Friday, August 16, 2019

Myles Keogh: Fighting Celt

Myles Keogh
Fighting Celt
1840 - 1876

After recently visiting the eerie Battlefield of Little Big Horn in Eastern Montana I was reminded again of the life of Myles Keogh.  We devote a chapter to this son of Erin in our forthcoming work 101 Fighting Celts: From Boudicca to MacArthur...

Myles Keogh

Many myles traveled
battles fought. Little Bighorn
one too many.

Myles Keogh, born in 1840 to a farming family in Leighlinbridge, County Carlow, Ireland, would lead a life of swashbuckling adventure. Keogh would leave Ireland to serve in the Papal Army, would fight at Gettysburg in the Union Army, and would be killed as an officer with Custer’s 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in June 1876.

Stalin once famously asked, “How many divisions does the Pope of Rome have?” In 1870, Rome was invaded by an Italian Army, the Papal States were incorporated into the Italian state (except for Vatican City), and the Papal Army was disbanded. But in 1860, the pope still did have divisions and a small army that was tasked with defending the territory of the papal states. That year saw a watershed moment during the Risorgimento—the struggle for Italian nationhood. In 1860, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Italian general and nationalist, landed on the coast of Sicily with his famous Mille [thousand] Redshirts, who would wrest control of the island from the Bourbons on behalf of a unified Italy.

St. Patrick's Battalion
Kneeling in Green
Papal Guard
It was also in 1860 that twenty-year-old Keogh left Ireland for Italy, where he enlisted as a second lieutenant in the St. Patrick’s Battalion of the Papal Guard. Keogh was present at the Battle of Castelfidardo on September 18, 1860, where Italian forces defeated the Papal Army, which they outnumbered by a factor of four to one. This battle was really more of a skirmish, which saw less than a hundred soldiers killed on either side. Keogh did earn a medal for his service to the pope—the impressively named Cross of the Order of St. Gregory the Great. Keogh then served in the Irish Papal Zouaves in Rome and was recruited for the Union Army by John Hughes, the Archbishop of New York, on his 1862 visit to the Vatican. Hughes was working on behalf of Secretary of State William Seward at the time.

Arriving in New York City on April 1, 1862, Keogh was enlisted as a captain in the Union Army. He served as aide de camp to General James Shields (born in Tyrone, Ireland) in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. Shields told his Irish soldiers, “You fight in a sacred cause. Two worlds are watching you.”  Keogh was then transferred to serve briefly in the staff of another officer of Celtic descent, George McClellan. Little Mac described Keogh as “a most gentlemanlike man, of soldierly appearance.”

Keogh then moved on to serve in the headquarters of cavalry brigadier general John Buford. Keogh saw action at some of the most famous battles of the American Civil War. He fought at Antietam, the bloodiest single day in American military history; and he fought at Gettysburg, where Buford distinguished himself when his cavalry patrols spotted Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania and he selected Gettysburg as a suitable battle site.

After Buford’s premature death from typhoid in December 1863 at the age of thirty-seven, Keogh was transferred to the staff of General George Stoneman. Once more. Keogh was in the thick of the action. Stoneman was charged by General Sherman to lead a raid that would attempt to rescue thousands of Union POWs imprisoned at Andersonville in Georgia. At the battle of Sunshine Church in Macon, Georgia, Stoneman was defeated by a Confederate force. Both Stoneman and Keogh were captured, though they were released a few months later as part of a prisoner exchange. On April 12, 1865, three days after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Keogh was still fighting. That day he led the 11th Kentucky Cavalry in their assault on Salisbury, North Carolina, ultimately capturing fourteen guns and a thousand Confederate troops.

Having participated in over thirty Civil War engagements, Keogh finished the war as a brevetted major and lieutenant colonel. The demobilization that followed the conclusion of the war resulted in massive downgrades in terms of military rank. Keogh would serve as a captain in the 7th Cavalry with Lieutenant Colonel Custer in the 1876 Sioux campaign.

Custer’s 7th Cavalry had a distinctively Celtic nature. They famously rode into battle on the western frontier to the tune of an old Irish drinking song, “Garryowen.” Thomas Moore, an Irish poet, wrote the lyrics in 1807.

Let Bacchus' sons be not dismayed
But join with me each jovial blade
Come booze and sing and lend your aid
To help me with the chorus

Instead of spa we'll drink brown ale
And pay the reckoning on the nail
For debt no man shall go to gaol [jail]
From Garryowen in glory

George Armstrong Custer Statue
Monroe, Michigan
In a letter dated March 5, 1876, Private Thomas Hagan, also a 7th Cavalry trooper from Ireland, wrote a poignant and prophetic letter to his sister:

We are to start the 10th of this month for the Big Horn country. The Indians are getting bad again. i [sic] think that we will have some hard times again this summer. The old chief Sitting Bull says that he will not make peace with the whites as long as he has a man to fight … As soon as i [sic] got back of the campaign i [sic] will rite [sic] you. That is if I do not get my hair lifted by some Indian.

From your loving brother,
T.P. Eagan

Poor private Hagan would be among the 268 soldiers and officers of the US Army killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876. The adventures of Myles Keogh would end that day as he was killed leading Company I in a hopeless battle against perhaps as many as 2,500 Sioux warriors.
An astonishing number of those killed were of Celtic origin. Thirteen percent of those who fell at the Little Bighorn had been born in Celtic countries (thirty-two Ireland, two Scotland, and one Wales), while many more were clearly of Celtic origin.[2] 

Custer's Last Fight

The US military saluted the life of Myles Keogh by naming Fort Keogh on the Yellowstone River in Montana in his honor. Anheuser-Busch transformed Custer’s defeat at Little Bighorn into an ad campaign, commissioning a painting titled Custer’s Last Fight and printing posters advertising Anheuser-Busch that adorned thousands of saloons across America. A fitting tribute to Bacchus’ thirsty Celtic sons!

Myles Keogh is buried at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York.  

The legacy of Celtic fighters in the US Army endures to this day with the 7th Cavalry, now garrisoned at Fort Hood, Texas, which retains “Garryowen” as its official song and its nickname.

[1] Ronald H. Nichols and Daniel I. Bird, eds., Men With Custer: Biographies of the 7th Cavalry, (Hardin MT: Custer Battlefield Historical & Museum Association, Inc., 2010), 157.
[2] Based on calculations from data within Nichols and Bird’s Men With Custer: Biographies of the 7th Cavalry.

Coming soon from the authors of America Invaded is 101 Fighting Celts: From Boudicca to MacArthur...

You can find signed copies of our books at 
these web sites...

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Is History Important?

Lincoln's Tomb
Springfield, IL

Is History really important?  Why is it important to attempt to understand and reinterpret our past, to sift through dusty old documents, to dig up ancient graves?  Why can't we just leave history's skeletons to safely moulder away in their peaceful closets?  Isn't it dangerous to become obsessive about the past, to become a stick in the mud.  Isn't it dangerous to hero-worship excessively, to build up false idols? Isn't the life of Lincoln hopelessly irrelevant in the age of Trump?  Civil War Tourism in the USA is way down from the 1970s (

Snapchat: The Cult of Here & Now

Should we not live in the moment and focus on the bright shiny future rather than the dim and dusty past?  Our new world of social media focuses almost entirely on the immediate.  Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter are the new cult of the Here and Now.  Is it hip?  Is it fast?  Will it make me feel good?  How many stars in the review?  Should I like it or loathe it?   Do I friend or delete?  Will it be delivered for free, tomorrow,  by drone?  If there is no immediate gratification, we hurriedly move on.  And so on.

Commander K says: "Shalom"! 
Against this cult of the Here and Now there is...the faith of the Jews.

Well, Judaism is an ancient religion.  At the core of Judaism lies, not merely certain theological doctrines, but rather the conviction that the customs of one's forefathers are important.  Judaism is a practice and not just a belief system.  It is a practice that affirms the importance of remembering our history.

The dark chapters of anti-semitism that have blackened the pages of human history are important to remember.  Jews and Gentiles alike have much to learn from the history of pogroms, persecution and the Holocaust.  This history must never be forgotten so that it can never be repeated.  Even non observant Jews fervently believe this. And if the sufferings of the Jews must be remembered, then so too must those of countless other ethnic and religious groups (Armenians, Native Americans, Ancient Gauls, Rwandans, etc.).

Against this cult of the Here and Now there is...Christianity.

Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln Museum, Springfield IL
The Christian faith asserts that the life of one man who lived over two thousand years ago in Palestine is of central world historical significance.  Christianity, at its core, is a faith that affirms the central importance of history. The life of the historic Jesus Christ is the lens through which the world must viewed by Christians.  The tragedy of Good Friday is recapitulated again and again through history -- on Good Friday 1865 President Lincoln, having secured the peace of Appomattox, is assassinated at Ford's Theater in Washington DC.  So, perhaps, the life of Lincoln continues to be relevant today?  Perhaps now more than ever.

But Christian faith can be embraced or it can be rejected.  No one today is forced to be Christian, Jew or, indeed, any religion.  All religions are simply dazzling options on the ideological Smörgåsbord of modern life.

So can we make a case for the importance of History form a completely secular perspective?  Can we convince an atheist or agnostic that the past is important too?

Well, consider the Historical example of the start of World War I.  In August 1914 a world that had been experiencing vast technological and economic improvement erupted into war.  A continent that had been largely peaceful since the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 mobilized for war.  As a result, around seventeen million people lost their lives.  Four of the World's Great Empires (German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman) were shattered.  Moreover, the twin scourges of the 20th Century Fascism and Communism were midwifed by the Great War.  World War I would lead directly to World War II about twenty years later.

My own great-grandfather, Thomas Tileston Wells, was a witness to the outbreak of World War I who wrote an account of what he saw in An Adventure in 1914 (  In a small way I explored the origins of World War I in his memoir.

The puzzle over why the Civilized world degenerated into four years of horrific trench warfare has been endlessly debated by historians.  The final verdict may never be established to everyone's satisfaction. But is it not vitally important to examine and re-examine these events in order to give us guidance for the present?  President Kennedy read Barbara Tuchman's classic Guns of August around the time of the Cuban Missile crisis.  Is it not possible that the world today could once more stumble into war as we did so calamitously in the summer of 1914?

The philosopher George Santayana wrote that "Those Who Do Not Learn History Are Doomed To Repeat It."  This is why we must keep eternally grappling with our history.

Even a non-believer must concede the value of trying to understand why World War I broke out.

MLK made History
The Reverend Martin Luther King said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."  King was a Christian and a man of faith who believed that the long line of history would bend toward justice.  The outbreak of World War I shows us clearly that the line of history is not a simple 45 degree angle sloping ever upwards.  The long line of history is jagged.  It includes wars, depressions, plagues, dark ages and reversals. Even TV's Harry Bosch, a homicide cop inhabiting a hellish Los Angeles, seems to believe that sometimes the world bends towards  And it is only through the efforts of men and women of goodwill such as Lincoln, King and Bosch that will keep our world bending towards justice.  Bosch, at the end of Season 5, will continue to sift through dusty historic documents in his personal quest for justice.

If History were unimportant to our world today, why would Hong Kong protestors be singing the American anthem?  Perhaps Lincoln's dream of a "government of the the people, by the people and for the people" has profound meaning far beyond American shores?  Now Lincoln "belongs to the ages" reposing in Springfield but he belongs to Hong Kong too.

Faith helps to give hope to believers.  A knowledge of History helps to temper our hopes with a bracing realism. Ultimately, History helps to keep alive the hopes of believers and non-believers alike.  For this reason history will always be important.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Invading West Virginia

Commander K. at Charleston Capital
Democracy is always a work in Charleston
We all know that war is a destructive business that consumes human lives, treasure and more.  Whole cities from Carthage to Hiroshima have been devastated by the scourge of war.  Yet, surprisingly, War can sometimes be a creative force as well.  We know that War forces strangers to work together for the common cause.  We know that War is a spur to technological development (the jet engine, FM radio, etc.).  Wars alter political boundaries.  Sometimes, it can even create a state.  This is true of one particular American state I recently visited...West Virginia.

Country toll roads brought me to West Virginia.  I really enjoyed biking along the Kanawha River in Charleston.  Found a delightful breakfast and a warm welcome at Cafe Appalachia in South Charleston (
Cafe Appalachia
South Charleston, WV
We wrote this in the West Virginia chapter of America Invaded (

"The Mountaineer State of West Virginia, created as a direct result of the Civil War, is a constant reminder of the fluidity of US state borders. Formerly, West Virginia formed part of the colony and then state of Virginia. Robert Dinwiddie, the lieutenant governor of colonial Virginia, had an expansive vision, claiming that, “Virginia resumes its ancient Breadth, and has no other limits to the West ... to the South Sea, including the Isl’d of California.”

The Shawnee, Delaware, Susquehanna, and Cherokee were some of the tribes living in West Virginia before the arrival of Europeans.  English explorers pushed westward in the region in the period after the English civil war, until problems in Virginia caused a halt.

There was renewed interest in the area, however, in the eighteenth century, and settlers began to arrive, including a Welshman, Colonel Morgan Morgan. The expansion of the settlement region eventually led to tension between Virginia and Pennsylvania, and, more significantly, between Britain and France. Dinwiddie is best known for dispatching George Washington for an expedition to the Ohio River Valley, which ignited the French and Indian War. Young George Washington surveyed the Appalachians and the Kanawha
Valley from horseback.

In 1774, Lord Dunmore’s War broke out between the colony of Virginia 
and Native Americans (principally Shawnee). The most significant battle of this war, the Battle of Point Pleasant, was fought on October 10, 1774, in present-day West Virginia. A thousand Indian warriors led by Chief Cornstalk surprised a group of colonial militia. As a result of this war, the Indians were pushed west of the Ohio River.

Fort Henry was constructed in 1774 during Lord Dunmore’s War, near what is Wheeling today. During the American Revolution, Fort Henry would be subjected to two sieges. The first took place in 1777 and was led by Shawnee and Mingo Indians sympathetic to the British cause. is siege was notable for McCulloch’s extraordinary and, perhaps, mythological leap. Major Samuel McCulloch found himself on the wrong side of the closed gates of Fort Henry, surrounded by hostile Indians. The militia leader galloped away to a three- hundred-foot precipice. After he plunged over the cliff, the pursuing Indians were astonished to note that he and his horse somehow managed to survive. McCulloch’s Leap is marked by a plaque today.

In 1782, a force of Indians and Redcoats again besieged Fort Henry. When the fort’s ammunition was running low, Betty Zane, a seventeen-year-old farm girl, came to the rescue by fetching gunpowder in a tablecloth from her nearby home. The fort never surrendered.

Harper's Ferry, WV
John Brown, a fervent abolitionist, led an unsuccessful raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry in western Virginia in 1859. He had planned to supply arms to slaves in hopes of inciting a rebellion. e armory was, however, defended by Colonel Robert E. Lee, who commanded US Marines and local militia. Brown was later apprehended and executed in Charles Town. His death made him a martyr for the Union cause, and “John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave” became an anthem for the North in the coming Civil War.
West Virginia was, in fact, part of Virginia up until the Civil War. But the western part of the state was very different from the Tidewater shore of Chesapeake Bay. ere were, for example, no plantations and very few slaves in western Virginia. On May 23, 1861, Virginia voted to secede from the Union. West Virginia, on the other hand, chose to secede from the secession.

Many West Virginians fought in the Union Army
Charleston, WV
Two Wheeling conventions were held in May and June of 1861. Supporters of the Union won a referendum, and a state constitution was adopted. On June 20, 1863, West Virginia became the thirty-fifth state to join the Union.

In the summer of 1861, George McClellan won three small battles in western Virginia—at Philippi, Rich Mountain, and Carrick’s Ford. These battles helped to preserve western Virginia for the Union. They also helped launched McLellan’s career, which proved to be a mixed blessing for the Union.

Jefferson Davis sent Robert E. Lee to western Virginia in late summer to restore Confederate control of the area. The Battle of Cheat Mountain, fought in a forested mountainous region from September 11–13, 1861, was Lee’s inauspicious debut as a Confederate field commander. though he outnumbered Union forces, Lee was defeated by Brigadier General Reynolds and withdrew his forces from western Virginia. Confederate casualties were fewer than a hundred.

A year later, in September of 1862, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, a native of western Virginia, managed to exact a measure of revenge for Lee’s humiliation at Cheat Mountain. Jackson led the rebels to victory at the Battle of Harper’s Ferry on September 12–15, 1862, capturing 12,419 Union soldiers and around 13,000 rearms at the arsenal. It was the second greatest surrender of American forces, exceeded only by the surrender at Corregidor in 1942. Belle Boyd, an eighteen-year-old Confederate spy from western Virginia, had supplied valuable information to Jackson earlier that year.

Confederates occupied Charleston for six weeks after the Battle of Charleston on September 13, 1862. Confederate-sympathizing guerrillas and cavalry raiders kept up a low level of sustained violence in West Virginia for the remainder of the war. e railways were frequently targeted.After the Union victory at the Battle of Droop Mountain on November 6, 1863, Union control of West Virginia went largely undisputed.
Over 30,000 West Virginians would serve in the Union Army in the Civil War. Many more would go on to serve in a variety of American wars.

For many years, coal from West Virginia was shipped via railway to Hampton, Virginia, to power ships of the US Navy.

On December 7, 1941, the USS West Virginia was struck by six Japanese torpedoes and two bombs and sank at Pearl Harbor. The Colorado-class battle- ship was later salvaged and repaired."

You can find signed copies of our books at 
these web sites...