After attending local public schools Isaac entered his father’s business, but his love of learning and avid reading habits gained him local renown as a scholar and literary critic. Engaging in public life, Rodman served as president of his town council and as a senator and a representative in the Rhode Island General Assembly. He also became director of the Wakefield Bank. Rodman married Sally Arnold, the daughter of Governor Lemuel Arnold, in 1847, and the couple became the parents of seven children
When the Civil War began, the thirty-eight year old civic leader raised a military company composed of his fellow townsmen for the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment of Volunteers and was appointed as its captain by Governor William Sprague. For Rodman’s valor at First Bull Run, Sprague appointed him colonel of the 4th Rhode Island Regiment when it was mustered into service in October, 1861. That unit fought in the North Carolina campaign as part of General Burnside’s Ninth Corps. At the battles of Roanoke and New Bern, Rodman won acclaim for his daring. One early Civil War historian stated that “the charge by Colonel Rodman, leading the 4th Rhode Island Regiment, was one of the most heroic deeds” of the Battle of New Bern. Shortly thereafter Rodman was breveted brigadier general. Governor Sprague, the martial man who mobilized Rhode Island troops at the outset of the war, wrote privately in early 1862 that “General Rodman is the bravest man I ever knew.”
In April 1862, Rodman was felled by typhoid fever and came home to recuperate. Against the advice of his physician, he quickly returned to the battlefront.
Assuming command of the 3rd Division, Ninth Corps, Rodman led his troops at South Mountain and at the crucial Battle of Antietam, where he received a mortal wound. On the afternoon of August 17, 1862, the day before his fortieth birthday, Rodman tried to warn a brigade under his command of a Confederate ambush in the infamous Antietam cornfield. As Rodman daringly galloped across an open meadow, a Rebel sharpshooter knocked him off his horse with a fatal wound to the chest. Rodman died on August 30, becoming the highest ranking Rhode Island soldier ever to die in battle.
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