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)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Landscape Turned White: October Snow at Antietam

If you have not heard, we have had a bit of snow as of late at Antietam. While it won't last for long, as more seasonal temperatures are in store for us, it was quite a day on Saturday. We lost power at the Visitor Center and had to close early, as the landscape outside was transformed from a fall battlefield to a winter battlefield. I had the chance this morning to take some early morning photographs of Antietam's snowy landscape. I have never seen the battlefield more beautiful and serene. I hope you enjoy...






 The Pry House


 "Old Simon"


Piper Orchard and Observation Tower


 14th Connecticut Monument


 New York State Monument and Visitor Center


 Dunker Church, surrounded by frozen fall colors


 Maryland Monument


 The frozen 124th Pennsylvania Monument


 Indiana Monument with a now snow covered cornfield just behind it


 14th Brooklyn Monument


Texas Monument


 Mumma Farm with a distant Observation Tower





 132nd Pennsylvania Monument


 A frozen wayside pannel


 132nd Pennsylvania Monument, Observation Tower, and a frozen fence










While the sun has come out again and the snow has begun melting, it is obvious that colder weather is just around the corner. Hopefully, many more beautiful sights and pictures are to come at Antietam. Seeing the battlefield adorned in a frozen layer of white was truly a remarkable sight this morning



Tuesday, October 25, 2011

George McClellan's thoughts on the Battle of Ball's Bluff


Writing to his wife on October 25, 1861, George McClellan offered some fascinating thoughts on the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, fought just a few days prior on October 21. While McClellan had played some role in the battle, considering he had authorized Brigadier General Charles Stone to commence a small demonstration against Confederate troops near Leesburg, the battle itself was an entirely different matter. In searching for the culprit responsible for the debacle, McClellan looked past Stone when determining who was at fault. While Stone was excoriated by scores of politicians, McClellan instead turned his blame to the late Baker, a close personal friend of Lincoln’s. McClellan’s letter shows both a human side to the man, as well as an important opinion on what exactly went wrong at Ball’s Bluff.



George Brinton McClellan to his wife, Mary Ellen McClellan

Washington
October 25, 1861

…How weary I am of all this business—case after case—blunder after blunder—trick upon trick—I am well nigh tired of the world, and were it not for you would be fully so.

That affair of Leesburg on Monday last was a terrible butchery—the men fought nobly, but were penned up by a vastly superior force in a place where they had no retreat. The whole thing took place some 40 miles from here without my orders or knowledge—it was entirely unauthorized by me and I am in no manner responsible for it.

The man directly to blame for the affair was Col. Baker who was killed—he was in command, disregarded entirely the instructions he had received from Stone, and violated all military rules and precautions. Instead of meeting the enemy with double their force and a good ferry behind him, he was outnumbered three to one, and had no means of retreat. Cogswell (Colonel Milton Cogswell, 42nd New York) is a prisoner—he behaved very handsomely. Raymond Lee (Colonel Raymond Lee, 20th Massachusetts) is also taken. We lost 79 killed, 141 wounded, and probably 400 wounded and prisoners—stragglers are constantly coming in however, so that the number of missing is gradually being decreased and may not go beyond 300 (McClellan’s casualty figures were off by quite a bit: 49 killed, 158 wounded, 714 missing). I found things in great confusion when I arrived there—General Banks having assumed command and having done nothing. In a very short time order and confidence were restored. During the night I withdrew everything and everybody to this side of the river—which I truth they never should have left….

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Social Media sites for Antietam National Battlefield and Antietam Battlefield Guides

As the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam is fast approaching, many new things are starting to get underway at the park. Among these are some new social media sites to reach out to those who are interested in the battlefield and what we do here. Now, Antietam Battlefield has an official facebook page. It has been up and running for a few months, and is frequently updated with photographs, stories, monument quizzes, and information about the park. You can find the link for this page here. Please check it out and become a follower of Antietam National Battlefield.

Additionally, some new things are in store for the Antietam Battlefield Guides, the private guide association which is run through the Western Maryland Interpretive Association and the park bookstore. The guide program will be offering some new tours and programs in the upcoming year. To help the guide association grow, it also has a new facebook page, which you can find here. As one who works both as a park ranger and as a battlefield guide, I recommend checking these pages out and following them to stay up to date with the developments occuring at Antietam.

Stay tuned for more updates in the weeks and months to come. With the 150th quickly approaching, it is an exciting time for all of us at Antietam National Battlefield.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ball's Bluff: October 21, 1861




After the Union defeat at First Manassas, George Brinton McClellan rose to command the Union forces in the East. Upon his arrival, McClellan set about to reorganize the troops under his command, hoping to defend Washington from the Confederate threat on the other side of the Potomac. As a part of this defense, McClellan placed the 6,500 man division of Brigadier General Charles Stone near Poolesville, Maryland, to guard fords across the Potomac near the city of Leesburg.


For most of October, Stone’s division was encamped near Poolesville. Their site was known as Camp Observation. The first few weeks of that month at Camp Observation saw mainly drilling and other tasks of army life. Excitement was found in camp games and adjusting to army life for the new soldiers. Picket duty along the Potomac River offered the chance to see Johnny Rebs in person, quite a treat for the new soldiers of Stone’s command. Across the river in Leesburg sat Nathan (Shanks) Evans’s brigade.


Stone’s division was comprised of three brigades. Willis Gorman’s brigade contained the 2nd New York Militia, 1st Minnesota, 15th Massachusetts, and the 34th and 42nd New York Infantries. The brigade of Frederick Lander was comprised of the 7th Michigan, the 19th Massachusetts, and the 20th Massachusetts. The most prestigious of these three brigade commanders was Colonel Edward Baker, a United States Senator from Oregon. Baker oversaw the California brigade, comprised of Pennsylvanians primarily from the Philadelphia area. Baker was close personal friends with President Lincoln; in fact, Lincoln named his second born child after his friend Edward. It is worth noting that many of the regiment’s in Stone’s division which were engaged at Ball’s Bluff, and at Edward’s Ferry as well, were those of John Sedgwick’s division at Antietam less than one year later. The 15th and 20th Massachusetts, 42nd New York, 71st Pennsylvania, and 1st Minnesota were all in the West Woods on the fateful morning of September 17, 1862.


Desperate for a victory of some sort, in mid October, McClellan devised a plan to retake several crossings over the river. He ordered a division of Pennsylvania Reserves to march to Dranesville, 14 miles south of Leesburg on the Potomac. McClellan was hoping that Evans’s brigade would fall back from Leesburg to Joe Johnston’s main force outside of Manassas. In combination with this, on October 20, McClellan sent word to Charles Stone to watch for Confederates on the Leesburg side of the river, and that should it be necessary, he was authorized to put on a “small demonstration” of his force to aid in the endeavor. While McClellan most likely did not intend for Stone to send a force across the river, that is exactly what his division commander did. Bad intelligence and poor decision making was about to lead Stone’s men into a terrible situation along the Potomac. Willis Gorman’s brigade was sent to Edward’s Ferry to distract Confederate attention, while elements of the 15th Massachusetts were sent on a reconnoitering mission towards Leesburg near Ball’s Bluff along the Potomac. The companies of the 15th Massachusetts who undertook the scouting mission informed General Stone of unguarded Confederate camps on the other side of the river, ultimately giving Stone cause to order the camp’s destruction the next day. What those men saw is not entirely certain, but it is clear that they did not see a vulnerable Confederate camp. That evening, Stone sent orders to Colonel Edward Baker to take his First California Regiment (later the 71st Pennsylvania and Stone’s original regiment before brigade command) to the banks of the river at sunrise and to await further orders there.


On October 21, elements of the 15th Massachusetts were sent across the Potomac to fulfill Stone’s orders regarding the Confederate camp. Orders were also sent to Gorman’s brigade at Edward’s Ferry to continue its demonstrations so as to take attention away from the efforts at Ball’s Bluff. In support for the 15th Massachusetts was the 20th Massachusetts, also on Harrison’s Island in the middle of the river. The 15th Massachusetts soldiers, much to their surprise, encountered resistance from companies of the 17th Mississippi Infantry and the 4th and 6th Virginia Cavalry. Simultaneously, Gorman had crossed the 1st Minnesota into Virginia at Edward’s Ferry and had begun encountering Confederate forces there as well. The Battle of Ball’s Bluff had begun.


As the fighting picked up and the situation appeared drastically different than Stone had anticipated, he placed Colonel Edward Baker in command of the actions around Harrison’s Island and Ball’s Bluff. Stone would stay near Edward’s Ferry to coordinate movements between Baker and Gorman. Baker arrived on the scene and began crossing his brigade onto Harrison’s Island, with his First California Regiment in the lead. Shortly after noon, a significant portion of the regiment had crossed the river and reached Harrison’s Island. Rather than reconnoitering the position as he should have, Baker occupied himself with the tedious task of getting his men across the river, wasting valuable time which could have been spent determining the severity of the situation on the other side.


With Baker’s arrival on the field, the situation became much more complicated. He greeted the Colonel of the 20th Massachusetts by congratulating him on the battle which was occurring at the moment. As the men of the 15th and 20th Massachusetts were falling back toward the river from their encounter with unexpected Confederate infantry, Baker formed a defensive position on the bluffs above the Potomac. He brought across the 1st California (71st Pennsylvania), as well as portions of the 42nd New York and several artillery batteries. As Baker’s men were forming on the bluffs, the fighting began to intensify. The 8th Virginia and 18th Mississippi advanced against the Federal line, trapping Baker’s men between Confederate fire and the Potomac River. While several initial attacks were repulsed, Confederate reinforcements committed to the fight made it difficult for Baker’s men to stay in their vulnerable position. An attack by Company H of the 18th Mississippi threatened the Federal flank, and likewise severely wounded Colonel Isaac Wister of the 1st California and mortally wounded Colonel Edward Baker. Baker’s death signaled the breaking point for the Union forces at Ball’s Bluff. The men were trapped against the Potomac. Many fell back, trying to swim to safety. Others simply surrendered to the Confederate attackers. Still others found their deaths in the cool waters of the Potomac. For weeks afterwards, Federal dead could be seen floating down river, some as far as Washington and Mount Vernon.


While Ball’s Bluff was a skirmish by later standards, its impact was quite immense. Colonel Edward Baker, a United States Senator, had been killed in combat, a tremendous blow to northern morale. Abraham Lincoln, Baker’s close friend, was devastated by the loss. Of the 1,700 Federal troops who were on the field of battle, over 1,000 were killed, wounded, or captured. Confederate losses totaled only 149 men. Brigadier General Stone, while far from being the only one responsible, was assigned the most blame for the embarrassing defeat. A new Congressional committee, the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, arose in the aftermath of Ball’s Bluff, lambasting Stone for the defeat there. Stone was relieve of command and arrested for his role in the debacle. Yet, Stone was far from the only one responsible for Ball’s Bluff. For Edward Baker, perhaps death and martyrdom helped him escape the finger of blame for his role in the battle. Much of what happened at Ball’s Bluff can be attributed to his poor command decisions. McClellan himself had authorized the movement by telling Stone to conduct a small demonstration, yet the Young Napoleon effectively avoided all significant blame and censure for the defeat in its aftermath. By proving to be such a debacle for Union forces and so close in proximity to Washington, Ball’s Bluff signified another low point early on for the Union armies during the war.


As for Elwood Rodebaugh and the 106th Pennsylvania, or at that time the 5th California Regiment, October 21, 1861 was a relatively quiet day. The men were assembled and made ready for battle, yet they spent their day awaiting further orders. Reports from the front lines filtered back to them, telling of Union advances and retreats. In the late afternoon hours of the 21st, the regiment sadly learned of the death of its brigade commander. The men returned to their camp by midnight in a torrential rain. As Josiah Ward wrote in his regimental history, “the loss of General Baker cast a gloom over the Brigade…. Many were the expressions of sorrow and regret, which were in some measures overcome by the gallantry of his death” (Josiah Ward, History of the 106th PA, 9). Following the death of Baker, Brigadier General William Burns, a US Regular, was appointed commander of the California Brigade. For Private Elwood Rodebaugh, Ball’s Bluff led to a new designation for his regiment. No longer would Elwood fight under the banner of California. In mid-November, his regiment became the 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. The men of the California Brigade had now reverted back to the designation of their home state. The 69th, 71st, 72nd, and 106th Pennsylvania Infantries now composed the Philadelphia Brigade.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Those who hamper him, no matter what theory they may suggest, are assuming a fearful responsibility."

On October 20, 1861, the New York Times printed the following editorial about Major General George B. McClellan. This piece shows us a moment in time early on in the war, before McClellan's Peninsula and Antietam campaigns, which many historians use to excoriate the man. It might seem as though McClellan was nothing but a failure and his rise to command was surely a mistake, yet in 1861 he was viewed by many as the only hope for the Union (he also viewed himself that way as well). Thus, while McClellan's name may bring about laughter in some historical circles today, in October of 1861 the New York Times was praising him as a man who "must be entirely trusted," also warning of the "fearful responsibility" which would assuredly befall any of the general's critics.

Additionally, the way that the editorial praises McClellan's fair mindedness and unpolitical nature is fascinating, primarily because both of these traits were exact opposites of the Young Napoleon's actual personality. McClellan certainly had an egotistical streak, and certainly he was as much a political general as was any officer on either side during the war. He hid his disdain for Lincoln at many times, only to allow it to unreservedly emerge in his letters to his wife. Claiming that McClellan would prove to be the president's "sincere and self-sacrificing friend" was a statement which belied the actual relationship the two men shared.


 WASHINGTON, Thursday, Oct. 17, 1861 I have repeatedly said that Gen. McCLELLAN was not a politician. He has never participated in partisan struggles. His sympathies were undoubtedly with DOUGLAS in the last Presidential campaign, and he belonged to that large class of men who regarded Mr. LINCOLN's election as inevitable, on account of the determination of the Pro-Slavery leaders to break up the Democratic Party. He early stated that, if ABRAHAM LINCOLN was elected, he would be found one of the first to support his Administration against all attacks that might be made upon it. But, true to his nature and his profession, he abstained from all active participation in the Presidential election -- the evidence of which is to be found in the fact that the leading politicians of the two great parties in Illinois accepted his appointment with pleasure. His connection with the great Illinois Railroad placed him in intimate association with Mr. LINCOLN, at that time the leading lawyer at Springfield, the Capital of Illinois -- and naturally with Judge DOUGLAS -- who may be said to have been one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful advocate of the railroad policy which has done so much for that great State. Therefore, when McCLELLAN was made a Major-General, and put in the important position he now holds, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, the President of the United States, secured a sincere and self-sacrificing friend. But McCLELLAN's position is by no means an enviable one. His bed is not a bed of roses. Apart from the natural embarrassments common to so vast a command, he has to encounter and surmount obstacles too often of a gratuitous character. Heartily sustained by the President and his Cabinet, and an especial favorite with the Republican and Union leaders, there are some who begin to think that he may be too successful, and who occasionally seek to chill him by their counsel, and to retard him by the exercise of certain powers. A General like McCLELLAN -- a man who has done so much, and is ready to do more, and who will fulfill every just expectation of his country, if he is permitted to take his own course -- must be entirely trusted. Those who hamper him, no matter what theory they may suggest, are assuming a fearful responsibility.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Autumn arrives at Antietam

As of late, the Antietam landscape has a different look to it. The days are growing shorter, the air is a bit cooler, and the leaves are changing to hues of red, orange, and yellow.

It is a great time to be at Antietam. I've spent quite a bit of time out on the trails as of late, and I thought I would give you just a glimpse of what the park looks like these days.



 New York State Monument

New York State Monument

 Maryland State Monument

Tompkin's battery gun in front of Mumma Lane


 Observation Tower

 Roulette Farm







 A much more peaceful version of a "landscape turned red"

 Roulette Farmstead

Roulette Farm Lane







"Old Simon" in the National Cemetery





Philadelphia Brigade Monument



Still blogging, hiking, and touring away in Western Maryland. Hope to see you at the park before winter finally sets in. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Why did they fight that way: Foolishness or Courage?




Last weekend, October 8th and 9th, living history volunteers portraying the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry were at Antietam as part of a living history weekend. Among the programs that were offered were several infantry firing demonstrations by the volunteers portraying the 8th Ohio. Their demonstration was a nice primer on Civil War tactics at the company level.


The relevance of these tactics to our understanding of the Civil War goes far beyond how troops moved on the battlefield and how certain positions were taken on different fields. They speak, in part, to how we understand the men who fought during the war. For more thoughts on this, see the last few paragraphs of this post.


First, a few photographs and videos of firing demonstrations done by the men of the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry living history group...



Loading and firing a musket...

 First, the powder cartridge must be torn. For this, a soldier required two of the most important tools needed to fight in the Civil War. In fact, these tools were so important that if one did not have them, he was disqualified from serving in the infantry. Those tools, of course, were one's two front teeth.



 Next, load the cartridge into the musket by pouring in powder and ball.


 Ready the ramrod to push the musket ball and powder into place


 Cartridge is firmly pushed into the barrel of the musket


 Retrieving the ramrod


 Muskets are loaded...


 Percussion caps are added to provide the necessary spark and...


Fire!


Now, all that remains is repeating the process and doing so faster than your enemy. As is commonly said, a good infantryman could get off three well aimed shots in one minute.



The first video shows firing by file, allowing for a rapid and continuous rate of fire.
video

The second video is firing by rank, allowing for a more concentrated rate of fire.
video



Perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions by visitors to Antietam is why these men fought they way that they did. Invariably, at least once or twice a week, upon emerging from our Visitor Center theater where they viewed a film with reenactments of battle scenes, someone will say, "I just can't imagine why those guys marched at each other in straight lines. Didn't they know they would all die? Were they stupid or something?"



When trying to understand people who lived 150 years ago, stupid is the last word one should use in starting an inquiry. In fact, let's remove it from our historical dictionary altogether. Very few, if any of these men, acted as they did out of stupidity, whether they were generals or common soldiers.

So, if not stupidity, why would these men march in lines of battle across open fields against opposing lines of infantry with artillery batteries hitting them with shot, shell, and cannister? It was bravery, courage, and love for cause, comrades, and country.

Perhaps, instead of asking ourselves, "How stupid were those guys that they marched in a straight line to their deaths?", we should ask instead, "What caliber of man, and what kind of bravery and courage was it that led those men to march into battle, and for some, into death?" In asking ourselves this new question, we can both better understand the men who undertook these harrowing tasks as well as learning the true meanings of words such as patriotism, bravery, courage, duty, and freedom.


The difficulties of Civil War tactics shed light not only on the weaponry and the fighting style of armies in the Civil War, but they also shed light on the special qualities of courage and bravery which permeated the ranks of both sides. Simply put, the Confederate soldiers who launched Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg and the Union soldiers who assaulted the Sunken Road at Antietam weren't foolhardy; they were incredibly brave.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

George McClellan: Incompetent fool or bumbling moron?


George Brinton McClellan is perhaps the most fascinating part of working at Antietam from a historical perspective (Emancipation is another interesting historical part of the job, which is an entirely different story). When I first came to Antietam two years ago, I was a student of the "George McClellan was an incompetent moron" school of thought. After all, why not? The convenient story of a traitorous and incompetent McClellan stabbing the noble Lincoln in the back is too easy to pass up for those seeking a tidy and easy narrative to understand the war. This narrative especially plays into theories of the dominance of the Southern armies; the South had all the good generals and the North had all the bad ones.


However, after really studying the battle over the last two years in ways I never had before, as well as after innumerable long conversations with many good friends and colleagues, I can firmly say that I have learned more about Antietam and George McClellan in the past two years than I had from the time I first picked up an Antietam book at the age of 8 or 9 to when I started working here for the NPS.


During my time thus far at Antietam, several prominent questions have arisen in my mind challenging the traditional George McClellan narrative. What differences, if any, exist between what McClellan accomplished at Antietam and what George Meade accomplished at Gettysburg? How was it that the North won the war if all of their Eastern commanders were incompetent and the Southern generals were invincible legends? Was McClellan really as cautious as many say he was during the Antietam Campaign? The answers that I began to find to these questions challenged many of the notions I had held about the Civil War from my younger days. Much to my surprise, I had begun learning that the real story of Antietam is much more complicated than the prepackaged version told by many historians (the same is true for many battles).


So, why is George McClellan such an interesting part of my job? Because 95% of the people who ask questions about him start their question off with one of the following assumptions: 


A) George McClellan was a moron and that is why he lost at Antietam
B) George McClellan was scared to fight a major battle and that is why he lost at Antietam
C) George McClellan was both a moron and scared to fight a major battle, and that is why he lost at Antietam
D) All of the above


If one starts the conversation on McClellan from the assumption that he was a loser, then the conversation will be the equivalent of putting on a bunt with your slowest runner up to bat, the infielders in on the grass, and trailing by 10 runs in the 9th inning (that is, for you non-baseball folks, it would be pointless). Being a historian is more than reading history books; it is about trying to find the truth within our past. Doing so requires looking past tired stereotypes. Thus, encountering the many preconcieved notions regarding McClellan's incompetence and, hopefully, teaching people to see the American Civil War in a different light is a fascinating process.


For example, in my talks recently I have added a new line: "Now, I am going to use a word to describe George McClellan's battle plan here that I am willing to bet you have never heard in the same sentence with McClellan's name ever before, and that word is excellent." This line always gets laughs from visitors, which clearly illustrates my point. McClellan's plan was quite sound from a tactical perspective. Perhaps terming it excellent is a bit too dramatic, but it certainly serves my point. However, our collective understanding of the man is so clouded by conjecture and is so focused on labeling him a bad general that we never get to a deeper level in understanding both McClellan as a general and the battle of Antietam itself.


Recently, in an online course I am taking, I suggested that McClellan was a better general than typically stated. For this simple suggestion, my post was called irrelevant, beyond belief, and ridiculous. One student said it is historically proven beyond a doubt that McClellan was a terrible general. Is that really the way historians work? I abandoned the conversation after awhile, because you can only hear the words "if he had done this" so many times.


George McClellan is a topic which I hope to add to this blog's repertoire over its duration, so I don't plan on giving an entire account of him in this one post. For a thought provoking and well articulated take on McClellan, you can check out Antietam volunteer (and awesome battlefield guide) Jim Rosebrock's blog South from the North Woods and his recent entry On the McClellan "Roller Coaster".


However, for now, I will say that George McClellan achieved a military victory at Antietam by executing a good tactical plan which, despite being hampered by poor communication and coordination (most of which was McClellan's fault), effectively stopped Lee's Maryland Campaign. Had it not been for Lee's timely defensive strikes at certain key moments in the battle, as well as the Army of Northern Virginia's sheer luck on several occasions, the Army of the Potomac most likely would have crushed the Confederate forces in Maryland, possibly ending the war in the East three years earlier, fulfilling the hypothetical dreams of countless “Monday morning quarterback” historians.


All this being said, I am not a McClellan apologist. He made plenty of mistakes as a general. He also displayed shocking insubordination and disrespect towards his Commander in Chief, which is completely inexcusable and appropriately condemnable. There are few figures from the Civil War who I dislike more from a personality and politics perspective. However, as a historian, it is my job to be objective and fair. Despite his disrespect for Lincoln and opposition to emancipation, he deserves a fair shake as a general.


When it comes to George McClellan, we don't necessarily have to take the high road of overindulgent praise, nor do we have to take the low road of unmitigated condemnation. There is a middle road of both praise and condemnation which more accurately reflects the man's achievements and shortcomings as they really were nearly 150 years ago.




Monday, October 3, 2011

The 106th Pennsylvania leaves Philadelphia: "that our flag should remain unsullied and our country undivided."



On September 29, 1861, Colonel Turner G. Morehead, commanding officer of the 5th California (later 106th Pennsylvania), recieved orders from Colonel Edward Baker to prepare his regiment to move along with the rest of the California Brigade. Baker's California Brigade, composed of Pennsylvanians primarily from the Philadelphia area, was leaving Philadelphia for its new camp near Washington D.C. In essence, the regiment that would soon become the 106th Pennsylvania was now leaving for war.

The following day, on September 30, 1861, the men of the brigade began their march through the streets of Philadelphia for the train depot, where they were to board trains to take them first to Baltimore, and then to Washington. Josiah Ward, a member of the regiment, wrote the following of the scene:


A perfect ovation greeted us along the whole route, the people on the sidewalks cheering and applauding as we passed, the excitement increasing as we reached the depot, the crowd already there greatly augmented by the throng that accompanied us on the pavements. Mothers embracing their boys, wives and children their husbands and fathers, and the more subdued yet as affecting lover's good-bye, all tended to sadly impress those participating. Amid intense excitement we were placed in the cars and at one o'clock, with cheer after cheer breaking the stillness of midnight, the train started on its way, bearing another detachment of our country's defenders, who were severing the closest ties that bind man to earth, to die, if need be, "that our flag should remain unsullied and our country undivided." Many were there who clasped the hands of their loved ones then for the last time, as they did die in defense of their country or were stricken down by disease that hurried many a brave man into an untimely grave (Ward, History of the 106th Pennsylvania, 4-5).

On October 1, the Pennsylvanians fighting under the banner of California began arriving in Washington. While exhausted from the long journey, the men were glad to be outside of the rail cars. Over the course of the next few days, they made their way toward their destination on foot, moving through the city to Poolesville, Maryland. There, the men joined their division and met their division commander, General Charles Stone. Stone reviewed the regiment, then sent them along to another campsite where they joined several other regiments of their brigade, such as the First California Regiment and the Philadelphia Fire Zouaves (71st and 72nd Pennsylvania respectively). On the following day, the 69th Pennsylvania would arrive as well, completing the brigade's alignment. Over the course of the next few weeks, these men began their military lives in earnest. Soon, some would experience the terror and confusion of battle at the infamous Battle of Ball's Bluff.