Stoneman's command trooped wearily into Knoxville, Tennessee, on 29 December 1864, having fulfilled a large part of the mission they began nineteen days earlier. By now, Sherman had completed his famed march to the sea, and Grant was tightening his stranglehold on Lee's army at Richmond and Petersburg. It was now becoming clear to Myles Keogh that the upcoming spring campaign would see the final actions of the war.
Soon after returning to Knoxville, Keogh, possibly in the company of General Stoneman, journeyed to Louisville, Kentucky, arriving in the early days of 1865. While in the city, the Irish officer boarded at the famous Galt House Hotel on the northeast corner of Second and Main streets. Acclaimed as Louisville's best hotel at that time, Galt House was originally the residence of Dr. W.C. Galt but by 1835, had been refurbished and opened as a 60-room hotel. Prior to Keogh's stay, Galt House had already quite a history. In 1842, the English author, Charles Dickens, wrote of his time as a guest at the hotel when he described himself "as handsomely lodged as though we had been in Paris."
Two decades later, the controversial killing of Major General William "Bull" Nelson in the foyer of this Louisville hotel would make headlines around the nation. Wounded in defeat at the Battle of Richmond, Nelson convalesced in Louisville while holding command of its defences when Confederate General Braxton Bragg threatened the city. On 29 September, 1862, Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis confronted General Nelson in the foyer of the hotel in an ongoing row over military authority. Their argument escalated and Nelson slapped Davis in the face, challenging him to a duel. Within a few minutes, Davis had returned with a pistol he had borrowed, and shot and killed Nelson. The General whispered, "It's all over," and died fifteen minutes later. The controversy arose as Davis was arrested but never tried for killing Nelson.
During the Civil War, the Galt House was commonly used for meetings of Union generals. In March 1864, Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman met at the hotel to plan the invasion that led to the successful capture of Atlanta, Georgia and Sherman's March to the Sea.
Keogh's presence in Louisville, a city that he would visit regularly in the future, was likely related to organising the various Kentucky regiments under General Stoneman's command. The United States Subsistence Department was just at the back of the hotel which might offer another reason for Keogh/Stoneman to be there, kitting the command out for the forthcoming campaign.
In the early hours of 11 January, 1865, a fire took hold in the hotel and seems to have swept through the building at frightening speed. According to newspaper reports of the day, by 3.30 a.m. that Wednesday morning, Galt House was almost entirely in ruins. 'The New York Times' reported that the aggregate loss was "nearly a million of dollars." The remains of two bodies were discovered among the debris, one of whom was identified as "William Hanna, of Shelby County, Kentucky."
The suddenness of the event seems to have caught Myles Keogh by surprise as he had to escape from the flames leaving behind his cherished papal medals, the Pro Petri Sede and the Cross of St. Gregory, and some important personal papers. All were lost in the inferno and it would be two and half years later before Keogh had the medals replaced. On 30 September, 1867, Myles wrote home telling his brother Tom:
Keogh did indeed receive a full-sized set of replacements and replica miniatures from Paris through his "kind friend", Mr. Dexter Bradford of New York. This "Dexter Bradford" is presumably S. Dexter Bradford Jr., son of acclaimed Massachusetts writer, Samuel Dexter Bradford. Once described by 'The New York Times' as a "noted turfman and New-York society clubman", Bradford Jr. was a wealthy playboy who would have had the necessary contacts to arrange for the reproduction of Keogh's papal war medals in Paris. How Myles became acquainted with Bradford Jr., or the extent of their friendship, is yet unknown."My decorations that I lost in the fire in 64 [actually 1865] have been forwarded to me from Paris by a kind friend."
In this 1870 photograph, Keogh can be seen posing with an assortment of papal medals, including the miniature replacements as well as a Fifteenth Corps badge.
As for Galt House - within weeks, noted architect R. Whitestone began plans for the construction of a new hotel a block away from the original site, at First and Main. The project cost $1.5 million, an extraordinary sum considering the country was still recovering from the Civil War. The new Galt, which opened in 1869, was once again the centre of Louisville's community. However, after falling on hard times at the end of the century, Galt House II was closed in 1919 due to financial difficulties and soon after, in 1921, the building was demolished.
Almost half a century later, in 1973, the Galt House was re-established by developer Al Schneider as part of Louisville's Riverfront Urban Renewal Project. An east tower was added in 1984, and the hotel is now one of the largest hotels in the Southeast United States.
Over the first months of 1865, Stoneman refitted his command in the hope that he would have one more chance to conduct a raid. By March, Stoneman's cavalry was finally prepared to drive old Dixie down...