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