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, March 4, 2012

The 106th Pennsylvania at Harpers Ferry, 150 years ago: Part 2

This post is the second part of the story of the 106th Pennsylvania at Harpers Ferry in early March of 1862. Part one can be found here.

After arriving at Harpers Ferry and exploring the town, on March 2nd, the 106th Pennsylvania was ordered out of its cozy quarters in town. The men were to relocate to Bolivar Heights, 2 miles west of the town. According to the regimental history, as the men marched to Bolivar Heights, they did so in the midst of a severe snow storm, making it difficult to put up their tents for the evening upon their arrival.

The next day, difficulties continued for the 106th. Five of the regiment’s companies, A, B, C, D, and E, along with two artillery pieces, were ordered to the top of Loudon Heights, south of Harpers Ferry and across the Shenandoah River. The assigned companies made their way back through the town and crossed the river with a flat bottomed ferry boat, taking up most of the day in so doing. That evening, upon reaching the summit of Loudon Heights, the 106th relieved the 28th Pennsylvania, the regiment previously posted there. Having little to no shelter, and with a continuing winter storm, it was a brutal experience for many in the 106th atop Loudon Heights. Some found shelter in tents and log huts left behind by the members of the 28th Pennsylvania, yet, after a few days, it was discovered that the shelters were occupied by “graybacks” left behind by the former inhabitants (“graybacks” was a common term used by soldiers for lice).

View of Loudon Heights from the foot of Maryland Heights, along the banks of the Potomac River

All things considered, the situation was quite difficult for the men of the 106th on Loudon Heights. As Josiah R.C. Ward recalled, despite the deprivations, the men managed to persevere:

There we stayed, exposed to that very inclement weather—snow, rain, and cold; the very clouds descending and enveloping us—with such limited accommodations, and a scarcity of provisions, and tried to realize that our patriotism required us to faithfully serve our country under such distressing circumstances, and be content.

 View of Camp Hill, Bolivar Heights, and portion of Loudon Heights from Naval Battery overlook on Maryland Heights

When the winter storm finally broke, the men of the 106th had a beautiful view of Harpers Ferry and its surroundings. As Ward later wrote,
When the weather cleared, we were afforded one of the finest views of the country, and those of us who saw it will never forget it. Standing on that high mountain, we saw the beautiful Potomac coming down from the north, and the Shenandoah from the south, as though cutting their way through the steep mountain; here uniting together and running off to the east and south.
View of Loudon Heights from overlook on Maryland Heights

Describing the town below, Ward described the site of the Union forces,  

Artillery, cavalry, and infantry, with their rows upon rows of white tents, and large numbers of horses picketed in rows, companies and regiments, could be seen moving about in all directions, and the music of the different bands was gently wafted towards us, all denoting the presence of war; the beautiful Shenandoah Valley now turned into a vast camping ground for a large army.
Of Maryland Heights, east and across the Potomac from the town, Ward wrote,  

Looking to the north, across the Potomac, Maryland Heights in all their grandeur loomed up before us, from whose top our flag floated in warning and defiance, and our guns sent their messengers of war over into the land now recovered and occupied by our troops. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, with its branches, could be seen winding their way like large snakes around the base of the mountain, and like tender threads, the long pontoon bridges stretched across the Potomac. And so the eye could wander from one beauty to another, distance lending enchantment. [Maryland Heights loomed over 1,400 feet, the highest of the three heights overlooking Harpers Ferry. Loudon Heights rose to over 900 feet, and Bolivar Heights was over 300 feet.]

View of Harpers Ferry from Maryland Heights

These select portions of the 106th Pennsylvania, including Company D and Private Elwood Rodebaugh (my great-great-great grandfather), remained on Loudon Heights until March 10, when they were ordered forward in support of General Nathaniel Banks’s advance into the Shenandoah Valley, along with the rest of their division, then commanded by Brigadier General John Sedgwick. Two companies were ordered to remain in the town as a guard, along with the colonel of the 106th, Turner G. Morehead. The rest of the regiment proceeded to Charleston, Virginia, with Sedgwick’s division.

Josiah R.C. Ward, The History of the 106th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers (Philadelphia: Grant, Faires, & Rodgers, 1883), 23-25.

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