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)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 2012: "Higher Conceptions of Life and Duty"

Remembering all those who have fallen in defense of our country...

 "Not for themselves, but for their country"

“The usefulness of the soldiers who fought or died upon this battlefield did not fade away in the shadows which closed that memorable 17th day of September 1862. The example of zealous devotion and noble sacrifice which that hour engendered became a living and indestructible element toward higher conceptions of life and of duty.”

“In the private soldier I seem to see typified the union of purpose, the union of valor, and the union of probity, which gave to this war the benediction of God, and, to our own cause, a glorious victory. Among all nations and throughout all time the soldier, who endures the throes of warfare for the sake of his home and his conceptions of liberty and justice, should merit universal esteem.”

-Captain John C. Stevenson, Sept. 17, 1904, Dedication for the 100th Pennsylvania Infantry monument at Antietam 


“It is eminently fitting that we should leave for other generations some tribute of our admiration to the men whose valor did so much for the preservation of our institutions, and who neither hesitated nor halted to give their all that a nation dedicated to liberty and freedom should not perish from off the earth.”
-General Robert P. Kennedy, veteran of the 23rd Ohio Infantry, October 13, 1903, at a dedication ceremony for Ohio monuments at Antietam

Saturday, May 26, 2012

"Heroism needs no label to proclaim its quality."

I wanted to take a moment to post a few lines from an address given by Frederick Hitchcock, a Major with the 132nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, who was present for Pennsylvania Day at Antietam and the dedication for the 132nd Pennsylvania Monument on September 17, 1904. I think you will find the words to be very moving; they certainly fit well with our nation's Memorial Day commemorations this weekend. The 132nd Pennsylvania was one of the many "green" regiments in the Union army at the Battle of Antietam. These men received their baptism by fire on the hills and fields surrounding Bloody Lane on September 17, 1862. Out of roughly 750 present, the 132nd Pennsylvania suffered 152 casualties. Years later, as the survivors gathered once again to commemorate and honor the sacrifices of their comrades in arms, Major Hitchcock delivered these remarks. He began with introductions, thank yous, and other pleasantries; once he finished with setting the scene, Hitchcock set out upon the primary purpose of his speech, to remember the sacrifices of so many soldiers so long ago....

 132nd Pennsylvania Monument at Antietam

The richest possession of any people is its heritage of noble deeds and heroic sacrifices.

Human freedom has ever been attained and maintained at the cost of blood and treasure. The world is full of the graves of patriotic martyrs. Our comrades who fell here, joined the illustrious throng of the world’s heroes. Their noble spirit was well voiced by the intrepid former Captain of the Revolution, Nathan Hale, when he said, standing under the halter in the very shadow of death, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”

Heroism knows no rank or station. It exalts all to the highest plane… And when amidst the wild clangor of war, or upon the lonely picket line, in hospital or prison pen, a noble life is immolated upon the altar of Liberty, the supreme sacrifice has been made, the spirit is the same. In every instance the hero has earned immortal honor. Heroism needs no label to proclaim its quality. Wherever found it exemplifies the richest and noblest characteristics of humanity. It is said the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Not less true is it, that the blood of patriots always and everywhere has been the  seed of civil and religious liberty….

If, like our forefathers, it was ours to pass through ‘days which tried men’s souls,” in the service of our country, like them we have been permitted to reap richly of the harvest of victory, and far over and beyond them, we have seen our beloved country emerge from her struggle for life, purged of the cancer of slavery which produced it, and advance gloriously step by step to the very forefront of the nations, until today “Old Glory” not a stripe erased nor a star dimmed, the Emblem of liberty, the hope of humanity, kisses the morning breeze all around the world.

But my comrades and fellow citizens we may not rest upon past achievements… It was ours to be faithful and true here, let it still be ours to remain faithful and true yonder. The final battle for our country has not yet been won. Her hundred and twenty-eight years of existence are, let us hope, scarcely more than her infancy. If she is to enjoy a nation’s life, she is no only on the borderland of her youth. Her future is in the hands of her sons today, one may well pause with fear, when he beholds the shoals and rocks which loom upon in the track of our ship of state, but far be it from me, under the inspiration of these scenes, to utter one discordant note of prophecy. The blood shed here shall not have been poured out in vain. Her sons of the future will rise and meet new dangers as they appear, and our country shall move grandly forward meeting the coming generation with the message of old Liberty Bell still voicing her destiny, now swelling into a grander anthem, and proclaiming liberty throughout the wide world ‘to all the inhabitants thereof.’”

Hitchcock went on to describe the statue, which depicts a lone color bearer holding the American flag, moving forward toward the guns of the enemy: 

And now in concluding this grateful service, we leave this mute but eloquent statue, a representation of one of the color bearers of this regiment, still holding aloft his flag though the staff has been shot away. The scene is true to life.

Let it speak to coming generations of duty well done. Let its radiant heroic figure be a type of the true American citizen-soldier—ever inch a man, true to his country; ever ready to bare his breast to her foes; undismayed by difficulties; undaunted by danger and unyielding in duty, though death be the cost.

Hitchcock's address reminds us of the character of the American soldiers whom we honor this Memorial Day: "undismayed by difficulties, undaunted by danger, and unyielding in duty, though death be the cost."

Friday, May 25, 2012

"Pray the Lord that this war may soon end": R. W. Benton of the 14th Connecticut Infantry

As we enter Memorial Day weekend, many of us will think only of a day off of work, cookouts, baseball games, and relaxation. Millions of Americans will forget why it is that we are taking a weekend to watch a parade or fire up the grill. I haven't been very active on here over the past few weeks, as I have spent much of my time either working at the park or working on my research, but I wanted to share a few letters from a man who was at Antietam, as they serve as a reminder of what this country has gone through to enjoy the freedom we all know as Americans.

Raphael Ward Benton served with the 14th Connecticut Infantry, a regiment which was raised in Hartford in August of 1862. The men of the 14th Connecticut were just a few of the many soldiers in the Army of the Potomac for whom Antietam was their first battle. Benton's letters were written to his wife. Typed transcript copies of the letters can be found in the park library's unit file for the 14th Connecticut. They begin with a letter sent home on August 31, 1862, from Fort Ethan Allen, outside of Washington.

Fort Ethan Allen
August 31, 1862
My Dearest Wife,
Although it is the Sabbath there is no preaching here as it is raining. So I spend the time writing to you. First of all I say I am quite well though I think when I tell you the circumstances you will think it strange. Before noon the day that I wrote you last we were ordered to march for Camp Chase which is as near as I can judge not far from six miles from Washington on the Virginia side. So we shouldered our duds and started. It was uncomfortably hot and dusty beyond all reason but a soldier has no business to be tired or complain, we reached there about six o’clock perfectly dripping with sweat, covered with dust less than an inch thick, actually the dust rose in such clouds that men and horses could not be seen at a distance of more than from ten to fifteen rods according to circumstances a great part of the way. Some of our strongest men—George Hall of N.G. was one—were obliged to have their knapsacks put on board of baggage wagons and hardly reached camp at that but somehow my strength held out wonderfully. We pitched our tents and were soon sleeping soundly on the ground beneath hoping to have a good night’s rest but in this we were disappointed for a three a.m. on Friday we called out our guns and ammunition distributed in the dark and with as little noise as possible, we were then given two crackers apiece and a cup of coffee, a rubber blanket and ordered to march we knew not whither, after marching awhile we were informed that it was supposed the rebels were intending to make a demonstration at Chain (?) Bridge some six miles above on the Potomack (sic). We reached that place before noon some of our men behind who were to (sic) tired to go with us, not finding the rebels at that place we were marched two or three further in a westerly direction almost all the way up hill to Fort Ethan Allen where we were directed to (encamp) outside the Fort and in case of attack occupy the rifle pits and here we have remained until the present time and how much longer may I cannot tell neither do I care if we could be made comfortable but as it is with our tents knapsacks blankets and overcoats we know not where, with nought to sleep on but the ground and nothing to cover us but the heavens and a rubber blanket , a wet day and the prospect of a wet night, with nothing to eat but bread and salt pork eaten raw or roasted in the fire on the point of a stick, with no coffee that is decent, we cannot be expected to be quite satisfied. But we hope for better things. Yesterday, we heard the booming of cannon almost all day, and it is reported that there has been another great battle fought terminating in our favor. You will probably know the truth sooner than we. George Hall, Odelle Chittenden, and Henry B. Dudly we left about tired our and when we arrived here several of our men were nearly exhausted. Henry Parmelie went to the hospital today but I think he is not dangerously sick, ditto Samuel Seward, Oliver Evarts also I am afraid will give out. But we hope for the best. We think and talk of and about the friends we love at home very very often and wish to be with them, but if it is the Lord’s will that we reamin (sic) here we are willing although we may be called to do and suffer. I hope and trust that you will daily pray for our reunion but if we meet not here I hope we meet in a better world where partners are unknown.
Yours truly,
R.W. Benton. 

Fort Ethan Allen
Friday, September 5, 1862
My Dearest Wife,

You will perhaps wonder why you have not heard before but there is difficulty in the way of my writing often that are (sic) not easily understood by those not used to Camp life. I consider it a great privilege to be able to write without molestation, but if could only leave this poor body in our tent and transport myself by telegraph or some other way to Ward Benton’s kitchen and sit down with my wife and family one short hour it would make me inexpressibly happy. My health still holds out, in fact I am healthier than at home and I wish I could hear as much from you. I hope you will write before long. I will give your (sic) my address at the close of this letter. I want you to write all how you get along in the house and out the door…I hope you all will succeed in being a blessing to each other and receive the blessing and favor of God who can and will make all things to work together for good to those who love Him....

“Dinner is now ready and I must close, I suppose it will be boiled ham which if well cooked is good enough as it is not the best. Not please write all of you when you can and tell any of my friends I would like to hear from them. Pray often that I may be returned safe home.”

 R.W. Benton

Camp Defiance
Sept. 7, 1862
I spent the few moments I have to spare in giving you a little information on our whereabouts and state generally. We had supposed that we were to stay at Fort Ethan Allen, but Sunday just as we were preparing to attend divine service there came a report that Stonewall Jackson was crossing into Maryland at Harpers Ferry and we received orders to march posthaste to Rockville, Md a little this side. So we packed up our blankets, took our guns, and a little past noon began to march. We marched all the afternoon and half of the night stopping occasionally to rest. About 2 in the night we bivouacked till sunrise and then commenced marching again reaching this place a little past noon pretty well tuckered I tell you, but it is was surprising how soon we got rested today—Tuesday—we feel quite current again. We have had not fighting to do yet, and where we shall be called to next I cannot tell. I wish you would not trouble yourself in my account as I am getting along quite well, much better than I expected—yesterday I felt a little of my old bowel complaint, but feel better today. When you write tell me how Arthur gets along with his farming and about your home affairs generally. I write a short letter for want of time, but not of inclination. Fiske remarked at night he would like his wife’s night cap with her in it. I second the motion. Your loving and never forgetful husband.

R.W. Benton

Clarksville, MD 
Sept. 11, 1862

The day I wrote you we again had marching orders. We bivouacked in night before last and also last night today we are in this and it is rumored that there is a prospect of a battle but I think it quite doubtful as there are so many untrue stories in circulation. I am at the present moment sitting in company with S.D. Crittenden in the commissary wagon. Last night I was quite weak on account of my bowel complaint and got excused by the surgeon from any duty but marching and happening to get a chance to ride I took advantage of it and now the army is a mile or two ahead. I feel better now and as I am afraid of being blamed I think I shall go on and overtake the Regiment this afternoon. I am told we are about half way from Washington to Harpers Ferry. As a number of the other men have been affected similarly to myself and after recovering were healthier than before to be affected in the same way myself. At least I am not discouraged yet. I should have started out before now—2 o’clock—but it rains and I preferred to run my risk and wait a little longer. And now my dearest wife I cannot but express to you my full conviction that if I ever should reach home you will all seem nearer and dearer to me than before. But some things that I expected to miss very much I find I can do very well without. For instance, I think that although the ground is very hard to sleep on at first if I ever return home and it was not for the musketos [sic] I would prefer sleeping on it to all the soft beds in the world and as for the musketoes [sic] there is none here. I can write no more now and don’t  know as I can send this. Yours now at all times and till death—for which I pray often that I may be prepared.

R.W. Benton

September 17, 1862
My Dearest Wife

I hardly know how or what to write for we have been marched from one place to another with such rapidity that I have almost forgot the day of the week and month and everything else but I can assure you I have seen all of the horrors of war that I ever wish to and I sincerely hope that it will soon be over. Tuesday night—I believe—when we were lying at Yatesville (Keedysville) we had ninety rounds of ammunition dealt out to us and we were told we would soon be called to use it. Wednesday we lay along behind the hill where we were Tuesday a severe battle going on all the time the shot and shells flying around us thick and fast but fortunately none of us were hut. But soon we were called on to march on to the field about a mile distant. We were soon in battle array and charging along through fields of corn. The enemy commenced pouring in on us a tremendous fire—the shots fell like hail in a few minutes I was struck by a Minnie ball in the side of my neck several of my comrades laid me on my blankets and carried me from the field since that I have been lying with the other wounded in a  field about a mile distant where I with some difficulty walked—I think my wound is not a bad one but I bled so much and being rather weak before I have but little strength but I begin to feel better and hope soon to be able to be about. I hope you will not be discouraged about me. I am so much better off than hundreds of others I feel great cause for thankfulness. Richard Hull was shot dead at least so the other boys told me. Poor man! E. I. Field was badly wounded and died last night. The other Guilford men I have not heard from. Oh you don’t know the dreadful scenes we have passed through. The dead, the dying, and wounded are lying all around me, and I think may about to thousands. Pray the Lord that this war may soon end. We have it is said gained a great victory, at least—we have plenty of prisoners. They almost all say they are willing to give up but the officers will not permit it. Ozias Leffingwell and Wm. Jones of North Madison have taken care of me they are both very kind. They lent me this paper. Mine is all lost and everything else I brought with me.

Yours affectionately,

R.W. Benton

For Raphael Benton, who prayed that the horrors of war would soon end, the war ended at Antietam. In the days following the battle, he suffered in a field hospital, eventually walking over 20 miles to Frederick with other wounded soldiers who sought help. His wounds and the trip to Frederick combined to be too much for him to handle; on September 25, 1862, Benton died in Frederick, Maryland. His much hoped and prayed for reunion with his wife was not to be. The following letter was written by one of Benton's friends.

Sept  26, 1862, Frederick, MD

Dear Friends,

I once more sit down to write sad news to you. Mr. Benton is dead. He died last night at 6 o’clock. I have been staying with him since I found him in the hospital. We did not think his condition immediately dangerous unless he should take to bleeding. The Dr. told me to watch the wound and if it set to bleeding he would not stand it long. But it had not bled since and the nurses thought he might get along. He has never complained of the wound but of pain in his limbs. I have stayed by him and rubed [sic] him with liniment. He thought I could cure him if I could be allowed to stay with him. He seemed to [get] be easyer [sic] throughout the day. He would look at me and say , “Oh, Henry you can’t think how much better I feel. If you can stay with me I shall get along first rate.” But it proved to be that he was Dyeing [sic] gradualy [sic]. He passed away without a struggle at 6 o’clock last night. I held his hand in mine and he appeared to know me long after he could speak. I would speak to him and he would answer by a slight pressure of the hand. The Doctor says his death was probably caused by not being taken care of. HE was allowed to walk here from the Battlefield. The day he arrived here he had walked 8 miles and had lost so much blood that he was very weak…
I took the things from his packets [sic] and have kept them myself. HE had about Twenty dollars with him. I have had to use some four dollars sending telegraph dispatches and probably may have to more as I have spent nearly all of my own. I thought likely you would be anxious to get the body brought home, but find it cannot be unless it is embalmed and enclosed in a matalic [sic] coffin which will cost some $80.00 Dollars and the Express Company charges some $25.00 which makes a cost of $105.00. This I could not do and I did not know what you thought about it so I Telegraphed last night to find out. I shall come on with it if it means I get a pass. If I do not, I will send his things the first opportunity. I will write again soon fi I do not come and let you know about it. If I do not send the money to you I will write to our folks and have them pay it do you.

From your true friend,

Henry B. Dudley

This weekend, as we go about our busy lives, seeing friends, concerts, and enjoying barbeque, remember that it is because of men like Raphael Ward Benton of the 14th Connecticut, who died from his wounds at Antietam, never getting to speak with or see his beloved wife again, that we have the freedom to enjoy all that we have today.

Here is wishing all of you a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend, where I hope every American will pause to remember those who gave their lives that this nation might live.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Antietam Generals: Truman Seymour

Truman Seymour

Born: September 24, 1824, Burlington, Vermont
Died: October 30, 1891, Florence, Italy

As a member of the famed West Point Class of 1846, Truman Seymour was in good company among Civil War commanders. Many of those in his class would join him along the banks of Antietam Creek for America’s bloodiest day on September 17, 1862. Born in 1824 to a Methodist preacher in Vermont, a young Truman Seymour attended Norwich University for two years before heading to the U.S. Military Academy. Upon graduation, Seymour became an artillery officer. He was brevetted a First Lieutenant and Captain during his service in the Mexican War, and he also saw antebellum action against Florida’s Seminole Indians in the latter 1850s. 

Brigadier General Truman Seymour (www.generalsandbrevets.com)

Seymour has the distinction of being one the men inside the walls of Fort Sumter when, on April 12, 1861, Confederate artillery lit up the sky over Charleston Harbor, initiating the American Civil War. Following the fort’s surrender a few days later, Seymour spent the next year aiding the effort to recruit and raise a Federal army large enough to put down the rebellion. On April 28, 1862, he was made a Brigadier General of Volunteers. Initially, he commanded a brigade in George McCall’s division of the 5th Corps; when McCall was taken prisoner at the Battle of Glendale on June 30, 1862, Seymour temporarily took over the division. During the Second Manassas Campaign, Seymour returned to his brigade command because John Reynold’s had taken command of the division, which was attached to the 3rd Corps of the Army of Virginia, under John Pope. When George McClellan went about reorganizing the Washington defenses following the abysmal Federal defeat at Second Manassas, Seymour’s brigade, along with the rest of his division and the 3rd Corps of the Army of Virginia, became the 1st Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Its new commander would be Major General Joseph Hooker.

During the Federal advance into Maryland, the 1st Corps, along with the 9th Corps, formed the right wing of the Union army. It was this wing which was used in attacks against Frosttown, Turner’s, and Fox’s Gaps during the Battle of South Mountain on September 14, 1862. During this fight, Seymour’s Pennsylvania troops distinguished themselves well, overcoming difficult and impeding terrain, driving Confederates under Robert Rhodes off of ground north of Turner’s Gap on South Mountain. By nightfall, Seymour’s brigade had played a key role in an incredibly important Federal victory.

Several days later, at Antietam, it was Seymour’s men who were first engaged against Lee’s defensive lines outside of Sharpsburg. After arriving on the eastern banks of Antietam Creek, McClellan sent the 1st Corps across the Upper Bridge at mid-afternoon on September 16. Once across the bridge, Hooker advanced his corps west so that he would be positioned north of Lee’s left flank. That evening, as Federal forces closed in on Confederate pickets and defensive lines, Seymour’s brigade came into contact with the Confederate division of John Bell Hood in the East Woods. The skirmish fire was brisk, and continued until dark, when both sides settled in to await the break of dawn, when their battle would begin in earnest.

 Carman map showing Seymour's brigade at daybreak on the 17th

When the sun rose the next morning, Seymour’s men continued their fight against the Confederate line, only now, they were engaged with part of Alexander Lawton’s division; specifically, the brigade of Isaac Trimble, along with the brigade of Roswell Ripley, belonging to D.H. Hill’s division. After the first half hour of fighting, Seymour’s brigade began to withdraw, as the rest of the 1st Corps was beginning its assault through the famed Cornfield. Seymour's men remained in the East Woods, or north of the East Woods for the remainder of the day. Later, when Major General Joseph Hooker was wounded, Brigadier General George Meade assumed command of the corps, leaving the division to Seymour for the time being.

 Carman map showing action between 6 and 6:30 a.m.

Seymour’s Brigade at Antietam

1st Pennsylvania Reserves: 27 casualties

2nd Pennsylvania Reserves: 34 casualties

5th Pennsylvania Reserves: 10 casualties

6th Pennsylvania Reserves: 69 casualties

13th Pennsylvania Reserves: 25 casualties

Total: 155 casualties

George Meade’s Division at Antietam:

2855 Present (Ezra Carman Number), 573 casualties (20% casualties)

For his actions at South Mountain and Sharpsburg, Seymour was brevetted first a Lieutenant Colonel and then a full Colonel in the regular army (a distinction existed between a rank in the volunteer army and the regular army; thus, by being brevetted a Colonel in the regular army, Seymour was promoted in rank, despite holding an appointment as a Brigadier General of Volunteers)

Following Antietam, Seymour was sent south once again to Charleston Harbor. There, on July 18, 1863, he oversaw the famed attack against Fort Wagner, where the legendary 54th Massachusetts led the way and suffered near 50% casualties, including their colonel, Robert Gould Shaw (Captain, 2nd Massachusetts at Antietam), who was killed that day. During this assault Seymour was wounded, but he would survive. Later that year, he commanded troops at the Battle of Olustee, the biggest Civil War battle to be fought in the state of Florida.

In May of 1864, Seymour came back to the Eastern Theater of the war. He was captured at the Battle of the Wilderness, and then part of a prisoner exchange that August. Following his exchange he again became a division commander and saw action in the Shenandoah, at Petersburg, and at Appomattox. At the end of the war, he was brevetted a Major General in both the regular and volunteer armies. In 1866, he was given command of the 5th U.S. Artillery, which he held until 1876, when he retired and left the United States. Seymour lived out his remaining days in Florence, Italy, until he died in 1891. While he was buried in Italy, his wife lived on until 1919 when she passed away and was interred at West Point.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Antietam Generals: Oliver O. Howard

Today I want to start a new series of posts on this blog that will coincide with my research on the Army of the Potomac this summer. While I am making charts and analyzing the experience and strength of different commands, I thought it would be interesting to start doing profile posts on various Union generals and commanders at Antietam, covering what they did during the battle, as well as their lives and careers before, during, and after the Civil War. I will most likely keep this series focusing on brigade commanders, but who knows? Maybe we will talk about some of the well known corps commanders, division commanders, or even some relatively unknown regimental commanders. I may even branch off and start working on Confederate commanders. Guess you'll have to stay tuned for more to come.

For the first profile, I decided to pick the man who commanded what readers of this blog will immediately recognize as the coolest, most interesting, and most fascinating brigade at the battle: the Philadelphia Brigade (for those who are new to this blog, my great-great-great grandfather Elwood Rodebaugh was a private in the 106th PA, one of the regiments in the brigade). As a part of the 2nd Corps, the Philadelphia Brigade saw heavy combat on many battlefields of the war. It also had some remarkable commanders, but none paralleled the record, and in some instances controversy, of the career of Oliver O. Howard.

Oliver O. Howard

Born: Nov. 8, 1830, Leeds Maine

Died: October 26, 1909

Buried: Lake View Cemetery, Burlington, VT

Command at Antietam: 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, 2nd Corps (Philadelphia Brigade)

Oliver O. Howard

Oliver O. Howard is one of the more remarkable Union generals from the American Civil War. He was an 1850 graduate of Bowdoin College, the school made famous by another one of its students who became a professor at Bowdoin and later a Union colonel and general: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. In 1854, Howard graduated fourth in his class from West Point, along with other notable Civil War figures such as Jeb Stuart and Stephen D. Lee, both of whom Howard fought against at Antietam. Howard was known as a strong Christian and an abolitionist, yet he still cultivated a friendship with Stuart during their time together at West Point. His most notable service during the years between 1854 and the start of the war was as an assistant professor of mathematics at West Point. At the start of the Civil War, Howard was elected the colonel of the 3rd Maine. He commanded a brigade at the Battle of First Manassas; while trying to flank Confederates on Henry House Hill from Chinn Ridge, Howard’s brigade was hit by Confederate counterattacks and driven from the field. On September 3, 1861, Howard was given a commission as a Brigadier General of Volunteers, and he went on to command a brigade in McClellan’s Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula Campaign. During the Battle of Seven Pines, Howard was severely wounded, and lost his right arm as a result. He returned to duty in late August, 1862, during the debacle following the Union defeat at Second Manassas, and just in time for the battle of Antietam. Howard took command of the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Division of the 2nd Corps, otherwise known as the Philadelphia Brigade, as the majority of the men in the brigade were from the city of Philadelphia (it was one fo the only brigades in the army to be known for its city of origin). The regiments which comprised the brigade were the 69th, 71st, 72nd, and 106th Pennsylvania. Howard was not alone in taking command of a brigde on the eve of the campaign; this would be the case for many, as the defeated and broken ranks of the Army of the Potomac and Army of Virginia needed to be reorganized quickly for the upcoming fight.

At Antietam, in command of the Philadelphia Brigade, Howard was a part of John Sedgwick’s 2nd Division of the 2nd Corps, the first division from that corps to be deployed on the field that day. 2nd Corps commander Major General Edwin V. Sumner personally led Sedgwick’s men onto the field, arriving first in the East Woods, where just before 9 a.m., he made the decision to push west across the Hagerstown Turnpike so as to then turn south and drive Lee’s already battered left flank from the northern end of the field.

Ezra Carman's map showing troop placements in the West Woods between 9 and 9:30 a.m. Howard's brigade consisted of the 69th, 71st, 72nd, and 106th Pennsylvania, which can be seen just west of the Hagerstown Pike, conforming to the tree line in the West Woods.

As Sumner led Sedgwick’s division into the West Woods, the men were deployed into three lines of battle, stretching north and south, and facing west. Howard’s was the last of these three lines. His men crossed the turnpike, and formed their ranks to the tree line on the western edge of a clover field, which is now known as Philadelphia Brigade Park (stop 5 on the park’s driving tour). Unknowingly, Howard’s brigade and the rest of Sedgwick’s division were out in front of the biggest Confederate counterattack at the Battle of Antietam. Lee was sending the divisions of Lafayette McLaws and John Walker to the Confederate left flank; they descended upon the flank of the Union soldiers in the West Woods, and in less than half an hour, there were over 2,000 Federal casualties. In the course of the action, John Sedgwick was wounded, and Howard assumed command of the division, or, what was left of it. Sedgwick’s division had sustained the highest casualties of any division at the battle. Howard’s brigade had suffered 545 casualties on its own, all in less than half an hour.

There was little that Howard could have done to stop the Confederate onslaught. Sumner had navigated the division into a vulnerable position, and the Confederates happened to strike at precisely the right time. The terrain of the West Woods and the close Federal battle lines made turning to meet any Confederate attack extremely difficult. Howard did what he could to rally his men, and some companies and portions of regiments made stands at various places north and east of the initial Federal position. Yet, by and large, Sedgwick’s division was completely routed from their position in the West Woods.

Howard went on to a controversial, yet accomplished career, following Antietam. By March of 1863, Howard was a Major General and in command of the 11th Corps. At Chancellorsville, Howard’s men were again on the wrong end of a Confederate flank attack, this one being the famed assault of Stonewall Jackson, the same assault which ultimately led to Jackson’s accidental and eventually fatal wounding by his own men. Several months later, at Gettysburg, Howard was one of the heroes of the Union victory. While his 11th Corps troops had been driven back from their positions north of Gettysburg on July 1, it was Howard who had left a brigade of Union troops on Cemetery Hill, preparing a fall back defensive position for Union forces which guaranteed Federal control of the crucial high ground south of town, the same high ground which Union soldiers successfully defended on July 2 and July 3, achieving one of the great military victories in American history.

The following year, Howard went west and south. During the Atlanta Campaign, he at first commanded the 4th Corps in the Army of the Cumberland. After the death of Major General James B. McPherson at the July 22, 1864 Battle of Atlanta, Howard assumed command of the Army of the Tennessee, and was a part of Sherman’s successful capture of Atlanta in September, along with the famed March to the Sea in November and December. He rode with the Army of the Tennessee in the Grand Review in Washington in May of 1865, capping what was an extraordinary Civil War career.

Howard’s work did not end with the Civil War. He was appointed the first commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau by President Andrew Johnson in May of 1865. The Freedmen’s Bureau was aimed at helping freed slaves integrate themselves into free society. The Bureau ultimately fell far short of its stated goals, and Howard faced charges of fraud and corruption for several years. While his name was cleared, it is regrettable that he was not able to better fulfill his goals of making life better for freed slaves and African Americans throughout the country following the war. Outside of the Freedmen’s Bureau, Howard was more effective; he was a major player in the founding of Howard University in Washington D.C., and he also started a bank aimed at helping freed blacks. He also served as a Superintendent of West Point in the 1880s. He retired from the army in 1894, and spent his remaining days living in Burlington, Vermont, where he died in 1909.