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RG5493.AM:  Thomas Edwin Keen, 1839-1908

Letters, etc.:  1861-1864; 2000

Pennsylvania; Otoe County, Neb.:  Farm laborer, soldier, carpenter

Size:  0.2 cu.ft.; 1 box


Thomas Edwin Keen was born January 4, 1839, the son of Lewis and Susannah (Armstrong) Keen of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. He had two sisters, Mary Ann, and Sarah, and a brother Lyman. The family later moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1855 Keen’s friend, James E. Brown, moved to the Nebraska Territory and claimed land in Wyoming Precinct, Otoe County. By 1860 Keen was living with Brown and was working as a farm laborer. During the Civil War Keen was a private in the First Nebraska Volunteer Infantry, Company H. He served in Missouri, Tennessee, and Arkansas. From November of 1863 until his discharge in July of 1864 he was in a St. Louis hospital, disabled by rheumatism. Keen returned to Pittsburgh where he was a carpenter. He never married. At the end of his life he lived in the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home at Erie, Pennsylvania, but died in Philadelphia on December 7, 1908.


This collection is arranged into two series: 1) Thomas E. Keen Correspondence, 1861-1864; and 2) NSHS Research on Keen. This material concerns Keen’s life as a Civil War soldier with the First Nebraska Volunteer Infantry. Series 1 contains twenty-three letters that Thomas Keen wrote to his parents and his sister, Mary Ann. The letters contain great detail about his life as a soldier: daily camp life; the military campaigns of his regiment; and his candid opinions on the war and of his commanding officers.

Note:  The original letters are restricted for preservation; researchers must use copies.

Series 2 includes a Nebraska History article edited by James E. Potter, “‘I Thought it My Duty to Go’: The Civil War Letters of Thomas Edwin Keen, First Nebraska Volunteer Infantry” (Vol. 81, No.4, Winter 2000); background information concerning Keen (mostly military papers); and brief biographies of James Brown and James Bishop. The Nebraska History article contains transcriptions of the letters with editorial notes.


Series 1 – Thomas E. Keen Correspondence, 1861-1864

Box 1


  1. Correspondence, 1861-1862 [reference photocopies]

  2. Correspondence, 1863-1864 [reference photocopies]

Series 2 – NSHS Research on Keen

  1. Nebraska History article, “‘I Thought it My Duty to Go’: The Civil War Letters of Thomas Edwin Keen, First Nebraska Volunteer Infantry,” by James E. Potter, Vol. 81, No.4, Winter 2000

  2. Research and Background Information on Thomas E. Keen



Keen, Thomas Edwin, 1839-1908

Nebraska — History — Civil War, 1861-1865 — Personal narratives

Soldiers — Nebraska

United States. Army. Nebraska Volunteer Regiment, 1st


MJR/kfk   12-01-2003

Encoded TMM   05-12-2010