Saturday, September 12, 2015

11. ‘we were hurried to the deadly fire and fought like men’

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Sgt. Eldad Rhodes’s time recovering from his wound at Malvern Hill had given him time to think. He had steamed for the Peninsula with a huge, well prepared army and high expectations. Events there had disheartened him, and his treatment in a hospital and a replacement station soured him further.

5th New Hampshire fought near present-day observation tower at Antietam. 
In September 1862, about a year after he volunteered and four days after Union forces lost a second battle at Bull Run, Rhodes unburdened himself in a letter to his parents. It was good to know they had confidence in the Union army, he wrote, but he considered the cause “lost, lost hopelessly, lost forever.” Recent Confederate victories had pressed Union forces back to Washington “to hover about within sight of the Dome of the Capitol for its defence.”

Rhodes took these bitter sentiments with him as he set out to rejoin the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers on the march into Maryland. His journal discloses no sense of where the regiment was bound, as was normal for a soldier on the move, but the advance was relentless and the way “thronged with soldiers.”

For Rhodes and his comrades, the destination turned out to be the Sunken Lane at Antietam. And what happened there brought Rhodes together with Cutler Edson, the second narrator of this saga of the 5th New Hampshire’s first 15 months.
Eldad Rhodes letter

Datelined Sept 3 ’62, Post Hospital near Alexandria Va., to Dear Parents

Your very welcome letter arrived to day and you may judge that I was glad to hear once more from home not having heard from you for about 6 weeks; – Well when I wrote you I had sore in my throat & which has now got well and my foot also is healed up and nearly as strong as the other; –

Maj. Gen. John Pope, the conceited commander who
told his new Eastern troops before Manassas: "I have
come  to you from the West, where we have always
seen the backs of our enemies."
There has been terrible fighting for several days past at and near Manassus. we could hear the cannonading very plain all day yesterday. the road was filled with wagon trains and ambulances hurrying in from the scene of  conflict; I have talked today with a number of straglers, who say our whole Army are falling back, having been worsted by the Rebels; – I am inclined to think its true and that the Army of the Potomac are to defend the Capitol until the new quota of Troops arrive.

thus our Army so recently menacing Richmond are obliged to huddle around Washington for its defense.  I am glad you have so much courage and confidence in our Army – but as for me I consider our cause as “lost, lost hopelessly lost forever.” You need not let it be known that I said this; –
The South united and fighting with Demoniac desperation have driven us from the Peninsula, have defeated us in the recent desperate conflicts at Manassas, and now our whole proud Armys are compelled to hover about within sight of the Dome of the Capitol for its defence; –

You speak of the new troops that are coming to our rescue; – Well what if they do come; – before they are properly drilled for the field, winter will again set in and the Army of the Potomac will again drag out another weary winter on the Potomac and when they at last take the field, the question is will they be any better drilled or any better fighting men than the 600000 that have dwindled away before them???

The time was not many months ago when if McClellan could have had his way this trouble would have been settled now. The Rebels are getting an immense army and their supplies are in just as fare a way to hold out 18 months longer as they were for the past 18 months; –

But don't think from this that I am afraid of them! NO!! it is not the Rebels that are defeating us but our own Generals and Officials. The Rebels have out Generaled us; – Pope has not proved himself to any thing grate yet, but let the matter rest here.

I shall join the Regt as soon as I can find out where they are. Tell Freedom* to write to me at the Regt and when I get there I shal get it. love to all. write soon. a letter from home is a welcome visitor anytime. direct to the Regt as before.

I remain as ever your affectionate Son.
E.A. Rhodes

Enoch Fellows, colonel of the 9th New Hampshire
[*Freedom Rhodes, his brother]

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Thursday, September 4, 1862: Weather very warm; – I got permetion to start for Gen Sumners Corps; – which we heard was at Chain bridge. we marched about 7 miles and camped near the 9 NH Regt, quite tired, visited the Regt. saw many that I knew.*

[*The 9th New Hampshire had just formed in Concord, traveled south and encamped on Arlington Heights. Eight days earlier, when the 5th New Hampshire marched past, the veterans’ ragged, stripped-down and in some cases barefoot condition had shocked the fresh-clad, over-equipped 9th. “My God!” said one of them. “Shall we ever look like that?” Soon enough, the men of the 9th would be tossing away their blankets and overcoats on the march up South Mountain.]

Friday 5: Resumed our journey early. arrived at the Chain Bridge at noon. got dinner and crossed the Bridge toward Tenley Town. our Corps left this after noon for Poolsville, and we camped for the night near a good spring.*

[*Rhodes was trying to catch up with the 5th New Hampshire on its advance into Maryland.]

Saturday 6: Resumed our march at noon, the Boys being tired; – Marched by Tenley Town about 3 Miles; and camped in a splendid grove near an other good spring. quite tired.

Sunday, September 7, 1862: We arose early and marched up through Rockville. everything is thronged with soldiers; – Reached my Regt at noon, found the Boys doing well.

Monday 8: Weather warm; – We were in Camp all the fore noon. at noon we packed up and marched 7 miles up through the Country (went on picket at night).

Tuesday 9: We marched about 4 miles to day. weather warm. are very hungry, have nothing issued to us. we forage for our own living.

Wednesday, September 10, 1862: Resumed our march early. weather rainy and disagreeable. Marched up to Clarksburg within 4 miles of the Rebel pickets.

Thursday 11: We marched untill about 4 OC.

Friday 12: Camped on a hill near a house. are no rations and killed some pigs in the evening. tomorrow we march toward Frederic City.

Saturday, September 13, 1862: We were on the move early toward Frederic City; marched about 5 miles and came in sight of the City below in the valley. marched through the City in the after noon – great joy was manifested.*

[*The people of Frederick, Md., welcomed the Union troops with music, bunting, flag-waving and lemonade.]

Sunday 14: We had a severe march to day; – heavy fighting ahead; – weather very warm and dusty – camped at night at the foot of the mountain where the Battle was fought.*

[*South Mountain.]

Monday 15: We marched early up the mountain – dead lay thick among the rocks – followed the enemy several miles. had a skirmish with the Rebels. Camped on the field.

Tuesday, September 16, 1862: Shelling commenced in the morning, very brisk in the after noon.  4 Co's from our Regt (B included) went down to guard a farmers hous from the Rebels. exchanged shots with them. no damage done.

Rhodes was wearing this shirt when he was shot at Antietam,
Bullet hole and blood are visible.
Wednesday 17: We were relieved this morning at (9 oc), joined the Column to attack the Enemy. the Bullets now raged fearfully. we were hurried in to the deadly fire and fought like men. I was wounded through the right lung, succeeded in getting back to the rear.

Thursday 18: Passed a wakeful night. to day many of the wounded were moved to an other hospital, I among them. am quite weak and feeble. Spit a good deal of Blood. My wound is not so painful as might be expected.*

[*Rhodes was hospitalized in the Pry barn, near where the 5th had camped the night before the battle.] 

Friday, September 19, 1862: Nothing was done for me to day by the Dr. poor arrangements these for wounded men – an old barn with nothing to eat. I am in a tent with 3 friends who take good care of me.

Saturday 20: Am doing well. the Dr made out to dress my wound this after noon; – The Rebs have left; –  weather fine.

Sunday 21: A beautiful day. am feeling better. Cap Crafts came to see me this evening. likewise N.B.E. Bickford.*

[*Welcome Crafts was the captain of Rhodes’s Company B. Nathan B.E. Bickford was a 22-year-old Co. B private who, like both Rhodes and Crafts, came from the New Hampshire North Country.]

Sunday, September 22, 1862: Weather remains beautiful. Many have been removed to day for the North. I hope to go soon. Am still improving in strength. wound does well.

Tuesday 23: no signs of our moving from this place.

Wednesday 24: No change in the program. I am getting along as well as one could expect under the circumstances.

Thursday, September 25, 1862: Weather beautiful. Am about the same. wound doing well. no signs of getting away. a grate government this.

Friday 26: the Drum Major left for the Regt to day.*

[*The drum major led a regiment’s fife and drum corps, consisting of 10 drummers and 10 fifers drawn from the 10 companies. Corps calls signaled movements in battle and regulated camp life. The 5th’s drum major was Ephraim McDaniel, at 43 years old a contemporary of Cutler Edson’s. McDaniel was from Freedom, N.H. Most likely he was ill and had been with Rhodes in the Pry Farm barn hospital. He rejoined the 5th at Bolivar Heights near Harpers Ferry but was discharged for disability four weeks later.]

Saturday 27: am about the same. nothing new is going on, no signs of leaving.

Eldad Rhodes made this drawing of himself and Cutler Edson  sitting by their tent during his recuperation near the Pry house after the battle of Antietam. Eldad (left) is wearing sergeant's stripes and his lame right arm hangs at his side.
(Drawing and shirt photo courtesy of Fred Goodwin)
September 28, 1862: Weather very warm. Mr Edson my nurse is sick today. Mr. Yates of Co, B died this evening in the Hospital.

[*This is the first time either Rhodes or Edson mentioned the other by name, although it is almost certain that Edson helped Rhodes from the field after his wound at Malvern Hill. Private William Yates was 36 years old and from Milan in New Hampshire’s North Country. He had been wounded at Antietam.]

Monday 29: No change in things in general.  I am on the gain. no propect of being moved. had a letter from home to day.

Tuesday 30: Mr Edson went to town in the evening after a few articles. may God take vengeance on those who will abuse wounded soldiers like this.

Wednesday, October 1, 1862: Some firing toward Harpers ferry. Saw the Balloon. am getting along well. Wrote home to day.

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