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, August 28, 2013

For What They Died, I Fight a Little Longer

As the summer season has drawn to a close, thus my time at Gettysburg has ended. If you have followed this blog regularly, you will have noticed that I posted very little this summer. I have been incredibly busy over the past few months. I did 12 new interpretive program at Gettysburg this season, including the programing for the Gettysburg 150th this summer. On top of my other projects, there wasn't much time for blogging.

This past Sunday, I returned to work at Antietam (Saturday was my last at Gettysburg). Now, on my first day off in a week, I am sitting in the Smith House at Antietam at my desk (hooked up to the internet, which I don't have in my park housing), looking out over Bloody Lane on a rainy day, reflecting on the past few months.

My time at Gettysburg, and my return to Antietam, has reminded me that what we do in the National Park Service is incredibly important. Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" Speech in Washington on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In some of the pictures, you can see NPS rangers working the event, as the Lincoln Memorial was and is an NPS site. In the Park Service, we are the caretakers of our nation's heritage and greatest treasures. If we continue to do our jobs, our nation's history and dreams will continue to live on for future generations. I am very proud to be a part of this organization.

I thought the following letter from Rufus Dawes to his wife in 1881 appropriately summarized the meaning that sites such as Antietam, Gettysburg, and others provide for us today. Dawes, a veteran of the 6th Wisconsin, was a member of Congress at the time, and he took part of a day to visit the graves of 24 soldiers who were killed under his command during the Civil War. These graves were just a few of the many buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The letter is very moving and reminds us of the strength and lessons we can draw from our past.

December 18, 1881
My Dear Wife: I have to-day worshiped at the shrine of the dead. I went over to the Arlington Cemetery. It was a beautiful morning and the familiar scenes so strongly impressed upon me during my young manhood, were pleasant. Many times I went over that road, admiring the beautiful city and great white capitol, with its unfinished dome, going to hear the great men of that day in Congress. An ambitious imagination then builded castles of the time when I might take my place there. Now at middle age, with enthusiasm sobered by hard fights and hard facts, I ride, not run with elastic step over the same road, with this ambition at least realized, and warmth enough left in my heart to enjoy it. My friends and comrades, poor fellows, who followed my enthusiastic leadership in those days, and followed it to the death which I by a merciful Providence escaped, lie here, twenty-four of them, on the very spot where our winter camp of 1861-1862 was located. I found every grave and stood beside it with uncovered head. I looked over nearly the full 16,000 headboards to find the twenty-four, but they all died alike and I was determined to find all. Poor little Fenton who put his head above the works at Cold Harbor and got a bullet through his temples, and lived three days with his brains out, came to me in memory as fresh as one of my own boys of to-day, and Levi Pearson, one of the three brothers of company ‘A,’ who died for their country in the sixth regiment, and Richard Gray, Paul Mulleter, Dennis Kelly, Christ Bundy, all young men, who fell at my side and under my command. For what they died, I fight a little longer. Over their graves I get inspiration to stand for all they won in establishing our government upon freedom, equality, justice, liberty and protection to the humblest.

The letter continues on after this section, but the last sentence here is the key. 

Perhaps, people will leave sites such as Gettysburg and Antietam knowing the cost that was paid here, and will resolve to fight a little longer for all that was won and secured for us by our fore fathers seven score and ten years ago.

I loved every day of my experience at Gettysburg, and I return to Antietam with mixed emotions. I will miss Gettysburg and my colleagues there, but I am certainly very grateful to be returning to such an important and hallowed place. There is no time for rest. The Antietam 151st is just around the corner!!

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