- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2008

History constantly is being rediscovered at odd moments and in unusual places.

Ted Gillette of Hanover County, Va., spends weekends and holidays at a summer home near Shepherdstown, W.Va. When he was younger, he found a crudely fashioned sign in the woods on the Maryland side of the Potomac River near his property that read: “On this knoll was killed Samuel Croasdale, 128th Pennsylvania, age 25 of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. His regiment advanced from this point into the cornfield (1974).” Later, Mr. Gillette found out that he had stumbled upon an important moment in the battle of Antietam.

There is, of course, hardly an acre of land in Virginia (and much of what became West Virginia) that was not tramped over, camped on, fought over or made witness in some fashion to Civil War drama. In spite of the best efforts of preservation groups, such as the Civil War Preservation Trust, the vast majority of Civil War sites are lost to time, erosion, vegetation and development. Many of them remain hidden quietly near subdivisions, in farm meadows or deep within pine forests.

The knoll that Gillette discovered was part of the larger Antietam battlefield, fought over on Sept. 17, 1862, but a section that had yet to be preserved.

Samuel L. Croasdale, the soldier memorialized on the sign, was born Aug. 23, 1837, in Hartsville, Pa. His parents, William and Sarah, encouraged his formal education, sending him to the Tenant School in Hartsville, where his studious personality earned him the nickname “Old Cicero.”

His talents were diverse, including excellence in mathematics and the classics, and his ambitions led him into the practice of law in Bucks County at the age of 23. When war erupted in 1861, young Croasdale was one of the first to enlist, joining as a private under Col. W.W.H. Davis for a three-month term of service.

Croasdale was by all reports a good soldier. After his initial term of service, he re-enlisted, this time as a captain, raising a company of infantry in the summer of 1862 from nearby Doylestown, Pa. On Aug. 14, the company was mustered into the Union Army as part of the 128th Pennsylvania Infantry, and a short time later, Croasdale was appointed colonel of the entire regiment.

The regiment was then sent to Washington, although it stayed there just a short time. The unit was sent almost immediately to the front, where Union Gen. George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac was in action because of the Confederate invasion of Maryland by the Army of Northern Virginia, led by Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Croasdale’s regiment was sent into action near the infamous cornfield on the morning of the 17th. Croasdale was on a nearby knoll, organizing the regiment for an advance, when he was struck by a Minie ball and killed instantly while “leading his command on the hottest part of that stubbornly contested field.” Other officers and men went down in the same flurry as the regiment prepared to leave the east woods and enter the cornfield.

Croasdale was later buried in Doylestown Cemetery in Pennsylvania. Those who knew him described him as: “tall and commanding, with a fine intellectual face, expressive of power and determination, yet with a disposition most kind and affectionate.” His military career was eulogized in the publication “Martial Deeds of Pennsylvania” by Samuel P. Bates and in other war-related publications.

For Mr. Gillette, the discovery of a crude wooden marker in the woods was a curious distraction that later turned out to mark one of countless forgotten places largely lost to time where the blood of the Civil War still stains the ground.

Jack Trammell teaches and administers at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., and writes about the Civil War. His recent Civil War novel is “Gray.” He can be reached at jacktrammell@yahoo.com.

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