Friday, February 29, 2008

Antietam Book Completed, or, The Long and the Short of Writing. . .

So what in the world does Blaise Pascal, a seventeenth-century French mathematician, philosopher, and physicist, have to do with the American Civil War?
Well. . .
Nothing, actually.
Blaise Pascal
However, I bring up Monsieur Pascal today because he coined one of my favorite quotes, which has everything to do with the theme of this post: writing.
At the end of a particularly long letter to a group of associates (I think it filled more than nine pages), Pascal, off-handedly, commented: "Pardon me, gentlemen, for the length of this letter. I did not have time to make it shorter."
As a writer, I could not agree more with this rather witty assessment. . .
* * * * * * * * * *
Now, to the issue of writing, and to the subject of the Civil War.
In December 2007, I was asked by the manager of the Antietam Museum Store to write a concise history of the Battle of Antietam and the Maryland Campaign of September 1862, which will be published, later this year, by the Western Maryland Interpretative Association.
Of course, I was both honored--greatly honored-- and thrilled at being asked. "What an incredible opportunity," I thought to myself.
I did have a number of guidelines to follow. First, the book is meant to be geared toward the general/interested public. . .those who visit the battlefield for the first (or second) time, and want a quick, easy-to-read, introduction to Antietam and why it is the battle should be remembered. Second, it has to be concise, with the finished product ranging between 60-70 pages. Third, the book is to be richly illustrated with photographs, maps, etc. Finally, I was to base the book on, and use roughly the same format as, the wildly popular National Park Civil War Series of books that each focus on a particular battle. . . Any frequent visitor to Civil War Battlefields know what books I am referring to, but just in case. . .


I immediately went to work. . .
and immediately discovered that this would be no walk in the park. Some might think, "wow, 60 pages. . .big deal. Anyone can write that!"
But that is precisely where the biggest difficulty lay: How can I take the vast historiography of the Maryland Campaign and the battle of Antietam, with all of its momentous consequences, and condense it into so short a space? And because of the maps and photographs, those 60 pages would equate into just 30 or so of text.
And keep in mind that I was to cover not just the battle itself, but the entire campaign, including Lee's motivations behind the invasion, the capture of Harper's Ferry, Special Orders No. 191, the battles of South Mountain and Shepherdstown, and the battle's aftermath, with, of course, a discussion of the Emancipation Proclamation.
My eagerness quickly gave way to some frustration as I found myself having to make tough choices in terms of what and what not to include, and the extent to which I covered crucial aspects of the campaign.
Pascal's quote never rang truer.
If I had no page count to keep in mind, I would have had no trouble, whatsoever. I would have just kept on writing, and writing, and writing. But, as it was, with one page of text turning into another, I grew concerned. There's no way, I oftentimes thought, I could cover so much in so little a space. I wore out the carpet in the office pacing back and forth, and grew jittery as one cup of coffee turned into two, or three, or four. I would stare blankly--and sometimes angrily-- at that blinking cursor on the page. . .it was taunting me. The second hand on the clock moved faster than ever. An hour (or two) would go by in a flash, and I had just one paragraph to show for it. I must have walked the streets of Gettysburg a thousand times over the past two months, for I thought a walk would clear my mind and give me an opportunity to think about the next sentence, the next paragraph, the next page. At least it was a healthy diversion. What I needed, as I continually reminded myself, was more time. Always more time. It was a justification, and one of the biggest reasons people give for not writing.
Then it dawned on me. . .all the time in the world was not going to write this book! The only way this book was going to get written was, well, to write it! I rolled up my sleeves, and returned to the office, with my pages and pages and pages of notes in one hand, and a cup of coffee in the other. I glared back at that blinking cursor and thought, all right, pal, bring it on.
And now. . .
I am all too happy to report. . .
It is finished.
Well, at least the text is finished. There is still the layout to do. And, of course, there is going to be some editing and corrections. But the hard part is over, at least I hope so. I hit the final keystrokes yesterday, and with much relief, sank back in the chair and smiled as I hit "Save."
There is still a lot of work (and waiting) to be done before the book is published, and I will certainly keep you updated as to its progress. Stay tuned.
'Till then, I think I will return to my other book projects. . .the longer, but infinitely easier ones.

Monday, February 25, 2008

PROFILES: Captain Thomas P. Williams, Company B

It has been quite some time since I last posted a PROFILE piece on a 48th PA solider, so today I thought I'd take a quick look at Captain Thomas P. Williams. . .
* * * * * * * * * * *
I picked up this CDV image of Captain Williams about six or seven years ago and was struck immediately by just how young this officer was. . .
Thomas Williams entered the Civil War as a private and by war's end, had advanced all the way to the rank of captain. He enlisted first in the early spring of 1861 in the Minersville Artillerists, a hastily patched together unit that served for three months as part of the 5th Pennsylvania Infantry. Seeing little action, Williams enlisted again in the summer of 1861 as the 8th Corporal in Company B, 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. The regimental muster rolls had him standing at just 5'4" in height, with a light complexion, grey eyes, and dark hair. By occupation, Williams was a coal miner from the town of Ashland and was, at the time of his enlistment, 20 years of age.
Williams was one of those rare soldiers who served throughout the entire war and escaped unscathed, surviving the bloodletting at 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, and Petersburg. He must have impressed his superiors with his combat prowess and leadership qualities, for he was promoted first to sergeant, then lieutenant, and then to captain. As a miner, Williams no doubt participated in the tunelling of the Petersburg Mine. . .
Williams's Civil War experience illustrates the increasing importance of merit in the promotion of officers as the war continued to drag on. . .When the regiment was first organized, the commissioned officers were, on average, older than the rank and file. Indeed, while the average age of the soldier in the regiment in 1861 was 24.5 years, the officers' average age was nearly 30. And, by and large, the majority of the regiment's initial commissioned officers were community and business leaders with little, if any, of them employed before the outset of hostilities as unskilled laborers. It is interesting that Williams, a young, 20-year-old coal miner from Ashland advanced as he did all the way through the ranks.
Williams posed for this image sometime early in 1865. Even though his face shows the strain of life in the army, still, one cannot help but notice his youthfulness. His trousers are entirely too long and it looks as if he is swimming in that frock. But to Williams, his captain's uniform, embellished with a watch chain and a 9th Corps badge near his left lapel, must have seemed like a far cry from the clothes he wore prior to the war. . .while mining for coal in Ashland.

Friday, February 22, 2008

"How shall I fulfill the harrowing duty that is mine?"

I have just finished reading This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by historian Drew Gilpin Faust. This is an excellent and truly fascinating book that examines the ways in which Americans of the Civil War era came to terms with the vast legions of war dead--physically, mentally, and spiritually--a rather understudied aspect of the conflict.


Especially intriguing was Faust's discussion of the ways in which both soldiers and civilians attempted to portray the Victorian notion of the 'Good Death" even in the midst of so much slaughter and suffering. Part of this discussion focused on the letters written by soldiers to a deceased comrade's family. These letters, while heartbreaking, shared many of the same themes including a description of the dead soldier's final moments, oftentimes in great detail. As I read Faust's examinations of such letters, I was reminded of several written to families in Schuylkill County and today I thought I would post a few of them here. . .
* * * * * * * * * *
Lewis Martin
Major, 96th Pennsylvania Infantry
Lewis Martin was one of the first volunteers for the Union. A civil engineer, he was elected surveyor of Schuylkill County just a few years before the outbreak of the Civil War. Highly esteemed by the people of Pottsville, Martin was thirty years old in 1861 and was still a newlywed. In 1859, he married Minerva Smith of Hamburg, PA, and the young couple was soon blessed with two baby boys. Minerva was pregnant with their third child when her husband marched off to war in April 1861. Martin was a member of the National Light Infantry, a Pottsville militia company formed in 1831. On April 11, 1861, one day before the war's opening salvos rang out over Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, the National Light Infantry wired Secretary of War Simon Cameron to offer the services of the company should they be needed. Cameron responded by ordering them to Washington. In 1868, Cameron acknowledged that the National Light Infantry was the very first company of northern volunteers to offer its services to the Union. When on April 18, the National Light Infantry, along with the Washington Artillerists (also of Pottsville), the Ringgold Light Artillery of Reading, the Allen Infantry of Allentown, and the Logan Guards of Lewistown, arrived in Washington, they were the first northern volunteers to reach the capital, and thus went down in history as the First Defenders.
Lewis Martin wrote frequently to his family in Pottsville, especially to his mother. On April 28, just ten days after arriving in Washington, Martin wrote: "It is possible as I have before acknowledged that I did very wrong in leaving home under existing circumstances. I can hardly convince myself that I did not then. . . . True it may be said I owe a duty to my family which is paramount to that of any other worldly one, but what if all would make use of the same argument[?], who would there be to rescue the honor of Our Country and its flag, which when dishonored, dishonors its People." Hoping to assuage any anxieties that he might be killed, Martin concluded that when he left home, he did so "with the firm conviction that I will see you all again, and I still hold on to it, and every day almost adds to my belief that it is not intended that we are going to engage in shedding the blood of our own countrymen." "I may be mistaken in the South," wrote Martin, "but I believe they are not going to rush much farther in their suicidal course, for they certainly did not bargain for the Union of sentiment they now find in the North, and with which they are bringing themselves in contact."
When the three month terms of service for the National Light Infantry expired in late July 1861, Martin and most of the members of the company reenlisted to serve a three-year term. This time they were mustered in as Company A, 96th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Lewis Martin was their captain. Promoted a short time later to major, Martin survived the deadly battles of the Peninsula and Seven Days' campaigns. Martin continued to send a steady stream of letters home (which, by the way, are stored at the United States Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pennsylvania). With the regiment encamped near Washington in early September 1862, Martin's mother decided to pay her son a surprise visit. What she did not know was that the 96th was, by the time she arrived, already on the move. . .marching westward through Maryland in pursuit of Robert E. Lee's invading Army of Northern Virginia. She traveled as far as Rockville, hoping to see her son, before making the long journey back home to Pottsville. Learning of his mother's attempt to see him, Martin wrote on September 11, "I could scarsely realize it when first told to me and have not yet fairly gotten over it. I did not have the remotest idea that [she] would come on or I would have telegraphed on Saturday that we had received marching orders. . . .I am really too sorry but I do not want to discourage you from making another attempt." Sadly, Mrs. Martin would never have an opportunity to make "another attempt." This was Martin's last letter home. Three days later, he was killed while leading a charge against the Confederate defenses of Crampton's Gap during the battle of South Mountain.
His loss saddened the regiment, particularly his commanding officer, and good friend, Colonel Henry L. Cake. On September 15, Cake sat down to write to Lewis's mother. One can imagine, while reading through the letter, Cake having to fight back the tears:
Colonel Henry Cake, 96th PA
My Dear Mrs. Martin~
How shall I fulfill the harrowing duty that is mine? At the 'storming of Blue Ridge,' seven miles from Harper's Ferry, I lost my brother, friend, constant companion--the bravest and most gallant soldier of the regiment--my Major. The country has lost a soldier, I a friend, but oh, who can describe your loss? He spoke of his mother continually--and of his little son, who must now be your consolation and your care. His disappointment at not meeting you was extreme.
It was just at the moment of the most complete victory. The 96th had again covered itself with what to me is horrid glory when we felt the extreme danger past that he received his death wound. Adjt. Geo. G. Boyer was near him, and reports him hit five minutes before six, and that he ceased to breathe at ten minutes past six. He never spoke, was unconscious, and did not suffer. Mr. Boyer removed him from the field with his own hands. I have had a coffin made, will send him to Washington to be embalmed, and thence to Pottsville, consigned to R.J. Weaver. Break the news to his poor wife. It breaks my heart to be compelled to communicate it to you.
The storming of Blue Ridge will be memorable, and will render memorable Sunday, the 14th Sept. 1862. It is seven miles from Harper's Ferry, near the village of Burkittsville, Md. It was here you laid your sacrifice upon the altar of your country. It was. . .all you had to give--a brave, good soldier.
The 96th suffered severely, losing not less than 150 in killed and wounded.
I need to add how much I sympathize with you and your daughter--my own grief is extreme. Believe me, dear madam
Your most devoted friend,
H.L. Cake
The body of Lewis Martin arrived in Pottsville on Wednesday, September 17, 1862. At the same time, one hundred and fifty miles away, Americans were once again killing each other by the thousands along the banks of the Antietam Creek. Thousands of mourners lined the streets, flags flew at half-staff, and business was suspended throughout the city, as Martin's body was carried to its final resting place in the Presbyterian Cemetery.

The grave of Major Lewis Martin. . .

* * * * * * * * * *

Curtis Clay Pollock

1st Lieutenant, Company G

48th Pennsylvania Volunteers

Like Lewis Martin, Curtis C. Pollock was a First Defender. He entered the army as a private in the Washington Artillerists when he was just eighteen years of age. In the summer of 1861, Pollock enlisted to serve "for three years, or the war," as a corporal in Company G, 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Like Martin, Pollock was fearless in battle, and soon rose to the rank of 1st lieutenant. During his years in the army, Pollock wrote hundreds of letters to his family in Pottsville. (These letters are also stored at Carlisle, and, like Martin's are a treasure for anyone wanting to learn more about the life of a Civil War soldier). Never afraid to lead from the front, Pollock escaped some of the war's most savage fighting unscathed until, in June 1864, he was struck by a shell fragment while charging the Confederate fortifications outside of Petersburg. Transported to the Georgetown Hospital, Pollock appeared to be recovering. But then "lockjaw," or tetanus, set in. . .and he passed away ten days after receiving his wound. His last letter home was written on June 12:

Near Coal Harbor about
10 miles from Richmond

My Dear Ma

I rec’d your letter of the 21st yesterday and was much pleased to hear from home again. I think I received all the letters you write and hope you get all mine. I write to you almost every few days. Though at present there is very little to write about. I do not get away from the Regt.- and can find out nothing about what is going on. Frank Farquhar was here yesterday he is Chief Engineer of the 18th A.C. and is a Capt. now. He looks very well. I am sorry to hear Margie is getting along so poorly. I have not written to her for some time, but our opportunities for writing are such that she ought not expect it. I have nothing more to write about We have been lieing in reserve in rear of the line of Rifle pits-and have nothing to do. Our baggage has been taken to White House Landing and stored on board of boats. The teams I guess are to be loaded with supplies for the Corps. We have enough to eat such as it is Hard Bread, Coffee & Fresh Beef. We managed to get a ham the other day which was quite a luxury.
Hoping you are all well
I remain Your Affec. Son

C.C.P.

On July 6, Lieutenant Thomas Bohannon of the 48th wrote to Curtis's father:

Mr. Pollock
Sir
This morning I turned over your sons valise to the Agt of the Sanitary Committee. He promised me he would deliver it to the Express Office at Washington, D.C. It is in safe hands and I hope you will receive it in good order. I would have forwarded it before the present time but the difficulty was that there has not been any Express Office established here as yet.
I was very much surprised in hearing of Lieuts death. The morning he arrived at City Point from the battle field he sent the ambulance driver to inform me of his accident. My quarters are ½ mile from City Point. I went immediately to see my particular friend as I must say he was a favorite young man in the Regt and a brave soldier.
On my arrival at City Point the Ambulance Corps was preparing to have him carried on board the boat to be sent to Washington. I took him by the hand and asked him if his wound was dangerous. He seemed to think not and appeared to be very much pleased that his wound was not more serious. As soon as he was placed in a bunk on board the steam boat, I sat down and spoke to him a few minutes. He then requested me to get him his valise but at that time I was not able to get the valise as I had placed all the baggage belonging to officers of the Regt on board a barge at the White House to be sent around to City Point by water. The barge had not arrived at the time.
I bid the poor fellow good bye but not thinking at the time nor him either that it was our last fairwell with each other. I hope he has gone to a happy home. I must come to a close by sending my kindest regards.
Yours Respectfully
Thomas Bohannan

Bohannon was not the only member of the 48th to write to the Pollock family. On August 1, the regiment's quartermaster sergeant, Henry Krebs, penned the following letter, which was written in response to the family's request to have Curtis's personal belongings sent home.

Mr. Pollock—
Dear Sir:
Lieut. Bohannan having a press of business he has requested me to answer for him your letter asking for information concerning Curtis’ valise and other effects. Enclosed you will find the address (obtained from the Agent of the Sanitary Commission at City Point) to which the valise was sent, which I trust will enable you to get it, if it has not yet reached you.
Serg’t Jones, (now Lieut) of Company “G” thinks that his pistol must be in the valise.
Serg’t Aumen (now Lieut) Company “G” was near Curtis when he was wounded and assisted him from the field. He states that he was quite cheerful and in good spirits, though he suffered considerable pain. One of the his first expressions was “Wasn’t that a splendid charge ?”
After he had walked some distance he said he felt faint and sank to the ground ere Lieut. A. could catch him. He soon revived and walked assisted by Lieut. A. to the Field Hospital.
A few hours after he was taken in an ambulance to City Point. Lieut. Bohannan met him on the road. He spoke cheerfully and requested him to send his baggage home. He seemed to think his wound was slight, and that he was very fortunate in escaping so well, without the loss of a limb as there were many around him. Two hours ride brought him to City Point, where there was boat in readiness to receive the wounded and as soon as she was loaded she started for Washington.
The baggage of our Corps was sent by water from White House and only arrived the day he left or it could have been sent with him. There is an overcoat with the Company baggage which was just discovered a day or two since. Lieut. Bohannan will see Major Bosbyshell about it, and if it is Curtis’ will send it by express.
The writer of this will see Lieut. Aumen and see if he has any additional particulars, he will, no doubt, be pleased to give them.
All the members of the Company and of the Regiment unite in the highest praise of his bravery and courage in battle as well as his example as a friend and companion. His death and that of Lieut. Jackson has cause a deep feeling of gloom and sadness to pervade Company “G” which will not easily be dispelled. They will live long in the memories of those who knew them to love and respect them.
Trusting that the condolence of a friend and former member of Company “G” is not here out of place, I beg to subscribe myself.
Very Respectively Yours,

Harry Krebs



The remains of Curtis Pollock were ultimately interred in Pottsville's Charles Baber Cemetery, where, sad to say, it has become a popular target for vandals.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Stroll Through Pottsville's Odd Fellow's Cemetery

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Yesterday was busy, with a lot of running around. By the time I arrived home, I noticed that I put more than 300 miles on my car. . .The morning and afternoon found me in the Lehigh Valley. After a little business there, I stopped by to say hello to my in-laws before heading up to old Schuylkill County to see my parents and my sister.
While there, of course, I just had to visit some of my favorite old haunts (no pun intended). . .
I went to Pottsville and strolled briefly through the Odd Fellows Cemetery, which is almost hidden in plain view on the mountain side north of town. The cemetery, which has seen better days, is the final resting place of scores of Civil War soldiers, especially those who served in the 48th PA & 96th PA. With daylight fading fast, I didn't have much time to photograph all the grave sites (the cemetery is rather expansive) but I did manage to snap a few photos. . . .
* * * * * * * * * *
This section of the cemetery was set aside in 1861 for the bodies of the war dead. . .
* * * * * * * * * * Captain Benjamin B. Schuck
Company I, 48th P.V.V.I.
Benjamin Schuck was a tinsmith from nearby Middleport, but when the Civil War broke out, he was quick to enlist his services. He was mustered in as 1st Sergeant, Company I, 48th PA Volunteers. Always in the thickest of the fray, Schuck demonstrated all the qualities of an able officer and he advanced steadily through the ranks. In October 1862, he was promoted 1st Lieutenant, filling the vacancy created by the wounding of Lt. M.M. Kistler at Antietam. Less than one year later, in August 1863, Schuck was elevated once again in command, this time to the rank of captain. He led his company at the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, and during the initial assaults on Petersburg. On June 25, 1864, the very same day the regiment began their work tunelling the Petersburg Mine, thirty-year-old Benjamin Schuck was struck down, most likely by a Confederate sharpshooter. He died two days later, and his body sent home for burial. Francis Koch, who became captain of Company I following Shuck's death, wrote: "In losing the Captain, we are deprived of a good officer, and above all a brave soldier. He was never wanting in time of battle, but always at the head of his men, leading them against the enemy in every encounter. . . .During his stay with the company and regiment, he won the esteem and admiration of all who knew him, for none knew him but to honor and praise him for his manly actions and the noble service he had rendered in the defense of his country's cause. Peace to his ashes."
Captain Schuck's Grave

* * * * * * * * * *
Lieutenant William H. Hume
Company B, 48th P.V.V.I.
William H. Hume, a twenty-year-old clerk from St. Clair, was mustered into service in September 1861 as the Orderly Sergeant of Company B, 48th PA Volunteers. He survived the regiments toughest battles. . .2nd Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, while advancing to the rank of 1st Lieutenant. On May 31, 1864, as the 48th neared the Confederate entrenchments surrounding the crossroads town of Cold Harbor, Virginia, Lieutenant Hume was in command of the regimental skirmish line. A bullet shattered his arm, and he lingered in great pain for nearly a month before, mercifully, he died on June 30.
* * * * * * * * * *
Sergeant Robert Alexander Reid
Company G, 48th P.V.V.I.
Medal of Honor
Robert Alexander Reid was born in Scotland, but in the years before the Civil War had immigrated to the United States. He settled, presumably along with his family, in Pottsville, where the young man found work as a roller. When the Civil War broke out, Reid, at age 19, volunteered to fight for his adopted country. He was mustered in as a private in Company G, 48th PA, which was raised almost exclusively from Pottsville and St. Clair. Reid was a scrappy, tough fighter, and was fearless in battle. Before too long, he was promoted to sergeant. On June 17, 1864, at Petersburg, Reid captured the flag of the 44th Tennessee Infantry. For this action, the young soldier was later issued the Medal of Honor. Reid was mustered out in September 1864 following the expiration of his three year term of service. He returned to Pottsville, where he passed away on April 25, 1929, at the age of eighty-seven.
Sergeant Reid's Grave. . .

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. . .


* * * * * * * * * *


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: www.findagrave.com)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Snow Day. . .

Cemetery Hill
Winter is just not winter without snow. But before today, I thought this winter would pass without any of it. With the snow at last falling here in Gettysburg, I thought I'd take advantage of an opportunity to capture some of Gettysburg's winter scenes. Grabbing my camera, I set off on foot for Cemetery Hill, braving the elements. . .
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Snow-covered cannon; barrels trained east
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Cemetery Hill (not Little Round Top) was the key to the Union position at Gettysburg, but because of the heavily-travelled Baltimore Pike and there being nowhere to park, it is among the least visited parts of the battlefield. This is too bad because from the heights, one can gain a good understanding of the battle. . .Plus there is some impressive statuary on Cemetery Hill, specifically, the monuments to. . .
Union 2nd Corps Commander, Winfield Scott Hancock, and. . . Union 11th Corps Commander, Oliver Otis Howard.
I really like O.O. Howard and think he has gotten a bad rap in most popular studies of the war. He was a tough fighter, and fearless in battle. . .even losing an arm at Seven Pines in the spring of 1862. He was also one of W.T. Sherman's most trusted subordinates during the war's final two years. Much more important, however, Howard was a champion of freedom and was an abolitionist, something he was not afraid to hide.

Another shot of the Howard Monument. . .
There was much argument after Gettysburg about who was the "hero" of Cemetery Hill. Hancock, who was never afraid to blow his own trumpet, claimed all the credit, but it was Howard who first recognized the value of the heights. Leading his corps into battle to the north of Gettysburg on July 1st, he left Adolph von Steinwehr's Division behind on Cemetery Hill as a reserve and to defend the army's fall-back position. I always like to point out that when approaching Cemetery Hill from town, Howard's Monument is in front (or north) of Hancock's. . .suggesting that he was there first.
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These guys look cold. . .
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Leaving East Cemetery Hill, I took a stroll through the National Cemetery. It was a quiet afternoon, and the absence of footprints in the snow told me that I was the only one to tramp these hallowed grounds. . .

General John Reynolds has two statues at Gettysburg; one on horseback near McPherson's Woods, west of town, and this one in the National Cemetery. . .


The bust of General Charles Collis, commander of the famed Collis's Zouaves (a.k.a. 114th Pennsylvania Infantry) marks his gravesite. . .The National Soldiers Monument can be seen in the background.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Blog featured in Schuylkill Living. . .

January 2008 Issue of Schuylkill Living
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my blog is featured in the current issue of Schuylkill Living magazine. Schuylkill Living, published quarterly, is "the authoritative guide to life in Schuylkill County, showcasing "the best of the area: people, places, cultural and social events, and interesting aspects of life" in Pennsylvania's "hard coal region."
My blog got a three-page article, and a very nice write up from author Rachel Wallace. I would like to extend my thanks and gratitude to Ms. Wallace and editor, Erica Ramus.
If you are interested in learning more about Schuylkill Living or would like to subscribe, check out their website at: www.schuylkillliving.com. or call (570)622-8625.

Book Review: How The South Could Have Won The Civil War


Several weeks ago, I was contacted by the senior editor at Crown Publishing and asked whether I would be willing to review a book Crown released last year titled How The South Could Have Won the Civil War, by military historian Bevin Alexander. Of course, I agreed.

There is no inevitability in warfare. It is for this simple reason that I have long considered the whole "Lost Cause" myth to be hogwash. The Confederacy, indeed, could have won the Civil War. I was happy to read that Alexander discounts the Lost Cause belief right up front in his book. The book is well written and it is a quick read. And it is not a work of counterfactual history. However, the book is remarkably one-sided, focusing not just on the Confederate side of the war, but on the Army of Northern Virginia and the war in the East specifically. The war in the West is entirely overlooked and its importance completely negated. Alexander maintains that only three people determined the outcome of the entire war: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis. How Alexander can ignore Union leaders in shaping the war's outcome is beyond me. I do believe that Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, and others played determining roles. . .at least ones greater than Jackson.

Of the book's 266 pages, 248 deal with the first two years of the war--and only the battles in the East. Each chapter is a narrative of the Eastern Theatre's battles and campaigns: 1st Bull Run, Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign, 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. The post-Gettysburg history of the war, including the Overland Campaign and the Siege of Petersburg, is given just 18 pages total.

So, how does Alexander believe the South could have won? Well, simply by listening to Stonewall Jackson. Jackson, Alexander continually argued, was the greatest military figure of the war. . .and he heaves so much praise on Old Tom Fool that the book might have better been titled, How Stonewall Jackson Could Have Won the Civil War. The South, argued Alexander, had several great opportunities to achieve victory, especially early in the war, like right after 1st Bull Run, for example. He states his assumptions that the capture of Washington or of Philadelphia would have ended the war in a Confederate victory, but how he arrived at these conclusions is not said. Neither are any counter arguments presented, just statements to the effect of, If the Army of Northern Virginia would have advanced on Washington after 1st Bull Run, it would have easily captured the U.S. capital and ended the war.

There is no discussion made of the political and social issues of the war, and certainly no explanation on how these factors effected the war's outcome. It is purely military in outlook, and can be summed up like this. . .the Union had no control over the war, they simply responded to what proved to be a failed strategy adopted by Robert E. Lee in prosecuting the war. Had Lee listened to Stonewall Jackson who, Alexander argued, sought to destroy Northern industrial capacities and wear down the North's will to fight the war, then surely the South would have won.
I just don't buy it.

There are a few things I did enjoy about the book. Again, the narrative is fast-paced and it does present a different interpretation of the war. Plus, I appreciate that Alexander was not afraid to criticize Lee. Alexander's handling of the Maryland Campaign and battle of Antietam is well done, and I especially enjoyed his argument that the finding of Special Orders No. 191 did not imperil Lee in Maryland. The campaign, said Alexander, was in trouble long before McClellan's remarkable find. . .Why? Well, it was because Lee did not listen to Jackson. What else?

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Nagle Article on SHAF Web Site

Back in September, during the 145th Anniversary activities at Antietam, I was asked by Harry Smeltzer of Bull Runnings fame, to write a biographical sketch of Brigadier General James Nagle for the Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF) newsletter.
The article is now available online at http://www.shaf.org/

Friday, February 1, 2008

On Reenactors & Reenacting. . .

March 2008 Issue ACW
Even though it arrived in the mail last week, I finally had the opportunity today to sit down and read through the current issue of America's Civil War. The issue contains a rather interesting feature on "Why reenactors are important," followed by a short essay written by Robert Lee Hodge, a well-known Confederate reenactor who appeared a decade ago on the cover of Tony Horwitz's wildly popular, and wildly successful, book Confederates in the Attic. An important question was asked: With the Civil War Sesquicentennial just three years away, and with the Lincoln Bicentennial, new museum openings, and battlefield restorations (especially Gettysburg) already underway, how can we reach out to our younger generations in helping to explain why it is so important that we study and remember the Civil War? Mr. Hodge maintains--and I agree, to an extent--that one of the ways is through reenactors and reenactments. "I know people putting on clothes from 150 years ago and reenacting a battle is going to make some academics frown or laugh," said Hodge. "But I feel that, even if it is a far from perfect resource, reenacting can help history benefit in competing for the memory of the youth." (pg. 25).
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When I was a kid, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world to see Civil War reenactors. "Wow," I thought to myself, "that's what Civil War soldiers looked like!" Of course, I wanted in-- so it was not long before I started piecing together a "uniform," which I would frequently don to recreate imaginary battles in the fields and woods behind my Orwigsburg home. . .
Me. . .in "light marching order"
And whenever my family took me to Gettysburg or Antietam (see below), I would wear my Union blues. . .

As I got older, of course, I began to realize that perhaps Civil War reenactors--a large number of them, at least--did not resemble the real soldiers of the war. Many were old, quite old, with rather large bellies, which betrayed their representation of Civil War soldiers subsisting off meager rations and tramping many miles a day. Anyway. . .I went off to college then to grad school and earned my credentials as an academic. Still, however, I was not one who, as Hodge put it, would "frown" or "laugh." I knew reenactors can play a big role in helping kids become interested in the study of the war, and, to this end, I would willingly go into schools, or libraries, or YMCA's, or whatever, all decked out in my costume to present living history programs on the life of a Civil War soldier. While I was in high school, college, and even grad school, I delivered dozens such presentations, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. . .especially when the kids asked me if I was killed at Gettysburg or other amusing questions. I also delivered a good number of "living history" portrayals at local history-day events and such, but it has been a number of years since I did this, at least on a regular basis. (My roomate from college is now a fifth grade teacher in Philly, and every year since graduation, I go in to his classroom and do a presentation). And, technically speaking, since I never got into the battles or camp outs, I was never a true reenactor. . .just a "living historian."
Below are two shots of me in my garb taken way back in 2002. . .six years ago already. As you can see, I advanced myself to the rank of corporal.



I do feel that reenactors, or living historians, can have a positive impact on helping to gain the interest of our younger generations. It picqued my interest when I was a kid. However, there are some things about reenactors and reenacting that leave me shaking my head. And please understand me when I say that this is certainly not true of all, only a few that I've come across, especially as a ranger at Antietam. . .
Some insist on being addressed by their so-called "rank". . .I don't understand this. Anyone can get a major general's costume, or become a "lieutenant, "major," or "sergeant," just by sewing on some collar or shoulder boards, or chevrons. I even advanced from private to corporal! Others tell me where they--or their unit--were during a battle. "We were at the Wheatfield at Gettysburg," or "I charged Bloody Lane." No, you weren't, and no, you didn't. I'm also oftentimes amused at just how seriously some take their role. A few years ago, I asked a "major" how the reenactment went at Cedar Creek, and, boy, if I didn't know better, I could have sworn I was asking Phil Sheridan himself. "It looked for a moment that we would break. . .the boys were beginning to waver. I galloped over, waved my sword and told them to stand firm! Seeing me made the boys rally, and we soon drove them from the field." Sorry I asked. And I don't understand the policies among some units to exclude women. . .reenacting is a hobby, and should be shared by all interested and willing. Perhaps this might even inspire more girls to learn more about the war. I know the argument. . ."We strive for accuracy." Then how do you explain the large number of overweight "soldiers" in the ranks of too many reenacting units?
Now, with all of that being said, again let me state that reenactors and living historians can go far in helping bring the war to life to kids who might otherwise not get interested by simply reading books or watching documentaries. And as the article in ACW concludes, that is why reenactors are important.

GNMP Superintendent Q&A: Pt.1

Dr. John Latschar, the Superintendent of the Gettysburg National Military Park, sat down with a staff writer of the Gettysburg Times for an interview. . .and, according to the story's headline, "attempts to set the record straight on contentious issues that have dogged his Gettysburg career."
Part 1 is available here:
http://www.gettysburgtimes.com/news/front1.shtml

Part 2 will be in tomorrow's edition. . .