Our Country's Fiery Ordeal

A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)

Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Monday, August 8, 2011

August 1861: The formation of Company D of the 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry

In August of 1861, following the Union defeat at the Battle of First Bull Run, new efforts to recruit men for the Union cause were underway. 150 years ago this month, Captain Samuel Newman set out to Bradford County, Pennsylvania to recruit volunteers to serve in the Union army during the Civil War, to be attached to the 33rd Pennsylvania, also known as the Keystone Regiment. While for a time these men would serve as the 5th California Regiment under Edward Baker's California Brigade, for the majority of their service, they would be known as Company D of the 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

The regimental history for the 106th Pennsylvania says that the regiment was formed between August 8 and September 30 of 1861, but the efforts to form it extend beyond those dates. For Company D specifically, many of the men were mustered into service on August 21, yet by that time they had already made the difficult decision to leave home, they had said goodbye to their loved ones, and they had made the difficult journey through the Pennsylvania mountains to Philadelphia. Thus, while it is nearly impossible to know when exactly Elwood Rodebaugh and his fellow soldiers from Canton left home for the war, one must assume it was with enough time before their August 21st enlistment date for all of this to take place.

The 106th Pennsylvania shed blood on many battlefields throughout the war. Company D from Canton originally numbered 3 officers and 85 men, receiving small influxes of troops in 1862 and 1863, rounding out their total numbers for the war at 3 officers and 101 men. The casualty rate for Company D during the three years of its service was 56%. Out of these numbers, 1 officer and 12 men were killed in action; 3 officers and 35 men were wounded; four men died from wounds; 13 died of disease; 7 were captured, with 2 of those dying in rebel prisons; 8 reenlisted as veterans in 1864; 18 were discharged for disability, five of whom suffered from severe wounds. On September 10, 1864, the company mustered out with the regiment with only one officer and twenty men.

While I plan on writing about many of the events for the sesquicentennial of the Civil War as they occur over the next few years, one theme I will focus on specifically will be the service and experiences of the 106th Pennsylvania. While Elwood Rodebaugh would only serve with this regiment for 1 year before he was killed in action, I still have a very close attachment to the actions and service of this brave group of soldiers, especially Company D from Canton, Pennsylvania. The 106th Pennsylvania was a member of the 2nd Corps of the Union Army of the Potomac, a Corps which participated in every major engagement in the Eastern Theater from its formation in March of 1862 through September of 1864 when the regiment mustered out of service. During that time, members of the 106th Pennsylvania shed blood on the fields of the Seven Day's Battles, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor.

Yet, 150 years ago, all these places and names were but peaceful farm fields and towns, and the thought of a four year revolutionary struggle which would cost the nation over 600,000 dead and forever change the fabric of American society was far from the minds of many. 150 years ago, the men of Canton were being stirred to arms by Captain Samuel H. Newman who compelled them to leave the warmth of their loved ones to pick up muskets to defend the Constitution and the Union. 150 years ago, Elwood Rodeabaugh was saying goodbye to his wife and children, preparing to leave home for the war.

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