|Post-war image of Robert Patterson with family members, including his mother. He served with the|
19th Indiana at Antietam. (Image courtesy of Shirley Pearson via 19th Indiana Infantry site by Phil Harris)
|A Page 1 obituary of Robert Patterson in|
The Muncie (Ind.) Morning Star on
Sept. 30, 1916, included the
"last photograph" of the veteran.
“His position as pension attorney was the joy and the ‘all’ of his life,” the Morning Star reported, “and it is by old soldiers and widows that he will be missed most of all. He was a man with great charitable ambitions and spent both his time and money in the helping of those who had fought beside him in the great civil strife.”
The obituary wasn’t the first one written about the man who somehow survived the Civil War.
At the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, the 20-year-old private in the 19th Indiana was concussed by an artillery shell burst that sent him and fence rails skyward. Over the next 24 hours, the Iron Brigade soldier witnessed harrowing scenes.
At a battlefield aid station, Patterson watched blood ooze from the chest wound of a fellow private in the 19th Indiana. The man remarkably lived. As Patterson struggled to return to his regiment, he drank “black water” from a stump and became ill. At a makeshift hospital the day after the battle, he saw surgeons amputate limbs, which were buried in a nearby trench. Next to him, a New York soldier writhed in agony from an artillery wound that had torn apart his lower jaw. He begged to be shot.
In a barn in nearby Keedysville, Md., Patterson saw 19th Indiana Private Joshua Jones’ leg wound covered with maggots. Surgeons were fearful he would not survive amputation, but they performed the operation anyway. Their initial prognosis was correct: Jones died 11 days after the battle.
Weak and exhausted, Patterson slowly made his way back to the 19th Indiana, camped near the Potomac River. Believing he was dead, comrades were stunned to see him. His captain was especially astonished: He was writing a note to Patterson’s mother about his death.
|Patterson wearing his Iron Brigade ribbon.|
(Image courtesy Shirley Pearson via
19th Indiana Infantry site by Phil Harris)
Patterson, who was seriously injured in a train accident later in the war, was rocked by tragedy in 1864. His 48-year-old father Samuel, a private in the 36th Indiana, died in an Indiana hospital on Sept. 24, 1864, of wounds suffered at Kennesaw Mountain, Ga.
After the war, Patterson worked a series of jobs -- clerk in the state legislature, postal clerk, postmaster, custodian of the county courthouse and, finally, pension attorney. He dabbled as an inventor, obtaining patents for a unique fastener for a fruit jar and a steel-wire curry comb. Patterson also enjoyed writing, becoming the “poet laureate of the Indiana Grand Army of the Republic.” He “delighted in the work,” the Muncie newspaper noted.
On Sept. 18, 1912, Patterson’s lengthy account of the Battle of Antietam – posted in full below -- was published in The Muncie Morning Star. “Most momentous scenes,” he wrote.
Surely an understatement.
Scenes and incidents of all the battlefield must be guaged [sic] from the standpoint of individual observation. Commanding generals and through the many grades of rank down to the private in the ranks have a corresponding larger or smaller scope of vision, and the scenes are ever changing as those of the kaleidoscope. All were actors on the stage of the great drama of war in their own role, while civilian spectators and non-combatants were far in the rear and behind anything that afford protection from bodily harm.
I had marched and fought in the ranks of the Ninteenth Indiana. Infantry, from Lewensville to Fredericksburg, Va., and from the Rappahannock river back through the series of battles resulting in the second defeat on the historic battle-ground of Bull Run [and] on the first invasion of the Confederate army into Maryland where the first great clash came at South Mountain, September 14, 1862. After terrific slaughter on both sides I had seen the army of invasion driven from their great Gibraltar of natural defense, and under cover of darkness begin its retreat downward on its southern slopes toward the Potomac river, where it made its last stand that resulted in ignominious defeat in the struggle known to the world as the battle of Antietam. Hence my personal observations of the scene must be given from the narrow standpoint of a private who can only see things with which he comes in immediate contact.
|War-time image of Robert Patterson.|
(Photo courtesy Shirley Pearson via
19th Indiana Infantry site by Phil Harris)
We had cared for our dead and wounded at South Mountain on the 15th, when our woefully thin and dust-brown ranks started in persuit [sic] of the retreating army of [Robert E.] Lee, and we were halted on the banks of Antietam creek, where the action of our regiment commenced, and my story begins.
On the afternoon of September 16 we witnessed some of the opening shots of this battle being fired across the creek at the Confederates by Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery, of our Brigade, and other field pieces. As the autumn sun was sinking like a great ball of blood that seemed as an omen of events to come, our brigade crossed the creek, and in battle lines moved cautiously forward. In passing where the enemy had killed some cattle, some of our boys had detached strips of fat from the intestines of the animals which they applied to their guns to prevent rust. I had unconsciously raised the hammer of my gun as was applying the grease about the tube as the regiment halted, when I rested the muzzle of the gun against my left shoulder, and in drawing the string of fat through the guard the gun was discharged, the ball passing through the rim of my hat. The explosion was deafening, and many thought I was injured by a bursted shell of the enemy. I have often wondered if that was not the first shot from a musket in that battle, and if it had happened to have killed me would some think it deliberate suicide. However, the Johnnies had so far proved to be poor marksmen in selecting me for a target, and I had rather a hundred would shoot at me than to take a shot at myself.
Our battle lines pressed steadily until darkness precluded further advance without danger of bringing premature engagement. Here we were ordered to "rest on arms." I shall never forget that William N. Jackson (Uncle Billy) lay side by side on our bed of earth with our knapsacks for a pillow, upon that portentious [sic] night. He was one of twelve recruits who had joined our company at Upton Hill on September 7, and the only one of that number who was not killed, wounded or missing in the valley of death at South Mountain just seven days after joining our ranks.
Opening of the battle
before the Battle of Antietam.
(Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)
|4th U.S. Artillery Battery B, positioned in a field along Hagerstown Pike, fired "death|
into the ranks of gray," Robert Patterson recalled.
(CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE)
| "I shall never forget following his |
young, tall athletic form as he ascended
the slopes of the hill until he fell dead,"
Patterson recalled about
Lieutenant Alois O. Bachman.
(Indiana State Library)
In trying to climb a second fence, a shell bursted apparently just beneath me hurling me with a mass of broken rails high in the air. The concussion injuries were so paralyzing that all seemed a blank to me for some time, I know not how long. On regaining consciousness I found I could not move my right hand or foot, indicating partial paralysis of the right side from concussion of injury of both. Anyhow, I was afterwards placed on a stretcher and placed in the shade, my head against the brick walls of this farm house with other wounded, some worse than myself.
|Decades after the battle, William Tipton shot this image of a section of bullet-riddled fence at Antietam,|
perhaps much like the one Robert Patterson was climbing when he was stunned by an artillery burst.
(History of the 124th Pennsylvania Volunteers 1862-63)
|"A few solid shots passed|
through the brick walls of the
house, throwing particles of brick
and mortar upon the wounded ...,"
Robert Patterson recalled.
Many of the wounded stopped at this door, hunting for water. Two Zouaves of the 14th Brooklyn also stopped, and the larger one placed his head against the cheek of the door and was about to step down, as he could not see in the darkened depths. I yelled, and he asked if I was in a well. Informing him it was an ice house, he descended the ladder and with a bayonet began digging up the ice, handing me a piece and throwing some up to his comrade. The ice was very refreshing to me. Fearing the building might be burned from the fuse of bursting shells, I asked my comrade to help me to the surface, when he put me under the arm of his wounded hand and reached the top of the ladder, where I was drawn out by the comrade above. Starting to carry me away, they reached an open field where the cannon and minnie balls came so thick and fast that I asked them to lay me behind a walnut stump, and they disappeared. I saw a black quantity of water in the hollow of the stump, and being almost crazed with thirst I drank of it from my hand and crawled to a fence surrounding a woods pasture.
|19th Indiana marker along Hagerstown Pike notes commander Alois O. Bachman "fell mortally wounded|
150 yards due East" and regiment suffered 11 killed and 58 wounded.
|After 19th Indiana Private Robert Patterson was wounded, he was taken to a nearby farmhouse -- |
perhaps David R. Miller's -- where he briefly rested.
(Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)
Tearing away a part of a rotten rail, I crawled through the fence and layed down under an oak tree, for I was now very sick, probably caused by the stump water and tadpoles I had drank, and the reaction taking place from my injuries and partial paralysis. But nature asserted itself by ridding my stomach of its vile contents, and I became easier, but with prickly sensations in my right side, indicating returning circulation. I noticed that the sheep in the woods were much frightened at the screeching and bursting shells, and kept running about, while the hogs kept rooting about unless a limb from the trees dropped amongst them.
While laying with my head on the root of this tree a rebel officer mounted on a fine bay horse rode to the brow of a hill in my front, and began to scan the field through his field glasses. This was my first correct idea of the direction of the rebel lines. Fearing he would see and capture me, as I was unarmed, I got up and stood behind a tree. Soon horse and rider dashed in my direction, as I feared to take me prisoner, but he stopped at a tree near the one behind which I stood, and I could have touched the head of his horse while he again looked through his glasses. To my relief, he dashed back and disappeared beyond the hill.
Here I noticed a company of sharpshooters from Pennsylvania deployed as skirmishers advancing across the field from [the] opposite direction. To me they were a gladdening sight, as I understood the notes of command given through the bugle. I pulled myself upon the fence and waved my hat in token of friendship. Their bugle sounded "lay down." When assured I was not an enemy a man was sent to me when he learned of the action of the Confederate major. Learning the direction he went, the skirmisher started double quick down the opposite fence, followed by me, as I could now walk supported by a stick for a cane. I saw him lay his heavy globe-sighted rifle on a fence and fire, In a moment this same horse came dashing back over the hill, without the rider. In a frightened manner he ran about the pasture, and, strange as it may seem, he finally ran directly toward me, when I shielded myself behind a small tree and took hold of his bridle rein. Blood was trinkling down his shoulder from a wound in top of his neck.
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The long range sharpshooter explained that the prisoner was sitting with right leg over the horn of his saddle, and that he aimed the bullet to cut the top of the neck of the horse so as to throw the rider and thus make him prisoner without injury, but that it also cut the thigh of the Major. The company of sharpshooters were now on the scene, and their captain tried to determine who captured the horse and man. One thing was certain, I was first in possession of both, though neither one would have come to me without the aid of the sharpshooter. However, the captain decided he could not spare so good a man from his company, and ordered me put in the saddle with the wounded Major behind me to be taken to some general headquarters. I confess I was afraid the stalwart Major might easily kill or capture me in my condition, so the sharpshooter put the prisoner in the saddle, took his revolver from the holster, and led him away, and became the owner of his fine horse as I saw in the papers some time afterwards.
Soon a troop of cavalry came along establishing a picket line, and I was put astride of a horse behind a member of the troop, and was put on one of their reserve posts, where I was tenderly cared for and where I received the first morsel of food I had eaten since the evening before. During the night our picket lines were advanced and I was again taken behind the same cavalry man, and a rough ride I had until we reached a piece of dense woods where I begged him to drop me off his now fractious horse. I lay beside a log all night and became quite chilled by the September breeze.
The morning of the 18th found me near a roadway where I was found and placed in a passing ambulance with others, and all put out at a church house. Here was the most horrifying scene thus far witnessed. Many army surgeons were busy dressing wounds and amputating limbs, and details of men were kept busy wheeling off these dismembered parts and burying them in trenches dug for that purpose.
|19th Indians Corporal Joshua Jones died|
Sept. 28, 1862, 11 days after he was wounded
in the leg at Antietam. He's buried at
Antietam National Cemetery.
(Find A Grave)
I had a couple hours talk with him, he replying on his slate, "Yes, then I had many more years of life before me and would have given a million dollars if I had them to give to have been shot; now I would give that amount to keep from being shot," was one of his notable written sentences, with a semblage of a smile. I accepted his invitation to dinner at the Cadilac, where he kept forty-two of his comrades at his expense. I noticed he took his soups and coffee through silver and glass tubes.
I was glad to be taken from this heroic sufferer to Keedysville, where we were all placed on straw on a barn floor. Here [Corporal] Joshua Jones of my company was brought in on a stretcher. One of his legs was severed, except for a fragment of flesh. Maggots had infested the decaying wound, The surgeons expressed fear that he could not survive the amputation in his extreme weakness, but I saw them remove the limb and he died soon after. I was on the list to be sent to the general hospital at Baltimore, but after being crowded into the ambulance I found I had left my pocket portfolio in the barn, and as it contained the letters and pictures of my mother and the girl I left behind, I went back, and in the long search to find them I missed the ambulance. The surgeon told me to take the next load, but concluded as I had thus far escaped a general hospital, I would try to find my regiment.
|"Dead Confederates were being cared for, but their blackened and swollen bodies still dotted the earth |
until I reached the road leading past a brick Dunkle [Dunker] church," Robert Patterson recalled about
the day after the battle. Here are Confederate fallen along Hagerstown Pike. (Library of Congress)
I presume it was about 8 a.m., when I started. Most of our dead had been buried, and the dead Confederates were being cared for, but their blackened and swollen bodies still dotted the earth until I reached the road leading past a brick Dunkle [Dunker] church where the charred bodies in gray uniform lay side by side along a fence that seemed fully half a mile. I presume most of them were carried there, while many were reclining against the fence or a tree, in which position they were killed on this road of fearful carnage.
|Captain George Greene was writing the|
"obituary" for Patterson when
the wounded private showed up
at the 19th Indiana camp.
(Indiana State Library)
Captain Green gazed at me in glad bewilderment. It was the first and only time I have ever read my own obituary, and I sincerely hope that I will live out of my remaining earthly life as soldier and citizen that my final obituary may contain as much good as the first.
It was marked, "Rest Without Duty For Thirty Days." Duty soon came with the onward march of the army of the Potomac to further contest of defeats and victories with this great army of treason that might have pushed to annihilation before it could recross the river into Virginia. I have ever been glad that I reached my regiment in time to save that report of my death being sent to the paper at home and to the mother who is still living, and that my own letter reached her instead. I have given only a brief synopsis of the moving scenes that were ever shifting before my gaze. Others saw more and differently, and suffered worse in the battle, and those past and to came, but they are given from my own recollection of the most momentous scenes of fifty years ago today.
-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? Email me here.
-- Kemper, G. W. H. (General William Harrison), A Twentieth Century History of Delaware County, Indiana, Chicago, Lewis Publishing Co., 1908.
-- The Life and Times of Robert Patterson," Minnetrista Blogs, accessed Sept. 15, 2019.
-- The Muncie (Ind.) Morning Star, Sept. 18, 1912, Sept. 30, 1916.
-- The Star Press, Muncie, Ind., July 1, 1913.