The Landing at Slocum’s Creek

After the much delayed, but highly successful operation to take Roanoke Island, Ambrose Burnside was ready to turn his amphibious force against the Confederate stronghold of Newbern. The city of Newbern was located at the confluence of the Neuse River and its smaller brother, the Trent. The Confederate government had created a District of Pamlico command which made its headquarters in Newbern, a city protected by a string of Confederate forts along the western bank of the Neuse. Gaining control of this area was essential to Burnside’s future objective of taking the important port of Beaufort through the use of the railroads beyond Newbern.

As had been the case with most of his North Carolina operations, Burnside’s movement against Newbern was delayed by bad weather. The initial loadout of troops from Roanoke Island began on the 3rd and 4th of March 1862, but had to be delayed as a gale blew in from the Atlantic.

On March 5th, Oliver Case and the troops of the 8th Connecticut began loading onto the steamer Chasseur. According to Oliver’s letter to his sister on March 11th, the soldiers of the expeditionary force were acting on:

…orders from Gen. Burnside were received that the 1st, 2nd and 3rd brigades should hold themselves in readiness to march on an hours notice, each man to carry one woolen blanket, one days rations in his haversack (two others to be cooked and carried in bulk,) 40 rounds of ammunition in the cartridge boxes and twenty more in pockets. Each man is to be held responsible for his blanket and the excitement of an engagement or of a charge will not be deemed a reasonable excuse for their loss. We are eager for a start and shall probably go today and we expect to make a hole somewhere when we move. It is likely that the fleet and land forces will act in conjunction and while the former peppers them in front, we shall attack them in the rear.[1]

More storms and delays in the loadout from Roanoke Island slowed the process until finally, on Tuesday, March 11th, the fleet began the movement to Newbern. A new round of rainstorms pounded the fleet but subsided by later in the day. The progress of the fleet was slowed again when several ships including the Chasseur were temporarily run aground, a common malady during the North Carolina campaign. All were freed by the afternoon as the entire fleet moved into Hatteras Inlet to drop anchors for the night.

 

Chasseur drawing

Steamer Chasseur from January 4, 1862 edition of Harper’s Weekly

 

With Hatteras Inlet serving as the connection point via shipping lanes to the north, mail was delivered to the expeditionary force including the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut as they laid at anchor in the inlet. Based on Oliver’s description of receiving the letter from his sister on Wednesday, it would appear the mail delivery was not taken on board the Chasseur until the following morning before the ships departed Hatteras Inlet heading up the Neuse River. Just before darkness set in, the fleet reached the mouth of Slocum’s Creek near Burnside’s intended landing site. Given the late hour, there was no choice but to drop anchors and await daylight to before beginning the landing operation.

As more than 10,000 soldiers of Burnside’s command settle in for the night, they receive a late-night morale boost when mail from home is distributed. Every soldier scrambles to find a light source to read the latest news knowing that tomorrow will likely bring battle and it may be many days before more correspondence is received from family and friends.

Sunrise on the morning of March 13, 1862 brings orders from General Burnside to begin the landing operation at the mouth of Slocum’s Creek. Although Oliver confuses the day of the landing, his description of the events of the landing and movements are accurate as he writes that the 8th Connecticut landed in a “small cove and immediately commenced marching up the river [Neuse River].” Oliver and the Connecticut troops are part of the Third Brigade of Burnside’s force commanded by John Parke. The landing at the mouth of Slocum’s Creek is slow as troops are ferried by smaller boats pulled by tugboats into the shallow waters.

 

Slocum Creek landing site map

The Landing Site for Burnside’s Expedition at Slocum’s Creek, March 13, 1862[2]

 

Slocum’s Creek probably seemed more like a river to Oliver and many of the boys from Connecticut compared to many of the creeks back home. The 8th marched along the creek’s edge on what Oliver called “the beach” for about two miles before turning to head inland. Not long after heading away from the water, the regiment came upon a welcome sight that was just too good to resist for some of the troops.

In a short time we came up to an encampment of cavalry which had been evacuated but a short time. Some of the boys fell out and helped themselves to chickens, ham, biscuits etc. We travelled till after sundown over the muddiest road (if road it could be called) that I ever saw. We passed several farmhouses on our journey but most of the road lay through the woods.[3]

Good things cannot last and so it was for the feasting troopers who were soon given the order to move out. In a scene that would be a preview of Burnside’s infamous “mud march” in Virginia almost one year later, the troops struggled against terrible conditions. Oliver described it this way:

We travelled till after sundown over the muddiest road (if road it could be called) that I ever saw.[4]

The Confederate commander closest to the landing, Colonel R. P. Campbell, in command of the Confederate right wing, had interpreted the supporting gunfire from the Union ships as an indicator that another landing of Union troops would follow the first and orders his troops to pull back to the defense line near Fort Thompson. When the Union regiments reach the entrenchments on the 13th, they find them abandoned.

Oliver observed the abandoned enemy camps and fortifications realizing that the soldiers of Parke’s Brigade may have dodged the bullet for this day.

About the middle of the afternoon we came to the first battery, which had just been evacuated and the barracks set on fire, which were still burning as we passed. We found out afterward that if we had been a day later the rebels would have had their forces there and mounted and it would have taken the lives of many men to have dislodged them for it is a very strong point. The fortification is a mile long, with a large ditch in front protected in the rear by breast works of huge trees felled top of one another. It would have been almost impossible to have flanked them and they would undoubtedly have had to be charged upon to have dislodged them.[5]

The expedition continued to march until nightfall when they halted and prepared for follow on operations at daylight the next morning. General Parke reported that “roads generally were in bad order, and the men marched in many localities through water and mud. In addition, heavy showers fell at intervals during the day and night, and although the men had their overcoats and blankets the bivouac was extremely trying.”[6]

After struggling against the terrible road conditions, the troops were allowed to make camp for the night to include building fires using the available pitch pine wood which burned even in the wet conditions. That night, wrote Oliver, the rain “commenced in good earnest” creating miserable conditions for the soldiers who found that “after 12 o’clock very little sleeping was done by the soldiers in this division.” Oliver observed that the milder southern climate granted some relief when the order to move out came at 6 am, although “our blankets were as heavy as 8 ought to be.”[7]

Tomorrow would be a new day as the march toward New Bern continued.

NOTES:

[1] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (11 March 1862)

[2] From Baylor University collection, http://contentdm.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/tx-wotr/id/1846

[3] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (16 March 1862)

[4] IBID.

[5] IBID.

[6] OR, Parke, March 22, 1862.

[7] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (16 March 1862)

Across the Antietam: The Operation at Snavely’s Ford

Snavely sign

One of the facets of studying the life of Oliver Case that I enjoy most is attempting to recreate in my mind the emotion of the situation that Oliver and his fellow soldiers were dealing with at any given moment on the battlefield. This is particularly true when it comes to the events of September 17, 1862, the final day of young Private Case’s life. On a few occasions, I have taken some liberties by projecting emotions into Oliver’s mind based on what I’ve learned about him through his letters and my experience as a soldier. So, I go back periodically to the letters, reports and maps to see if I’ve missed something or if any new information is available to help me get a better sense of Oliver’s experience.

One of the phases of Oliver’s experience at the Battle of Antietam that has long held a great interest for me is the crossing operation by Rodman’s Division at Snavely’s Ford during the early afternoon of September 17, 1862. Recently, I discovered a small detail that caused me to revisit and enhance my view of the operation from Oliver’s perspective. This small detail led me to readdress the entire operation and attempt to piece together a clearer picture of events. A recounting of the events leading up to the crossing operation is helpful to appreciate the soldier’s state of mind at that point.

In the late morning of September 17, 1862, likely around 11:30, the two brigades of Rodman’s Division (Fairchild and Harland) began to move to their left and downstream away from the intense fighting of the morning at Rohrbach’s Bridge. In search of a ford which had been previously identified by an engineer from McClellan’s staff, the Union troops crossed the Rohrbach Road moving toward a large bend in the Antietam Creek.

Ezra Carmen recounts the events:

…Rodman moved from his position on the high ridge at 10.30 a.m., crossed the Rohrersville road about 1000 yards below the bridge, marched some 500 yards after crossing the road, and halted opposite the great bend in the Antietam, where the course of the stream changes from due south to west. Whiting’s five guns were put in position to shell the wooded bluff opposite the ford by which it was proposed to cross, and shelled the road and woods on the opposite side of the creek, driving the enemy from their positions. This fire of Whiting’s enfiladed the line of Georgians, at and below the bridge, and the annoyance it caused them is referred to in some of their reports.[1]

The division was accompanied by a Union battery; Company K of the 9th New York Infantry Regiment (Hawkins’ Zouaves) also known as Whiting’s Battery. The battery was organized in New York City and mustered into service in April of 1861 under the command of Captain James R. Whiting. Interestingly, it was one of only two batteries at Antietam, Union and Confederate, equipped with 12-pounder Dahlgren Boat Howitzers which, as the name implies, were intended primarily for use by the Navy. Whiting’s battery had a total of five guns with three smoothbores and two rifled pieces. The guns were outfitted with unique carriages constructed of wrought iron and highly prized by artillerists for their light weight.

12 lb Dahlgren Boat Howitzer

An example of the Dahlgren Boat Howitzer 12-pounder with wrought iron carriage.

While the work of the gunners seemed to be effective in causing the Georgia infantry to retire from its position on the high bluff across the creek, no soldier of Rodman’s Division would be crossing via this ford.

Meanwhile skirmishers had gone down to the creek and Rodman had come to the conclusion that this ford was not one that could be crossed and directed Colonel Harland to make further reconnaissance.[2]

General Rodman’s reconnaissance was likely to have been comprehensive since the opposing Confederate troops were driven off the hilltop and back toward the Harper’s Ferry Road. However, Oliver Case and most of the other infantry soldiers would have had very limited knowledge about this part of the operation. This is evidenced by the fact that little has been written about it in letters, diaries or even in official reports. It seems certain that Rodman had ordered his commanders to mask their movement to the maximum extent possible by using the hills near the creek as a shield. Only the artillerymen, skirmishers and leaders would have a good view of the creek and the far side.

One of the new nuggets I first stumbled onto came while reviewing (for the 20th time, I think) the battle report of Colonel Edward Harland, 2nd Brigade commander in Rodman’s Division and former commanding officer of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

Harland recounts the situation as the brigade approached the ford on the south (east before the bend in the creek) bank of the Antietam Creek:

General-Rodman ordered me to detach one regiment for the support of the battery belonging to the Ninth New York Volunteers, and to send the remaining regiments of the brigade across the creek in rear of the First Brigade, and, when I had placed the regiment in proper position, to join the balance of the brigade. I found the battery on the hill just below the ford. I detached the Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers placed it in what I considered the strongest position for the defense placed behind a stone wall, with orders from General Rodman to wait there for orders.[3]

In my previous reviews of this report, I had missed the significant phrase “placed behind a stone wall” referring to the position of the 8th Connecticut on the far bank. In this position, Oliver had an excellent view of the ford and John Snavely’s field and farm on the far side. Today, this is private property, but can be viewed from the National Park Service side of the ford where there is no apparent trace of a stone wall. From existing contemporary descriptions, the September woods were thinner than they appear today giving a clear view of the crossing site.

Hill across from Snavely_s Ford

Snavely’s Ford looking toward the south bank. From behind a stone wall on this hill, Oliver Case and the 8th Connecticut defended a Union battery covering the crossing site.

Sometime before 1 o’clock in the afternoon, the troops of Rodman’s division were prepared to cross the Antietam Creek and move toward the sound of battle around Sharpsburg that had rung in their ears for the entire day.

… [Rodman’s reconnaissance] found a practicable ford, and the column, Fairchild’s Brigade in advance, marched down to it. Whiting’s Battery, supported by the 8th Connecticut, was put in position on a hill just below the ford to cover the crossing. Much time had been lost and it was nearly 1 o’clock… [4]

Carman’s comment about lost time is noteworthy since some might accuse Isaac Rodman with delaying the movement and crossing thereby causing more deaths in the repeated attempts to take the Rohrbach Bridge. However, the pace of Rodman’s movement down the Antietam is easily understood by considering the obstacles he faced. He had received indecisive orders for most of the morning and once he was ordered to shift downstream to the left of the Union line, Rodman without a doubt believed he would be crossing a known ford only a short distance away based on what should have been reliable information from one of General McClellan’s engineers who had allegedly conducted a reconnaissance the previous day. When the two brigades arrived at this supposed ford and prepared to cross, Rodman’s discovery that the ford was impracticable for crossing infantry soldiers caused the need to resume the movement toward Snavely’s Ford. This essentially became a reconnaissance in force, a very time-consuming activity for two brigades of infantry moving in unfamiliar territory.

Whatever the reason for the slow movement, it was now time for the crossing operation to begin. The ford located on the property of farmer John Snavely presented the first practical site for this type of crossing downstream from the Rohrbach Bridge. Moving south and then west (after “the great bend”) from bridge, the opposing bank was essentially a high, continuous bluff which had provided the Confederate defenders an excellent command of the creek. This bluff ended at Snavely’s Ford and morphed into a plain several hundred yards wide and even with the creek bank following the run for about one-half mile to the Snavely farmhouse. A natural draw bordered by a farm road led away from the ford to the northwest toward the town of Sharpsburg. The Confederate commander responsible for defending the ford and the Rohrbach Bridge recognized the danger of failing to defend this position.

The old road, by the upper of the two fords referred to, led over a hill on my right and in my rear, which completely commanded my position and all ingress and egress to and from it below the bridge.[5]

In the mind of Robert Toombs, Snavely’s Ford may have held more tactical significance than the Rohrbach Bridge in the defense of the southern end of the field. A more thorough reconnaissance by Union forces on the day before the battle could have altered the operational plans of McClellan and Burnside and saved the lives of countless Union troops who died attempting to capture the bridge. As it was, the Confederate defense of the bridge collapsed at about the same time Rodman’s soldiers set foot in the cool waters of the Antietam. This situation may have saved Rodman from much stronger resistance by the Confederate defenders.

Snavely_s ford looking south

Modern photo of Snavely’s Ford looking downstream to the south. The trace of the old road used by Rodman’s troops can be seen running parallel to the creek.

Opposing the crossing at Snavely’s was one very thinly manned regiment of Georgia troops extensively bloodied by the Battle of South Mountain only three days before. The 50th Georgia Infantry Regiment had been under the command of General Toombs for only one day before Rodman’s Division appeared to their front across the creek. Toombs had a bleak assessment of the regiment that was now barely the size of a company, but he employed them as best he could.

you placed under my command the Fiftieth Georgia (Lieutenant-Colonel Kearse), numbering, I should suppose, scarcely 100 muskets. I ordered this regiment on the right of the Second Georgia, extending it in open order, so as to guard a blind plantation road leading to a ford between the lower ford before referred to and the right of the Second Georgia Volunteers.[6]

In fact, Lieutenant Colonel Kearse and General Toombs had recognized the strong points overlooking the ford and Snavely’s field. Kearse deployed his troops in what amounted to a skirmish line extending from the crest of the high bluff to the right on the ford (as viewed from the far side) to a point on a rise overlooking Snavely’s field with a clear view of the crossing site. The Georgia troops also received some important augmentation from about 25 soldiers of the Palmetto Sharpshooters, highly skilled marksmen carrying Enfield rifles who were normally assigned to Jenkins’ South Carolina Brigade. To the right rear of the 50th Georgia, Kearse received supporting fire from an artillery battery emplaced just prior to the arrival of the Union troops at the ford.

During the forenoon the Washington Artillery was engaged with the enemy’s heavy Batteries on the opposite side of Antietam Creek…at noon the 4th Company, Eshleman, was moved farther to the right to guard the fords below the Burnside Bridge.[7]

This was one of the four batteries of the Washington (Louisiana) Artillery and was under the command of Captain Benjamin Franklin Eshleman. The 32-year old Confederate artilleryman was actually born into a Pennsylvania Mennonite family relocating to New Orleans only about ten years before the war. He joined the Washington Artillery in May of 1861 and suffered a wound during the First Battle of Bull Run. Eshleman, surviving the war and reaching the rank of Colonel, returned to New Orleans to become a successful and respected businessman for the next fifty years.[8]

BF Eshleman2

Captain B.F. Eshleman, Commanding Officer, 4th Battery, Washington (LA) Artillery, was sent to help check the Union crossing at Snavely’s Ford.

On September 17, 1862, his battery played a key role in opposing the crossing of Snavely’s Ford and the subsequent Union attack toward Sharpsburg. With his four cannon (2 – 6 pounder guns and 2 – 12 pounder howitzers), Eshleman could easily range all of the soldiers of Rodman’s division as they crossed the river.

The fourth, under Eshleman, was not idle during this eventful day, when the battalion was so actively and effectually employed. About noon on the 17th he was directed by General Jones, in front of whose position he was placed, to remove his battery to a position to guard the ford below the bridge held by General Toombs. The battery was placed in position between the Blackford House and the ford, and opened fire upon the enemy, who were crossing in force.[9]

The hilltop location of the battery is visible today to Antietam National Battlefield visitors traveling along Branch Avenue toward the intersection with the Harper’s Ferry Road. While the position was commanding, there were limitations for the Confederate artillerymen that would be revealed as the afternoon progressed.

Eshleman Battery location Snavely_s Ford crossing

Modern day photo taken from the Harper’s Ferry Road shows the exposed hilltop (now a cornfield) from where Eshleman directed fire on Union troops in Snavely’s field.

With the 8th Connecticut perched on the hill above the ford and taking cover behind a stone fence, Private Oliver Case had a panoramic view of the evolving action as the other regiments from Rodman’s Division began to cross the Antietam Creek at around 1 o’clock. Direct fire on the position of the 8th Connecticut was unlikely due to small number of Confederate infantry near the ford and the distance. The soldiers of the 50th Georgia were likely focused on the ford as the Union troops began to set foot in the waters of the Antietam. Fairchild’s Brigade was the first to navigate the ford with the 9th New York (Hawkins’ Zouves) in the lead. A lieutenant in the 9th New York described the action from the perspective of the first Union regiment to cross the ford:

Then came the crossing of the creek. We marched by the left flank down what appeared to be an old wood-road, and filed to the right at the edge of the stream. I do not remember how deep it was, but it was quite an effort to stem the current. When partly across we received the fire of a detachment which was stationed behind a wall at the head of a ravine which opened up from the water towards our left front. I judge there were about two companies of infantry of them. Their fire was not very heavy, rather scattering, and we did not answer it. One reason was that we would have to stop in the stream while firing, and any of our men who might be wounded would be in great danger of drowning, so we urged the men forward and passed the order not to fire. I had two men hit here.[10]

Lieutenant Graham and his fellow soldiers of the 9th New York hurriedly crossed the ford and immediately began to seek shelter from the musket fire of the 50th Georgia. The high bluff to their right gave them cover but presented a new problem with a relatively small area available to stack in the regiment with the only route of advance being up the steep bluff in front of them. While the commanders prepared their companies to ascend the hill, General Rodman joined the regiment to encourage them with this difficult movement.

We then faced to the left, which brought us by the rear rank into line, and marched, or rather climbed, directly up the bluff; the ground in front of my company was very rough and difficult and also very steep. Rodman appeared here again on foot and went up with the regiment.[11]  

The 9th New York was followed across the ford by the other two New York regiments of Fairchild’s Brigade, the 103rd and 89th. With Fairchild’s men clear of the ford, the two remaining regiments of Edward Harland’s Brigade marched along the wooded road leading up to the ford with the 4th Rhode Island Infantry in the advance.

… [the 4th] moved by the left flank to the creek at a ford under fire from the enemy’s skirmishers, who were sheltered behind a stone wall. The Fourth, after crossing the ford, filed to the left (the other brigade going to the right, and the rest of Harland’s brigade not yet having crossed)…[12]

Since a relatively small area existed on the right of the ford exit with three regiments traversing it, Harland’s Brigade was forced to move into Snavely’s open field on the left. This presented to the sparse group of Confederate defenders the opportunity to direct unobstructed musket fire into the ranks of the 4th Rhode Island and the 16th Connecticut, the next regiment crossing the ford. However, the small band of Georgians was no match for the Rhode Island infantry supported by the artillery battery on the far side.

Harland followed Fairchild and while the latter was making his difficult way up the bluff, on the right, the 4th Rhode Island crossed the creek under fire of the enemy behind the stone fence, filed to the left on open ground, then one company to the front and one to the left as skirmishers, and advancing drove the enemy from the stone fence and formed behind it, and almost immediately received a musketry fire from the left, which was almost immediately silenced by Whiting’s guns across the creek.[13]

Carman’s description of this segment of the action is confirmed by the report of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph B. Curtis, the commanding officer of the Fourth Rhode Island Infantry.

…after throwing out Company H as skirmishers to cover the front, and Company K to the left, advanced in line toward the stone wall, the enemy retiring, but shortly after opening a fire of musketry on our left, which was soon silenced by the fire from our battery covering the ford.[14]

Snavely_s Farm and field

Modern photo showing John Snavely’s field briefly occupied by the 4th RI and 16th Connecticut after crossing the ford. A small force covered the field and ford from a stonewall no longer visable on the slope to the right in this photo.

With the first two regiments of Harland’s Brigade safely across the Antietam, only the 8th Connecticut remained on the far side of the creek. However, as the soldiers of the 8th left their defensive positions on the hill and the opposing troops of the 50th Georgia faded away from the stone wall north of Snavely’s field, a new problem presented itself for Colonel Harland.

Shortly after my [Harland] arrival opened an enfilading fire from a section of a battery which had been placed on our left flank. In order to protect the men, I moved the command more to the right behind the crest of a hill, and awaited in that position the orders of General Rodman. While in this position the Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers rejoined the brigade, and I moved still more to the right, in the direction of the bridge, and halted in the woods, just under the brow of the hill.[15]

The highly exposed troops of the 4th Rhode Island and the 16th Connecticut were being rained on by Eshleman’s Confederate artillery battery to the northwest of Snavely’s field. Harland had no choice but to remove the troops from these positions and seek shelter in the draw leading away from the ford to the right of Snavely’s field. Eshleman’s battery was positioned on a spur pointing toward the ford to the southeast. Harland realized that moving his troops quickly to the right and up the ravine would shield them from the line of sight of the Confederate artillerymen.

Snavely Crossing graphics

This map depicts the positions and actions of both Confederate and Union units during the crossing operations at Snavely’s Ford on the afternoon of September 17, 1862.[16]

The commanding view from the hill where Eshleman’s four guns had been emplaced about one hour earlier offered a good fields of fire on Snavely’s field and the first hundred yards of the road leading away from the ford. However, Captain Eshleman’s guns were unable to acquire the troops of Rodman’s Division as they moved to the north under the cover of the same terrain feature that gave the Confederate gunners such an excellent view. Also, Whiting’s New York Battery was able to easily range Eshleman.

Oliver and his fellow Connecticut troopers had benefited by the distraction from the 4th RI and the 16th CT by quickly crossing the ford and moving up to join Harland in the ravine. The thicker stand of trees and the brow of the hill gave Colonel Harland the opportunity to reposition and reorganized his regiments in accordance with instructions from General Rodman prior to commencing the final attack against the Confederate troops now searching for fresh defensive positions closer to the Harper’s Ferry Road. The Confederate general charged with the defense of Snavely’s Ford tried to put a positive angle in his report after the battle.

The Fiftieth Georgia and the company from General Jenkins’ brigade were at the same time ordered to the same position, and were led back by their respective officers. This change of position was made to my entire satisfaction, and with but small loss, in the face of greatly superior numbers.[17]

Of course, Toombs was provided scant resources to stop an overwhelming force attempting to cross in two locations. Considering the size of his force (around 500 at best) versus the opposing Union forces (up to 5,000 or more), the Georgia political general had put up a significant resistance and served the important purpose of delaying Burnside’s corps long enough for A.P. Hill’s division to arrive on the field from Harper’s Ferry. According to Toombs’ battle report, he had recognized the importance of the position and requested reinforcements to stop the Union assaults.

…it was for this purpose that I so often and urgently asked the aid of a regiment on the day of the battle, not having another man available for that purpose. Not being able to get any re-enforcements for the defense of these two fords, and seeing that the enemy was moving upon them to cross, thus enabling him to attack my small force in front, right flank, and rear, and my two regiments having been constantly engaged from early in the morning up to 1 o’clock with a vastly superior force of the enemy, aided by three heavy batteries…the ammunition of both regiments being nearly exhausted, and Eubank’s battery having been withdrawn to the rear nearly two hours before, I deemed it my duty, in pursuance of your original order, to withdraw my command and place it in the position designated by you opposite the two lower fords, some half a mile to the right and front of your line of battle.[18]

For Oliver Case and the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut, they would no longer find themselves last in the line of battle for this day as they had been at Snavely’s Ford. As the attack began against Toombs and his reorganizing units near the Harper’s Ferry road, the 8th Connecticut would be the vanguard of the attack.

ENDNOTES:


[1] Carman, Ezra Ayres, Antietam Manuscript (unpublished), Chapter 21

[2] IBID.

[3] Number 151. Report of Colonel Edward Harland, Eighth Connecticut Infantry, commanding Second Brigade, Third Division, of the battle of Antietam. OR Series I Volume XIX Part I

[4] Carman.

[5] Number 234. Report of Brigadier General Robert Toombs, C. S. Army, commanding division (temporary), of the battle of Sharpsburg. O.R. Series I Volume XIX Part I

[6] IBID.

[7] From War Department Tablet No. 308 located west of Boonsboro Pike near intersection with Rodman Avenue, Antietam National Battlefield.

[8] Obituary of Benjamin Franklin Eshleman, accessed from “Find A Grave” at http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=66881495

[9] Number 217. Report of Colonel J. B. Walton, Washington (Louisiana) Artillery, of the battle of Sharpsburg. O.R. Series 1, Vol XIX, Part I

[10] Letter of Lieutenant Matthew J. Graham, formerly of 9th New York Infantry, September 27, 1894, extractedfrom “The Ninth Regiment New York Volunteers (Hawkins’ Zouaves): A History of the Regiment and Veteran Association from 1860 to 1900. Access from 1860 to 1900.

[11] IBID.

[12] Number 153. Report of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph B. Curtis, Fourth Rhode Island Infantry, of the battle of Antietam. Series I Volume XIX Part I

[13] Carman.

[14] Curtis.

[15] Harland.

[16] Map adapted from Antietam on the Web, http://www.aotw.org.

[17] Toombs.

[18] IBID.

The Dread of Death

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?[1]

The American Civil War connected death and dying to the country’s citizens like no other war before or since with an average of 600 men dying in the conflict every day. That’s more Americans killed than were killed on September 11, 2001 per week for four years, a difficult reality for most of us in modern America to firmly grasp. Two percent of the entire population of the United States (31 million in 1860) were killed, died of wounds or died of other non-combat causes during the war. Everyone, north and south, was touched by the death of a soldier or sailor either directly or indirectly.

Any Civil War soldier who had faced combat, understood that his death could be just over the next hill. Marching over the rolling hills south of Sharpsburg and into the jaws of battle, Oliver Case fully understood that he faced his own morality. He had been here before and he knew the danger…

There is not the dread of Death here as there; but I expect like everyone else to come out alive. I have yet to see the man that did not. It is much the best way on the men to go into action with high hopes and good spirits instead of feeling low and depressed.[2]

Oliver had witnessed the sting of death first-hand. He had seen his friends and fellow soldiers killed in battle. He stood with them as they fought horrible disease to the point of death. Death was familiar to Oliver, but death was not his friend…it was his foe as much as any Confederate soldier he might face. Meeting death was the encounter Private Oliver Case wanted to avoid, but knew that, sooner or later, he would face this enemy and death would come calling for the young soldier from Simsbury, Connecticut. For the Civil War soldier death was part of life and it could not be avoided.

For himself, Oliver Case had resolved long before this mid-September day that he would not run in the face of his own death because a far worse fate would await him. As a witness to the dishonorable behavior of others as death began to stalk them, he wanted no part of such conduct. As he had done before on the coast of North Carolina, he would not falter as the bullet began to fly in his direction. Oliver, rather than choose dishonor, would rely on the mercy of God to choose his fate than the judgments of a pitiless people who would surely sentence him to a lifetime of shame for cowardly bearing before the enemy. In his letters to his sister and brothers, Oliver drawn this as a clear line of battle from which he would not retreat.

Make no mistake, fear always hovered about him. Like the fever Oliver had struggled against for so many of the past months, fear would always return, unwelcomed, but inescapable.  Oliver must have realized that if fear was an inevitable visitor, then he must face it head on and chase it from his mind. It was analogous to leaping into the swiftly flowing Farmington River back in Connecticut and trying to fight upstream against the current. No, rather than struggle against it, Oliver knew that he must ride the strong current of his fear to go where he did not want. Strength came from those men on his left and right who faced the same fear of dying but men with whom Oliver trusted his life. Oliver knew that only his God held his young life and that must be his comfort.

But thanks be to God what is our loss is his gain.[3]

Late in the afternoon of September 17, 1862, the strength of honor bore up the hopes and spirits of Private Case and his fellow soldiers of the 8th Connecticut as the order was given to advance toward Sharpsburg. Their courage would now be sorely tested in these fields and across the rolling hills…[4]

 How long can this continue? Over every hill lies another storm of lead from those Johnnies. Maybe just one more push over that next hill in front of us and then, we’ll make the Harper’s Ferry Road and the town of Sharpsburg. This will all be over if we can just make one more push. I can see two cannons of the enemy guarding the road at the top of that final hill. At least, I can see the business end of the guns as they begin to spew the deadly canister into our ranks.  Artillery incoming! I want to bury my face in the earth. No, it’s ours…over our heads. Hitting all around the rebel cannons. There’s Captain Upham and his company to our left closing up quick on those guns. The smoke is clearing; rebels have abandoned their battery. Maybe we have a chance…we can win a great victory. The war will be over!

Wait…beyond those brave Confederate gunners, officers in gray are shouting at disoriented troops milling around to rally and stand their ground. The reorganizing rebels in front are now firing into our ranks or above our ranks. I’m sure glad this swale is protecting us from their Minnie balls. I see the Zouves to our right…many firing but many falling. Now they are beginning to slowly move back down the slope. Lieutenant Colonel Appelman orders the regiment forward followed by the echoes of the captains. Nobody hesitates. All the boys are rising up all around me. Now I know how Philo Matson felt at Newbern. God forgive me for my ridicule of Philo because I now want to make myself missing from this field. Orton, Martin, Lucius…they jump to their feet…I must go with them. I will not leave them. I cannot disgrace my family. This may be the end, but I will not be branded a coward. God give me courage to face the enemy and, if needs be, my own death!

     106 (2)The field where the 8th Connecticut made their desperate stand just short of the Harpers Ferry Road

I haven’t seen the other Connecticut boys in the 16th since they stepped off into that big cornfield. Lots of firing coming from that direction. I can’t look back…Colonel Harland is urging us forward but he’s on foot and not riding his horse. What a fine officer and a brave man. More firing and a rebel yell rising from that cornfield Ariel and Alonzo marched into…God protect my brothers.

It seems like we’ve barely started to move when Appelman falls to our front. Four men (I don’t know them) are bearing him rearward. There stands Chaplain Morris loading a rifle as the cartridge box dangles from his neck like he’s a common soldier. What is happening? Our position is desperate. The Major screams above the din for the regiment to lie down again. I must reload, aim, and fire. May be ten rounds left in my box. What’s that on our left beyond the enemy battery now abandoned by Captain Upham and his men? Soldiers in blue? But, wait…a flag. The colors are red, white and blue, but not the national colors. I know that flag. I remember from Roanoke Island. It’s a North Carolina regiment and another forming into double file. God help us, we are done for.

The bullets are hitting our ranks thick as flies now from our front and the left. It’s bad for our boys. Thud…Orton is hit on my right and crumbles to the ground. I’m kneeling and reloading but Lucius stands to fire in front of me…he shouldn’t. Too late, he’s shot twice in the chest and spins around falling at my feet…his eyes wide open toward the sky. This is the moment I knew would come. No turning back…I stand, aim at the rebel color bearer, squeeze the trigger…darkness, silence…

The dread of death is no more for Oliver Case…he has finally met death, but on his terms.

I went with my Brother to the Eighth Regiment to learn the fate of my younger Brother Oliver and found only eight or 10 of his company left from about 40 they had in the morning. Was told by a comrade that stood beside him that he fell and he called him by name but no reply. Said he was no doubt killed. The next morning we were marched down near the bridge and lay there all day. No one was allowed on the field as it was held by sharpshooters on both sides. The next day September 19 myself and brother had permission to go over the field and look for our brothers body being very sure he was dead we each took our canteens filled with water and commenced that awful sickening tramp and if I could picture to you the sad sites that we beheld. The ground for acres and miles in length were strewn with dead and wounded. The wounded crying for water they having lain there the whole day before and two nights — but everyone was looking for some comrade of their own Regiment but some time that afternoon we found the body of our brother we were looking after. He was no doubt killed instantly the bullet having passed through his head just about the top of his ears. We wrapped him in my blanket and carried him to the spot where the 16th dead were to be buried having first got permission from the Colonel of the Eighth and the 16th to do so. The 16th men were buried side by side in a trench and they dug a grave about 6 [feet] from them and we deposited the remains of my brother and that having first pinned a paper with his name and age on the inside of the blanket. Then they put up boards to teach with name and Regiment on them. His body lay there until December when father went there and brought the body to Simsbury where it now lies to mingle with the sole of his native town.[5]

IMG_0967 (2)


[1] King James Bible, 1 Corinthians Chapter 15, verse 55

[2] The Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case (Unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, Connecticut. While his was written regarding the coming battle(s) in North Carolina, the witnesses to his conduct on September 17, 1862 indicate that he continued to face the enemy and perform his duty as a soldier.

[3] IBID. In his letter of January 7, 1862, Oliver wrote these words in describing the death of his friend, Henry D. Sexton aboard a hospital ship in Annapolis harbor.

[4] The following is a fictionalized account from the perspective of Private Oliver Cromwell Case using actual sources that describe this segment of the battle of Antietam and Oliver’s letters written October 1861 to August 1862.

[5] “Recollections of Camp and Prison Life” by Alonzo Grove Case (unpublished), Company E, 16th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers (from the collection of The Simsbury Historical Society).

Why this blog?

Many folks ask me why I would want to spend all this time and energy researching and writing about an individual soldier in the Civil War. This extract from the “About this Blog” page may help explain why I choose to write about one soldier…

A Yard Sale Bargain

People will buy anything that is one to a customer. – Sinclair Lewis

The noise of the crowd faded away as my eyes sharpen focus on the rough, but ornate brown leather marred by a small repair in the upper right corner. I forgot my paternal duties as I lifted the book from its resting place on the blanket to perform a close examination. Having now summoned the powers of both sight and feel, I immediately gained a sense that this was no ordinary yard sale artifact. At the time, I could not appreciate the understatement of that thought.

Some bargains gain value over time. Other bargains have their true value hidden in the history of the item. So it would be for this bargain of an artifact discovered a sunny Saturday morning in Germantown, Maryland. Simply along for the ride with my wife as we moved from neighborhood to neighborhood, we were in search of bargains for the immediate needs of our young family. As she searched for children’s clothing in one multifamily yard sale, my eye caught a glimpse of two items that were out of place. One was an old violin, but it was the beautifully aged leather cover of a small book of some type that fixed my interest.

My interest and expertise, such as it was, would not let me turn away from the book. The visual appeal was enhanced by the feel of the old leather cover in my hand as I examined it closely. Realizing this small book must be an old bible, I carefully opened the cover in an effort to confirm my assessment and determine its age. As I turned to the title page, my initial evaluation was validated. In fact, this was an 1854 edition of a King James Bible printed by the famous Thomas Nelson Publishers in London.

“How much for this?” I asked the proprietor of the collection standing by his goods laid out on the front lawn. His response of three dollars stunned me for a moment but I worked my best yard sale face not to reveal it. Considering the fact that this almost hundred and forty year old bible had to be worth much more than the asking price, I determined to forgo the normal haggling routine and quickly accept the price. As I handed over the three greenbacks and firmly gripped my new possession, I had no foreshadowing of the journey upon which I would now embark, making the purchase price seem even more of a yard sale bargain.

The rest of that Saturday was spent at dozens of other yard sale locations. After arriving home in the afternoon, the cares of family life quickly supplanted my curiosity about the new purchase and I put the bible aside with the resolution that I would explore it when time permitted. Time would not permit a proper examination of the artifact for another two weeks.

When the moment came to again pick up the bible, I carefully began to turn through the opening pages which are normally left blank by the publisher. In this case, someone had written in script on some of these pages. My heart leaped as I read the words on the first page with writing:

Oliver C. Case

Co. A. 8th Reg’t

C.V.

If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He will also deny us.

2 Tim. 2

[unreadable] OCT. 13, 1861

[unreadable]

Well, I now knew this belonged to a soldier likely of the Civil War era based on the publication date of the bible. The following page revealed additional writing in another hand:

If you die, die like a man.

Miss Abbie J Case

Hartford

Conn

Miss Jennie A Hartford

Oliver C. Case

The first words on this page would hold my curiosity captive for years to come, “If you die, die like a man.” Who could this person be, Oliver C. Case? Who would write should a phrase? As an Army officer who had just returned from war only two years earlier, I could not imagine using these words to encourage a modern American soldier. I had to find out more about this man and his story, as I immediately felt the connection. It was the beginning of my calling that would only grow stronger with the passage of time. One factual discovery would beg for two more. Never satisfied to accept that learning about this man and his bible had reached their terminal point, I pressed on.

“If you die, die like a man.”

These are the prophetic words written inside the front cover of Oliver Case’s pocket Bible that he carried into battle as he ascended the rolling hills toward the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland on September 17, 1862. Oliver and many of his fellow soldiers in the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry would die on those hills just short of the Harpers Ferry Road at the end of the bloodiest day in American history. But, as Lincoln put it, “these dead shall not have died in vain” and this site is dedicated to the memory of one of those “honored dead,” Private Oliver Cromwell Case of Simsbury, Connecticut.

The chroniclers of Connecticut’s involvement in the Civil War, W.A. Croffut and John M. Morris, envisioned the challenge in telling the stories of the foot soldiers:

…there is a sense of pain and profound sorrow in the consciousness that it is impossible to render justice to the nameless rank and file who never wore even a corporal’s chevron, but held to their duty with sublime patience. The last of the color-guard, who seized the standard that had dropped from the relaxed grasp of his 3 comrades, and bore it on, and planted it and stood by it on the edge of the rebel rifle-pit; the martyr who perished in prison, and ever since has been marked “missing” upon the roll of regimental casualties; the thousand glorious obscure, who were mown down by the flaming blade of battle, and died singing songs of triumph, and praying for the establishment of Liberty and Law, — these are the true heroes and martyrs of all the wars of the world. 1

The great American poet and volunteer Civil War nurse in the Union hospitals of Washington, D.C. was moved to tell the world of this kind of soldier. On August 10th of 1863, Whitman sat down to compose “a few lines” to the parents of Erastus Haskell, a soldier of Company K, 141st New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The poet wanted to relay information about their son who had recently died in the Armory Square Hospital where Whitman had provided him comfort, care and companionship during his last days. One line in his last paragraph gives voice to my purpose in telling the story of Oliver Cromwell Case. Whitman writes, “He is one of the thousands of our unknown American young men in the ranks about whom there is no record or fame, no fuss made about their dying so unknown, but I find in them the real precious & royal ones of this land, giving themselves up, aye even their young & precious lives, in their country’s cause…”2

So, I tell the story of Private Oliver Cromwell Case, one of the real precious and royal ones of this land…

For more on info, please visit John Banks’ excellent blog and the interview he did with me in January 2012.

NOTES:

(1) Croffut, W.A. and Morris, John M., The Military and Civil History of Connecticut: The War of 1861-1865, Ledyard Bill, New York, 1868.

(2) Letter of Walt Whitman to Mr. and Mrs. S.B. Haskell, dated August 10, 1863, access from the Walt Whitman Archive, http://whitmanarchive.org, January 23, 1863.

 

“Ere it was light”

Oliver Case and his fellow soldiers of the 8th Connecticut awoke at daybreak on the morning of September 17th, 1862 to find themselves facing the enemy just a short distance away on the far side of Antietam Creek. “Ere it was light on Wednesday we were aroused blankets rolled up and every man in his accustomed place,” wrote Captain Walcott Marsh of the 8th. (Marsh) With the daylight came the Confederate gunners ability to range the soldiers in blue emerging from the darkness on the Rohrbach farm. It seems that some inexperienced troops from Rodman’s Division when “looking for a glimpse of the rebels” and served as a range marker for the Confederate artillerists. (C&M) The artillery fire had “good range” and quickly found its mark “as they had obtained the exact range [of Rodman’s Division]” positioned on the Rohrbach farm. This artillery fire would exact several causalities in the 8th Connecticut including Sergeant George Marsh of Oliver’s company (A) and three privates assigned to Company K.

So what Confederate artillery units ranged Rodman’s Division at daybreak and where were the guns located? After some research and a couple of terrain walks, I believe I may have a plausible answer to those questions.

The Confederate artillery opposing IX Corps crossing the Antietam included Eubank’s (Va) Artillery Battery. It was assigned to 2nd Battalion of Longstreet’s Corps Artillery which was also known as the Reserve Artillery during the battle of Antietam. This battalion was commanded by Colonel Stephen D. Lee famous for his defense of the Confederate forces in the northern part of the battlefield and for his description of the area as “artillery hell.” Stephen Lee’s battalion arrived at Sharpsburg on the morning of September 15th and after crossing the Antietam Creek, Lee detached Eubank’s Battery which was previously known as Bath Battery, from the battalion and sent them to the right side of the Confederate line to assist with defending against the Union IX Corps in their attempt to cross the Rohrbach Bridge. The battery was commanded by John L. Eubank of Bath County, Virginia and consisted of four different types of guns, a 3-inch ordnance rifle, a 12-pound howitzer, a 6-pound gun and another rifled gun of an unknown type.

The four guns of Eubank’s Battery, according to Ezra Carman’s maps, was situated on high bluff well above the bend in the creek that pointed directly toward Rohrbach’s cornfield and the brigades of Fairchild and Harland which belong to Rodman’s Division. Carman writes that Rodman’s Division “had been put in position in the darkness and when morning came, found itself exposed to the fire of Eubank’s Battery across the Antietam…” (Carman) So, it seems reasonably clear that it was Eubank’s Battery that fired on Rodman’s Division at daybreak, but what about the location of the guns?

Actually, I believe it was one gun from Eubank’s Battery that initially fired on the Union troops that morning and it was located much closer than the battery is depicted on Carman’s map. The first clue is in the letter of Captain Walcott Marsh describing the events of the morning. As daylight began to break “Objects had scarcely become distant around us” wrote Marsh. As the soldiers began to stir, Marsh noted that “the flash of a gun was seen a short distance in front of us on a little hill and in a moment a shell burst over our heads…” (Marsh) This phrase, “a short distance in front of us on a little hill,” is key to understanding the position of the Confederate artillery piece that fired on Rodman’s Division. Several terrain walks quickly revealed that Marsh could not have been describing the location of Eubank’s Battery on the Carman map for it was located on a high bluff at a greater than “a short distance” but still in range.

Lieutenant Matthew Graham of the Ninth New York Volunteers, part of Fairchild’s Brigade, wrote many years after the war that he had observed “considerable activity among some men in grey on the top of one of the hills in our front.” He continued to watch as the Confederate gunners were “apparently shoveling and leveling the ground…preparing a place for their battery to stand.” Graham deduced that the rebels “had gotten their guns up there and were obliged to prepare a platform or level space for them so that the recoil would not force them down the hill.” (Graham)

Eubanks Btty daybreakPossible location of Eubanks’ gun that fired on Rodman’s troops

I set off on another terrain walk to try and locate the precise position of Eubanks’ gun or guns that fired that morning. Interestingly, I stumbled across the site annotated on Carman’s map above by the bright red line. I believe early on the morning of September 17th, 1862, Captain Eubanks, likely acting on information provided by Confederate skimmers positioned near the Antietam Creek or from his own reconnaissance, moved at least one of his artillery pieces to the knoll that formed the inside of the bend in the creek directly opposite the Rohrbach farm. During my terrain walk, I made an interesting discovery.

Eubanks gun positionCould this be the remnants of an emplacement for one of Eubanks’ guns?

I located what appear to be the remnants of fighting position or potentially a gun emplacement in the most likely position as I was able to determine by the accounts of the incident and Carman’s map. Now, I understand this to be somewhat of a stretch since there are many other possible explanations for this site. However, having seen many of these types of positions from Civil War battle sites and having dug a number of modern battle positions myself, this clearly appears to be man-made for the purpose of emplacing an artillery piece. It could well be the result of the Confederate work party observed by Lieutenant Graham preparing a “platform or level space” for a gun to perfectly range the Rodman’s troops on the opposite side of the Antietam.

Eubanks gun viewThe view from the possible location of Eubanks’ gun looking toward the position of Rodman’s Division on the morning of September 17, 1862

Even with the modern growth of trees, this location offers an incredible view of the area occupied by Rodman’s troops that morning. This site is located just below the Georgians Overlook site off the Snavely’s Ford trail and afforded me the opportunity to contemplate the view of the Confederate gunners that morning as “ere it was light.”

 

A Reunion of Brothers

As Ariel and Alonzo Case drilled with the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment at Fort Ward just outside Washington D.C. during the first week of September 1862, they probably did not realize how close they were to their younger brother Oliver. They had last laid eyes on him almost 11 months earlier as the ship bearing him and the other soldiers of the 8th Connecticut moved down the Connecticut River headed for their Camp of Instruction on Long Island, New York. On the evening of September 3, 1862, the 8th arrived in Washington from Aquia Landing in Virginia rushed to the bolster the remnants of John Pope’s Army of Virginia still limping into the capitol from their defeat at the Battle of Manassas, Part II. The regiment camped on the grounds of the White House near the Washington Monument the first night later moving up 7th Street to a military encampment on Meridian Hill.

On the night of September 5th, soldiers of the 8th Connecticut received a shipment of mail including a letter addressed to Captain Walcott Marsh from his brother in-law, Ariel Case, in the 16th Connecticut that had been mailed on September 1st from their encampment at Fort Ward.[1] It would be a safe assumption that among the letters in the mailbag that evening would have been one or more addressed to Oliver Case from one or both of his brothers. As Marsh and Case read their letters that evening, they may have become aware for the first time of the close physical proximity of the Case brothers and the 16th Connecticut. Fort Ward was only about six or seven miles from Meridian Hill across the Potomac River just west of modern-day Reagan National Airport. Now the challenge for these brothers on both sides of the Potomac would be arranging a reunion in midst of the chaos created by the demoralizing defeat of the Union Army at Manassas Junction.

Enter George McClellan to the rescue of the Army, the Capital City and the Case brothers.

With Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s troops moving toward Frederick, MD, his hope is to draw the Union army out of the defenses of Washington. President Lincoln responded to the poor performance of John Pope by bringing back McClellan to oversee the defense of Washington, but McClellan knew he must react to the Army of Northern Virginia’s move into Maryland. In the absence of clear orders directing him to move the army to meet Lee’s invasion, McClellan began to reorganize the army and prepare it to meet the threat from the Army of Northern Virginia. Within two days after Captain Marsh and Private Case received their letters; McClellan decided to start the slow movement of his 84,000 troops out of the confines of Washington. Initially, his action was only intended to expand the defensive perimeter for Washington and potentially react to any Confederate threat to Baltimore. The operation soon turned into a forced march of the entire army toward Frederick and the invading Army of Northern Virginia.

Early on the morning of September 7, 1862, Walcott Marsh, Oliver Case and the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut received orders to march north out of Washington, DC. General McClellan’s newly formed army is slow in leaving the capital city and once on the road, the 8th CVI is delayed until 10:00 am. Roads are crowded with the wagon trains of the Army of the Potomac and thousands of soldiers in hundreds of regiments. The early September Sunday is particularly hot and the sun is beating down on a march route that is covered with a dust cloud stifling the mass of soldiers. The 8th along with the other two regiments of Harland’s Brigade, the 11th Connecticut march a total of 10 miles for the day. A halt is called at Leeboro, Maryland were the brigade will make camp and rest for almost two full days.[2]

It is near the village of Leesboro that the reunion of the Case brothers and Walcott Marsh occurred on Monday, September 8, 1862 on the march from Washington. Leesboro is the modern-day unincorporated town of Wheaton, Maryland.

Leesboro or Leesborough received its name in 1826 and served as a hub for business that naturally developed near the junction of three major roads. Modern Maryland Route 97 was known as the Brookeville Pike or the Washington-Brookeville Pike and ran from Washington to Brookeville, Maryland and then to Baltimore. The Old Bladensburg Road was the second major route through Leesboro now known as Maryland Route 193, University Boulevard connecting the cities of Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Georgetown and Bladensburg. The last route was Veirs Mill Road, Maryland Route 586. During the Civil War it was known as the New Cut Road and ran from the sawmill of Samuel Veirs on Rock Creek to Rockville and then across the Potomac River into Virginia.

Early Monday morning as the 8th began to prepare for their day of marching, a soldier from the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment appeared in their ranks declaring that his regiment “was but a short distance back” along the route of march. Captain Marsh took leave of his company and journeyed to the location where he believed he would find the 16th with his brother in law, Ariel Case. When he found the Connecticut regiment, Ariel and his brother Alonzo, also a soldier in the 16th, were not there. Ironically, the two Case brothers had struck out early that morning moving north in search of the 8th Connecticut and their brother in law, Captain Marsh, and younger brother, Private Oliver Case. In the dust and confusion of thousands of marching soldiers along with a seemingly endless line of supply wagons, Marsh and the Case brothers had passed each other.

Walcott Marsh immediately recognized the situation and hurried back to his regiment after a few quick greetings to some of the familiar Connecticut men in the 16th. Upon returning to the 8th, Marsh found a glorious Case family reunion in progress. The 8th Connecticut and the other two regiments of Harland’s Brigade were stalled on the side of the road awaiting orders to continue (or start) the march giving the brothers a golden opportunity to visit one another. Marsh recounts the scene, “I had a fine time visiting with Ariel, Alonzo, Oliver & self went off in woods & roasted corn, potatoes, picked and eat grapes, peaches, apples & c.”[3]

Brothers The Reunion of the three Case brothers and brother in-law, Walcott Marsh occurred on September 8, 1862 near Leesboro, Maryland

(Photos courtesy of John Banks and Matt Reardon)

During the time of the reunion, the group heard the rumor that the 16th would be assigned to Harland’s Brigade, so as Ariel and Alonzo returned south to their regiment, all in the group parted with the hope that another reunion would soon occur. It would be another week of hard marching through Frederick and over South Mountain before the 16th Connecticut would catch up to Harland’s Brigade and that reunion would occur under the dark clouds of looming battle near Sharpsburg.

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] Mercer, Sandra Marsh and Jerry, Letters to a Civil War Bride: The Civil War Letters of Captain Wolcott Pascal Marsh, Heritage Books, Westminster, Maryland, 2006.

[2] IBID.

[3] IBID.

“..within speaking distance of the rebels.”

George B. McClellan faced an enormous logistical and administrative challenge in moving somewhere on the order of 84,000 troops plus the horses, mules and wagons required to support this army out of Washington, through Frederick and fighting across South Mountain enroute to Sharpsburg. Now the challenge was to slow down that army and move them into the appropriate battle positions to prepare to assault Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia who formed a horseshoe shaped line of defense around the town. As his army moved across South Mountain on September 15, 1862, Major General McClellan began to fan out his corps right and left of the Boonsboro Pike. Burnside and the IX Corps moved to the left of the road spreading out into their initial battle positions across the Ecker and Rohrbach farms. As alluded to in the earlier post, Oliver Case and the 8th Connecticut spent most of the daylight hours on the 16th of September 1862 waiting for orders to move out. Even after receiving their marching orders around 4:00pm, the accordion effect was fully in play as thousands of IX Corps troops attempted to find their positions. The accordion effect in marching is caused by starts, stops and changes in the rate of march and for hundreds of years has served as a source of great frustration to soldiers and commanders alike.

The addition of the green troops of the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment earlier in the day on September 16, 1862 had given Edward Harland his complement of four regiments of infantry. Now the brigade commander had to attempt to emplace his regiments in accordance with the orders received from the division commander, Isaac Rodman. It was no easy maneuver as the sister brigade of Colonel Harrison Fairchild was also attempting to leverage the fading daylight to form in a line of battle on the left of Harland’s Brigade marking the extreme left of the IX Corps and the entire Army of the Potomac. Five days after the battle in his official report, Harland recalled that he complied with General Rodman’s orders by placing his brigade “on the left of Colonel Scammon’s division, supported on the left by the First Brigade, of General Rodman’s division…formed behind a range of hills running nearly parallel with Antietam Creek and about one-quarter of a mile directly back from the bridge…”[1]

A retrospective view of the positioning of these brigades and their subordinate regiments is expectedly difficult owning to differences in perceptions from a variety of witnesses created by encroaching darkness, confusion of being under fire from Confederate batteries and skirmishers, and restrictions of the terrain. As with the previous post, Carman’s map serves as the basis of this discussion with my overlays of possible deviations from the positions he reflects on his maps. Carmen writes that Harland’s Brigade assumed their battle positions on the evening of September 16, 1862 “lying east of the road that ran past the Rohrback house to Porterstown.”[2] This means that as they filed off the road from Porterstown, the regiments would have moved to their left into an area of the farm not under cultivation at the time. It is important to remember that Harland would have dressed or aligned his brigade off the right of Fairchild’s Brigade to his immediate right. The 4th Rhode Island formed the left of Harland’s Brigade “and upon its left lay Fairchild’s brigade of Rodman’s division.”[3]

Harlands Bde 6am Carman.png

Fairchild’s reported that his brigade complied with Rodman’s orders by “taking up a position on the hill in a corn-field on the eastern shore of Antietam Creek, this being the extreme left of the line.”[4] Additionally, Farchild placed “two guns of the Ninth Battery in position on our left flank” to help protect the line from Confederates across the creek.[5] Carman’s maps placed Fairchild’s Brigade in a tight formation running across the eastern edge of the Rohrbach cornfield in a position that is somewhat exposed to enfilade fire from Confederate batteries across the Antietam.

Harlands Bde 6am Revised.png

While the lines of both brigades of Harland and Fairchild were likely not properly dressed and crisp, I believe Carman’s positioning of both may be slightly incorrect based on the battle reports, personal accounts and movements conducted the following morning. Carman seems to have positioned the regiments of Harland’s Brigade too far to the south and into the edge of the Rohrbach cornfield. Even Carmen writes that the “left (of Harland’s Brigade was) opposite the Rohrbach orchard” and that “Fairchild’s Brigade, on the left of Harland’s, was in the northeast part of a cornfield that ran down the road skirting the Antietam.”[6] While this difference may not offer much significance or distinction, I believe Harland’s Brigade faced slightly more to the left of Carman’s position and did not extend into the Rohrbach cornfield but ended opposite the orchard. The 8th Connecticut was likely positioned for the night of September 16, 1862 near a large oak tree and slave cabin on the Rohrbach property. The tree, depicted on Carman’s maps, stands tall even today and the ruins of the slave cabin are clear visible near the tree.

Oak Tree Rohrbach

Massive Hickory Oak Tree on the Rohrbach Farm

 

Slave Cabin ruins2

Modern-day ruins of the slave cabin that stood on the Rohrbach Farm in 1862

 

Oliver Case likely rested in his battle position near these locations on the evening of September 16, 1862 as it became clearly evident that it was “the last night before a great battle and many were enjoying their last nights rest on earth for the two great armies were face to face and the conflict could not be delayed but a few hours longer.”[7] A misty rain began to fall adding to the darkness of the night as Oliver and his fellow soldiers settled in for the night in a “line of battle within speaking distance of the rebels.”[8] For Oliver and 33 other soldiers in the 8th Connecticut, it would be their last night on earth.

ENDNOTES:

[1] No. 151.–Report of Col. Edward Harland, Eighth Connecticut Infantry, commanding Second Brigade, Third Division, of the battle of Antietam

[2] Carmen

[3] Curtis OR

[4] Fairchild OR

[5] IBID.

[6] Carmen

[7] Marsh

[8] IBID