bloody gauntlet and the guidon of his Company I are recovered by the army three months after Little Bighorn at the Battle of Slim Buttes.

Originally buried on the battlefield, Keogh’s remains are disinterred and taken to Auburn, New York as he had requested in his will. He is buried at Fort Hill Cemetery on October 26, 1877, an occasion marked by citywide official mourning and an impressive military procession to the cemetery.

Tongue River Cantonment in southeastern Montana is renamed after him to be Fort Keogh. The fort is first commanded by Nelson A. Miles. 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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The Provisional Congress of the Confederate States Convenes

The Provisional Congress of the Confederate States, also known as the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America, convenes in Montgomery, Alabama on February 4, 1861. As many as 30,000 Irish-born fight on the Confederate side during the American Civil War including Chaplain John B. Bannon. A number of Irish rise to senior leadership in the Confederate army including Patrick Cleburne and Henry Strong. Strong is killed at the Battle of Antietam while on the opposite Union side on that awful day, 540 members of the Irish Brigade are killed.

The Provisional Congress of the Confederate States is a congress of deputies and delegates called together from the Southern States which become the governing body of the Provisional Government of the Confederate States from February 4, 1861 to February 17, 1862. It sits in Montgomery until May 21, 1861, when it adjourns to meet in Richmond, Virginia, on July 20, 1861. It adds new members as other states secede from the Union and directs the election on November 6, 1861, at which a permanent government is elected.

The First Session of the Provisional Congress is held at Montgomery from February 4, 1861, to March 16, 1861. On February 8, the Convention adopts the Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States, and so becomes the first session of the Provisional Confederate Congress. Members are present from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. It drafts the provisional constitution and sets up a government. For president and vice president, it selects Jefferson Davis of Mississippi and Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia.

The Second Session of the Provisional Congress is held at Montgomery from April 29, 1861, to May 21, 1861. It includes the members of the First Session with the additions of Virginia and Arkansas. John Tyler, the tenth president of the United States (1841–1845), serves as a delegate from Virginia in the Provisional Confederate States Congress until his death in 1862.

North Carolina and Tennessee join the Third Session of the Provisional Congress which is held at Richmond from July 20, 1861, to August 31, 1861. Membership remains unchanged for the Fourth Session on September 3, 1861.

The Fifth Session of the Provisional Congress is held at Richmond from November 18, 1861, to February 17, 1862. All previous members are present with the additions of Missouri and Kentucky. One non-voting member is present from the Arizona Territory.


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Death of U.S. Union Army Colonel Patrick Kelly

colonel-patrick-kellyColonel Patrick Kelly of the Union Army‘s Irish Brigade (The Fighting Irish) dies on June 16, 1864 at the Siege of Petersburg during the American Civil War while leading the Irish Brigade forward against a Confederate position.

Kelly is born in Castlehacket, Tuam, County Galway and emigrates to the United States, landing in New York City. His wife Elizabeth is also from Tuam.

At the outset of the American Civil War, Kelly enlists in the Union Army and sees action as captain of Company E of the 69th New York Infantry at the First Battle of Bull Run. He briefly is a captain in the 16th U.S. Infantry. On September 14, 1861, he is named lieutenant colonel of the 88th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment and fights in the Irish Brigade’s major battles in 1862. He commands the regiment at the Battle of Antietam. While stationed at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia following the Maryland campaign, he is promoted to colonel on October 20, 1862. He leads the regiment in the ill-fated attacks in front of Marye’s Heights in the Battle of Fredericksburg. He is acting commander of the Irish Brigade at the end of 1862.

After the 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville, Kelly is promoted to command the Irish Brigade following the resignation of Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher. He leads the heavily depleted brigade of fewer than 600 men in an attack at the Wheatfield during the Battle of Gettysburg. The brigade loses 198 of 532 troops engaged, approximately 37%.

Kelly resumes his role as colonel of his regiment as more senior officers return to the brigade. However, with the death of Colonel Richard Byrnes at the Battle of Cold Harbor in 1864, he again commands the brigade. At the age of 42, he dies during the Siege of Petersburg on June 16, 1864 when he is shot through the head while leading the Irish Brigade forward against Confederate earthworks. His body is recovered and sent back to New York for his funeral. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens, New York.


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Death of Colonel Dennis O’Kane

dennis-o-kaneColonel Dennis O’Kane, officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War, dies on July 4, 1863 of wounds sustained the previous day when fighting with the 69th Pennsylvania Irish Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Born in Coleraine, County Londonderry, O’Kane is a tavern owner in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and a member of the 2nd Pennsylvania Militia regiment prior to the Civil War. When the conflict starts, he helps recruit the 24th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, a unit that has the 2nd Pennsylvania Militia as its nucleus. Commissioned Major, Field and Staff, on May 1, 1861, he is with his regiment as it serves first in Maryland and then Virginia before their enlistment expires in July 1861.

In August 1861 O’Kane joins with many of the men from the 24th Pennsylvania in re-enlisting to continue the war effort, and they form the basis of what becomes the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. Commissioned Lieutenant Colonel, Field and Staff on August 19, 1861, his new regiment is composed largely of Irish immigrants like himself, and they emblazon the Irish harp on their flag. The unit eventually is joined with the 71st, 72nd and 106th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiments to form the famous Philadelphia Brigade.

O’ Kane serves as second-in-command through 1862, participating in the Peninsular Campaign of May and June, the Second Battle of Bull Run in August, and the September 1862 Battle of Antietam, where his brigade is caught in the West Woods area and takes heavy losses. In November 1862, the 69th Pennsylvania’s commander, Colonel Joshua T. Owen, is promoted to Brigadier General, US Volunteers. O’Kane is advanced to Colonel on December 1, 1862 to fill the vacancy.

At the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 14, 1862, O’Kane leads his men in the third of four waves of futile Union charges on strong Confederate positions at Marye’s Heights south of the town, and sees his regiment sustain fifty-one casualties. In May 1863 during the Battle of Chancellorsville, his brigade is held in reserve and sees limited action.

During the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, O’Kane finds the 69th Pennsylvania positioned along a rock fencing in the middle of the Union lines that becomes famous as “The Angle.” That position becomes the epicenter of Pickett’s Charge on July 3, the third day of the battle, as the remnants of the Confederate forces, having been much devastated from Union artillery fire, crash over the rock walls and engage the Philadelphia Brigade in brutal hand-to-hand fighting.

O’Kane is shot in the head at the wall and dies the following day. His regiment again takes high casualties but succeeds in helping to repulse the rebels and defeat the charge. The monument for the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry in Gettysburg National Military Park stands on the spot where O’Kane was mortally wounded.


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The Battle of Antietam

irish-brigade-at-antietamThe Irish Brigade of the Union Army fights in the Battle of Antietam, one of the most famous battles of the American Civil War, on September 17, 1862. The battle has the sad distinction of being the bloodiest single day of fighting in America’s bloodiest war. Combined casualties at the Battle of Antietam are 26,134. Few regiments suffered more than the Irish Brigade.

The Irish Brigade is the brainchild of their commanding officer Thomas Francis Meagher. The former Young Ireland rebel, creator of the Irish Tricolor of green, white and orange, escaped political prisoner, lawyer, newspaper editor and politician forms the brigade with the twin objectives of gaining respect for the Irish by their patriotism for their adopted country and developing a nucleus for a future fight for Ireland’s freedom. The Brigade is formed of the almost exclusively Irish American 69th, 63rd and 88th New York and the “honorary Irish” of the 29th Massachusetts. The regiments of the Irish Brigade had already earned a formidable reputation as a crack unit, having distinguished themselves in every battle of the earlier Seven Days Battles. It is small wonder, many in the Brigade’s ranks had already distinguished themselves in the Mexican-American War or in fighting with the Papal forces in Italy against Giuseppe Garibaldi.

The Union Army is already heavily engaged, when the Irish Brigade is ordered to advance through an open field to take an area of high ground. Subjected to accurate Confederate rifle fire as they cross the field, the Brigade marches on in disciplined order, the National and the famed Green Regimental Colors (flags) fluttering overhead. When they encounter a fence across their line of march, eighty volunteers rush forward to knock it down, rather than see the whole Brigade slowed by the obstacle and exposed to fire. Over half of these volunteers are killed. Seeing the Irish continue to press forward, the Confederates fall back as the Irish advance up the hill.

What no one on the Union side knows is that on the other side of the hill is a farmer’s dirt road that years of rain has eroded into a ditch five feet below the surrounding ground level. The sunken road is a perfect rifle pit and is filled with Colonel John Brown Gordon’s Georgians. As the Irish crest the hill, they are met with a volley that decimates the Brigade, including killing or wounding every single standard-bearer. Seeing the flags fall from across the field, an aide to Union General George B. McClellan exclaims, “The battles lost, the Irish are fleeing!” only for McClellan to respond, “No, the flags are raised again, they are advancing.” Eight successive standard-bearers of the 69th New York alone fall that day as men pick up the flags from fallen comrades. Captain Patrick Clooney, though wounded himself, snatches up the colors from the 88th’s fallen standard-bearer only to be killed by multiple shots, the Green Flag wrapping around him like a shroud befitting a hero. Another standard-bearer, the staff of his Irish Brigade flag snapped in two by a rifle shot, drapes the flag over his shoulder like a sash and continues to move forward, personifying the Gaelic phrase on the flag he is carrying “Riamh Nar Dhruid O Spairn lann”, “Who never retreated from the clash of spears.”

The fire of the Confederates is so intense that the Irish Brigade cannot advance, but they do not flee either. Despite the failure of promised reinforcements that never materialize, the Brigade pours “Buck and Ball” (a 69 caliber ball and three 30 caliber buckshot) into the enemy at 300 paces, turning the “Sunken Road” into “Bloody Lane.” When their ammunition is depleted, the remnants of the Brigade, with drill ground precision, form and march back to the Union lines. The Irish Brigade never “ran” from the enemy. Another Union unit takes the “Bloody Lane,” but most credit the punishment that the Irish Brigade inflicted on the enemy, at a terrible cost to themselves, with making it possible. The New York Regiments take over 50% casualties. The Irish Brigade is now no bigger than a single regiment. As the depleted ranks of the 88th march passed, Union Major General Israel Bush Richardson salutes as it passes with the words “Bravo 88th, I shall never forget you!”

During the course of the War, the Irish Brigade suffers over 4,000 casualties, more men than the Brigade ever had at any one time. The Fighting 69th loses more men than any other New York regiment. The Battle of Antietam is remembered as the Union victory that allows President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which frees the slaves in the Confederate states. It is all too often forgotten that this emancipation was secured in no small part with the blood of Irish immigrants, immigrants who were denied civil rights in their own country and faced discrimination in their adopted county before and after the Civil War.

In thinking of the Civil War, all Americans should remember the words of a defeated Confederate Officer to his Union counterpart at Appomattox, “You only won as you had more Irish than we did.”

(Credit: “The Irish Brigade at Antietam” by Neil F. Cosgrove, October 17, 2009)


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Birth of Myles Walter Keogh, Last Man Killed at the Battle of Little Big Horn

Myles Walter Keogh, soldier in the United States Army, is born in Orchard House in Leighlinbridge, County Carlow, on March 25, 1840. It is said by the Sioux that he is the last man killed at the Battle of Little Big Horn, where his horse is the only U.S. survivor.

Keogh attends the National School in Leighlinbridge and is long thought to have attended St. Patrick’s College in Carlow but that college has no record of his attendance. It is possible that he attends St. Mary’s Knockbeg College.

By 1860, a twenty-year-old Keogh volunteers, along with over 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 is 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. Once the fighting is over and duties of the Pontifical Swiss Guard become more mundane, Keogh sees little purpose in remaining in Rome. In March 1862, with civil war raging in America, he resigns his commission in the Company of St. Patrick and sets out for New York City, arriving on April 2.

Keogh actively participates in several prominent American Civil War battles including the Shenandoah Valley, the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Fredericksburg, and the Battle of Gettysburg.

Perhaps the strongest testimony to Keogh’s bravery and leadership ability comes at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, on June 25, 1876. The senior captain among the five companies wiped out with General George Armstrong Custer that day, and commanding one of two squadrons within the Custer detachment, Keogh dies in a “last stand” of his own, surrounded by the men of Company I. When the sun-blackened and dismembered dead are buried three days later, Keogh’s body is found at the center of a group of troopers. The slain officer is stripped but not mutilated, perhaps because of the “medicine” the Indians see in the Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”) he wears on a chain about his neck or because many of Sitting Bull‘s warriors are believed to be Catholic. Keogh’s left knee has been shattered by a bullet that corresponds 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 is found on the fatal battlefield, and nursed back to health as the 7th Cavalry’s regimental mascot, which he remains until his death in 1890. This horse, Comanche, is considered the only U.S. military survivor of the battle, though several other badly wounded horses are found and destroyed at the scene. Keogh’s bloody gauntlet and the guidon of his Company I are recovered by the army three months after Little Bighorn at the Battle of Slim Buttes.

Originally buried on the battlefield, Keogh’s remains are disinterred and taken to Auburn, as he had requested in his will. He is buried at Fort Hill Cemetery on October 26, 1877, an occasion marked by citywide official mourning and an impressive military procession to the cemetery.

Tongue River Cantonment in southeastern Montana is renamed after him to be Fort Keogh. The fort is first commanded by Nelson A. Miles. The 55,000-acre fort is today an agricultural experiment station. Miles City, Montana is located two miles from the old fort.