Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Anthony M. Keiley's Petersburg Capture

Early in my search for prisoner of war accounts during the Petersburg Campaign, I came across that of Anthony M. Keiley. Although not captured during what is traditionally known as the Petersburg Campaign (June 15, 1864 - April 2, 1865), Keiley's story is one of the most complete that I've found. Keiley became a prisoner on June 9, 1864, when Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler made an attempt on the Cockade City with a force of Army of the James infantry and cavalry that was eventually thwarted.

Keiley was among the scratch force, the so-called "old men and young boys" defenders called out to guard Petersburg. The title old men and young boys seems a bit of a stretch as most more closely fit the description of middle aged men and middle to late teens. Regardless, I was curious to see why Keiley was not serving in the regular army, as he was only about 30 years old at the time. I conducted an online search and found that he had previously served in the 12th Virginia Infantry, a regiment largely raised in Petersburg.

A quick review of Keiley's extensive service records tells his military story. Involved with a Petersburg  newspaper before the war, Keiley enlisted as a sergeant in Company E of the 12th Virginia, just two days after Virginia seceded from the Union. In the fall of 1861, Keiley received a promotion to 2nd lieutenant. The 12th Virginia first served at Norfolk and then were transferred to Drewry's Bluff and then to Richmond where the Seven Days' Battles were raging.

On July 1, 1862, the last day of the Seven Days' fighting, the 12th Virginia got into the fight at Malvern Hill as part of William Mahone's Brigade. In the fight, now 1st Lt. Keiley received a wound to the instep of his foot. His service records also state that he suffered from an illness that kept him absent on sick leave through the fall of 1862. However, by January and February 1863, Keiley was back with his comrades in the 12th Virginia. One letter in his records says that although he was not healed he joined his regiment at Fredericksburg. Other records, early in 1863, show that he attempted to get a detached position as a courier apparently without success. His July and August 1863 return shows him again on leave. Another source said that he was at Gettysburg, but Mahone's Brigade was largely not engaged in that fight. Keiley remained on leave but he was elected to the General Assembly at which time he requested to resign and it was accepted by December 1863. 

By the summer of 1864, Keiley was back in Petersburg, again working in the newspaper business. Called out to defend the city and captured during the June 9 attack on the city he was sent to Butler's headquarters at City Point or Bermuda Hundred.

Keily's book, published in 1866 as, In Vinculis, Or Prisoner of War Being the Experience of a Rebel in the Federal Pens, among other things, gives his racist impression of the African American guards at Butler's headquarters.

Keiley wrote in his chapter 4, "Beast Butler:" that "On approaching Butler's quarters, which were quite handsomely located, out of reach of all intrusion, the first thing that attracted attention was the presence and prominence of the negro. So far we had only seen one or two of the negro soldiers on duty at the pontoon bridge, and the night being as dark as themselves, we could with difficulty distinguish them--but there Abyssinia ruled the roast [roost?]. It was 'nigger' everywhere; and although the white soldiers were obviously annoyed at the companionship, the terror of Butler's rule crushed all resistance even of opinion, and all the colored brethren knew, and presumed on, their secured position and importance."

I'll be sharing other selections from In Vinculis in the near future as I work my way though its pages.

Postwar image of A.M. Keiley courtesy of the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.

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