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)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Sunny April Afternoon at Antietam

Just wanted to post some photos from this afternoon at Antietam. Conveniently, the gun used for our artillery firing yesterday was still out, which made for some great pictures. Seeing the vibrant color of the bronze barrel is a nice change from the regular hues of black and green seen on the artillery pieces displayed around the field. My new laptop has some pretty neat photo editing software, so expect to see many more photographs with either enhanced or slightly altered views on here in the posts to come...

 New York State Monument

Friday, April 27, 2012

"The Dignity of Freedom": A Symposium at Antietam

Tomorrow at Antietam, the park Visitor Center will be hosting a day long symposium on African American history, titled, "The Dignity of Freedom: Pathways Through the Civil War and Beyond". Far too often we think of Antietam solely in terms of brigades and regiments; we must remember that what happened at Antietam affected millions across the world, and their stories are very important to tell along with those of the soldiers who fought during the battle.

One of the speakers for tomorrow's events will be Professor Mark Neely, Jr., a leading expert on the constitutional thought and statesmanship of Abraham Lincoln. I have had the fortune to chat with Professor Neely on several occasions, and I can say that is not only a great historian, but also a very nice man. Below is a video clip of Neely discussing Lincoln's constitutionalism. It is worth a watch. Mark Neely is one of my favorite historians; his Pulitzer prize winning work on Lincoln and civil liberties, The Fate of Liberty, is one of the most important books ever written on our 16th president. I haven't had a chance to pick up his latest work, Lincoln and the Triumph of the Nation, which discusses nationalism and constitutionalism in the Civil War, but I am sure it will be worth the read when I finally get a chance to pick it up. Tomorrow, Professor Neely will be speaking on reconstruction and constitutional changes in post-war racism. Not your usual Antietam topic, which is why I am quite interested to hear him speak. Hope you can make it out to the battlefield tomorrow!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Captain John C. Tidball at Antietam

Last year, Antietam National Battlefield opened the Tidball Trail, covering some of the ground near the Middle Bridge where elements of the 5th Corps and the U.S. Cavalry and their respective artillery batteries engaged with the center of Lee's line along the Boonsboro Pike (Route 34).

In the course of my research on the Army of the Potomac at Antietam, I have been reading some great accounts from veterans regarding the effectiveness of various army units, as well as other topics such as experience, strength, and battle readiness. One of those sources is John C. Tidball's The Artillery Service in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865. Adapted from a series of articles written by Tidball from 1891 to 1893 in the Journal of Military Service Institution and edited by Lawrence Kaplan, this is a fine work for anyone doing a study on artillery service and effectiveness during the Civil War. Tidball writes about many of the main battles in which he participated in the East, and he also discusses a few of the battles in the West, such as Shiloh, Chickamauga, and Stones' River.

Captain John C. Tidball

Because I was at the park to do some research today, and because I am reading Tidball's work right now, I stopped by the Tidball trail for some photos this afternoon. The park recently completed an artillery relocation, where our excellent staff placed some artillery guns at new locations. One of these locations, and in my opinion one of the finest spots on the park for artillery guns, is the Tidball trail, where two three inch ordinance rifles were recently placed. I wanted to check out the new views from the trail, and the new guns did not disappoint.

At Antietam, John C. Tidball was the Captain of Battery A, 2nd US Artillery. A West Point graduate from 1848, Tidball was an experienced officer whose actions at the battle helped to support infantry attacks on the Federal right and left. His guns were positioned on a ridge line just west of Antietam Creek, having a view of the center and southern end of the battlefield. 

In his account of Antietam, Tidball writes that Union artillery units were not as well organized as were their Confederate counterparts. Confederate batteries were largely organized into battalions, allowing for greater concentration of firepower on certain parts of the field (think of the Stephen D. Lee Battalion in between the Dunker Church and the current site of the Visitor Center). Conversely, Federal batteries were largely on their own, attached to various brigades or divisions. This dispersed Federal firepower for field artillery west of the Antietam, limiting the ability of Union artillery to support infantry attacks with close range support.

(Tidball's battery looking west toward Confederate positions on northern side of Boonsboro Pike)

Tidball's description of the fighting in the Cornfield and West Woods is critical of Hooker's use of his artillery. He suggests that Federal artillery was underutilized because of the lack of general coordination between various divisions and corps in their attacks. He also provides a chilling quote describing the fighting in that sector: "No other equal area upon the American continent has been so drenched with human blood." (79)

 Tidball's view of Cemetery Hill, on the southern (left) side of Route 34.

Throughout the battle, Union artillery on the eastern banks of the Antietam pelted Confederate forces with long range fire. To support these long range batteries, Union cavalry and batteries attached to the cavalry were sent across the Middle Bridge to fire on the center of the Confederate line. One of these batteries was Tidball's Battery A, 2nd US Artillery:

"To silence these batteries [Federal guns on the east bank of the Antietam] Lee directed his chief of artillery to post his most powerful batteries along the crest in front of Sharpsburg, but before this could be effected the four horse batteries of Pleasanton's cavalry pushed across the center bridge, and amid a shower of shot, shell, and musketry, took position on an intermediate crest between Lee's line and the batteries on the opposite side of the Antietam. The fire from the 24 pieces of these horse batteries was so spirited as not only to prevent the establishment of other batteries in their front, but to drive away those already there... The horse batteries continued to hold the position until withdrawn at dark. In addition to attending to their immediate front they, as occasion offered, directed their fire to the right upon Jackson's masses and to the left upon the troops confronting Burnside." (72)

Tidball's six guns fired over 1,200 shells from this position. In this photograph, the southern part of the battlefield can be seen. Not only could Tidball support Fifth Corps infantry and U.S. Cavalry near the Middle Bridge and 2nd Corps infantry attacking the Sunken Road, but he could support Burnside's right flank, advancing across the fields in the distance on the left side of the above photograph.

Hawkin's Zouaves monument, as seen from Tidball's position.

Tidball went on to become one of the most successful Union artillery officers of the war. He was brevetted for gallantry five times, becoming a Brevet Major General by the end of the war. During his post Civil War career, he was the Superintendent of Artillery instruction at the army's Artillery School, eventually achieving the rank of  Colonel in the regular army. His thoughts and observations on artillery throughout the conflict stand the test of time in their wisdom and insight to important artillery operations at battles such as Antietam. While I disagree with some of his judgments regarding the generalship of the battle, I believe that the quote below is particularly astute in reminding us of the good reasons for caution which were in the back of McClellan's mind during the battle. Even if one says that Antietam was a draw, the simple fact is that for Lee and his invading army, it was ultimately a defeat.

"But McClellan was cautious, perhaps over cautious. Nothing but his army stood between Lee and the National capital. A decided repulse would be an immeasurable misfortune and there was no certainty that he could fight his army better on any other day than he had on the 17th... [Antietam] was in reality a drawn battle. But a drawn battle to an invading army is little less than defeat." (86-7)

Tidball, John C. The Artillery Service in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865. Edited by Lawrence M. Kaplan (Yardley, Pennsylvania: Westholme Publishing, 2011)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Connecticut Day at Antietam

To commemorate the 150th Anniversary of Antietam, the park will be hosting state days throughout the year, honoring the troops from various states who participated in the battle. Today was designated as Connecticut Day, and many programs and events occurred honoring and remembering those men from Connecticut who fought at Antietam on September 17, 1862.

Four regiments from Connecticut were present at the battle. They were as follows, along with their casualty numbers:

  • 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Colonel Edward Harland's Brigade, Brigadier General Isaac P. Rodman's Division, 9th Corps, Army of the Potomac
    • 34 killed, 139 wounded, 21 missing, 194 total casualties
  • 11th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Colonel Edward Harland's Brigade, Brigadier General Isaac P. Rodman's Division, 9th Corps, Army of the Potomac
    • 36 killed, 103 wounded, 139 total casualties
  •  14th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Colonel Dwight Morris's Brigade, Brigadier General Nathan Kimball's Division, 2nd Corps, Army of the Potomac
    • 20 killed, 88 wounded, 48 missing, 156 total casualties
  • 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Colonel Edward Harland's Brigade, Brigadier General Isaac P. Rodman's Division, 9th Corps, Army of the Potomac  
    • 42 killed, 143 wounded, 185 total casualties

Taken from the area of the 9th New York and 8th Connecticut monuments, this is the spot where the Federal Final Attack at Antietam was at high tide, before A.P. Hill's Confederate division flanked and stopped the Union advance. 

11th Connecticut Monument

14th Connecticut Monument

 16th Connecticut Monument

Overall, it was a very busy day at the park. It was great to see so many visitors out so early in the season, which I think suggests just how busy this year will be for us. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I had the chance to meet fellow Civil War blogger John Banks, whose excellent Civil War blog can be found here. I have followed John's work for awhile now (he focuses on Connecticut soldiers who were at Antietam, Gettysburg, and other Civil War topics), and it was nice to have the chance to meet him. Keep blogging away John!

Now, here are a few photographs from Connecticut Day at Antietam...

Outside of the Visitor Center, information tents were set up for visitors to learn more about Connecticut in the Civil War

The Connecticut State Flag was flown just below the American flag at the Visitor Center

This tent was for those with descendants who fought in Connecticut regiments to research their ancestors' contributions during the war.

Out on the battlefield, groups of visitors from Connecticut toured Antietam's hallowed ground, finding living history volunteers portraying various Confederate regiments. Above, volunteers portraying the 14th Connecticut stand near that regiment's monument along Bloody Lane, as a Connecticut tour group journeys back to the bus for another stop on the field.

Even the birds were excited about Connecticut day!

It was a beautiful day the park, before the rain came in anyways. All in all, a VERY successful state day.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Wisdom of Charles Wainwright: "Antietam was a victory..."

Today was a good day for this historian. Why, you ask? Because it involved Civil War history books. Lots of Civil War history books. I spent a few hours this afternoon hitting a few bookstores in Gettysburg, trying to find some excellent sources for Antietam studies. I did quite well, picking up numerous volumes that will help with research, blog posts, developing programs for the 150th, and so on and so forth. Among these volumes is the Civil War journal of Colonel Charles Wainwright, the Union First Corps artillery chief who arrived at Sharpsburg the day after Antietam. Wainwright's collection is excellent in many ways, as it provides excellent insight into the operations of Union artillery during the war.

Wainwright's journal is excellent as well because it provides some great quotes on very important topics. One quote of Wainwright's in particular which stands out for me comes from a journal entry on October 5, 1862, where he is describing Antietam. While I disagree with some of his thoughts and conclusions on the battle, I find this one to be particularly astute:

"Antietam was a victory, and a glorious one when you consider that but seventeen days before this army was running most disgracefully from the same troops over which they were now victorious."

What?! Antietam was a glorious Union victory?! What a strange thought. Next you will be telling me that McClellan was a competent commander... (for those who follow the blog, you already know my thoughts on this)

Wainwright was exactly right. I often ask visitors who are convinced that the Union army lost at Antietam to stop and think about the broad picture of the campaign. Coming from Second Manassas, Lee had all the momentum, and the Federal forces in Washington were in disarray. Yet, just two and a half weeks later, the quickly revamped Army of the Potomac met the same Army of Northern Virginia in an even bloodier battle, sustaining massive casualties, yet exacting an unsustainable toll on the Confederate force. Following a quick turn around after a major defeat, McClellan was able to drive Lee from Union territory, achieving the same tactical and strategic result as the Gettysburg Campaign. If Gettysburg is a victory, then logic dictates that Antietam must be as well. Wainwright's quote regarding the outcome of Antietam is an excellent source to use when discussing these topics, as even if people don't like my opinion on the subject, they might be more inclined to listen to the words of a man who was actually at the battle itself.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

April 16, 1862

First off, I would like to make mention of the fact that I began this blog on April 15, 2011, meaning that this little adventure is now one year old. Thanks to everyone who has ever taken the time to check out my site. I really appreciate your time, and some of the kind words and comments which you have shared over the past year. I look forward to many more posts and topics to come on here, so stay tuned!

Now, since I missed posting this yesterday, here is a Civil War 150 update for everyone:

Yesterday marked 150 years since two very important events of the American Civil War. First, April 16, 1862, saw the beginning of the first broad scale military draft in American history. Beset with problems in manpower and industrial might, on that date the Confederate Congress in Richmond authorized conscription for Confederate soldiers. This draft would be the first of several conscription acts passed by the Confederate Congress. While the Union government was still relying on state's to meet their quota of enlisted troops, sometimes through state conscription acts, the Lincoln administration would turn to a nationwide draft in 1863.

Additionally, on April 16, 1862, slavery was abolished in the District of Columbia. This was a goal for which Lincoln had been fighting for a large portion of his political career. Lincoln's advocacy for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia and his desire to halt slavery's western expansion were the pillars of his political ideology throughout his life. He believed these were the best measures to combat slavery that were allowed by the constitution and the pre-war political situation in the county. The bill which Lincoln signed on April 16 provided for compensated emancipation, and it did not get rid of fugitive slave laws, but nevertheless, many African American leaders in the North rejoiced upon its signing. As one publication declared, "we rejoice less as black men than as part and parcel of the American people... We can point to our Capital and say to all nations, 'It is Free!' Americans abroad can now hold up their heads when interrogated as to what the Federal Government is fighting for, and answer, 'There, look at our Capital and see what we have fought for!'"

Friday, April 13, 2012

Antietam's 150th: Ready, Set, Go!

"Who would have selected this lovely valley as the scene of one of the most bloody struggles that has ever occurred?....Yet, here, on these smiling fields, and among these delightful groves, one of the grand battles which should decide the march of events in the history, not only of our own country, but of the world, was fought."
George T. Stevens, 77th New York Volunteer Infantry

Greetings from Maryland, where I have returned once again to don my Ranger hat and work at one of the most beautiful, and meaningful, national parks in the country. Today was my first back at the Visitor Center. It was an incredibly busy day, which tells me that things are gearing up for the 150th. It will be a busy, beautiful, and incredibly important year at Antietam, and I can assure you that we will do all we can to be up for the task of preserving and interpreting such a beautiful and meaningful battlefield.

Over the upcoming weeks and months, look for new things on here, as I shift my focus from Shiloh and the Western Theater back to Antietam and the East. During the next few months, we will see how men such as Robert E. Lee, George McClellan, "Stonewall" Jackson, Ambrose Burnside, and even my great-great-great grandfather, Elwood Rodebaugh, all wound up along the banks of Antietam Creek on the morning of September 17, 1862. On this blog, we will take a look at various generals who fought at Antietam, various parts of the battlefield which might not be seen by the common visitor, some of the stories which are not often told, and some of the new interpretations of Antietam which emphasize how the battle was actually fought, not how historians think it should have been fought. In addition, I will post updates on my research on the Army of the Potomac at Antietam for the Dr. Joseph L. Harsh Scholarship Award. So, stay tuned for this blogger/ranger's view of Antietam 150 years after the battle was fought.

As for now, while I get settled in Maryland, here are just a few shots from my early morning walk through the park today...

Philadelphia Brigade Monument in the West Woods

View of the Tompkin's Battery guns, with Elk Ridge and South Mountain in the background

The Dunker Church, with portions of the Stephen Lee Artillery guns

Stephen Lee guns, with Maryland Monument in the background

New York State Monument

Friday, April 6, 2012

April 6, 1862

150 years ago today, on April 6, 1862, the Battle of Shiloh began. Over the past few weeks, I have done various posts on Shiloh, stemming from my recent visit. I have always been fascinated by this battle, as I was born on its 125th Anniversary (yes, that makes today my birthday). Shiloh has always stood out for me as being a very unique battle. It was the first of the great and terrible battles of the war. One week short of one year into the war, 24,000 Americans lay dead, wounded, or dying on once peaceful fields in Southern Tennessee. There was no turning back for America after Shiloh, as it forever changed the nation. It told all who would listen that the war would not be an easy affair, that the war would not be over quickly, and that with such momentous issues at stake, a great deal of blood would be required to settle the matter of which vision of liberty would prevail.

In Corinth, Mississippi, about 20 miles south of Shiloh, there is a relatively new NPS Interpretive Center. If you get the chance, I highly recommend you go there. Along with the fine museums and interpretive films, the Interpretive Center has a small display behind the building. The display, pictured above, is of a stream, the stream of American history. It starts with the Declaration of Independence; small ripples in the stream are caused by various sectional controversies leading up to the war. The blocks in the middle represent the war itself, with the larger blocks representing the larger battles. I found this to be fascinating because it is an excellent way to understand how these battles impacted history. Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, and many others were all major events in the stream of American history, causing ripples which are still being felt today. Shiloh led to unforeseen casualties, the rise of a Lost Cause myth, the rise of Ulysses S. Grant, but more importantly, it taught Americans exactly how high the price of freedom truly is. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were documents that were so sacred that in order to either destroy or save them, thousands upon thousands of lives would need to be sacrificed. Those sacrifices, made at Shiloh 150 years ago, still affect our lives today, reminding us of what it means to be a citizen in this great republic.

Because I have written quite a bit about my recent visit to Shiloh, today, in commemoration of the battle's 150th anniversary, I wanted to simply share some of my favorite photos from my visit there (what I hope will be the first of many visits). Let us remember the sacrifices made 150 years ago today in the fields and woods surrounding Shiloh Church. As Lincoln wrote in his December 3, 1861 message to Congress, "The struggle of today, is not altogether for today -- it is for a vast future also. With a reliance on Providence, all the more firm and earnest, let us proceed in the great task which events have devolved upon us."

Here are the links for the posts I have done about Shiloh over the past few weeks. You can find many more Shiloh photos in these posts as well.

Shiloh National Cemetery
Confederate Burial Trenches 
Shiloh's Confederate Memorial
Sherman Arrives at Pittsburg Landing
Battle of Shiloh Begins
Shiloh's Rhea Field
Shiloh's State Monuments
Shiloh's Hornets' Nest
April 3, 1862: Confederate Advance, Union Camps
April 5, 1862: "The eyes and hopes of eight millions of people rest upon you" (Death of A.S. Johnston)

I would be remiss if I didn't put the most important photo first. Going to Shiloh with my Dad made my first visit to Shiloh all the more special. Here is Dad and I along the edge of the Hornets' Nest, with Duncan Field behind us. 

Now, on to my other favorite photos...

Iowa Monument

Iowa Monument

Confederate Memorial

 Tennessee Memorial

 Artillery near Water Oaks Pond

 Sherman's Headquarters sign

 57th Ohio Monument

The Peach Orchard


One of the park's resident Bald Eagles, taken in Cloud Field

 Shiloh at sunset, taken from the Peach Orchard (same for next few)


Shiloh National Cemetery

Graves of Wisconsin Color Bearers overlooking the Tennessee River

Site of Grant's Headquarters on the evening of April 6ht

Shiloh National Cemetery

Confederate Battery Tablet

 Albert Sydney Johnston Death Site

Confederate Burial Trench