Memoirs of Rhode Island Officers who were engaged in the
Service of their Country during the great Rebellion of the South
by John Russell Bartlett, Secretary of State of the State of Rhode Island Providence: Sidney S. Rider & Brother, 1867.
Robert Hale Ives
This volume, which commemorates the services of Rhode Island officers during the rebellion, records no career so brief and no fall so premature as that of Lieutenant Robert Hale Ives, Jr. The period of his active service did not exceed ten days, and a single month did not elapse from the date of his commission to the day on which he received the wound that terminated his life.
He was born in Providence, April 3d, 1837, and was the only son of Robert Hale and Harriet Bowen (Amory) Ives. His early education was attended with every advantage which parental wisdom and care could supply, and his domestic training was conducted under influences the most favorable for inspiring generous sentiments and developing high qualities of character. His school and college days were passed in his native city, at whose university he graduated with credit, in 1857, at the age of twenty years. After completing his collegiate education, he twice visited Europe, where he spent two years in improving travel and study, for the purpose of extending and diversifying the intellectual culture he had received. On his final return, in the Summer of 1860, he engaged in active business as a partner in the house of his cousins, Messrs. Goddard Brothers, of Providence. His opening manhood was bright with every promise of usefulness and honor which culture and position could afford. His character was marked by generous and manly traits, and adorned with social graces that made him the delight of the circle with which he was connected. Christian piety had also blended itself with his personal virtues, and the aspiration of his heart was not only to be an accomplished merchant and a worthy citizen, but also a disciple and servant of Jesus Christ.
In the midst of the occupations imposed by his new position, the civil war suddenly burst upon the country and immediately began to apply its searching tests to the patriotism of every member of the community. When the first call was made by the President for troops, had he followed his inclinations, he would eagerly have taken his place, with so many of his kinsmen and fellow citizens, in the first regiment which the state sent forth for the defense of the government. He was, however, prevented from doing so by considerations which he could not overrule, and he remained at home in accordance with the same sense of duty which, in other circumstances, would have carried him to the field and attached him permanently to the service. But he still cherished a patriot's sympathy for the country; he was actively engaged in promoting the charities which the war so constantly demanded, and did all that became a liberal and public-spirited citizen, to strengthen and sustain those who were defending the union and the constitution.
The disastrous summer of 1862, the second summer of the Civil War, will always be memorable in the annals of the American people. The principal army of the Union had been engaged for several months in its campaign on the peninsula of Yorktown, in Virginia, and the highest hopes had been raised that the campaign was about to close with the fall of the rebel capital.
None now among the living, will ever forget how cruelly those hopes
were disappointed or the agony of dismay with which the country saw that
army on its retreat from the peninsula, and at length driven before the
enemy towards the defenses of Washington, as its only refuge from destruction.
The forces of the rebellion were again threatening the national capital
and preparing to cross the Potomac for the invasion of Maryland. It was
in this gloomiest season of the war, that Mr. Ives, in common with so many
other young men in every loyal state, came to the decision that nothing
ought longer to detain him from the field, where the fate of the republic
was to be speedily decided. Some of his friends attempted to persuade him
that he could do as much, or even more for his country in other ways; and
that, as the only son of his parents, he ought not to leave them. Views
like these received the consideration to which they were entitled, but
his own feelings led him to a different conclusion. He thought of his periled
country, and of her need of defenders in that hour of alarm and dismay,
and he could not satisfy his sense either of citizenship or of manhood,
but by offering himself for her service. The enthusiasm of the first rush
to arms had died away, and the war had now become a grim reality, that
haunted, like a spectre, the homes of the people. His decision sprang from
no pervading sympathy of the community; it was prompted by no military
aspiration or fondness for exciting adventures. It was the simple result
of deliberate and religious consideration, of a conviction of duty that
was in conflict with his most cherished tastes and his most valued enjoyments.
He heard no word of opposition from either of his parents, but he understood
full well how hard it would be for them, still burdened with the sorrow
of a recent bereavement, [the family had lost a daughter, Harriet, in 1860]
to acquiesce in his decision; and only those who knew his affectionate
nature and the depth of his filial love, can be aware how great was the
struggle that went on in the recesses of his own mind, for he scarcely
mentioned the subject to others, until his purpose was fixed and his arrangements
He entertained only the most modest estimate of his aptitude for military life, and nothing would have induced him to solicit a favor from the government, even for the purpose of engaging, without compensation, in its defense. He, however, possessed qualifications which, in many respects, more than compensated for his want of military experience. His education and acquaintance with business, his habits of executive promptness and thoroughness, his superior horsemanship, and, withal, some familiarity with cavalry drill, were such as to fit him for usefulness in any position in which military training was not specially required. He accordingly offered himself as a volunteer aide to General Isaac P. Rodman, an officer who had just been made a brigadier for gallant services at the capture of Newbern, North Carolina, and who, at that time, was at home recovering from a fever. This offer was gladly accepted, and he immediately received from the governor of Rhode Island, the commission of a first-lieutenant, with special permission to report to General Rodman for duty as volunteer aide. His commission bore date August 19, 1862. The general returned to his post in the army of the Potomac, near the close of that month; and, on the 1st day of September, Lieutenant Ives left home to join him at Washington. He found him there, acting as major-general, in command of the third division in General Burnside's ninth corps d' arme'e; that corps being already in column, and about to move into Maryland, then overrun by the invasion of the rebels.
The movement commenced on the 7th of September, and was prosecuted with all the rapidity that was practicable; for on its success depended the deliverance of the middle states from threatened invasion. The young officer was immediately ushered into scenes of the greatest excitement and the most arduous service, but, from the outset, he made it his special endeavor clearly to understand the duty which as assigned to him, and then to do it as perfectly and as acceptably as he was able. From the brief and hurried entries in his diary in those exciting days, may be inferred how arduous was the work to be done, and how devoted he was to its faithful execution. The early part of the march was delayed with hindrances of every kind; nearly every day he was in the saddle at sunrise, and it was often near midnight when he had conducted the rear of the division over the encumbered road to its camping ground for the night. His sleep was usually taken under a tree or by the side of a fence, and, on many a day, his only food was the crackers he carried in his pocket. The army reached Frederick on the 12th of September, where they first encountered the enemy and immediately drove them from the city. Retreating with a continued skirmish to the passes of South Mountain, the rebels again made a stand in a strong position; and, on the 14th a severe and bloody battle was fought, in which General Rodman's division was fully engaged. The battle lasted through the entire day, and afforded the first occasion on which Lieutenant Ives was directly exposed to the continuous fire of the enemy. He bore this test of personal courage without faltering, and discharged the perilous duties of the day with a coolness and a cheerful alacrity and fidelity, that secured for him a high place in the confidence and esteem alike of his general and the officers with whom he was associated. The battle and the march preceding had called forth the genuine qualities of his character and shown the spirit which animated him; and in his position as a member of the general's personal staff, he had become, even in so brief a time, most favorably known throughout the division.
The rebels were driven through the gorges of the mountain, and, on the following morning, they retreated towards Sharpsburg and occupied the heights near that village which rise abruptly from the right bank of the little river Antietam, a tributary of the Potomac. Here their entire army was posted in positions made specially advantageous by the nature of the ground; and hither the forces of the Union were immediately pushed forward to meet them, in a battle that must decide the issues of the campaign perhaps even the fate of the republic. The 16th was occupied in posting the troops and in other preparations, and, at night, both armies bivouacked with their arms at their sides in their respective positions. The command of General Burnside was placed on the left of the line, with its centre opposite the stone bridge which spans the stream, and with its extreme left, General Rodman's division, opposite a ford three-quarters of a mile below. The battle of Antietam began at sunrise on the morning of the 17th, but General Burnside's troops were not fully engaged till ten o'clock, when they received an order to carry the bridge and cross the stream. So exposed, however, was the movement to the fire of the enemy, that several successive assaults proved unavailing, and it was not till one o'clock that the work was finally accomplished, and then only with fearful loss both of officers and men. The ford below was soon afterwards carried by General Rodman, and his brigades crossing the river and ascending the bluffs to the plateau above effected a junction with those that were passing over the bridge. It was the great success of the day, and most fortunately was it achieved, for on carrying and holding these passes of the river, all the advantages gained by the battle obviously turned.
The troops, who for several days had had but little rest and only irregular rations, were thoroughly exhausted, but still other movements were in contemplation at headquarters; and at three o'clock General Burnside was again ordered, by the commander-in-chief, to move forward his whole line upon Sharpsburg and the adjacent heights on the left, on which the rebel batteries were strongly posted. In this movement the division of General Rodman, which was still on the extreme left, was brought nearly opposite to these batteries, and became exposed to their raking fire. The division, however, charged up the heights and took the guns, but, the enemy being reinforced, they were afterwards recaptured and the line was forced back to its former position on the crest above the right bank of the river. It was in this fruitless charge that both General Rodman and Lieutenant Ives fell, almost at the same moment, mortally wounded; the one with a Minie ball in the breast, the other with a cannon shot in the thigh. The fatal shot tore away the flesh from the bone for several inches and passing into his horse killed the animal on the spot.
Lieutenant Ives had scarcely fallen when he was joined by his faithful servant, George Griffin, a young Englishman, who had accompanied him from England in 1860, and who, still in his service, would not be refused the privilege of sharing his fortunes in the army. Though a non-combatant, he had kept throughout the day as near as possible to the scene of the contest and on the first rumor that his master had been struck, he rushed forward at the risk of his life to find him and assist in his removal. Through the weary days and nights that immediately followed, this faithful attendant was his only companion and watched over him and ministered to his every want with a tenderness and care that proved the greatest solace to his suffering. The wounded officer was borne to a dwelling house near at hand which had been taken as a temporary hospital where he was soon attended by Surgeons Rivers and Millar; the former the surgeon of the division, the latter, of the fourth Rhode Island regiment. His wound., though very serious, was not at first thought to be mortal. On the following day, several hospital tents were pitched on an eminence a little distance from the field, and to these General Rodman, Lieutenant Ives, and some other wounded officers from Rhode Island, were removed. Intelligence of his wound was immediately dispatched to his father, but so removed was the scene of the battle from telegraphic communication and so burdened were the wires with messages from the army, that it was not received in Providence till after the lapse of forty-eight hours. His father hastened to him, accompanied by Dr. L. L. Miller, of Providence, reaching his tent on the following Sunday evening. The army had already moved forward, and so comfortless was a solitary field hospital in the opening autumn, that it was decided to attempt his removal to Hagerstown, the nearest railroad terminus, some sixteen miles away. This was effected in an ambulance without special detriment to his comfort, and his previous good health and youthful constitution still kept alive the hope that he might, in a few days, be brought home and even recover from his wound.
The portion of Maryland which had been overrun by the rebels, presented
a melancholy illustration of the desolations of a border war. Hagerstown
had been visited in succession by each of the two contending armies and
its hotels were stripped of their supplies and its inhabitants were destitute
of many of the commonest comforts of life. It was impossible to procure,
save from distant cities, the articles that were indispensable to sustaining
the strength of the wounded officer. In these circumstances, he received
from a lady of Hagerstown, distinguished alike for her Christian excellence
and her patriotic care for the soldiers of the Union, an invitation to
remove to her house. He was known to her only by name, but her invitation
was thankfully accepted, and she opened to him spacious apartments in her
hospitable home, to which, as was afterwards ascertained, she had often
before received the sick and wounded officers who had been detained at
Hagerstown.* Here he was made comfortable with every needed appliance and
with every personal attention which kindness and sympathy could prompt.
His wound, however, had inflicted an injury upon his physical frame too
great for nature to repair, and the hope which had been cherished of his
recovery was soon extinguished. He received the announcement of his approaching
end with Christian calmness and submission to his Heavenly Father's will,
and spent the closing hours of his life in the exercises of religion and
in naming gifts of remembrance for his friends and of charity for the public
objects which he wished especially to promote. He died at Hagerstown, September
27, 1862, ten days after the battle, in the twenty-sixth year of his age.
His death was serene and beautiful; the fitting close of a young life modestly
and religiously, yet bravely and heroically, given up for his country in
the hour of her calamity and her greatest need. His remains were brought
to Providence and here he was buried with his kindred. On the 1st day of
October, a month from the day of his departure from home, his funeral took
place in St. Stephen's church, the church in whose recent erection he had
taken an active and liberal interest, and in which he had been an habitual
worshipper and a devout communicant. That church now contains a memorial
window, placed there by loving hands to commemorate his piety and worth,
his benefactions for religion and his death for his country.
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