The Roulette Farm, Antietam National Battlefield

21 09 2014

The below article was published in Civil War Times magazine back in 2010 as an installment of my In Harm’s Way/Collateral Damage column. Since the 152nd anniversary of the battle just passed, here’s the article as submitted (some changes were made to the final product.) See my photo gallery of the farm here.

When he realized that the men streaming past his home were Union soldiers and not the Confederates who had been in the fields the past two days, William Roulette burst out of his cellar door: “Give it to ‘em,” he shouted to troops of the 14th Connecticut, “Drive ‘em! Take anything on my place, only drive ‘em!” While the Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac would eventually drive the Confederates from their line in the sunken Hog Trough Road that separated his farm from that of his uncle Henry Piper to the south, they would do so while very nearly taking Mr. Roulette up on his offer fully.

When the armies of Robert E. Lee and George McClellan met just north of Sharpsburg in Maryland’s Washington County on September 17th, 1862, on what would become known as the bloodiest day in U. S. history, they did so on farmsteads that were predominantly well established and prosperous. Much of the area was settled in the first half of the 18th century by families who relocated from Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County. One of those families was that of John Reynolds, who in 1761 purchased a part of “Anderson’s Delight”, including a house that was constructed as early as 1748. By 1800, two additions were complete resulting in a frame, stone, and log dwelling of more than 2,000 square feet, not insubstantial even by today’s standards. In 1804, the farm was purchased by John Miller, Jr. of a prominent area family. In 1851 and after John’s death, his heirs sold the farm and widow’s dower for $10,610 to son-in-law William Roulette (sometimes spelled Rulett), who had married John’s 17-year-old daughter Margaret in 1847. William was the grandson of French immigrants to Washington County, and a son of the sister of neighbor Henry Piper. In 1862 he and Margaret were raising corn on his 180 acre farm, along with five children ranging from under two to thirteen years of age. Living with the Roulettes was Nancy Campbell, a former slave of Margaret’s uncle Peter Miller. At 37 William, a successful farmer with a paid servant, was also serving as a unionist Washington County commissioner.

The Army of Northern Virginia concentrated in the fields north of the village of Sharpsburg and on September 15th. Despite obvious signs of impending danger, William determined to ride out the storm with his family in his home. But as it became more obvious that his farm was likely to be in the thick of things, he removed his family some six miles to Manor Dunker Church where they were taken in by a minister. At some point on the 17th, he returned to the farm to look after his stock and became trapped between the defensive line established by Confederate General D. H. Hill’s division and the rapidly approaching division of Union General William French. First Mr. Roulette took refuge in his basement and then, after emerging to shout his encouragement and offer up his worldly possessions to the boys in blue, headed north to the rear.

The fighting in this sector of the battlefield of Antietam, during what is referred to as the middle phase of the battle, was some of the most severe of the war. Two Federal divisions advanced over the Roulette farm fields and hurled themselves against the stoutly fortified but outnumbered Confederates in the sunken farm lane. The Confederates were finally driven south across the Piper farm, but damage to the Roulette place was extensive. An artillery shell ripped through the west side of the house, travelling upward through the first floor ceiling. At least one bullet fired from the vicinity of the sunken road entered though a second story bedroom window and passed through two walls and a closet in a middle bedroom (this damage can be seen today). Another shell upset beehives in the yard to the rear of the dwelling, causing confusion among the green troops of the 130th PA. Chaplain H. S. Stevens of the 14th CT recalled: “During the battle the rooms were stripped of their furnishings and the floors were covered with the blood and dirt and litter of a field hospital.” Dead and dying men lay scattered across the farm, filling the outbuildings. When the Roulettes returned after the battle, they found crops trampled, fences down, and personal property, including food, carried off. Soldier’s graves dotted the landscape.

On October 3, 1862, Mr. Roulette filed his first claim against the United States for damages to his property. Over the years his claims would include items large a small; fences and crops, featherbeds and carpets, structural damage, one beehive (and bees), chickens, blackberry wine. Claims were also made for nine acres of farmland ruined by the passage of men and equipment, and additional “buriel [sic] ground for 700 soldiers”. The grand total for his final claims filed in February 1864 was $3,500. In the 1880’s he received $371 for a hospital claim, but only minimal other payments. He was paid nothing for damages to his home and outbuildings.

William Roulette was well off before his farm became the center of a storm of men, horses, and lead on September 17, 1862. Despite his failure to collect significant reimbursement from the Federal Government for the taking of “anything on my place”, he and his family would recover – for the most part. About a month after the battle, the youngest Roulette child, Carrie May, described by William as “a charming little girl twenty months old…just beginning to talk”, died of typhoid fever. The sting of this loss was softened a bit 24 months later, when Margaret gave birth to the couple’s last child, Ulysses Sheridan Roulette. Despite the damages, William’s heart was still with the Union.

The farm remained in the possession of the Roulette family until 1956, and in 1998 the National Park Service acquired the property via The Conservation Fund. Restoration of the exterior of the house and the first floor interior to their 1862 appearance is planned pending funding.

Thanks to Antietam National Battlefield Historians Ted Alexander and Keven Walker and to Mike Pellegrini for their assistance in the preparation of this article.





Damage to Burnside Bridge at Antietam NBP

17 01 2014





Interview: D. Scott Hartwig, “To Antietam Creek”

18 10 2012

I’ve known NPS Historian Scott Hartwig of Gettysburg National Military Park for about a decade, and every time I’ve met up with him over the years I’ve asked him the same question: “How’s the Antietam book coming?” Well, I guess I’ll need to come up with a new greeting, because his massive work To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, has been published by Johns Hopkins. This is the first of two planned volumes, and takes the reader to the eve of the Battle of Antietam. Scott took a little time to answer a few questions about this, probably the most important Civil War book of 2012.

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BR:  While I’m sure many readers know you from visits to Gettysburg or from dozens of PCN Anniversary Battle Walks, can you tell those less familiar a little bit about yourself?

SH: I am a supervisory historian in the division of Interpretation at Gettysburg National Military Park.  What this means is I do public history and manage the park’s day to day interpretive program.   I grew up in Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, but had the itch to live out west and went to University of Wyoming.  By pure luck I stumbled onto a Civil War historian teaching there named E. B. Long.  For those today who don’t know him, E. B., or “Pete,” as his friends called him, was the research editor for Bruce Catton’s magnificent three-volume centennial history of the Civil War.  E. B. knew more about the Civil War than anyone I have ever known and could talk about the people who lived the war as if he had known them.  I ended up taking nine credit hours from him on the Civil War and he was a major influence on my decision to seek a career at a Civil War park in the National Park Service.  I have worked 33 years for the NPS, almost all of it at Gettysburg.  I can honestly say that I have never been bored there a single day.  In fact, some days I wish things would be a little more boring.  There is never enough time to get everything done.  I have written a number of essays and articles for magazines and books, and seminar proceedings, and back in the 90’s appeared in a number of History Channel documentaries relating to Gettysburg, some of which still show but only really late at night.

BR: Who or what were your early Civil War influences?

SH: The earliest influence was the Time-Life magazines in the early 1960’s that followed the course of the war and featured original art of battles, which was the sort of thing that excited a 7-year-old.  Next was probably Hugh O’Donnell, my 8th grade history teacher, who encouraged critical thinking not just about the Civil War, but about history in general.  Bruce Catton was also a major influence.  I read everything he wrote.  My parents also always actively encouraged my interest in history.

BR: Why did you decide to study the Maryland Campaign?

SH: I think Catton’s Mr. Lincoln’s Army was the initial catalyst.  His chapter on Antietam was unforgettable.  The other reason was, when I first started contemplating this, the only two books on the Maryland Campaign were Jim Murfin’s Gleam of Bayonets and Francis Palfrey’s The Antietam and Fredericksburg, which had been written in the 1880’s.  I thought the campaign could use a thorough study that employed the wealth of sources that had come to light since Murfin’s book.

BR: Besides the scale (652 pages of text, plus appendices and an online bibliography available here), what does To Antietam Creek contribute to the existing literature?

SH: This volume gives focus to several aspects of the campaign that have only really been brush stroked to this point.  I spend two chapters carefully assessing the two armies so the reader can understand their strengths and weaknesses.  This part of military campaigns is often overlooked, but when we know the character of an army it helps us understand why it performed well, or poorly, or was mediocre.  The bulk of the book examines the Harper’s Ferry operation and battles of South Mountain in detail, but also in the context of the larger campaign.  South Mountain has been studied by others but there is no in-depth study of Harper’s Ferry existing.  So this volume gives needed attention to what precedes Antietam, which was quite significant, since this encompassed the largest surrender of U.S. troops until World War II, and Robert E. Lee’s first defeat as an army commander, at South Mountain.

BR: Your book has been in the works a long time – as long as I’ve known you. Can you describe how long it took, what the stumbling blocks were, and what you discovered along the way?

SH: It took at least twenty years.  A big reason it took so long is working a full-time job and raising three kids is not conducive to writing.  But I was very disciplined and pecked away at it.  There were certainly times that I despaired I would ever finish it, but there was also something about the learning and writing process that I really enjoyed which always pulled me back.  Much as I enjoy writing it does not come easily to me.  There were many nights I would sit staring at the computer screen and never write a word, and more times that I would struggle to find the right words to describe something.  It was like getting stuck in the mud.  You had to keep pushing and eventually you broke free and started moving again.

There were plenty of stumbling blocks along the way.  Many have faded from memory but George McClellan was one.  He was not so much a stumbling block as much as he was a conundrum.  The first chapter of the book is his story from his arrival in Washington after First Bull Run to his return to command after Second Manassas.  I tried to avoid that chapter at first.  Everyone analyzes McClellan.  I thought I could avoid his controversial personality and history and just focus on the campaign but that proved a foolish thought.  You cannot separate the McClellan of the Maryland Campaign from his history before that campaign.  To understand the campaign the reader had to know McClellan’s history.  I also wrestled with how to treat McClellan.  My initial approach was to follow the lead of a host of writers and historians and bash him as a weak and vacillating commander with a monumental ego.  McClellan is easy to bash, but the more I studied him, his campaigns and his relationships with the Lincoln administration, I felt my initial treatment too critical and I re-wrote the chapter, this time taking a more sympathetic perspective.  I let this re-write sit and when I read it again decided that it too failed to achieve a balanced assessment.  I had strayed too far in the other direction.  This lead to more research and a third re-write, which is what ended up in the book.  My final analysis of McClellan is critical but I think it is honest and evaluates him in the context of the circumstances and conditions he faced both politically and on the military front.

When you work on a project of this size and for this long you are constantly encountering things you did not know, or uncovering evidence that challenges convention.  Two examples are the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia.  The legend is that the Army of the Potomac was an immense host that failed to win a decisive victory at Antietam because McClellan was too cautious and inept and the Army of Northern Virginia, vastly outnumbered and reduced by the summer’s fighting to a hard-core of less than 40,000 men, simply outfought them.  I discovered the reality was considerably different.  The Confederates fought well in every engagement in the campaign, but the reason they ended up with an army of 40,000 or less at Antietam was the result of straggling on a scale the army would not experience again until the Appomattox Campaign.  Confederate logistics utterly failed their soldiers, and when combined with the arduous marching required during the campaign, men broke down by the thousands sick or exhausted.   During the Battle of South Mountain some of Longstreet’s brigades lost far more men to straggling on the march from Hagerstown to Boonsboro than they did in the battle.  If you don’t believe the Confederates experienced a crisis in straggling then read Lee’s correspondence immediately after the Maryland Campaign.  As for the Army of the Potomac, it was not as large as is commonly believed, and was beset by numerous organizational and logistical issues the impaired its effectiveness.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What sources did you rely on most?

SH: I typically like to assemble my research for a chapter before I start writing.  The research also guides the story the chapter needs to tell.  But I sometimes was so eager to write – because I really enjoy the process – that I would get started before I finished the research.  I don’t recommend this method as it leads to an excessive amount of re-writing when you discover evidence that contradicts something you have already written.

The U.S. Army Heritage Education Center, Dartmouth College, the National Archives and Library of Congress were four of the most important archives among many I accessed for this project.  USAHEC houses the finest collection of Union related manuscript material in the country and it is an absolutely first class resource to use.  Besides all the official documents, correspondence, regimental books, etc., that the National Archives houses they had an obscure collection called Antietam Studies, which contained dozens of letters from veterans of the battle mainly to Ezra Carman, a veteran of the battle, and its historian in the late 19th Century, documenting in great detail their unit’s part in the battle, and sometimes, in the entire campaign.  The Library of Congress had Ezra Carman’s massive unpublished manuscript of the Maryland Campaign, which is indispensable to any study of the campaign.  Thankfully, Tom Clemens did a masterful job of editing this manuscript and it has been published by Savas BeatieDartmouth College housed the John Gould Collection.  Gould was an officer in the 10th Maine Infantry at Antietam who in the 1890’s initially set out to determine where General Joseph K. Mansfield fell at Antietam, but the project expanded until Gould was receiving correspondence from dozens of Union and Confederate veterans who fought in the cornfield and East Woods.  Although there is a great deal of correspondence from Confederate soldiers in the Antietam Studies and Gould Collection, for wartime manuscript material the Southern Historical Collection at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the largest.

When I started this project the web as we know it did not exist yet, but in the last few years I used it quite a bit.  The best on-line source for the Maryland Campaign is [Brian Downey's] Antietam on the Web.  It is an excellent resource.

BR: What’s next for you?

SH: Next is volume 2, which will cover the Battle of Antietam, the end of the campaign and the aftermath of Antietam, both in the battlefield area and nationally.  My guess is it will take three years.

We’re all looking forward to that – but good luck with that three year schedule!





Two New Antietam Titles From Savas-Beatie

19 09 2012

This will be brief. Not because these two new books from Savas-Beatie don’t deserve blogspace, but because they are each parts of series’ which I’ve talked about before and which are familiar to most of my readers. Brad Gottfried’s The Maps of Antietam is the third entry from him in the now four-volume atlas series. The layout is the same: facing pages of text and maps, breaking the Maryland Campaign down into action sequences. Again, the maps are clear and uncluttered, which is a good thing if you’re looking for a nice smooth narrative. Not such a good thing if you’re a map geek, but then I don’t think this series targets you anyway. The number: 122 maps, covering the campaign from Sept. 2 through Sept. 20. I spoke briefly with Prof. Bradley at Antietam this past weekend and got him to inscribe my copy, however I forgot to ask what is next for him. Look for more details on this one in my upcoming review in America’s Civil War.

Next is volume 2 of Dr. Thomas Clemens’s edition of the Ezra Carman papers, The Maryland Campaign of September, 1862. Like volume 1, this one has the same thorough, insightful notes that can only be provided by one of the foremost authorities – arguably THE authority – on the 1862 Maryland Campaign. Different this time around is the incorporation of the Carman maps into the text, and rather than placing all maps at the beginning of the book they are inserted in the corresponding text sections. Volume 1 took us through South Mountain, and Volume 2 covers the battle of Antietam. Big news: there will be a volume 3 that will feature the close of the campaign after Sept. 17 including the Battle of Shepherdstown as well as some selected correspondence from Carman’s files. So, we got that going for us, which is nice. Unfortunately this one was in the mail when I left for Antietam on Saturday, so even though we spent the weekend hanging out I wasn’t able to get Tom to sign it. But I expect I’ll be seeing him again at the Save Historic Antietam Foundation work day on November 17. You should come down to the battlefield, help us out, and get your copy inscribed as well!





Popular Drivel

24 08 2012

If you haven’t heard about “historian” Richard Slotkin’s new book on Antietam, Google it. I will not link to it here. I refuse. Just like the Supreme Court and prior restraint, the book has been roundly rejected by a number of Antietam scholars I know. But check out this critique of a recent interview this “historian” – make that “MAJOR historian” – recently did with NPR.





Save Historic Antietam Foundation Lecture Series 9/8/2012

7 08 2012

Save Historic Antietam Foundation Inc. is pleased to announce a special lecture series in honor of the 150th Anniversary of the battle of Antietam.  The lectures will take place in the Mumma Farm barn at Antietam National Battlefield on Saturday September 8, starting at 9:00.  This event will also feature presentations from the recipients of two special scholarships funded by SHAF.  Daniel Vermilya has received the first Joseph L.  Harsh Scholar Award and will share his research on the Union Army at Antietam.  Susan Rosenwald was awarded the special Sesquicentennial Award and she will share her research about the role and actions of Clara Barton at Sharpsburg.  Other speakers will include Dennis Frye, Chief Historian of Harper’s Ferry National Park, Dr. Mark Snell, director of the George Tyler Moore Center for Study of the Civil War and local columnist and writer Tim Rowland.  The event is free and open to the public, and no reservations will be required.   Donations to SHAF will be accepted and there will be book signing by the authors and other items for sale.

Schedule:

9:00-9:30 – Coffee and Danish

9:30-9:45 – Opening Remarks, Tom Clemens, President, SHAF

9:45-10:30 – Session I, Dr. Mark Snell, “Causes of the Civil War”

10:30-10:45 – Break

10:45-11:30 – Session II, Dan Vermilya, Harsh Scholar recipient, “Perceptions, Not Realities: The Strength, Experience, and Condition of the Army of the Potomac at Antietam”

11:30-12:00 – Awards

12:00-1:00 – Lunch, Box Lunch available, by pre-order only $10.00 each*

1:00-1:45 – Session III, Susan Rosenwald, Sesquicentennial Award recipient, “Clara Barton at Antietam”

1:45-2:00 – Break

2:00-2:45 – Session IV, Dennis Frye, “September Suspense: Lincoln’s Union in Peril”

2:45-3:00 – Break

3:00-3:45 – Session V, Tim Rowland, “Odd Incidents of Maryland Campaign”

3:45 – Closing Remarks

* Preorder on-line at www.SHAF.org, choices will be available on the website.





Sharpsburg and Gettysburg

4 06 2012

Say it like Peter Brady.

This weekend I shot down to Sharpsburg, MD, for a Save Historic Antietam Foundation board meeting. I was so engrossed in thougths about some things I wanted to discuss that I missed my exit on the PA Turnpike. If you’re a SHAF member (and you should be), there are some interesting things in the works for us. First and foremost make sure you’re connected to us via our website and Facebook page. These will be the places to go to keep abreast of happenings in the organization. We are dragging ourselves kicking and screaming into 2008 :-)

After lunch with friends Tom and Angela Clemens and David Langbart, I stopped into the ANB visitor’s center and said a quick hello to ranger Mannie Gentile, whom I was glad to see at work behind the reception desk.

Then in keeping with the theme established that morning, I again missed turns on a trip I’ve made many times from Sharpsburg to Gettysburg. I made a quick stop at the visitor’s center, and equally brief visits with friends Bernadette at Battlefields & Beyond Military History Book Shoppe and Jim at The American History Store. I checked into my room and took a little nap, then drove back into town and made the acquaintance of fellow Monongahela Valley native Ronn Palm at his fine (and free) Museum of Civil War Images on Baltimore Street. It’s really quite a fantastic collection he has there, mostly of Pennsylvania soldiers, many identified, and artifacts related to them and their regiments. Give it a tumble when you’re in town.

Sunday morning I had a nice breakfast with friend and now Gettysburg Resident Chris Army. Then it was back on the road to Pittsburgh – I can’t count how many times I’ve made that trip. This time I made it missing two turns. But at least it was a nice day for it.








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