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)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

John Ellen Journal, 23rd OVI, Part 1: "...like a moving rabble..."

I recently came across the journal of 2nd Lt. John S. Ellen at the Western Reserve Historical Society. Ellen was a native of Painesville, Ohio, and served in the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. His writings are full of fascinating insights on the war and its political, military, and moral aspects. I only had the time to look at the pages from late August 1862 through January 1863, but I hope to go back to view more in the future, as it could serve as a great source for future writing and research projects.

I thought I would post portions of the journal on here, as the entries are fascinating. The entries below extend from August 30th through the Battle of Antietam. As you will see, once the regiment was on the road, the entries stopped until after the battle. His comments during the days following Second Manassas are quite interesting; they show the rumors floating amongst the soldiers of the ongoing battle, suggesting that some thought it could have been a Union victory while the fight was taking place. Also of note, on September 8th, Ellen writes that the army resembles "a moving rabble" rather than a "well disciplined soldiery." This is of particularly interest for me, as it is yet one more example of the confusion plaguing Federal forces at the start of the Maryland Campaign. The army was not a well organized force, but an amalgamation of units thrown together to meet the enemy during a time of crisis. This is a fact forgotten by many historians.

Tomorrow and Friday I will post two other sections of the journal, extending up to January 6th. In the weeks following Antietam, Ellen wrote about the problems in the army, obstacles facing the Union war effort, and he also expressed his ideas on how the war should be fought.

Saturday, August 30th

Left Alexandria at 5 A.M. arrived at H Qrs of the 23rd Regiment Camp at Upton’s farm at 12 M, Heavy firing heard all day in the direction of Manassas Gap. Severe fight, the wounded are coming in. Reported defeat of the Rebel forces under “Stonewall” Jackson, Major General.

Sunday, August 31st

Camp at Upton’s Farm, near Washington

Some rain today. Received two letters from E.H.C. and one from Henry. Rumors very prevalent. Some heavy firing heard this evening. Wrote to E.H.C.

Monday, Sept 1st

First day of Autumn. Cold and blustering. Commenced raining in the evening and continued all night. No news of importance. Heavy firing heard this evening. It is thought that the Gov’t held its own against the rebels in Saturdays fight.  

Tuesday, Sept 2nd

Ceased raining this morning; very cold. Rumours of all kinds; defeats, victories, etc. etc. Hundreds of stragglers.

Wednesday, Sept 3rd

No news; all quiet

Thursday Sept 4th

The enemy made a reconnaissance this evening near “Falls Church”. Reported victory of Union troops at Harpers Ferry. Office of the (illegible, possibly guard).

Monday, September 8th

Bivouac fifteen miles from Washington. Burnside's corps.

Cox’s Division crossed the Potomac Saturday the 5th passed through Washington and gained this camp yesterday. This whole army seems more like a moving rable than a well disciplined soldiery. Wrote to E.H.C.

Monday September 22nd
Camp near Sharpsburg

Arrived in camp at this place Sept 19th. Wrote to E.H.C. 20th. Weather pleasant. Thousands of troops here. Since I last wrote severe battles have been fought, and glorious Union victories won. The 23rd has made four desperate bayonet charges, in two great battles. Sunday Sept 14th at South Mountain, and Wednesday the 17th at Sharpsburg. The loss to our reg’t has been great, but we have enough left to do good execution yet. Wrote to E. yesterday the 21st to E.H.C. this p.m.

Friday Sept 26th

Camp at Antietam Creek Md.

Changed camp to day. Moved about two miles. No news of importance. The army seems to be closing in for another fight. Night very cold, morning very foggy, days hot.

 Source: John S. Ellen Journal, Western Reserve Historical Society, Mss. 3502.

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