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, March 13, 2013

The Mumma Farm: The Panorama View

This past Saturday morning I spent a few hours hiking with friend and Antietam Guide Jim Rosebrock (Jim runs the South from the North Woods and Antietam Voices blogs). Jim is a good friend of mine with whom I have spent many hours talking about various Antietam and Civil War topics, especially those aspects of Antietam that are either overlooked or misinterpreted by most historians.

On Saturday, Jim and I decided to do some hiking and cover the approaches to the Sunken Road to get a better perspective of what Union soldiers faced in making the assault. It was a very worthwhile exercise.

I was able to take panorama pictures at two points with my smart phone. These pictures really emphasize some of the terrain features, which I took pictures of with my camera for more detail.

The points we focused on were the Mumma and Roulette farms. In order to understand why and how Federal forces attacked the Sunken Road, the terrain of these two farmsteads is crucial. This is the first of several posts looking at some of the terrain of the fight for Bloody Lane. Today we will look at the Mumma Farm, and next up will be the Roulette Farm.

The first point where we stopped to survey the land was just north of the Mumma Farm and Cemetery, and just south of the East Woods.This spot was roughly where the advance of the 2nd Corps split into two entirely separate sections.

For those familiar with the battle, the first division from the Second Corps to arrive on the field that day was John Sedgwick's Second Division. Sedgwick's force was led by Second Corps commander Edwin Sumner himself. Sumner led this force into the East Woods, and then continued due west into the West Woods where Sedgwick's men were hit by a massive flank attack. This was highly problematic for William French's Third Division of the Second Corps. When French arrived on the field, he could not see where Sedgwick had gone; instead, because of terrain and orders telling him to turn left, French turned south and moved toward the Confederate position at the Sunken Road. Further complicating matters was the 12 Corps division of George Greene. Greene's men had advanced south from the East Woods and occupied the plateau near the Dunker Church. Because Greene was on Sedgwick's flank, French had to go further south and east, again forcing him toward the Sunken Road.

In this first picture, you can see Elk Ridge on the far left of the photograph. In the center, down below the ridge line, you can see the Mumma Barn and you can barely make out part of the Mumma House. Slighty further right is the Mumma Cemetery. On the far right is the southern edge of the East Woods and the Smoketown Ridge (referring to the ridge where the Smoketown Road runs).

Why is this important? Well, this photograph tells us several things.

First, look at the ridge lines. On the right, the Smoketown Ridge completely separates this part of the field from the Cornfield/East Woods/North Woods/West Woods. Essentially, because of this ridge, the route of Sedgwick's division toward the West Woods is completely invisible. This made things very confusing and complicated for French's division.

Second, look at how low the Mumma Farm sits. Not only is this location divided from the Cornfield by the Smoketown Ridge, but the terrain slopes downward from the Smoketown Ridge.
as French began to turn toward the Sunken Road, the downward slope of the land led him into a series of ridges that completely divide the center of the field from the northern part.

Third, while you can't see anything north or west of the East Woods, French would have had a good vantage point to see where Greene's division was located. If you look past the Mumma Cemetery and the trees on the Mumma Farm, you can make out the hill on which the New York State Monument and the Visitor Center both sit. This was roughly the location of Greene's division as French arrived on the field.

Fourth, look at the left side of the photograph. On the left you can tell that the terrain over which the Federal attackers were traversing was vastly different. Not only was it separated by the ridge lines described above, but it was divided by intermittent steams, making the terrain very rough and divided. Jim and I hiked through it and it was tough enough for the two of us to not get lost with our maps and knowledge of the field. Just imagine how confusing it was for Union soldiers who had never been there before. While some officers had maps, certainly enlisted soldiers and low ranking officers were without terrain maps. Making matters worse, 7 of French's 10 regiments were green troops, further complicating the Federal advance.

Here are a few detailed pictures highlighting parts of the panorama picture.

This picture, showing the far right of the panorama, shows the Smoketown Road along the Smoketown Ridge. As was noted, despite the Cornfield and West Woods being just on the other side of this ridge, they are completely invisible. 

Slightly further left on the panorama, the Mumma Cemetery is prominently seen. To the left of the cemetery, in the distance, is the hill on which the Visitor Center sits. This was roughly the position of Greene's division.

A wider shot of the Mumma Cemetery and Mumma Barn. As was noted, the Barn and House sit lower on the ridge as it fades to the south. In between the cemetery and barn is the ridge which Greene's division occupied that morning.

Slightly further left on the panorama shot, the Mumma Barn and the ground for French's assault on the Sunken Road.

This is something which did not show up at all on the panorma picture. From the spot where it was taken, behind the Mumma Barn, there is a clear line of sight all the way to the National Cemetery in Sharpsburg. This hill, Cemetery Hill, offered Lee and other Confederates a great vantage point to observe the battle.

I have edited one of the Ezra Carmen maps to better illustrate these points and relate troop movements to the pictures above.

The orange star on the map is the position from which the panorama picture was taken. The picture was taken going from west to south (right to left on the panorama). The left pointing arrow reflects the direction of John Sedgwick's division's advance. This advance cannot be seen in the photograph because of the Smoketown Ridge, which is highlighted with a red line along the route of the Smoketown Road. The downward pointing arrow indicates the direction which French's men took toward the Sunken Road. Thus, the left pointing arrow reflects the far right edge of the photograph (although not visible due to terrain) and the downward arrow is the far left of the picture (hopefully that isn't too confusing to follow).

Because the Mumma farm is so prominent on this terrain, I circled it in red on the map below. The Mumma farm, sitting on a downward slope, was a dividing point between the fighting for the East Woods and the fight for the Sunken Road. The map and panoramic pictures clearly show this. Everything north of the farm was moving west, and everything east of the farm was moving south.

I have also highlighted each of the three Union divisions on the map by underlining them in yellow. While Sedgwick's men were in the West Woods (scattered units underlined in yellow), French's men were advancing on the Sunken Road (yellow line next to the downward arrow). In between these two divisions was that of George Greene (also in yellow, located near the Mumma Farm, circled in red).

Below is the second of the panorama photographs from the Mumma Farm. It is very similar to the first, but I took two just to make sure that at least one turned out well.

Hopefully this helps to make some sense of the terrain around the Mumma Farmstead. It is fascinating to use pictures and maps to understand how this ground affected the troop movements on September 17, 1862. Ultimately, there is no better way to understand how these battles were fought than to get out on the ground and walk the terrain for yourself.


  1. Dan, I enjoyed spending the morning tromping the field with you.

    The panoramic photos really help to put the military aspects of terrain into focus. Even subtle variations in elevation of one or two contour lines (10 or 20 feet) make a huge difference in the movements of troops. Two dimensional maps never due justice when you can get out on the field and see the subtleness of the terrain.

    Greene’s division needs more exploration. It doesn’t fit nicely into conventional interpretation that packages the battle into Cornfield, Sunken Road and Burnside Bridge.

    Looking forward to hearing more of your analysis.

    Warm Regards

    Jim Rosebrock

  2. Dan:
    Sorry I wasn't with you guys on the hike but your narative & photos brought it to life. It's a perspective that many of us share with you. Tks. for sharing.