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)

Friday, April 29, 2011

A January visit to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park

In early January, while I was in the midst of researching and working on my thesis, I made a several day Civil War trip to Atlanta, Georgia to visit some dear family members, hike some battlefields, and immerse myself in the few aspects of the 1864 Atlanta Campaign that I could with my available time. I thought that I would share some of my photographs and memories of that trip over the course of a few blog posts. So often, students of the war become caught up in the major battles in the east. As a ranger at Antietam, I know I fall victim to that tendency from time to time. However, the battlefields of the western armies also offer an array of excellent places to visit, study, and learn from. In many instances, such as the Atlanta Campaign, what occured in the west was just as important, if not more so, than what occured in the east. If you haven't been to some of these sites, I highly recommend making the trip. Some of the sites I visited in January were Kennesaw Mountain, the Atlanta History Center, Pickett's Mill State Battlefield, Chickamauga National Military Park, and the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History (located in Kennesaw, Georgia). I had hoped to hit a few more sites around Atlanta itself, but a snowstorm (yes, a snowstorm in Georgia) cut my trip short by a day.

Before I get to the history, I must say that this trip would not have been possible without the hospitality of my wonderful Uncle Jeff and Aunt Paula who live in Kennesaw, Georgia, just a few miles away from Kennesaw Mountain. They were extremely generous in welcoming me, and I am very blessed to have them as family.

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park is located roughly 20 miles northwest of Atlanta. The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain was fought on June 27, 1864, and resulted in a lopsided defeat for Major General William Tecumseh Sherman's forces. While there is a town of Kennesaw today, in 1864 it was simply the rail junction of Big Shanty, located near the town of Marietta (Big Shanty was the site where the famous railroad chase involving The General began in April of 1862). Today, the park encompasses a number of significant sites from the 1864 battle (while important spots are protected, development infringes upon the park at nearly every angle). The most striking feature of the park played a very small role in the actual fighting on June 27. Big Kennesaw, the primary mountain, was not the object of any major frontal assaults that day, and anyone who has seen it can easily figure out why. As any visitor can tell, it is clearly the most imposing feature of the landscape, and it has a summit of roughly 1,800 feet. The options for getting to the top include both hiking and driving. On my visit, I decided it was better to drive to the top, as it was a chilly day and I didn't feel like making the several mike hike...

Once on top of Kennesaw Mountain, the view is tremendous. It was my good fortune that after flying from Cleveland to Atlanta I happened to go to the top on a cloudy and dreary day, impeding my view of the surrounding area. The above photograph shows one part of the mountain's excellent view. In the distance (although not clearly visible in the photograph) is downtown Atlanta, with Stone Mountain (the largest piece of exposed granite in the world, beautifully adorned with the engraved images of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis) off to the left hand side of the picture (barely visible). 

All along the summit of the mountain are remnants of gun emplacements made by Confederate soldiers dating back to the battle in 1864. My journey to the top was made in a comfortable car on a paved and winding road; such was not the case for the Confederate artillerymen of Joseph Johnston's Army of Tennessee. These artillery positions atop the mountain have a remarkable view of the surrounding area. During the several week long standoff between the two armies near Kennesaw Mountain in June of 1864, artillery duels were a daily occurence, as each side made use of the mountainous terrain to lob shells at enemy gunners. In fact, on June 14, at nearby Pine Mountain (the name is deceiving, it is not as much a mountain as a large hill), Confederate Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk was killed instantly by an artillery shell fired by an Indiana Battery. According to eye witness reports, Sherman himself ordered the shelling, as he and others spotted Polk along with General Johnston and General William Hardee. Polk was also an episcopal priest, and one of the more eccentric generals in gray during the war. Needless to say, the story illustrates the effectiveness of long range artillery during the campaign, of which the above photograph shows one piece.

In my opinion, the most impressive part of the Kennesaw battlefield is the area known as Cheatham Hill, named after Confederate Major General Benjamin Cheatham, whose men defended the position during the battle. The above picture shows the Illinois monument at that location. Several hiking trails criss-cross the area, and it is a very picturesque place. In the background is the open field over which Union soldiers from Major General John Palmer's 14th Corps charged on the morning of June 27, 1864. It sits at the focal point of Colonel Dan McCook's brigade's attack that day. McCook's brigade was composed of men from both Illinois and Ohio, but the first lines of assault were composed primarily of Illinois troops. The Illinois monument is one of the few that exist on the Kennesaw battlefield. There are also monuments to men from Georgia and Texas.

This photograph, taken at the base of the Illinois monument, shows what remains of a tunnel dug by Union soldiers in the aftermath of their attack on Confederate positions on Cheatham Hill. As the Union attack lost momentum against the Confederate trenches, a large number of the Federal troops chose to dig in rather than fall back to their starting position. At a distance of less than 100 yards from the Confederate lines, men from Ohio and Illinois dug trenches with their hands, bayonets, cups, plates, and anything else they had access to. Initially, the trenches were not very sophisticated, as the primary goal during daylight hours was to shelter oneself from enemy fire. However, once the sun set, tools were brought up and the trenches were strengthened. On June 29, a truce was called so that the dead of both sides could be buried. Other than that truce, there was little respite from the constant strain of lying so close to enemy works. As can be seen in the picture above, during that period of time an effort was made to dig a tunnel underneath the Confederate lines so as to detonate explosives and end the stalemate. Confederate evacuation of the line on July 2 made such an effort unnecessary, but the opening of the tunnel still remains to this day on the battlefield.

A black and white view of the Illinois Monument from the front. The Union troops were attacking towards the monument from the direction where this photograph was taken. Confederate trenches lay just beyond where the monument stands today.

Along side a hiking trail near the Illinois monument rests the lone grave of an unknown Union soldier, fittingly adorned with American flags and remembrances. The setting of this soldier's grave is really quite remarkable. Rarely does one find a marked grave still on an actual battlefield. Yet here this unknown soldier lies, in all likelihood not far from where he fell during the battle. As the soldier's identity is not known, it is impossible to say which regiment or state he was from, but based on maps of the Federal movements on June 27, it is likely that he was a soldier from Dan McCook's brigade of the 14th Corps. Such a sight gives one cause to stop and reflect on the meaning of what occured at such a hallowed place.

A short distance from the Illinois monument, one can still see what is left of Confederate trenches from 1864. These trenches are a common sight on the battlefields of that year, as 1864 saw a major transition away from open field assaults towards trenches and defensive warfare.

This photograph allows for a more detailed veiw of those same Confederate trenches. It is difficult to guage their depth, but I would estimate that this specific portion was still at least 2 to 3 feet deep (not bad considering they are about 150 years old). As with any remaining historical features at a Civil War battlefield, it is always best to observe and leave well alone so as to allow future generations of visitors to enjoy the same remnants of battle from so long ago.

I will post more photogrpahs from this trip in the days and weeks to come (even a few more from Kennesaw Mountain). As my thesis on the 1864 Atlanta Campaign is now complete, think of this as a way for me to reflect on my past few months of work while I prepare to switch gears back to 1862 for another season at Antietam.

For more information on the Kennesaw Mountain battlefield, visit the Kennesaw NPS website here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lincoln and the writ of habeas corpus: 150 years ago...

150 years ago today, on April 27, 1861, Abraham Lincoln authorized General-in-Chief Winfield Scott to suspend the writ of habeas corpus between Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., an action which became one of the most controversial acts of his administration and of the entire Civil War...

Just two days prior, Lincoln wrote to Winfield Scott to tell him that he was not yet ready to suspend the writ. In legal terms, the writ of habeas corpus is essentially the court order for producing the prisoner in front of a judge to determine the lawfulness of the arrest. By suspending it, persons could be arrested without proper legal charges and protections being recognized. At the time, the idea was under consideration because there was great fear that Maryland legislators would meet and pass an ordinance of secession. Many rightly feared this action, as it would have isolated Washington from the rest of the North. While fear over this political development was high, Lincoln refrained from taking such legal recourse against the legislative body at that time. As he wrote to Scott, "First, they have a clearly legal right to assemble; and we can not know in advance, that their action will not be lawful, and peaceful... Secondly, we can not permanently prevent their action."

However, two days later, Lincoln did decide to suspend the writ for a different purpose, that of protecting the rail lines between Washington and Philadelphia. Such a rapid turn around begs the question: why did Lincoln move to suspend habeas corpus just two days after he decided not to?

As with many historical questions, the answer lies in historical context. Quite simply, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus on April 27 because of the circumstances at the time. He was facing the possibility of having angry secessionists in Maryland closing down the route from Philadelphia to Washington, a feat which would have starved the Federal capital of the troops it needed to defend itself and fortify against a possible Southern invasion. The tensions in the state of Maryland during that April posed one of the greatest threats that Washington would see for the entirety of the war. 

On April 26, Winfield Scott drafted an order warning Union soldiers in the capital that an attack on the city was possible at any moment, notifying them to be on high alert. At that time, approximately 1,600 Union soldiers occupied the city, while 8,000 Confederates were up the Potomac at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. On April 26, Scott wrote to Lincoln notifying him that an agent on behalf of the railroad directors controlling the lines between Baltimore and Washington would be arriving at the Executive Mansion to discuss the need for protecting the rail lines for the purpose of transporting troops. Thus, Lincoln was being advised by his General-in-Chief and by leading railroad executives that the threat to the capitol was real and action needed to be taken to protect the rail lines leading to the city.

In the course of making his decision, Lincoln wrote two versions of the order authorizing Scott to suspend the writ. In the first, he specifically limited the action to the rail lines between Perryville and Annapolis. In the second, the one which was actually issued, Lincoln left out the specific route between Perryville and Annapolis, instead expanding the order's application to the broader military line between Philadelphia and Washington (note: some versions of Lincoln's papers have the 1st order printed, the one which was not issued to Scott). What is interesting as well is that, in the text of the order, Lincoln places the issue at Scott's discretion. He did not order him to arrest individuals, but simply noted that if circumstances dictated that the action needed to be taken, it could be done. As historian Mark Neely has written: "The purpose of the initial suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is clear from the circumstances of its issuance: to keep the military reinforcement route to the nation's capital open.... Suspending the writ of habeas corpus was not originally a political measure, and it would never become primarily political" (The Fate of Liberty, 9).
Lincoln's official order to Scott is as follows:

To the Commanding General of the Army of the United States:
    You are engaged in repressing an insurrection against the laws of the United States. If at any point on or in the vicinity of the military line, which is now used between the City of Philadelphia and the City of Washington, you find resistance which renders it necessary to suspend the writ of Habeas Corpus for the public safety, you, personally or through the officer in command at the point where the resistance occurs, are authorized to suspend that writ.
  April 27, 1861
  Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln's record on civil liberties is among the most debated topics in American history. Many of Lincoln's critics zero in on his suspension of habeas corpus to portray him as a tyrant. However, such allegations are without merit. The suspension of habeas corpus originated out of the necessity to preserve the safety and functions of the federal government and was entirely devoid of political motivation. It was done under dire circumstances with the threat of having Washington isolated and attacked by secessionist forces hanging over Lincoln's head. It occurred 150 years ago today, and it was one of Lincoln's first and most consequential acts as a wartime president.
For more information on this fascinating episode, Mark Neely's The Fate of Liberty is an excellent resource. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, and it is a fascinating evaluation of Lincoln's record on civil liberties during the Civil War (Indeed, many of the facts that I used in this post were taken from Neely's book, specifically from pages 4 through 9). Neely examined nearly every available arrest record from the war in the course of his research, and he provides a comprehensive evaluation that is quite favorable regarding Lincoln's conduct. For all those wishing to gain a deeper understanding of Lincoln's presidency and civil liberties during the Civil War, I highly recommend Neely's book.

Mark Neely, The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).

Friday, April 22, 2011

Review of The Conspirator

Recently, I saw Robert Redford's new film The Conspirator. For those who haven't heard of it, the film's focus is on the plot to assassinate Lincoln and the subsequent trial and execution of Mary Surratt, the lone female conspirator and the first woman to be executed by the U.S. Government. All in all, it was a good movie, and it featured some great performances by a number of very talented actors (Tom Wilkinson as Senator Reverdy Johnson was among the best). However, I went in to the theater with the words of critics in the back of my mind, specifically, those who charge Redford with making this film as an attempt to attack current U.S. policy regarding terrorist prisoners in Gitmo. Ultimately, my own opinion of it is mixed.

After seeing the film, I think some critiques are justified, while others are simply the product of critics being critics. Certainly, the film does have a recurring theme of how determined the government was to try and execute those who they saw as responsible for the assassination of Lincoln and the attempted assassinations of Secretary of State William Seward and Vice-President Andrew Johnson.
Perhaps the most important question raised was in regards to the validity of trying civilians in military tribunals. Not much of an explanation is given as to why this choice was made, other than, "the attorney general said it was ok, so...."  The context for that decision was a bit more complicated than the movie lets on: not only were there still Confederate armies in the field at the time, but Stanton and others believed Booth and his conspirators were acting as agents of the Federal government. Indeed, history shows that the Confederacy paid Booth and some of his men for certain acts of espionage, but no funds were given for the assassination of Linoln and his cabinet members. Nevertheless, at the time, the link between the conspirators and the Confederacy was thought to be so strong that Jefferson Davis was personally charged with participating in the plot, along with Mary and the rest. So, while military tribunals may seem too harsh for 21st century audiences immersed in a debate over how to proceed with an international war on terror, their application at the time was in enormously different circumstances, few of which were mentioned by Redford. Using history to make modern political statements is always dangerous because it allows very little room for historical context, which often makes all the difference between truth and falsehood.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the movie was how little it actually said about the guilt of Mary Surratt. Certainly, many suggestions were made regarding her innocence, but ultimately, her trial in the film came down to a matter of he said versus she said. However, according to the historical record, the case against her was a bit more convincing than it was portrayed as in the film. Kate Clifford Larson's book The Assassin's Accomplice makes a very strong case that Mary was indeed guilty and complicit in the murder of Abraham Lincoln. Not only was Booth a frequent guest at the Surratt boarding house, but he often spoke with Mary in private. On the day of the assassination, Mary transported materials Booth would need later that night. She was a staunch supporters of the Southern cause and the Confederacy and kept a photograph of Booth in her bedroom (the film makes some mention of this, noting that Anna Surratt was infatuated with Booth, as were many of the women associated with the Surratt boardinghouse). While Mary did not pull the trigger, she had numerous opportunities to observe Booth and his henchmen, understand what was going on, and support it by offering her boardinghouse as a meeting place. Thus, according to what I have read on the matter, Mary was indeed guilty. Including such conclusions in the film would detract from the sympathy built up for Mary, sympathy which plays along with the film's theme of an abusive government trashing civil liberties in a time of war.

On another matter, Mary's attorney, Frederick Aiken, was not quite the 19th century Johnny Cochran that was portrayed in the film. According to Larson's book, Aiken was a novice who stumbled into numerous lines of questioning that further damned his client, albeit not always according to his own faults. His job was no doubt made extremely difficult by legal procedures and his lack of access to prosecution witnesses and evidence, forcing him to ask questions for which he had no answers. Yet, according to the film, Aiken was a heroic Union soldier and a talented young attorney who fought to little avail to free the noble Mary Surratt.

Overall, I think the Conspirator is worth seeing, as long as one keeps in mind that Robert Redford is the director. Rarely does Hollywood put forward a 100% accurate and unbiased portrayal of historical events. With a topic of such intense debate among historians to this day, one would be hard pressed to make a film with an storyline about Mary Surratt and the Lincoln assassination on which historians would agree. On this count, a certain degree of leeway must be afforded to Redford. The film does have its merits. It was beautifully shot (from what I have read, it was made in Savannah), the main roles are well acted, and it communicates some of the traumatic emotions that pulsated throughout the nation at the time of Lincoln's death. I always find it fascinating to see such famous episodes (such as the Lincoln assassination) protrayed on the big screen. On these counts, The Conspirator is sure to satisfy the history buff and novice alike.

As for its primary theme and message, civil liberties in wartime is a subject which is little understood. Historian Mark Neely, who wrote the definitive book on Lincoln's actions regarding civil liberties during the war (which won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize), provides the best advice to keep in mind when trying to understand situations such as the trial of Mary Surratt. Understanding the conditions, context, and reasons for historical actions is much more important than using the past to make blanket statements about the present:

"If a situation were to arise again in the United States when writ of habeas corpus were suspended, government would probably be as ill prepared to define the legal situation as it was in 1861. The clearest lesson is that there is no clear lesson in the Civil War--no neat precedents, no ground rules, no map. War and its effect on civil liberties remain a frightening unknown." (Mark Neely, The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties, New York: Oxford University Press, 1991, 235.)

More information on the film can be found at the website below.

"In God We Trust"

In commemoration of Good Friday, here's a bit of religious history concerning the Civil War:

On this date in 1864, Congress passed legislation authorizing the phrase "In God We Trust" to be used on U.S. currency, and it began appearing on select coins later that year.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"But while it is necessary, let us be soldiers"

I think it is fitting to provide an explanation as to why I chose the title I did for this blog. As I have posted above (just below the photograph), the title comes from a quote that I found in the diary of Albert Champlin, a private with the 105th Ohio Volunter Infantry. Champlin's diary is among the Alfred Mewett Papers at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio. I came across it while doing research for my master's thesis, which, after 7 months and countless hours of research and writing, was accepted just last week.

The focus of my master's thesis was the experiences and motivations of Ohio soldiers during Sherman's Atlanta Campaign in 1864. Why this topic with this group in this campaign? Well, I chose this as my topic because first and foremost, it was something I had a desire to learn more about. Despite growing up and living in Northeast Ohio, I had previously known very little about my home state's contribution to the Union cause. When searching for topics on which I could write, I came across several Ohio regiments with companies hailing from Lake County, where I have lived my entire life. I hadn't previously known anything about these men or their stories, so I decided to do a little investigating work. It turns out that a great many regiments from this region of Ohio were a part of Sherman's forces during his Atlanta, Savannah, and Carolinas campaigns. I am quite fascinated with Sherman, making this an excellent subject for me to research and write about. Because Sherman's March to the Sea is the much more popular older brother to the Atlanta Campaign in Civil War lore, I decided to pick the road less travelled and study the four month struggle that took place in Northern Georgia during the summer of 1864. In the course of the research into soldiers' letters and diaries, I discovered many fascinating quotes and anecdotes, and several of them were in the diary of Albert Champlin.

Champlin's diary provided a detailed and daily account of many interesting facets of the Atlanta Campaign. While he did not see much combat, his observations on army morale, current events, and even the daily weather provided a wealth of information that enabled me to understand daily life for Union soldiers during this time. The complete quote, of which the quote above is just one sentence, is quite remarkable. Champlin's Christian faith is on full display, as he looks to God to end the current conflict and allow him to return to the comforts of civilian life. Yet, Champlin's resolve to see the conflict through to its rightful ending is readily apparent as well:

“Oh, that our work may still be blessed of God, that the time of its completion may not be far distant, the time when rebellion shall have been put down to be known no more in our land and when quiet, civil pursuits shall have taken the place of the stern duties of the soldiers in the field, and Sabbath and sanctionary privileges the place of military necessities. But while it is necessary, let us be soldiers. And may an Overruling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice to many has long prevailed, and finally, peace quiet and harmony out of this terrible confrontation and our country’s fiery ordeal.”-- Albert Champlin, June 19, 1864

I think Champlin's words speak for themselves in their sincerity. They weren't written with thoughts of future publication in mind; rather, they were Albert's testament to God and to himself concerning his faith and his determination to see his cause succeed. I don't know about you, but I find his words quite remarkable in the depth and conviction they display. They provide fitting context concerning what it is that Champlin and others like him felt about their efforts during the summer of 1864. I couldn't think of a better title for this blog that spoke to its purpose than these words of Albert Champlin. They represent how the fighting man of the Union army saw the struggle in which he was engaged.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Inaugural Post


I would like to begin this blog by telling you a bit about me, why I am interested in the American Civil War, and what I hope to do on this site. Currently, I am finishing my M.A. in History at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. This summer, I will be returning to my position as a Park Ranger at Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland, one of this nation's finest national parks. My hope is that this blog will allow me the chance to write on various topics in the field of Civil War history. To begin this blog, I feel that the best introduction to my story is to tell you about someone else. My passion for this field began when as a young boy I would listen to my grandfather tell stories about my ancestor, Ellwood Rodebaugh, a native of Canton, Pennsylvania....

Ellwood lived just a few miles away from the home where my grandparents lived and raised their family. At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, he was 30 years old. He had a 25 year old wife named Josephine, a 4 year old daughter named Heloise, and a 3 year old son named Charles. As an adult, Charles had several children, one of whom was named Merrick. Because of Charles's sudden death, Merrick was adopted into the Vermilya family. Merrick had a son named Elmo, who served in the United States Navy during the Second World War. Soon after surviving Nazi U-Boats and the storms of the North Atlantic, Elmo became a house painter, and he was known to many in Canton as "Corky." When he returned to Canton, Corky married his lovely sweetheart, Edith Reed. Corky and Edie would go on to have 11 children, one of whom was my father, Randy. Thus, Ellwood Rodebaugh was my great-great-great grandfather.

According to census records, Ellwood worked as a shoemaker, and at the time of the war, the value of his real estate was $50 and his personal estate was $60. Despite having every reason to stay home and take care of his family, in August of 1861, when Captain Samuel Newman came to Canton to recruit men to fight for the Union cause, Ellwood enlisted in the Union army. He left his young family at home to fight for a cause greater than himself. Ellwood had no financial investment in the causes of the war. He had no personal interest in the expansion of slavery into the Kansas and Nebraska Territories, he had not read Roger Taney's opinion on the Dred Scott case, and he certainly had never met the famed John Brown. He was but a young shoemaker trying to make a living and provide for his family. When he left home, he was unsure as to whether he would have the chance to grow old with Josephine and watch Heloise and Charles as they grew up and fulfilled their dreams. Yet, he left nonetheless, not knowing what his future had in store for him. He followed Captain Newman and the other recruits from Canton to Philadelphia, where their nascent company was attached to the Keystone Regiment (33rd Pennsylvania), and sent to begin training along the Wissahickon Creek.

Shortly thereafter, General Edward Baker, a close friend of President Lincoln's, made a visit to Ellwood's camp in an attempt to recruit men to join his brigade. Baker had been commissioned to lead a brigade of men claimed by the State of California, which raised the necessary funds for the endeavor. When Baker visited Ellwood's camp, he made known his desire for these men to fall in with his brigade, specifically with Colonel Turner G. Morehead's Fifth California Regiment. After a vote, Ellwood's company agreed to join Morehead's regiment and was mustered into Federal service on August 21, 1861 as a part of General Baker's California Brigade. These Pennsylvanians would not serve under the name of California for long. With the death of General Baker at Ball's Bluff that October, the impetus for California's claim on the brigade was gone, and the state of Pennsylvania reclaimed its soldiers. As the majority of these men hailed from Philadelphia, they were from then on known as the Philadelphia Brigade. It consisted of the 69th, 71st, 72nd, and 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry regiments. Ellwood would serve as a Private in Company D of the 106th Pennsylvania, one of the few companies in the brigade which did not originate in Philadelphia. It was thus that my own bloodline became entwined with the American Civil War.

 A young visitor walks in Antietam's Bloody Lane.

At the age of nine, my parents took me on my first trip to a Civil War battlefield. We journeyed to Gettysburg, drove the battlefield, toured the sights, and visited the shops selling souvenirs of the men of the Blue and the Gray. Perhaps what was most important about that vacation was the trip we made to Sharpsburg, Maryland. It was then that I was introduced to Antietam and its tales of tragedy, courage, and valor. I can remember listening to Park Rangers telling the dramatic stories of Miller's Cornfield, Bloody Lane, and Burnside's Bridge. From that day on, I had a lifelong dream of working as a Park Ranger at a Civil War battlefield. While my current appointment is seasonal and I am classified as a Visitor Use Assistant, the uniform I wear and the colleagues with whom I work remind me each and every day of how fortunate I am to be able to live out my dream at such a beautiful, important, and hallowed place.

Antietam is a meaningful place for me for many reasons, but one stands out above the rest. Just as that is where my own journey into the history of the Civil War began, it was also here that the life of Ellwood Rodebaugh came to an end. On September 17, 1862, Ellwood Rodebaugh was one of the 23,110 men to fall on the rolling hills of Maryland farmland near Antietam Creek. His remains were never found. Letters written by his company commander indicate that Ellwood had shaved off his heavy beard just prior to the battle, and as a result, burial parties did not recognize his remains. Thus, Ellwood was lost to history, fading into the Antietam landscape along with thousands of other Americans that September day so long ago. While no individual stone bears his name and marks his grave, the entire landscape, so beautifully preserved by the Park Service, stands as a memorial to Ellwood and the thousands like him. Ellwood's body was lost in the aftermath of Antietam, yet his name and his memory were not. I discovered them over 130 years later listening to my grandfather in a small home in Canton, Pennsylvania, just a few miles from where Ellwood lived. While his life ended on September 17, 1862, his story lives on.

I hope to use this blog to tell the story of Ellwood and the millions of others who also shared the "incommunicable experience of war," as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., put it. I will tell more of Ellwood's story, and I hope to write about other issues in the field of Civil War history that are of interest to me. It is my goal to use this forum to post pictures, stories, essays, book reviews, and general thoughts and ponderings about the meaning of the Civil War then, today, and in the future.

Hope you enjoy!