“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.”

 

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