A Civil War Biography

William Hugh Keim

Keim was born near Reading, Pennsylvania on 13 June 1813. Some sources list his birth date as 25 June 1813. He graduated with honors in 1829 from the Military Academy at Mount Airy near Philadelphia, then one of the foremost educational institutions in the United States. He returned to Reading and went to work in his father's hardware store, one of the largest general hardware stores in Reading. He would remain in the hardware business for nearly 30 years, mostly as proprietor of a large store in partnership with his brother. Keim, having a taste and fondness for the military, also joined the state militia. Before turning 17 he was an orderly sergeant in the "Washington Grays." In 1837 he became captain and succeeded his cousin in command of the Grays. In 1842 he was elected major general of the 5th division of Pennsylvania volunteers. In 1844 he organized the militia to quell religious riots in Philadelphia. In 1848 Keim was elected mayor of Reading and served one term. He was one of the principles in establishing the Pennsylvania Military Institute in Reading. In November 1858 he was elected to fill a vacant seat, caused by the resignation of Republican J. Clancy Jones, representing the 8th district in the US House of Representatives. Keim served from 7 December 1858 until 3 March 1859. In 1859 he was elected to a 3 year term as surveyor general of Pennsylvania.

When President Lincoln called for troops Keim offered his services at Harrisburg. He was commissioned major general of Pennsylvania volunteers on 20 April 1861 and appointed to command the state troops by Governor Andrew G. Curtin. Keim succeeded Robert Patterson who had commanded the state militia since the end of the war with Mexico. Patterson was the oldest major general by commission in the United States at the beginning of the war and was mustered into service as a major general of volunteers on 15 April 1861. Keim was second in command to Patterson of the troops sent to the Shenandoah Valley to keep the Confederates commanded by Joseph E. Johnston from re-enforcing PGT Beauregard at Manassas Junction. Keim was honorably mustered out of state service on 21 July 1861. State troops being formally mustered into Federal service. He was commissioned a brigadier general of volunteers on 20 December 1861 and after resigning as surveyor general joined the Army of the Potomac. He commanded the 2nd brigade in Silas Casey's 3rd division of the IV Corps at Williamsburg where, although too sick for duty necessitating hospitalization, Keim left the hospital to lead his brigade on the field. The strain of battle, including having an artillery shell explode almost directly under his horse covering him with mud, did not help with his recovery. His illness, often known as "camp fever" worsened and Keim asked for a furlough which was granted. He returned to Harrisburg where his family was residing. He died on 18 May 1862. George B. McClelland who had praised Keim for his service at Williamsburg offering him the post of honor in advance of the army, sent a proclamation to the army on 26 May 1862 announcing the death of Keim, one of his trusted commanders, and the loss to the army.

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