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)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Antietam at Arlington

During my recent trip to Washington, I had the chance to visit Arlington National Cemetery. While there, along with seeing the standard sites of the Kennedy family graves, the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns, and Arlington House, I made sure to check out some famous Civil War grave sites, especially some of the generals and figures who were present at Antietam. Here are a few of those...

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Captain of the 20th Massachusetts at Antietam, where he was wounded in the neck. After he was wounded, Holmes shot off a quick telegram to his father, telling the renowned physician and writer that his son had been wounded but it was not mortal. The elder Holmes, deeply moved by the telegram, journeyed to Antietam to search for his son in the aftermath of America's bloodiest day. He eventually found Holmes resting in a hospital in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Major General George Crook, a Brigadier General in command of the 2nd Brigade of the 9th Corps' Kanawha Division at Antietam. Crook's brigade made an ill fated assault against Burnside Bridge, only to become disoriented and end up 200 yards upstream. Crook went on to have a distinguished record of service throughout the Civil War and in fighting Native Americans on the Great Plains in the latter years of the 1800s.

 Major General John Gibbon, who was a Brigadier General in command of the Iron Brigade at Antietam. Gibbon, while born in Philadelphia, moved to North Carolina at the age of 11. Despite the fact that his father owned slaves and Gibbon had lived in the South for many years, when North Carolina seceded, Gibbon stayed true to the Union. His three brothers fought for the Confederacy, along with his cousin, J. Johnson Pettigrew. While many make note of Lee's agonizing decision to stay with his native state and to fight against the nation he had pledged to defend, little is said of those such as Gibbon who stayed loyal to the Union, in some cases fighting against their own family members to do so. Gibbon went on to command a division in the 2nd Corps during the battles of Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor. At Gettysburg, Gibbon's division defended The Angle at Cemetery Ridge, where, among others, troops commanded by his cousin Johnson Pettigrew attacked in the ill fated assault forever known as Pickett's Charge.

Brevet Brigadier General Ezra Carman, Colonel of the 13th New Jersey at Antietam, and one of Antietam's first historians. Carman also saw action with the 13th New Jersey at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Chattanooga, and during the Atlanta Campaign and Sherman's March to the Sea. While Ezra Carman had quite a track record of service during the war, his contributions to the Civil War went beyond battlefield service. It was Carman who spent countless hours compiling recollections from veterans of Antietam to compose a detailed history of the Maryland Campaign, complete with maps used by Antietam Rangers to this day.

While not at Antietam, one cannot understate the contributions made by Major General Phil Sheridan to the Union cause. Sheridan's victories in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864 were a major blow against Confederate hopes of retaining the fertile agricultural region. Sheridan's methods of destruction make him an infamous figure in Civil War history, yet his achievements in 1864, combined with Sherman's successes in Georgia of that year, helped to reelect Abraham Lincoln and to ensure a Union victory in the war.

With the events of First Manassas still fresh in my mind, I made sure to track down this monument to unknown dead from the battles of First and Second Bull Run. The remains of roughly 2,000 Union dead from those battles, as well as others in the region, are buried beneath this monument in the gardens near Arlington House.

Brigadier General Roy Stone, a Major in the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves at Antietam, the regiment that was engaged at dawn in the East Woods on September 17, 1862. Stone would go on to lead a brigade of Pennsylvanians in a fierce defense of McPherson's Ridge along with other units of the 1st Corps of the Union Army of the Potomac on July 1, 1863 at Gettysburg.

Certainly, there are countless others from Antietam buried at Arlington, but these are just a few of those who I had the time and opportunity to pay my respects to while there.

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