It was 1861. Augustus Ward was “fired with indignation with the insults the (Union) flag received from the traitors of the South.” But he did not enlist on the first call of President Lincoln. His parents encouraged him to remain at home with them on the farm in Fearing Township. He was 20 years old, born in 1840, the fourth child of Robert and Lucy Ward. He described his occupation as a farmer.
When the President made a second call for 300,000 more men, he felt that “his country needed his services.” He enlisted on August 12, 1861 in a company of the 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry being formed at Lower Salem. He was first appointed drummer of the company. Before fighting began, he was promoted to Sergeant, then First Sergeant of Company G of the 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
Augustus wrote a four page letter to his family dated September 25, 1862, after major actions at South Mountain and Antietam Creek in Maryland. A copy is preserved in the Marietta College Library Special Collections.
What follows are some of his observations. All quotes are from his letter. His descriptions of the countryside there and the military actions are rather matter of fact. There is only scattered detail of the military actions and the devastation on the battlefield. He says nothing about his personal situation or emotions. Perhaps this was his nature; or maybe he chose not to disturb his family with too much detail, especially regarding the danger he was exposed to. However, his passion for the Union cause and against the rebels is obvious.
Company G of the “36th” encountered the rear of confederate forces in Frederick, Maryland on September 12, 1862. They were ordered to affix bayonets and move “Forward.” There were several obstacles in their march – a rail fence, picket fence, a field of corn. Then they came upon a “gentleman’s fine residence with neat white paling (picket-type fence) around the front yard & everything nice.” The owner of the property and a young lady watched from an upstairs window as Co. G approached. “With a “rush – a shout - a hurrah for the Union - a curse on the rebels – and a tender look at a gal in the window – Co. G dashed at the fence and down it went with a crash.” His wording about the residence, the owner, and lady in the window suggests possible empathy mixed in with the bravado of troops on the march.
An example of the pastoral nature of the area in Maryland: Wise Farm at Fox Gap, one of points of conflict at Battle of South Mountain
On they went into town (Frederick or Middletown?)…” all was boisterous excitement, ladies cheering and waving kerchiefs.” Enemy had left, "having given leg tail towards Harpers Ferry.” This may have been General Lee’s deliberate splitting of his force. It was “a pretty nice town, has been in times of peace a beautiful place. It is situated on one of the most beautiful valleys I have ever seen.
Federal soldiers in Middletown MD marching to the South Mountain battlefield, courtesy civilwar.org
They camped the night of September 13, 1862, by a creek. On Sept 14 they received orders to pile knapsacks and leave the sick men to guard them. “This we took as an omen of the coming fight.” The 36th marched out at 6 am. He observed that an large wheat crop was being sown, fields having been cleaned and plowed. He also noted that fruit was in abundance – apples, peaches, pears, and quinces. “I expect I get more apples here than at home.” His notation of the farming and fruit likely reflects his interest from farming at home – and could be his way of expressing homesickness. They marched on National Pike, then diverged to the left to South Mountain “which the enemy has possession of.”
Order was given to "charge bayonet"! “It would have done you good or scared you to death to hear the yell we gave as we charged up the hill. As we came up the brow of the hill, they fired a volley at us and wounded 20 or so - and then (they) fled precipitously. They could not bear the idea of cold steel so near their persons.” He also mentions that two Union soldiers in his division "turned tail like an ignoble hound."
“We got possession of the mountain and placed batteries on it. The enemy made two charges but were repulsed with loss. Started at 4 pm, lasted an hour. 100 rebels killed. Our boys lay on the edge of the woods. Enemy came within 75 yds, but our fire was so hot that they could get no access. When the fight was over, we went to look over the field. The carnage - for so small an action - was fearful.” That ended the Battle of South Mountain, a prelude to the Battle of Antietam. See another first hand account of South Mountain fighting at http://www.mountainaflame.blogspot.com/
Fighting at Crampton’s Gap during the Battle of South Mountain (Harper’s Weekly, October 25, 1862; A. R. Ward, artist; NPS History Collection
The 36th next faced the rebels on September 17 at Antietam Creek and “took a stone bridge after severe loss and crossed over a made a charge.” His one line mention of the battle at Antietam vastly understated the ferocity and human cost of the contest. September 17 has been reckoned the bloodiest day in American military history. Augustus reported in his letter that after the battle “the enemy has retreated into Va. again.”
”Battle of Antietam,” lithograph by Kurz and Allison, 1888, showing the fighting around Burnside Bridge (Library of Congress)
He served 4 years, having been promoted several times, serving as captain when he was discharged July 31, 1865. I admire Augustus for serving the full duration of the war. His service besides South Mountain and Antietam included actions at Lewisburg, Hoover’s Gap, Chickamauga, Mission Ridge, Cloyd’s Mountain, Berryville, Fisher’s Hill, Cedar Creek.
He was fortunate to have lived through the experience, apparently without disabling injury. The casualty (killed, wounded, captured, or missing), rate for active duty Union soldiers was about 1 in 3. Many more died of illness, disease, and poor nutrition. A total of 620,000 died in active duty from all sources on both sides. Union and Confederate soldiers alike endured difficult conditions from battle, disease, lack of pay, sometimes inadequate clothing and equipment, short rations, bad weather, separation from loved ones, and long periods of boredom in camp between military actions. Many soldiers on both sides deserted or did not reenlist. Those who persevered, including Augustus Ward, deserve credit for their bravery and sacrifice.
Augustus records the end of his service in a postwar autobiographical summary: "After his discharge he retired at once to farm in his native township."
Well done, Capt. Ward.