Category Archives: Key Event

Sometime important that happened in Archie’s life.

Bloody Lane: No Turning Back

Antietam is a name most Americans have heard. We learn it in high school history. However, many don’t recall why they know it, or even where it is.

Here’s where it is: Robert E Lee’s first invasion of the North occurred near Sharpsburg, Maryland. He was pressing southern momentum at Antietam Creek, toward Washington D.C after recent Confederate victories in Northern Virginia.

Battle_of_Antietam

Here’s why it matters: More Americans — both Southern and Northern — died at Antietam  on September 17, 1862, than any other battle ever fought on our soil.

The deadliest place was the sunken road, later named Bloody Lane. Thousands from both sides fell here while cannon, muskets and men fought tooth and nail.

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My great-grandfather, Archie Van Orden, was in New York at that time, after mustering out from the Union infantry, recovering from serious battle wounds. But Antietam enflamed his patriotism, even if he could not walk. He yearned to rejoin troops fighting for Union. Months later he would enlist in the US Cavalry.

Mere days after the costly standoff at Antietam, with casualties of nearly 23,000, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. In the South, this was a monumental change. No longer was this a war over states rights, they now viewed it as a conflict to pursue a way of life, in which slavery was necessary. For the North, there was finally a future in which no slavery was permitted.

That’s why after Bloody Lane, there was no turning back. Too many Americans on both sides had given their lives for opposed beliefs. Only a winner would take all.

Unconditional Surrender Grant

Most Americans did not know the name Ulysses Simpson Grant in early 1862. However, by late 1868, all knew who he became: President of the United States.

The man known as U.S. Grant seemed destined for the highest office in the USA. He first came to national notice with a nickname: Unconditional Surrender Grant.

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Here’s how that came to be. After the defeat of the Union army by Confederates at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, Northerners became worried, and even despondent, about possibly losing a war they thought would be won in Virginia.

Out west, General Grant was marching his Union troops to surround by land the southern stronghold, Fort Donelson in Tennessee, while the Union navy attacked from the Cumberland River. At first, the battle did not go well for the North — Fort Donelson’s powerful cannon repulsed the Union boats. Then Confederate forces broke through Grant’s lines, seeking their escape from the trap.

800px-Battle_of_Fort_Donelson

U.S. Grant rose to the occasion, rallying his volunteers to resume the offensive, hold their lines, and drive Confederates back into their fort. On February 16, 1862, Southern General Buckner had no choice but to seek terms for surrender.

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“No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender” was Grant’s reply. Telegraphs spread the news of this Union victory like wildfire, vaulting the General to celebrity with his new nickname “Unconditional Surrender Grant.”

In April 1865, my great-grandfather Archibald Van Orden would meet U.S. Grant while serving in his Union honor guard at the long-fought-for surrender of Robert E. Lee’s entire Army of Northern Virginia at Appommattox Courthouse.

Crossroads of Death

My last post was entitled “Crossroads of Life”, focusing on the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, forever changing America for the better.

This post is entitled “Crossroads of Death”, for a key battle that took place in the same time period, beginning December 31, 1862, and ending January 3, 1863.

The USA called it The Battle of Stone’s Creek. The CSA called it The Battle of Murfreesboro.  Either way, it was a watershed clash with critical consequences.

Rosecrans_at_Stones_River

Of all the battles in the Civil War, the highest percentage of casualties on both sides occurred here. One out of every three soldiers engaged in this bloodbath was either killed or wounded. The carnage was inconceivable. As confederates charged one key federal position, four of every five attackers were shot down. No surprise that this hillock was thereafter dubbed “Hell’s Half Acre.”

Prior to this turning point, southern armies in the eastern theatre had repeatedly whipped the northern armies. But Union General Rosencrans proved at Stone’s Creek that the boys in blue could give as good as they got. Northerners finally won a hard-fought struggle with bravery, determination and sacrifice.

Eventually, this battle would enable Union General Sherman to seize control across  Tennessee, readying a surge into Georgia, dealing a mortal cut to the CSA. When my great-grandfather, Archie Van Orden, read news of the great victory at Stone’s Creek, it steeled his resolve to re-enlist for the US Cavalry in 1863.

Crossroads of Life

Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, but it was not to go into effect until 100 days later on January 1, 1863. If slave states in rebellion returned to the Union before then, slaves would not have been freed.

Imagine the tension, the anticipation, the fear, and the hope in the hearts of African-Americans on New Year’s Eve 1862. It was the ultimate crossroads — one road led to a life of freedom; the other to a living death of slavery continued.

Watch Night 1862

As this painting depicts, in evening church services, known as a Watch Night, whole families of slaves waited with baited breath, hungering for the moment a pocket watch would tick to 12:01 AM on January 1, 1863. The crossroads of life were finally reached, which would ultimately end slavery in America forever.

34 Hours of Hell

On Friday, April 12, 1861, Confederate batteries in Charleston, SC opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, which had remained under Federal control. At 4:30 AM the first cannon fired. Bombardment continued for 34 hours. Though none on either side were killed, the shelling remained hellish to Union forces garrisoned in the masonry fort. They were outgunned and undersupplied.

Sumter

After Union supplies of materiel and food were exhausted, Major Robert Anderson had no choice except to surrender to the Confederates by April 14.  Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1861 subsequently called for raising 75,000 troops to defend Washington, D.C. against attack. For all intents and purposes, the Civil War had commenced after the unprovoked attack on Fort Sumter from rebel batteries commanded by General Beauregard.

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Major Anderson was allowed to remove the flag from Fort Sumter. No doubt he and his troops held the final lyrics of the patriotic song written by Francis Scott Key in their hearts for the rest of the dreadful war:
“And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

Can You See The Connection?

What’s the connection between this first picture …

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… and this second picture below?

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The answer is found in this third picture below!

Frederick_Law_Olmsted

This man is Frederick Law Olmsted. He is renowned as the landscape architect of Central Park in NYC. My great grandfather, Archibald Van Orden, visited Central Park, including the sheep’s meadow shown above, when he was garrisoned in NY.

Mr. Olmsted’s greatest service to his nation, however, came during the Civil War, when he was appointed head of the US Sanitary Commission. This precursor of The Red Cross outfitted Hospital Ships, such as the one shown above, to care for Union wounded, near Virginia battlefields in the Peninsula Campaign of 1862.

After Archie was seriously wounded by a minie ball shot into his thigh during the Battle of Gaines’ Mill, he was a beneficiary of this brilliance by F.L. Olmsted. Archie was carried with other wounded soldiers on a horse cart until he reached Harrison’s Landing on the Pamunkey River in VA.

Harrison's Landing

Moved onto the anchored ship “Euterpe”, surgeons removed the minie ball from Archie’s leg, staunched the bleeding, and bandaged the wound. Though he would walk with a limp for the rest of his years, his life was saved by the doctors. Next Archie was transferred to the transport ship “Louisiana”, which would continue his recovery care, while carrying him towards Maryland on his way back home.

Angel of The Waterways

On the Steamer “Louisiana” Archie met an “angel of the waterways,” a nurse who would become one of the most important people in his life — and in mine. Their story and their destinies will be told in full when my book is finally published.

Deadly See-Saw: The Battle of Gaines’ Mill

It is June 27, 1862 — exactly 6 months after Private Archibald Van Orden enlisted in the NY 12th Infantry. He and his Union comrades are now near Richmond, VA, preparing to attack the capitol of the CSA. They are attached to the 3d brigade (General Butterfield), 1st division (General Morell), 5th corps (General Porter), Army of the Potomac, commanded by General George B. McClellan.

Their location is near a home owned by a Mr. Gaines. Colonel G. K. Warren posted his 3d brigade troops, including Archie’s company, on the far left flank of Union lines. To reach them, Confederate forces under General Longstreet attack across treacherous swamps. At 2PM, the Battle of Gaines’ Mill engages in full.

Gaines' Mill Battle

Major Henry B. Clitz, leading the 12th Infantry, counterattacks charging rebels, repulsing them in a cacophonous, back-and-forth struggle of muskets and men. Union forces held on for dear life. Confederate forces lashed out again and again.

As evening neared, southern General “Stonewall” Jackson erupted in a fury over inability to displace federals, exhorting his men to sweep ahead with bayonets. General Sykes was forced to withdraw to a second ridge, but ordered the 12th Infantry to stand their ground, protecting the rest of the brigade as it retreated.

Gaines' Mill Nightfall

By nightfall, 894 Union troops sacrificed their lives in the Battle of Gaines’ Mill. It was considered a tactical victory by General Robert E. Lee, because his men pushed Union lines farther away from Richmond. But it came with a cost of thousands of casualties from his Army of Northern Virginia. While battered, McClellan’s Army of the Potomac would live to fight again — for four more days in the Seven Days Battles, which ended the Peninsula Campaign of 1862.

USA General McClellan and CSA General Lee, opposing commanders in the Seven Days Battles.

USA General McClellan and CSA General Lee, opposing commanders.

One of the fallen at Gaines’ Mill was Private Archibald Van Orden. His wound, though grave, was not fatal. Archie, too, would live to fight another day. But there were daunting challenges standing before him until that day arrived in 1864.