Thursday, September 17, 2015

13. Two brothers on a mission in wartime

Capt. Freedom Rhodes with two men of the 14th New Hampshire
[previous post]

Until now Freedom Rhodes has been a bit player in the story of the 5th New Hampshire’s first year under arms as told by his brother Eldad and the bugler Cutler Edson. Because of a lucky find during my research for Our War, a bottom-up New Hampshire Civil War history, today Freedom takes his star turn.

Lt. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. of the 20th Massachusetts 
The find was a story in the Feb. 12, 1863, Independent Democrat, the Republican newspaper in Concord, the state’s capital. The headline, “My Hunt after the Sergeant – Three Hours on Antietam,” echoed the title of a story in the December 1862 Atlantic, “My Hunt after Captain.”

In the magazine Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes of Boston chronicled his search for his son, Oliver Jr., the future Supreme Court justice, who was badly wounded and missing after Antietam. Freedom Rhodes’s hunt was for his brother, Eldad, who had been shot through the right lung in the same battle. The wound at first seemed mortal.

Freedom Rhodes did not make things easy for the future historian. He referred to the man he was looking for as Sergeant R. and signed his piece F.M.R. It took me a while to find F.M.R. in the fat book listing tens of thousands of New Hampshire men who went to war. Then I put the information in F.M.R.’s story together with the diaries and letters of Eldad Rhodes and Cutler Edson, lent to me by Fred Goodwin, a descendant of both. If you’ve read the recent blog posts about them, you know that Freedom and Eldad saw each other often during the first year of the war.

Freedom was the older brother, born June 28, 1838, and thus 24 years old when he went looking for his wounded brother. Eldad was about to turn 22. Before the war, Freedom worked a year as a singing instructor at Falley Seminary, a Protestant school in Fulton, N.Y. He was antislavery, perhaps even abolitionist. In an earlier letter to the Independent Democrat he asserted that soldiers were warming to the idea of emancipation and would vote accordingly if given the chance. When officers in his regiment wrote an anti-Copperhead screed calling for unity in support of Lincoln’s policies, Freedom signed it.

“Better far that the unbridled license of the press be held in check; better that individual liberty be abridged; better that all the property of rebels be confiscated; better that the shackles be stricken from every slave and the freed man arrayed against his oppressor; better that the whole Southern domain be made a howling wilderness, than that the infamous conspiracy against the rights of man succeed, and our once noble country be made the reproach of the nations,” the officers wrote.

This came from the 14th New Hampshire, a regiment Freedom Rhodes had only recently joined. He had been in the first wave of volunteers, enlisting in Lancaster, the family’s hometown, on April 22, 1861. He joined the 2nd New Hampshire, which fought at First Bull Run. He was wounded at Oak Grove, Va., during the Peninsula campaign. When ever the 2nd and the 5th camped in close proximity, he visited brother Eldad. A sergeant in the 2nd, Freedom left the regiment in the fall of 1862 for a captain’s commission in the 14th.

Freedom left the army in July 1863.After the war he was a justice of the peace for Coos County and a state representative from Lancaster. He died in 1881 at the age of 42 and is buried in Wilder Cemetery in his hometown.

Here is his story, sent from the 14th New Hampshire camp at Poolesville, Md., on Jan. 23, 1863, two weeks after he and Eldad lived it.

My Hunt after the Sergeant   

Who that had kindred in McClellan’s army will forget the silent heart-ache that possessed them after the first news of the great Antietam fight? Among the casualties of our glorious Fifth we saw the name of our Sergeant, wounded. We hoped, as who has not, that it was slight, till one night, twelve days after, a letter from his Captain told us that a traitor’s bullet had pierced his lung, and though living, the chances of his recovery were small.

Stephen Hopkins's signature on the Declaration. 
By this time the crisis must have passed, and so we waited sorrowfully until tidings came, a little note, by his own pen, not the bold stroke of his former hand, but tremulous as that of Stephen Hopkins to the Declaration of Independence, three weeks later. He was at Frederick and recovering. The 14th was to start soon, and so from that date we commenced our hunt for him.

In the Clarendon House, Washington, we met a Drum Major [Ephraim McDaniel, mentioned by Eldad Rhodes in the previous psot], who had been with him three weeks in those infernal shelter-tents, before going to Frederick. From Seneca we tried to reach him, but not a horse could be had for money, (it didn’t for once make the mare go,) and forty-five miles was a long way to walk over twice in forty-eight hours.

Then at the Cross Roads we got the horse, but the pass was not approved, because the time was too long, and the next day illness of our waiter-boy detained us till death took him where there is no war. And then once more, after we were recovered from the exhaustion of watching the boy, we were to go on Monday, but Saturday night we got orders to move for this place, the next morning. And so we were busy with stockading camp and getting in, until Monday last we once more turned our face towards Frederick.

Brig. Gen. George Stoneman. Rhodes refers to an incident
in October 1862 when Confederate Maj. Gen. J.E.B.  Stiart
evaded Stoneman's cavalry after a raid on Chamberburg, Pa.
John Adams, the husband of the colored woman spoken of in our last, was our coachman to Adamstown, thirteen miles, the nearest point to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. John showed us the road which Stuart took in his return from Pennsylvania. He crossed the river at White’s Ford below the Monocacy, not six miles from here, while Gen. Stoneman was camped here with 10,000 men!

At last our crazy old team reached the Monocacy, so near to its mouth that we could see the Potomac when we forded it, though it was seventy-five yards broad. Just below the ford is a fine aqueduct of masonry supported by seven archways, over which the Ohio & Chesapeake Canal passes. Across the stream, and we are in the trail of Lee’s army, the main body of which crossed just above its mouth. We tracked him by unmistakable foot prints, half-burned fences, countless black fire spots where they cooked, and another amusing sign of the want of provision stores, the corn-cobs beside the roads.

We passed through a beautiful tract of country of 13,000 acres, which we afterwards learned, once, about the time of the French and Indian war, belonged to a prominent Catholic by the name of Carl, which is still known as Carl’s Manor. The heirs had persistently refused to sell any of it until recently, which was the reason why it looked comparatively new.

We reached the station about noon, and learned that the train from Harper’s Ferry for Baltimore did not pass there till 2:35, possibly 3 P.M., as the train had but recently run through Wheeling, and the road was yet bad in the vicinity of Martinsburg. In a few minutes the up-train from B. came thundering along, and in obedience to a little squint-eyed Irishman, who beckoned it with a red flag, it halted just enough to set off and take on a passenger, exchange mail and leave a package of Baltimore Sun, that puts down Confederate victories under great capital headlines, and Union ones under small, lauds Seymour and slurs the President, and talks of Peace Conventions and Vallandigham’s “great speech.”

As we were in a station, express and post-office, dwelling-place and hotel, we ordered dinner and awaited distribution of the papers to the group of villagers and countrymen that had crowded the room. No Clippers were called for. A poppy-stalk fellow has caught sight of the news from Galveston and reads aloud; then the probable loss of Springfield, and the repulse from Vicksburg. The sudden flooding of a cellar with gas light could be no more perceptible that the satisfaction lighted up the moody faces of the motley group. But they contented themselves with mock congratulations over Union victories and other sinister insinuations, such as the readers of the Sun might be expected to indulge in without openly speaking their feelings.

About 3 P.M. the train from Wheeling came, and in fifteen minutes more we were at Frederick Junction. The 14th N.J. is stationed there. The remains of one of their number was sent forward on the train. We changed cars here and took the train for Frederick, where the branch terminates. We had struck the Monocacy again, and moved around a curve that coincided with a bend in the little placid river, that had shrunk to half its bigness at its mouth. This section of the country, just rolling enough to break the monotony of a prairie, and yet not hilly, was actually charming, and must be really beautiful when clothed with verdure.

The five miles more to Frederick was soon made. Up Market to 4th Street, a right-angle turn to the left, and we were on the road to the hospital. Frederick is a neat little rural city, one of the earliest settled in the State. We noticed on the market building the date “1769.”

As we emerged from the suburbs we overtook a tall, good-looking fellow limping with a cane. We thought we had seen the large brass 5 on his cap, in the Peninsular campaign, and we asked him what his regiment was. “N.H. 5th.” “And what Company are you in?” “A.” “Do you know Sergeant R?” “Yes.” “How is he?” No better, Sir.”

The humorist Artemus Ward
And we hurried gloomily on until we overtook another. He was Comp. A of the 4th R.I. Did he know Sergt. R? “Yes, had ransacked the country with him for the last fortnight.” Why the good-looking chap made us the answer he did has been a mystery. 4th R.I. offered to pilot us. We have entered the lines of the encampment, that is guarded by the Md. Reg’t., and are among an army of cripples, such as Artemus Ward says will court the prettiest girls in the country hereafter.

We wonder as we enter if he will look as pale and haggard as the majority of those we have seen hobbling about. But there is music here and there in the midst of that group, singing –

“John Brown’s body lies
mouldering in the dust,
But his soul goes marching on,”

he stands. It was the same hymn that we sung together 6½ miles from Richmond, the 27th of June last, with this difference in our physical status. We had then one good right arm to his pair; now he had one good left, to our pair.

We elbowed our way into the knot of incendiary minstrels, and cuting short the last word by a slap on his shoulder (not the right because there was a bullet hole there) it was “right and left two, promenade” to bunks and “how are you?”

We determined to see Antietam, and so the next morning obtained permission to take him who is lost but is found, with us. And as early as possible we were jogging along over the magnificent macadamized turnpike that runs to Sharpsburg, a distance of 22 miles. Two or three miles out, and we began our ascent of the Catoctin Mountains, running up from Virginia, thro’ the Potomac breaks at Point of Rocks.

There was skirmishing in this pass, but no decisive conflict. From the top of this pass, we had our first view of South Mountain, eight miles in front of us. It is but the continuation of Blue Ridge, through which the Potomac breaks at Harpers Ferry. Half-way between the two rides is the sunny village of Middletown.

The picture spread out before us was grand. The valley, more fertile if possible than the one from which we had ascended, stretched southward indefinitely, and northward till environed by hills that seemed to be offshoots of both chains of mountains. There were broad lands and hundreds of comfort-breathing farmhouses standing out front the patchwork of forest and field, and a tortuous little stream that would have reflected sunbeams just as poetically as any other, had the clouds above permitted, and the church spires of Middletown, with the mountains uncultivated more than one third of the way up, and capped with snow, that transplanted our fancies to New England.

Had we not known to the contrary, we never should have suspected that two hostile armies had passed through this beautiful region only four months before. To be sure the fire-spots and corn-cobs would have excited our wonder. There was now and then the half-decomposed carcass of a horse in the fields, but they might have died of old age. It is wonderful that buildings suffered so little injury. One barn only did we see in the entire route that was burned; one that had cannon shot in its gable, and also one house was hit near the ground. The first bridge we crossed, however, showed marks of fire, as did the two next.

It occurred to us that we had never reined an animal that enjoyed the manipulation of our whip so well as our nag, and thus, tho’ we lamed our wrist in whipping, it was after 1 P.M. before we began to ascend the historic pass of South Mountain. The pike makes the rise by an easy grade, but the mountains on either side are very abrupt, particularly on the left. The position of the enemy here was certainly a strong one. No forces could have faced anything like equal numbers posted here.

Maj, Gen, Jesse Reno, shot in the chest
by a sharpshooter at South Mountain
And, for this reason, Lee was attacked on either flank, and the heaviest fighting took place two and a half to three miles to the right and one and one-half to the left, where the ascent was less severe. But little fighting took place here. Around the spur of the mountain Gen. Reno fell on the Federal, and Gen. Garland [Brig. Gen. Samuel Garland Jr. was killed not far from where Reno died] on the Rebel, side. This portion of the field was the scene of one of the most bloody struggles in the war; but we had not time to visit either of these points. Some time past 2 P.M. we gained the summit, where we stopped for dinner at a comfortable country inn. Gen. G. 
stopped here the night before the
Gen. Samuel Garland Jr.
battle, and his remains were borne here from the field. 

Our landlord had many thrilling incidents to relate. Suddenly enveloped by the contending forces and hemmed in by the mountains, it was difficult for him to escape. Until late in the afternoon his family were in the house, while the battle was going on.

When Gen. G.’s body was removed, his wife and daughter, with their servants, succeeded in following the train to Boonsboro, two and a half miles, where they awaited the coming of our forces. One musket ball shattered a pane of glass, and grazing the window frame, dropped on the floor. Musket balls hit the house in many places, and just before the final retreat down the turnpike, a fierce artillery duel ensued, for thirty minutes, which brought him between two fires, though not exactly in range. More than a hundred shots were exchanged, yet no damage was done to any of his buildings.

Unconsciously we chatted with this quite agreeable family of the battle until 4 o’clock. In the middle of the day the congealed mud and snow thawed somewhat, but during our stay the thermometer reversed steam completely, which resulted in making the roads very hard and smooth. Our nag was smooth-shod and descended with great difficulty. For a rod he would slide on all fours. Only the stiffness of his legs and joints prevented him from falling. We had six miles to go and nearly an hour was consumed in getting own where there was no snow, a mile from the top.

Our companion was certain it was not the speed with which he passed over the same distance last. It was on Monday morning Sept. 15th, the day of the battle, that the 5th N.H. led the advance down this pass at double-quick, and deployed as skirmishers right and left in the open country, driving the enemy’s rear guard to the Antietam. Boonsboro’ was reached a little before twilight. The 5th saved the bridge across the stream here. Two miles further on, we pass Keediesville, which like Boonsboro’ and Middletown, is a small compact village. Here the bridge was partially destroyed.

The Pry House
A mile more and we have reached the point of so much personal interest to the Sergeant as the place of his first three weeks’ suffering after the battle. The house of Philip Pry is engrafted into history as the place where Gen. Richardson died, and McClellan had his headquarters.

We resolved to ask the hospitalities of this spacious brick mansion. From his recollection of the kindness of its little busy housewife, our friend was sure we should be welcomed, and so we were.

The children recognized him at once. The kind hostess greeted us as warmly as if we had been members of her family. Was not he the gentleman that used to get milk of her after the battle. “Yes.” “I thought so. Indeed I am right glad to see you. I remember you. How you would totter down to the fence for it, and how I pitied you. I never expected to see you here again, indeed I did not.”

Learning that Lieut. George, of the 5th, [George Washington George, whose left foot had been amputated after he was shot in the leg during the battle] at was yet at the house of the adjoining farm, near the Antietam, having lost his leg, we called on him, and found him very comfortable, and his wife now with him.

It was at this house that Capt. Crafts did picket duty Tuesday before the battle, and where he stopped while at Antietam. He had left a metallic scabbard here that saved his leg by receiving a musket ball about midway, doubling it to a right angle. The Sergeant was authorized to get it, but the good man gave it reluctantly, for he said “he thought a heap of the Captain.”

Gen. Israel Richardson, the 5h New Hampshire's
division commander, killed at Antietam.
When we returned we were shown the room that Gen. Richardson died in, and the bed that Gens. McClellan and Hooker occupied the nights before and after the battle.

We were astir early the next morning. The first place to be visited was the strip of grass ground, above the sweet potato patch, between two elms, next to the garden fence where the Sergeant’s tent was pitched before going to Frederick. There were the blood-stained garments taken from him, the beehive that he used to eat on, and the furrowed ridge up by the garden plowing that made his pillow. Perhaps seventy-five feet and as many yards distant at one point, but sharply bending back westerly above and below, and there on its opposite bank and over that far-stretching, rolling country, was the mightiest battle-field of America.

We went to the spot where McClellan stood during the battle. Our host [Philip Pry] from this point showed us all the places of special interest. In that open oak patch Hooker fought, on the far right, two and a half miles distant. A little apart and on the left of the grove near that lone tree he was wounded. Across the open field, between this grove and another further to the left, he saw the Rebels (and he did not mince the name with Confederates, Lee’s forces, &c.) hurled in pell-mell flight by the stern columns of Fighting Joe Hooker.

Brothers Philip and Samuel Pry (undated photo)
Immediately in front of us was the centre, where Sumner fought. That was one of the corn-fields, the other was hid by a ridge. Between those two sycamores, standing alone, Gen. Richardson was wounded by a shell. Hundreds of wounded had been brought to his [Pry’s] place, and put in his stables, or shelter tents, and many died, and immediately below us in a little glen, through which a singing brook sought the quickest passage to the historic creek, and where graceful oaks overshadowed them, was their fitting burial place.

Mr. P. had caused them to be placed in rows and head-boards put to those whose names were known. More than a score mingle their ashes here. A Captain from Pennsylvania; a Lieutenant with a difficult German name from New-York; Wm. Yates, Co. B, 5th N.H.; “Unknown” (how melancholy the inscription, an Unknown gone to the Unknown) Co. B, 52d N.Y.; and yet another, Co. D, 4th N.Y.; and here is a synonym for unknown, Rebel, 5th Ga. Yet had the three met three years ago they would have known each other as citizens of the same great Republic.

Unconsciously we had tarried here far beyond our intended time. And, after receiving all the directions necessary to see the most in our limited time and the hearty good wishes of the family, we bid them adieu, and crossing the creek a mile above them, were travelling on the borders of the battle scene. We took our way to Smoketown, where Hooker first began to skirmish, and then turning to the left followed the great war path towards Sharpsburg and the centre. We took what a native said was “Bloody Lane” – which was not though – and soon reached the woods.

Thus far we had seen the battle ground at a distance. The fences that had been torn down in the fray had for the most part been repaired, but here we were on the battle ground, travelling in a great cemetery. Graves were thick here, and there were mounds that hold our enemies. The trees were not to be repaired like the fences. Their trunks mottled with bullet holes told of a terrible conflict. Some had a hundred of them!

After the battle: the Dunker Church at Antietam
Others had been there before, as the numerous rutted ways leading to places of special interest, where we had not time to visit, told us, and had gathered most desirable relics. There were unexploded shells, but we were wary. Through the timber, into the open field, into and through the next wood, and a ride of half a mile across the fields strewn with coats, hats, boots, shoes, knapsacks, cartridge boxes, &c., where graves were as thick as corn-hills, and we reach the turnpike again at Dunker Church and in sight of Sharpsburg. This superannuated brick building was completely riddled with artillery and battered by musket shots. The greatest concentration of fire was upon the adjacent twenty acres. Fences were shattered in splinters, trees broken and broomed, and whole fields tramped hard as a travelled way.

But we had not seen “Bloody Lane” and so as we turned our backs on Sharpsburg, we enquired of a boy that we came up with where it was? “Do you mean the place where the Irish Brigade fought?” “Yes.” “Right over there, sir,” pointing to the left, “take the first lane.”

Our companion [Eldad Rhodes], coming upon the field from a different direction than when in battle, and the surroundings so much changed, was partially lost. But as we turned down the pike again he recovered his bearings. We were now on the Rebel position where the attack was made.

Literally the ground was with a covered rag carpet, and as we reached an angle where another lane comes in, there was blood. Rain had fallen during the night and in a little basin that the weather had made from horse tracks were pools of water sufficient to bathe, your hands stained a brick color with human gore, shed precisely sixteen weeks before. Near by was a mound and yet a pit, a mound in the middle, but as if something beneath the mound had settled and with it (which was a fact) the outlines of the pit were traceable several yards in perimeter. And this was the charnel house of some of those whose blood still stained the soil.

The 4th North Carolina flag, captured at Antietam by George
Nettleton of the 5th New Hampshire
We alighted and walked to the place where the 5th N.H. captured the 4th N.C. colors, and stood on the spot where not a traitor’s tho’t, but a traitor’s ball, entered the Sergeant’s breast, and then we turned to the spot in the lane to which he tottered, and where he lay near an hour between two terrible armies, his blood mingling with the stream that literally flowed in the path.

As we turned to the carriage again how fervently we thanked heaven that the dark angel passed him thus over in his carnival. There were fragments of shells here in profusion, and gathering of the souvenirs, we regained the turnpike and crossed the Antietam unable to visit the scene of Burnside’s conflict, at the next bridge one and a half mile below. The road ran up through a ravine to the higher land and here was the scene of the 5th’s skirmishing on Monday. The stone wall on the right was their cover and the barn half way up from the stream was the one by which Col. Cross stood when his shoulder strap was shot away.

One more incident. Co. B took some prisoners on the Old Sharpsburg Road that runs parallel with the pike to Middletown, at a house a mile or more from the creek. Only one gun was taken and this was given to the owner of the place. We turned aside to make inquiries for it, and to our surprise it was there, and as our friend claimed a special interest in it, as one instrumental in its capture, we added it to our trophies, then regaining the pike at Boonsboro’ made the quickest time to Frederick possible, and the day following, by car and John Adams’ Express, we came safely to Poolsville. – F.M.R.

Next: Home from the war, an epilogue

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