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I am a lifelong student of military history with particular interest in the Battle of Antietam. I work for the federal government in Washington DC and have two teenagers who I love very much. I currently volunteer at the battlefield and devote much time to the study of this battle and the Maryland Campaign. I enjoy collecting notable contemporary quotations by and about the men of Antietam. These words often add a degree of color and character not found elsewhere in their stories. A feature of this blog is the presentation of some of these quotes. My perspective comes from a 28 year career in the U.S. Army. Travels took me to World War II battlefields in Europe and the Pacific where American valor ended the tyranny of Nazism and Empire. But our country faced its own greatest challenge 80 years earlier during the Civil War. And it was the critical late summer of 1862, when Robert E. Lee launched the Maryland Campaign that fortune could have gone either way. It is an incredible story of drama, carnage, bravery, and missed opportunities that culminated around the fields and woodlots of peaceful Sharpsburg MD. So join me as I make this journey South from the North Woods.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Private John Henry Rosebrook, Battery M, First New York Light Artillery


Some time ago I was randomly scanning through a list of Civil War soldiers when I came upon the name of Henry Rosebrook. Knowing that my ancestors sometimes used this version of the spelling, I looked closer. I discovered that Rosebrook was a private in Battery M, First New York Light Artillery. This battery was raised in Niagara County where I am originally from. This battery, sometimes known as Cothran’s Battery was part of the Twelfth Corps at Antietam. It was actively engaged in the Cornfield supporting General Gordon’s brigade. The battery was armed with four ten pound Parrots and two 3 inch ordnance rifles. Cothran’s Antietam report is found here.

As my interest in Henry Rosebrook and Battery M deepened, I contacted the Niagara County Historical Society. I learned about a book published by the Wilson Town Historical Society titled "The Valiant Men of Battery M" which outlines the history of the battery. I arranged with Ann Marie Linnabery the Assistant Director of the Historical Society to send me a photocopy of the book. The book added much to my knowledge about this battery.

George M. Cothran raised the battery in the summer of 1861 from volunteers, mostly from Niagara County New York. I was not sure if Henry Rosebrook was one of the original volunteers until I was finally able to view the roster of the First New York Artillery Regiment found in The Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of New York for the Year 1896. From the roster, I learned that Henry in fact enlisted in August 1862 and along with about 20 other replacements arrived at Sharpsburg around September 20, just three days after the battle.

I wanted to learn more about Rosebrook. When my good friend and West Woods blogger Jim Buchanan invited me to visit the National Archives several weeks ago, I saw this as a perfect opportunity to learn how the archives research facilities were organized. I would use a military and pension record search of Henry Rosebrook as a trial run on how to use the research resources there.

There is a researcher’s entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue separate from the public entrance on Constitution Avenue. Jim who is a veteran researcher led me through the process of obtaining a researcher’s ID card. I got a locker and deposited all paper, pens, and other personal materials there before going any farther. Computers, scanners, and cameras may be brought in after being checked by security. Once inside you can obtain pencils, paper and other note taking materials but cant bring in your own.

I must say that the staff at the Archives is extremely helpful. With their assistance, I learned that I needed to make separate requests for pension, and military records. The staff “pulls” documents approximately every hour. So to make the 11 o’clock pull, I had to have my requests into the staff before that. In my case, the staff pulled the documents at 11 o’clock and they were ready for me at 12 o’clock.

After dropping off our requests, Jim and I had an hour before our documents were ready. I took the time to browse through the census records and Official Records while waiting and then Jim and I grabbed lunch. At noon, we made our way to the library where we would review the records that we asked for. Security is ever present. Staff again swiped my newly issued Archives ID to authorize entrance to this room.

After signing for it, I was first handed Henry’s military records. The small brown envelope contained cards that were made out every two months that accounted for Henry’s status ie “present”, “hospital” etc. I obtained paper and a pencil and began taking notes. Many folks in the room, much better prepared came equipped with scanners, or cameras to copy documents. You can also load money on to your ID card and make copies with the assistance of staff. I wasn’t prepared to do any of this so resorted to taking notes. After looking at the military record, I returned it and was handed a much larger envelope that contained the pension records. Veterans could be eligible for a disability pension, and their widows could also receive a pension. The bulk of the documents in this second file were legal documents attesting to Henry’s eligibility for a disability pension, and subsequently his widow’s request and supporting documents for a pension after Henry died in 1903.

Opening these files was a humbling experience. It is likely that no human eye has beheld these documents since 1926 when Henry’s widow Christine died, and an entry was made in the file to discontinue her widow’s pension. Here was the story of a young man’s life.

His real name was John Henry Rosebrook. He apparently went by his middle name as all the rosters that I saw show him as Henry. At the time of his enlistment, he gave his age as 22 and his place of birth as Prussia. He had blue eyes, light hair and a light complexion. He lived in Tonawanda, Erie County, New York and listed his occupation as a farmer. Rosebrook enlisted at Wilson New York on August 26, 1862 for three years. He received a bounty of $25 and an additional premium of $4. He mustered into Battery M, First New York Light Artillery Regiment on September 5, 1862. According to a letter in Henry’s pension file from William Holmes, another member of the battery, Henry was one of a group of about 20 replacements that joined the unit at Antietam on September 20th, just three days after the battle. Cothran’s battery had been involved in the thick of the fighting in the Cornfield and suffered six men wounded. Cothran, in his official report tells of shooting up all his ammunition and remaining in the fight for four hours. Brigadier General George Gordon who by the end of the day commanded Williams Division commends Cothran for keeping at bay “a furious but futile charge of the enemy.” One can imagine the impression that the horrific battlefield made on the recently arrived farmer from upstate New York.

What I know of Rosebrook’s service comes mainly from the letter in his pension file written by William Holmes. Like Rosebrook, Holmes was also 22 years old and lived in neighboring Wilson New York, where Henry enlisted. Holmes first enlisted on October 4, 1861, but not in Battery M. Instead perhaps seeking more excitement and adventure, he joined Company G, 7th New York Cavalry as some of his friends enlisted in Lockport resident George Cothran’s new artillery company soon to known as Battery M, First New York Light Artillery. The 7th New York Cavalry was a short-lived outfit however. It left New York on November 23, 1861, and served near Washington, D. C. until March 31, 1862, when, not having been mounted, it was honorably discharged and mustered out.[1] Holmes must have known from friends, the location of Battery M for by the end of April, 1862, he journeyed to Newmarket Virginia and enlisted in the battery on April 23, 1862. By the time that Holmes met Rosebrook, the young man was already a combat veteran having served with the battery in the battles of Winchester, Cedar Mountain, and Antietam.

Holmes said that Henry rode one of the artillery caisson horses. He went on to say that Rosebrook spoke poor English and that he (Holmes) sometimes wrote letters for Henry to his “German friends” back in Tonawanda. One of these German friends may have been Charles Hagen, who also wrote a letter that is found in Henry’s pension file. Holmes reports that at Harpers Ferry, Henry suffered what was to become the first of many bouts of rheumatism and was hospitalized on December 23, 1862 at Alexandria Virginia. He was back to his unit sometime in January and was present at the bloody battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. Henry was once again hospitalized in Washington DC on September 24 1863. By November, he had returned to his unit, which with the rest of the Twelfth Corps was now in Tennessee. Henry’s rheumatism must have become progressively worse for he was hospitalized for a third time on February 20, 1864 and spent over a year in a hospital at Bridgeport Alabama. He left the hospital on April 24, 1865 in time to participate in Battery M's mustering out at Rochester on June 23, 1865. According to the military record, at his discharge he was owed and presumably paid $75.

Returning home, the pension records reflect that Henry married Christine Hagen on August 24, 1865. Christine was perhaps a sister or cousin of his friend Charles Hagen. Interestingly I learned more about Christine than I did about Henry. Christine was also born in Germany on March 26, 1847. She would have been 18 when she married Henry who was now 25 years old. The Rosebrooks would have four daughters. Anna and Lizzie were born in western New York between the years of 1866 and 1870. Sarah and Emma were born after Henry moved his family to Okolona in Henry County Ohio in 1872. Sarah was born in 1876 and Emma was born in 1880, just eight years before my own grandmother was born in 1888. I remember my grandmother who married my father’s dad, talking about visiting the “Ohio people” on several occasions. This may in fact have been a member of Henry Rosebrook’s family.

On June 9, 1887, Henry filed a request for a disability pension. He collected the necessary documentation from an attorney and a medical doctor in Ohio. He requested letters from his wartime colleague William Holmes, now a successful farmer in Wilson New York and his old friend Charles Hagen. These letters attested to his affliction but also provided many of the interesting details about Henry’s service. These are the documents in the pension file. Henry’s request was approved and he received a disability pension until his death on December 4, 1903. The file does not close there. Henry’s widow Christine submitted and was approved for a widow’s pension of $8 dollars a month. There are two other entries in the file related to this. One is dated March 20, 1917. It advised Christine that her pension had been increased to $20 per month. A final entry was made sometime after her death on June 30, 1926 which closed out the file.

I am now fairly certain that Henry Rosebrook has some relationship to my family though he may not be a direct ancestor. Still the exercise of looking at his military and pension records was very informative for my family and me personally. It also gave me a great understanding of how the process works for getting pension and military records form the great folks at the National Archives. I’ll be back!


[1] New York in the War of the Rebellion, 7th ed. Frederick Phisterer. Albany: J. B. Lyon Company, 1912

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