Chickamauga’s Snodgrass Cabin

24 09 2014

With the passing of the anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga, here’s my In Harm’s Way/Collateral Damage article on the Snodgrass Cabin, which ran in Civil War Times magazine in 2010. This is the article as submitted – some changes were made to the final product.

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The fighting between Union Major General William Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland and Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee reached a climax on the farm of George Washington Snodgrass and the series of hills known as Horseshoe Ridge on September 20th, 1863. While the story of how Union Major General George H. Thomas made his stand there and earned his nickname, The Rock of Chickamauga, is well known, that of the family of those displaced by the fighting is less so.

G. W. Snodgrass left Virginia and came to Georgia prior to 1843. Sometime between 1848 and 1851, he moved from Chattanooga to Walker County, and the deed for his purchase of the farm from Sammuel Igon was recorded on September 8, 1855. The ground was far from prime farmland, dotted as it was with hills and ravines. The farm’s cabin was about a half mile from the north-south LaFayette Road, accessed by a farm lane running north from the east-west Vittetoe Road, and sat near the top of Snodgrass Hill which, while wooded, was open with good visibility.

The log cabin was a “dogtrot” design, two structures connected by a covered breezeway. The compound also included a smokehouse, and was surrounded by a split-rail fence. A small peach orchard grew on the west side of the cabin. From the house site, a ridge spur runs north, into what was the Snodgrass cornfield. Other farm buildings on either side of the lane included a barn and servants’ quarters. A small family cemetery sat at the top of Snodgrass Hill. James T. Snodgrass, who died at seven months in 1861, was buried there.

Using the 1860 census as a basis, G. W. Snodgrass was about 53 years old in September 1863, though some accounts say he was 60, and daughter Mary Jane recalled that he was 71 when he died in 1890, which would make him about 44 in at the time of the battle. Twice widowed, he lived on the farm with his third wife, Elizabeth, and seven children, ranging in age from four year old Martha Ellen to crippled, adult son John. Another son, Charles, had left to serve in the Confederate army.

Years later Julia Kittie Snodgrass, who was six at the time of the battle, recalled hearing the sounds of fighting at Alexander’s Bridge on Friday, Sept. 18th. Her father stubbornly refused to leave his home that day, but as the bullets flew more thickly on the 19th – some even penetrating the cabin’s roof – Mr. Snodgrass determined it was time to leave. About 3:00 PM, the family headed northwest and camped in a wooded ravine. They stayed there for about eight days, and while they were without shelter and had little food, they didn’t lack company. Also taking refuge in the area were other area families, some of whose properties played prominent roles in the battle: Brothertons, Poes, Kellys, Brocks, McDonalds, and Mullises. As the fighting died down on Sunday, September 20th, the refugees heard the strains of a southern tune being played by a band, which they happily interpreted as confirmation of Confederate victory.

Many of these families also had sons in the Confederate army, most notably in Company I, 2nd Battalion, 1st Confederate Regiment, which was part of Brigadier General John Jackson’s brigade of Major General Benjamin Cheatham’s Division in Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s Corps of the Army of Tennessee. This unit’s rolls included members of the Snodgrass, Brotherton, McDonald, Kelly, Brock and Dyer families, and the regiment’s major was James Clarke Gordon, who swore them into service in 1861 and was a son of the owner of the Gordon mansion at nearby Crawfish Springs. So, added to the hardships of lack of food resulting from two foraging armies, and homes destroyed or otherwise occupied by wounded soldiers prohibiting the return of their rightful owners was the uncertainty of the wellbeing of loved ones involved in the fighting.

The Snodgrass cabin and outbuildings had been used to treat wounded, mostly Union soldiers, during and after the battle. When the family returned to their home eight days after the battle, they found it “a gory shambles”. While the wounded had been removed, most of the family’s possessions were gone, bloodstained, or in pieces. The damage was so extensive they were forced to relocate to a campsite near Ringgold, Georgia. They didn’t return to their farm until the war was over.

Several accounts of the battle state that Charles Snodgrass died on or near his family’s homestead during the battle. However, Chickamauga historian and author David Powell’s research of Consolidated Service Records (CSR) indicates that Charles deserted in the summer of 1863 (one of at least four local men to take that route out of the unit), his name last appearing on the July/August roll. Union authorities took him into custody in Walker County and sent him to Louisville, and on December 28, 1863 he took an oath of allegiance to the Federal government. He was later released north of the Ohio River. While it’s not clear if he was present on the field during the battle, he almost certainly was not killed during it.

The cabin that stands on Snodgrass Hill today is not that which stood in 1863. As recently as 1935 Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park correspondence stated that the original structure still stood. But by 1953, the Superintendent determined that the cabin was constructed “some time after 1890”. In a 1959 letter the Acting Superintendent wrote that “[a]round 1900 the house was in such a dilapidated condition that it was taken down and reconstructed” and that “[i]t is probable that some of the logs in the old new building were taken from the original house.”

All trace of the hilltop cemetery has disappeared.

Thanks to Maps of Chickamauga author David Powell and Lee White of the National Parks Service for their assistance in the preparation of this article.





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.





I Have Always Depended on the Kindness of Stangers

1 05 2010

OK, well maybe not strangers, but certainly folks who are under no obligation to help me.  I’m back from my day trip to Antietam.  NPS historian Ted Alexander provided me with more information on my In Harm’s Way subject house than I could ever fit into an article of under 1,000 words.  I could have read through the material all day, but I only had a couple of hours and with the help of my buddy Mike waded through the material and made copies of the most essential stuff.  Cultural Resources Specialist and historian Keven Walker took us over to the house and gave us a fine tour of the structure along with detailed history of the building and its occupants.  Thanks to both Ted and Keven for their expert and enthusiastic assistance.

We decided to drive back to Pittsburgh via Gettysburg (kind of like Uneasy Rider driving to LA from Jackson, MS via Omaha).  We ran into Antietam ranger John Hoptak on the street there, outside the Farnsworth House bookstore.  It was a beautiful, warm day – lot’s of folks milling about.  Curiously, many merchants stuck to their 5:00 PM closing times.  Of course I’m not privy to their financial records, but it seems odd to me, especially considering many of these are small businesses actively staffed by their owners, implying more flexibility in scheduling operating hours (that is to say, “Look Marge, the hotel parking lot is full and there are a bunch of people eating outside O’Rorke’s.  Maybe we should stay open until 6:00 or 7:00″).  I’m just sayin’.

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Day Trip to Maryland

29 04 2010

Tomorrow early AM I’m off for Antietam National Battlefield with my friend Mike.  I have some work to do with NPS historian Ted Alexander at his office, then will spend some time at one of the farmhouses on the battlefield.  We should have a little time to bum around before heading for home, but this trip is feels more like work than fun.  Fun work, nonetheless, and it pretty much beats anything I do in my “real job”.  This is for a future installment of In Harm’s Way for Civil War Times, which is going very well thanks for asking.  I admit to preferring the subjects of the articles which allow me to visit the site and look through the files myself.  The subject of the article which will appear in the next issue that hits the stands – I submitted it last week and reviewed the edited pdf file yesterday – is on a Western Theater battlefield, and I had to write it remotely, with the help of others (a friend on the NPS staff sent me copies of the file, and another friend took photos – they did right by me).  I feel more connected to the house if I can crawl around it, measure it, and take photos – lots of photos – myself.  But I’m not complaining; this is a good gig.

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Done and Doner

21 04 2010

The second installment of In Harm’s Way has been sent to my editors at Civil War Times, and the third victim has been chosen.  I’ll be back in the Eastern Theater, and will again get to personally visit the subject property and get lots of photos.

I also sent in my two cents on the Virginia Confederate History Month controversy as discussed here.  I don’t know if it’s exactly what they were looking for, but it’s what I think.  I may post my full comment here, but not until after the magazine ships.

Today, for the first time ever, Bull Runnings topped 1,000 WordPress hits in a day.  I topped my previous high month a few days ago, and there are nine days left in the month yet.  Last week, I doubled my previous high week.  For mysterious reasons not fully understood by me, the site since April 6 has been receiving two-and-a-half to three times as many hits as it has in recent months.  Thanks and welcome to all my new readers.  I hope you’ll come back regularly.  I haven’t written many new articles this month, but hope to get back to regular posting of original content and Bull Run Resource material soon.

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New Civil War Times Department: “In Harm’s Way”

29 03 2010

The June, 2010 issue of Civil War Times magazine ushers in the first installment of a new department I’ll be writing called In Harm’s Way.  These columns will feature homes on or in the vicinity of battlefields.  While the structures or the grounds they occupy will typically have played some role in a battle, the focus will be on the occupants and their stories before, during, and after the action.  This is an idea I pitched to editor Dana Shoaf, who saw something in it and gave me the go-ahead for the first article on Gettysburg’s Lydia Leister house, site of Union General George G. Meade’s headquarters on July 2 & 3, 1863.  

I made arrangements with Ranger Scott Hartwig at the park and at the end of January spent a couple of days there, first in the library where Ranger John Heiser gave me access to the park files on the house, and the next day at the house where Ranger Troy Harman unlocked the door and allowed me to photograph practically every square inch of the tiny log cabin.  Not many interior photos made the article, so let me share a few here (click the thumbs for a larger image):

Kitchen:

      

Loft:

 

Bedroom:

    

I’m looking forward to this new project, which is scheduled for 6 issues.  It presents some interesting creative challenges, and will also require me to make new contacts since I won’t be able to travel to all the sites.  The subject of the next article has been chosen, inquiries have been sent, materials have been received, and writing has commenced.  Let me know what you think of the articles, and if you really like them, let the magazine know!

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