About Me

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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 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.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A New South Mountain Blog

Welcome to another great blog on the Maryland Campaign. Check out Tim Ware's Bloody Prelude: The Battle of South Mountain here. Tim is a seasonal ranger at South Mountain who I know well as a fellow volunteer with Antietam National Battlefield's historical artillery unit Battery B, 4th US Artillery. Tim has already done several interesting articles on this important battle of the Maryland Campaign in his blog. He is a very serious student of Civil War history and I look forward to learning more about South Mountain from him. Welcome to the blogosphere Tim!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"As to burning our house, we know that in doing so, you were carrying out orders."

When I give tours at Antietam National Battlefield, I sometimes relate the story of the burning of the Samuel Mumma farmhouse and the improbable exchange of letters 44 years later between Sergeant Major James Clark of the Third North Carolina Infantry, who led the detail of soldiers that burned the house and Samuel Mumma Jr. who as postmaster of Sharpsburg in 1906 received Clark's letter and responded. To the left is a Alexander Gardner photo of the ruins of the Mumma homestead taken shortly after the battle. When James Clark took up his pen, he was merely addressing his letter to the postmaster of Sharpsburg and had no idea that he would be reaching the son and namesake of the house owner. Perhaps even more surprising is that Mr. Mumma responded to him.

I had never seen the letters until this week when I came across a copy of Antietam The Aftermath a collection of letters and remembrances about the battle and the Sharpsburg vicinity that was arranged, and edited by Wilmer F. Mumma, the great-grandson of Samuel Mumma. This very interesting work copyright 1993 by Wilmer M. Mumma is extremely rare and I am grateful to the Antietam National Battlefield Library for sharing this important work with me.

Below printed in their entirety are the two letters.

New Bern, N. C.
March 19, 1906
Sharpsburg, Md.

Dear Sir

Please be so kind as to give me the correct name of the man who owned or lived in the brick house that was burned at the Battle of Antietam or Battle of Sharpsburg, being called by both names.

I belonged to the 3rd North Carolina infantry, Colonel William L. Derassette, Ripley's Brigade, D. H. Hill's Division.

This house stood immediately in our front as the battle was being commenced and at times was in the enemy's lines. General Ripley, to prevent its occupation by sharpshooters and protect his officers from being picked off, ordered it burned. A volunteer call was mad as to who would go and do it. Five or six privates from Company A volunteered and I took charge of them, being at that time, Sergeant Major of the Regiment. After firing the house we all got back to our lines, myself being the only one hurt. Ripley ordered me to carry orders down to his line to 44th and 48th Georgia Regiments to come up and take a rail fence in their front. He was shot soon after I left him. I carried the orders down to the Georgia troops and being weak from the loss of blood, went off the field by an old Church and on to our hospital. Then a women, young and beautiful and black haired, helped to bandage my arm. I have often wondered if she was any of the family and where they when caught between the lines of battle.

I wish to write up the particulars of the event truthfully and there are some particulars about the family I would like to have.

On the next campaign, Gettysburg, by the command to which I belonged, we assisted to capture General Milroy at Winchester, Virginia, and I had to lay up for repairs and did not get any further.

My brother, now deceased, said that he saw the old gentleman, or thought he talked with the owner of the house burned, and said that he hoped the next time they fought, they would get out of his cornfields, as he gathered no corn or crops that year.

Hoping to hear from you with a line of particulars, as to where the family went that morning September 17th, 1862, I am,

Yours respectfully and truly

James F. Clark

Late Sergeant Major
3rd North Carolina Regiment

As Wilmer Mumma relates in Antietam The Aftermath, "Although Samuel Mumma, Jr. was a Union sympathizer and his family had lost everything at the hands of Sergeant Clark, he was not one to bear a grudge. In fact, he was rather pleased to hear just what exactly happened. Samuel, Jr. not being much of a scribe, his daughter, Bertha Alice, did the writing as he dictated the following:"

Sharpsburg, Maryland
March 22, 1906
Mr. James F. Clark
New Bern, N. C.

Dear Sir:

In reply to your letter of March 19th asking for some information concerning the burning of the brick house on September 17th, 1862, I will say that the house referred to was owned by my father, Samuel Mumma, Sr. The house, a large brick colonial one, near the Dunkard Church, was burned at the Battle of Antietam. My father was told that the family had better get away, so we left on Monday afternoon the 15th, took nothing with us as they were cannonading then and we were afraid that there would be a battle at once. Some clothing was gotten together and the silverware was packed in a basket ready to take, but in our haste to get away, all was left behind. Father and mother and the younger children left in the two-horse carry-all (the older children walking as there was a large family) going about 4 miles and then we camped in a large church called the Manor Church, where man others congregated.

On Tuesday evening, a friend and I came back to the house, thinking to get some clothing but found that everything of value had been taken. I then started for Sharpsburg and at the ridge on the field above our house, where the line had formed, General D. H. Hill and some other officers had me brought to them, and questioned me as to whether I was a memeber of that family. They then asked me about different roads to the Antietam Creek. I gave them a correct statement although I was a Union boy. After we left, my older brother Daniel came back to the house and went to bed. Towards morning, some officers knocked at the door and Daniel being young also, was afraid to open the door and jumped out the back window, leaving it up and spent the remainder of the night in the upper room of a stone building that was once used by slaves. The next day he went to Sharpsburg. That morning the house and barn were burned but we were told that General Richardson's Battery (a Union General) had shelled the house and barn and burned them.

Our family then went to a friends house until spring. In the spring of 1863 we rebuilt our house and had just moved in a few weeks before the army went to Gettysburg.

As they were passing through to Gettysburg, an officer approached me and asked me if I know who had burned that house. I told him that I did not. Then he told me that he and eight other men were detailed by General Ripley to burn the house and hat he had picked up a chunk of fire from where they had been cooking and had put in in an open window on to a bed. He told me the color of the quilt and the shape of the bedstead.

We lost crops, fencing and everything, all amounting from $8,000 to $10,000 and were never recompensed as the Government claimed it was damaged by being right in the heart of the battle.

As well as I can remember, the hospital you spoke of must have been at the home of one Harry Reel, southwest of the old Dunkard Church. He had a daughter with black hair. She is now dead and the rest of the family have moved west. That was the nearest hospital that I knew of.

As to burning our house, we know that in doing so, you were carrying out orders.

Enclosed find a few souvenir postals of the battle. Hoping that these points will help you in your work, I am,

Samuel Mumma, Jr.,
Sharpsburg, Md.

NOTE: Both letters and the Wilmer Mumma's intervening narrative are found in Wilmer M. Mumma, ed., Antietam The Aftermath (Sharpsburg, 1993) pp. 24-26

Saturday, May 22, 2010

From the Antietam to the Little Bighorn

Last weekend, I picked up Nathaniel Philbrick's new book The Last Stand - Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn (New York: Viking 2010). I received the book as part of the Treasury Executive Institute's program. My casual scan through the book quickly turned serious as I realized how great it was. I usually don't have trouble putting a book down after an hour or two but I spent all of last weekend devouring this one. It is that good. Mr. Philbrick's research is very thorough. His portrayal of all the characters, both Native American and United States is tremendous. Mr. Philbrick's vivid narrative gave me a very clear understanding of Captain Frederick Benteen and Major Marcus Reno, Custer's principle lieutenants for the first time. Benteen is a fascinating character. Read the book and see why. The maps that accompany the narrative are first class. For the first time, I could clearly understand the geography of the Little Bighorn Valley and the movements of the various columns. Needless to say, I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested not just in this particular campaign but in this period of American history as well.

But why do I mention this book in a blog dedicated to the Maryland Campaign? In reading the book, you will discover a number of soldiers at or near the Little Bighorn who also fought at Antietam. Obviously, George Custer is one of them. Custer was, in 1862, a young brash second lieutenant fresh out of West Point. Assigned to General McClellan's staff, it was Custer who requisitioned Phillip Pry's house for McClellan's headquarters. As the Little Bighorn Campaign of 1876 unfolds, Custer is now second in command (but acting commander in the field) of the Seventh Cavalry. The Seventh is part of a column moving westward from the Dakotas and part of an effort to trap the Sioux between three converging columns approaching them from the east, west, and south. General Alfred Terry commands this west bound force known as the "Dakota" column.

John Gibbon, commander of the Iron Brigade at Antietam, leads the so called "Montana" column, moving eastward from Montana. Like Custer who in 1876 is back to his regular army rank of lieutenant colonel, Gibbon too had reverted to his regular rank of colonel after the Civil War. As their columns separate and Custer and the Seventh Cavalry depart to meet their destiny Gibbon tells the young officer, "Now, Custer, don't be greedy, but wait for us." To which Custer ambiguously replies"No, I will not."

The third column moving up from the south is the Wyoming column commanded by George Crook. It is Crook's brigade at Antietam that launches the first attack against the Rohrbach bridge on the southern part of the line. In the Little Bighorn campaign, Crook's force will be prevented from linking up with the other two columns when the Sioux defeat him at the Battle of the Rosebud on June 17, 1876. Forced to retreat, Crook's force will not be in any position to assist Custer when the Seventh Cavalry is overwhelmed at the Little Bighorn.

When the bloody battle of the Little Bighorn is over and Gibbon's force at last reaches the battlefield, they will find only the battered remnants of Reno and Benteen's battalions. Along the Little Bighorn Gibbon will discover Custer and his men dead to the last man. Among the fallen will be one other with a connection to Antietam. Second Lieutenant James "Jack" Sturgis, age 22 and fresh out of West Point is an officer of E Troop known as the Gray Horse Troop.

As Philbrick relates in the narrative: "While his body is never officially identified, several decapitated corpses were found near the river at the mouth of a deep ravine. One soldier later claimed he recognized Sturgis's scorched head along with several others in a Sioux fire pit. Out of respect for Sturgis's mother who visited the battlefield several years later, a grave marker was placed in the vicinity of Last Stand Hill. The possibility exists that the young lieutenant came as close as anyone in the Gray Horse Troop to reaching Sitting Bull's village."

James Sturgis is the son of the Seventh Cavalry Regiment's commander Samuel Sturgis. Sturgis commanded a division of Ambrose Burnside's Ninth Corps at the Battle of Antietam. It was men from Ferraro's brigade of Sturgis's division who captured the Rohrbach bridge on September 17, 1862. During the Little Bighorn campaign in 1876, Sturgis was on detached service in St Louis when the battle occurred. Sturgis and Custer did not get along. Sturgis said this about Custer after the battle. "That he was overreached by Indian tactics, and hundreds of valuable lives sacrificed thereby, will astonish those alone who may have read his writings-not those who were best acquainted with him and knew the peculiarities of his character."

[Note: All quotes here are from Nathaniel Philbrick's book The Last Stand - Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn (New York: Viking 2010)]