Back in the Saddle - Stoneman's Raid on Saltville

"I owe the Southern Confederacy a debt I am anxious to liquidate, and this appears a propitious occasion"

Major-General George Stoneman, Department of the Ohio HQ, Knoxville, Tenn., November 26, 1864. 

Stoneman's disastrous raid into Georgia during the summer of 1864, coupled with his defeat and capture at Macon, had shattered the Union general's personal reputation. Critics opinionated that the New Yorker "couldn't command a company let alone a corps of cavalry." It was a low point in Stoneman's career and likely bemoaned by his chief of staff, Myles Keogh, who must have wondered if his career was now destined to be in administration alongside his general; desk-bound for the remainder of the war. However, George Stoneman (right) did retain the confidence of some high profile commanders, particularly Major General John M. Schofield, commander of the Department of the Ohio.

Soon after Stoneman had recovered from his three month spell of captivity, Schofield (left) offered him the position as his second in command. It was a chance for redemption that the normally stoical George Stoneman was eager to grasp. Within weeks, he had put together a plan to yet again raid deep into enemy territory, targeting the South's dwindling resources including the vital salt mill at Saltville, Virginia. It was a daring plan and one of personal courage for Stoneman as a second failed raid would surely spell a lifetime of ignominy. As his senior aide, Major Myles Keogh was dispatched to Lexington to oversee the assembly of a new cavalry force drawn from loyal Tennesseans and Kentuckians. From there, Keogh updated Stoneman as to the progress:
LEXINGTON, November 17, 1864. (Received 10.20 a. m. 18th.)
Major-General STONEMAN, Headquarters Department of the Ohio:
Major-General Burbridge will have 1,000 men on the road to Crab Orchard by to-morrow night. Shall he push them on? To where, and by what route? We shall have 3,000 concentrated on the route you spoke of in four days, and if he has permission from headquarters to press horses from loyal as well as disloyal citizens, he can have altogether from 6,000 to 8,000 men ready in ten days. There are two field batteries mounted and complete. Telegraph orders.
Major and Aide-de-Camp.
By the end of November 1864, plans were at an advanced stage and on November 26, Stoneman reported to Major General Schofield from Knoxville, Tennessee, confirming his intentions and seeking final, formal approval to begin his raid. Stoneman estimated the enemy to be "from 3,000 to 6,000" in strength and hoped that by rapid march he "may be able to reach Bristol before the enemy can, and thus cut him off from Saltville, and force him across the mountains into North Carolina, and maybe to destroy the salt-works." This would be second such raid on Saltville in 1864; the first failing dramatically, accompanied by a public outcry at the alleged murder of wounded coloured Union troops. These troopers belonged to the 5th U.S. Cavalry and this same regiment now moved with Stoneman's command, keen to seek some element of perceived justice. They were not alone. Before he departed, Stoneman reminded Schofield that he needed little motivation to ensure that this raid would be swift and successful:
"I hope you will not disapprove it, as I think I can see very important results from its execution. I owe the Southern Confederacy a debt I am anxious to liquidate, and this appears a propitious occasion. I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant..."
His fellow New Yorker, John Schofield, approved the initial stages of the strategy - "I approve of the first part of the plan proposed in your letter, November 26, viz, to push enemy as far back as practicable into Virginia and destroy the salt-work and railroad" - although obviously still retained some reservations as to the plan's success by continuing, "I cannot decide as to further operations until affairs here take more definite shape..."

On December 10, Stoneman and Keogh left Knoxville with two brigades totalling 5,700 cavalrymen en route to west Virginia from where the Confederacy drew a large part of their now meager supplies. Previously bedevilled by inclement weather conditions on past raids, Stoneman could be forgiven for thinking a winter campaign would suffer similar problems but the general's luck had turned. From Bristol, on the Tennessee/Virgina border, and on to Abingdon and Wytheville, the Union cavalry scattered all Rebel forces sent to fight them, covering an a
verage of 42 miles per day.

Initially, it was
General Basil Duke's Confederate cavalry that bore the brunt of Stoneman's large army and by the 14th, Duke's cavalry was in retreat back towards Abingdon. After a day's rest in camp at Glade Spring, Stoneman's cavalry rode toward Marion, destroying anything that they considered a benefit to the southern cause, such as railroad and telegraph facilities. Foraging in enemy country was also brutal on the local populace and the blue-coated troopers prioritised their own need over that of civilians, seizing all supplies or food, regardless if they held any apparent military value.

On December 17 and 18, the Union raiders struck the salt mines at Saltville, the lead works around Wytheville and the ironworks at Marion, Virginia. At Saltville, Major Keogh personally led one of Stoneman's brigades that charged and dispersed a contingent of Virgina Home Guards. With the Confederate defences now captured or in retreat, Stoneman set about the task he had intended and which the previous October raid had failed to do - the destruction of the industrial complex in the area.

Saltville, Virginia ('Harper's Weekly' - Jan 14, 1865)

Interior of the Salt Works ('Harper's Weekly' - Jan 14, 1865)

Digging for Salt ('Harper's Weekly' - Jan 14, 1865)

Lower salt works at Saltville ('Harper's Weekly - Jan 14, 1865)

The wells around Saltville were of huge importance as salt was in common use during the war years in the preservation of meat and other food, in curing hides for leather goods and in the care of livestock. It was estimated that almost two-thirds of the South's supply of salt came from the region that Stoneman now occupied. In his official report, Stoneman gives some indication of how his troops attempted to decommission the salt works: 
"The wells, instead of not being seriously damaged, as is stated in the official report, were, by the use of bomb-shells, railroad iron, spikes, nails, &c., put in such a condition as to render it impossible to use them until they were cleared out. [The] engineers at the works are of the opinion that it will be much cheaper and more expedient to bore new wells than to clear out the old ones. The engines and pumps were also destroyed and the structures all burnt to the ground."

By December 29, the Union cavalry was back in Knoxville, having taken 879 prisoners, 19 cannons and 25,000 shells. Stoneman was pleased to report "the total destruction, as far as in the power of man to accomplish [of] all the foundries, mills, factories, storehouses, wagon and ambulance trains, turnpike bridge, &c. that we could find." Stoneman also recorded his praise for Keogh in the official report:
"In addition to the officers whose names have been mentioned in the foregoing report, I wish to call your special attention to Major M. W. Keogh, aide-de-camp, Captain Robert Morrow, assistant adjutant-general, Lieutenant R. Williams, ordnance officer, and Captain J. B. Roberts, Tenth Michigan Cavalry, commanding scouts and couriers, as being young officers of unusual merit, and to each of whom I am under many obligations."
Schofield was delighted, and probably relieved, that his faith in Stoneman had been rewarded. General George Thomas also wrote to Stoneman congratulating him on his "complete and splendid success, and for which you richly deserve, and I have earnestly recommended you receive, the thanks of the War Department." Nonetheless, despite the Union generals exuberance, the salt works were back in working order for the Confederacy within two months, although the destroyed railroad system around the area hampered salt distribution.

In finishing his letter to Stoneman, General Thomas, "The Rock of Chickamauga", detailed some of the Union victories that they had been achieved while the raid was taking place. He opinionated that the Rebels were now "totally demoralized"; General Sherman having also completed his "triumphant march through Georgia to Savannah, which place he captured on the 21st instant, with quantities of stores, arms, and ammunition, and 150 locomotives." By now, the end was clearly in sight for the Southern Confederacy...

Keogh and 'The Butterflies'

One of the Regiment's Flags

After Buford's death, Myles Keogh was offered a position by General George Stoneman and he would serve with the New Yorker from January 7, 1864 to September 1, 1866, becoming one of his most loyal aides. 

However, soon after Stoneman was released from Rebel captivity, he actively sought to further Keogh's military career by recommending him for promotion to lieutenant colonel of the 3rd New Jersey Cavalry. Nicknamed "The Butterflies", this unit was part of George Armstrong Custer's division in Sheridan's army and had a formidable reputation within Union cavalry ranks. Although termed "The Butterflies", they had a real sting which was epitomised in their motto of - "A Horse to Ride and a Sword to Wield."

When the State of New Jersey began organising a new regiment in January 1864, it was thought that volunteers from a war-weary public may be attracted by the lure of a unique uniform - something to make the New Jersey soldier stand out amongst his peers. The chosen model was similar to the Austro-Hungarian hussar and by early 1864, the new uniform appeared in the ranks of the Union Army of the Potomac.

The "hussar" uniform worn by the 3rd New Jersey Cavalry was a clever adaptation of the regulation dress. Two extra rows of buttons were added on the breast of the standard issue cavalry jacket, connected by double rows of yellow soutache braiding or soutache trim. Loops were introduced at the ends of the rows and on both sides of the centre buttons. Austrian knots were sewn on the cuffs and on the backs of the jackets, below the collar. A red patch replaced the blind buttonholes on the stand-up collar and wide yellow stripes adorned each trooper's leg. The caps were likely regulation models with the visor removed and soutache trim added but they could well have been distinctively manufactured. Instead of an overcoat, the new recruits were issued with a blue hooded cloak, lined in orange, called a talma. Initially known as the 1st United States Hussars and the Trenton Hussars, their colourful clothing eventually gave the cavalrymen of the 3rd that unique moniker.

The uniform cost three dollars more than the regular issue, and the extra amount was deducted from each recruit's pay. Nonetheless, the men took immense pride in their garish look.

Painting by Don Troiani

Painting by Keith Rocco
Painting by Bradley Schmehl

On 14 November, 1864, General George Stoneman wrote from Department of the Ohio Headquarters to the Governor of New Jersey, Joel Parker, recommending Major Myles Keogh for command of the 3rd New Jersey Cavalry. Although the letter speaks of the resignation of the then commander of the regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Charles C. Suydam (pictured standing behind General Pleasonton), military records state that Suydam did not officially resign until the next day, November 15th. It may have been that Stoneman was tipped off on Suydam's intentions and sought to promote Keogh's case as early as possible. In the letter, Stoneman wrote that:
"It is the desire of some officers that my ADC, Myles W. Keogh, should be appointed to his [Suydam's] place"
before eulogising what he believed to be the Keogh's qualities:
"...his well-known coolness, gallantry and dash, his strict integrity, his devotion to his profession...His universal popularity with all officers and men, and his soldierly bearing...Major Keogh is one of the most superior young officers in the army and is a universal favourite with all who know him."
There is evidence that General George Armstrong Custer expected Myles to be appointed to this position as he wrote to his wife, Libbie, around that time describing the impending assignment of "an officer from the Army of the West, now on General Stoneman's staff, who prior to the war served in European armies in the late Italian War."

Regardless, Keogh never received the posting and the vacant position was filled from within the regiment - Major William P. Robeson (left) being promoted to Lt. Colonel and commander of the 3rd New Jersey Cavalry.
It is interesting to wonder what may have happened had Myles Keogh been assigned command of "The Butterflies". Given the ridicule he experienced when initially joining the Western Armies, Keogh certainly would have related to men whose appearance was initially mocked only for them to establish a formidable reputation based on their ability in combat. It is also interesting to speculate on how Keogh’s military career would have developed had he joined Custer's command in 1864 for the final drive on Richmond. 

As it was, he remained with Stoneman who was preparing for a rapid return to action. Now the senior officer of Stoneman's staff, Major Keogh was sent to Lexington to organise troopers and horses for the next campaign. With the sanction of his new superiors, Generals Thomas and Schofield, Stoneman was assembling a cavalry force made up of loyal Kentuckians and Tennesseans and was keen to restore his honour and reputation at the Confederacy's expense...

Prisoner of War

"I should, I believe, have died in a very short time and as it is I am almost broken down."

Myles Keogh to his sister Ellen, 2 October, 1864

As the Confederates swarmed around the remnants of General Stoneman's command, the exhausted Union soldiers lay down their weapons and were, by and large, treated well by their captors. The Yankee officers were separated from their men and marched to the White family mansion where the victorious General Iverson (left) and his staff were waiting for them. Iverson greeted Stoneman cordially and then shook hands with all the captive officers. Furthermore, he offered the new prisoners a 'parole d'honneur' provided they remained within the grounds of White's plantation. Stoneman accepted the offer and bedded down near a clump of trees at the front of the large house. His loyal aide, Myles Keogh, accompanied him along with some of the other officers and the men grabbed a much needed night's rest.

The following day, the prisoners and their captors marched towards Macon, passing en route through Iverson's hometown of Clinton where he was feted like a conquering hero. As the column approached the outskirts of Macon, it was late afternoon on 1 August and a large crowd emerged onto the streets to express their anger and distaste at the sight of Stoneman's men. Men, women and children jeered and insulted the sullen Yankee general as he rode at the front of his officers. This reaction was understandable from a populace that only days before had lived in fear of the raiding Yankee cavalry.

From Macon that day, Major-General Howell Cobb was quick to report to General Hood on Iverson's victory, writing:
"MACON, GA., August 1, 1864.
General Stoneman, with a cavalry force estimated at 2,800, with artillery, was met two miles from this city by our forces, composed of Georgia reserves, citizens, local companies and the militia, which Governor Brown is organizing here. The enemy's assault was repulsed and his force held in check along our entire line all day. Retiring toward Clinton, he was attacked next morning by General Iverson, who, having routed the main body, captured General Stoneman and 500 prisoners. His men are still capturing stragglers."
J.B. Hood was brief in passing on this message to headquarters but had an admirable comment for the men that remained with the defeated Union general:
"Stoneman's raiders have come to grief. Stoneman and 500 of his braves surrendered to General Iverson yesterday near Clinton; balance of his command routed and being captured hourly."

The procession ended at Camp Oglethorpe (illustrated above) where Stoneman, Keogh and the officers dismounted before proceeding to the Provost Marshall's office. A long queue was formed and the men were taken into the log cabin one by one to hand over their personal belongings prior to incarceration. Stoneman was first in and emerged with tears in his eyes. As he waited in line, Colonel James Biddle learned of the exact nature of the process occurring in the small building ahead. He had a pair of saddlebags slung over his shoulders full of captured Confederate dollars (almost $1000 in notes that his adjutant had days earlier captured from a tax collector) and realised that such funds might prove useful in a Rebel prison.
Some of Stoneman's staff officers, perhaps including Major Myles Keogh (right), were seated yards away and had already been through the search process. Biddle called to one of them and flung the saddlebags in his direction with instructions to keep the object safe and out of sight. Biddle was then searched but was able to reclaim the dollar-laden saddlebags soon after he left the Provost Marshall's office. How crucial this money was to be for Stoneman and Keogh in the months ahead.

In the main prison, the officers were assigned their bunks;
Keogh being among the handful of officers residing with Stoneman. The building had two or three tiers under a roof supported by posts but with no side walls. A number of fences of varying heights surrounded the grounds of the prison, with an area beyond one of the outer lower fences called "The Dead-Line." To step beyond this boundary would mean being shot by the Confederate sentries.

Stoneman and his officers kept their makeshift mess well supplied thanks to their contraband rebel dollars and managed to eat well. Keogh later wrote that: "It cost us about 8 dollars each a day to keep from starving." The camp's commanding officer suspected that his Union captors had access to funds but, despite regular searches, was unable to uncover the money that Biddle had smuggled into the prison. Luckily for Stoneman, Keogh and the other captives, a cooperative post-trader tipped off his Union patrons when the searches were to occur.
With this prior knowledge, Keogh and his colleagues rolled the money into small bundles and shoved them into the rafters and shingles in their bunk house.
After two weeks, Stoneman and his officers were moved to the prison at Charleston, South Carolina and were put in a building known as "The Castle", close to the waterfront. One captor described the prison as a nice looking building "but a hell hole inside." They were housed on the lower floor of the tower, ironically, under constant fire from their own guns from nearby fortifications and the Union navy. The shells pounded the upper part of the town and flew, en route, right over the prisoner's heads. The Confederate dollars continued to buy much needed rations for Stoneman's men and, apart from the general, Keogh and the staff took turns in cooking and caring for the room.

Two illustrations of the Charleston prison where Myles Keogh spent six weeks as a POW in 1864. The top drawing is from Harper's Weekly, 18 February 1865, while the second was sketched by another POW, 1st Lieutenant Ole Rasmussen Dahl, 15th Wisconsin Infantry.

The officers' incarceration, while gruelling, was far preferable to the fate that awaited the rank and file of Stoneman's command who were marched to the notorious stockade called Andersonville. On 14 August, General Stoneman along with Colonel J. B. Dorr, Eighth Iowa Cavalry and Colonel T. J. Harrison, Eighth Indiana Cavalry wrote a letter to President Lincoln pleading for the plight of the POWs at Andersonville to be urgently addressed. The letter was smuggled out by a paroled officer and tells of the horrendous conditions which the estimated 35,000 Union prisoners endured. This approximate number was provided to the signatories by Colonel Hill, Provost General, C.S. Army, at Atlanta. The Union officers wrote:
"Upon entering the prison, every man is deliberately stripped of money and other property, and as no clothing or blankets are supplied to their prisoners by the C. S. A. authorities, the condition of the apparel of soldiers just from an active campaign can be easily imagined. Thousand are without pants or coats, and hundreds without even a pair of drawers to cover their nakedness. To these men, as indeed to all prisoners, there is issued three-fourths of a pound of bread or meal, and one eighth of a pound of meat per day; this is the entire ration, and upon it the prisoner must live or die...But to starvation and exposure, to sun and storm, and the sickness which prevails to almost alarming and terrible extent, on an average 100 die daily."
This was Keogh's second time as a prisoner of war having previously spent a number of weeks imprisoned in Genoa after the 1860 Papal War. Interestingly, it was another Papal War POW, Captain Joseph O'Keeffe (left), who now attempted to secure the release of his friend. On August 30 1864, O'Keeffe wrote to his uncle, the Reverend Dr. William Delaney, Bishop of Cork, pleading for him to intervene with the Bishop of Charleston on Myles' behalf. However, it was a more significant figure that secured General Stoneman's and Major Keogh's release when General William Tecumseh Sherman arranged for a parole exchange. Stoneman was to be returned in exchange for the Confederate brigadier general, Daniel C. Govan, who was captured at the Battle of Jonesborough three weeks previous. On 27 September, Stoneman and Keogh were freed from Charleston and returned to the Union lines at a location called Rough and Ready, Georgia. By October 2nd, both men were dining with Sherman at his headquarters in the newly captured Atlanta.

That very evening, Keogh wrote to his sister Ellen in Carlow outlining his relief at being free:

"I thank God, my dear Ellen, I was thought enough of by Genl Sherman to be specially exchanged. I should, I believe, have died in a very short time and as it is I am almost broken down.Until today I have been quite weak but thank God I feel much better tonight. I ate a hearty dinner to the great enjoyment of a number of very kind friends at Genl Sherman's Head Qrs where Genl Stoneman & myself are stopping."
[From the collection of the Cayuga Museum of History and Art, Auburn]

Keogh's gallantry and loyalty at Sunshine Church was evidently remembered on his return to Union lines as he also wrote in that letter - "My prospects of promotion to a high position are greater than my most sanguine expectations."

It would take Keogh some weeks to recuperate but General Stoneman was eager to redeem his tarnished reputation after the disastrous raid on Macon. Major Keogh was to remain at his side as the war moved inexorably towards its final months...

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Myles Keogh's First 'Last Stand'. Part 2 - Battle of Sunshine Church

"I feel better satisfied with myself to be a prisoner of war, much as I hate it, than to be amongst those who owe their escape to consideratio
ns of self-preservation."
Major General George Stoneman, , U. S. Army, Prisoner of War (Macon, GA., August 6, 1864)

Just under a mile from the Sunshine Church, Brigadier General W.W. Allen's (left) Alabama brigade readied themselves behind makeshift wooden barricades, effectively blocking the Hillsboro Road. Hours earlier, these same Confederate soldiers had harried and stalled Stoneman's advance, giving up ground grudgingly during a dogged night-time fight. Now they waited again, but this time with the support of Iverson's Georgia and Kentucky cavalrymen only another half mile behind them, similarly entrenched on high ground straddling the vital road. Despite the presence of two opposing cavalry forces, there was to be no repeat of the cavalry charges seen at Brandy Station. The undulating terrain and overgrown vegetation made mounted combat impossible so, amid the dim morning light, the fighting was going to be close quartered and bloody.

At sunrise on 31 July, the exhausted but redoubtable men of the 8th Michigan were again at the vanguard of the Union advance. Dismounted, they advanced steadily, driving the Confederates from their positions. Once the Alabamans fell back, the next line of Rebels announced their presence with a barrage of artillery rounds from Captain Benjamin White's twin six-pounders. This checked the Union progress.

'Bronze Guns and Young Men' by Don Troiani

The sound of enemy cannons also brought General Stoneman, and his aide, Myles Keogh, to the front. Once the way ahead was surveyed, it was clear to Stoneman that the enemy had formed in an inverted "V" to his front, blocking his intended route and threatening his flanks. Stoneman immediately ordered the bulk of his command to dismount and advance. Captain Hardy’s two 3-inch guns were also put to work with one unlimbered close to the churchyard and the other held in reserve. Stoneman's plan was straightforward but likely demoralizing for his exhausted men - his dismounted troopers were to drive straight ahead against the entrenched Confederates and cut their way through to safety. One Michigan officer later recorded:
"Gen. Stoneman seemed infatuated with the idea that he could cut his way through and return by the same route...Almost every officer in his command felt certain that remaining in that position and attempting to fight our way through would prove a failure."
Neither was Confederate commander prepared to wait passively. General Iverson had ordered the 4th Georgia Cavalry on a flanking manoeuvre to put pressure on the Union army's rear flank. For the next few hours, as both sides readied themselves for the coming battle, Union and Confederate batteries duelled with each other.

Between Stoneman's position and the Rebel lines was a landscape filled with a multitude of gullies and ravines, all choked with undergrowth. With his officers questioning the proposed strategy and his men hesitant through fear and exhaustion, the Union general was in no mood for insubordination and personally went to the forward skirmish line to encourage his troops. His behaviour did little to settle the anxious soldiers - "General Stoneman appeared almost mad..." wrote a Union Lieutenant.

The Yankee attack began late morning with the 1st and 11th Kentucky Cavalry, soldiers that were due to be mustered out within two weeks, advancing alongside the 8th Michigan. Stoneman’s men pressed forward in good order, clearing fences and scrambling across ditches, until the first wave of Rebel musketry, Colonel Crew's 1st and 3rd Georgia, suddenly rose up from behind log barricades and unleashed a deadly fusillade. The shock and effectiveness of this withering rebel volley stunned the Kentuckians and they baulked in the face of opposition. Their commanding officer, Silas Adams (right), rushed forward, bare-headed and waving his sword, pleading for his men to reform and press on but it was to no avail. It was a pivotal moment in the fight - "This staggered the whole line..." recalled Captain Wells of the 8th Michigan.

The rebels seized the moment and counter-attacked, scattering the Yankees. Some troopers took cover in a nearby log house while many others ran wildly into a long gully, entrapping themselves between its steep muddy walls. The onlooking Stoneman must have been horrified at the sudden collapse of his plans. Worse was looming for the bedraggled Federals as the unfolding chaos had also exposed Captain Hardy's two vital artillery pieces to capture.

Taken circa 1864, this ambrotype shows Keogh mounted on 'Tom', his horse since June 1862.

Seeing Hardy’s gunners frantically trying to limber the cannons to carriages in a desperate effort to escape, Myles Keogh mounted his gray horse, 'Tom', and rallied some nearby staff officers and troopers to also mount up and follow him. The small band of riders, with Keogh in their lead, galloped into the fray. They immediately came under intense fire from quickly formed Confederate skirmish lines and were decimated by shot and shell. Some turned and fled back to safety, many others were shot from their saddles. Keogh and a few remaining officers continued their charge, checking the Confederate advance long enough to allow Captain Hardy to haul his guns back to General Stoneman's position near the church. Major Keogh was one of the few to return safely to Union lines but his beloved mount, ‘Tom’, which had carried him though countless battles since Port Republic two years earlier, had been killed.

'Confederate Sharpshooters' by Don Troiani

Despite a brave fight by the Indiana 'Hoosier' regiments, who strengthened the line after the Stoneman's Kentucky regiments had retreated, the battle was going badly. About two o’clock, it became evident that it would be impossible to get the command through the Rebel lines. Stoneman had now lost many valuable officers and men; his troopers were nearly out of ammunition and "fatigued almost beyond endurance". Like Keogh, Stoneman also had his horse, 'Beauregard', shot from under him when a canon shell exploded beside them.

General Stoneman sketched aboard his horse, 'Beauregard', which was killed during the battle

The original proposition to move to the right and by-pass the enemy was again made to Stoneman by his officers. This time, the General gave his approval and a plan to break out to the right was formulated. All the while, shells were falling with increasing accuracy close to Stoneman's position and his troops were being fought to a standstill in all parts of the battlefield. Conscious that he could be surrounded at any time by reinforcements from Macon, General Stoneman agreed that any part of his command that could escape should do as soon they were ready. He resolved to remain and fight, occupying the Confederates long enough to give any fleeing detachment ample hours to make good their escape.

All were given the option of leaving, including those among Stoneman’s personal staff. However, Colonel Biddle and Colonel Butler, along with most of the Indiana brigade, chose to remain and make a stand with Stoneman as did some of his staff, including Major Myles Keogh, Major Brown (medical director), and Captain Perkins. In total, approximately two hundred men reformed to make a ‘last stand’ close to a bluff on the right of the Hillsboro Road, a slope that now bears Stoneman’s name. He was determined, if necessary, to sacrifice this force and himself in order to save the others. Initially requested by Stoneman to remain and fight, Colonel Silas Adams eventually got his commander's permission to lead the Kentucky regiments from the field to safety. In their defence, many of these men were ex-Confederates and capture would likely mean certain execution as deserters. Colonel Capron (left) and some of his command also managed to extricate themselves from the Rebel stranglehold.

If General Stoneman was initially, as recorded, “much broken down at the thought of surrender”, he soon re-gathered his composure as the remaining soldiers prepared to engage the approaching enemy. Stoneman personally helped haul the two cannons to the top of the slope and aided Captain Hardy in directing their fire. "Never did a man display more daring heroism the Gen. Stoneman", wrote a Kentuckian officer. "He grasped the muddy wheels of the guns, getting them into position, aimed them himself, showing he could execute as well as command."

An official report of the fight recorded how Stoneman “seemed to have but little regard for his own personal safety, if he could only save his command…he was not in the whole day scarcely from under the most severe fire for the enemy.” It is also likely that Major Myles Keogh would have commanded the line in a final stand reminiscent of the fight he would have 12 years later on the banks of the Little Big Horn River.

Union soldiers with a 3-inch gun similiar to the two with Stoneman's command

Ordered to dismount and hold the rebels, the men did so tenaciously, creating much confusion in the hostile ranks. The cannons were worked furiously, giving the Confederates an impression that the Union artillery was more substantial than just two 3-inch guns (pictured above). However, short of ammunition and lacking any further chance of escape, the general finally ordered the white flag to be shown. By undertaking this brief but gallant stand, Stoneman had ensured that all the detachments that did leave were given a five hour start. However, on a personal basis, the defeat was catastrophic for Stoneman as his cavalry command had been decimated, not to mention the additional capture of countless horses and firearms. One quirky fact that war often throws up; the 'white flag' used in the surrender was the tail off Stoneman's own shirt, torn by the general after no other white garment could be found.

Unable to find a white flag, General Stoneman tore off the tail of his shirt for the purpose of surrender

General George Stoneman was to have the unenviable honour of being the highest ranking Union POW of the American Civil War. His utter humiliation was completed when he was forced to surrender his sword not to General Iverson but a mere colonel, Colonel Crew, whose Georgian soldiers scattered the blue-coated Kentuckians earlier in the battle. Apparently, this final act of ignominy compelled the fatigued and ill Stoneman to sit and weep, his head buried in his hands.

Despite his courage under fire in saving the Union artillery and his unstinting loyalty to Stoneman, Myles Keogh was again to become a prisoner of war, having been briefly incarcerated in Italy four years earlier. Ironically, Keogh was now destined for the same prison that he and Stoneman's command had endeavoured to destroy…


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Myles Keogh's First 'Last Stand'. Part 1 - Stoneman's Raid on Macon.

Major Myles Keogh while on General Stoneman's staff, circa 1864. Seated, another staff officer, Robert Morrow.

For much of June and July, 1864, Stoneman's cavalry accompanied General Sherman on his inexorable march towards Atlanta, Georgia. Johnston's Confederate forces had fought tooth and nail for every inch, slowing the Union army's advance to a crawl at Resaca, Kennesaw Mountain and along the banks of the Chattahoochee River near Atlanta. However, by 5 July, Sherman could see the church spires rising from the city termed the Gate of the South.

The defenses around Atlanta consisted of a long line of earthen redoubts, complimented by Sherman as being "one of the strongest pieces of field fortification I ever saw". Deep in enemy territory and lacking the troops to mount a long siege of the city, General Sherman yearned for a quick and decisive victory. Atlanta's communications would be the key; more specifically the railroads that supplied the city with food and munitions. To the Confederate defenders, the four railroads that radiated out from the city were vital. Destroy them and Sherman knew Atlanta would eventually fall. In this task, he turned to his cavalry to tear up railroad tracks and otherwise wreak whatever havoc on the transportation system they could.

After a number of sniping engagements, General Stoneman (left), accompanied by his aide-de-camp Major Myles Keogh, finally crossed the Chattahoochee River at DeFoor's Ferry on 24 July. Their route led past Sherman's HQ on the Peachtree Road, where Stoneman and his staff stopped that afternoon. It was during this meeting that Sherman told Stoneman to concentrate all four cavalry divisions for a common purpose - destroy the key Macon & Western Railroad, hastening Atlanta's downfall.

Stoneman's cavalry force consisted of three brigades; one composed of the mounted portions of the Fifth and Sixth Indiana Cavalry, commanded by Colonel James Biddle, amounting to about 700 men; another, of the First and Eleventh Kentucky Cavalry, commanded by Colonel Silas Adams, numbering 550 men; the other brigade was composed of the Fourteenth Illinois Cavalry, the Eighth Michigan Cavalry, and a part of the First Ohio Squadron, numbering 800 men, commanded by Colonel Horace Capron; a detachment of the Twenty-fourth Indiana Battery, under command of Captain Hardy, with two 3-inch regulation guns and fifty-four men. In all about 2,104 officers and men, the general, and seven members of his staff including Myles Keogh.

After conversing with his officers and then Sherman, Stoneman was ordered to take on the additional mission of freeing Union POWs from, initially, Camp Oglethorpe in Macon before turning their attention to the destruction of Camp Sumter, more commonly known as the dreaded Andersonville Prison. Such an accomplishment would make heroes of the Union raiders and in particular, General Stoneman himself.
On 27 July, Stoneman's command left camp at 4 a. m., four miles north of Decatur, Georgia, entering Decatur at sunrise. Over the following three days, little of interested occurred although the Union cavalry took on the role of scavengers, foraging from the land and local populace as they progressed towards the railway tracks of the Macon line. Understandably, this made the blue coated invader reviled amongst the Georgian civilians. Little wonder Stoneman reported - "It is impossible to move without every step we take being known, women as well as men acting as scouts and messengers."
But it was not only the civilans that were bristling for a fight. Around this date, Confederate commander, Joseph Wheeler, ordered Brigader General Alfred Holt Iverson (right) and his 1400 strong column to move and protect the Macon line. However by 28 July, Rebel scouts had discovered the Yankees were marching towards Monticello and Iverson was now dispatched to follow Stoneman rapidly and "attack him wherever found."

On Saturday, 30 July, the Union cavalry began its destructive task. Colonel Capron's brigade reached within one mile east of Macon and tore up track belonging to the Central railroad. They burned two bridges and captured three trains of loaded cars, which they also destroyed. Finding nearby Griswoldville - a village on the outskirts of Macon - too well defended, the Yankees rolled burning passenger cars towards the enemy which burned themselves out without much damage to the local buildings. Their next ploy was far more destructive. Colonel Capron ordered a captured steam locomotive to be sent full-throttle into Griswoldville. The engine powered backwards into the village and struck a number of carriages belonging to a passenger train, wrecking everything in its path.

Capron's men then rejoined Stoneman on the Garrison Road where the two artillery pieces brought on the mission were shelling the outskirts of Macon. The Ocmulgee River lay between Macon and Stoneman's position and he was prevented from crossing the bridge by a Confederate battery near Fort Hawkins that effectively guarded all approaches. The railroad bridge was also defended by 12-pounders placed on flat cars, which were run out on the bridge, discharged, and then drawn back for reloading. The town's defenders had met like with like and returned fire in an artillery duel that lasted almost two hours.

Finding it too difficult to break down the Rebel defences, under the command of General Howell Cobb, Stoneman reluctantly decided to fall back. Much to his chagrin, Stoneman also discovered that Macon's prison, Camp Oglethorpe, had been emptied only days before; the prisoners rushed east by rail. Furthermore, Union scouts now reported a large cavalry force moving on the west side of river toward Macon and, despite suffering from exhaustion, Stoneman's command pressed on hard in an attempt to reach Hillsboro, at which point they would have choice of three roads at daylight. However, Iverson's Confederate cavalry were in no mood to let the Union raiders slip away and eventually caught up with Stoneman later that evening, three miles from Clinton, where the first skirmishes began.

About 10 p.m. on 30 July, Stoneman's advance guard clashed with Iverson's men, initially driving them back. As Rebel resistance stiffened, the 8th Michigan deployed with a series of charges through pitch black darkness driving the Confederate cavalry out of three successive barricades. Observing the fight, Myles Keogh was enthused enough to exclaim - "Tigers! These Michigan boys fought like tigers." However, as the night wore on, the Union cavalry's progress slowed to a crawl as the enemy were too strongly posted behind a multitude of makeshift barricades and, eventually, the fight petered out. Frustratingly for Stoneman, Hillsboro was only a mere two miles away but his troops were exhausted, having been in their saddles almost continuously for five days and nights. The raiders took cover in a nearby plantation and tried to grab what little rest they could.

The Sunshine Church, Jones County, Georgia - as it looks today and in 1880.

At dawn, Stoneman's command mounted up and moved on, passing a medium sized wooden chapel known locally as the 'Sunshine Church' or 'Hascall's School', a reference to the additional use the building was put to during weekdays. Shortly after, the Yankee advance guard came under fire from a Confederate battery positioned on the Hillsboro Road to their front. Behind the artillery, and spread out in long, obstructive line were the Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky cavalry brigades of Iverson's command. During the early morning lull in fighting, a reinvigorated Iverson had hastily moved to concentrate his Confederate force in front of Stoneman, covering the roads and placing himself between two rivers, only about twenty miles apart. It was a clever strategy - Stoneman's cavalry command was rapidly becoming caught in a Rebel noose.

Although inferior in numbers to their Union opponents, the Rebels knew the rugged, undulating landscape was unsuitable for cavalry manoeuvres and had dug in behind makeshift fortifications such as log barriers and fence rails. Stoneman could have turned back and sought an alternative route to Atlanta, as some of his subordinate officers suggested, but he judged that the best course of action, and the quickest route back to Sherman, was to go the offensive and break through the enemy's defences. This was also to be the most dangerous option...

It has been theorised that General Stoneman's medical ailment, chronic hemorrhoids, which were now infected and bleeding, influenced his decision to continue on the quickest route to Union lines - the now heavily defended Hillsboro Road. For any cavalryman, it was a most unfortunate affliction to have but Stoneman had suffered from it for years so it is hard to believe that it would now compel him to needlessly sacrifice his command for self-preservation. Indeed, as the battle progressed, it soon became evident that self-preservation was the last thing on Stoneman's mind. It is more likely that George Stoneman was frustrated that his cavalry had been thwarted at Macon days before and longed for a credible victory during his raid.

And so began the Battle of Sunshine Church or the Battle of Hillsboro as it is sometimes known. The fight was to be probably Myles Keogh's toughest encounter of the entire war; a battle where he was to display extraordinary bravery and unstinting loyalty...

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:
' 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...