- Jim Rosebrock
- 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 young adult children who I love very much. I currently volunteer at Antietam 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. Since 2013 I have been conducting in depth research on the regular artillery companies of the Union Army and their leaders. I hope to turn this into a book on this subject in the future. 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. 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.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
"He was of the old school, rugged and stern, honest and brave. He detested frivolity, was austerely sober, and always reminded me of Cromwell's best puritan soldiers" Thomas Claiborne
This quotation was as applicable in 1862 as it was when made in 1847. It describes Edwin Vose Sumner, who commanded the Union Second Corps at Antietam. Sumner entered the Army directly from civilian life in 1819, having never attended West Point. Robert E. Lee was twelve years old in that year, and it was seven more years before George McClellan would be born. When the Mexican War broke out, Major Sumner at age 49 was already a senior Army officer with 28 years of service and commanding the Second Regiment of Dragoons.
Sumner distinguished himself in the Mexican War. At the Battle of Cerro Gordo on April 18, 1847, he was wounded as he brought up reinforcements from the Rifle Regiment to aid some of his dragoons who were trapped. A musket ball hit the star on his cap, slowing its momentum before hitting his forehead. Sumner earned the nickname “Old Bull” from this incident. Over time the story of his wounding was embellished to the point that Old Bull was so bull-headed that the bullet bounced off his skull. Sumner was brevetted (an honorary promotion) to Lieutenant Colonel for gallantry at Cerro Gordo and brevetted again to Colonel after the Battle of Molino Del Rey.
Cerro Gordo is where young Thomas Claiborne made Sumner’s acquaintance and where he made his observation. Claiborne was a young lieutenant from Tennessee assigned to the Mounted Rifle Regiment in Mexico. Like Sumner, Claiborne was not a West Pointer. A lawyer and newspaper editor from a distinguished Tennessee family, Claiborne was a clerk in the Treasury Department in Washington when he entered the Army on May 27, 1846. Claiborne was assigned to Company C of the Mounted Rifles, a new regiment being organized for service in Mexico. He performed well there being brevetted to captain. Claiborne elected to remain in the Regular Army after the war. He served mostly on the western frontier reaching the rank of captain at the time of his resignation in 1861.
After Mexico, Sumner would hold a series of important military assignments through the 1850s. For a short time in 1856, young Captain George McClellan was under Sumner’s command in the 1st Cavalry Regiment stationed in Kansas. By 1861, Sumner would be one of the senior officers in the United States Army now with over 41 years service. He was one of the officers who escorted president-elect Abraham Lincoln to Washington in early 1861. Promoted to brigadier general in the Regular Army on March 16, 1861, he was in command of the Department of the Pacific when the First Battle of Bull Run occurred. Returning east, Sumner was made one of the first corps commanders in the Army of the Potomac, much to the ire of George McClellan. Sumner fought in the Peninsula Campaign, Maryland Campaign and Fredericksburg Campaign before requesting a new assignment with the ascension of Joseph Hooker to command of the Army of the Potomac. Enroute to his new assignment in Missouri, Sumner died in Syracuse New York on March 21, 1863.
Thomas Claiborne would join the Confederate Army in 1861. During the Civil War he rose from the rank of captain to colonel while serving under the commands of Generals Joseph E. Johnston (in Virginia), and in the West under Albert Sidney Johnston, P.G. T. Beauregard, Simon Bolivar Buckner, and E. Kirby Smith. Claiborne was present at the Battle of Perryville and distinguished himself at Murfreesboro. He also fought at Chickamauga with Longstreet. When the war ended, he was assigned to Kirby Smith in the Trans-Mississippi. Claiborne was a farmer in the Nashville area for the balance of his life, active in Confederate Veteran organizations. He died in 1911.
I found the Sumner quote in Timothy Johnson’s new book A Gallant Little Army. This is a great read on the Mexico City campaign. Everywhere you turn in the book you run into the likes of Robert E. Lee, George McClellan, Thomas Jackson, Edwin Sumner, Napoleon Dana, D.H. Hill, and countless other young subalterns who would meet each other on opposite sides of the fields and woodlands outside Sharpsburg Maryland on a September day, nearly 16 years later.