A Near Miss on the Fourth of July

"...a tremendous fire of musketry and artillery broke out on the extreme right, and called the merry revelers at once to the more serious business of the day. All jumped to their horses 'with hot haste', and hurried to their appropriate posts."
From an account of the July 4th celebrations at General Blair's Headquarters, Georgia, 1864.

Despite inflicting a heavy defeat that Sherman's Union forces at Kennesaw Mountain on June 27, within days the Confederate armies under General Johnston began withdrawing towards their next line of defences along the Chattahoochee River. On July 2, Johnston withdrew from Kennesaw Mountain south towards Smyrna and to the Nickajack Creek area four miles to the west. The Federals followed, rearranging the positions of the various armies and the corps that made up their structures.

By July 3, Major General Frank P. Blair's 17th Corps, Army of the Tennessee, having marched from Kennesaw via Sandtown Road, reached Moss' house near the town of Smyrna after what he claimed was 'an unusually fatiguing march'. Blair (left) had moved his men in rear of Sherman's army toward the right where he had now assigned General Stoneman's cavalry, including Major Myles Keogh, to cover his right flank. Later that day, there were some brief skirmishes with Rebel soldiers when his advance was checked by a line of the enemy's dismounted cavalry in a strong defensive position. Blair reported that:
'General Stoneman's cavalry connected promptly with my right, and fought with great spirit...assisting materially in driving the enemy.'
The loss of daylight prevented further pursuit, and Blair withdrew the men from beyond a location christened the 'Widow Mitchell's' to an area where, as he wrote, 'the command could get a sufficient supply of water' - The Mable Plantation near Smyrna.


Mable House near Smyrna, as it looks today.

Located on the grounds of this 400 acre plantation was Mable House, later to be used as a Federal hospital. It is unclear if General Blair used the house for his headquarters as his reports from those days simply state, 'In the Field', but the next day was Independence Day, July 4, and the house would seem the ideal location to host the celebratory picnic he held for his officers and guests. Blair's adjutant general was Keogh's good friend, A. J. Alexander, who also happened to be the general's cousin. With Stoneman's cavalry now posted to the 17th Corps and Alexander's connections, it was no surprise that Major Keogh was among those invited to the festivities.

In the biography of A.J. Alexander - 'The life and services of Brevet Brigadier-General Andrew Jonathan Alexander' by James Harrison Wilson - the author recounts how the day's celebrations were suddenly interrupted and any feelings of complacency were dismissed as elements of Johnston's Confederate army began a counter attack:
"On the 4th of July, many officers of the various Corps, visited Blair's headquarters to enjoy their hospitality, and among others, Colonel Keogh, that gallant young Irishman, who had served with Alexander on Stoneman's staff ... On the day in question, while the enjoyment was at the highest and the woods were resounding with patriotic songs, a tremendous fire of musketry and artillery broke out on the extreme right, and called the merry revelers at once to the more serious business of the day. All jumped to their horses 'with hot haste', and hurried to their appropriate posts.
The enemy had sallied out from his lines, and was making a fierce attack. Matters looked serious for a while, but that was an army of veterans, every one of whom knew what to do in such an emergency. A sharp and bloody combat took place, and the Confederates were repulsed with heavy loss on both sides. As usual, Alexander was on the line, cool, steady and determined, duplicating the General, and directing and encouraging the men. The honors of the day were with the Union Army, but the battle had had a serious effect, and the celebration of the 'Glorious Fourth' was not renewed."
This encounter, close to Ruff's Mill was with Georgia Militia, under Major General Gustavus Smith supported by General Ross' cavalry. Blair later recorded that his soldier's response pushed the enemy skirmishers back over a mile and towards their prepared defences - 'a heavy line of rifle-pits, on a commanding position from which they opened with artillery'. Again Stoneman's cavalry were at the heart of the action:
'During the operations of the day my right was covered by the cavalry, under Major-General Stoneman, who promptly and ably co-operated with me, his skirmishers connecting with mine and assisting materially in driving the enemy.'
'The skirmishers of Colonel Hall's brigade, in connection with General Stoneman's cavalry, made a determined and gallant attack on the enemy's line, approaching within 500 yards of the works, drawing the fire of the whole of the enemy's force from behind the works, and also that of two pieces of artillery.'
'The cavalry on my right have been very active, entirely covering that flank and keeping fully up with my advance.'

The casualties on the Union side during the day did not exceed 40 men but almost included Myles Keogh who, in the of act relaying an order, rode straight into a Confederate skirmish line. Recounting his near miss that day in a later letter to his sister, Ellen, he credited his horse, 'Tom', with saving his life:
'...my old charger that had carried me through so many dangers since the battle of Port Republic, when Keily was wounded. I wish you could have seen the poor fellow, how he could leap, and on the 4th of July he saved my life. Whilst riding on a bye road carrying an order I suddenly rode into a heavy outlying picket of the enemy. "Tom" saw them as they rose up to deliver their fire and jumped sideways over a rail fence into the wood skirting the road. He carried me safely out of range.

[From the collection of the Cayuga Museum of History and Art, Auburn]

Myles Keogh, circa 1864.
There is only one known Civil War photograph of Keogh mounted on a horse (above). It appears to be a section of an ambrotype (a thin negative image on glass made to appear as a positive by showing it against a black background) and the portrait was purported to be taken in 1864 during Keogh's time with General Stoneman. If this is so, the gray horse that Keogh is mounted upon must be 'Tom', Keogh's 'old charger' that he said he had since joining the Union army. As circumstance would have it, 'Tom' was not to be the most famous of Myles Keogh's horses; that claim would be earned by a 'last survivor'.
During the night of the 4th, the Confederate army withdrew all its men and artillery from in front of Blair's forces, except for a heavy line of skirmishers. The following day, July 5, 1864, Sherman's forces advanced again, driving the Confederates across Nickajack Creek, and into their main line of defences. However, Johnston's ability to place his men in the best possible defensive location again stunted Sherman's progress and the Union army halted for several days just in front of the Chattahoochee River.
By this time, Federal forces were within 15 miles of Atlanta, threatening the city from the west and north. An increasingly worried President Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government dispatched General Braxton Bragg to ascertain the situation with respect to Atlanta. His view was that, despite keeping his together as an effective fighting unit, Johnston had surrendered over one hundred miles of mountainous, and thus more easily defensible, territory in just two months. On July 17, 1864, President Davis removed Johnston from command and replaced him with the more aggressive Lieutenant General John Bell Hood. The change in leadership and tactics mattered for little as Atlanta fell into Sherman's hands at the beginning of September, 1864.
By that time, Major Keogh was experiencing life as a prisoner after participating in his bloodiest fight of the war - The Battle of Sunshine Church...

Lest We Forget


BATTLE OF THE LITTLE BIG HORN
JUNE 25-26, 1876

 7th U.S. Cavalry Killed in Action  

Commissioned Officers
Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer, Commanding Regiment
Captain Myles Walter Keogh, Commanding Company I
1st Lieutenant William Winer Cooke, Regimental Adjutant
Captain George W. Yates, Commanding Company F
Captain Thomas Ward Custer, Commanding Company C
1st Lieutenant Donald McIntosh, Commanding Company G
1st Lieutenant James Calhoun, Commanding Company L
1st Lieutenant Algernon E. Smith, Commanding Company E
1st Lieutenant James E. Porter, Second-in-command, Company I
2nd Lieutenant Benjamin Hubert Hodgson, Adjutant to Major Marcus A. Reno
2nd Lieutenant Henry Moore Harrington, Second-in-command, Company C
2nd Lieutenant James Garland Sturgis, Second-in-command, Company E
2nd Lieutenant William Van W. Reily, Second-in-command, Company F
2nd Lieutenant John J. Crittenden, (20th U.S. Inf.), Second-in-command, Company L
Assistant Surgeon George E. Lord
Acting Assistant Surgeon James M. DeWolf

Non-Commissioned Staff
 Sergeant Major William H. Sharrow
Chief Trumpeter Henry Voss

Company A
 Corporal James Dalious
Private John E. Armstrong
Private James Drinan
Private James McDonald
Private William Moodie
Private Richard Rollins
Private John Sullivan
Private Thomas P. Sweetser

Company B
Private Richard Dorn
Private George B. Mask

Company C
1st Sergeant Edwin Bobo
Sergeant Jeremiah Finley
Sergeant George August Finckle
Corporal Henry E. French
Corporal John Foley
Corporal Daniel Ryan
Trumpeter Thomas J. Bucknell
Trumpeter William Kramer
Saddler George Howell
Blacksmith John King
Private Fred E. Allan
Private John Brightfield
Private Christopher Criddle
Private George Eiseman
Private Gustave Engle
Private James Farrand
Private Patrick Griffin
Private James Hathersall
Private John Lewis
Private Frederick Meier
Private August Meyer
Private Edgar Phillips
Private John Rauter
Private Edward Rix
Private James H. Russell
Private Ludwick St. John
Private Samuel S. Shade
Private Jeremiah Shea
Private Nathan Short
Private Alpheus Stuart
Private Ygnatz Stungewitz
Private John Thadus
Private Garrett Van Allen
Private Oscar L. Warner
Private Willis B. Wright
Private Henry Wyman

Company D
Farrier Vincent Charley
Private Patrick M. Golden
Private Edward Housen

Company E
1st Sergeant Frederick Hohmeyer
Sergeant John S. Ogden
Sergeant William B. James
Corporal Thomas Eagan
Corporal Henry S. Mason
Corporal George C. Brown
Corporal Albert H. Meyer
Trumpeter Thomas McElroy
Trumpeter George A. Moonie
Private William H. Baker
Private Robert Barth
Private Owen Boyle
Private James Brogan
Private Edward Conner
Private John Darris
Private William Davis
Private Richard Farrell
Private John S. S. Forbes
Private John Heim
Private John Henderson
Private Sykes Henderson
Private William Hiuber
Private Andrew Knecht
Private Herod T. Liddiard
Private Patrick O'Connor
Private William H. Rees
Private Edward Rood
Private Henry Schele
Private William Smallwood
Private Albert A. Smith
Private James Smith, 1st
Private James Smith, 2nd
Private Benjamin Stafford
Private Alexander Stella
Private William A. Torrey
Private Cornelius Van Sant
Private George Walker

Company F
1st Sergeant Michael Kenney
Sergeant Frederick Nursey
Sergeant John Vickory
Sergeant John R. Wilkinson
Corporal Charles Coleman
Corporal William Teeman
Corporal John Briody
Trumpeter Thomas N. Way
Farrier Benjamin Brandon
Blacksmith James R. Manning
Private Thomas Atcheson
Private William Brady
Private Benjamin F. Brown
Private William Brown
Private Patrick Bruce
Private Lucien Burnham
Private James Carney
Private Armantheus D. Cather
Private Anton Dohman
Private Timothy Donnelly
Private John Gardiner
Private George W. Hammon
Private John P. Kelly
Private Gustave Klein
Private Herman Knauth
Private William H. Lerock
Private Werner L. Liemann
Private William A. Lossee
Private Christian Madsen
Private Francis E. Milton
Private Joseph Monroe
Private Sebastian Omling
Private Patrick Rudden
Private Richard Saunders
Private Francis W. Sicfous
Private George A. Warren

Company G
Sergeant Edward Botzer
Sergeant Martin Considine
Corporal James Martin
Corporal Otto Hagemann
Trumpeter Henry Dose
Farrier Benjamin Wells
Saddler Crawford Selby
Private John J. McGinniss
Private Andrew J. Moore
Private John Rapp
Private Benjamin F. Rogers
Private Henry Seafferman
Private Edward Stanley

Company H
Corporal George Lell
Private Juilien D. Jones
Private Thomas E. Meador

Company I
1st Sergeant Frank E. Varden
Sergeant James Bustard
Corporal John Wild
Corporal George C. Morris
Corporal Samuel F. Staples
Trumpeter John McGucker
Trumpeter John W. Patton
Saddler Henry A. Bailey
Private John Barry
Private Joseph F. Broadhurst
Private Thomas Connors
Private David Cooney
Private Thomas P. Downing
Private Edward Driscoll
Private David C. Gillette
Private George H. Gross
Private Adam Hetesimer
Private Edward P. Holcomb
Private Marion E. Horn
Private Patrick Kelly
Private Henry Lehman
Private Edward W. Lloyd
Private Archibald McIlhargey
Private John Mitchell
Private Jacob Noshang
Private John O'Bryan
Private John Parker
Private Felix James Pitter
Private George Post
Private James Quinn
Private William Reed
Private John W. Rossbury
Private Darwin L. Symms
Private James E. Troy
Private Charles Von Bramer
Private William B. Whaley

Company K
1st Sergeant Dewitt Winney
Sergeant Robert M. Hughes
Corporal John J. Callahan
Trumpeter Julius Helmer
Private Elihu F. Clear

1st Sgt. Butler's Battlefield Marker

Company L
1st Sergeant James Butler
Sergeant William Cashan
Sergeant Amos B. Warren
Corporal William H. Harrison
Corporal John Seiler
Corporal William H. Gilbert
Trumpeter Frederick Walsh
Blacksmith Charles Siemon
Saddler Charles Perkins
Private George E. Adams
Private William Andrews
Private Anthony Assadaly
Private Elmer Babcock
Private Ami Cheever
Private William B. Crisfield
Private John L. Crowley
Private William Dye
Private James J. Galvan
Private Charles Graham
Private Henry Hamilton
Private Weston Harrington
Private Louis Haugge
Private Francis T. Hughes
Private Thomas G. Kavanagh
Private Louis Lobering
Private Charles McCarthy
Private Peter McGue
Private Bartholomew Mahoney
Private Thomas E. Maxwell
Private John Miller
Private David J. O'Connell
Private Oscar F. Pardee
Private Christian Reibold
Private Henry Roberts
Private Walter B. Rogers
Private Charles Schmidt
Private Charles Scott
Private Bent Siemonson
Private Andrew Snow
Private Byron Tarbox
Private Edmond D. Tessier
Private Thomas S. Tweed
Private Johann Michael Vetter

Company M
Sergeant Miles F. O'Hara
Corporal Henry M. Cody
Corporal Frederick Stressinger
Private Frank Braun
Private Henry Gordon
Private Jacob Gebhart
Private Henry Klotzbucher
Private George Lorentz
Private William D. Meyer
Private George E. Smith
Private David Summers
Private Henry Turley
Private Henry C. Voight

Civilians
Boston Custer, brother of George and Thomas
Henry Armstrong Reed, nephew of George
Mark Kellogg, Newspaper Reporter for the Bismarck Tribune
Frank C. Mann, Chief Packer
Charley Reynolds, Chief Scout
Isaiah Dorman, Negro-Indian Interpreter
Mitch Bouyer, half-breed
Bloody Knife
Bob-Tailed Bull
Little Brave
Battlefield Monument

The Fight for Atlanta - Kennesaw Mountain

"Our little success on the right is all that has been gained anywhere. This may be very important to us as the first step toward the next important movement."

Major-General Schofield, Commander, Army of the Ohio to Gen. Stoneman, June 27, 1864

Thunder on Little Kennesaw by Don Troiani

Throughout the Atlanta campaign, General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate rearguard, withdrew to positions that had been previously reconnoitred by his engineers. The Rebel defensive strategy was to fight a delaying action, using successive entrenched locations to thwart Sherman's march on Atlanta. The Confederates most resounding success in the Atlanta Campaign came near the end of June at Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia.

Soon after the Battle of Dallas and Stoneman's fight at Allatoona Pass, Johnston had pulled back again to form a 10-mile long defensive front that encompassed three mountains; Brush Mountain, Lost Mountain and Pine Mountain, located between them. Almost two miles further behind was the Confederate strong point - Kennesaw Mountain. Towering over the landscape at 1000 feet in height, Kennesaw Mountain's base was passed by the Western & Atlantic railroad and the Rebel's vast defensive line now blocked Sherman's route to the Chattahoochee River and Atlanta. General Sherman informed his superiors in Washington of the ongoing, incessant fighting:

"The whole countryside is one vast fort, and Johnston must have at least fifty miles of connected trenches with abatis and finished batteries...As fast as we gain one position the enemy has another all ready. Kennesaw...is the key to the whole country."


Between June 10 and June 18, the Union army drove Johnston's men off the three smaller mountains and the Confederates withdrew to their consolidated position in front of the town of Marietta at the base of Kennesaw Mountain. Believing he now held the advantage of momentum but that Johnston's incessant delaying tactics had affected his men's fighting spirit, Sherman changed from his month long strategy of turning the Confederate army and ordered a frontal attack on the entrenched positions, located mainly at the lowlands south of the mountain. Keogh’s overall commander, General Schofield, Army of the Ohio, later wrote in his memoirs that he and all of the other top commanders, including ‘The Rock of Chickamauga’, Major-General George Thomas, protested against Sherman's plan. Sherman's response to their concerns was to explain that the near-suicidal attack against sophisticated breastworks and trenches was only intended '...to make a strong demonstration.'

A key part of Sherman's attack was for General Schofield's Army of the Ohio to extend the right flank of the Federal position and thin Johnston's central line of defence. This placed Stoneman's cavalry and Myles Keogh at the extreme right of Sherman's army. Schofield was ordered to exploit an advantage he had gained during fighting on June 20 near Olley's Creek. Sherman's role for Schofield appears to have been the creation of a ruse, tricking the Confederates into thinking the Union Army was trying a flanking manoeuvre far to the south of its defences. On June 26, Sherman sent an order to Schofield, requesting that one of his units:
"...throw up a hasty parapet for his guns and fire away and make all dispositions as though he intended to force a passage. Same with General Cox up where he is. It should be done to-day to induce the enemy to strengthen that flank to-night."
At noon on June 27, and under the direct command of General Jacob Cox, Schofield's wing advanced to the crest of a ridge, a mile or so beyond Olley's Creek, and within a mile of the main road running to Nickajack Creek. The ridge was extremely rough and densely wooded. Defending this southerly ridge was a division of cavalry from the Army of Mississippi and commanded by William Hicks "Red" Jackson. It was here that Myles Keogh participated in the clash at Kennesaw Mountain as Stoneman's cavalry drove their counterparts from the forested area.

However, by this stage, Thomas' and McPherson's frontal attacks were being undertaken and tethering towards defeat. On the Union left wing, McPherson’s advance towards the northern end of the mountain resulted in 210 casualties while another attack at Pigeon Hill which cost him 317 casualties out of the five thousand men engaged. George Thomas attacked the centre of the Confederate line with about eight thousand men. The points on which his attack focused were defended with divisions commanded by Benjamin Cheatham and Patrick Cleburne, Johnston's most redoubtable generals. Unsurprisingly, given the task presented to the Union troops, the result was a total failure with Thomas suffering just over fifteen hundred casualties.
When Sherman ordered George Thomas to once again advance on the Confederate lines, he received a curt and telling response:
"The Army of the Cumberland has already made two desperate, bloody and unsuccessful assaults on this mountain. If a third is ordered, it will, in my opinion, result in demoralizing this army and will, if made, be against my best judgement, and most earnest protest."
The Future of War - Trenches at Kennesaw Mountain
Sherman now realised how effective a well constructed entrenchment could be and was given a foretaste of the future of conventional warfare. Another assault was not made and Sherman conceded that: 'The facility with which defensive works of timber and earth are constructed gives the party on the defensive great advantage.' Nevertheless, he remained unrepentant for placing such an onerous task on his men and the seemingly needless deaths of almost 600 Union soldiers:
"Failure as it was, and for which I assume the entire responsibility, I yet claim it produced good fruits, as it demonstrated to General Johnston that I would assault, and that boldly"
Although coming against a smaller force, Stoneman's cavalry achieved some semblance of victory in their encounter with Jackson's troops on the ridge. Schofield was quick to ensure his success was noted when he wrote to General Stoneman on the evening of the 27th:
"Thomas and McPherson have failed in their attack and have suffered heavy losses. Our little success on the right is all that has been gained anywhere. This may be very important to us as the first step toward the next important movement."
Indeed, if Schofield had vigorously pressed home his advantage on the Union's right flank, the day's losses may have been avoided; a fact recognised all too late when he reported to Sherman that the ground he won 'seems to me more important than I at first supposed.'

Whether it was this hesitancy or a new strategy from Sherman, on July 1, McPherson was ordered to move in towards and then around Schofield in another flanking manoeuvre. That very evening, after the first hint of this movement, Johnston began his withdrawal from Marietta to positions at Smyrna, and then towards the Chattahoochee River -- just 10 miles away -- the last natural barrier protecting Atlanta. This soon allowed the Union army to march unopposed past Kennesaw Mountain into Marietta and by the night of July 4, the Confederates had had completely abandoned their lines.

If complacency and thoughts of celebrating Independence Day in comfort had entered into the minds of Keogh and his fellow cavalry officers, they were to receive a prompt reminder that the enemy was never too far away...

The Fight for Atlanta - Allatoona Pass & Dallas, Georgia


"...move against Johnston's army, to break it up, and get into the interior of the enemy's country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources."
Ulysses S. Grant to William Tecumseh Sherman, 1864

The Atlanta Campaign - May to September 1864

In the spring of 1864, William Tecumseh Sherman was placed in charge of the Military Division of the Mississippi comprised of George H. Thomas' Army of the Cumberland, James B. McPherson's Army of the Tennessee, and John Schofield's Army of the Ohio, a total of about 100,000 men. Sherman's superior numbers, well fed and equipped, faced a Confederate force of 65,000 men whose biggest problems were getting blankets, shoes and small arms. In December, 1863, Joseph E. Johnston assumed command of the Army of Tennessee when Braxton Bragg resigned following the defeat of his forces at Chattanooga. The stage was set for what is known as the Atlanta Campaign. 

Stoneman and Keogh had travelled to Lexington, Kentucky, where horses were being sourced and new cavalry units were being mobilised and drilled in preparation for service attached to the Army of the Ohio. Most of his newly formed units consisted of troopers who were seasoned veterans from Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky; a rugged and boisterous lot who were not always willing to accept authority. This attitude would later be the source of much frustration for Stoneman as he marched south. Some of the Kentuckians would become absent without leave as they passed close to their homesteads. Stoneman’s stern rebuke of those units and their officers only created further resentment, leading to delays in cavalry preparations and an off the cuff jibe from Sherman that Stoneman was “lazy.” 

Nonetheless, on April 29, Stoneman left Kentucky en route to Knoxville and Chattanooga and by early May, Major General Sherman's (left) massive offensive had begun with Major Myles Keogh's and Stoneman's three brigade strong cavalry - 2810 troopers in total - crossing the Tennessee River screening the left flank of General Schofield's Army of the Ohio. For most of the coming weeks, these Federal troopers would engage in sniping with the Rebel cavalry under the command of 'Little Joe' (he was reputed to wear size 5 boots) or 'Fighting Joe' Wheeler. Characterised by Confederate President Davis as "one of the ablest, bravest and most skilful of cavalry commanders," General Joseph Wheeler was a formidable opponent and would become Stoneman's nemesis over the months to come. 

For much of May, while Sherman moved down the Western and Atlantic Railroad towards Atlanta, Keogh and his colleagues were held in reserve or on constant reconnaissance, screening the left flank. Throughout the Union advance, the Confederate army withdrew to positions that had previously been reconnoitered by its engineers and stubbornly disputed every acre of ground but did clash at Resaca, Georgia on May 13. Stoneman's division came to Resaca by way of Rocky Face and Dalton, pushing the Rebel rearguard slowly before them. However, in his later reports, Sherman seems to indicate that Stoneman's men were not directly involved in the Battle of Resaca:
“But during the 10th, the enemy showed no signs of evacuating Dalton, and I was waiting for the arrival of Garrard's and Stoneman's cavalry, known to be near at hand, so as to secure the full advantages of victory, of which I felt certain...on the 11th, perceiving signs of evacuation of Dalton, I gave all the orders for the general movement, leaving the Fourth Corps (Howard) and Stoneman's cavalry in observation in front of Buzzard-Roost Gap, and directing all the rest of the army to march through Snake-Creek Gap, straight on Resaca”.
According to Myles Keogh's U.S. Army service record, the sequence of engagements which he participated in during this period are listed as follows - "Allatoona; Dallas [Georgia]; Kennesaw Mountain; Chattahoochee [River]" - and it is likely that Allatoona Pass was the location of an act of gallantry which was to earn Keogh his second brevet award.

The Western and Atlantic Railroad went through the Allatoon
a Pass, a cut through the Allatoona Mountains about thirty-five miles north of Atlanta and provided the Union Army a vital supply and communications line with the north. The pass was approximately 360-feet long and 175-feet deep. It was the deepest rail cut along the Western and Atlantic line between Atlanta and Chattanooga and Sherman greatly admired its strategic value.


Western and Atlantic Railroad Station at Allatoona Pass circa 1864

In fact, Sherman had been familiar with the terrain around Allatoona since the mid-1840's. He had ridden through the area en route to a visit to some 'peculiar Indian mounds' known today as Cartersville - Georgia's Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site. Ironically, this prior leisurely visit gave him the knowledge to avoid Allatoona during the May push towards Atlanta, as he noted in a report to Washington dated June 8, 1864 (referring to events of late May, 1864):
“I knew the strength of Allatoona Pass, having ridden through it twenty years ago, and knew it would reduce our strength by forcing us to operate by the head of a single column. I determined not to attempt it but to pass the range by other more devious and difficult natural roads that would admit of more equal terms with the enemy should he attempt, to meet us.”

Soldiers at one of the Rebel built defences - Allatoona Pass

The rebels occupied two fortified areas ("...two small redoubts" according to Sherman) at the top of the ridge both east and west of the railroad. Fearful of the difficulty in surmounting Allatoona Pass’ natural defensive features, the Union Army withdrew from the Western and Atlantic Railroad route it was on - near Cartersville - disappointing Confederate Lt. General Joseph E. Johnston's strongly entrenched army just to the south at Allatoona. With Union Forces flanking Atlanta from the west, Johnson withdrew from Allatoona in pursuit.

Taking the initiative, Sherman then decided to send Stoneman’s cavalry to capture what he hoped was now an abandoned garrison. Sherman wrote to General John E. Smith:
"I regard Allatoona of the first importance in our future plans. It is a second Chattanooga; its front and rear are susceptible of easy defense and its flanks are strong."


 

On or about May 28, Stoneman’s Cavalry began their assault at Allatoona Pass (illustrated above). From notes kept by Merritt Lewis of Company E of the Fifty-First Illinois, it seems that the rebel force, although small, were making best use of the fine defensive structure established there:
“Saturday. Skirmishing going on. Rebels strongly entrenched at Allatoona Pass. Sunday. Skirmishing continued. Rebels charged our lines at night and were repulsed. Monday [May 30]. Our army still confronting the rebel army at Allatoona pass.”
Myles Keogh (right) would later receive the brevet rank of Lieutenant Colonel in recognition of gallantry performed around this time and, although recorded as occurring at “The Battle of Dallas”, the description of his act in Theodore Allen’s memoirs make it likely that it occurred while assaulting a structured Rebel defence. It appears that following a number of assaults, each with little success, General Stoneman turned to his aide-de-camp, Major Keogh, in an effort to break Confederate lines. Captain Allen recounts the event:
"A battalion of four companies [300 men] were placed at his disposal. In columns of companies he started at a brisk trot, and with cap in hand, turned to the battalion and cried out, 'Hip, hip, hurrah boys! Here we go,' and breaking into a gallop, the battalion, with Keogh well in the lead, charged on the enemy capturing all whose fleetness of horse did not permit them to escape.”
In recognition of the dismissive attitude he and some within the Ohio Cavalry had adopted weeks before regarding Keogh’s dress and appearance, Captain Allen further wrote:
“…Keogh ever after was a most welcome guest at every campfire, and every canteen in the regiment was freely proffered to him."



Another telling of this event was published in the "Forest and Stream" magazine, date and author unknown, and titled "Irish-American soldier of fortune". A copy of the article was sourced in the National Library of Ireland and appears to be based on the memoirs of an enlisted Union soldier. Interestingly, it differs little from Captain Theodore Allen's recollections:
"While they were forming again to make another charge, Keogh rode down to them and said to the captain who was in command that Gen. Stoneman had been kind enough to direct him to take command during the next charge. He was welcome to do it, and the officers were now anxious to see what he would do with it after he had got it. He formed his four troops in column of fours, each troop parallel with the next one; that made a solid column with a platoon front. The Confederates, who were hid by the timber, stopped firing after the last repulse. They might as well stop, they could not hit anyone from where they were on top of the hill and the timber prevented them from seeing much, anyhow. But as soon as Keogh had started his column up at a trot, he riding at its head, the firing began again. Keogh stood up in his stirrups, and facing his men, swung his cap above his head, and yelled 'Give them a cheer, boys, and go for them now.' The cheer was given, and they went for them, sending the Confederates clear across the hill and down the other side of it and here the rest of the regiment that had followed him to support him took up the chase and kept the enemy going. Whenever a charge was made after this, and Keogh was present, he took part in it, whether he had any command or not, and always came out without a scratch even."
By June 1, Sherman's two mounted divisions, one under Brigadier General Garrard, the other under George Stoneman, had seized Allatoona Pass from the small Confederate force that Joe Johnston had left there. This meant that Federal locomotives were now be able to steam south to provide the Union army with bullets, powder, and fresh food. As Sherman later recounted in his report:
"On the 1st of June our three armies were well in hand, in the broken and densely-wooded country fronting the enemy intrenched at New Hope Church, about five miles north of Dallas. General Stoneman's division of cavalry had occupied Allatoona, on the railroad, and General Garrard's division was at the western end of the pass, about Stilesboro."
Getting the troops on the move again proved difficult, since on that day it also began to rain. The rains kept up for over two weeks, turning the landscape into a red clay quagmire. At New Hope Church, northeast of Dallas, where a bloody and intense battle was taking place, the rough land was also a quagmire. Troops, horses, caissons became mired in a sea of mud. The federals irreverently christened New Hope Church – “The Hell Hole” - and the entrenched lines were so close that taunting calls travelled back and forth. Losses at The Battle of New Hope Church, one of the many engagements around Dallas, Georgia, were staggering. As a survivor later remembered:
“… hundreds beyond hundreds, in every conceivable position; some with contorted features, showing the agony of death, others as if sleeping…, some with soft, beardless faces, which ill comported with the savage warfare in which they had been engaged.”
Sherman's attempt to outflank the Confederates at Dallas, Georgia, had clearly failed. He had hoped to move decisively, but the fighting had instantly degraded into what he called "a big Indian war". Sherman wanted to get his offensive astride the Western and Atlantic Railroad again to simplify his supply problems. For this reason, Stoneman’s successful occupation of the railroad at Allatoona Pass became hugely significant in the ongoing Union march on Atlanta...

March 25th 1840

On this day, 174 years ago, Myles Keogh was born at Orchard House just outside Leighlinbridge, County Carlow in Ireland. We continue to honour his life and his military career:
"A man who defends his own country or attacks another is no more than a soldier.
But he, who adopts some other country as his own and makes offer of his sword and his blood, is more than a soldier. He is a hero."


Emile Barrault, French author and philosopher


Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam

"We did not like the style of Captain Miles Keogh"

On January 7, 1864, Myles Keogh (left) was transfered to the staff of General George Stoneman who, at the time, was posted in Washington as Chief of the Cavalry Bureau. After continuous requests for a return to active duty, Stoneman was finally assigned command of the XXIII Corps based in Knoxville, Tennessee. Keogh accompanied him as an aide-de-camp, a position he was to hold for the remainder of the war. Stoneman was only to command that Corps for a little over two months and by the beginning of April, he was transfered to the Army of the Ohio as a Cavalry Division commander, based at HQ in Mossy Creek, Tennessee. Almost coincidental with this assignment, Myles Keogh received his new rank as Major in the Volunteer service on April 7.

The rugged appearance of the Union soldiers in the war's western theater were in direct contrast somewhat more polished ranks in the Army of the Potomac. Occasional shoulder straps, white hats rather than black ones, and a larger sized hat badge were the only marks that had survived among Sherman's mid-western cavalry. Keogh would have been an officer conscious of his image, no doubt a requirement for a soldier who had previously served on the staff of three generals including George B. McClellan. His dapper appearance - neat new uniform, white linen shirt and white collar - was the source of some amusement to his new colleagues as recorded by Captain Theodore Allen, 7th Ohio Cavalry, whose Company D served as an escort to Stoneman's HQ. In his memoirs - "Reminiscences of a Volunteer" - Captain Allen recalled his first impression of Myles Keogh:
"We did not like the style of Captain Miles Keogh; there was altogether too much style. He was as handsome a young man as I ever saw...He rode a horse like a Centaur. He had a fresh Irish complexion like the pink side of a ripe peach - more like the complexion of a sixteen year old girl than of a cavalry soldier. His uniform was spotless, and fitted him like the skin of a sausage; if there had been any more of the man, or any less of the uniform, it would have been a misfit...at all events we did not care much for Captain Keogh, and particularly did not like his style. We gave him the 'cold shoulder' and as he passed us snide remarks were passed, such as 'I wonder if his mother cuts his hair?' 'What laundry do you think he patronizes?', etc., and nobody permitted him to drink from their canteen."
Captain Allen and the "Buckeyes' were soon to change their opinion of Stoneman's staff officer as the war entered another stage - The Atlanta Campaign...

Keogh's Generals (Part 4) - George Stoneman

January 1864 - Within days of returning to Culpeper and to the camp of Buford’s former Division, Keogh accepted an appointment to join the staff of General George Stoneman (left). It was at Stoneman’s rented home in Washington where Buford had spent his final weeks so Keogh would have become well acquainted with George Stoneman during November and December, 1863.


From accounts written by Civil War historians, Major General George Stoneman could have easily been dubbed ‘the nearly man’. 

Many times he was on the cusp of a successful mission or a famous victory, only to be thwarted by ill fate or poor decision making. However, taking into account many of his actual achievements - militarily and politically - history should not harshly judge George Stoneman.

Born on a family farm in Busti, New York, George was the first-born of ten children. His father, George Stoneman, Sr., was a lumberman and justice of the peace in Busti. George Jr. studied at the Jamestown Academy before being accepted to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was a student in the famed class of '46, who graduated just as the Mexican War began. Fifty-three of the fifty-nine members in this class (the largest in the Academy's history to that point) fought in Mexico. When the Civil War erupted, ten members of that class became Confederate generals; twelve became Union generals. Stoneman's roommate at West Point was none other than the skilled and wily Confederate general, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson while another of Stoneman's classmates was Samuel D. Sturgis, later to be Myles Keogh's commanding officer in the 7th Cavalry.

George Stoneman's first assignment was with the 1st U.S. Dragoons, serving on the western frontier and in California. As quartermaster of the Mormon Battalion, he partook of their march from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to San Diego, California. Stoneman obviously formed a strong bond with this part of his country as he was later quoted wishing - "I will embrace the first opportunity to get to California and it is altogether probable that when once there I shall never again leave it." This love of “The Golden State” would be renewed in later life. He also took part in a number of Indian campaigns, protecting and supervising the survey parties that mapped the Sierra Nevada range for railroad lines.


After promotion to captain of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry in March 1855, he served mainly in Texas and by the start of the Civil War in 1861, Stoneman (right) was in command of Fort Brown, Texas. It was here that he famously refused the order of Maj. Gen. David E. Twiggs to surrender the fort to the newly established Confederate authorities. Stoneman hastily readied his troops and escaped to the north with most of his command. Returning east, he served as a Major in the 1st U.S. Cavalry and then as adjutant to Major General George B. McClellan in western Virginia. As the cavalry was being organised in the Army of the Potomac, he was given command of the Cavalry Reserve before being promoted on merit to the post of Chief of Cavalry.

Stoneman was soon assigned the rank of Brigadier General on August 13, 1861, but despite this rapid rise in rank, Stoneman did not relate well to his commander, McClellan. In Stoneman's opinion, 'Little Mac' did not understand the proper use of cavalry in warfare, relegating it to assignments in small units attached to infantry brigades. This type of organisation fared poorly in the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battles of 1862, where the centralised Confederate cavalry under Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart seriously outperformed their Union counterparts.

A welcome distraction to this frustration came on November 22, 1861, when George Stoneman married the vivacious Mary Oliver Hardisty (left), who, like his mother, came from Baltimore. They eventually had four children: Cornelius, the oldest son; George Jr. (who later became a prominent lawyer in Los Angeles and Arizona); and two daughters – Katherine Cheney and Adele.

After the Peninsula Campaign, Stoneman was back in the field, this time with an infantry division, commanding the II and III Corps. By November 1862, he was again promoted, this time to the rank of Major General of the volunteers. As the Union army again changed command with the appointment of Joseph Hooker, Stoneman found himself switched back to command of the Cavalry Corp. Hooker, it seemed, had a better understanding of the strategic value of a centralised Cavalry Corps that could undertake long raids into enemy territory, destroying supplies, and gathering intelligence about the enemy forces. They were no longer subject to the commanders of small infantry units.


Stoneman [seated centre] and personal staff, 1863 - Keogh's friend, A.J. Alexander, seated right.

The plan for the Battle of Chancellorsville was strategically daring. Hooker assigned Stoneman a key role in which his Cavalry Corps would raid deeply into enemy territory, destroying vital railroad lines and supplies, distracting Lee from Hooker's main assaults. Buford and Keogh accompanied Stoneman on this 1863 raid but the mission was continually hampered by severe rain and floods. A more detailed article on this raid can be read here.

The Union defeat at Chancellorsville was crushing and Hooker considered Stoneman's raid as one of the principal reasons for this lack of success. Hooker also needed to deflect criticism from himself and immediately relieved Stoneman from his cavalry command, sending him back to Washington, D.C., for medical treatment (chronic hemorrhoids, exacerbated by cavalry service), where in July he became a Chief of the U.S. Cavalry Bureau - a desk job.

In early 1864, Stoneman was impatient with garrison duty in Washington and requested another field command from his old friend Maj. Gen. John Schofield, who was in command of the Department of the Ohio. Although originally slated for an infantry corps, Stoneman assumed command of the Cavalry Corps of what would be known as the Army of the Ohio. Myles Keogh was to leave the First Cavalry Division to accompany him.


General Stoneman as illustrated in Harper's Weekly

As the army fought in the Atlanta Campaign under Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, Stoneman and his aide, Major Keogh, were captured by Confederate soldiers outside Macon, Georgia, becoming the highest ranking Union general imprisoned. He was incarcerated for three months before being exchanged relatively quickly based on the personal request of Sherman to the Confederates.

Stoneman returned to duty in December 1864 and led a raid from East Tennessee into southwestern Virginia before leading a final devastating raid into Virginia and North Carolina in 1865, taking Salem, destroying the Moratock Iron Furnace (a Confederate foundry) and sacking Salisbury in an effort to free about 1,400 prisoners thought to be held in the local prison.
"Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train,
Til Stoneman's cavalry came and tore up the tracks again..."

From the song 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down'
During the final days of the war, his command nearly captured Confederate president Jefferson Davis during his flight from Richmond, Virginia and, in recognition of his service, George Stoneman was retained in the regular army and brevetted a Major General.

By June 1865 and with Myles Keogh still posted as his top aide, Stoneman was appointed commander of the Department of Tennessee and administered occupied Memphis. The Memphis riots broke out among the still rebellious citizens who were angry at the presence of black Federal soldiers in the military government. Stoneman was criticized for inaction and was investigated by a congressional committee, although he was exonerated after being equally censured and praised.

In 1866, Stoneman became opposed to the radical policies of Reconstruction and joined the Democratic Party. As he administered the military government in Petersburg, Virginia, he established a reputation of applying more moderate policies than some of the other military governors in Reconstruction thereby easing some of the reconciliation pain for Virginians. He was mustered out of the volunteer service in September 1866 and reverted to his regular army rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He took command of the Department of Arizona, First Military District, headquartered at Drum Barracks. He was a controversial commander in that role because of his dealings with Indian uprisings and he was relieved of his command in May 1871.

Stoneman moved to California, the place of which he had dreamed since his service as a young officer before the war. He and his wife settled in the San Gabriel Valley on a 400 acre estate called 'Los Robles' [The Oaks], which is now a state historical landmark.

In 1882, he was elected Governor of California and served a four-year term after serving as a Railroad Commissioner from 1876-78. In the election, Stoneman faced the Republican Morris M. Estee, an experienced California politician and Speaker of the Assembly. Stoneman campaigned hard throughout the state, hampered by his poor speech-making. His wife Mary, who called her husband "Stony," hated the rigors of campaigning. She once even wrote that seeing her husband in the political arena made her "sick." Stoneman won the race handily, capturing 40% of the total vote among four candidates. His administration was early on marked by the controversial issues of the state railroads, but he nevertheless established progressive programs in several arenas. Two new state hospitals were established in 1885, as well as a home for the blind. A Forestry Board, sorely needed, was established.

On July 17, 1885, a fire destroyed Stoneman's ranch home. The family wasn't home at the time, but Stoneman's papers, his Civil War mementos, and most personal possessions were lost. Stoneman's political supporters, as well as many newspapers, proclaimed the fire to have been set by the Governor's political enemies. Mary was devastated by the fire, and more so upon learning that her husband had let the insurance lapse so there was no recovery available. His party did not nominate Stoneman for re-election, as he faced strong opposition within his own party. Without the necessary political skill to build support, Stoneman was not even considered for a second term. In fact, at the convention, his record as governor was hardly even mentioned. In 1887 he asked for restoration to the military retirement list upon leaving office, which elicited negative comments since there was a perception that his ranch had made him a wealthy man, irrespective of losing his home.

Broken financially and in poor health, he traveled to New York City and there had surgery to alleviate his hemorrhoids, described by his sister as a “severe operation.” He stayed at her home in Albany to recuperate. On November 28, 1888, Stoneman left Albany and traveled to Buffalo NY, to visit another sister, Charlotte Williams. After more traveling to visit his children and other family, he died at Charlotte’s home in Buffalo on September 5, 1894, as a result of a stroke suffered in April. At the military funeral, all of his pall-bearers were civilians, and neither of his sons attended. He is buried in the very small Bentley Cemetery in Lakewood NY, not far from his Busti childhood home, in the Stoneman family plot. His simple tombstone reads: “George Stoneman – Chief of Cavalry, Army of the Potomac – Commander of Third Army Corps at Fredericksburg – Pensioner of Mexican and Civil Wars.”

Stoneman ended his life as a tragic figure, “broken in health and finances”, with a young wife whose behaviour scandalised him. In looking at the photographs of Stoneman, one cannot help but observe the difference between the look of fire in the young general’s eyes with the vacant, exhausted stare found in his twilight years. Destined never to achieve any brilliant success or to acquire legions of devotees across the generations, Stoneman nevertheless is a pivotal figure in the early years of the war, particularly in the development and organisation of the Union cavalry.

As the war progressed, he was tasked with some of the most difficult cavalry missions while suffering extreme hardship due to his medical problems. Through the many raids deep into enemy territory, including three months as a prisoner of war, Stoneman seems to have maintained a quiet dignity and, while not necessarily an inspirational leader of men, he was someone who gained the loyalty of his cavalry troops. As Lieutenant General John M. Schofield once wrote, George Stoneman was "a man with the highest sense of honor."

A bitter sweet New Year - January 1864

As 1863 came to an end, Myles Keogh must have still been mourning the loss of his beloved General John Buford. After accompanying Buford's remains by train to West Point Cemetery for burial on December 21, his thoughts would have turned to rejoining the First Cavalry Division, camped in Culpeper, Virginia. Now under the temporary command of Wesley Merritt, reports of the day highlighted the shock and depression that Buford's old command felt on hearing of his death:
"The men on picket mutter mournful ejaculations as they pass up and down their lonely walks by the red glare of the crackling campfire."
Around that time, however, news reached Keogh that his close friend and papal war comrade, Captain Joseph O'Keeffe (pictured left soon after his release), had been exchanged into a parole camp. O'Keeffe was shot from his horse and captured at the Battle of Brandy Station in June 0f '63 while in a charge alongside Merritt. There is no record of whether Myles knew of his friend's fate after this battle as official documents place O'Keeffe among the "missing" casualties.

Parole Camps

The half-way house that Joseph O'Keeffe now found himself residing in was called 'Camp Parole' and was located just outside Annapolis, Maryland. In the days of formal warfare, it was customary to exchange prisoners of war by a complex formula of numbers and relative rank. Often, to avoid being burdened with large parties of prisoners, forces in the field would "parole" them; that is, release them to go home on oath not to perform any military service until exchanged. Early in the American Civil War, it was discovered that many paroled men would disappear into the civilian population, not to be found when ready for exchange. So keeping them under military control until exchanged and returned to their units became imperative - hence the setting up of 'Parole Camps'.
 
The first camp of paroled soldiers in Annapolis was established in 1861 on the grounds of St. John’s College ("College Green") and was followed by two further camps, formed to cope with the expanding numbers of prisoners being received. Prisoners were brought up the Chesapeake Bay to Annapolis by the steamer, New York, in groups as large as 6,000. At this stage, the camps were merely tented villages but during the winter of 1862, the paroled soldiers suffered with the severe cold in their tents, and many became ill. It was clear that barracks would be needed for the following winter. 

On May 1, 1863, the Federal government signed a lease with Charles S. Welch and Ann Rebecca Welch, his wife, for the use of their 250-acre farm outside of Annapolis, at a rent of $125.00 per month. In September 1863, the Army completed 'Parole Barracks' — soon to revert to "Camp Parole." Located adjacent to the old Annapolis and Elkridge Railroad, this third Camp Parole easily received supplies by train at all times. The initial 60 barracks grew to a substantially larger number later and by mid-December 1863, 49 of the 83-authorized buildings were occupied. This final Camp Parole lasted until the end of the war.


Officer's Quarters at Camp Parole, Annapolis

It was to 'Camp Parole' in Annapolis that Joseph O'Keeffe was released by his Confederate captors and it was here that he would finally be reunited with a visiting Keogh, probably soon after Christmas Day. Life at the camp may have been frustrating for those itching to get back into field but reports from the enlisted men tell of swims in Chesapeake Bay, storytelling and smoking around large fires and of eating oysters close to the town. For the system of parole to work, both sides were conscious of the need to adhere to the terms of release. If soldiers on parole were found to be fighting without being officially released, their prisoner-of-war comrades behind enemy lines would remain strictly incarcerated.

Although Keogh and O'Keeffe were reacquainted at Annapolis, it would be at least another three months before they would again be serving together in the Union army. Joseph O'Keeffe had to wait until March before he was officially exchanged and freed to return to his new post as aide-de-camp to General William T. Sherman:

"Washington, D. C., March 8, 1864.
Major General B. F. BUTLER,
Commissioner for Exchange, Fort Monroe, Va.:
GENERAL: As the exchange of Captain Moody, directed in my letter of the 17th ultimo by authority of the Secretary of War, could not be effected, I have respectfully to request that he be exchanged for some other Federal officer of corresponding rank now on parole.
I would respectfully suggest Captain Joseph O'Keeffe, additional aide-de-camp to Major-General Sherman, who is anxious that he should join him.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. HOFFMAN,
Colonel Third Infantry
and Commissary-General of Prisoners."
For Keogh, January 1864 meant a return to First Division HQ but with the knowledge that an opportunity had now arisen for him to serve on the staff of his fourth general of the war...

Happy Christmas 2013



Wishing Everybody a Happy and Peaceful Christmas


This site is delighted to present the following seasonal article written by Damian Sheils, author of a wonderful blog on the role played by the Irish in the American Civil War.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Christmas with the Irish Brigade
‘Near one of the huge fires a kind of arbor was nicely constructed of the branches of trees, which were so interwoven on one another as to form a kind of wall. Inside this, some were seated on logs, some reclining in true Turkish style. Seated near the fire was Johnny Flaherty, discoursing sweet music from his violin. Johnny hailed from Boston; was a musical genius, in his way, and though only fourteen years of age, could play on the bagpipes, piano, and Heaven knows how many other instruments; beside him sat his father, fingering the chanters of a bagpipe in elegant style. It is no wonder that most of the regiment were gathered around there, for it was Christmas Eve, and home-thoughts and home-longings were crowding on them; and old scenes and fancies would arise with sad and loving memories, until the heart grew weary, and even the truest and tenderest longed for home associations this blessed Christmas Eve.’ (1)

Such was the scene at Camp California, Virginia for the 63rd, 69th and 88th New York on Christmas Eve 1861. This evocative account appears in David Power Conyngham’s 1867 history of the Brigade and its campaigns. It is interesting to note that he dedicates nearly seven pages to describing the Brigade’s activities that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; none of the subsequent years receive anything like the same attention. Writing retrospectively, Conyngham is aware of what awaited these men in the battles to come. It was to be their last ‘innocent’ Christmas, and many would not see another. The writer is clearly aware of this melancholy fact:
‘No wonder if, amidst such scenes, the soldier’s thought fled back to his home, to his loved wife, to the kisses of his darling child, to the fond Christmas greetings of his parents, brothers, sisters, friends, until his eyes were dimmed with the dews of the heart. The exile feels a longing desire, particularly at Christmas times, for the pleasant, genial firesides and loving hearts of home. How many of that group will, ere another Christmas comes round, sleep in a bloody and nameless grave! Generous and kind hands may smooth the dying soldier’s couch; or he may linger for days, tortured by thirst and pain, his festering wounds creeping with maggots, his tongue swollen, and a fierce fever festering up his body as he lies out on that dreary battle-field; or, perhaps, he has dragged himself beneath the shade of some pine to die by inches, where no eye but God’s and his pitying angels’ shall see him, where no human aid can succor him. Years afterwards, some wayfarer may discover a skeleton with the remains of a knapsack under the skull. This is too often the end of the soldier’s dreams of glory, and all “The pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war.” It is but a short transition from love, and hope, and life, to sorrow and death. Another Christmas, and many a New England cottage, and many a home along the Rhine and the Shannon, will be steeped in affliction for the loving friends who have laid their bones on the battle-fields of Virginia.’ (2)

1862 would bring hard fought battles and horrendous casualty lists for the Brigade on fields in the Peninsula, Antietam and Fredericksburg. But this was all ahead of the men in 1861, and for now they enjoyed the music that the O’Flaherty father and son shared around the campfire. Jigs, reels and doubles were danced, and stories were told. Songs such as ‘The girl I left behind me’, ‘Home, Sweet Home’, ‘The Rapparee’, ‘The Green above the Red’ and ‘Fontenoy’ were amongst the favourites as the drink flowed. A bell was sounded to bring the Irishmen to midnight mass, which was celebrated that year by Fathers Willet and Dillon. Log benches had been prepared in front of the chapel tents, and the responses were delivered by Quartermaster Haverty and Captain O’Sullivan. Another mass followed the next day, Christmas morning, and was this time said in the open air. Following this the Irish returned to their camp to celebrate the remainder of the 25th.
Christmas 1862 found the Irish Brigade in a very different situation. Although the number of Regiments had by this time increased with the addition of the 116th Pennsylvania and 28th Massachusetts, the slaughter at Antietam and Fredericksburg had impacted greatly on the amount of men present. The latter battle had been fought as recently as 13th December, and must have been fresh in the minds of many as they rested in winter quarters at Falmouth, Virginia. St. Clair A. Mulholland of the 116th described the scene amongst his regiment:
‘Christmas Day, 1862, was celebrated in the camp, many boxes of good things from home were received, and shared by the recipients with comrades less fortunate. Some of the boys were a little homesick, to be sure, but enough were sufficiently light of heart to drive dull care away. A large Christmas tree was erected in the centre of the camp, and peals of laughter and much merriment greeted the unique decorations, tin cups, hardtack, pieces of pork and other odd articles being hung on the branches. At night the camp fire roared and blazed, the stars shone above the tail pines, the canteen was passed around, and care banished for the hour. It must have been a sad Christmas, however, to those at home whose friends had fallen by Marye’s Heights and Hamilton’s Woods.’ (3)
Many of the men of the Irish Brigade wound endure two more Christmas’s of conflict. As each year passed, the numbers who had experienced the celebrations on that first Christmas at Camp California would grow ever smaller. Despite the constant hardships they faced, they always did their best to enjoy what represented an all too brief respite from the reality of war.
(1) Conyngham 1867: 77-78; (2) Ibid: 78-79; (3) Mulholland: 72

References
Conyngham, David Power 1867. The Irish Brigade and its Campaigns