This is an entry that I’ve been working on for quite some time, off and on. Some of the sources were hard to find, and there were always “a couple more things” that I wanted to check on or delve deeper into before I posted it. So here at long last is the entry on someone whom I greatly admire.
Theophilus Francis Rodenbough was born on November 5, 1838 in Easton, Pennsylvania. He was the eldest of two sons of Charles Rodenbough, a wiring manufacturer, and Emily Cauffman of Philadelphia. He attended private schools, had private tutors, and completed a course of English literature and mathematics at Lafayette College in 1837.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, President Lincoln appointed Rodenbough a second lieutenant in the 2nd Regiment of Dragoons on March 27, 1861, at the request of Andrew H. Reeder. Reeder, a native and fellow resident of Easton, was prominent in the Republican Party for his service as the governor of Kansas in the late 1850s.
Lieutenant Rodenbough was initially assigned to Company E, but several months would pass before he joined the regiment. He served as the post adjutant and quartermaster of Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania until January 1862. He was promoted to first lieutenant in the 2nd Dragoons on May 14, 1861.
When he finally joined the regiment in January 1862, he was assigned to Company H. He immediately assumed command of the company as its assigned captain, Alfred Pleasonton, was on detached service. During the peninsula campaign he commanded Company H and often the squadron consisting of it and its sister company. He distinguished himself on several occasions, most notably during the battle of Gaines Mill. He was promoted to captain in the 2nd US Cavalry on July 17, 1862.
He and his company were part of Captain Thomas Hight’s squadron captured by Fitz Lee’s brigade following the second battle of Bull Run on August 31, 1862. He was paroled a week later, and exchanged on September 21, 1862 at Aiken’s Landing, Virginia for Samuel Y. Finley of the 6th Florida Infantry.
Recognized for his ability despite this setback, he was assigned to command one of the regiment’s two new companies, Company L, when they were authorized on September 24, 1862. He was sent north Pleasant Valley, Maryland to recruit and organize his company October 1862 to January 1863. He and his new company spent the remainder of the winter on picket duty near Falmouth, Virginia.
Captain Rodenbough and Company L participated in Stoneman’s Raid, during which he led a column of nearly 300 members of his own regiment and the 5th U.S. Cavalry to destroy a bridge over the South Anna River near Louisa Court House. The following month, he was slightly wounded and had two horses shot out from under him at Beverly Ford during the battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863.
When regimental commander Wesley Merritt was promoted to brigadier general later that month, Rodenbough assumed command of the regiment. This left his company without officers, as he had been the only officer present since Stoneman’s Raid. Captain Gordon returned to take command of the regiment on July 6th. Rodenbough served with distinction throughout the Gettysburg campaign, including actions at Upperville, Williamsport, Boonsboro, Funkstown, Falling Waters, Manassas Gap and again at Brandy Station at the end of July.
He accompanied the regiment and the rest of the brigade to Camp Buford at Giesboro Point for refitting in September, where he finally received additional officers for his company. His first lieutenant was a guest at Libby Prison, but his second lieutenant, Charles McMasters, was previously featured in a Fiddler’s Green entry. Captain Rodenbough spent the winter of 1863 performing picket duty with his regiment near Brandy Station. At times during the fall and winter, he performed as an “acting field officer,” according to the regimental muster rolls.
Rodenbough was again in command of his regiment for the beginning of Sheridan’s cavalry campaign in the spring of 1864. He was commended for his performance at Todd’s Tavern, as well as fighting in engagements at Culpeper Court House and Old Church during the spring.
Captain Rodenbough led the advance of the Regular Brigade with his regiment at the battle of Trevillian Station on June 11, 1864. He was wounded during the battle, and turned command of the regiment over to Captain David Stanley. In 1893, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for the battle. His citation reads “for distinguished gallantry in action at Trevillian Station, Va., June 11, 1864, where he was severely wounded while handling his regiment with skill and valor.”
Rodenbough was back in command of his regiment several weeks later, and led his regiment in the great charge that decided the battle of Opequon or Third Winchester on September 19, 1864. He was severely wounded in the right arm and his horse killed while leading the regiment’s charge. His right arm was amputated later that day.
First Sergeant Conrad Schmidt of Company K rode forward and rescued his wounded commander, earning a Medal of Honor. The citation reads “Went to the assistance of his Regimental Commander, whose horse had been killed under him in a charge, mounted the officer behind him, under a heavy fire from the enemy, and returned him to his command.” First Sergeant Schmidt’s actions served as the inspiration for the painting “Sergeant’s Valor” by Don Stivers.
Captain Rodenbough was brevetted major, regular army, for gallant and meritorious services during this battle. Following the battle, he served on general recruiting service in Philadelphia until April 1865 while recuperating from his wounds.
Rodenbough was brevetted lieutenant colonel on March 13, 1865 for gallant and meritorious service during the war, and colonel on the same date for gallantry and meritorious service in the battle of Todd’s Tavern, Virginia. He was further brevetted brigadier general, regular army, for gallant and meritorious service in the battle of Cold Harbor. In his recommendation for this brevet, General Sheridan wrote the following:
“Colonel Rodenbough was one of the most gallant and valuable young officers, under my command, in the Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac. He was constantly in the field with his regiment, the 2d U.S. Cavalry (a portion of that time in command of it), from the spring of ’62 up to the time of his being wounded whilst gallantly leading his regiment at the battle of the Opequan, September 19, 1864.” On April 13, 1865, he was brevetted brigadier general of volunteers for gallant and meritorious service during the war.
Rodenbough was granted a leave of absence from the regular army at the recommendation of General Sheridan to accept the colonelcy of the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry on April 29, 1865. Rodenbough was transferred from the regiment to command the 3rd Provisional Cavalry (Pennsylvania), a provisional brigade consisting of regular and volunteer units, on June 24, 1865. He served there and in command of the district of Clarksburg, West Virginia until honorably mustered out of volunteer service on October 31, 1865.
Returning to his regular army rank of captain, Rodenbough served on Major General Dodge’s staff during the winter of 1865 as the inspector general for army forces in Kansas and the territories at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He then rejoined his regiment at Fort Ellsworth, Kansas in May 1866 and was employed with his company constructing Fort Harker until September 1866.
Upon the reorganization of the army in the summer of 1866, he was promoted to major of the new 42nd US Infantry on July 28, 1866. He was involved in organizing the regiment from September to November 1866, then commanded the post of Plattsburg Barracks until the following December. He subsequently commanded the post of Madison Barracks, New York until 1869.
Major Rodenbough also served on boards for the selection of a magazine fed gun, the examination of officers, and reportedly “the investigation of the case of the first colored cadet at West Point.” I assume this indicates the court martial of Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper of the 10th U.S. Cavalry in 1870, but could not locate verification of this.
Rodenbough retired from the army at his own request at the rank of colonel on December 15, 1870, “with the full rank of the command held when wounded.” He was retired again, as a Brigadier General, U.S.A., on April 23, 1904, according to that year’s Army Register.
Theophilus Rodenbough married Elinor Frances Foster in New York City on September 1, 1868. Their eldest daughter died in childhood. His son, James Foster Rodenbough, was living in Easton and working as a civil engineer with the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company at the time of his father’s death. His daughter, Nina, married and lived in New York City.
Following his retirement, Rodenbough became the most prominent American cavalry historian of the 19th Century. His books began with a history of his regiment with From Everglade to Canyon with the Second Dragoons in 1875. Other works included Afghanistan or the Anglo-Russian Dispute (1882), Uncle Sam’s Medal of Honor (1887), The Bravest Five Hundred of ‘Sixty-one (1891), August Leaves from Family Trees (1892), and Sabre and Bayonet (1897). The Bravest Five Hundred and Sabre and Bayonet were revisions of his earlier work on Uncle Sam’s Medal of Honor. His most ambitious work culminated in 1896 with the release of The Army of the United States: Historical Sketches of Staff and Line with Portraits of Generals-In-Chief, which he edited with active duty Major William Haskin. He also authored several articles in the Cavalry Journal, and served on the editing committee of the history of the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry published in 1909. His final literary efforts were in editing several volumes of the ten volume Photographic History of the Civil War, published in the year of his death.
In addition to his writing, Rodenbough held many prominent positions following his retirement. He served as the Deputy Governor of the U.S. Soldiers’ Home in Washington, D.C. through the end of 1871. He then worked as the General eastern Agent of the Pullman Car Company from 1872 to 1873. From 1876 to 1877, Rodenbough was the Associate Editor of the Army and Navy Journal and the Corresponding Secretary of the Society of the Army of the Potomac in 1878. He was an assistant inspector general for the state of New York from 1879 to 1882. He worked from 1878 to 1893 on the Journal of the Military Service Institution of the United States as secretary, then editor and vice president. He was also the Chief of the Bureau of Elections for the city of New York from 1890 to 1892.
Theophilus F. Rodenbough died in New York City on December 19, 1912. He is buried in Easton, Pennsylvania.
Heitman, Francis B. Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903), page 529.
Henry, Guy V. Military Record of Army and Civilian Appointments in the United States Army, Volume I (New York: D. Van Nostrand Publishing, 1873), pg 434.
Pierce, Frederick Clifton. Foster Genealogy. New York: Press of W.B. Conkey Company, 1899. Pages 973-974.
Rodenbough, Theophilus F. Autumn Leaves from Family Trees. New York: Clark & Zugall, 1892. Pages 153-155.
Rodenbough, Theophilus F. From Everglade to Canyon with the Second United States Cavalry (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1875)
Rodenbough, Theophilus F., ed. History of the Eighteenth regiment of cavalry, Pennsylvania volunteers New York: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1909.
Wittenberg, Eric J. Glory Enough For All. Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, Inc., 2002.
Wittenberg, Eric J. The Union Cavalry Comes of Age. Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, Inc., 2003.