Friday, March 26, 2010

Charles M. Keyes, Military Historian

Charles M. Keyes was born in Peoria, Illinois on Oct. 28, 1840. His family moved to Ohio when Charles was a boy, and his father served as the keeper of the Marblehead Lighthouse from 1853 to 1858. By 1860, the family was living in Sandusky, Ohio.

During the Civil War, Charles M. Keyes was a private in the Eighth Ohio Volunteer Infantry from April through August of 1861. On September 8, 1862, Charles enlisted in Company G of the 123rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was promoted to Second Lieutenant on December 8, 1863, and to First Lieutenant on February 23, 1865. He mustered out on June 12, 1865 at Camp Chase, Ohio.

In 1874, C. M. Keyes authored a book entitled The Military History of the 123rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Army, published by the Register Steam Press in Sandusky, Ohio. (This title is available full text at the Internet Archive.)

In the preface, Mr. Keyes stated, “It is not expected that this book will be of interest to the general reader; to those only who participated in, or followed with loving eyes, its fortunes, will the dry details, which must necessarily often enter into its composition, be interesting, and without apology to the officers and men of the 123d Ohio Volunteer Infantry, this book is offered as a true record of their soldier life.”

Recruiting for Company G of the 123rd Infantry was done in Sandusky, and the majority of the soldiers in that unit were from Sandusky. Mr. Keyes tells of camp life, the sorrow of losing men in battle, and how ill soldiers were nursed back to health by kind volunteers, one of which was the sister of Stonewall Jackson. One night when the men of Company G were short of blankets, two soldiers huddled in a wagon and covered up with a bundle of hay. A stray mule soon took their makeshift coverings for himself. Letters from home were “devoured” by the soldiers. Keyes points out that many of the boys were away from home for the very first time, and with the thought of possibly never seeing home again, the letters meant a great deal to the soldiers. C. M. Keyes was imprisoned for a time at the Libby Confederate Prison. He tells of performances put on by the “Libby Burlesque Troop,” which consisted of songs, dances, and readings. While in prison, a Mr. Johnson, a fellow prisoner who was a man of color, would wash the prisoners’ clothes and provide shaves and haircuts for a small fee.

After the Civil War, Charles M. Keyes returned to Erie County. He married Emma Quimby in 1873. From 1880 through 1887, C. M. Keyes was the Postmaster of Sandusky. During the years 1896-1897, Keyes was the Erie County Auditor. He stepped into that office after the death of Thomas McFall. The last public office held by Charles M. Keyes was at the Hospital for Epileptics in Gallipolis, where he was the steward of the facility.

In 1902, Mr. and Mrs. Keyes moved from Gallipolis back to Sandusky, Ohio, where Charles was in partnership with his nephew W. L. Lewis in a grocery business. On the evening of March 3, 1902, C. M. Keyes was stricken with a heart attack, and died while taking his evening walk. A lengthy obituary for Charles M. Keyes is found in the March 5, 1902 issue of the Sandusky Register. His obituary reads in part, “Charles Mortimer Keyes has been a prominent figure in the public, political and social life of Sandusky and Erie County. He was widely known throughout the state… Colonel Keyes possessed those qualities that make abiding friendships. He was whole-souled, warm-hearted, genial, hopeful, always loved life as he found it, took a deep interest in all public matters.” The funeral for C. M. Keyes was held on March 6, 1902 at the Masonic Temple, and burial was in Oakland Cemetery.

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