"A polished scholar, a brave and gallant officer"
The Life and Death of Captain Edwin Keyes by Elias Stewart, Graduate Student
Despite being a lesser-known engagement, the Battle of Lynchburg acts as a unique tapestry in which an array of notable people from across the East Coast convened in a seemingly insignificant town to fight for their cause. Many of these individuals went on to do prominent work after the war while others left a lasting impact before their deaths on the battlefield. It is in this spirit of reflection that we are excited to announce the start of a new blog series this fall.
Through the following weeks, we will be spotlighting soldiers of the Union who interacted with Sandusky by outlining their biographies and contributions to history. This post will look at an Ohio soldier, Captain Edwin Keyes.
Born in Windsor Township of Morgan County, Ohio on July 21, 1828, Edwin Keyes was a “child of poor but upright Christian parents” as the Marietta College, in the War of Secession would describe. It goes on to state that “at an early age he showed a studious disposition, and while young became a school teacher in the neighborhood of his birth. “Seeking better opportunities for himself than his hometown could offer, Edwin entered himself in a prep school of Marietta College in 1848 and enrolled there as a freshman in 1850. He dropped out of school during his junior year due to “adverse circumstances.” On April 13, 1854, Edwin married Sybil Sargent and they had a son named Charles.
The new family then relocated to Tuppers Plains, Ohio where Keyes established a seminary in 1859 (equivalent to a present day grade school) and served as its first principal. The Tuppers Plains Seminary, as it was called, enrolled both young men and women of the region and had a “specific aim… to train its pupils for teaching, and prepare young men for college.”
Yet, despite the growing success of the institution, Keyes accepted a Captain's commission in the US Army on August 12, 1862. Leaving the responsibilities of the Seminary to his sister, Martha Keyes, Captain Keyes made his way back to Marietta followed by a dozen or so men that could be mustered into his company. Together, they formed the foundation of Company B of the 116th Ohio Infantry which would go on to serve primarily in West Virginia and “the war-famed Valley of Virginia.” For about a year Keyes and the 116th “participated in all the important battles of this valley, from the opening of 1863.”
In the following year of 1864, the 116th Infantry made its way to central Virginia as part of the Army of West Virginia. Under the command of General David Hunter, they were tasked with the mission to capture Lynchburg due to its location, transportation, and communication advantages. On June, 18 1864, during a vicious and bloody fight, Captain Keyes led “the 116th [and] the Union attackers' deepest penetration of the Confederate lines, during which
the regimental colors were briefly planted on the enemy works.” However, when Confederate forces quickly rallied and drove back the Union advance, Keyes was shot first in the knee and then in the elbow as they were falling back. Despite his severe wounds he cheered his comrades as he lay bleeding by singing the patriotic song "Rally Round the Flag."
The wounded captain was taken to Sandusky’s barn, which was serving as a field hospital during the battle. Due to the severity of his wounds, his arm and leg were both amputated. On the following day, June 19th, Captain Edwin Keyes died, likely from the effects of two amputations.
Keyes was a brave and successful leader whose loss was deeply felt among his peers. On September 10, 1864, the Officers of the 116th Ohio met to draft a resolution memorializing the fallen Captain. It read, “that in the death of Captain Keyes, we are deprived of the society of a fine Christian gentleman, a polished scholar, a brave and gallant officer, and the service and the country of a true, noble, and earnest patriot.” Even prior to his passing, Marietta College conferred upon him an honorary Master of Arts degree. Although he was originally buried in the Old City Cemetery in Lynchburg, Keyes’ body was reinterred in 1866 to the Poplar Grove National Cemetery in Petersburg, Virginia where he rests today in grave #4950.
Unfamiliar with the Battle of Lynchburg? Click the following link to experience our ‘Eyewitness Accounts,’ which include two surgeons who operated in the Sandusky barn during the battle. https://www.historicsandusky.org/eyewitness-accounts-of-the-battle
Thewebsters.us. (n.d.). Captain Keyes. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from http://www.thewebsters.us/history/1864/keyes.htm
“Tuppers Plains Seminary,” Meigs County Library History Site, accessed September 25, 2020, http://history.meigslibrary.com/items/show/8974.
Wildes, T. F. (2008). Record of the One Hundred and Sixteenth regiment: Ohio Infantry Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Pub.