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)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Federal Straggling in the Maryland Campaign: Scammon's Brigade

This is an interesting find from my most recent visit to the National Archives. It is a letter from Colonel Eliakim P. Scammon, commander of the 1st Brigade of the Kanawha Division in the Maryland Campaign. After the Battle of South Mountain, when division commander Jacob Cox rose to temporary command of the Ninth Corps, Colonel Scammon rose to command the Kanawha Division, a command he retained at the Battle of Antietam several days later (making him one of many untested division commanders in the Union army at Antietam).

A major theme of my Antietam research is that the Union army saw significant straggling in Maryland, although not on the same scale as what occurred in Confederate ranks. However, actually quantifying that straggling is next to impossible because very few reports exist listing day to day strengths for regiments, brigades, divisions, or corps, outside of tri-monthly consolidated morning reports (returns for units submitted on the 10th, 20th, and 30th of each month) and monthly returns (returns for strengths of army commands submitted at the end of each month). 

This letter helps to fill in this gap in a very small way. Here, Scammon lists numbers of men who fell out of the ranks for the three regiments in his brigade on the day of September 8. He also includes those who came back to their regiments after the day's march was done, and who were present for roll call the next morning.

I find this fascinating. First, in the three regiments, 149 men straggled from the ranks on September 8, weakening the force considerably, especially because it was just one day, and based on accounts from soldiers and officers alike, straggling occurred consistently throughout the Maryland Campaign. Furthermore, a sizable number of those stragglers came back into their regiments that night. Thus, the number for each regiment was fluctuating from one evening to the next morning. One can only assume that such straggling and fluctuating numbers, such as is seen here, had some effect on the inability of regimental, brigade, division, and corps commanders to understand exactly how many effective fighting men they had under their command on any given day. 

The obvious disclaimer for this is that it only applies to one day and to one brigade. However, based on what I have found elsewhere in company books being left behind or leaving blank spaces for recording strength during the month of September, Scammon's September 9th letter seems to fit a larger trend of straggling and uncertainty in understanding Federal strength in September 1862.

Headquarters, 1st Brigade, Kanawha Division
September 9, 1862
I have the honor to report the number of absentees from “Roll Call” immediately upon entering the camp last night and the number absent from “Roll Call” this morning, in the different regiments and camps of the 1st Brigade, as follows,

                               “Evening Roll Call”                “Morning Roll Call”
30th Regiment               36 men                                     23 Men
12th                                53 Men                                    10 Men
23rd                                60 Men                                    24 Men
1st OH Artillery
1st Va Cavalry
                                    Total—149                             Total—57

Very Respectfully,
E.P. Scammon
Col. Commanding Brigade
Capt. G.M. Bascom

Source: Eliakim P. Scammon dispatch of September 9, 1862, Records of U.S. Army Continental Commands, Letters Received, Entry 961, Record Group 393, Part 2, National Archives. 

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