Did a letter written by a Bangor lieutenant at least partially heal the broken heart of a Georgia father?
Launching a successful early morning surprise attack on the Union Army of the Shenandoah on Oct. 19, 1864, Confederate troops initially routed the Union divisions camped near the meandering Cedar Creek some 20 miles south of Winchester. Some Federal units were overrun; hastily assembled defensive lines collapsed under the heavy enemy pressure, and although some Federal units staged a fighting withdrawal, many soldiers fled the battlefield.
Among the regiments holding together was the 12th Maine Infantry; its adjutant was Lt. Lagrange Severance of Bangor. He and the 12th belonged to the 1st Brigade led by Brig. Gen. Henry W. Birge, who reported to Brig. Gen. Cuvier Grover, the commander of the 2nd Division, XIX Army Corps.
Among the attacking Confederate units was the 26th Georgia Infantry, which likely did not directly encounter the 12th Maine during the battle. Capt. Uriah Rogers commanded Co. I of the 26th; his third sergeant was his brother, Mitchell Rogers.
Both men hailed from Quitman, Ga. — and they would never see home.
Rousted from sleep that Wednesday morning in a Winchester house, Union General Phillip Sheridan raced south along the Valley Turnpike (modern Route 11) on his stallion, Rienzi. Waving his hat and yelling at his retreating men, Sheridan rallied most of them. Perhaps his command of profanity convinced the fleeing soldiers that they faced a greater threat from the diminutive Sheridan than from Confederate lead.
The legendary “Sheridan’s Ride” resulted in Union troops reforming their lines and counterattacking. Striking like Northern-hurled thunderbolts, Sheridan’s divisions routed the weary Confederates; Cedar Creek ended in a Union victory.
When Cuvier’s 2nd Division went forward, “the troops advanced with the greatest impetuosity, under a severe fire” from enemy and infantry, noted Birge. When Cuvier collected his second wound of the day, Birge replaced him as the division’s commander.
Union troops moved forward (south) again at 4:30 p.m. and reoccupied their camps abandoned earlier that day. Lagrange Severance described what happened next during that advance on Aug. 1, 1866, when he sat down at a desk inside the Augusta office of the weekly Maine Farmer and wrote a letter “which I have been prevented from doing before” to William H. Rogers of Quitman, Ga.
Referring to the Battle of Cedar Creek, fought “on the 19th of October, 1864,” Severance told Rogers that around sunset, “we [of the 12th Maine] were advancing over ground lately gained.” Bodies clad in blue and gray lay strewn across the hilly terrain.
“I came upon a soldier in gray uniform whose intelligent and expressive countenance so attracted my attention that I could not resist the temptation to stop and learn something of him,” Severance informed Rogers.
“He was a sergeant in Co. ‘G’ (I think), 26th Georgia regiment, and his name was Rodgers, but the first name I have forgotten,” noted Severance. He had misspelled the surname and recalled the wrong company, but the rank identified the sergeant as Mitchell Rogers.
“He was wounded in his left breast, and seemed conscious that he had but a short time to live,” wrote Severance. “He told me he had a brother (older I think) lying dead but a few rods away.”
William Rogers may have heard from Co. I survivors that they had left Mitchell and Uriah wounded on the battlefield. Now, as his read this letter from a Yankee, did the father’s hands tremble?
“He was calm, quiet, and resigned, and said he would feel no anger for those who had caused his wound, as they, like himself, felt they were doing their duty,” Severance assured William Rogers. “He seemed as quiet as though sleeping, suffering no pain.
“I gave him a drink of water, placed his blanket comfortably under his head, and pinned his name, regiment, and company upon it,” the younger Mainer informed the older Georgian.
“In answer to my inquiry whether he wished any word sent any friend or relative, if ever opportunity offered, he said, ‘If ever the war is over, and you can, write my father who lives in Quitman, Georgia and tell where I died.’ He then gave me your address,” Severance wrote.
That poignant moment near Cedar Creek would have passed unnoticed had not Severance survived the war. Duty required him to remain with the advancing 12th Maine, so “reluctantly, I left him, feeling as though leaving a friend[,] so strongly had his quiet demeanor and forgiving spirit impressed me,” William Rogers read.
“In those few minutes I had, I did not know whether he died or lived for I could never find time to return to the spot, although wishing to do so, but often has my mind returned to that spot, surrounded by those scenes of duty which everywhere wet the eye in Shenandoah Valley, with the autumn sun sinking behind the mountains; and have felt at times when weary with the perplexities of life, almost envious of the quiet repose of the soldier,” Lagrange Severance expressed his thoughts in almost poetic beauty.
“It would gratify me to know if you receive this” letter, he told William Rogers. “Anything directed to Augusta, ME, care ‘Maine Farmer’ will reach me.”
Except for Severance’s letter, the fates of Mitchell and Uriah Rogers of Brooks County were officially blurry in Georgia, at least through the 1960 publishing of Roster of the Confederate soldiers of Georgia 1861-1865, Volume 3, compiled by Lillian Henderson.
The roster of Co. I, 26th Georgia Infantry, as printed on page 253, reported Mitchell A. Rogers as “killed or captured at Cedar Creek, Va. Oct. 19, 1864.” A few lines down the page, Uriah Rogers was reported as “wounded and captured at Cedar Creek, Va. Oct. 19, 1864. No later record.”
The 1866 letter written by Lagrange Severance of Bangor, Maine had clarified those ambiguities, at least for William H. Rogers of Brooks County, Ga.
Sources: Report of Brig. Gen. H.W. Birge, No. 89, Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 43, Part 1, pp. 323-324; Roster of the Confederate soldiers of Georgia 1861-1865, Volume 3, p. 323; Lagrange Severance letter to William H. Rogers, Aug. 1, 1866, generously provided by Robert L. Bartlett of Columbia, S.C.
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He loves hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.