Monday, February 18, 2008

A Look At Brigadier General Isaac Peace Rodman. . .

Some of the greatest thinkers have argued that all history is biography. While I cannot agree entirely with this assessment, I have focused a good part of my studies on the lives of historical figures. Most of my interest in the study of biography lies with history's "lesser known" figures. When it comes to presidents, for example, I am, somehow, more interested in the James Garfields, Martin Van Burens, and Grover Clevelands, rather than the George Washingtons, JFKs, and FDRs. Don't ask me why. . .

The same holds true when it comes to Civil War personalities. While I am certainly interested in the big names, i.e. Robert E. Lee, U.S. Grant, and W.T. Sherman, I am much more intrigued with those who have not thrived in the historical spotlight. I would much rather read a biography of, say, Henry W. Slocum or O.O. Howard or Richard H. Anderson and such, than one on Stonewall Jackson or George McClellan. The problem is, for these lesser known figures--and I'm not referring to either Slocum or Howard specifically--there are few quality works.

For the past two years, I have assembled brief biographical sketches of Antietam's brigade, division, and corps commanders, some of which I have posted on this blog. (If there are any publishers or agents reading, I do hope to someday fashion this little project of mine into a book. . .don't forget, the Civil War Sesquicentennial is right around the corner!) As I combed through the records and assembled these biographies, I've found it to be most rewarding to stumble upon the little-known sources that focus on Antietam's lesser studied officers. . .such as Albert Magilton, Carnot Posey, and others.

It has been a busy week for me, and, regrettably, I have not posted anything since last Tuesday. Today, I am posting the brief biographical sketch I written on one of the six general officers who gave their last full measure of devotion at Antietam: Isaac P. Rodman. Some of my more faithful readers might shrug and say, "oh man, another 9th Corps officer's biography", or, "doesn't this guy study anything other than the 9th Corps." I do; although I have to admit that this blog has taken on heavy 9th Corps bent. On the other hand, the 9th Corps has remained the proverbial step-child when it comes to the vast annals of Civil War scholarship, especially those studies focusing on the Army of the Potomac or war in the Eastern Theatre. It is unfortunate that because the 9th Corps was not at Gettysburg, and because the corps is so closely related to Ambrose E. Burnside, that it was received the short shrift.

With that being said, I do hope you enjoy this short look at the life of General Rodman. . .

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Brigadier General Isaac Peace Rodman

Isaac Rodman was an unlikely warrior. Quiet and unassuming, this one time banker, one time merchant, and one time legislator, whose middle name was, literally, Peace. He even taught a Bible class, and superintended a Sunday school for children. That this same man would receive a mortal wound while valiantly leading his men on the field of battle thus seems peculiar. Yet Rodman, was a patriot, imbued with a strong sense of duty to his country. When the Civil War broke out, he unhesitatingly offered his services and soon proved himself a naturally gifted military leader, who won promotions solely because of his merit and not due to any political connections or self-lobbying. He entered the war a captain in command of a company, and died, fifteen months later, a brigadier general in command of a division.
Born in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, on August 18, 1822, Rodman attended the local schools for only a short time before going to work in one of his father’s mills. Later entering the manufacturing business with his father and a brother, Rodman became a successful businessman and merchant in his own right. A well-known community figure, Rodman served for a number of years as president of the town council before being elected to represent the people of South Kingstown in the Rhode Island General Assembly, and later, in the state senate. Before the outbreak of the Civil War, the untiring Rodman also served as the director of the Wakefield Bank. Noted for his insatiable thirst for knowledge and love of books, Rodman spent what little spare time he did have engaged in study, and, on Sundays, teaching the Bible to the children of the congregation. In 1847, Rodman married Sally Lyman Arnold, the daughter of Rhode Island’s governor, Lemuel Arnold. The couple would go on to raise five children.
Isaac Rodman left all of this behind in the spring of 1861.
After the fall of Fort Sumter, Rodman helped raise a company of volunteers, and in June 1861 was commissioned a captain in the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry. Forming part of General Ambrose Burnside’s Brigade, the regiment suffered greatly at First Bull Run, losing more than350 men, including its colonel. Captain Rodman escaped unscathed. In the fall of 1861, Governor William Sprague commissioned Rodman colonel of the 4th Rhode Island Infantry, a unit subsequently assigned to Burnside’s Expeditionary Force. Seeing action at the battles of Roanoke Island, New Bern, and at the capture of Fort Macon during Burnside’s successful expedition in North Carolina, Rodman distinguished himself as an aggressive and highly capable battlefield commander. His gallantry won him praise and impressed his superiors, and on April 28, 1862, Rodman won his star as a brigadier general. That same month, however, while serving as military governor of Beaufort, North Carolina, Rodman fell seriously ill with typhoid fever and was sent home to rest.
Not yet fully recovered and despite his doctor’s objections, Rodman returned to the army in early September 1862, after receiving a letter from Burnside in which the bewhiskered general expressed his desire that Rodman be with his command for the upcoming campaign. Placed in command of the Ninth Corps’s Third Division, Rodman’s men, although not engaged until late in the day, helped punch through Fox’s Gap during the battle of South Mountain on September 14, 1862. They would see much heavier fighting three days later at Antietam.
Taking up position behind the ridgeline east of the Antietam Creek and opposite the Lower Bridge on September 16, 1862, the Ninth Corps constituted the left flank of the Army of the Potomac. Wishing to utilize these troops for an attack against the Confederate right the following day, General George McClellan sent a few of his engineers on a mission to locate a suitable ford over which Burnside could send his men. When they returned with news of such a ford not more than 2/3 of a mile downstream from the bridge, Generals Burnside and Cox formulated their plan for the following day. Upon receiving orders to launch the attack, they would send a portion of their troops in an assault on the bridge, keeping the well-entrenched Confederate soldiers occupied and creating a diversion from what was to be the main effort: the forced crossing of the Antietam at the ford identified by McClellan’s engineers. The division of Isaac Rodman was chosen to carry out this latter task Once across, the Ninth Corps would then advance in unison against the town of Sharpsburg from the south and gain control of the Harper’s Ferry, or Boteler’s Ford Road, Lee’s only route of escape.
On the morning of September 17, Rodman’s men, reinforced by Colonel Hugh Ewing’s Brigade of the Kanawha Division and totaling about 3,200 troops, were in position and ready to advance. Around 10:30 a.m., with the first of what proved to be several assaults on the bridge already underway, Rodman arrived at the ford over which he was supposed to cross. It was immediately apparent, however, that this ford was unusable as it was completely commanded by Confederate sharpshooters and flanked on either side by steep banks. Frustrated but undeterred, Rodman sent two companies of the 8th Connecticut Infantry further down the creek to search for another location where they could cross. Snavely’s Ford was found about a mile south, but to get there Rodman had to march his men in a circuitous two-mile hike. Arriving there around noon, Rodman sent the 9th New York of Harrison Fairchild’s Brigade across. They soon drove back the handful of southerners who were guarding the ford. Snavely’s had been defended by General John Walker’s entire Confederate division, but Lee had pulled these men to help shore up his hard-pressed left flank around the West Woods during the morning hours, thus Rodman crossed relatively unopposed. However, the delay in crossing the Antietam due to faulty information resulted in tragic consequences.
By 1:00p.m., Rodman’s men were on the west bank of the creek and were forming into position for the attack on Lee’s right. Sam Sturgis’s Division had by this time carried the bridge, but it would be another two hours before the Ninth Corps began their advance. With Rodman’s Division on the left and Orlando Willcox’s Division on the right, the Ninth Corps line stretched for a mile in length. Finally, at 3:00p.m., the orders arrived. While Willcox was to drive straight toward Sharpsburg, Rodman would keep pace on his left then converge on the town from the south, and roll up Lee's right flank from right-to-left. In their way stood D.R. Jones’s Division supported by a number of batteries well-positioned on the high ground south and east of Sharpsburg.
Over rolling ground and amidst a shower of shot and shell, Rodman’s men moved out. However, the undulating terrain combined with the nervous enthusiasm of some of his troops, resulted in the uneven advance of Rodman’s Division. Fairchild on the right initially kept up with Welsh’s Brigade on Willcox’s left, but soon his New Yorkers were charging well ahead of anyone else. On Fairchild’s left was the brigade of Edward Harland. He had a much more difficult time in orchestrating the movements of his three regiments. The 8th Connecticut moved out as ordered, keeping up with Farichild’s men to their right, but the 4th Rhode Island and 16th Connecticut either did not hear the order to advance or were simply confused. They thus remained in their starting position. With Fairchild’s men driving the Confederate brigades of James Kemper and Thomas Drayton from the high ground south of town and even streaming into the streets of Sharpsburg, Rodman desperately tried to get Harland’s men caught up. Then, off to their left, both Rodman and Harland observed the arrival of A.P. Hill’s Division. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon. Harland was sent to warn his two lagging regiments of Hill’s arrival. Rodman galloped off to the right, seeking out Colonel Fairchild to deliver the same dire message. Just then a bullet passed through Rodman’s chest, penetrating his left lung. He fell from his horse and was later carried to a field hospital near the Rohrbach House. Within the hour, his division was driven back toward the bridge and the advance of the Ninth Corps stalled.
Later removed to the Rohrbach house, Isaac Rodman was told that his wound was mortal. News of his wounding was sent to his wife and family in Rhode Island, and they immediately made the long journey to Sharpsburg, Maryland. They were there by his side when he died peacefully on September 30, 1862, at the age of forty. His remains were brought back to his native state, and were laid in state in the halls of the Rhode Island General Assembly. Amidst great mourning, General Isaac Peace Rodman was finally laid to rest on October 5, 1862, in the family cemetery in Peace Dale, Rhode Island. Delivering a eulogy at his funeral service was Senator Henry Anthony, who declared:
"Here lies the true type of the patriot-soldier. Born and educated to peaceful pursuits, with no thirst for military distinction, with little taste or predilection for military life, he answered the earliest call of his country, and drew his sword in her defense. Entering the service in a subordinate capacity, he rose by merit alone to the high rank in which he fell; and when the fatal shot struck him, the captain of one year ago was in command of a division. His rapid promotion was influenced by no solicitations of his own. He never joined the crowd that throng the avenues of preferment. Patient, laborious, courageous, wholly devoted to his duties, he filled each place so well that his advancement to the next was a matter of course, and the promotion which he did not seek sought him. He was one of the best type of the American citizen; of thorough business training, of high integrity, with an abiding sense of the justice due to all, and influenced by deep religious convictions."

In a message to the Ninth Corps, General Ambrose Burnside was equally full of praise and tribute: “One of the first to leave his home at his country’s call, General Rodman in his constant and unwearied service, now ended by his untimely death, has left a bright record of earnest patriotism undimmed by one thought of self. Respected and esteemed in the various relations of his life, the army mourns his loss as a pure-hearted patriot and a brave, devoted soldier, and his division will miss a gallant leader who was always foremost at the post of danger.”

Isaac Rodman's final resting place in Peace Dale, Rhode Island

(Photo Source:


Anonymous said...

Great posting John. R.H. Anderson is the guy that interests me. Apparently the only officer in the ANV liked by everybody he was a lazy administrator and mediocre general that seemed to get by on dumb luck. Are we going to visit the Buchannan birthplace? I think we will have to wear disguises so nobody recognizes us.

John C. Nicholas

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your latest post. I read you blog every week and I appreciate your work in keeping the memory of the 9th Corp and 48th PVI alive.
John Mattre (

Jim Rosebrock said...

John, I enjoyed your piece on Rodman. I agree that more research should be devoted to the second tier of civil war leaders and look forward to continued discussions on your site of such personalities.

Jim Rosebrock

Anonymous said...

I have had the great honor currently the own the estate house that Genral Isaac P Rodman built in Wakefield RI. I have lived there during the past 10 years and few days go by without remembering him, his journey through life, the decisions and choices that we are aware he made and the ultimate price he paid... Thank you for this blog, and the additional insight that it brings to this man's story.