Dodging the Rebel Plug-Uglies at Antietam with the 30th Ohio

    The 30th Ohio's experience in battle at Antietam was brief and bloody. Going into action in the afternoon by driving west from the Burnside Bridge, the regiment was caught on the flank by General A.P. Hill's Light Division and clobbered: Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Jones, commanding the regiment, was captured, both color bearers gunned down, and the regiment sustained heavy casualties. 

    Whitelaw Reid described in Ohio in the War how the 30th Ohio was driven from the field at Antietam on the afternoon of September 17, 1862. "Upon reaching the bridge, it was ordered forward on the double quick to a stone wall 500 yards in advance. It was necessary to pass over a field recently plowed in order to reach the wall. When the line had advanced as far as the field, the men were almost exhausted and for want of proper support the left flank of the regiment was unprotected. General A.P. Hill's division came down with crushing weight on the exposed flank. The regiment endeavored to execute a movement by the right flank in order to avoid the blow, but it was thrown into some confusion and was compelled to fall back to the river bank. The national colors were torn in 14 places by the enemy's balls and two colors bearers fell dead on the field. Sergeant White stood up and waved the flag defiantly in the enemy's face until he fell, never to rise again and Sergeant Carter grasped the flagstaff so firmly in his death agony that it could be with difficulty taken from his hands." (The two deceased color bearers were Sergeant Nathan J. White of Co. F and Sergeant William Carter of Co. C; both men are buried at Antietam National Cemetery in Sharpsburg.)

    Among those eyewitnesses was Private Isiah Robb of Co. I of the 30th Ohio. A prewar brickmaker and journalist, Robb would in 1864 be promoted to the rank of corporal but was killed in action September 1, 1864 at the Battle of Jonesboro, Georgia. His account of the Maryland campaign appeared in the October 3, 1862 issue of the Tuscarawas Advocate and is reproduced below.


The late war color guard of the 30th Ohio proudly holding their regimental and national banners with several of the men wearing 15th Army Corps badges. The members of the color guard of the regiment were selected for their steadiness and bravery in battle, and knowing the high rate of casualties sustained by these men, it took a high degree of courage to even accept an appointment to the color guard. The flags were the pride of the regiment and those selected to bear them in battle had the deep respect of both officers and men. 

Camp on the Potomac near Sharpsburg, Maryland,

September 21, 1862

Since my last writing to you, the 30th Ohio has seen what might be called “active service.” General Jacob Cox’s division left Upton Hill, Virginia on September 5th, marched to Washington City, thence into the state of Maryland for the purpose of assisting in “cleaning out” this most beautiful country. We met with no opposition until our arrival at the Monocacy River near Frederick City. Here the Rebel pickets were posted with artillery, but McMullin’s 1st Ohio Battery with the First Brigade of Ohio troops made them ‘dust.’ At Frederick, Stuart’s cavalry were placed to intercept our advance, Jackson having passed with his whole command a few days before. Here there was quite a hot little engagement for a short time, which ended in our taking possession of the town without much loss, and getting quite a number of prisoners. The Rebels retired to Frederick Heights, and here they planted their artillery and opened upon our advance. Our artillery and cavalry soon drove them from this position, and they fell back to Middletown, contending every foot of the road as they retired. From Middletown they were still compelled to fall back to South Mountain, where they joined the main force under Hill and Longstreet’s command. Here they had a strong position and were determined to exterminate the “Yankee scum” as they called us.

All that remains of the national colors of the 30th Ohio


    On Sunday morning the 14th, General Cox’s division, among others, was marched forward for the purpose of trying their hands in a regular pitched battle. The Rebels were well protected by timber in the front and heavy limestone fences in the rear of the timber, and the mountain so steep and rugged that outside the road, it was impossible for anything but infantry to get up to the top. It seemed almost impossible to drive them from their position, yet it was done by hard fighting, and a heavy loss on both sides. I cannot account for it, yet it is the case, their loss was four to our one. The 12th, 23rd, and 30th Ohio were in the very hottest of this battle, which lasted the whole day, and if you had been there and seen the dead Rebels lying in their front, you would have said that they had done great execution. I saw 15 lying in one pile behind a stone fence, where they all fell into one heap. From here the Rebels retreated to Sharpsburg, determined there to stand and show the Yankees “Southern pluck.”

    On Tuesday morning, the ball opened with artillery and continued through the entire day. This was nothing more than what I would call an artillery duel, although many a poor soldier was made to bite the dust, as we had to lay under artillery fire all day. On Wednesday morning by daylight, our artillery opened up, and thundered away as if they were determined to do something. In a short time, the infantry were all on the move and musketry could be heard all along our lines in the center and on the right. Our brigade did not participate in the fight in the forepart of the day but had to lie under a heavy artillery fire all the time, which is very disagreeable indeed. At times it cannot be helped, so we have to grin and bear it. In the afternoon the Rebels began to get a little to impudent in our neighborhood, hurling their “plug uglies” into our ranks rather more frequently than we desired.

Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Jones, 30th O.V.I.
Captured September 17, 1862 at Antietam

    About 4 p.m., we got into line and marched forward in the face of the enemy at the double quick until we came within musket shot of their batteries. Here we fixed bayonets, made a charge, and got into a cornfield where we found more than we expected. The 30th Ohio happened to run into “a bad fix.” The Rebels got crossfire on our rear, and a heavy fire in our front, thinning our ranks. Here both of our color bearers were killed, and we were ordered to retreat which we did at the double quick for about 400 yards, when the engagement became general and our regiment escaped their cross fire. The fight continued until dark, when the firing ceased, each party still holding possession of their own ground. If it had not been for a stone fence, the 30th Ohio would have been almost annihilated.

30th Ohio regimental colors


    On Thursday morning both parties had their skirmishers on the lines occupied the evening before. No engagement took place on this day, as we were awaiting reinforcements which arrived in the evening. The skirmishers of both lines kept pecking away at each other whenever the opportunity presented itself. It was a rather hard sight to look and see the dead and wounded, lying on the field between two lines of skirmishers, and neither party dared offer the poor fellows any assistance whatever. Our company (I) was on the skirmish line and one of our company (William Kennedy) was wounded and lay on the Rebel line all day. When a kind-hearted Rebel went to bring him some water, our skirmishers made a target of the poor fellow and he was shot. I was an eyewitness to this, but did not know that they were offering any assistance to our men, or they would not have been disturbed.

    On Friday morning, we expected a big fight, but when daylight came the graybacks were gone, having skedaddled in the night and were crossing the Potomac. General Burnside with his corps pursued them but was too late; Secessia had escaped and Maryland was ‘cleaned out,’ a free state once more. Yesterday our batteries kept shelling them all day and until 10 o’clock at night, and today there is occasional cannonading, the result I know not. These were two very hard-fought battles and the sacrifice of life is very heavy. Our loss is comparatively light compared to theirs. The fields are almost covered with dead Rebels.

Private Albert George, Co. B, 30th O.V.I.
Killed in action September 17, 1862 at Antietam

    The 30th Ohio lost in these two engagements 130 killed, wounded, and missing. Company I lost three killed, eight wounded, and one missing. Let me here say a few words in reference to the Ohio troops here in the engagements. Most bravely did they fight and most nobly did they die. They have been highly complimented by their general commanding [Burnside] and by all troops from sister states, and especially by the Pennsylvanians. Hand in hand and side by side did the troops from these two states fight, each vying with the other to excel in helping put down this rebellion. What a pleasure it was to the writer (who is a native of one and a citizen of the other) to see the soldiers of these two states meet and shake hands after the battles were over and talk about their glorious victories.

    And Tuscarawas may well feel proud of the small squad of boys she has furnished in this contest. I call them all boys as they are mostly young men, and none so old as to be ashamed of the title. They acquitted themselves nobly and deserve honor and praise, if it should come from no higher source than a private; they shall have it for well they deserve it.  I will state here that the friends of all those not mentioned in this letter may take it for granted that the remainder of the company are all well and in good spirits, and eager to push forward and assist in putting an end to the rebellion.

Officers of the 30th O.V.V.I. pose upon the steps of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus at the time of their mustering out in August 1865. The regiment traveled during its four years of service a total of 13,200 miles encompassing nine of the eleven states of the Confederacy. The regiment saw action everywhere from Carnifex Ferry in western Virginia to Vicksburg, Mississippi, Atlanta, Georgia, and all through the Carolinas. 


Sources:
Letter from Private Isaiah Robb, Co. I, 30th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Tuscarawas Advocate (Ohio), October 3, 1862, pg. 3

Reid, Whitelaw. Ohio in the War: Volume II, pg. 204

Isaiah Robb was born around 1830 in Pennsylvania and prior to the war worked as a brickmaker and journalist in Tuscarawas Co., Ohio. He enlisted as a private in Co. I of the 30th Ohio Volunteer Infantry on August 22, 1861. He re-enlisted in 1864 and was promoted to the rank of corporal March 6, 1864. He was killed September 1, 1864 at the Battle of Jonesboro, Georgia and is buried at Marietta National Cemetery. Frederick Frahm wrote an opera about Robb in 2013.

Comments

  1. Hi Dan, thanks for the article. I reminded me that I have a photo of five 30th Ohio Veterans displaying their regimental number on their canteens--a pretty cool image. It includes D. W. Edwards, W. H. Lyons, William J. Wright, William Whitmer, and L. J. Walton. I can be reached at civilwarbooks@yahoo.com -- I don't check my gmail. Patrick Schroeder

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