Robert Emmett Rodes (March 29, 1829 – September 19, 1864) was a railroad civil engineer and a promising young Confederate general in the American Civil War, killed in battle in the Shenandoah Valley.
Education, antebellum career
Rodes was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, and graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1848. He taught at VMI as an assistant professor until 1851; he left when a promotion he wanted to full professor was given instead to Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, who was years later to become one of his commanders during the Civil War.
Rodes used his civil engineering skills to become chief engineer for the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He was chief engineer of the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad until the start of the war. Although born a Virginian, he chose to serve his adopted state of Alabama in the armed forces of the Confederate States of America (CSA).
Rodes started his Confederate service as a colonel in command of the 5th Alabama Infantry regiment, in the brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, with which he first saw combat at the First Battle of Bull Run, He was promoted to brigadier general on October 21, 1861, and commanded a brigade under Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill.
In the Peninsula Campaign, Rodes was wounded in the arm at the Battle of Seven Pines, and was subsequently assigned to light duty in the defenses of Richmond, Virginia, while he recuperated. He recovered in time for Gen. Robert E. Lee's first invasion of the North, in September 1862, fighting at South Mountain and Antietam. At Antietam, he commanded one of two brigades that held out so long against the Union assault on the sunken road, or "Bloody Lane", at the center of the Confederate line, suffering heavy casualties. Rodes was lightly wounded by shell fragments.
In the Battle of Chancellorsville, Rodes was a division commander in Stonewall Jackson's corps. He was the first division-level commander in Lee's army who had not graduated from West Point. Rodes led Jackson's devastating flank attack against the Union XI Corps on May 2, 1863. He was temporarily placed in command of the corps that night when Jackson was mortally wounded and Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill was also wounded. Hill immediately summoned the more senior officer Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, and minutes later Rodes graciously ceded his battlefield command to him. Jackson on his deathbed recommended that Rodes be promoted to major general and this promotion be back-dated to be effective May 2.
When Lee reorganized the Army of Northern Virginia to compensate for the loss of Jackson, Rodes joined the Second Corps under Richard Ewell. In the Battle of Gettysburg, on July 1, 1863, Rodes led the assault from Oak Hill against the right flank of the Union I Corps. Although he successfully routed the division of Maj. Gen. John C. Robinson and drove it back through the town, the attack was not as well coordinated or pursued as aggressively as his reputation would have implied. His division sat idle for the remaining two days of the battle.
Rodes continued to fight with Ewell's corps through the 1864 Overland Campaign of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Ewell was replaced by Lt. Gen. Jubal Early, and the corps was sent by Lee to the Shenandoah Valley to draw Union forces away from Petersburg, in the Valley Campaigns of 1864. Early conducted a long and successful raid down the Valley, into Maryland, and reached the outskirts of Washington, D.C., before turning back. Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan was sent by Grant to drive Early from the Valley once and for all.
On September 19, 1864, Sheridan attacked the Confederates at the Battle of Opequon, also known as the Third Battle of Winchester. Several wives of Confederate officers were chased from town during the attack and Rodes managed to save Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon's wife from capture. Rodes and Gordon prepared to attack Sheridan's forces when Rodes was struck in the back of his head by a Union shell fragment. He died on the field outside Winchester.
Rodes was mourned by the Confederacy as a promising, brave, and aggressive officer killed before he could achieve greatness. Robert E. Lee and other high-ranking officers wrote sympathetic statements. Rodes is buried beside his brother, Virginius Hudson Rodes, who had been his adjutant throughout the War, in Presbyterian Cemetery, Lynchburg, Virginia. He was survived by his wife, Virginia Hortense Woodruff (1833–1907), and two children, Robert Emmet Rodes, Jr. (1863–1925) and Bell Yancey Rodes (1865–1931).
- Rodes's tombstone spells his middle name as "Emmet", as does the VMI website. The other references to this article spell it "Emmett". Collins, his most recent biographer, p. 5, refers to discrepancies on the tombstone, which was erected years after his death. A similar dispute relates to his date of birth, with the tombstone and VMI reporting March 30, the other references March 29, 1828.
- Joseph B. Kershaw, another non-West Point graduate in Lee's army to achieve division command, did not do so until September 1863; John B. Gordon was promoted in May 1864.
- Collins, Darrell, Major General Robert E. Rodes of the Army of Northern Virginia, Savas Beatie LLC, 2008, ISBN 978-1-932714-09-8.
- Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
- Krick, Robert K., "Robert Emmett Rodes", The Confederate General, Vol. 5, Davis, William C., and Julie Hoffman (eds.), National Historical Society, 1991, ISBN 0-918678-67-6.
- Tagg, Larry, The Generals of Gettysburg, Savas Publishing, 1998, ISBN 1-882810-30-9.
- Virginia Military Institute Archives page for Robert E. Rodes, Class of 1848.
- Robert E. Rodes at Find a Grave Retrieved on June 9, 2008
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