It all started by reading George Crook's Autobiography. “About ten a.m.,” Crook remembered, “Capt. Christ on Gen. Cox' staff came to see me, and said, ‘The General wishes you to take the bridge.’ I asked him what bridge. He said he didn't know. I asked him where the stream was, but he didn't know. I made some remarks not complimentary to such a way of doing business, but he went off, not caring a cent. Probably he had done the correct thing.”[i] This story of miscommunication and poor intelligence has always astounded me. How could Crook, who had two companies of the 11th Ohio Infantry overlooking the Burnside Bridge since 7:00 a.m., not know where the bridge was located? And how could a staff officer of corps commander Jacob Cox not know the location of Antietam Creek or have an answer to Crook’s query? Attempting to answer these questions is beyond this post (if they are even answerable) but my affinity for staff officers in Civil War armies forced me to look into this Capt. Christ.
In his after-action report of the Battle of South Mountain, Cox personally thanks S. L. Christie and one other staff officer “for the devotion and courage displayed by them in the laborious and hazardous duties of the day.”[ii] Crook got the name wrong in his autobiography, but not by much. Thanks to some Googling and searching through various books in my library, I was able to find a Samuel L. Christie, born in 1837 and listed as a Captain of the 1st Kentucky Infantry.[iii] Fold3 has all Kentucky’s Compiled Service Records (CSR) digitized; I obtained more information about Christie here.
At 23 years old, Samuel L. Christie was commissioned as a 1st Lt. in Co. H, 1st Kentucky Infantry for three years in Pendleton, Ohio. He signed up early, having enrolled on May 10, 1861. However, he did not remain with his regiment for long. On July 23, 1861, while serving in western Virginia, 1st Lt. Christie became a member of Jacob Cox’s staff. He remained on Cox’s staff until August 11, 1863, when he resigned (more on that below).[iv]
Besides this information and a few mentions in Jacob Cox’s Reminiscences of the Civil War, I thought I was lucky enough to simply have figured out who carried the attack order from Cox to Crook on September 17, 1862. But like your favorite infomercial, wait, there’s more!
On September 5, 1862, at the outset of the Maryland Campaign, Jacob Cox received a copy of the War Department’s General Orders No. 125. It reads: “The following named officers are, by direction of the President, dismissed from the service of the United States, for being absent without proper leaves from their respective commands, while the armies to which they belonged were fighting the enemy in the field,” likely a reference to the Second Manassas Campaign. The sixth name on the list was that of Lt. Christie, listed simply as “Aide-de-Camp.” Was this the same Christie that served on Cox’s staff?[v]
The September 16, 1862 edition of the New York Tribune affirmatively confirmed this. Cox, who thought highly of Christie, appealed to have Christie’s case revoked. Cox stated his case to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton:
The simple fact was, that he was detained in Washington against his will, and in spite of his efforts to report for duty, and would never have remained there an hour behind his command, had not first severe disease, and then a serious accident, made him incapable of walking or riding. As it was he reported for duty before he was fit to ride, and is still suffering from a lameness which his seal in the service prevented his taking time to cure. He is a young officer who has never avoided a duty or sought for leave of absence, but has been exemplary in industry and zeal, and as I personally know, chafed exceedingly at the circumstances which prevented his leaving the city with the command, the authority of the Surgeon being used to make him keep his room long enough, even for a partial recovery.
Cox’s pleas worked. On September 12, the War Department issued Special Orders No. 236 revoking Christie’s cashiering from the service. Christie served alongside Cox at South Mountain and, after Cox’s elevation to command of the Ninth Corps, at Antietam.[vi]
Cox expressed concern about the size—not the competency—of his staff, believing it was too small to handle a division. Burnside promised to support Cox’s staff with his own and the muddled command structure of the Ninth Corps was settled.[vii] Despite receiving help from his superior officer, Cox clearly still relied on his own staff first, as evidenced by him sending Lt. Christie to Crook’s brigade with orders to secure the Burnside Bridge. One has to wonder if Christie’s poor health might have led to the confusion and misunderstanding expressed between himself and Crook.
The Battle of Antietam did not end Christie’s service by Cox’s side. He continued in that role for nearly one more year past the Maryland Campaign and temporarily served as Cox’s Acting Assistant Adjutant General.[viii] However, Christie’s health further deteriorated. On May 27, 1863, he wired Cox from Parkersburg, Virginia: “Was too unwell to leave today. Will start in the morning.”[ix] According to Cox, consumption contracted “through exposure in the field” affected Christie.[x]
On August 8, 1863, Christie submitted his resignation from the service. Cox claimed he did so “to prolong his life.”[xi] Christie cited three reasons for his decision: “Private business requiring my personal attention, Ill health unfitting me for active military duty, The support of a widowed mother.” Cox approved Christie’s resignation three days later, and it became official the same day, August 11, 1863.
In forwarding Christie’s resignation, Cox again spoke highly of Capt. Christie (he was promoted to this rank on October 19, 1862). “I deeply regret the necessity which compels Capt. Christie to resign,” Cox wrote, “he having served on my staff more than two years with great credit to himself & advantage to the service, but I am satisfied the reasons which drive his course are sufficient.”[xii]
Sadly, Christie’s resignation from the army did not extend his life greatly. He died on October 30, 1870 (Cox said consumption killed him) and rests in Omaha, Nebraska.[xiii]Uncovering Samuel Christie’s story does not explain what went wrong with Crook’s brigade in its attack on the morning of September 17. But it does provide another fold to consider when pondering the confused command structure of the Ninth Corps at Antietam.
[i] Schmitt, General George Crook: His Autobiography, 97.
[ii] OR, vol. 19, pt. 1, 460.
[iv] Samuel L. Christie CSR.
[v] General Orders of the War Department, Embracing the Years 1861, 1862 & 1863, 1:385-86.
[vi] “The Cases of Lieut. John Simpson and S. L. Christie, Aid-de-Camp,” New York Tribune, September 16, 1862.
[vii] Cox, Military Reminiscences, 1:303.
[viii] “Department of the Ohio,” The Press (Philadelphia, PA), April 24, 1863.
[ix] Samuel L. Christie CSR.
[x] Cox, Military Reminiscences, 2:68.
[xii] Samuel L. Christie CSR.
[xiii] Cox, Military Reminiscences, 2:68; https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/202057449/samuel-l.-christie.