This year marks the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, fought September 17, 1862, in the fields, woods, and roadways surrounding Sharpsburg, Maryland. Two of the most recognizable features of the old battlefield are the Lower (or Rohrbach) Bridge, shown above, and the Sunken Road. During the battle, the bridge became a focal point for Union troops of the Ninth Corps which made multiple attempts to cross the span while under intense gunfire from Georgians on the bluffs above the bridge (behind the camera position).
As deadly as “Burnside’s Bridge” turned out to be, perhaps even more shocking was the carnage in and around a sunken farm lane just north of the bridge. It was there that three of my own ancestors, the Chambers boys from Marshall County, West Virginia, charged on Confederates using the farm road as a natural entrenchment. When the fighting was over, bodies and wounded men filled the road and fields, so much so that the sunken road earned the nickname “Bloody Lane.”
Several boys from York County also attacked the Sunken Road. Unlike my trio of great-great-uncles, however, not all of them lived to recount the horror that night around the campfires.
Among the dozens of Union regiments which assaulted the Sunken Road was the 130th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, a regiment partially raised in York County, Pa., in August 1862 by 24-year-old Manchester Township schoolteacher Levi Maish.
In the ranks of the 130th at Antietam a month later was 18-year-old Edward Fisher, a laborer and blacksmith from Peach Bottom Township in southeastern York County. The regiment boasted many “squirrel hunters and duck shooters,”who had developed a reputation as good shots.
At Antietam on the morning of that fateful September 17th 150 years ago, Fisher and his comrades in Col. Dwight Morris’s brigade of the Second Corps awaited the orders to advance. For the first time they would “see the elephant,” a war-time term for the first time in combat. The men had enlisted for a $115 cash bounty in response to patriotic calls to duty in York and other nearby towns. Now they faced death in fields in central Maryland.
The order finally came, after much nervous waiting, and Colonel Maish led the 130th forward toward the distant Confederate lines, much of which were concealed by the undulating terrain. Artillery shells exploded overhead, dropping some men. As the regiment approached the Rebels, the crackle of musketry began taking its toll. Young Fisher watched in horror as his friend Richard Smith died.
Not long afterward, Fisher spotted two young Rebels approaching him. Instinctively he raised his rifle and prepared to fire at the closest enemy soldier.
“For God’s sake,” the Rebels frantically cried, “Do not shoot!”
Private Fisher refrained, despite his anger and grief over his long-time friend’s death. He reluctantly took the Southerners prisoner and escorted them back across the fields to the provosts for processing.
Returning to the front lines, he experienced “one thing I would not like to do again. I was loading and firing so fast among the hail of bullets and shell, etc.,” he recalled, that I did not notice where I was until I saw the Johnnys on the right of me in a corn field loading their guns, could see them ram the cartridges plain. I was between the two lines.” His own line was behind him, “up on the side of the hill.”
Fisher fell in with the troops, none of whom he knew. Much later he made his way back to Union lines, where he learned that his own regiment, the 130th, had fallen back to the Roulette farm to regroup and reorganize. There he found his remaining comrades late in the evening. The exhausted York County boys then slept in an open field for two nights, listening to the cries of the wounded being treated in the nearby farm buildings.
Edward Fisher survived the Civil War, mustering out with the 130th when their nine-months term of enlistment expired in late May 1863. His later life proved tragic — his first wife died; he divorced his second one for cruelty; remarried a third time; and finally sank into deep depression after his house burned down. He is buried in the town cemetery in Milroy, Indiana.
Fisher’s account is just one of more than 200 similar accounts from the war included in my recent book I co-wrote with Jim McClure entitles Civil War Voices from York County, Pa. A companion volume, More Civil War Voices from York County, Pa., is due to be published in 2013 to mark the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Campaign and the invasion of York County by Robert E. Lee’s Confederates from the Army of Northern Virginia.
The text of the impressive monument includes this narration:
This memorial marks the Regiment’s right of line in Battle, its left extended to Roulette’s lane below; it went into battle by way of the Roulette farm buildings, about 9:30 A.M., and driving back the enemy, maintained its position at and immediately Northeast of this point on the high ground overlooking Bloody Lane until 1:30 o’clock P.M. when withdrawn to replenish its exhausted ammunition, and then occupied the reserve line.
Casualties at Antietam
Killed in battle 32
Died from wounds 14
Non-fatal wounds 132
Recruited in Cumberland, York, Montgomery, Dauphin and Chester Counties.
Virtue, Liberty and Independence
Erected by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Researcher and author Dennis W. Brandt, the expert on York County Civil War soldiers, offers this additional information on Edward Fisher.
He was born September 13, 1843, died February 19, 1923, and stood 5′ 7″ tall with light hair and gray eyes. He was a rarity. He said he was 18 when he enlisted and actually was.
Born in Martic Township, Lancaster County, the son of Henry & ? Brenbarger Fisher; in 1860, lived with the Rufus Wiley family; married Dulcena Jones July 6, 1870, in Rush County, Indiana; children: Wilbur (b. 07/28/71); Dulcena died in 1871; married Dulcena’s sister Hannah J. Jones May 5, 1873, in Rush County; in 1890, lived in Milroy, Rush County; Hannah died in 1911; married Theresa McMurry “Tessie” Shultey March 21, 1912, in Rush County, but divorced her December 1913 for her cruel treatment of him; married widow and divorcee Jeffie Bosley Ledman January 19, 1915, in Rushville, Indiana; that marriage went sour because, he said, she belonged to the Daughters of the Confederacy and was “full of Rebel,” and he became fearful she would steal his pension; maintained a life-long correspondence with 130th Pa comrade Joseph Edward Evans; fell into depression after a fire destroyed his home and all its contents on January 21, 1920, and shortly thereafter was described as a “mental imbecile” who undertook things “injurious to his health”; died of bronchial pneumonia exacerbated by influenza.