Monday, June 25, 2007

My Birthday & Myles Keogh

June 25. National Catfish Day. Missed the solstice, that dreamy Midsummer's Night, and by one day St. John the Baptist. George Orwell's birthday, as well as the same year as me, another dramatizer of the dystopian culture of conformity in its personal management guise, Ricky Gervais. The Korean War began on this date, as did the French surrender to the Nazis, not to mention the Battle of Little Big Horn. Not only Custer but two of his brothers and a brother-in-law died that day in 1876. Recovering from eye surgery, half-blind, fumbling about for cassettes as I had to stay stock still to listen on a Walkman in Echo Park lying on the old sofa in the sunroom to the nuanced reading of Evan Connell's magnificent "Son of the Morning Star," the story within the story of a Fenian's son turned cavalryman Myles Keogh still reverberates from sixteen summers ago (as does the actor's voice who entertained Layne and I one long car ride up North even further back, a quirky choice we both love, John Dos Passos' "USA"). His father fought in 1798; his uncle was executed. Barely twenty, Myles served as a Papal Count in the Irish division of Catholic volunteers from across Europe failing to defend Pius IX and the Papal States against Garibaldi's victorious rebellion.

Joining the US Army in 1862, he fought at Shenandoah, Fredericksburg, Chancellorville, Gettsysburg where he became a Major, and marched with Sherman. After the Civil War and a failed love--a young widow of a colleague who had been killed in the war-- who died before he could marry her, he entered the 4th Cavalry under "boy general" Custer and went out West.

Melancholy despite a flamboyant dandyish persona, he sensed that the campaign with Custer in 1876 would be doomed. Senior Captain of the five companies under Custer, he wrote before the battle a farewell letter. He died surrounded in a miniature last stand of his comrades in Company One. His men had been shot down around him; he lay in the center, presumably last to stand.

His horse also had been wounded with the same bullet that had shattered Keogh's left knee, but "Comanche" was nursed back to health and became regimental mascot. "Last Survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn," he lived until 29 and was indulged in his habit of drinking beer. Myles was stripped but escaped the customary mutilation by the warriors. His "Agnus Dei" medal was found around his neck, and this "medicine" may have spared him this fate.

Did the Major believe he fought for the side of the Army as he did for the Pope, against the swarthy inhabitants, on the side of manifest destiny, Christian imperialism, and divine righteousness? I wonder, from a Fenian family of insurgents during the quixotic rising in the "Year of the French," what this "Lamb of God" thought of in his last moments. Another midsummer's midday heat. June 25: full of buckshot, the tall mustachioed soldier falling-- failing to defeat an guerrilla assault by defiant natives against overwhelming attacks upon their ancient land.

"The Wild Geese" Brian Poholka writes on Keogh:

"Equine Heroes" Diane Linkous writes on Comanche:

1 comment:

Doyle1876 said...