Delta Kappa Epsilon - University of Alabama

Spring 2014 Newsletter

Psi Chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon at the University of Alabama

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6 Delta Kappa Epsilon FROM THE HISTORIAN able candidates for The Unknown Psi. The process of elimination had been effective in getting us to that point, but narrowing this list further then became challenging; we had seemingly "hit a wall" in our research. The approach of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Cold Harbor in June of this year mandated that this quest for the Unknown Psi be finalized if at all possible. The process of elimination we had utilized, while not ex- hausted, had reached the point where it seemed that we needed to look at this problem from a different angle. Rather than simply looking at it from the Psi perspective, we needed to look at the story from the perspective of Edwin Rogers and John Clair Minot, and put a microscope to Minot's poem and the story of Rogers' death. There were already some doubts at this point. What if we discovered that the story told in "Brothers in DKE" isn't true? What if Minot fabricated all or part of the story, or simply perpetuated legend and half-truth, in order to tell a good tale? Did the value of the story to the experience of the entire fraternity, even if untrue, outweigh the "benefit" of knowing the actual, objective truth? Despite these doubts, however, we were already in too deep, so with more than a little trepidation, we shifted our fo- cus and proceeded. That the story told by Minot in "Brothers in DKE" may have been fabricated, in whole or in part, did not seem at all implausible. After all, the story seems almost "too good to be true," if I can be forgiven for using that term to describe the story of the bloody, agonizing death of a fellow Deke from a bullet wound. In addition, by the 1890's, when Minot wrote his poem, much of the rancor and bitterness of the war period had faded, and tales of heroism on the battlefield stirred the military ardor of a younger generation. Some of the most swash- buckling, "gung-ho" tales of the Civil War date from that period, and perhaps Minot had been of that ilk. There has never been any doubt that Edwin Rogers was a real Theta Deke who had fought and died at Cold Harbor. But had his wounding and death really happened under circumstances that might have led to his being encountered by a Psi Deke? Curiously, there are not one, but two different graves purporting to be his; one at Cold Harbor National Cemetery, near the battlefield in Virginia where he died, and the other in his hometown of Patten, Maine (see accompanying pho- tos). This only added to the uncertainty of the story. The "Holy Grail" in this quest would of course be to find the original letter that was written to Rogers' family upon his death, along with his DKE pin and the lock of his hair which were enclosed in that letter. Short of that, we needed to discover every detail we could about the circumstances of Rogers' wounding and death, as every such detail was a potential clue to the identity of The Unknown Psi. The exact date of Rogers' wounding and death, the time of day, the location of Rogers' unit at that time- all poten- tially held clues, which could help verify (or refute) Minot's story. We were not alone in harboring doubts about the "Brothers in DKE" story. Robert E. L. Krick, National Park Service Historian at Richmond National Battlefield Park, which administers the Cold Harbor battlefield, advised, "I have my doubts about [the Rogers/DKE] story, although I've been around long enough to know that some of it probably is at least partially correct. But there are many things that make me skeptical." He went on to list what he saw as some of the potential "flaws" in the story, all of which made sense. "THE" BATTLE OF COLD HARBOR In trying to determine the context in which Rogers' death took place, it must be understood that referring to the subject military action as "the" Battle of Cold Harbor is somewhat of a misnomer. 6 "The" Battle of Cold Harbor ac- tually correctly refers to the ongoing military action between the opposing armies which took place in and around Cold Harbor, Virginia, from around May 31 to June 12, 1864. In the popular mind, however, "the" Battle of Cold Harbor more of- ten refers to Grant's failed "grand assault" on June 3, 1864. This distinction is important in examining the Rogers story as told in Minot's poem. While Rogers did die in combat at the military action known as "Cold Harbor," at what point in "the" battle did he die? THE "FACTS" AS TOLD IN "BROTHERS IN DKE" Minot's poem states indirectly that Rogers was wounded in the failed "grand assault" that took place on June 3rd, and that he was found on the battlefield during a truce which took place that evening. ("Upon a southern battlefield the twilight shadows fall/ The clash and roar are ended, and the evening bugles call… Then out upon the sodden field where the armies fought all day/ There came a group of soldiers who wore the Rebel gray/ But peaceful was their mission upon the darkened plain/ They came to save their wounded and lay at rest the slain.") [Emphasis added]. These opening lines reveal that Minot had an inaccurate understanding of the fighting at Cold Harbor. First, he seems to have held the common misconception that "the" battle took place entirely on June 3rd, rather than over a two-week period. Secondly, he mistakenly suggests that the truce between the armies took place on the evening after the "grand assault" of June 3rd. In fact, that truce took place on the evening of June 7th, four days later. Thus, even if Rogers had been wounded in the fighting on June 3rd, having Rogers found alive on the battlefield four days later is problematic. Very few men were found alive during that truce who had been wounded in the fighting on June 3rd. Four long days and nights under the hot Virginia summer sun, with no food, water or medical care, had done in most of the rest. It is unlikely that Rogers was one of the few who had survived, and even if he had, it is even more unlikely that he would have then been in good enough condition to give the DKE handshake, and/or to have spoken of "Bowdoin" and "dear old DKE," as stated in the poem. The Battle of Cold Harbor, 1864 And The Story Behind "Brothers in DKE" (Continued from page 5) Artist's rendering of the "Brothers in DKE" story. Courtesy of Rufus Ward, Chi Mississippi '72

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