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.

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“..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