Camp 20th Regiment near Middletown, Md.
Monday September 15th, 1862
My dear Father,
We came here late last night, having marched very far to the North during the day. We marched from Rockville to Frederick City via Clarksburg and Middlebrook, and camped day before yesterday close to Frederick. The people show every sign of joy at our arrival.
There was a severe battle here yesterday before we came up, about which I have not yet heard much, but we drove the Rebels at last. All quiet as yet this morning, so I suppose they have retreated in the night. I hear the 35th Mass. was engaged. Genl. Reno is killed_his body was carried by us. The houses were filled with wounded when we passed up. We are about 2 miles from the position the Rebels occupied last night.
My foot is well. All the Regiment safe and well, except Lieutenants Abbott, Murphy and Beckwith who are ill and left at Frederick. I do not think Abbott is much ill, but it would have hurt him to march and we persuaded him to stay behind for a day or two. Received letter from mother of the 8th. No other letters.
Please do not send on the pistol if there is no fixed ammunition to fill it. Love to Mother and all. Shall try to write soon. Our force here is very large and we are in reserve and in all probability shall not be engaged in case another battle takes place in a few days.
In great haste
Your affectionate Son
Field near Sharpsburg, Va [sic]
Friday, September 19th 1862.
My dear Father.
We have had a tremendous battle and again I have been mercifully preserved from all harm. It began at 6 A.M. on Wednesday, day before yesterday, and we have been on picket ever since the fight. Last night the enemy left and have probably crossed the river. We are drawn back, our forces in pursuit. Col:Palfrey is wounded in shoulder and I believe missing; Capt:Holmes in neck; Capt.Hallowell in arm; Lt.Milton slightly in three places; Lt.Col:Revere in arm; Col:Lee safe and well; Genl. Richardson mortally; Genl.Sedgwick badly; Genl.Dana in leg; Col:Hinks killed. Our Division suffered awfully. I was bruised slightly twice, once by a spent ball in the shoulder, and once by a cannon shot which passed between my legs, just grazing the knee. Herbert and all the rest safe. Abbott and Macy not there.
Your affectionate son
P.S. Have just heard that Dr. Revere is killed, may not be true.
Camp on Battlefield near Sharpsburg, Md.
Saturday, 20th September 1862
My dear Father.
I wrote to you a pencil note yesterday just to tell you of my safety etc. We have had a really terrific battle. Our Division was formed in three lines, the first line Gorman's Brigade, the second ours, the third Burn's. The principal musketry firing was done of course by the first line. We were under a heavy fire, however, and suffered from artillery while advancing. We drove the enemy before us with tremendous loss on both sides.
The slaughter was horrible, especially close to the Hagerstown turnpike where the enemy made a stand by the fences. We finally advanced down a slope, beyond which the enemy held a cornfield and farmhouse with barn and outbuildings, all on an opposite slope. The enemy had cannon planted on the top and constantly swept us down with grape and shrapnell shell. Our line was advanced close to the first, exposing us to an equal fire, while we could not fire at all because of our first line. The third line was finally advanced close to the second; all this time we stood up and were shot down without being able to reply. Sedgwick and Dana were shot, and we had no one to command the Division.
The enemy in the meantime came round on our left and rear, and poured in a terrible crossfire. Sumner came up in time to save the Division and ordered us to march off by the right flank. We did so, but the left Regiments gave way in confusion, the enemy poured in upon our rear, and now the slaughter was worse than anything I have ever seen before. Sumner walked his horse quietly along waving his hand and keeping all steady near him. Although the Regiments in rear of us were rushing by us and through our ranks in the greatest confusion, we kept our company perfectly steady, did not take a single step faster than the regular marching order, and brought off every man except those killed and wounded, who of course were left. Rickett's regular Battery and some Regiments drawn up at angles to us stayed the enemy, and the broken Regiments reformed in the rear.
Our Brigade suffered awfully, the 7th Michigan had only four Officers left. The 42nd and 59th New York Regiments broke and gave way most disgracefully, our Regiment fell into perfect order as soon as we halted, and was immediately advanced to the front, and our Company and Company I sent out on picket.
We staid on picket till yesterday morning when, we were advanced as skirmishers and found the enemy had evacuated. We had heard them moving all night and had given constant information of it, and were sure they were retreating. Now we are camped on a part of the battlefield. I hear that McClellan is pursuing the enemy and that Sumner's Corps is left behind here. We are all quiet and are burying the dead etc.
A Pioneer of our Regiment, by name Bean, wishes me to send word of his safety and good health to a Miss Hill who is at the same water cure that Louisa is at. Will you please ask Louisa to do so?
Of our Regiment Dr.Revere was shot dead on the field while dressing a wounded man's leg. His body was immediately rifled of everything of the least value. Col. Palfrey badly wounded in the shoulder, taken prisoner and released, or rather left behind. Capt. Holmes shot through the neck, and Capt. Hallowell in the arm; Milton slightly in three places; Lt.Col.Revere in the arm. The losses of other Regiments of the Division are enormous. Shall try to write again soon.
Love to Mother.
Your affectionate son
Camp 20th Regiment on field near Sharpsburg, Md
Sunday September 21st 1862.
My dear Mother.
I have not written to you for a long time, but I knew it was the same thing to write to Father, and I have kept him as well informed of my movements as possible. Ever since we left Harrison's Landing, August 16th, I have not had a day or even an hour when I could be sure we were not to get immediate orders to start. I have written fully to the others about the late battle, and have no more to say. You have no doubt seen full lists of the killed and wounded.
I am entirely ignorant of the movements of the Rebels and even of our own troops. I hear however two reports, one that Genl.Sumner's Corps is not to cross into Virginia, but be left to protect Maryland, probably to stay near the Potomac; the other that Dana's Brigade is reported unfit for service. As you know Genl.Dana is wounded, Lt.Colonel Devereaux and the 1st Captain wounded, the Lieut.Colonel of the 59th killed, and we have lost Col.Palfrey. Col.Lee is quite broken down and ill. Do not of course needlessly alarm his family, but it is the opinion of all here, that he is quite incapable ofenduring the hardships of a camp life longer. He ought to go home and be attended to and nursed. He does not take care of himself at all and gets wet through and sleeps without a tent on the wet ground etc, when he could just as well be comfortable and leave such rough duty to younger men. Then you know he is by no means a young man, and, as far as I have observed, an old man cannot endure hardship like a young one. Cold and wet and exposure use up an old man, when a young one gets over anything after a few hours of sleep and a good breakfast. The reason why some old men do flourish out here is that they take things easily and take great care of themselves, like old Sumner for instance. So as we are very short of Officers, and the Regiment's greatly reduced in the number of men, we shall probably be left to lie still and recruit for a time.
I am delighted to find Mr Willard is Major. I have tried to see him but have been as yet unable. Capt.Macy saw him, and he enquired particularly for me. If you have an opportunity please send me 2 pairs of my blue woolen socks. I like them rather better than the Government socks, and they wear better.
We are now camped on a part of the battlefield, and the trees are marked with shot and often split by balls and shells. Most of the dead are now buried, but large numbers of horses still remain and pollute the air. The farmers about here have shown the greatest patriotism and kindness. They came on the field the day after the battle and took great quantities of wounded to their own houses to nurse and attend to them. I hear that in the midst of the battle a farmer brought 5 horses to one of our batteries from his own barn, and generously gave them to supply the places of those killed. Herbert Mason was particularly exposed, as he was on the left. He lost all his commissioned Officers, and half of his men. Our Division lost about one half.
A very good man of my Company, named Riley, was killed instantly. He was poor and worked in a foundry in Chelsea, where he has a wife and 7 children. They may possibly be in want. Perhaps you could visit them when you make your charitable rounds.
James does very well now, and I shall no doubt keep him. Love to Mary Ann and all. I shall try to write to her next.
Your affectionate Son
--From the Letters of Lt. Henry Ropes, 20th MA (ms, Boston, 1888)
Rare Books and Manuscripts Dept., Boston Public Library