Just before the battle…

Just before the battle, mother,

I am thinking most of you,

While upon the field we’re watching

With the enemy in view.

Comrades brave are ’round me lying,

Filled with thoughts of home and God

For well they know that on the morrow,

Some will sleep beneath the sod.[1]

As the dawn broke on the morning of September 16, 1862, Oliver Case and his comrades in the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment awoke from what must have been an uncomfortable night of sleeping “on their arms” in a stubble field on the Geeting Farm just outside of Keedysville. After viewing the horrifying results of the battle at Fox’s Gap on South Mountain, the troops had marched about five miles from the gap to the Geeting Farm arriving around midnight. McClellan was in pursuit of Lee’s army and a renewed battle was anticipated at any point along the way. As one company commander from the 8th recalled the night of the September 15th, “…we marched quite a number of miles that day and night to the little village called Keedysville (or some such name) where by midnight we got a chance to lie down for night.[2]

The Geeting Farm, also known as Crystal Spring or Locust Spring, provided an excellent source of clear, cool water from the spring near the farm house and it’s highly likely that Oliver Case filled his canteen from the spring as the regiment prepared to move out on the morning of the 16th. Some of Oliver’s fellow soldiers would return to this farm in less than 36 hours as patients in the Union hospital established in the farmhouse. For more on the hospital and the farm, see John Banks’ excellent post on his blog.

As the 8th Connecticut and the rest of the IX Corps began to move toward the Antietam Creek that morning, the soldiers could hear the artillery duel which had already begun between opposing forces from opposite sides of the creek. The movement by the Union corps was slow as the wagon trains had continued to move up during the night and now clogged the roads.

Finally, around 1:00 pm, the 8th Connecticut was placed into a line of battle behind a hill opposite the Rohrbach Bridge. Confederate artillery continued to rain down on the Union formations and several wagon trains were destroyed plus as many as four soldiers were reported as being fatally injured although it is unclear as to their regimental attachment. This reference in found in the writings of Captain Marsh of the 8th Connecticut writing that “a few soldiers [were] killed and wounded.”[3] However, the official regimental history written by Croffut and Morris, simply states that the Confederate “guns dropped shells among the men” with no reference to any soldiers from the 8th being wounded or killed.[4] Since both of these are primary, eyewitness accounts (Morris being the regimental chaplain of the 8th), it would seem that the causalities may have been from other regiments in the vicinity.

 Burnside Bridge looking toward Rohrbach farm
Burnside Bridge view looking toward the Rohrbach farm and the position of the 8th Connecticut (hill on the upper right corner) on the night of 16 September 1862

 

As nightfall neared, the regiment finally settled into their battle positions for the night on ridge behind the Henry Rohrbach farm house and about 300 yards from the Antietam Creek. Captain Marsh described the night as “dark and misty.”[5] The Union regiments were not allowed to light fires. However, the glow from the fires of the Confederate soldiers across the Antietam could be clearly seen. All the officers and men seem to understand that tomorrow there will be a large battle.[6]

Although Croffut and Morris indicate that Harland’s Brigade was joined by the new 16th CVI at nightfall on the 16th of September, other primary sources such as the letter of Charles E. House, Wagoner for Company B, 16th CVI, seem to suggest that the regiment might have joined the brigade at a much earlier date.[7] For his part, Captain Marsh recorded that on this day “that the 16th Connecticut Volunteers were with us having overtaken the brigade the day before.”[8]

The historian of the 16th CVI puts the date of the reunion as the 16th of September:

Colonel Beach, with his experienced eye, first spied the distant jets of white smoke. All were watching the peculiar puffs of smoke with great interest, when Adjutant Burnham, who had been absent, returned with the order that we were wanted at the front. This took us a little by surprise as we did not expect to go into battle so soon. But on went the bundles, and after a tedious march through ploughed fields and forests, passing brigades and divisions, the booming of artillery and bursting of shells sounding louder and louder, we finally joined a brigade consisting of the 4th R.I., and the 8th and 11th C.V.[9]

Whatever the case, by dark on the 16th of September, Harland’s Brigade was now in its final form by the addition of the 16th Connecticut. There is no way of determining if Oliver Case was reunited with his two brothers, Ariel and Alonzo, who were both members of the 16th. If the 16th joined the brigade on the day before the battle, a reunion is an unlikely possibility due to the regiments being placed in battle formations. Soldiers would not have been allowed to leave their regiments for other than official business. Alonzo Case does not mention a reunion with his brother in his post-war writings.[10] It is possible that the brothers could have caught a glimpse of each other during the numerous movements of the regiments.

ENDNOTES:

[1] Root, George Frederick, “Just Before the Battle, Mother,” public domain

[2] Letters of Wolcott P. Marsh (unpublished), accessed from The Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers at Antietam website, http://home.comcast.net/~8cv/8cv-frame.html

[3] IBID.

[4] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[5] Marsh.

[6] Diary of Charles S. Buell, 8th Connecticut, as published on Antietam on the Web, http://antietam.aotw.org/exhibit.php?exhibit_id=369

[7] Civil War Manuscripts Project, The Connecticut Historical Society, access from http://www.chs.org/finding_aides/kcwmp/exams/McnaughtonR.html

[8] Marsh.

[9] History of the Sixteenth Connecticut Volunteers, B.F. Blakeslee, The Case, Lockwood & Brainard Company, 1875.

[10] Recollections of Alonzo Case (full citation pending)

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