“..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

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