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“…from whence no traveler returns…”:
Robert Rodes and the Men Who Served Him
By Jason Amico

Author Bio: Native of Scranton, PA with a Bachelors Degree in Secondary Education from Penn State University and a Masters Degree in History from the University of Scranton. Worked for the NPS as an intern at the Eisenhower National Historic Site in 2000 and as a Seasonal Ranger at Antietam National Battlefield in 2001. Worked briefly as an archivist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. Currently works as an archivist at the PA State Archives in Harrisburg. Publications include "Capturing War's Grisly Face"(America's Civil War Magazine, November 2001):discusses how battlefield photography altered the general public's perception of war; "Atrocities at Andersonville"(newspaper article in Scranton publication, 2000) He currently resides in Mechanicsburg, PA.



Casualties on the opening day of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1, 1863) were quite high for Major General Robert E. Rodes’ Division of Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell’s Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. As a whole, the division is believed to have suffered approximately thirty-seven percent casualties during the campaign, including eleven regimental officers. These losses were not solely a result of the fight on Oak Hill on day one of the battle since the brigades of Edward O’Neal and Junius Daniel both saw action on the closing day. The division also had a few run-ins during the retreat to Virginia. Nonetheless, the ill-fated attack of O’Neal’s Brigade and Alfred Iverson’s Brigade resulted in high losses for both Confederate outfits.

O’Neal’s Brigade, the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 12th, and 26th Alabama Infantry Regiments, lost 41.2% of their effective strength with 90 killed, 422 wounded, and 184 missing or captured. The 5th Alabama lost approximately sixty-six percent of their force. Iverson’s Brigade, the 5th, 12th, 20th, and 23rd North Carolina Infantry regiments, was the hardest hit Confederate brigade during the three day battle. Recent numbers show the brigade as having lost 182 killed, 399 wounded, and 322 missing or captured, equaling roughly sixty-five percent of their strength. The 23rd North Carolina was virtually non-existent after Gettysburg, losing eighty-nine percent of their men.[1]

Still, these Alabama and North Carolina outfits were not witnessing their first taste of combat at Gettysburg. They were experienced and hardened veterans well before Gettysburg since they had seen heavy action in the 1862 Seven Days Battles and the 1862 Maryland Campaign. This was long before they were under the guidance of O’Neal or Iverson.

The 5th, 12, 20th, and 23rd North Carolina Infantry regiments were born in the spring of 1861, but they did not initially serve together as a brigade. The first regimental colonels for the 5th North Carolina and the 23rd North Carolina were Duncan K. McRae and John F. Hoke, respectively. Both regiments would be transferred into Jubal Early’s Brigade shortly after their enlistment. The 12th North Carolina selected Solomon Williams, a West Point graduate, for regimental colonel. They served briefly in William Mahone’s Brigade before being transferred to General L. O’Brien Branch’s Brigade prior to the start of the Peninsular Campaign. The 20th North Carolina elected Alfred Iverson, a Georgian, for regimental colonel, and they spent the opening months of the war stationed in various forts throughout North Carolina.[2]

The Alabama regiments that would eventually constitute Edward Asbury O’Neal’s Brigade also had quite an impressive record prior to Gettysburg. All would enter service between mid April/early May 1861.

The 3rd Alabama Infantry Regiment with the “Mobile Cadets”, the first company to volunteer for the Southern cause, was the first regiment from their state to offer their services to the Confederate cause and the first to be sent to Virginia for mustering duties. Jones M. Withers was elected as first colonel. Life was relatively dull for the 3rd Alabama until the Peninsular Campaign where they joined William Mahone’s Brigade.[3]

The 5th and 6th Alabama served briefly in Richard S. Ewell’s Brigade with Robert Emmett Rodes and John Jacob Seibels as first regimental colonels, respectively. Although present at First Manassas, they were not engaged. Soon after they were transferred to the brigade of Robert E. Rodes, who succeeded Ewell as brigade commander.[4]

The 12th Alabama elected Robert Tignall Jones as their first regimental colonel. This unit also became part of Rodes’ Brigade.[5]

The first regimental colonel for the 26th Alabama was William Russell Smith. The unit sent two companies to participate in the fight at Fort Donelson in February 1862. The regiment re-grouped prior to the Peninsular Campaign. It fought at Yorktown under Gabriel James Rains’ Brigade, but they found their first true home in Rodes’ Brigade.[6]

Although three of D.H. Hill’s brigades participated in assisting Longstreet’s Division during the Battle of Williamsburg (May 5, 1862), which was under pressure, Rodes’ Brigade was not engaged. Jubal Early’s Brigade saw significant action in the indecisive fight at Williamsburg. Jubal Early’s report on the battle written early June 1862 detailed the assault made by portions of his brigade that attempted to capture enemy batteries in the area of Fort Magruder. The 24th Virginia and the 23rd North Carolina temporarily pushed back a few of the enemy guns, along with some infantry. Early wrote,



This regiment…made an attack upon the vastly superior forces of the enemy, which for its gallantry is unsurpassed in the annals of warfare…As a matter of course they suffered severely, their loss being heaviest while falling back.


Early’s tributary report in behalf of his brigade’s efforts at Williamsburg also note a few of the officers that were lost during the assault, including Lieutenant-Colonel J.C. Badham of the 5th North Carolina.[7] Praise and recognition to the 5th North Carolina at Williamsburg was also given by one of the highest-ranking officers in the Union Army. Winfield Scott Hancock wrote,


The enemy’s assault was of a most determined character. No troops could have made a more desperate or resolute charge. The Fifth North Carolina was annihilated. Nearly all of its superior officers were left dead or wounded on the field.[8]


Daniel Harvey Hill, not known for praising others, gave memorable comments regarding the heroic efforts of the Fifth and Twenty-third North Carolina. Hill wrote,


…I found the Twenty-third North Carolina never halted…The courage exhibited by the Fifth North Carolina and Twenty-fourth Virginia made, too, a wonderful impression upon the Yankees…History has no example of a more daring charge.[9]


One of the more noteworthy Confederate casualties at Williamsburg was Jubal Early. He was shot through the neck and shoulder and immediately sent to the rear, as he was quickly losing blood. Samuel Garland, Jr. of Lynchburg, Virginia assumed command of the brigade while Early recuperated from his wounds received at Williamsburg.[10]

The Battle of Williamsburg was simply the beginning, as harder times were soon to come. The Battle of Seven Pines (May 31-June 1, 1862) was yet another example that the war was going to be lengthy and bloody. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston devised a plan to move down the Williamsburg Road and attack the Union left and center at Seven Pines, while Longstreet spearheaded the Federal right at Fair Oaks. D.H. Hill’s Division, which included Rodes’ Brigade, planned to strike Seven Pines via the Williamsburg Road. Major General Ben Huger’s forces would assault the Federal left via the Charles City Road. Finally, the plan called for Chase Whiting’s Division to screen Longstreet’s Division, which was to attack the Federal right.[11]

Although Johnston’s strategy looked brilliant, it quickly fell apart when put into action. Garland’s Brigade advanced down the left side of the Williamsburg Road, while Rodes’ Brigade followed the right. Both units would have a brigade shadowing them during the advance for support. One of the first obstacles encountered by the advancing Confederates were the brigades of Silas Casey and Darius Couch of the Union IV Corps, who barricaded themselves behind earthworks. Rodes’ men defeated the odds and chased the Union presence from behind the earthworks, temporarily capturing the position and a number of artillery pieces. Meanwhile, a bitter artillery duel ensued, and Rains refused to send forward his brigade to support Rodes. Without Rains’ assistance, Rodes had no choice but to call off any further attack for the time being. As night approached, Rodes did receive the help he desperately needed from Garland’s Brigade and two regiments under Colonel Micah Jenkins. The brilliant leadership displayed by these three officers and the commendable way their units fought played a key role in the Confederate capture of Seven Pines. Still, the success came at an extremely high cost.[12]

Numerous members of the brigades of Rodes and Garland eloquently described in words the horror that was Seven Pines. Samuel Garland, Jr. described the confusion that ensued once his brigade entered the woods. He wrote,


Hurrying forward in person to the abatis, I found that as the regiments emerged from the woods they overlapped each other as they deployed, and being thus in many places huddled together, were suffering terribly from the enemy’s fire.[13]


Col. Charles Forsyth of the 3rd Alabama penned a detailed and graphic account of his brigade’s sacrifice at Seven Pines. He wrote,


In this short space of time, 197 officers and men were placed under hors du combat. Colonel Lomax, the boast and pride of the regiment, lay a corpse, not two hundred yards in its front, and the position held by the enemy…There, too, the gallant Mays, Johnson, {T.P.?} Brown and Ellis fell, fit company to follow the spirit of the dauntless Lomax to that ‘bourne from whence no traveler returns…[14]


Private Lemuel S. Bratton of the 12th Alabama had the sorry task of writing the Crow family after the Battle of Seven Pines to tell them the specifics about their son, Private William H. Crow, being killed in the engagement. Bratton’s letter read,


It is with tears in my eyes that I attempt to address you this evening but feeling it is my duty to inform you of the Death of your son…he received a shot in the head which proved fatal my feelings at that time pen can not Describe to see the best friend I had fall…[15]


Colonel Daniel Harvey Christie of the 23rd North Carolina voiced the fact that one of the major problems that hindered Garland’s Brigade at Seven Pines were the roadblocks in the terrain. Christie wrote,


…I soon found that my command and the Twenty-fourth Virginia were moving on converging instead of parallel lines…The felled timber was almost an insuperable obstacle to a successful charge against a firm line…[16]


During the fight Christie’s horse was shot, and he was grievously wounded, although he did survive. Christie’s luck ran out on July 1, 1863 in Gettysburg, when he was wounded in the assault on Baxter’s line on Oak Ridge. The wounds proved fatal days later.[17]

Accounts from Garland’s North Carolinians at Seven Pines are scarce. Still, they, along with Rodes’ Alabamians left an indelible legacy at Seven Pines that was rarely rivaled during the course of the war. Their casualty numbers from Seven Pines are a perfect reminder of their legacy. Garland’s Brigade, which included the 2nd Florida, 2nd Mississippi Battalion, 5th North Carolina, 23rd North Carolina, 24th Virginia, 38th Virginia, and the Jeff Davis Artillery, totaled 98 killed, 600 wounded, and 42 missing. The 23rd North Carolina suffered 18 killed, 145 wounded, and 6 missing.[18] It was an even longer day for Rodes’ Brigade, as they fared even worse. Casualties for Rodes’ Brigade, the 5th, 6th, and 12th Alabama, along with the 12th Mississippi, 4th Virginia Artillery, and the King William Artillery were just shy of 1100 total. The 6th Alabama was the hardest hit unit in the brigade, losing 91 killed and 277 wounded for a nearly sixty-percent casualty rate. Although these numbers were staggering, they were representative of what was to soon come. [19]

Over the ensuing months the Army of Northern Virginia re-organized itself significantly. In September the first attempt by Confederate forces was made to enter Northern territory in the 1862 Maryland Campaign. The brigades of Rodes, Garland, Roswall Ripley, George B. Anderson, and Alfred H. Colquitt comprised D.H. Hill’s Division. An ominous black cloud followed this division into Maryland, preying heavily upon the ranking officers. Samuel Garland, Jr. was killed while leading his men at Fox’s Gap during the Battle of South Mountain. In addition, Colonel Bristor B. Gayle was killed and Lt. Colonel Samuel B. Pickens of the 12th Alabama was wounded at South Mountain. The Battle of Antietam proved even more costly. Brigadier General George B. Anderson was mortally wounded. The roster of wounded men from Hill’s Division seemed endless. Included on the list were Brigadier General Robert E. Rodes, Lt. Colonel James N. Lightfoot (6th Alabama), Colonel Edward Asbury O’Neal (26th Alabama), and Colonel D.K. McRae (5th North Carolina). Colonel John B. Gordon (6th Alabama) barely cheated death after being wounded approximately five times in the Sunken Road. Still, this is only a few of the names, not to mention the enlisted men.[20]

Once again the Army of Northern Virginia had to re-organize to compensate for its’ losses. The structure of D.H. Hill’s Division in Jackson’s 2nd Corps remained the same, except for a few cases. George Doles assumed command of Roswall Ripley’s Brigade. Twenty-five year old, Stephen D. Ramseur replaced the slain George Anderson. Alfred Iverson, former colonel of the 20th North Carolina, assumed command of Garland’s Brigade.[21] The death of Garland was a major loss for his North Carolinians, one that would haunt them for some time. Iverson quickly became unpopular among many of the enlisted men and officers of his brigade. In late December 1862 Lt. Captain Oliver E. Mercer of the 20th North Carolina wrote to his father about the state of affairs in camp after Iverson attempted to promote an officer of his own choosing to fill the vacancy for colonel of the 20th North Carolina. Many that protested this appointment were arrested, including Mercer. Mercer wrote,


Iverson is unpopular with the Brigade already. Only 36 officers under arrest now. Don’t be uneasy about us. We have good counsel and will come out right.[22]


This animosity and tension may have been part of the problem that was orchestrated during the opening day of the Battle of Gettysburg on Oak Ridge. In his regimental history for the 20th North Carolina, Brigadier-General Thomas F. Toon wrote ten words that summarize the story for that unit, along with a few of the others discussed. Toon wrote,


…initiated at Seven Pines, sacrificed at Gettysburg, surrendered at Appomattox. [23]


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------



1] John W. Busey & David G. Martin, Regimental Strength and Losses at Gettysburg, (Hightown, NJ: Longstreet House, 1986), 288.

[2] Walter Clark (ed.), North Carolina Regiments: 1861-1865, Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions: First at Bethel, Farthest to the Front at Gettysburg, Last at Appomattox, (Raleigh, NC: E.M. Uzzell, Printer and Binder, 1901), Volumes I & II.

[3] William S. Coker(ed.), The Mobile Cadets, 1845-1945: A Century of Honor and Fidelity, (Bagdad, FL: Patagonia Press, 1993), intro; Col. Charles Forsyth, History of the Third Alabama Regiment, C.S.A., Introduced and Edited by William Stanley Hoole, (Montgomery, AL: Confederate Publishing Company, 1866), 5-6.

[4] William Stanley Hoole, Historical Sketch of the Fifth Alabama Infantry Regiment, C.S.A.: with a partial roster of the regiment, (University, AL: Confederate Publishing Company, 1985); Jimmy Wayne Jones, The Sixth Alabama Infantry Regiment in the Confederate States Army, (Master’s thesis, Auburn University, 1973).

[5] Robert Emory Park, Sketch of the Twelfth Alabama Infantry of Battle’s Brigade, Rodes Division, Early’s Corps, of the Army of Northern Virginia, (Richmond: William Ellis Jones, printer, 1906).

[6] Dr. Kenneth W. Jones, Eclectic Projects, Including Civil War Histories, Indexes, (Tarleton Station, TX: Tarleteon State University, 1996), http://www.tarleton.edu/~kjones/rodes.html#26th.

[7] The U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Hereafter cited as ORs), (Washington: Govt. Print Office, 1880-1901), Series I Volume XI page 606-610.

[8] ORs, Series I Volume XI page 541.

[9] ORs, Series I Volume XI page 604.

[10] Stephen W. Sears, To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsular Campaign, (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1988), 80; Charles C. Osborne, Jubal: The Life and Times of General Jubal A. Early, CSA: Defender of the Lost Cause, (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 1992), 78.

[11] Brandon H. Beck(ed.), Third Alabama!: The Civil War Memoirs of Brigadier General Cullen Andrews Battle, CSA, (Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 2000), 15-20.

[12] James K. Swisher, Warrior in Gray: General Robert Rodes of Lee’s Army, (Shippensburg, PA: White Mane Books, 2000), 33-37.

[13] ORs, Series I Volume XI page 961-967.

[14] Forsyth, 35.

[15] William Harrison “Tip” Crow, When I Think of Home: The Civil War Letters of William Harrison “Tip” Crow (Researched and Compiled by DeWayne R. Welborn), (Decorah, Iowa: The Anundsen Publishing Company, 1996), 56-57.

[16] ORs,< Series I, Volume XI page 967.

[17] Clark(ed.), Volume II page 238-239.

[18] ORs, Series I, Volume XI page 967.

[19] Swisher, 38.

[20] ORs, Series I Volume XIX page 808-809; Stephen W. Sears, Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam, (New Haven: Ticknor & Fields, 1983).

[21] ORs, Series I Volume XXV page 792.

[22] Lillian Reeves Wyatt, The Reeves, Mercer, and New Kirk Families: A Compilation, (Jacksonville, FL: The Cooper Press, 1956), 265.

[23] Clark(ed.), Volume II page 111.



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