Sunday, January 12, 2014

Irish Soldier Deaths In The American West

Myles Keogh
     I've recently discovered a list of Irish soldiers who died in the western states during the mid to late 19th century. Taken from Army enlistment records, the list gives the soldier's name, place of birth, cause of death and a physical description.  Enlistment and death dates are included. Some of the causes are odd, Mark Adams from Derry for example, died in Washington Territory in 1858 from the effects of ingesting "poisonous roots", while others are blood curdling--Michael T. Donahue died in 1877 in Wyoming Territory from disease (undoubtedly infection) after both feet were amputated due to frostbite.

     The list, while quite extensive, is a secondary source posted by a generous individual who took the time to copy the records, so of course double check anything you find there.  It's not an all inclusive list, I found one notable name missing, that of Myles Keogh, who died at the Little Bighorn with General Custer

     I first became familiar with Myles' story while researching the Throop-Martin family of Owasco, New York near Auburn.  My great-great-grandfather James O'Hora from Rathvilly Parish in County Carlow leased his first farm from the Throop-Martins and I hoped to find a mention of him in their papers.  I found they were a wealthy, prominent family with extensive property and an estate on the banks of Owasco Lake called Willowbrook, but no mention of Grandfather.  Enos Throop, former governor of New York had built Willowbrook, and upon his death it passed to his nephew E T Throop-Martin.  Maps show the farm Grandfather leased was right across the road.

    Myles Keogh was a frequent visitor at Willowbrook along with notables like Jenny Lind, General Custer and General Ulysses S. Grant.  Myles was himself born in County Carlow near my grandfather's birthplace, though his life was dramatically different.  Myles' family was well enough off to send him to the Jesuit St. Patrick's College. After graduating, he began his military career in the Papal Army with around 1,400 other Irishmen when in 1860 Pope Pius  IX called for Catholics worldwide to defend the Papal states against Garibaldi's attempt to unite them with the rest of Italy.  Myles earned several Papal medals for bravery, which he proudly wore the rest of his life.  Whenever he was photographed in dress uniform, those medals were on his chest.  In 1862 Myles arrived in New York and joined the US Army, serving at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and the Georgia campaign with General Sherman.

Nelly Martin

     Myles had become friendly with the Throop-Martin family after an Army friend married their daughter Evelina.  There were rumors of a romance between Evelina's sister Cornelia, (Nelly), Martin and Myles, and some say they were in love.  But the odds of a rich, waspy family like the Throop-Martins allowing their daughter to marry an Irish Catholic, even one as dashing and handsome as Myles, were remote.  They were close friends however, often exchanging letters when Myles was away on duty, and the whole family was undeniably fond of him.  After his death at the Little Bighorn the Throop Martins had his body shipped to Auburn and interred in their family plot at Fort Hill Cemetery where until her death, Nelly, who never married, made sure fresh flowers were placed regularly.  She even designed his monument, later adding a white marble cross at the request of Myles' sister Margaret in Ireland, who was probably aghast her brother did not rest in a Catholic cemetery.

     I sometimes wonder if my great-great-grandfather ever had the occasion to meet Myles Keogh and maybe exchange memories of home, I don't suppose I'll ever know...

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