1861 -The Civil War

      As early as 1858, the ongoing conflict between North and South over the issue of slavery had led Southern leadership to discuss a unified separation from the United States. By 1860, the majority of the slave states were publicly threatening secession if the Republicans, the anti-slavery party, won the presidency. Following Republican Abraham Lincoln’s victory over the divided Democratic Party in November 1860, South Carolina immediately initiated secession proceedings. On December 20, the South Carolina legislature passed the “Ordinance of Secession,” which declared that “the Union now subsisting between South Carolina and other states, under the name of the United States of America, is hereby dissolved.” After the declaration, South Carolina set about seizing forts, arsenals, and other strategic locations within the state. Within six weeks, five more Southern states – Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana – had followed South Carolina’s lead.

     In February 1861, delegates from those states convened to establish a unified government. Jefferson Davis of Mississippi was subsequently elected the first president of the Confederate States of America. When Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861, a total of seven states (Texas had joined the pack) had seceded from the Union, and federal troops held only Fort Sumter in South Carolina, Fort Pickens off the Florida coast, and a handful of minor outposts in the South

    The bloodiest four years in American history began when Confederate shore batteries under General P.G.T. Beauregard opened  fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Bay. During the next 34 hours, 50 Confederate guns and mortars launched more than 4,000 rounds at the poorly supplied fort. On April 13, 1861 U.S. Major Robert Anderson surrendered the fort. Two days later, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 volunteer soldiers to quell the Southern “insurrection.” Each state was given a quota of “volunteer regiments” to be raised for service lasting from three months to three years, with quotas apportioned among the States according to population.

      In Brooklyn –    “the excitement was intense, businesss was virtually suspended, men could hardly realize that war was begun; but, the momentary paralysis of surprise was quickly followed  by a rebound of loyalty, as universal as it was magnificent. The stars and stripes was flung to the breeze upon all public places, from almost every store and from hundreds of private dwellings…the young men of the Seventh, Ninth and Ninteenth Wards commenced to form a volunteer company…recruiting offices were opened , and their ranks were largely swelled by accessions of patriotic young men…the common council authorized the effecting of a loan of $100,000 dollars for the equipment of Brooklyn volunteers, and the support of their families “ (History of the City of Brooklyn)

     James Nicholas Keenan, age 28, while already the father of seven children, was not exempt from the patriotic fervor that swept through Brooklyn. On Sept. 10 of 1861 he traveled to Fort Hamilton (at the foot of the present day Varranzano Narrows Bridge) and enrolled in the New York 48th Volunteers Infantry Regiment  under the command of Colonel James H. Perry.  He was mustered in to  Company “B” for a period of 3 years and was first assigned to be a wagoner, or teamster (perhaps because of his familiarity with his father Matthew’s occupation as a cartman).

     The regiment was attached to Viele’s 1st Brigade, Sherman’s South Carolina Expeditionary Corps, through April of 1862.  It embarked for Port Royal, South Carolina,  late in October, and was active in the capture of the fortifications of Port Royal ferry on Jan. 1, 1862. After building up facilities on nearby Hilton Head Island,  the Federals began preparations for besieging Fort Pulaski, Georgia , at the mouth of the Savannah River about ten miles away.

     On January 3, 1861, sixteen days before the secession of Georgia from the Union, volunteer militia had seized Fort Pulaski from the Federal government and, with Confederate forces, began repairing and upgrading the armament.

     Fort Pulaski was considered invincible with its 7-1/2-foot solid brick walls and reinforcing masonry piers. General Robert E. Lee had earlier surveyed the fort’s defenses with Colonel Olmstead and determined, “they will make it pretty warm for you here with shells, but they cannot breach your walls at that distance.” Wide swampy marshes surrounded the fort on all sides and were infested with native alligators. No attacking ship could safely come within effective range, and land batteries could not be placed closer than Tybee Island, one to two miles away. Beyond 700 yards, smooth bore guns and mortars had little chance to break through the heavy masonry walls. Beyond 1,000 yards, they had no chance at all. The U.S. Chief of Engineers, General , Joseph Gilbert Totten is quoted as saying, “you might as well bombard the Rocky Mountains.” If there were ever to be a successful siege, it would have to starve the garrison into submission.”

     The Federal  advance on Fort Pulaski began on November 24, 1861. The Union forces were able to capture Tybee Island and install heavy caliber rifled cannon which they hoped could  damage Pulaski’s walls.  On April 10, 1862 . Federal batteries commenced the bombardment of Fort Pulaski.  After 30 hours of shelling in which the walls were breached and its guns disabled, Colonel Charles H. Olmstead surrendered the Fort . The bombardment marked the first effective use of rifled canon against a masonry fortification and constituted a landmark  in military history. In the siege operations against Fort Pulaski,  the 48th took a prominent part and after the fall of the fortress was assigned to garrison duty there into 1863.   

Ft. Pulaski Georgia


        James Keenan had not  been content to remain a wagoner with his company (although he was payed in this capacity until July 1, 1862). From December of 1861 until Fort Pulaski was taken, he served as Left General Guide of the Regiment, followed by a year as Right General Guide while occupying Pulaski. But his ambitions were larger still. He wanted to become a commissioned officer and had embarked on course of action to that effect.

     At the beginning of the Civil war one struggle between the State and Federal Governments had dealt with the selection and commissioning of officers. Edwin D. Morgan was Governor of New York from 1859 till 1862. But he was also appointed Major General of  Volunteers in September, 1861 and commanded the Department of New York until he resigned on January 3, 1863, serving simultaneously as Governor and head of the military department. Promotions in the field were based on merit and came only through the ranks of that particular unit, but the governor, as commander in chief, could also issue promotions and appointments to military officers.

      James Nicholas initiated an appeal to be commissioned by the Governor as a company grade officer. He collected recommendations from his commanding officers and forwarded them, with his application, to the Governor’s office,  through a  King’s County member of the State Assembly by the name of James Darcy. Darcy was about James’ age, was well liked, and politically adept.

     We have the great good fortune to have some of the original letters written by James Keenan during this time to his wife Annie. They have been passed down through the family and are currently in the possession of  Martha Y_____ of  Falmouth, Maine.

     I have transcribed the letters with minimal changes – some capitalization and the formatting of paragraphs (which were non-existent)– solely with the aim of achieving a more readable text.

Fort Pulaski Geo.

April the 30th 1863


Dearly Beloved Wife

     As this has Been a Day set apart for fasting and praying by the president of the United

States  also a Day of  rest for the soldier it would be very unkind of me to let the day and night pass to without having a little chat with you  and more perticuley as I have not written for three or four days. But there has been no mail leave the Department since I wrote you so I have not lost any opportunity of letting you know how I was and how I felt after all. But during it all I will keep on making Explanations until I use up all the sheet of Butiful paper that you sent me by Mr Leach.

     Well my Dear Anney I trust this will find you and the children all enjoying good helth as it leves me Injoying that Blessing at present  thank god for his goodness to me since I have left home my Dear. I trust that any papers all arrived at thare Destination safe as I am in grait hopes that they will be of servus to me. But if any expectations is Blasted this time I will give up all hoaps of ever getting any higher than I am at present till the war ends. I trust that nothing will be left undun as it will be a very hard Blow to me to be Disapointed this time. Thare is one vacancy of 1st Lieut. In the Regt. Now and thare will Be two more Befour this reches you and if I should get one of them it would give me grait satisfaction along with Bettering my Condission very much and I would Be once more the happy Jim Keenan that I was when you saw me on that Thanksgiving Day that you saw me as a Bired in Mrs. Victerey’s Room as I expect if I get a Commission for the 48th Regt.to Be assigned to my own Company whare every man farely adores me and swares that I shall have a handsomer sward than Col. Barton’s that cost $250.

     My dear Anney it it ill becomes me to speak of my own praises  But to you I can hide nothing and it gives me grait Joy to Be thought so much about By my Comrads and I mention it to you Because I well know that it will also give you joy to think that every person in my Regt. Does not Dispise the man that you love so Dearly and farthermore to tell you the truth I would sooner have the good will of the men in the Ranks and the ill will of my officers ten times over than to have the ill will of the men and the good will of the officers.

     But probley it would Be Interesting to you to here what kind of recommendation my Capt. And Lt. Colinal Green gave me to send to Mr. Darcy. I will try and give you the purport of them from memery. My Capt. ran as follows to the Governor, Sir I take grait pleasure in Recommending the above James N. Keenan to you for promotion as he Inlisted in my Company at its organization as a Sargt. And I have found him to Be a worthy and a sober man. He has filed the posision  of R.G.G. of the Regt. For over a year and no man could Discharge his Duteys Better. He has given me grait assistence in my Company as he is a very compatent Instructor  is skilfull in all the Different Branches of Infantry Drill and Diciplin and is competant to fill any posision in the line and aught to be promoted  , Given this 17th Day of April 1863 under my hand Nere A. Elfwing Corning Co. B 48th Regt.

     The Colinels letter was much after the same still and I can ashure you that I was much pleased  and felt very thankful to them Both and along with this I had another paper signed By pritty near all the officers that was in the fort at the time  so that I am in grait hoaps that I will be sucessful this time. That’s whats the matter don’t you think so

     Well now it is getting lait and the mail will not leave for some days I am toled and I am going to send you a pritty long letter this time so I will close for tonight By Biding you and my Dear Children good night and (  ) you all and may god in his Infinite mercy always have you all within his ceaping and protect you untill I return to you again

                                                                           James N.Keenan


On May 18th , 1863  James Nicholas received a twenty day furlough  and left the port on a steamer for New York.  He probably carried with him the letters of recommendation from his officers that he had solicited the previous week  – copies of which ended up in the possession of Annie Keenan. They read as follows:

 Fort Pulaski , Ga.

 May 12th, 1863

To All Whom it May Concern,

     I take pleasure in recommending James N. Keenan of Co. “B” 48th NYSV. Who for more than a year past has acted as Right Genl. Guide of the 48th And has been connected with the Regt. Since its organization and by strict attention to his duties and application has secured the good opinion of his officers.

     Mr. Keenan entered the service in April 1861 and has served his Country faithfully and I cheerfully recommend him for a Lieutenancy feeling assured he will do honor to himself & Country


                                                       James M. Green

                                                                      Lieut. Col. 48th NYSV.

     This is to certify that James N. Keenan , who enlisted in my Company in September 1861, and for the most of the time has acted as Right General Guide to the regiment, has acted faithfully and in my opinion shown himself  capable to fill the position of a Commisioned Officer

Fort Pulaski,  Ga.

May 18th, 1863                                                 N.A. Elfwing

                                                                         Capt. 48th Regt. N.Y. St. Inf.

                                                                          Com. of Co B


James returned to Fort Pulaski in June after a joyful reunion with his family. It was during this visit that Jame’s last daughter  Elizabeth was conceived . In June the regiment with the exception of Cos. G and I, left Fort Pulaski and proceeded to Hilton Head, South Carolina ,where it was there attached to Strong’s Brigade, 10th Corps, with which it participated in the movement against Fort Wagner in July.

Fort Wagner controlled the southern approaches to Charleston Harbor. An attempt was made on July 11 to assault the fort, , but it was repulsed with heavy losses to the attackers because of artillery and musket fire. Brig. Gen. Quincy Gillmore, however,  intended to repeat his assault.  Gillmore ordered his siege guns and mortars to begin a bombardment of the fort on July 18 and they were joined by the naval gunfire from six monitors  that pulled to within 300 yards of the fort. The bombardment lasted eight hours, but caused little damage against the sandy walls of the fort. The main assault began at 7:45 p.m. and was conducted in three movements.

     When the 54th Massachusetts reached about 150 yards from the fort, the defenders opened up with cannon and small arms, tearing through their ranks.. The 54th managed to reach the parapet,  but after a fierce struggle, including hand-to-hand combat, they were forced back. The 6th Connecticut continued the assault at the weakest point, the southeast, but  Confederate General Taliaferro quickly rounded up some soldiers to take the position, while others fired obliquely into the assailants. Behind the 6th Connecticut, the 48th New York also successfully reached the slopes of the bastion. 

     The Confederates attempted to counter-attack twice, but were beaten back after having the officers leading the charge shot down. However the Union assault continued to crumble, due to lack of reinforcements from General Stevenson, while Confederate troops were reinforced. The fresh troops swept over the bastion, killing and capturing the rest of the Union troops that remained.

     By 10 p.m. the bloody struggle had concluded with heavy losses. In all, about 1,515 Union soldiers were killed, captured, or wounded in the assault of July 18, although this number has never been accurately verified. The losses of the 48th were 42 killed, wounded and missing, including Col. Barton wounded and Lieut.-Col. Green killed. The regiment received high praise from the commanding officers for its gallantry in this action. 

     From August to October  the 48th Regiment was moved down to St. Augustine, Florida  which had been held by the North since the beginning of the War. With no action in the offing James Nicholas’ thoughts returned once again to the prospects of his military career.

[Note: The movie “Glory”, starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman, portrays the history of the 54th Mass., the Unions first colored regiment, culminating in the battle at Fort Wagner.]

  St. Augustine Fla.

   August the 27th  1863

My Dearly Beloved Wife

     I take my pen in  this afternoon to pen a few lines to you hoaping that they will fined you and my Dearley Beloved Children all Injoying the Best of helth and spirites as this leaves me in at present. My Dear Anney I have Bene reading an account of Napoleons Battles in Ruchor and I was very much Interested in him and it has maid me feel as though I should like to Be a Napoleon myself for I can see all the points in his carector that is nesessary to make a good man. This man was as Brave as a lion and full corradous and then againe he was as kined and affechnot to his solders as a father to his Children and when he addressed a letter to his wife it was short But it was all love and affection. I will copy one of them in this

                                                                                  Bamberg Oct. the 7th 1806

I set out his evening love, for Cronach.my army is in full march. everything is prosperous. My health is perfect. I have receved But one letter from you. I have receved one from Eugene and Hortense. Adieu. A thousand Kisses and good Health


     This looks like a very short letter and so it is But it expresses comphert love and affection to a grait extent. In the first place it tells whare he is going, how prospers he has Bene,  in what condision his helth is and that he has receved her letter also one each of her brothers and sends his love in the shape of a thousand kisses and wishing her good helth. Dos not this cover ever thing that is nesesary for a man to say to the one that loves him and can reed volumes by it.  He was one of the graitest men that ever lived or will ever againe – so I supose that it is no erthly use of me wishing that I was like him, for Destiny never intended that I should be a grait man, so I must Be content and remaine the same James N. Keenan untill I Die that I am now

         And if I was to write so short a letter to you what would you think. Why you would feel as Bad as though you had not receved a letter atall  is this not my Dear and still in those two or three lines thare is just as much as would be in one of my longest letters. But as this is my last sheet of writing paper that I have got I must try and fined a subject that will Be more Interesting to you my Dear.

     When this maile leves it will carrey five letters from me to you and one to Matt – Sarah D’arcy and Anney Finen. So you see that I have Don some writing this time and I trust that I will get not less than ten in return when the maile comes in and amoungst them will Be my Commision that’s whats the matter.  If I do not get it By the next mail I think that I may give it up now my Beloved Anney. I will save the other two pages of this letter for room to answer your many letters that I hoap to receve. For the present I remaine your affecchnot Husband Until Deth

                                                      James N. Keenan

[Note:  The Matthew referred to in the letter was probably Matthew T.J., James’s younger brother. Sarah Darcey was no doubt the wife of James Darcey, the State Assemblyman from King’s County who was handling Jame’s petition for a commission.  Anney Finen was married to John Finen, a carpenter like James Nicholas, and were presumably friends of the Keenans. They were also living on Grand Ave. and Pacific near the Keenans ]

Saturday Evening

My Dear Anney

     I was going to have a chat with you this evening but I had some friends call upon me and remain with me untill Roll Call so I will have to postpone writing tonight so I will Bid you good night and may god Bless you and the Children.

Sunday morning  August the 30th

     Good morning my Dear  how are you this morning and how is all the children . I hoap that you are well. This is a Butiful morning hear But it is very hot. My Dear Anney I wish that you could see some of those Butiful mornings in the south.  the sky is as clere as can Be and everything that groes is as green as nature can make it and untill about nine o’clock thay are covered with a very hevy due and with the sun shining upon the trees sruberys and grass everything looks as though thay ware all (  ) with Diamonds. I Believe that this is the prettyest country in the world and if was not for the heat I think I would make it my home for the remainder of my life.

     It is now 9 o’clock and the first call is Beten for Inspection and must go so good morning and may god bless you untill I return home. My love to the Children

Noonday morning August the 31st

St Augustine Flarada 1863

     My Dearly Beloved Anney yours of the 14th has just come to hand and it gave me grait plesure to here that you ware all in good helthe as this leves me in at present thank the lord for it Dear Anney. I am very sorry that you went to see Barton and I was in hoaps that you would get my last letter Before you would go. But you went and it is over with. But I hoap that you will never go nere him or any of his clan againe. I Do not want to have anything to Do with him or his. I am very sorry for D’arcy and I am afraid that he will not Be able to attend to my case. But I will not bother any more about it and I am afraid that it will Bread Disturbance Between you and Matt and I would not have that for ten commissions as I want you and him to get along together untill I come home.

     My Dear you must not feel bad for me speaking to you in this way as I speak just as I feel and I think it is Best for you.

     We mustered today for fore months pay and I wish that you had it as I know that you must want it By this time. But the lord only knows when we will get payed. But just as soon as I get it I will send it to you – what is the reason that Charley Dos not write to me – I did not receve a letter from aney person But you so you see that I will not have much writing to Do untill the next maile. We receved two mailes from N.C. the aregos & (  ) and only one for me. But I must be satisfied and not complain.

     I must close by sending you my love and forty kisses and my love and twenty kisses to each of my Dear Children. Give my best wishes to all Inquiring frends and tell them that I hoap the war will soon Be over. I here by this Boat that sumter is ours. This is good news. No more at present from your Ever Affechnot Husband.  write soon I write to Matt By this maile my Dear Anney Keenan

                                             James N.Keenan

[Note:  Apparently James’s drive to be appointed Lieutenant was meeting with some resistance from the Command. It seems that Anne went to see Col. Barton, who was in New York, and that might have aggravated the situation. ]

Colonel William B. Barton


St Augustine Fla  

Sept 10 1863

Major Dudley W Strickland

     48th Regt N.Y. Vols.


     I herwith submit the following statement and appeal to you for Military Justice  as per 35th Article of War

     On Sunday Evening Sept 6th 1863 between the hours of Seven and Eight Oclk P.M. I was placed under arrest and confined in the Guard house of this Post until 6 oclk Tuesday morning the 8th.  No written charges wer preferred – this holding being in contradiction of  27 Article Army Regulations Paragraph 226 – I was then Tuesday morning 8th Just at 6 Oclk put in a cell and confined for 24 hours on Bread and water. On my release I applied to Capt Coan 48th N.Y.Vol. for a copy of the Charges , if any, against me. I was told there were none.

     I have been arrescted  kept in the Guard house 34 hours without charges preferred have been tried for some unknown offence, found guilty and sentenced to 24 hours solitary confinment without the privalage of a personal examination or being confronted with my accuser or charges if any . The vilest criminal is allowed in this country, either by Military or Civil Law, the priviledge of a personal appearance for trial and eamination. I have yet to learn the fact of my being a Soldier has closed the portals of Justice to me as a man. I was at the time of my arrest on the sick list and excused from duty, and the confinment has been very detrimental to my helth, in consequence of want of Medicine and the dampness of the cell in which I was placed.

     I must respectfully submit for your consideration the above statement and appeal hoping that in your inherent sense of the right you will grant me that justice which I confidently expect from an unbiased examination of my case

                                                                        Very Respectfully

                                                                                James N.Keenan

Head Quarters U. S. Forces

 St. Augustine Fla.

Sept. 12/63

Private Keenan,

     Your communication referring to your arrest on the 6th between the hours of 7 & 8 , and confinement there for has been received. The mere fact of absence from quarters at that hour without a pass is sufficient proof of disobediance of orders, and in all cases of such nature punishment follows without a hearing.  No excuse can be given for such absense, as the way is always open for obtaining proper permits. In all cases where I am convinced that justice has not been done I will review the matter.


                                                                                D.W. Strickland

                                                                                     Maj 48th Reg. N.Y.

                                                                                          Comg  Post

 St Augustine Fla

Sept 14th 1863


     I have receved your answer to my Statement and appeal of the 10th Last

     I would most respectfully state that you have made your decision from an erronious ( though unintentionally)

          You state that the mere fact of any absence from Quarters at the hour mentioned as the time of my arrest, without a pass, is sufficient proof of disobediance of orders, and that in cases of such nature, punishment follows without a hearing.

     In reply I have stated, that I was arrested in my Company quarters, where I had been since Retreat – I had not supposed it was necessary to mention this fact, as I presumed a proper record of the arrest and circumstances attending it was kept for your examination.

     Let one hope that on this explanation you will reverse your decision, and open up the case for further examination.

  To Dudley W Strickland                                        Very Respectfully Yours

      Major 48th N.Y. Vol.                                                  James N. Keenan

       Commdg Post                                               Co B 48th N.Y. Vol.

 St Augustine Fla.

Sept the 14th  1863

My Beloved Wife

     I  availe myself of this opportunity of addressing a few lines to you hoping that thay will fined you and the children enjoying good helth as this leves me in at present thank the lord.

     My Dear Anney thare is a flag of truce just came in and thay say that Charleston is ours. I hope that this is so, and then good By to the rebellion and I think that if I am spared that I will Be home by the 1st of March 1864 and the war will Be over with. If this news is confermed By the next stemer that comes in here, you will have it in the public print after the next mailes. Then In Dede may the people of the north rejoyse as the City of Charlston is the first place that secession was hatched and nursed to muturety. Aught not the loyle people rejoyse at its fall. Thare aught not to Be one widow or orphent that is left without the head of thare family through the cause of war But aught to thank god for its fall. It has bene a curse to this countrey ever since South Carolina has Bene a state in the Union.

     I am in hoaps that we will Be removed from here Back to Morris Island or James Island for I am not contented to remain here quiet while we as a Regt. owes the Buggers so much for the way thay cut us up in Wagner. This is a long score to be settled Between us and I think that the sooner that we get at it the Better while it is fresh in our minds and we want revenge.

     I do not know what damage I Don the raskels in Wagener as it was too Dark to see and I would Be willing to run any Chance once more in one good Daylight fite whare we can have the same Chance that thay have themselves. I think that I can lick any three if  them myself and I know thare is men in out armey that can lick twice that number. My Dear Anney you will say no doubt that I aught not to talk this way But I never can forget the cryes and mones of my Beloved Comrieds that was killed and wonded in that memerable night of the 18th of july 1863. Thare cryes are still in my eres and thay call for vengence and it is horrible for me to remain quiet.

     I thought  when I was first releved that I had had enough of it But it was not so. I was onley worn out By fatigue and for the want of any regular meals and sleep and I have Bene lonsome every day sinse I have Bene recruted up to my strength and when I meet some of my Comrieds that is now going around upon Crutches and sticks crippled for life it makes my Blood Boyle within my veins and I think it is wrong for us to remain quiet.

     Thare is one young man By the name of George Patterson who was wounded in that fite. He has just Bene in to see me and he is on Crutches and Crippled for life. He was first Introduced to me By my very much Beloved Bunky Billy Danalson Esq. and was a very particular friend of his.

     I must close By sending you mu love and a thousand kisses and my love and twenty kisses to each of my Dear Children. I still remaine Your Beloved Husband , James N. Keenan  CoB,48 N.Y. Vol.  St Augustine Fla.

[Note: “Bunky” Danielson was William H. Danielson , a Brooklyn boy, who enlisted about  the same times as James did. He became a Sargeant in Co “E”, was later promoted to Lieutenant, and eventually died in 1893 in Blackfoot, Idaho. George  Patterson was from New Jersey and became a Sargeant in Co. “D” He would be discharged for disability in Novemeber.]

St Augustine Fla

 Sept 22, 1863

     Herewith enclosed please find copy of an Appeal for Military Justice (No.1 ) made by the undersigned to the commanding officer of the 48th Regt.N.Y.Vols. and his reply to the same (No. 2) also my explanation and request that he would reconsider his decision


         To the communiation (No.3) no answer was returned, although I was ordered to appear personally before him, and was told that as far as he was concerned my case was closed.

     I would most respectfully call the attention of the Commanding General to these papers, believing that he will immediately percieve from their face, that the Justice which I, as a Soldier, should expect,has not been granted.

     Believing as I do that the General Commanding will permit no Military Injustice to be done the humblest private in his command I would respectfully appeal to him for that redress which has been denied me when I had every reason to expect it.

                                                                         Very Resplly

   To Brig. General Gilmore                                Your Old Servt

Commanding Dept. of the South                                                                     

                                                                                 James N.Keenan

                                                                                  Private Co. B 48th N.Y.V.  



Brooklyn october the 7  63

My dear husband

     I received yours of the 14 and 23. I am happy to hear that you are so well. This is the happiest day I had onley the night that you came home. I am happy and I am sorry I opened my Matts letter and I seen about your Comission. I told you in my last about Matt being drafted and he been gon away. So I had to open his letter.

     So as soon as  I read it I started of  to Mr Darceyes. I enquired if he was home and I was told that he was dead and buried. I thought I was Struck dead. I thought then that all was over, so Mrs Darcey came along and fetched me in the parlour. She comenced and told me about his death – all this time She had not said any thing about your comision.   To or three days before he died there came to letters from Albiny. So she opened them and one was your Comision. James dear when She said that I thought my heart would burst.

     She could not show them to him because he had not his senses for a week before he died. She did not know your directions or mine so she could do nothing and she gave it to Mr Moris to see if he could find out anything. So he could not find out anything either. So yesterday she received your letter and she told me her brother fetched it with him this morning to post it for you. So I am going down in the morning to see if he posted it and if not I will get it and post with this letter. She beged of me when you would get it to let her now for she will be very anxious about it.

     I was telling Mr.Demerest about it  even if it was mislaid to write to the govenor and tell him how it was he would give another one. I told him about Henry C Murfy. He sees him every day almost and ses he is going to speak to him about it . So if you don’t get it you let him now. So you see god does everthing for the best James Dear.

     Keep quiet and don’t say anything to them tinkers about it. Don’t give them a chance to let their spite out.When you get it you can say that you got the best of them and think of that poor man that is dead and gone this week. Before he died he felt so good he came home to see his family. The day he was going back he wrote to Albiny about your commision and he got it in answer to his letter. He was onely three dayes gon back when he was fetched home to die and was not able to read it. So keep quiet and get out of there as easy as you can and with the help of god you will be home with me before my next trouble comes on.

     James dear this times worries me more than all that I have had. Now with the help of god I will live in hoaps . James there is not one night this week but what I have dreamed of you. You did not tell me in my letter about you getting into any trouble but you need never try to hide any thing from me because I can always see it. James dear let it drop and dont have any thing to do with them. Mr Demerest desired to be remembered to you and he is going to rite in a few days. I had Mrs Demerest last night and she was dreaming of you to, but I hope to god your trouble is all over.

     I think that your comision was before the other ones for it is over four weeks since Mr Darcey died. I was in New York this morning. They are all well there but poor Pat. They will be so glad when they here about you getting your comision and so will all the folks.

     James dear I am so rejoiced and so nervous that I don’t now what to do with my selfe. I will not have a moments rest untill I here from you again. So now I must close by sending you my love and 40 cises to my dear husband and 20 from each of the children and I have the dearest little Caty that ever was born  no matter if she wakes up in the middle of the night. And ask her whose pet she is she is papas pet . O how that sounds in my ear. Since Matt went away she don’t get many peneyes so now she tells the children she is papas pet and papa gives her peneys. She can talk as good as any. So now good night and may the almighty god protect you and give you patience.

      And so the long awaited Commission was issued, but not without a long struggle.

         In her letter Ann referred to “my Matt” as distinguished from James’s brother Matthew T.J. , who had already enlisted in 1862 , served six months and been discharged. Annie’s Matt had apparently just been drafted in September.

     The Enrollment Act, approved by Congress in March of 1863 was designed to enlarge the ranks of the Union army, and it  stipulated that all male citizens and aliens intent on becoming citizens between the ages of twenty and forty-five were liable for military service upon the request of the president. Men called to service could legally avoid it by obtaining one of a number of exemptions, the most common involving a physical disability.  But whether able to secure an exemption or not, all drafted men were also guaranteed two other means of legally avoiding military service—substitution and commutation. By providing another person to take his place or by paying a $300 commutation fee, an individual who had been called to military service could remain at home. Col. James Barnet Fry, the new provost marshal general, had the difficult duty of  enforcing  this unpopular law until the war’s end in 1865.

     On July 13, 1863 the government’s attempt to enforce the draft in New York City ignited the most destructive civil disturbance in the city’s history. Rioters torched government buildings and, on July 15, fought pitched battles with troops. About 300 people, over half of them policemen and soldiers, were injured, and there were around 119 fatalities, most of them rioters.

     The majority of the rioters were Irish, many of whom were living in pestilential misery. The spark that ignited their grievances and those of other working men and women was the provision in the law that conscription could be avoided by payment of three hundred dollars, an enormous sum that only the rich could afford. Set in the context of wartime inflation, black competition for jobs, and racial prejudice among working people, particularly the Irish, New York’s blacks became scapegoats for long-accumulated grievances during the riots. Many innocent blacks were slain and their homes sacked. A Colored Orphan Asylum was also razed.

     One has to wonder once again if  “Annie’s Matt” was the Matthew Connell found in the 1850 New York City census with a brother Daniel and sister Ann.  I have searched the Draft Enrollment Registries for New York City and Brooklyn but have been unable to find an entry for Matthew Connell or his brother Daniel. Nor have I found any military record for him. If he was drafted  and had “gone away” it is also possible that he left to evade the draft.

     Between  July 1863 and April 1865, four national drafts resulting in a call of  776,829 men took place. Of these men, only 46,347 actually were held to service in the Union army. Over 160,000 individuals escaped the call to arms by refusing to report to their draft boards for examination. These men were illegal draft evaders by choice and deserters by law. We do not know if Matthew was one of these.

     At any rate it seems a letter to Matthew had come informing him that James Darcey had received  the  Commission  papers and Anney had opened it. Meanwhile of course Mr. Darcey had died . Here is his obituary from the Brooklyn Eagle on Sept 2, 1863

                                Death of the Honorable James Darcey

     James Darcey, ex member of Assembly, died at his residence in this city last evening. Mr. Darcey has been for some time complaining of a pleuritical affection, but the immediate cause of his death, we believe, was congestion of the brain, superinduced by exposure to the heat of the sun. Mr Darcey was elected to the Third district of this County, in 1859, and has been reelected every year since. His experience in the Assembly, coupled with his activity and industry, gave Mr. Darcey considerable influence in that body. Though one of the youngest members in the Assembly, he had nearly reached the ditinction of being amoung its oldest members. Mr Darcey was born in the City of Buffalo, in the year 1834. His father Daniel Darcey was a native of Ireland , and was amoung the most prominent and influential men connected with the political affairs of Buffalo. Mr. Darcey had the advantage merely of a common school education, and there is the more credit due to him that he held his own amoung those that had greater advantages than he. Mr Darcey had served the public so well that his party comptemplated conferring highest honors upon him, and he would, in all probability, had he lived, have represented Brooklyn in the State Senate next year. He dies on the very threshold of a prominent future. Courteous in private, and consistant in political life; a young man essentially the architect of his own fortune, we believe he does not leave behind him a single one who knew him , who will not hear of his death with unfeigned regret. Mr. Darcey leaves a young and amiable wife to deplore his loss.

     In her letter Ann Keenan also refers to a Mr. Demerest. Charles Demerest and his wife Catherine lived nearby on Dean St. near Classon Ave. and he worked at the Custom House in New York City. Apparently they were friends.

     Henry C. Murphey was a lawyer in New York, but he advertised in Brooklyn, and he must have been consulted  in relation to obtaining the Commission.

     It turns out that Governor Seymour signed James’s Commission papers on August 28th. (That original Commission and a Duplicate as well as the Discharge papers are in the keeping of Martha Y_____ )

     However James wasn’t officially discharged as a private till November 8th. By then the Regiment had returned to Hilton Head. His Discharge papers were signed by Col. Barton, and Capt. Elfwing added a notation on the back stating “ Lieutenant Keenan has during his service as an enlisted man sustained a good character, participated in the engagements at Coosawhatchie and Morris Island , was slightly wounded in the assault on Fort Wagner , July 18th , 1863” 

In those papers he is described as “Thirty years of Age, six feet 1 ¾ inches high, Sandy complexion, Grey eyes, Auburn hair, and by occupation, when enrolled, a Carpenter”.

James Nicholas Keenan


     Meanwhile the 48th was on the move again. General Gillmore had dispatched  an Expedition from Hilton Head, under the command of General Truman Seymour,  to reoccupy Jacksonville, Florida.The objective was to cut off supplies and communications to the Confederate Army in western Florida, as well as to procure cotton, turpentine and timber for the North.

     The expedition landed on February 7th , 1864 and met little resistance as they moved inland until they skirmished with Confederate troops under General Joseph Finnegan near Lake City . The north then withdrew to Sanderson and  Finnegan immediately sent for reinforcements from Middle Florida and Georgia and dug in at Olustee Station, constructing defensive works.

     On Feb 17th General Seymour decided to advance and engage with the Confederates. The armies were about evenly matched , each with over 5000 troops  and supporting artillery. On February 20th The Federals set out in two columns . The day was clear and warm, the sunlight pouring down through the surrounding pines. The dust from the feet of the marching men formed a haze around the tall trees.

      Just after noon General Finnegan sent forward his cavalry followed by three of his infantry regiments to meet the enemy. The Federal skirmish line engaged with the cavalry in a running fire fight  and steadily advanced  for a few miles till they encountered the main body of Confederate troops. The Union troops were coming up slowly, advancing in columns of brigades,  and before long the sharp crackle of rifles and the dull thud of cannons, as they sent their balls crashing through the pine trees, marked the beginning of the battle.

     The Confederate line was formed with cavalry on each flank and infantry in the center. Seymour’s plan was to place his three artillery batteries in the center, with attacking infantry on each side. While attempting to deploy into position, The Federal infantry became confused and prevented effective use of their own artillery. Under tremendous fire from the Confederates, the batteries  lost so many men and animals that they were forced to abandon their position, leaving six of their guns which were captured by the advancing Confederates. Although the Federal infantry rallied and fought gallantly, they were not able to stem the Confederate advance.

    Olustee was a bloody battle . Confederate casualties were 93 killed, 847 wounded, and six missing. The Union losses were far greater – 203 killed, 1152 wounded and 506 missing.  According to Confederate memoirs and letters, Confederate troops killed most of the wounded and captured black Union soldiers. The ratio of Union casualties to the number of troops involved made this the second bloodiest battle of the War for the Union. Soldiers on both sides were veterans of the great battles in the eastern and western theaters of war, but many of them remarked in letters and diaries that they had never experienced such terrible fighting..

     The Union losses caused Northern authorities to question the necessity of further Union involvement in the militarily insignificant state of Florida.  The Northern troops retreated to Jacksonville, and remained there till the end of the war, with only an occasional raiding party slipping out to harass the country

[The foregoing account has been redacted primarily from an article written by Dorothy Dodd, Archivist, Florida State Library. ] 

Palatka Florida

 March 20th 1864

Dear Sir

     Yours of March 9th is before me requesting a history of the circumstances attending the death of Lieut. James N. Keenan of my Company – of the Battle I need say nothing as a full description of the affair has been published in the N. Y. papers – of Barton’s Brigade, I will repeat the language of Genl Seymoure – “they fought splendidly, and to their bravery & fortitude the credit is given of saveing the Army from defeat and total rout.”

     Of Lieut. Keenan , his history is short but glorius, at one time I saw him waveing a piece of his sword & cheering on the brave boys of Co. I – a shot having struck his sword and breaking it – soon after while in the hottest of the fight, two of my men came to me informing me that the Liet. Was wounded through the left breast & refused to be taken from the field, telling them he should soon die, they must go on do their duty & avenge his death – act. Adjt. J Taylor saw him after this to the rear, Keenan having been taken there by the ambulance Corps. Taylor says he saw Keenan in the last strugles of life and received some documents to be forwarded to Mrs Keenan, these are all the facts connected with the death of our brave Friend & Lieut. that I am possessed of. I expect to be in New York before many weeks – will call to see you, also Mrs Keenan

                                                             I am

                                                                Your Most Respectfully

                                                                     A.H. Ferguson

                                                              Capt 48th N.Y.V.

                                                               Comdg Co. “I”

The Battle of Olustee Florida