The wise king of the Scriptures speaks of a sorrow that pervades the human heart, ‘in the midst of laughter.’ The truthfulness of this Divine philosophy is [a] matter of daily experience. Our most joyous seasons are intermingled with a sadness that often challenges definition. Every garden has its sepulchre [sic]. Every draught of sweet has its ingredient of bitter.
– W. D. C. Rodrock, Chaplain, 47th Reg. Pa. Vet. Vols., Camp Brightwood, D.C., 31 May 1865
Penned before he turned 40, those words of William DeWitt Clinton Rodrock reveal a man who had drunk deeply from life’s inexhaustible supply of bitterness. His first swallows of sorrow downed at the ages of five and ten with the untimely deaths of his father and older sister, he grew strong on each cup of bitterness as he lost one family member after another and witnessed unspeakable carnage during America’s horrific Civil War.
And yet, after all of this, the hopeful message in the story of William Dewitt Clinton Rodrock is that he did not let his experiences with bitterness turn him into a bitter man. His footing on his life’s journey, bolstered in large part by his faith in God, the comforts of a beloved wife and their shared joy in bringing children of their own into the world, remained sure – even as he walked in the Valley of the Shadow.
Birth and Formative Years
Born in Bath, Northampton County, Pennsylvania on 28 January 1828 and baptized there on 4 March of that same year, William DeWitt Clinton Rodrock was the third son of Pennsylvania native Sarah (Dreisbach) Rodrock (1801-1876), whose maiden name was alternately spelled as Dreisbach and Driesbaugh, and John Rodrock, M.D. (1790-1833), a native of Scotland who graduated from the Medical Society of Philadelphia in 1817. Additional members of the household at this time included William’s siblings: Oliver F. (1820-1859), who had been born on 27 March 1820; Belinda Margaret (1823-1854), who had been born on 20 January 1823; Harriet (1824-1838), who had been born on 2 March 1824; and John R. (1826-1860), who had been born in Bath on 18 January 1826.
* Note: The family’s surname was spelled as Rodrick or Rodrock in various records of the period. The 1820 federal census documented that John “Rodrick” and his family resided in Bushkill Township, Northampton County, Pennsylvania. As for why John Rodrock chose to raise his family and practice medicine in Northampton County, several communities in the county were hotbeds of medical innovation during the 1820s, according to medical history researcher Sylvain Cazalet:
The Borough of Bath … has as one of its very old houses the Wesselhoeft home, which served as the first hospital and school of homeopathic medicine in America….
In 1824 there came as a teacher from Germany Dr. William Wesselhoeft, who had studied under Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, father of the homeopathic school of medicine….
Carrying his enthusiasm for the homeopathic arts over into the new world, Dr. Wesselhoeft made every effort to encourage their practice. He made frequent trips into the wilds above Bath in search of new world herbs for his potions. Dr. Johan Helffrich caught this enthusiasm for homeopathy and established a botanical garden, hothouse and laboratory at his parsonage. Here he and Wesselhoeft, experimented until the year 1828. By that time the fame of the two practitioners had spread so far that the facilities of Rev. Helffrich’s house were inadequate to handle the crowds. To alleviate conditions, Rev. Helffrich set up Weiss in the practice of homeopathy and built the house which stands today as the first homeopathic hospital in the United States.
A school was operated in conjunction with the hospital. Rev. Helffrich and a hostler at the old Bath Hotel were among the first to receive degrees.
Cazalet also provided these additional details regarding the important role played by Northampton and Lehigh counties in America’s burgeoning homeopathic movement during the early to mid-1800s:
William Wesselhoeft emigrated to the United States from Switzerland early in the 19th century and established a medical practice in Bath, Pennsylvania, several miles northeast of Allentown…. In addition to founding a busy general practice, Wesselhoeft soon became a very successful and renowned eye surgeon. In 1828 he was confronted by a patient with a fetid polypus of the nose that had been uncurable [sic] by allopathic means. He finally tried one of the homeopathic remedies sent to him four years earlier and effected a cure in three months. Fascinated by this development, Wesselhoeft reduced his medical practice drastically and engaged in fulltime study of the new medical system. Wesselhoeft’s father supplied him with homeopathic information sent from Europe, as did a friend of his father, Dr. Stapf in Germany. Stapf was a diligent author and provided Wesselhoeft with a complete set of the ‘Archiv Fur die hombopatische Heilkunst,’ an early German homeopathic journal begun by Stapf in 1821. Wesselhoeft was also shipped homeopathic medicines through the generosity of a college colleague, Dr. Siegrist, of Basel, Switzerland.
Henry Detweiler arrived in Philadelphia from Basel in 1817. He had studied medicine at the University of Freiburg, Germany, and emigrated just prior to receiving his diploma. After serving as an assistant in the office of Dr. Charles H. Martin in Allentown, he opened his own office in 1818 in Hellertown, twelve miles south of Bath. He did not, in fact, hold an M.D. but degrees were not required at that time for medical practice.
Sometime in the mid-1820’s [sic], Wesselhoeft and Detweiler became close personal friends and began a series of informal medical meetings. One of their meeting places was the Moravian Pharmacy at 420 Main Street in Bethlehem. The pharmacist-physician in Bethlehem at that time was Dr. John Eberhard Freitag (1764-1846), also a German immigrant with a background similar to those of Wesselhoeft and Detweiler. Freitag had been a respected apothecary and lay physician in the Moravian community for many years and had even written a popular treatise on veterinary medicine entitled Der Deutsche Pferde-Arzt. Soon after the commencement of the meetings, Freitag abandoned traditional practice and became a homeopath. Shortly after Freitag’s conversion, Dr. John Romig of Allentown joined the group. Romig was a young allopathic physician with a successful practice and an enviable popularity among patients and colleagues alike.
These four successful and respected physicians organized in an effort to spread the tenets of the homeopathic system throughout the area. Out of their association grew an informal school of homeopathy in Bath, Pennsylvania. Although the school in Bath never gained official degree-granting status, from 1829 to 1835 it trained many individuals in the homeopathic healing art. Early in the 1830’s, however, the group began to explore ways to convert their informal program into a formal degree-granting institution….
According to the 1830 federal census, John Rodrock had relocated his family and medical practice to Heidelberg Township in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Just two years later, on 22 February 1832, the family was expanding once again with the arrival of William’s brother James J. W. Rodrock (1832-1865).
Their joy, however, would be brief, cut short by the reaper who scythed their family patriarch, 43-year-old John Rodrock, M.D., from their midst on 14 November 1833. Following funeral services, he was laid to rest at what is now the Saint John’s Church Cemetery in Palmerton, Carbon County, Pennsylvania.
Just beginning to return to a sense of normalcy while trying to rebuild their lives in Howertown, Northampton County, William Rodrock and his mother and siblings were, sadly, not yet done with visits by the cold hand of death. Less than five years after the death of their patriarch, they then lost 14-year-old Harriet Rodrock, William’s older sister. Following her passing on 15 March 1838, she was laid to rest at Howertown’s Greenwood Cemetery.
But the family was not without stabilizing influences during this period of transition. Among the most inspirational was William Rodrock’s uncle – the Rev. Jacob C. Becker, D.D. – the man who officiated at William’s confirmation at the Reformed Church in Howertown, Pennsylvania on 5 April 1845 as pastor of that Reformed Churches at Howertown and Schoenersville. The same man of the cloth who had baptized him 17 years earlier, Rev. Becker was also the mentor would soon guide William Rodrock in his own preparatory studies for the ministry.
Enrolled at Marshall College in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania by 1846, William Rodrock pursued studies as a member of the Preparatory Department, honed his writing skills as a member of the Goethean Literary Society, and was a resident of Weaversville in 1851, according to his junior yearbook. During his later academic years, he also pursued advanced ministerial training at Mercersburg’s Theological Seminary. Awarded a license to preach from the Synod of Ohio (Lancaster Classis) in 1852, he was subsequently ordained as a pastor of the Reformed Church in Delaware, Ohio on 12 August prior to his graduation from Marshall College on 8 September of that same year.
The next day, the newly-minted Rev. William DeWitt Clinton Rodrock, A.M. then also became a family man, united in marriage by the Rev. A. G. Dole with Julia Margaretta Weldy (1832-1905) on 9 September 1852. A native of Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, she was the only daughter of Elder C. Barnett Weldy.
From 1852 to 1856, Rev. W. D. C. Rodrock refined his preaching skills as a minister with the Reformed Church in Delaware, Ohio. In 1853, he and his wife greeted the arrival of daughter Ida May Rodrock (1853-1872). Unfortunately, the reaper reared his head yet again, claiming Rev. Rodrock’s barely 31-year-old sister Belinda Margaret Rodrock. Following her passing on 2 January 1854, she was laid to rest at the Greenwood Cemetery in Howertown, Northampton County.
But the family continued to soldier on. Ministering to the faithful in Franklin County, Pennsylvania from 1856 to 1858, Rev. Rodrock and his wife next welcomed the birth of their daughter Mary at their Fannettsburg home in 1857. From April 1858 until 1861, he was charged with the pastoral care of the souls at Grindstone Hill Reformed Church near Chambersburg in Franklin County.
More heartache would soon follow, however, as the family was rocked by the death of two more of Rev. Rodrock’s siblings – Oliver and John. Oliver, the first to die, passed away at the age of 39 on 24 July 1859, followed by John, a farmer, who died on 14 April 1860 at the age of 34. Like their older sister, both were laid to rest at Northampton County’s Greenwood Cemetery.
The Rodrock family’s worries then intensified as the United States descended into the darkness of disunion as South Carolina became the first of America’s southern states to secede from the Union, propelling their beloved nation into a long and tragic Civil War.
Civil War Military Service
During the Summer of 1861, the Rev. William DeWitt Clinton Rodrock became one of America’s earliest responders to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers to help preserve the nation’s union. After enrolling for Civil War military service in Northampton County, Pennsylvania at the age of 33 on 14 August and receiving a commission as chaplain of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry from Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin that same day, he then bid farewell to his wife and children on 18 September, and was shipped by rail to Washington, D.C. and then to Virginia. Upon his arrival in Virginia at Camp Griffin, where his regiment was stationed roughly ten miles from Washington, D.C., he then officially mustered in for his ministerial duties. His rate of pay was $100 per month.
Ten days later, his regiment engaged in a Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads on 11 October 1861. In a letter home around this time, Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin (the leader of C Company who would be promoted in 1864 to head the entire 47th Regiment) reported that companies D, A, C, F and I (the 47th Pennsylvania’s right wing) were ordered to picket duty after the left wing companies (B, G, K, E, and H) had been forced to return to camp by Confederate troops. In a letter to his hometown newspaper, the Sunbury American, on 13 October, Company C Musician Henry Wharton also described their duties, as well as their new home:
The location of our camp is fine and the scenery would be splendid if the view was not obstructed by heavy thickets of pine and innumerable chesnut [sic] trees. The country around us is excellent for the Rebel scouts to display their bravery; that is, to lurk in the dense woods and pick off one of our unsuspecting pickets. Last night, however, they (the Rebels) calculated wide of their mark; some of the New York 33d boys were out on picket; some fourteen or fifteen shots were exchanged, when our side succeeded in bringing to the dust, (or rather mud,) an officer and two privates of the enemy’s mounted pickets. The officer was shot by a Lieutenant in Company H [?], of the 33d.
Our own boys have seen hard service since we have been on the ‘sacred soil.’ One day and night on picket, next day working on entrenchments at the Fort, (Ethan Allen.) another on guard, next on march and so on continually, but the hardest was on picket from last Thursday morning ‘till Saturday morning – all the time four miles from camp, and both of the nights the rain poured in torrents, so much so that their clothes were completely saturated with the rain. They stood it nobly – not one complaining; but from the size of their haversacks on their return, it is no wonder that they were satisfied and are so eager to go again tomorrow. I heard one of them say ‘there was such nice cabbage, sweet and Irish potatoes, turnips, &c., out where their duty called them, and then there was a likelihood of a Rebel sheep or young porker advancing over our lines and then he could take them as ‘contraband’ and have them for his own use.’ When they were out they saw about a dozen of the Rebel cavalry and would have had a bout with them, had it not been for…unlucky circumstance – one of the men caught the hammer of his rifle in the strap of his knapsack and caused his gun to fire; the Rebels heard the report and scampered in quick time….
On Friday morning, 22 October 1861, the 47th engaged in a Divisional Review, described by regimental historian Lewis Schmidt as massing “about 10,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and twenty pieces of artillery all in one big open field.” In late October, according to Schmidt, the men from Companies B, G and H woke at 3 a.m., assembled a day’s worth of rations, marched four miles from camp, and took over picket duties from the 49th New York:
Company B was stationed in the vicinity of a Mrs. Jackson’s house, with Capt. Kacy’s Company H on guard around the house. The men of Company B had erected a hut made of fence rails gathered around an oak tree, in front of which was the house and property, including a persimmon tree whose fruit supplied them with a snack. Behind the house was the woods were the Rebels had been fired on last Wednesday morning while they were chopping wood there.
Around this same time, according to Schmidt, “the second member of the regiment died of Tyhpoid, Brain, or Billious Fever…. Pvt. Daniel Foose of Company H, a 19 year old laborer from Elliotsburg in Perry County had been very sick before his death, and was buried the next night with full military honors in a service conducted by Chaplain Rodrock. The grave was located under a large chestnut tree adjoining the company quarters at Camp Big Chestnut.” Later that same month:
Chaplain Rodrock was in Washington at an assembly of all the Chaplains from the area, with regard to the distribution of good books among the troops. He returned to camp with several that were made available. [He] had also been active in establishing an English-German Bible class in the regiment during the period.
In a letter penned 17 November, Henry Wharton revealed still more details about life at Camp Griffin:
This morning our brigade was out for inspection; arms, accoutrements [sic], clothing, knapsacks, etc, all were out through a thorough examination, and if I must say it myself, our company stood best, A No. 1, for cleanliness. We have a new commander to our Brigade, Brigadier General Brannen [sic], of the U.S. Army, and if looks are any criterion, I think he is a strict disciplinarian and one who will be as able to get his men out of danger as he is willing to lead them to battle….
The boys have plenty of work to do, such as piquet [sic] duty, standing guard, wood-chopping, police duty and day drill; but then they have the most substantial food; our rations consist of fresh beef (three times a week) pickled pork, pickled beef, smoked pork, fresh bread, daily, which is baked by our own bakers, the Quartermaster having procured portable ovens for that purpose, potatoes, split peas, beans, occasionally molasses and plenty of good coffee, so you see Uncle Sam supplies us plentifully….
A few nights ago our Company was out on piquet [sic]; it was a terrible night, raining very hard the whole night, and what made it worse, the boys had to stand well to their work and dare not leave to look for shelter. Some of them consider they are well paid for their exposure, as they captured two ancient muskets belonging to Secessia. One of them is of English manufacture, and the other has the Virginia militia mark on it. They are both in a dilapidated condition, but the boys hold them in high estimation as they are trophies from the enemy, and besides they were taken from the house of Mrs. Stewart, sister to the rebel Jackson who assassinated the lamented Ellsworth at Alexandria. The honorable lady, Mrs. Stewart, is now a prisoner at Washington and her house is the headquarters of the command of the piquets [sic]….
Since the success of the secret expedition, we have all kinds of rumors in camp. One is that our Brigade will be sent to the relief of Gen. Sherman, in South Carolina. The boys all desire it and the news in the ‘Press’ is correct, that a large force is to be sent there, I think their wish will be gratified….
On 21 November, the 47th participated in a morning divisional headquarters review overseen by Colonel Tilghman H. Good, followed by brigade and division drills all afternoon. According to Schmidt, “each man was supplied with ten blank cartridges.” Afterward, “Gen. Smith requested Gen. Brannan to inform Col. Good that the 47th was the best regiment in the whole division.” As a reward – and in preparation for bigger things to come, Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan obtained brand new Springfield rifles for every member of the 47th Pennsylvania.
Next ordered to move from their Virginia encampment back to Maryland, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers left Camp Griffin at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 January 1862. Marching through deep mud with their equipment for three miles in order to reach the railroad station at Falls Church, they were then transported by rail to Alexandria. From there, they sailed the Potomac via the steamship City of Richmond to the Washington Arsenal, where they were reequipped before being marched off again for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C. The next afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvanians hopped cars on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and headed for Annapolis, Maryland. Arriving around 10 p.m., they were assigned quarters in barracks at the Naval Academy. They then spent that Friday through Monday (24-27 January 1862) loading their equipment and other supplies onto the steamship Oriental.
Ferried to the Oriental by smaller steamers during the afternoon of Monday 27 January, with the officers boarding last, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers steamed away for the Deep South at 4 p.m., per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan. They were headed for Florida which, despite its secession from the Union, remained strategically important to the Union due to the presence of Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas.
While en route, the Oriental passed within sight of the Bahamas and Great Abaco Island, according to Schmidt:
At 11 AM [on Sunday, 2 February 1862] the ship’s bell tolled for the religious services conducted by Chaplain Rodrock, and while the men assembled on deck, the band played suitable music for the occasion. The weather was pleasant, but very warm…. The Chaplain began the service with a prayer and the reading of a portion of the scripture, followed by the hymn ‘From All That Dwell Below the Skies,’ sung to the tune of ‘Old Hundred,’ with the band accompanying. Chaplain Rodrock then delivered a service on the latter portion of the 23rd verse, 17th chapter, from ‘Acts of Apostles’, followed by the hymn, ‘Lord Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing’; and the service concluded with the doxology ‘praise God & etc.’, the men being dismissed with the benediction.
Shortly thereafter, they arrived in Key West, and were promptly assigned to garrison Fort Taylor. During the weekend of Friday, 14 February, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers introduced their presence to Key West residents as the regiment paraded through the streets of the city. That Sunday, a number of the men from the regiment saw to their spiritual needs by attending area church services. While there, they also had the opportunity to meet and mingle with the locals.
A month later, via a letter home on 13 March 1862, Rev. W. D. C. Rodrock described the 47th Pennsylvania’s new home and the regiment’s most fearsome foe during this phase of duty:
…. The island is six miles long and two miles broad, and nowhere more than twelve or fifteen feet above the sea level. It is of coral formation, and has a sandy, sterile soil, but in the few spots which are arable the vegetation is extremely rich. The greater part of it is covered with copsewood or low brushes. There are some vegetable gardens which produce through all the seasons, though less in winter than summer. The climate is well adapted for all kinds of tropical fruits. Cocoa nuts, oranges, lemons, pomegranates, pine apples, bananas, etc., arc very abundant. There is an artificial salt pond on the island, 350 acres in extent. On the southwest point there is a lighthouse with a fixed light 70 feet above water.
Key West City, on the same island, is the capital of Monroe county, Florida, and the southernmost settlement belonging to the United States. It is situated in latitude 21 deg. 32 min. N., longitude 81 deg. 48 min. W., and has a population of about 3,000. It has a fine harbor, accessible through several channels by the largest vessels drawing twenty-four feet of water; being the key to the best entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, it is strongly fortified. The principal work of defence [sic] is Fort Taylor, built on an artificial island within the main entrance to the harbor. It is a first-class fort, intended to mount upwards of two hundred guns of the heaviest calibre, and is now in excellent state of defence [sic]. The barracks are large and commodious buildings, forming three sides of a quadrangle, the opening facing the sea. Near these barracks our regiment is now comfortably quartered, and the camp presents a most romantic and picturesque appearance.
The streets of the city are wide and clean; the houses are generally of white frame of the cottage style, are neat and mostly embosomed in shrubbery. The flowers and roses are seen blooming around almost every house during the whole year. There are Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, and Roman Catholic churches, a well arranged marine hospital 100 feet long by 45 feet wide, a customhouse, a court-house, and other public buildings. A large proportion of the population of Key West consists of natives or children of natives of the Bahama islands [sic]. These mostly sympathize with Secession, and had it not been for the prompt action of Captain, now Gen. Brannan, his handfull [sic] of men and the co operation [sic] of the loyal citizens, at the outbreak of the rebellion, the island and city with all the fortifications would have fallen into the hands of the rebels.
As a regiment, we have great reason to thank God for his watchful care over us, in sparing our Iives. But with all, the unerring hand of death has not altogether left our ranks untouched. It is my painful duty to announce the death of three of our brethren-in-arms since we have pitched our tents in the sunny South.
Frederick Watt, Co. H, Captain Kacey’s, died in hospital February H, of “brain fever,” contracted on board the Oriental. Aged 23 years. He enlisted in Perry county, Pennsylvania.
Andrew Bellisfield [sic], Co. A, Captain Graeffe’s, died in hospital of erysipelas. Aged 30 years. He was born, raised and enlisted In Northampton county, Pennsylvania.
Henry Beltz, Company B, Captain Rhoades [sic], died in hospital of typhoid fever. Aged 20 years. He was also a native of and enlisted in Northampton county, Pennsylvania.
Thus, three of our number have been summoned from the field of strife and conflict, we trust, to the sweet fields and sunny banks of Canaan above.
They were buried with all the honors of war, and now sleep side by side, till the Resurrection morn. Although no kind father and mother, no affectionate sister and brother, were here to shed the tear of grief and sorrow over the graves of our departed brethren, yet there were few hearts in the ranks that were unmoved, and few cheeks that wore dry, as we deposited their remains in the cold, silent earth.
‘Rest, soldiers, rest; your country comes,
With tender love and true,
Freely to deck your honored beds,
Her banner o’er its turf to spread,
And on your monuments to shed
Fond memory’s pearly dew.’
There are but few of our men now confined to the hospital, and these are doing very well….
Drilling daily in heavy artillery tactics and other military strategies, the rank and file of the 47th also felled trees, built new roads and helped to strengthen the facility’s fortifications during this phase of duty. Still more men were felled by disease; still more died, prompting Chaplain W. D. C. Rodrock to write letters of condolence to the loved ones of the departed in between ministering to both the sick and able-bodied.
* Note: To learn more about the duties of regimental chaplains, see the Religion and Spirituality section of this website. To read Chaplain Rodrock’s letters from this phase of duty, see Chaplain William Dewitt Clinton Rodrock’s Civil War Letters and Reports.
From mid-June through July, the 47th was ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina where the men made camp before being housed in the Department of the South’s Beaufort District. Picket duties north of the 3rd Brigade’s camp were commonly rotated among the regiments present there at the time, putting soldiers at increased risk from sniper fire. According to historian Samuel P. Bates, the men of the 47th “received the highest commendation from Generals Hunter and Brannan” for their “attention to duty, discipline and soldierly bearing.”
Once again, more men continued to fall ill during this phase of duty; some were hospitalized at Union Army general hospitals in Beaufort or Hilton Head; others were discharged on Surgeons’ Certificates of Disability; still others died, and were laid to rest with military honors or shipped home to Pennsylvania for reburial closer to surviving loved ones. As before, ministering to the sick and the family of the departed became key duties of the chaplain – all while endeavoring to keep able-bodied soldiers on a straight and narrow path. In a letter penned from Beaufort, South Carolina on 30 July 1862, Chaplain Rodrock of the 47th Pennsylvania, joined fellow chaplains J. C. Emerson (7th New Hampshire), C. T. Woodruff (9th Connecticut), and H. A. Philbrook (8th Maine) in lobbying families and communities for increased support of Union troops:
We are quite conscious of, and fully appreciate the fact, that many persons throughout the loyal States are making great sacrifices for the cause of our beloved country, and are doing much for the physical comfort and spiritual welfare of our soldiers.
Much has already been accomplished by the generous donation of tracts, papers and other religious publications. And the hallowed influences thus exerted for the religious culture of the soldier are very great. Eternity alone will reveal their blessed results.
Yet, both our experience and observation clearly demonstrate to us, that, in connection with our religious services in camp, Christian correspondence from Home is doing more for the morals and spiritual advancement of our men in the army, than any other instrumentality employed.
The soldier, whether officer or private, old or young, will read a letter who would not read a tract or religious paper.
First, Because it is addressed immediately to him,
Second, Because it is written by one personally interested in his welfare.
Even, the least paper or tract enclosed to a soldier, by the kindred or friend addressing him, with the request to read it, will incline him to read and re-read it, until its truths are indelibly impressed upon his heart.
The letter, with its contents thus addressed to him will be carefully folded and placed in his pocket for future reference; so that, when out on picket duty or during his leisure moments, he will have something to read and occupy his mind. The impressions made by such letters are like bread cast upon the waters to be found after many days.
We would say then: Parents, write to your sons; wives, write to your husbands; sisters, write to your brothers; children write to your parents, write often, cheerfully and encouragingly. Let your letters abound in words of cheer, and breathing the spirit of Christian sympathy and love.
Kindly admonish your friends to shun the evils incident to camp life. Urge them to lay hold of the sure promises of the Gospel, which will purify, strengthen and save the soul.
In the name and by the authority of the “Great Captain of our Salvation,” we say to pastors and people, write messages of love to our soldiers. We do not ask for long and studied letters, but for simple, home-like cheerful Christian letters.
Christian young ladies, write. Write to all your friends and acquaintances, who have gone forth to battle for our country. Let no feelings of false delicacy deter you in the matter. And in writing, seek to blend the endearments of home and the occurences [sic] of the neighborhood with the story of the cross.
You will thus strew the rugged pathway of the defenders of our country, with flowers of immortal bloom and accomplish much good for the salvation of souls and the glory of God.
‘The seed that, in these few and fleeting hours
Your hand unsparing and unwearied sow,
Shall deck your graves with amaranthine flowers
And yield you fruits divine in heaven’s immortal bowers.’
Sent on a return expedition to Florida, the members of Rodrock’s flock saw their first truly intense moments of combat when they participated with the 47th Pennsylvania and other Union regiments in the capture of Saint John’s Bluff from 1 to 3 October. Led by Brigadier-General Brannan, a 1,500-plus Union force disembarked at Mayport Mills and Mount Pleasant Creek from troop carriers guarded by Union gunboats. Taking point, the 47th led the 3rd Brigade through 25 miles of dense, pine forested swamps populated with deadly snakes and alligators. By the time the expedition ended, the brigade had forced the Confederate Army to abandon its artillery battery atop Saint John’s Bluff, and had paved the way for the Union to occupy the town of Jacksonville, Florida.
From early to mid-October 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers made history, becoming an integrated regiment with the enrollment in Company F of three young black men who had been freed from slavery on plantations near Beaufort, South Carolina – Abraham and Edward Jassum, aged 16 and 22 respectively, and 33-year-old Bristor Gethers, whose name was mistakenly spelled as “Presto Gettes” on regimental rosters. (All three enlisted at the rank of “Negro Undercook, were officially mustered in at Morganza, Louisiana in June 1864, and completed their respective three-year terms of enlistment before honorably mustering out in 1865. They were joined by more men of color enlisting in the regiment in 1862 and 1864.)
From 21-23 October, under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel Tilghman H. Good and Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, the 47th engaged Confederate forces in and around Pocotaligo, South Carolina. Landing at Mackay’s Point, the men of the 47th were placed on point once again, but they and the 3rd Brigade were less fortunate this time.
Harried by snipers en route to the Pocotaligo Bridge, they met resistance from an entrenched, heavily fortified Confederate battery which opened fire on the Union troops as they entered an open cotton field. Those headed toward higher ground at the Frampton Plantation fared no better as they encountered artillery and infantry fire from the surrounding forests.
The Union soldiers grappled with the Confederates where they found them, pursuing the Rebels for four miles as they retreated to the bridge. There, the 47th Pennsylvania relieved the 7th Connecticut. But the enemy was just too well armed. After two hours of intense fighting in an attempt to take the ravine and bridge, depleted ammunition forced the 47th to withdraw to Mackay’s Point.
Losses for the 47th were significant. Two officers and 18 enlisted men died, including Privates Benjamin Diehl, James Knappenberger, John Kuhns (alternate spelling: Kuntz), and George Reber. Privates Knappenberger and Kuhns were killed in action during the 47th’s early engagement at the Frampton Plantation; Thorntown, Pennsylvania resident George Reber sustained a fatal gunshot wound to his head.
Another two officers and 114 enlisted were wounded in action, including Private Franklin Oland, who died from his wounds at the Union Army’s general hospital at Hilton Head, South Carolina on 30 October, and Private John Heil who sustained a gunshot wound (“Vulnus Sclopet”), and succumbed to his own battle wound-related complications at Hilton Head on 2 November 1862.
Jacob Henry Scheetz, M.D., Assistant Regimental Surgeon, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, who subsequently cared for the fallen at the U.S. Army’s General Hospital at Hilton Head, documented that one of those cut down that day was G Company’s Captain Charles Mickley. A notation by Dr. Scheetz in the U.S. Army’s Register of Deaths of Volunteers certified that Captain Mickley had been “killed in action” at “Frampton SC” (the Frampton Plantation).
In his report on the engagement, made from headquarters at Beaufort, South Carolina on 24 October 1862, Colonel Tilghman H. Good recounted still more details of the 10th Army’s ill-fated engagement:
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by the Forty-seventh Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers in the action of October 22:
Eight companies, comprising 480 men, embarked on the steamship Ben De Ford, and two companies, of 120 men, on the Marblehead, at 2 p.m. October 21. With this force I arrived at Mackays Landing before daylight the following morning. At daylight I was ordered to disembark my regiment and move forward across the first causeway and take a position, and there await the arrival of the other forces. The two companies of my regiment on board of the Marblehead had not yet arrived, consequently I had but eight companies of my regiment with me at this juncture.
At 12 m. I was ordered to take the advance with four companies, one of the Forty-seventh and one of the Fifty-fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers, and two of the Sixth Connecticut, and to deploy two of them as skirmishers and move forward. After moving forward about 2 miles I discerned some 30 or 40 of the enemys [sic] cavalry ahead, but they fled as we advanced. About 2 miles farther on I discovered two pieces of artillery and some cavalry, occupying a position about three-quarters of a mile ahead in the road. I immediately called for a regiment, but seeing that the position was not a strong one I made a charge with the skirmishing line. The enemy, after firing a few rounds of shell, fled. I followed up as rapidly as possible to within about 1 mile of Frampton Creek. In front of this stream is a strip of woods about 500 yards wide, and in front of the woods a marsh of about 200 yards, with a small stream running through it parallel with the woods. A causeway also extends across the swamp, to the right of which the swamp is impassable. Here the enemy opened a terrible fire of shell from the rear, of the woods. I again called for a regiment, and my regiment came forward very promptly. I immediately deployed in line of battle and charged forward to the woods, three companies on the right and the other five on the left of the road. I moved forward in quick-time, and when within about 500 yards of the woods the enemy opened a galling fire of infantry from it. I ordered double-quick and raised a cheer, and with a grand yell the officers and men moved forward in splendid order and glorious determination, driving the enemy from this position.
On reaching the woods I halted and reorganized my line. The three companies on the right of the road (in consequence of not being able to get through the marsh) did not reach the woods, and were moved by Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander by the flank on the causeway. During this time a terrible fire of grape and canister was opened by the enemy through the woods, hence I did not wait for the three companies, but immediately charged with the five at hand directly through the woods; but in consequence of the denseness of the woods, which was a perfect matting of vines and brush, it was almost impossible to get through, but by dint of untiring assiduity the men worked their way through nobly. At this point I was called out of the woods by Lieutenant Bacon, aide-de-camp, who gave the order, ‘The general wants you to charge through the woods.’ I replied that I was then charging, and that the men were working their way through as fast as possible. Just then I saw the two companies of my regiment which embarked on the Marblehead coming up to one of the companies that was unable to get through the swamp on the right. I went out to meet them, hastening them forward, with a view of re-enforcing the five already engaged on the left of the road in the woods; but the latter having worked their way successfully through and driven the enemy from his position, I moved the two companies up the road through the woods until I came up with the advance. The two companies on the right side of the road, under Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander had also worked their way up through the woods and opened fire on the retreating enemy. At this point I halted and reorganized my regiment, by forming close column by companies. I then detailed Lieutenant Minnich, of Company B, and Lieutenant Breneman, of Company H, with a squad of men, to collect the killed and wounded. They promptly and faithfully attended to this important duty, deserving much praise for the efficiency and coolness they displayed during the fight and in the discharge of this humane and worthy trust.
The casualties in this engagement were 96. Captain Junker of Company K; Captain Mickley, of Company [sic] I, and Lieutenant Geety, of Company H, fell mortally wounded while gallantly leading their respective companies on.
I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of both officers and men. They all performed deeds of valor, and rushed forward to duty and danger with a spirit and energy worthy of veterans…
As Good continued, he made clear that despite men falling around them, the 47th continued to fight on:
The rear forces coming up passed my regiment and pursued the enemy. When I had my regiment again placed in order, and hearing the boom of cannon, I immediately followed up, and, upon reaching the scene of action, I was ordered to deploy my regiment on the right side of the wood, move forward along the edge of it, and relieve the Seventh Connecticut Regiment. This I promptly obeyed. The position here occupied by the enemy was on the opposite side of the Pocotaligo Creek, with a marsh on either side of it, and about 800 yards distant from the opposite wood, where the enemy had thrown up rifle pits all along its edge.
On my arrival the enemy had ceased firing; but after the lapse of a few minutes they commenced to cheer and hurrah for the Twenty-sixth South Carolina. We distinctly saw this regiment come up in double-quick and the men rapidly jumping into the pits. We immediately opened fire upon them with terrible effect, and saw their men thinning by scores. In return they opened a galling fire upon us. I ordered the men under cover and to keep up the fire. During this time our forces commenced to retire. I kept my position until all our forces were on the march, and then gave one volley and retired by flank in the road at double-quick about 1,000 yards in the rear of the Seventh Connecticut. This regiment was formed about 1,000 yards in the rear of my former position. We jointly formed the rear guard of our forces and alternately retired in the above manner.
My casualties here amounted to 15 men.
We arrived at Frampton (our first battle ground) at 8 p.m. Here my regiment was relieved from further rear-guard duty by the Fourth New Hampshire Regiment. This gave me the desired opportunity to carry my dead and wounded from the field and convey them back to the landing. I arrived at the above place at 3 o’clock the following morning.
While Good was working on his reports to his superiors, Chaplain W. D. C. Rodrock continued to hold the hands of the most gravely wounded, working valiantly in the immediate aftermath of combat to ease the transition of many from this world to one he and they fervently hoped would be a better one. As physicians stabilized more and more of the wounded, he then transitioned from his death watch duties to minister to the less seriously wounded, and salve the shattered psyche of the most tender of survivors who exhibited signs of Soldier’s Heart (known today as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD). In addition, he began to arrange funerals and notify the families of the deceased and wounded.
Meanwhile, the able-bodied members of the 47th Pennsylvania were settling back in at Hilton Head, where they had returned on 23 October. There, on 3 November 1862, men from the 47th were given the honor of serving as the funeral guard for General Ormsby Mitchel, the commander of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps and Department of the South who had succumbed to yellow fever on 30 October.
* Note: The Mountains of Mitchel, a part of Mars’ South Pole discovered by Mitchel in 1846 while working as a University of Cincinnati astronomer, and Mitchelville, the first Freedmen’s town created after the Civil War, were both later named for General Ormsby Mitchel.
The Rev. W. D. C. Rodrock, chaplain of the 47th Pennsylvania Infantry, evidently also played a role in General Mitchel’s funeral. An inscription by Chaplain Rodrock in an American Antiquarian Society book of poetry held in the American Broadsides and Ephemera collections of the Stanford University Libraries noted that:
The funeral of Gen. O. M. Mitchel took place, Nov. 3, 1862. And our 47th Pa. Regt. acted as escort during the solemn services. W. D. C. Rodrock, chaplain of the 47th Pa. Regt., Beaufort, SC.
On Monday morning, 15 December 1862, according to Schmidt, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers “embarked on the steamer Cosmopolitan at Beaufort, S.C. for the return to their ‘old campground’ in the District of Key West, Florida, at the command of Special Order #384, Headquarters of the Department of the South. The Cosmopolitan was a wooden sidewheel steamer of 774 tons, and was a new ship, less than one year old….” Anchoring at Port Royal, South Carolina, the steamer halted its voyage temporarily in order to retrieve several members of the 47th who had sufficiently recovered from their hospital stay at Hilton Head to rejoin the regiment.
While waiting for the return of Doctor Bailey [sic], the boat in which Col. Good had gone ashore, returned with Gen. Brannan and his staff, who came aboard to the accompaniment of music from the regiment’s new band, to bid all the men farewell…. As the Cosmopolitan weighed anchor and began sailing away, the men realized that Chaplain Rodrock had been left behind; Rodrock, who was running to catch up, secured help from the Black crew of a palmetto skiff, and he finally got aboard and sailed away with the 47th.
By 1863, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were once again resettled in Florida. Having been ordered back to Key West on 15 November of 1862, much of 1863 was spent guarding federal installations in Florida as part of the 10th Corps, Department of the South. Companies A, B, C, E, G, and I garrisoned Fort Taylor in Key West while Companies D, F, H, and K garrisoned Fort Jefferson, the Union’s remote, accessible-only-by-boat installation in Florida’s Dry Tortugas. Men from the 47th were also sent on skirmishes and to Fort Myers, which had been abandoned in 1858 after the third U.S. war with the Seminole Indians. As before, disease was a constant companion and foe.
While he was stationed at Fort Jefferson, Chaplain W. D. C. Rodrock and his wife greeted the arrival of another child – son Warren Alexander Rodrock. Born sometime around 1863, he was named after the regiment’s second in command, Lieutenant Colonel George Warren Alexander. Sadly, after contracting dysentery – a common ailment among the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers stationed at Forts Jefferson and Taylor during this time, Warren Rodrock died in infancy at Fort Jefferson circa 1863 or early 1864, and was laid to rest somewhere on the fort’s grounds. According to Schmidt, “The remains of Pvt. Scholl were disinterred in 1864 with four other members of the regiment, and the child of Chaplain Rodrock, by Paul Balliet, an Allentown undertaker, and arrived home on January 28, 1864 and were buried on Saturday, January 30 in the New Allentown Cemetery.”
The Franklin Repository, the hometown newspaper of Warren Rodrock’s older sister, Ida M. (Rodrock) Black, reported on his passing in its 10 February 1864 edition as follows:
RODROCK – At Fort Jefferson, Tortugas, Fla., of Acute Dysentery, Warren Alexander, infant son of Rev. W. D. C. Rodrock, Chaplain of 47th Regt. Pa. Vols., and Julia M. Rodrock, aged 5 months and 17 days.
Blessed babe thy days are ended,
All thy mourning days below,
Go! by angel bands attended,
To thy ‘Heavenly mansion go.
Darling Warren thou hast left us,
Here thy loss we deeply feel,
But ‘tis God that that hat bereft us,
He can all our sorrows heal.
Chaplain W. D. C. Rodrock could not yet know it, but his soul’s greatest trials were still yet to come.
Read part two of In the Valley of the Shadow: The Rev. William Dewitt Clinton Rodrock, A.M., Chaplain, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.
1. Articles and notices, The Allentown Democrat. Allentown, Pennsylvania: 1884:
- Notice of Rev. W. D. C. Rodrock’s appointment as Reformed church pastor in Smithfield and Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania. Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Democrat, 4 June 1884.
2. Articles and notices, The Carbon Advocate. Lehighton, Pennsylvania: 1882:
- Notice of sermon and lecture at the Weissport Reformed church. Lehighton, Pennsylvania: The Carbon Advocate, 9 September 1882.
3. Articles and notices, Lebanon Daily News. Lebanon, Pennsylvania: 1882-1888:
- Notice of free lecture by Rev. W. D. C. Rodrock at the Coleman Institute. Lebanon, Pennsylvania: Lebanon Daily News, 15 March 1882;
- The Bible He Carried Through the War. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Lebanon Daily News, 23 October 1888.
4. Articles and notices, The Perry County Democrat. Bloomfield, Pennsylvania: 1871:
- Ida May Rodrock’s marriage notice (to John Black). Bloomfield, Pennsylvania: The Perry County Democrat, 22 February 1871;
- Ida May Black’s death notice. Bloomfield, Pennsylvania: The Perry County Democrat, 20 November 1872.
5. Articles and notices, Reading Times. Reading, Pennsylvania: 1903:
- W. D. C. Rodrock’s death notice. Reading, Pennsylvania: Reading Times, 29 August 1903.
6. Articles and notices, The Times. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 1888:
- Notice of Rev. Rodrock’s attendance at the annual regimental reunion of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (including a description of his Civil War responsibility to transport funds home to families from their loved ones). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Times, 28 October 1888.
7. Cazalet, Sylvain. American Homeopathy Was Started in Bath and The Allentown Academy: America’s First German Medical School, in Articles on Homeopathy. Homépathe International, retrieved online 1 March 2018.
8. Fitch, Blanche R., in California Death Index. Sacramento, California: California Department of Health and Welfare, 1932.
9. Letter from Key West (letter from “W. D. C. R., Chaplain Forty-seventh Regiment, P.V.”). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Press, 31 March 1862.
10. Lines to the memory of Major General O. M. Mitchell [i.e., Mitchel], who died at Beaufort, S.C., Oct. 30, 1862 [electronic resource], in American broadsides and ephemera [Series 1, no. 11157, author/creator: George Douglas Brewerton, 1862, American Antiquarian Society copy of verses in seventeen stanzas on the death of Major Gen. Ormsby M. Mitchel from yellow fever]. Stanford, California: Stanford University Libraries, electronic text and image data.
11. Reports and Other Correspondence of W. D. C. Rodrock, Chaplain, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry (Record Groups R29, R91, R171, R283, R327, R460, R555, R756, R796, R951, R1007). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1864-1865.
12. Rev. Jacob C. Becker, in A History of Catasauqua in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Searle & Dressler Co., Inc. 1914.
13. Rev. W. DeWitt Clinton Rodrock (obituary), in Acts and Proceedings of the Eastern Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States, Volumes 151-161. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Reformed Church Publication Board, 1901.
14. Rev. William DeWitt Clinton Rodrock, in Franklin and Marshall College, Obituary Record, No. 8, Vol. II – Part IV, p. 110. Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Franklin and Marshall College Alumni Association, June 1904.
15. Rodrock, W. D. C., in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.
16. Rodrock (obituary of Warren Alexander Rodrock), in Died. Chambersburg, Pennsylvania: Franklin Reporter, 10 February 1864.
17. Rodrock, Edward M. and Emma Rodrock, in U.S. Passport Applications. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1920.
18. Rodrock, William D. C. and Julia M. Rodrock, in U.S. Civil War Pension Index (application no.: 296549, certificate no.: 260499, filed by the veteran on 17 July 1879; application no.: 793449, certificate no.: 574458, filed by the veteran’s widow from New Jersey on 24 October 1903). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
19. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.
20. U.S. Census: Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, New Jersey, California: 1820, 1830, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930.
21. W. D. C. Rodrock, J. C. Emerson, et. al. To the Friends of Our Soldiers. Chambersburg, Pennsylvania: Valley Spirit, 27 August 1862.