Monday, June 19, 2017

Michigan officer: 'Your husband has been thus sacrificed'

17th Michigan Private Elijah Ordiway (left) died of disease. His commanding officer,
Captain Loren L. Comstock. informed his widow about his death.
(State of Michigan, Library and Archives, Seeking Michigan)
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In late-summer 1862, Private Elijah Ordiway dodged Rebel bullets at South Mountain and Antietam, but the 29-year-old soldier couldn't avoid the Civil War's most prolific killer: disease. Before the 17th Michigan left Maryland for Virginia, the married father of three young daughters was struck down by typhoid fever. On Nov. 12, 1862, he succumbed to the disease at a Federal hospital in Weverton, Md., a hamlet about three miles down the Potomac River from the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry, Va.

Twelve days later from a camp near Fredericksburg, Va., Ordiway's commanding officer wrote a note to his widow in Adrian, Mich., informing her of Elijah's death.

"It is to me an unpleasant task to impart bad news to those who have been separated from their loved ones, sacrificed to the demon of this unholy war, on the altar of our common country," began Captain Loren L. Comstock's one-page condolence letter to Maria Ordiway. "It is however my painful duty to inform you that your husband has been thus sacrificed." (Complete letter below.)

        Elijah Ordiway died in a hospital in Weverton, Md., downriver from Harpers Ferry.
                                                                     (Google Maps)

Ordiway's service in the Union army was oh-so-brief. He had been mustered into Company A of the 17th Michigan on Aug 19, 1862. Elijah had been a member of the Adrian Cadets, a military organization in his hometown 70 miles southwest of Detroit.

"I cannot hope to offer consolation in this your trying affliction," continued Comstock's note to Mrs. Ordiway, "but God will be merciful to the widow and orphans who suffer such a mournful bereavement, and the memory of your 'mourned and lost' will be cherished by his former companion in arms, the surviving members of the Adrian Cadets."

After the war, Ordiway's remains were recovered from the village along the Potomac River and re-buried at the national cemetery in Sharpsburg, Md., in plot no. 2485.

One year and one day after Comstock wrote the note to Widow Ordiway, his war came to an end when he was mortally wounded by a sharpshooter in the door of his tent in Knoxville, Tenn. The Mexican War veteran, promoted to lieutenant colonel in the spring of 1863, was 39.

National Archives via

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-- Elijah Ordiway widow's pension file, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C., via

-- A Comstock Genealogy; Descendants of William Comstock of New London, Conn., who died after 1662, edited by Cyrus B. Comstock, The Knickerbocker Press, New York, 1907.

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