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William Logan Rodman.

Major 38th Mass. Vols. (Infantry), August 19, 1862; Lieutenant-Colonel December 4, 1862; killed at Port Hudson, La., May 27, 1863.

the many Boston and Cambridge boys who met thirty years ago at the boarding-school of that fine old-fashioned Englishman, William Wells, in the near neighborhood of Harvard University, can hardly have forgotten one schoolmate who came among us from New Bedford, in the year 1836. He was a large, heavy, rather unwieldy boy, of great personal strength and rather indolent habit, who possessed, by reason of physical proportions, a kind of brevet seniority among his compeers. Neither genius nor the reverse, neither eminent saint nor prominent sinner, he earned a permanent sobriquet from his size, and left behind him chiefly an impression of inertia, of good nature, and of good sense.

But those whose acquaintance with him continued through college life will also remember how that cumbrous frame gradually developed into a very powerful and commanding manhood; that rather heavy face into a handsome and noble aspect; and that rather indolent mind into clearness and vigor, though perhaps never into brilliancy. He became, in due time, and in his own way, a man of society, of culture, and of taste. But he studied no profession, developed no marked ambition. He was satisfied, perhaps too easily, with the competence and the pleasant surroundings to which he was born; and, retiring after graduation to his native city, he passed twenty years so quietly that his name was hardly mentioned beyond it, save among a small inner circle of his early companions, until the war called him forth for duty and for death.

William Logan Rodman was the only son of Benjamin and Susan (Morgan) Rodman, and was born March 7, 1822. He was descended, on the mother's side, from a prominent family [60] in Philadelphia, and on the father's side from a line of worthy ancestors, all members of the Society of Friends, and numbering in their ranks the most influential merchants and ship-owners of Nantucket and New Bedford. Joseph Rotch, his great-great-grandfather, William Rotch, his great-grandfather, Samuel Rodman, his grandfather, were all men of uncommon character and ability, who left a permanent impression on the community where they lived. The latter, especially, was a man of remarkable capacity, uprightness, and benevolence, and of physical appearance so striking as to attract attention everywhere. ‘All Boston,’ said his friend Josiah Bradlee, of that city, ‘would turn out to see Samuel Rodman walk down State Street.’ Something of this personal prestige belonged to his grandson, in middle life, as a mounted officer.

William Rodman spent five years at Friends' Academy in New Bedford, and two years under the care of Mr. William Wells. He entered college with his class in 1838, and graduated in 1842. He soon began mercantile life, being at first chiefly engaged in the oil trade. In 1849, during the California excitement, he sailed for San Francisco in the ship Florida, part of which he owned; but he went ‘before the mast,’ and did his full share of the ship's duty. Leaving the vessel at that port, he returned home by way of Calcutta and Europe, having been absent about two years in all. This was his only prolonged absence from home until he entered the army.

During the intermediate period his life was quiet and uneventful. He participated moderataly in business life, and in social and political activities; was never married, lived at home, and enjoyed his books and his gardening, with some admixture of genealogical researches and antiquarian pursuits. As a son and brother he was not merely irreproachable, but carried into those relations a rare tenderness and a loyal, almost romantic reverence. As a citizen he was public-spirited, honorable, and morally stainless. He was president of the local Horticultural Society, a trustee of Friends' Academy, and of the Five Cent Savings Bank; was a member of the Common [61] Council in 1852, and one of the city representatives in the State Legislature in 1862, having been elected as a Conservative Republican. During all this period he kept a diary; and a few extracts from this will show, better than anything else, the manner in which his whole nature was roused and stimulated by the gathering alarm of war. The extracts begin with the day of President Lincoln's first election.

November 7, 1860.—Was up until three o'clock, and came home with the assurance of a Republican victory. I have no fear of secession or revolution. The South will bluster and resolve, but cotton is seventeen and a half cents per pound, and all will be quiet. It is a great revolution, however, in one sense. Political power changes hands, and the most corrupt and degraded administration topples over, not, I hope, to be revived in my day. . . . .

November 10.—The last three days, talking over returns. Today we have accounts of terrible import from Charleston and Savannah. They will have to submit to the will of the majority in the Union, or go to everlasting smash out of it. My own idea is, that, however the South may fume, fret, and bluster, just now, they will be very calm before next March. . . . .

November 13.—Papers still full of Southern secession nonsense. . . . .

December 5.—I cannot feel that this great confederacy is to be destroyed just yet, and I don't like to contemplate the fearful ruin that must overtake the South if they pursue their mad scheme. . . . .

December 10.—Put on my skates this afternoon. Am aching all over. Two hundred and fifteen pounds is a heavy weight to be supported on two one-eighth-inch irons, but I love to mingle in these gay crowds. . . . .

December 17.—Wonder what South Carolina is doing. Skating. . . . .

December 28.—Great stir yesterday, owing to the despatch that Major Anderson had evacuated and destroyed Fort Moultrie. Some of the people talk blood and warfare, but this is easy talking far away from the probable scenes of danger. . . . .

January 25, 1861.—What a short-sighted babydom prevails in Boston. The Mayor fears W. Phillips and the Abolitionists will make a riot, and so closes the Anti-slavery Convention. Boston gentlemen, or rather, Boston snobbery, must stop the mouths of the radicals and fanatics, because, forsooth, the traitors of South Carolina won't like it.—Bah! the fools make one sick. . . . . [62]

March 7.—Anniversary of D. Webster's fatal speech, and of my birth. . . . .

April 15.—'Tis true Sumter has fallen, and war has commenced. We accept the fact with mortification and anger. A severe accounting must follow. I don't fear the result. Stirring times. Governor Andrew issues orders for an assembling tomorrow of the Massachusetts volunteers, and the Guards are preparing to start in the morning. Two thousand must start for Washington to-morrow ....

April 16.—The Guards went off this morning in good style. Thirty-five muskets,—some dozen more to follow this evening. They were addressed by Clifford, from the City Hall steps, in a beautiful little speech. The crowd was very large, and the scene was solemn. Tears rolled down many a rough face. We escorted them to the boat. We may all have to follow. ....

May 24.—I have been occupied in soldiering, having become a high private in Company C, Home and Coast Guard. Drilling takes up my evenings, and all last week I did garrison duty at Fort Phenix. We had, upon the whole, a good time. Ours was the first squad from Company C detailed for service, and we acquired quite a reputation for soldierly bearing. The sneer at ‘kid gloves’ is wearing out, for we have done more real hard work, drilled more, and behaved better than any other company. Of course the gentleman will tell now, as it always has in the service.

It appears from this diary that he was sent for soon afterwards by Governor Andrew, who offered him the post of quartermaster in any regiment which he might choose. The offer did not satisfy him, as he wished for a position in the line; and so he waited awhile longer. Bull Run did not discourage him. He came home indignant from Boston, on the day the news arrived, and wrote, ‘I never did see such a set of croakers. . . . . For my own part, much as I regret the result, I see in it good to come.’

In September he went to Washington to see about an appointment, but nothing came of it, though he enjoyed the visit very much. He says (October 8th, 1861): ‘I failed in the object of my visit to Washington, but saw, what every one ought to see, the capital in war time. I have new love for my country and new confidence in our rulers.’ [63]

In November he was elected to the State Legislature, as a Conservative Republican. There he was an active member of the Committee on Finance,— no easy post in Massachusetts in war time. The session lasted until April 30th, 1862; and his services were thus mentioned, in a letter written after his death, by Honorable A. H. Bullock, then Speaker of the House, and now Governor: ‘In the session of 1862 I became warmly attached to Colonel Rodman, and our friendship ripened into intimacy. His frank and gallant bearing, as an associate among gentlemen, attracted the appreciation of all. His marked intelligence and honorable purposes commanded the respect of the House.’

During the summer following, at a time when recruiting moved heavily in New Bedford, Rodman decided to raise a company for the war, and showed such zeal that he was ultimately commissioned Major of the Thirty-eighth Massachusetts, dating from August 19th, 1862. The regiment left the State on September 24th, and was encamped near Baltimore until November 10th, when it sailed for New Orleans, with General Banks's expedition. During the period of delay, Rodman wrote with his accustomed frankness: ‘I am green as a leek, but pick up constantly, and manage pretty well.’ This admission makes it the more interesting to read in his letters the record of steady progress and of final mastery.

camp Belger, Baltimore, Md., September 5, 1862.

So you see we are not likely to have a mere picnic party out of our military life, but shall probably have our share of hard knocks before I see New Bedford again. I believe I am all ready to take my chance, come when it may. We are very unconcerned. You may have heard me remark upon the strange mental change enlistment makes. Being bound to go where sent, and resolved to do one's best, seems to calm one's excitement; and it is rather an effort than otherwise to read the newspaper, or look at maps. You have had a vast deal more of excitement of the recent battles than we have. ....

November 4, 1862. [After orders to move.]—There is a thousand times more chance of making a reputation in one of these expeditionary corps, than if we were swamped in the large mass of [64] regiments in the Army of the Potomac. These outside movements will be like pictures in the one-day-to-be-written history of the war. . . . .

December 4.—How does the old Academy flourish? I hope for the Allens' sake, excellently well. I must resign my secretaryship of the Board. Tell Ned he must be my successor, and he must enter my military rank in the records somehow. It will be the first instance of such a record among the Quakers. I won't resign my trusteeship, however. . . . .

January 16, 1863.—Every day this week I have been attending a court-martial, . . . . and it is a great nuisance; for it takes me from my regiment, and I am losing the invaluable opportunity of making myself a good commander. You can't imagine how it galls me. There is no escape, and it may last a month. ....

February 4.—None did so well as the Thirty-eighth; we did not make a single mistake. Were twice complimented by General Emory. First, when we passed in review, he said, “The Thirty-eighth is doing finely.” This to his staff; and subsequently in the drill, when we were the only regiment which went through an important movement all right, in a tone to be heard all over the field, “Very well done, that Massachusetts regiment on the left.”

These are little things, to be sure, but they are gratifying to officers and men. One great thing we have gained, and that is in the gratification experienced by the men, who have their regimental pride stimulated immensely. . . . .

February 9.—We had made up our minds to a lively enterprise with danger in it, but one likely to be successful, and give us a little reputation; and now, after a week tied up to the levee, we are on our way down to Carrolton ....

February 23.—I find plenty to do in camp, and am never so contented as when attending to my duties here.

As to the absurd twaddle about “the Union as it was,” I am astonished that men of sense can indulge in such ridiculous nonsense. It is infernal humbug, all of it.

People may argue and speechify as much as they please, they can't help it. This is a revolution, and must result in a complete reorganization of social systems, and all the old fogies in Christendom can't prevent it. . . . . Lord, how I wish I could put a few hundreds of the stay-at-homes into a regiment, and put them on knapsack drills whenever they opened their mouths to say a word on public affairs. . . . . [65]

February 24.—By the way, I see that Bob Shaw and Norwood Hallowell are to be field officers of the Massachusetts blacks. I suppose they are much laughed at. I can't say I want to have anything to do with black troops, but I respect these young men for the part they have taken. They do it from principle, and are worthy of admiration. The organization of a black army is a grand experiment, which may be productive of splendid results, not only to the negro race, but the country. I saw last night an extract from Higginson's report of his Florida expedition, which is certainly encouraging, and should disarm the sneering sceptic for a while at least. . . . .

The balls, theatricals, and operas revive pleasant memories, but I don't want yet to join in them; but if the war is ever over, and I live to see the end, I have no doubt I shall enjoy again just such things, for I feel as young as ever. . . . . I never was better in my life. Life in the open air and sleeping in a tent are just suited to my case. I have hardly had an ache or a pain or a symptom of any kind whatever since I entered the service. . . . .

March 9.—We have doubtless a hard fight before us, but the troops are in good order, and high spirits. The stir and movement of the day of final preparation have been exhilarating in the extreme, after the monotony of camp life. . . . . The Thirty-eighth is all ready. I mean to do my duty. I don't feel as if I were to suffer; but, come what may, be assured of my unalterable love for you.

March 29.—It will be a disappointment to have to give up all idea of taking part in any of the great scenes which we hope will go far towards ending the war, but something may turn up for us, and it is consoling to know that not always those most conspicuous are most useful. I shall be content to play an insignificant part, if the war can be brought to a close. . . . .

April 18.—On road to Opelousas. It was pitch-dark; we rolled ourselves in our blankets and slept in line of battle. . . . . [April 13, date included in the foregoing.] Their artillery sent a shower of shell over our heads, and the zip-zip of the bullets was ever in one's ears; but although some came near, none were hit. I had, like most men, expected to be a little scared; but somehow I was not in the least so, and our boys all made fun of every shot that came very near us. Meanwhile I had hard work to keep the men flat, as they wanted of course to see what was going on; and, moreover, we were in the midst of an abundance of very fine blackberries, [66] to pick which required some wandering. . . . . At two o'clock I was ordered to prepare to advance, come what might, to a point within good musket-shot of the works.

This time I found that uneasy might be the shoulder that wears a strap, for I should think I had a mighty good chance of being shot; for my passage across the field was greeted with particular attention, that I was willing to excuse for the future. I must have been in full sight, and was the only person mounted on the field. Then the former order was so far modified as to rescind the lying down part of it. Now the order stood, “Go on, and if you reach the works go into them.” Charging more than three fourths of a mile of earthworks, with four thousand men at least, and eight pieces of artillery, with a line of skirmishers, let me tell you, is not a thing very often done; indeed, I do not think it was ever attempted. It looked like a forlorn hope at the start. My officers appreciated the nature of the attempt, and so did many of my men, —but no one thought of hesitating. I was, at twenty minutes past two, ordered to advance, and at the word “Forward!” my men went off as if on skirmish drill. It was elegant! First my skirmishers, then my reserves. So handsome was the advance, that Colonel Currie, of the One Hundred and Thirty-third New York, who was in the thickest of the fight, on the other side of the bayou, and his men, gave three cheers. I heard the cheers, and thought it was some success over there. I had found, in my movement during the last quarter of an hour, that I was a spotted man. I was the only person mounted, and every now and then the bullets whistled round me thick, and I thought more of my gallant horse than I did of myself. I don't quite understand it now, but I did not feel afraid of being hit at all. I every now and then stopped to think about it, generally eating a few blackberries in a ditch, while cogitating upon the matter. The fact is, I don't think anybody was afraid, or if any, not more than one officer and a few men. . . . .

Tuesday, April 14.—At the dawn of day the Fifty-third moved into the works and planted “old glory” on the parapet, just about the time that Weitzel crowned the works on the other side. At seven o'clock we were ordered to go and do likewise, and our now baptized flag was placed on the lunette .... At Franklin all went into a field to bivouac, very tired, but in high spirits. We learned that we have taken twelve hundred prisoners, and that the Diana was blown up by the Rebs themselves, while the Queen of the West was destroyed by the Arizona. We began to think ourselves becoming [67] famous; and the boys forgot their sore feet, and ceased to grumble because they had not eaten meat twice since Saturday ....

Friday, April 17.—General Emory came up with me on the march the other day, and said, “Colonel, I am glad to see you. How is my old Thirty-eighth to-day? You did elegantly, elegantly.” I thanked him and said, “General, I am glad you are satisfied. We did what we could; but my regiment, deployed as skirmishers along a line of three fourths of a mile, could not take an equal length of earthworks.” The old fellow shrugged his shoulders, and with his pleasant smile said, in his prettiest way, “You did all that was expected of you, and more.” . . . . I think we did as well as any regiment in the corps would have done. Not to do so would have been disgraceful to us all, and I would not have my darling mother and loving little sister blush for me. . . . .

May 3.—Dr. Ward and I are the only really tough ones. My knock — about out-door life tells now, and I don't wilt down like these shade-grown men. Perhaps my time will come, but certes I was never better than now. . . . .

May 7.—It is very hard to blow up the weary wretches, and make them believe you are very savage, when you are overflowing with sympathy. . . . .

May 8.—With the breaking up of slavery, which I hope will follow this war, possibly these great places may be shorn of their magnificence. I don't wonder the owners deprecate such a fate. I can't, however, sympathize with them. May all these results of the vile system vanish, say I. . . . . I am told that strong signs of Union feeling are found in this vicinity. I doubt all such yarns. The chivalry are not to be trusted.....

Tuesday, May 26, 9 o'clock, A. M.—I have just had a stirring hour, occasioned by the arrival of Colonel Nelson with his native Louisianian (black) infantry, one thousand strong, who halted in our midst awhile, and attracted much attention. I was interested to see how my men would regard such neighbors, and was glad to see there was not much merriment and no contempt, even among the Irishmen. The general impression was that they were a fine lot of men, and will fight. Colonel Nelson and all his officers are convinced they are to distinguish themselves; and Nelson tells me he and his niggers, according to the programme, are to make the assault, and he has no doubt of his colors being taken into the town first. If they fight well, and Port Hudson falls, the great problem of “Will the blacks fight?” will be solved forever. It is a question [68] of vast interest. General Paine has just been down to see me, and has given me a fair idea of my position. I am on the extreme right of all.

This was his last letter. The last evening of his life was spent in entertaining these officers. The rest must be told in the words of others.

The two letters which follow are from his cousin, Captain Rodman of the Thirty-eighth Massachusetts, and from Adjutant Loring of the same regiment.

before Port Hudson, June 7, 1863.
my dear uncle,—I wrote you and Aunt S. a few lines on the 28th ultimo, giving you the particulars of William's death on the 27th. I think it best now to give such a connected account of matters that you may know the whole.

On the 22d of May we landed at Bayou Sara and marched towards Port Hudson. On the 23d we encamped in an old cornfield about three miles from the fortifications. On the 25th we encamped at a bayou, where we met the Rebel pickets, and had two men killed and one wounded,—none of them my men. On the morning of the 27th we marched to the left, through the woods, into the open space about the works, where the enemy had felled trees to give the batteries range. Then we supported Duryea's regular battery, lying down in the ravine behind the ridge where they were posted, the enemy's works being about six hundred yards distant. Up to about eleven o'clock we had met with but one casualty.

About eleven, Generals Grover and Paine ordered us to charge the works. The Twelfth Maine was in front of us. We marched forward on what may be called a natural causeway, which ran winding to the fort, having dark ravines on each side of it. We had passed half the distance between our first position and the work, when we heard a cheer and saw the skirmishers, who had deployed in the ravine, struggling up the slope of the works and fighting hand to hand with the Rebels. So we went forward at the double-quick, to meet the next instant a perfect storm of bullets. The order to “Lie down” was given, and we lay down on the causeway, while our artillery played upon the enemy's works. About twelve o'clock General Paine gave the order for the five right companies to skirmish, the five left to storm the works. A few moments before, I saw William sitting behind a stump a dozen yards in my rear, when a bullet whizzed over me. I heard some one say “Wounded,” and inquired “Who?” and was told, Colonel Rodman. [69] By the time I got to him he was already dead, supported in Lieutenant Howland's arms. He was in the act of rising to transmit to the regiment General Paine's order, when the fatal bullet struck him in the left shoulder, and thence, passing obliquely down through his heart, made its exit at the right side. He only said, “My God, I am hit,” and then I have no doubt life was extinguished instantaneously.

We remained in the causeway until six o'clock, in close proximity to his dead body, when, the order to fall back having been given, the men of his old company put their muskets under him and carried him to the hospital, where Dr. N. Ward had all the necessary arrangements made. He was laid in a box, wearing, except the coat, the clothes he wore when slain,—wrapped in a blanket, and the coffin filled and covered with green leaves. Our good Quartermaster Mason endeavored to have him carried to New Orleans, to be sent North from that city, but found this was forbidden at this season by general orders. So he was laid in a beautiful little space near our camping-ground of a few nights previous, and by his side Captain Bailey, of the Fifty-third Massachusetts, and Lieutenant——of the——.

Our Quartermaster and Dr. Thompson were the only officers who attended the funeral; all the others being compelled, by their duty, to be at the front. Lieutenant Mason tells me that his face had its most natural expression,— one of perfect tranquillity and repose.

At the grave a few remarks were made by the chaplain of the Fifty-third Massachusetts, Mr. Whittemore. . . . .

Your affectionate nephew,

Headquarters, defences of New Orleans, New Orleans, June 5, 1863.

dear Sir,— I had hoped to obtain some of the details of your son's death in time to send by the last mail, knowing that it would be a comfort, though a sad one, for you to know how and where he fell.

It is, however, only since the steamer sailed that I have heard anything which I could venture to write as reliable.

The regiment was lying down in a line of rifle-pits, to protect itself from the fire of sharpshooters.

A messenger rode up with orders; and as Colonel Rodman impulsively rose to receive them, he was shot through the heart, dying instantly and without pain. [70]

The Thirty-eighth is on the north side of Port Hudson, so far (twenty miles) from the landing below, that, during the exciting and difficult hour which followed, it was impossible to remove the body till it was too late to give it anything but the burial which, after all, a soldier should most desire, on or near the battle-field.

A letter from the Adjutant-General of the division, received this morning, says of Colonel Rodman, “His own men, and all those who ever knew or saw him, lament him.”

No one of those who have fallen during the siege thus far stood higher in the estimation of the commanding generals, and over no one have I heard so general and unfeigned regret.

To the regiment his loss will be irreparable. Its excellent reputation for discipline and morals was due chiefly to him and his just and determined efforts to reward and bring forward merit, no matter where it was to be found. Every man under him knew him to be really just and kind; and every man held him in respect unusual amidst “democratic volunteers,” and in esteem and affection of which any man might be proud.

It was my own good fortune to be more immediately associated with him than any other officer in the regiment; and his noble bearing, his scorn of all that was mean or low, his high-minded sense of honor, his genial talent, and his kind heart attached me to him more than I had known till the news came that he was killed; and then I learned how sad a thing it is to say, “I've lost a friend.” His noble reputation and the kindly memory he will leave to all those who knew him will be some sad consolation to you in your grief. He fell nobly and in a noble cause. May all these sacrifices be rewarded. May God temper your sorrow to you.

With deep respect,

Your obedient servant,

Most of those whom this book commemorates were very young men, who had no life-long habits to surmount, no settled pursuits to abandon, and to whom the new duty of military service came as the first grand interest and joy of their existence. Of the maturer men there were many whose lives were already full of active employment, more or less public in its usefulness, so that even their army service hardly implied a wholly new direction to their activities. Here, however, was [71] one whose life had enjoyed almost too much repose, and whose mind almost too much leisure; and whose bonds were the set habits of unmarried life and the warm endearments of parental and sisterly love. From these he must break away; but beyond this effort, all was new life and joy and strength; the career at last open for strong manhood never yet adequately developed; the final outpouring of faculties reserved for this. Whatever might be the sacrifice to others involved in his departure from home and in his death on the battle-field, it is certain that to no one chronicled in this book did the war bring a nobler opening of a new career. His previous habits had given him self-control, uprightness, generous feelings, cultivated tastes, and the warmest affections. War called for all these and more: he gave all it asked for, and died in the giving.

The following testimony may well close the tale.

Headquarters, defences of New Orleans, New Orleans, June 3, 1863.

Sir,— It is with unfeigned grief that I approach the sanctuary of your household to condole with you upon the occasion of the death of your brave and noble son.

But I have thought it my duty, not only as commander of the division to which he belonged, but as his personal friend, to say to you, that his blood relations cannot regret his loss more than do his comrades in arms.

At the time of his death his regiment had passed temporarily from under my command, and I therefore leave the particulars of it to those who were present on the field at the time.

From the time he took the field in Maryland up to within a day or two of the assault on Port Hudson, where I was not present, through our dreary camp in the marshes near New Orleans, and through our brilliant campaign on the Teche, he commanded his regiment with signal success, and endeared himself to every one, not only by his high military qualities, but by his strict morality and his high nobility and honor. His regiment—Thirty-eighth Massachusetts—was one of the best in the service, and, with him at the head of it, marched with the steadiness of regulars to the attack and capture of Fort Bisland. I wish I could express to you the deep sorrow I feel at his loss.

I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,

W. H. Emory, Major-General.

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