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 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!


  1. Best of luck on the blog Dan. Looking forward to seeing you at the park. I have added your blog to my list.
    Jim Rosebrock

  2. Hi Dan. Welcome to the Antietam blog community! I have linked your blog from mine. See you around the field! Jim Buchanan

  3. Great story, very moving. I hope to visit Antietam one day to pay my respects(I'm a UK citizen living in the UK), maybe the commemoration in 2012? Regards, Phil