Monday, November 30, 2009

Brigadier General Edward Harland

At Antietam, Colonel Edward Harland's Ninth Corps Brigade, composed of Connecticut and Rhode Island troops, suffered some of the highest casualties in the entire Army of the Potomac. At the Lower Bridge and on the left of the Ninth Corps line during the afternoon advance against the Confederate right flank, Harland’s four regiments lost more than 600 men killed, wounded, and missing. Bearing the brunt of General A.P. Hill’s devastating flank attack, Harland’s men were forced from the field. While attempting to rally his troops and stay the retreat, Harland had a horse shot from underneath him, and he fell hard to the ground. In the afternoon, only a fraction of his command remained. His men were so used up that in his Official Report Harland stated: “At the bridge I collected the shattered remnants of the brigade, in hopes of making a stand, but owing to the large loss of officers and the failure of ammunition, it was impossible to render the men of any material service.”[1]
Possessing neither a West Point education nor experience in a pre-war militia unit, Edward Harland nonetheless served in high command with quiet competence throughout the four years of the Civil War. Born in 1832 in Norwich, Connecticut, Edward Harland was descended from an English watchmaker who immigrated to the colonies just a few years before the Americans declared their independence. Graduating from Yale University in 1853, Harland next took up the study of law and was admitted to the Connecticut bar two years later. Practicing law in his native town, Harland quickly became a leading citizen of Norwich. Thus, when the war broke out in the spring of 1861, Harland helped recruit and was mustered into service as captain of Company D, 3rd Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. At the First Battle of Bull Run, Captain Harland, the lawyer-turned-warrior, proved himself an able battlefield leader and when the regiment’s term of service expired later that summer, he was commissioned to lead a new three-year unit. Mustered in as colonel of the 8th Connecticut in October 1861, Harland led his new command to the shores of North Carolina where they formed part of General Ambrose Burnside’s expeditionary force, seeing action at Roanoke Island and New Bern. After Burnside’s command was transferred to Virginia in the summer of 1862, Colonel Harland was assigned brigade command. Leading his brigade throughout the Maryland Campaign, Harland was only lightly engaged at the battle of South Mountain. Three days later, however, he and his men witnessed savage combat and suffered heavy losses at Antietam.

Traveling along the east bank of the Antietam on the morning of September 17, Harland’s Brigade was minus one regiment as it searched with the rest of Rodman’s Division for a ford south of the Lower Bridge. Earlier, the 11th Connecticut was detached in order to serve as skirmishers for George Crook’s Brigade as it made the first of what was to be several attacks against the bridge. Charging straight for the bridge, the 11th Connecticut lost more than thirty percent of its number in their vain effort. Among the killed was the regiment’s commander, Colonel Henry Kingsbury, whose brother-in-law, General David R. Jones, commanded the Confederate division south of town, including the Georgia troops posted on the high ground west of the three-arched bridge.
Sometime around 1:00 p.m., and while Edward Ferrero’s men were storming across the bridge, Colonel Harland’s other three regiments finally crossed the Antietam at Snavely’s Ford, and took up a position on the extreme left of the Ninth Corps line, which eventually stretched one mile in length. With the town of Sharpsburg and the possession of the Harper’s Ferry Road their objectives and the thinned ranks of D.J. Jones’s Division their only obstacle, the Ninth Corps moved forward around 3:00 p.m. However, things had gone astray in the ranks of Harland’s Brigade from the start. While the 8th Connecticut moved out as ordered, aligning on the left flank of Harrison Fairchild’s Brigade, Harland’s other two regiments—the4th Rhode Island and 16th Connecticut—remained in their position. Then, off to the west, Colonel Harland and division commander Isaac Rodman noticed an approaching column of Confederate infantry. A.P. Hill’s Confederate Division had arrived from Harper’s Ferry almost entirely undetected and was heading toward Harland’s exposed left flank. Galloping to warn the two lagging regiments of this threat and to reposition them to meet it, Harland fell to the ground after his horse was shot from underneath him. At roughly the same time, Rodman fell with a mortal wound. Command of the division then fell to its senior brigadier, Colonel Edward Harland. As the 4th Rhode Island and 16th Connecticut finally advanced, they were met by the vigorous attack of General Maxcy Gregg’s brigade of South Carolinians. Confusion reigned among the stalks of corn in Mr. Otto’s Forty-Acre Cornfield, especially in the ranks of the Connecticut regiment. These men were fighting in their first battle and had been in the service for less than three weeks. With men falling by the score, Harland’s shattered New Englanders were finally driven from the field, retreating toward the high ground immediately west of the bridge. The number of men lost that day in Harland’s four regiments exceeded six hundred. The 16th Connecticut alone lost 302 men killed, wounded, and missing, the highest number of casualties in the entire Ninth Corps.
Harland reverted back to brigade command following the battle of Antietam. Promoted to brigadier general of volunteers to date from November 29, 1862, Harland led his men at Fredericksburg, which proved to be his last major battle of the war. Transferred to southeast Virginia in March 1863, he commanded a brigade in the Seventh Corps for four months before being transferred, yet again, to General George Getty’s Eighteenth Corps Division in the Department of Virginia and North Carolina. He remained with the Eighteenth Corps throughout the duration of the war, but spent the final year and a half of the conflict in command of various districts and posts. In March 1864, he was given command of the Subdistrict of the Pamlico, a position he held for just two months before sent to command the defenses of New Bern, North Carolina. Remaining here until January 1865, Harland briefly held command of the Department of New Bern before finishing out the war in command of the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, District of Beaufort. After more than four years of service, General Harland tendered his resignation from the army on June 22, 1865.

Thirty-three-year-old Edward Harland returned to Norwich after the war where he enjoyed great success in a number of endeavors. After first returning to his law practice, Harland next served a number of terms in both houses of the Connecticut legislature, and sat for a time as a probate judge. Continuing a distinguished career as a public servant, Harland also served on the state board of pardons and as the adjutant general of the Connecticut state militia. In 1890 the aging bachelor was named president of the Chelsea Savings Bank. Harland suffered from chronic emphysema during the final ten years of his life; indeed, this affliction was listed as the cause of his death, which came on March 9, 1915, in Norwich, Connecticut. He was eighty-two years of age.

[1] Official Report of Colonel Edward Harland, September 22, 1862, in OR Series I, Vol. 19, Part 51

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your post on Edward Harland. Learned a lot about him.

Jim Rosebrock