Saturday, June 10, 2017

"They were making it rather warm for the troops on our right:" The 111th Pennsylvania and "Greene's Salient" at the Dunker Church--Part 1


Clermont, Pa, Feb. 4
th. 1892.[1]

Maj. J. M. Gould,
     Portland, Me.

Comrade:

In reply to your letter of inquiry, in regard to our position at Antietam, would say, that I cannot give you much information as it has been thirty years since the battle was fought and as I never have visited the field since_ and as I was rather young_to know much about the organization of the army at that time, and as Popes army and McClellan had been consolidated only a few days before, I hardly know what Brigade or Div. I did belong to. So you must not think strange, if I fail to give you the required information.

The situation between 1000 and 1030 HRS as shown in the
Cope / Carman map. The 3rd Maryland, 111th Pennsylvania, 28th Pennsylvania,
and the 5th and 7th Ohio push into the Woods and the 30th Virginia,
46th and 48th North Carolina, along with Carlton's Battery give way.
Library of Congress.
As near as I can remember, on the night of the 16th of Sept. We were camped in a large field near a piece of woods, directly in front of us facing the enemy, but another field between us and the woods, and a road to our right. [2]I remember the field that we lay in that night for there had been manure spread over it and not a very nice place to sleep on. But we were tired enough to sleep almost anywhere. Early in the morning of the 17th, we were ordered to pack up before we had time to get any breakfast_ as the battle having already begun._ and moved to the next field, joining the one we were in and next to the woods_ and there we halted a few minutes, and were told that we would have time to get our breakfast, but had barely got a fire started_when we were ordered ahead[.] We then moved off to the left, perhaps a quarter of a mile_ towards a farm house and large barn[3]_ just before we reached them we formed in line_ and moved to the front, with the 3rd Md. on our left_ what regiment was on our right I don’t remember _ but think it was 28th Pa. We moved up in line of battle towards a strip of woods[4]_ as near as I can remember about thirty or forty rods wide_ with a strong rail fence at edge of woods and the Rebs_ in that strip of woods[5], we moved up close to the fence and opened fire_ in meantime, we were under fire from the time we came out from behind this large piece of woods at our right and formed in line in front of this strip of woods. And the Captain of Co. B[6] was killed before we fired a shot and I don’t know how many more, but I saw him fall. We fired a few rounds_ and were ordered to charge, and we climbed the fence, and drove the Rebs out of this strip of woods, and on the other
The situation between Noon and 12:15 as the 27th North Carolina and
Third Arkansas attack across the Hagerstown Turnpike. The 46th and 49th
North Carolina push through just to the north of the Dunker Church.
Library of Congress.
side was a large plowed field, and a cornfield [7]at our left. As we came out of the woods at the other side, there were no Rebs in sight, or at least only a few_ and they were getting out of sight as fast as they could. At our left, I think there were some in the cornfield yet, but did not stay there long. We stopped there a short time and then advanced across the plowed field, at the other side was a small ravine_ and beyond a rise of ground[8], where a battery[9] was brought up and stationed on this hill or knoll. We were behind this battery, at the foot of the hill. I don’t know what battery it was_but think it was six brass guns. The Rebs charged [10]us and tried to take the guns_ but failed, and moved off in an oblique direction to the left_ across the road[11], and as our lines were at a right angle or nearly so, they were making it rather warm for the troops on our right we went to their assistance and joined in their line, and succeeded in driving them out of there, and we moved ahead across the road bringing our regt. near a school house or Church[12]. I don’t know which, I always supposed it was the Sharpsburg school house, but it might have been a Church for aught I know. We held them there[13] for an hour or so and about four o’clock_ we were reinforced by a new Reg. I think they must have been fully 800 men strong, and our Reg’t gave way to the left, and the Reg’t on our right_ gave way to the right, and let them in on our line, and before they had time to get formed in line and ready for business, the Rebs charged[14] and poured a volley into them_ and they broke and run[15] like the d__l. And that left a gap in our line_ that we had not time to close up_ and we had to retreat over nearly all the ground that we had fought over all day. I think if they had not come in at all, we could held our line, still there can be no blame attached to them, as it was the first time they were under fire_ and perhaps any other new regiment would done the same under the same circumstances, I don’t know what reg’t it was, but think it was a Penna regt and I heard some say that it was a New York Reg. but it does not matter. That ended our fighting for the day_ as the reserves[16] were brought up and we were relieved. I cannot trace with any degree of accuracy on your map where we entered the fight, but think it was near where the dead of the 111
th Pa were buried, but I am not sure. Such, my old comrade, is as near a description of our movements at Antietam as I can give you from memory_ but I will see a member of our reg’t before long_ who lives but a few miles from here_ and will talk it over with him, and if we can give you any more information, will gladly do so. Should we both live that long_ I would be glad to meet you at Washington D.C. Next summer--at the National Encampment where we can talk it over and perhaps visit the battle field which I would very much like to do. Hoping to hear from you again, I remain yours in F. C. & L[17].


J. Porter Howard
     Co. G, 111th Pa. V.
     McKean Post 347 G.A.R.
     Smithport, Pa.
     P.O. (Clermont Pa.)





[1] J. Porter Howard to John M. Gould, Februrary 4, 1892, Gould Papers, Dartmouth College. I’d like to express my thanks to Tom Clemens for forwarding a copy of the original letter to me. Tom is the editor of the Ezra Carman manuscript, The Maryland Campaign of 1862 (New York: Savas Beatie, 2010-17), in 3 Volumes. Notations by Gould in top margin: “Sent Fair pamphlet; Write me if you go to G.A.R., for a map; Write me if your comrade knows anything. (His map was returned without marks).”

John M. Gould (1839-1930) served as an adjutant with the 10th Maine at Antietam. Following the war, he wrote articles that appeared in the National Tribune recounting his experience on the battlefield. Like Ezra Carman he entered into extended correspondence with battle survivors. Brian Downey's Antietam on the Web under Gould.

[2] Smoketown Road.
[3] Probably the Middlekauf farmstead.
[4] The East Woods.
[5] This was probably Evander Law’s 2nd and 11th Mississippi and the 6th North Carolina. See Carman 07:20 map.
[6] This was Capt. Arthur Corrigan.
[7] This was probably the thin northwestern strip of the East Woods. A post and rail fence runs through it.
[8] This is the knoll on which the Visitor’s Center now stands.
[9] Carman’s 9 am map shows the 111th behind the First RI Light Battery D under command of Capt. J. Albert Monroe. He had 6 Napoleons (brass) in his battery.
[10] This charge is depicted clearly in the Cope/Carman 900 hrs map. Kershaw’s 2nd, 7th, and 8th South Carolina made a dash for the guns. The 111th was directly behind Monroe’s battery’s left guns and took on the 2nd and 7th South Carolina.
[11] Hagerstown Pike
[12] The Dunker Church.
[13] “there” is the salient south of the Dunker Church
[14] There was a charge, at approximately Noon and recorded in Carman’s Noon map; but no such charge at 4 p.m. Howard seems to have his time wrong. The Noon Confederate advance consisted of the 46th North Carolina (Manning) and 49th North Carolina (Ransom) and elements of John Bell Hood’s Texas Division. This advanced pushed the 111th out of the Dunker Church Woods. The 111th spent the remainder of the day in the environs of the Samuel Poffenberger farmstead.
[15] Howard may have been referring to the 13th New Jersey which consisted of 630 green troops under the command of Col. Ezra Carman. They were part of Williams’ Division (not Greene’s) and positioned themselves to the right of the 111th.
[16] Sixth Corps.
[17] Fraternity, comradeship, and loyalty.


Post Script: Henry Ropes


Headquarters 3d. Brig. 2d. Divn_
Novr. 5, 1863
John C. Ropes Esq.
Dear Sir

I intended long before this to have written you a few lines in accordance with the expressed wish of your late brother Lt. Ropes with whom I was servant as perhaps you are aware, but knowing that the Officers of the 20th must have written you full particulars of the event, and our late rapid movement, I was prevented from fulfilling my desire, and altho’ I may have nothing new or of any additional interest to communicate yet I think it my duty to write in accordance with the wishes of your late Brother. When he died from his wounds at the battle of Gettysburg, Capt. Abbott found in his pocket $128 notes and one dollar in silver and his watch and chain which he handed to me and I afterwards returned him for the purposes of being restored to you. It will satisfactory to me to learn that you received the property all in proper order._

When Lt. Ropes sent home his superfluous clothing last Spring from Falmouth, Va. There was also a blue cloth military overcoat belonging to me sent with the rest, if it is not putting you to too much trouble I should feel obliged by your causing it to be expressed to me here as I require it much, and do not fancy the idea of drawing a new one for only one winter’s wear, as they cost considerable $9.56. The envelope covering this was one written by your late Brother and found in his valise, together with one directed to his Father, which if you wish to have I shall send__ I need not here assure you of my sympathy in the loss sustained by your family in the death of Lt. Ropes, he was also my best friend in the army, and on many accounts I deplore his death.

With much respect,

I remain

Your Very Obedt. Serve.
James Smith [1]
Head Qrs.
3d. Brig.
2d Divn.
2nd Corps
A.P.



===================

Camp near Brandy Station
Nov. 19, 1863

John Ropes Esq.
Dear Sir

Your kind letter of the 19th I received on the 16th and now have pleasure in replying. On the 17th Dr. Wm. Folsom handed me $21 for which I beg you to accept my best thanks, and also for the assurance you give of the interest you express in my future welfare. I enclose the envelope addressed by your late Brother as you request. The overcoat has not yet arrived but no doubt I will receive it when the Express matter comes up. You ask me a question of my own personal knowledge relating to your late Brother which I am happy in having it in my power to answer. Your Brother was reading one of Dickens' Novels in a sitting posture slightly reclining and it is my opinion he could not have possible received the wound he did unless in that position___ The photograph of your late Brother I am truly glad to have in my possession, nothing you have sent me is so valuable in my estimation, and I shall treasure it as a moment of one whom I not only greatly respected, but to whom I was much attached. Should it be my good fortune to reach Boston after the conclusion of my period of service, I shall feel it not only a privelege and a pleasure but also a duty to call for you and have the pleasure of your acquaintance, with much respect

I remain

Yours very truly 

James Smith

Source Note

The source for Henry Ropes’ correspondence is the three volume transcription of Ropes outbound correspondence to his father, mother, and his brother, John C. Ropes. The original transcription can be found at the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library.

Henry Ropes was killed at Gettysburg on July 3 and from that point on, John C. Ropes undertook a life-long pursuit to memorialize his brother’s life and the regiment’s history. The transcription volumes are the center piece of John C. Ropes work and his legacy. Each of the three transcribed volumes are organized chronologically: Volume 1 is Henry Ropes’ correspondence to his father and mother, and Volume 2 and 3 to his brother, John C. Ropes. For more on the Ropes correspondence, see Richard F. Miller’s excellent essay on historical bibliography at pages 495-499 in his superlative study on the 20th Massachusetts in Richard F. Miller, Harvard’s Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 2005). Any errors in transcribing and annotating the selected correspondence are mine.


Notes

1. This is probably 23 year old James Smith who appears on the Company K, 20th Massachusetts Muster Roll dated August 28, 1861 at Readville, Massachusetts. He is killed at Cold Harbor, June 7, 1864.  National Archives Record Group 94, Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Volunteer Organizations During the American Civil War, compiled 1890 - 1912, documenting the period 1861 - 1866 (Roll: RG94-CMSR-MA-20INF-Bx1997).

Sunday, June 7, 2015

To the West Woods: The Correspondence of Henry Ropes, 20th Massachusetts, Entry 15

This is the fifteenth and final entry in the correspondence of Lieutenant Henry Ropes to his family between September 3 and October 15, 1862. Ropes was a Second Lieutenant in Company K of the 20th Massachusetts, Dana’s Brigade, Sedgwick’s Division, II Corps.


Camp 20th October 15, 1862 
Wednesday 
My dear Father.

I am trying to induce John[1] to remain a day or two longer, and have no doubt I shall succeed. He unfortunately left his valise in Washington and ought to wait here till it is sent to him. I have now
Bolivar Heights (detail). Library of Congress, 
Prints and Photographs Division (click to enlarge)
returned to the Regiment, as Lt. Milton
[2] of the Staff (whose place I took) has got home from Boston, and I can make John perfectly comfortable here. I think he really owes me a visit of 2 weeks at least, and hope he will stay. His eyes will be much benefitted by the rest and change of occupation &c. We went day before yesterday to Antietam, and saw the whole field. We passed the night at Keedysville very comfortably. Robby Lee went with us, and he and John have secured quantities of bullets, shells, &c for relics.

You asked me about letters miscarrying. A thief has been discovered here, at Genl. Howard’s⁠[3] Head Quarters, who has for some time robbed the mails. I hope all letters will in future go safely. Best love to all. Have received no letters for 2 days. John will probably visit John Gray⁠[4] and the 2d. Regiment [5] to-day.


Your affectionate son

Henry.


Source Note

The source for Henry Ropes’ correspondence that constitutes this and the following items in this series is the three volume transcription of Ropes outbound correspondence to his father, mother, and his brother, John C. Ropes. Henry Ropes was killed at Gettysburg on July 3 and from that point on, John C. Ropes undertook a life-long pursuit to memorialize his brother’s life and the regiment’s history. The transcription volumes are the centerpiece of John C. Ropes work and his legacy. Each of the three hand-written transcribed volumes are organized chronologically: Volume 1 is Henry Ropes’ correspondence to his father and mother, and Volume 2 and 3 to his brother, John C. Ropes. For more on the Ropes correspondence, see Richard F. Miller’s excellent essay on historical bibliography at pages 495-499 in his superlative study on the 20th Massachusetts in Richard F. Miller, Harvard’s Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 2005). Any errors in transcribing and annotating the selected correspondence are mine.

Notes

1 John C. Ropes, his brother.

2 Lt. William F. Milton.

3 Brig. Gen. Oliver O. Howard.

4 This was probably John Chipman Gray (1839-1915). A graduate of Harvard Law School and friend of the Ropes family, he would enlist in the 41st Massachusetts on October 7, 1862. After the war, Gray would form with John C. Ropes the law firm of Ropes & Gray. Roland Gray, John Chipman Gray (Boston: privately printed, 1907), p. 8.

5 Second Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Gordon’s Brigade, Williams’ Division, XII Corps.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

To the West Woods: The Correspondence of Henry Ropes, 20th Massachusetts, Entry 14

This is the fourteenth entry in the correspondence of Lieutenant Henry Ropes to his family between September 3 and October 15, 1862. Ropes was a Second Lieutenant in Company K of the 20th Massachusetts, Dana’s Brigade, Sedgwick’s Division, II Corps.


Head Quarters, 3d Brigade
Bolivar Heights, Va.
October 6, 1862.
My dear Father⁠[1].

I received last night by Express the two boxes you sent on by Lt. Abbot⁠[2] to Harrison’s Landing, and the bundle of fly netting. The damage to the contents of the boxes was less than I had expected, considering they had been so long on the way and had been carried
Bolivar Heights (detail): "The heights covered with
tents and troops." Thaddeus Lowe's balloon in the
distance. Library of Congress, 

Prints and Photographs Division (click to enlarge)
once to Harrison’s Landing and then back, and been exposed to so great heat. The box of Ale was broken, and two bottles taken out and one broken, but I thought it very fortunate that I got 9 bottles safe out of 12. In the other box the Lemons of course were rotten. One bottle of Cherry Cordial was broken, and the top of the Ginger preserve was loos, so the liquid part of the contents of the jar had soaked into about everything that would absorb it. The shirts can easily be washed, and nothing was spoiled but the Sedulity Powders, which I do not now need. The ginger bread was quite dry, but of course rather stale. The rest of the Cordial, the Brandy, Bitters, Syrup, Sugar, Tea, Figs &c. &c. were all safe and in good condition and are most acceptable. I assure you I shall use them all most carefully and shall greatly enjoy them. I expect the other things by Express in a day or two.


Mrs. Lee
[3] is here now at Head Quarters with the Colonel, ⁠[4] and to-day is to dine here at the Mess.

It is cool to-day, and windy, and seems quite like Autumn. There is nothing stirring, and no prospect of a move, and everybody is getting settled down into as comfortable quarters as they can get.

I enclose a note for Mrs. Dr. Jeffries,⁠
 ⁠[5] thanking her for her kind present of Ginger preserve. It is in perfect condition, very nice indeed.


Your affectionate son

Henry.


Source Note

The source for Henry Ropes’ correspondence is the three volume transcription of Ropes outbound correspondence to his father, mother, and his brother, John C. Ropes. The original transcription can be found at the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library.

Henry Ropes was killed at Gettysburg on July 3 and from that point on, John C. Ropes undertook a life-long pursuit to memorialize his brother’s life and the regiment’s history. The transcription volumes are the center piece of John C. Ropes work and his legacy. Each of the three transcribed volumes are organized chronologically: Volume 1 is Henry Ropes’ correspondence to his father and mother, and Volume 2 and 3 to his brother, John C. Ropes. For more on the Ropes correspondence, see Richard F. Miller’s excellent essay on historical bibliography at pages 495-499 in his superlative study on the 20th Massachusetts in Richard F. Miller, Harvard’s Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 2005). Any errors in transcribing and annotating the selected correspondence are mine.

Notes:


1 William Ropes resided at 92 Beacon Street, Boston. His son, John C. Ropes also resided here. Boston Directory Embracing the City Record, General Directory of the Citizens and A Business Directory (Boston: Adams, Sampson & Co., 1861), p. 383.
2 Lt. Henry Livermore Abbott (1842-1864).
3 Helen Maria Armory Lee (1812-1893).
4 Colonel William Raymond Lee (1807-1891) commanded the 20th Massachusetts.
5 Ann Jeffries (b. 1802), wife of Dr. John Jeffries, Jr. (1796-1876) , a physician residing at 15 Chestnut Street in Boston’s Sixth Ward (Suffolk). U.S. Census, Massachusetts, 1860); Boston Directory Embracing the City Record, General Directory of the Citizens and A Business Directory (Boston: Adams, Sampson & Co., 1861), p. 241.

Monday, May 25, 2015

To the West Woods: The Correspondence of Henry Ropes, 20th Massachusetts, Entry 13

This is the thirteenth entry in the correspondence of Lieutenant Henry Ropes to his family between September 3 and October 5, 1862. Ropes was a Second Lieutenant in Company K of the 20th Massachusetts, Dana’s Brigade, Sedgwick’s Division, II Corps.


Headquarters  Bolivar Heights, Va.
October 1, 1862.
My dear Father.
I received yesterday your two letters of September 26th and one from Mother of the 25th. Thank you very much for again sending me so many comforts and luxuries.
I have not yet received the two boxes sent on with Lt. Abbott⁠1, the parcel of fly netting you sent nor the box by Lt. Grafton⁠2.
Bolivar Heights (detail): "The heights covered with
tents and troops." Library of Congress,
Prints and Photographs Division (click to enlarge)
The two first were sent last July or August and probably went to Harrison’s Landg. In a very few days the Express Company⁠3 expect to open a depot here and then I shall probably receive all. When we were at Harrison’s Landing you wrote to me that you had sent through Mr. Alford,⁠4 Agent of the American Tract Society $10.00 worth of “Goodies.” Perhaps they were for the sick, I am not not sure, but at any rate I never got them. Mr. Alford brought some tracts to the Regiment, and gave some Jams, Crackers &c. To the Hospital of the Regiment, but if I remember correctly your donation was after this.
You say you fear letters miscarry. Please tell me if you received lately a letter from me containing $4.00 in Mass. Banks to be changed for U.S. notes? I sent such a letter. I believe I am right about the boxes &c. I give the list as I expect to get them. Please tell me if it is right.
Boxes &c. sent to me.

1 box Ale &c.                                           by Adams Express
1 box Ginger (Mrs. Dr. Jeffries, &c)          “      “       “
1 parcel Netting                       “      “       “
1 supply Goodies                  American Tract Society
1 box Brandy &c.                  Lt. Grafton.

These I have received notice of an expect.
Please tell Mother that I long ago sent my thanks to Cousin Kitty for the sermons. I have written for some letter stamps. They are very scarce here now.
I think you underestimate our loss. Our Brigade lost most heavily of all. The day after the battle Col. Lee took command, and it then numbered 960 men, for 5 Regiments. He reported officially a loss in all of almost 900 men. Our Corps of about 13,000 or 14,000 men lost between 5000 and 6000. I think our entire loss must be 12,000 to 14,000.
We are all quiet here and no news.
Your affectionate son
Henry.


Source Note

The source for Henry Ropes’ correspondence is the three volume transcription of Ropes outbound correspondence to his father, mother, and his brother, John C. Ropes. The original transcription can be found at the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library.

Henry Ropes was killed at Gettysburg on July 3 and from that point on, John C. Ropes undertook a life-long pursuit to memorialize his brother’s life and the regiment’s history. The transcription volumes are the center piece of John C. Ropes work and his legacy. Each of the three transcribed volumes are organized chronologically: Volume 1 is Henry Ropes’ correspondence to his father and mother, and Volume 2 and 3 to his brother, John C. Ropes. For more on the Ropes correspondence, see Richard F. Miller’s excellent essay on historical bibliography at pages 495-499 in his superlative study on the 20th Massachusetts in Richard F. Miller, Harvard’s Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 2005). Any errors in transcribing and annotating the selected correspondence are mine.

Notes:

1 Lt. Henry Livermore Abbott (1842-1864), Harvard College, 1860 would be killed at the Battle of the Wilderness.
2 1st Lt. James Ingersoll Grafton (1841-1865), Second Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. He had left Harvard College at the outbreak of the war. He had been wounded in the head at Cedar Mountain and had returned to the regiment on October 1, 1862. Alonzo Hall Quint, Record of Second Massachusetts Infantry: 1861-1865 (Boston: James P. Walker, 1867), pp. 497-98.
3 Adams Express Company.

4 Probably John W. Alvord of the American Tract Society. For more on John W. Alford and his work with the American Tract Society, see http://tb.history.pcusa.org/resources/exhibits/civil_war/section_003_005.cfm; see also, James M. Schmidt, “A Balm from Gilead,” posted at the Civil War Medicine (and Writing) blog at http://civilwarmed.blogspot.com/2009/12/medical-department-32-religious-tracts.html.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

To the West Woods: The Correspondence of Henry Ropes, 20th Massachusetts, Entry 12

This is the twelfth entry in the correspondence of Lieutenant Henry Ropes to his family between September 3 and October 5, 1862. Ropes was a Second Lieutenant in Company K of the 20th Massachusetts, Dana’s Brigade, Sedgwick’s Division, II Corps.


Head Quarters, 3d. Brigade,

Bolivar Heights, Va. September 27th 1862.

My dear John.

I received your letter (written by Mary Ann⁠[1]) last evening. I am very sorry your eyes are so weak. I know what a hopeless feeling
Detail from "View of the camps of the Army of the Potomac,
on Bolivar Heights, near Harper's Ferry, after the 
battle of Antietam." Edwin Forbes (1839-1895). 
Wagons and encampments in the near and far distance. 
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
one has, when one begins to find out that there is a settled weakness of the eyes. It seems as if everything was doubtful, and you are not sure what you are able to do. I hope you are able to read this letter. If anybody reads it to you, let it be only Mary Ann, for I shall write to you on the next page what I do not wish every one to know. I am now with the Colonel,⁠[2] and while he is here, I shall stay and do everything for him I can. But he ought to resign immediately. The fact he is completely broken down and is not fit for duty.⁠[3] He has now got the chills and fever (not badly) the diarrhea, and a cough. It is beautiful weather, but cold at night, and I know he suffers from it, yet he still keeps about an generally is in good spirits. Should we have one week of active service, I know he would completely break down. You know he is pretty old and not of a very strong constitution. He will not hear of getting a leave of absence, and says if he cannot do full duty, he had better do none and leave the service.



Now we are quiet and no immediate prospect of an advance. We have just been through a short but active campaign, and have done well, and this is exactly the time for Col. Lee to resign. There would be time to fill his place and arrange things before we are again called into the field. He has done his duty well by the Regmnt. He has been in every battle and escaped unhurt. He would retire now most honorably. If he stays, and breaks down when we are in active service, it may not be so well for him or for us. I write this of course for your private eye or ear.

Capt. Leach⁠[4] of Dana’s staff, a very able, clear headed man, is here, and Col. Lee places great trust in him, and he manages Brigade matters almost entirely. He has told me privately that he

Capt. William B. Leach (1834-1903).
Photo: Minnesota Historical Society
Retrieved from First Minnesota
Volunteer Infantry Regiment site at

http://www.1stminnesota.net
probably will soon get an order to report to Genl. Dana, in Washington, and wishes someone to get into the harness here before he leaves. He first asked Herbert,⁠[5] but he could not leave his Company, and then (at the Colonel’s request) he asked me to come to Headquarters.

Do not let all this go far. I write in confidence to you. I think Col. Lee will resign before a month has passed. This is only my opinion.

Well, to answer your letter. Lieut. Beckwith⁠[6] was formerly a Sergeant, and was promoted 2d. Lieutenant, a few months ago. He is of the kind Capt. Shepard⁠[7] describes as a “wet rag.” No relation to Capt. Beckwith, as far as I know.

As to the Strategy: Everyone thinks and I think that old Sumner made a great mistake in dashing Sedgwick’s Division so recklessly against the key of the enemy’s position. We never should have gone down into that ravine,⁠[8] where the dead were piled closer than in the Orchard at Waterloo.⁠[9] We lost between 2 and 3000 men there out of about 6000,⁠[10] all in 2 hours or so.⁠[11] It was a slaughter pen. I think that our 3d line⁠[12] should have been held far back, our first⁠[13] advanced to the edge of the valley and skirmishers sent down, and our 2d line⁠[14] taken to the left to hold that part of the field until a connection could be made with French on the left. Then batteries should have been advanced and used against the enemy in the Cornfield, house, barn, &c.⁠[15] Had this been done and we gained the elevated land beyond the house,⁠[16] then Sumner’s whole Corps could have advanced and driven everything before them, as they did on the open land this side of the ravine. Then the whole of the enemy’s left would have been turned and our guns could have been place on a hill sweeping the whole right of the enemy, and Burnside would have had an easy victory, and I do not see how the Rebel Army could have beens saved. Sumner was too impetuous and too sure of victory. However, you underestimate our success. With the exception of this ravine or valley we gained possession of the whole field, and it was a most decided a[d]vantage to us. It forced the enemy to retreat. Then non of you see to appreciate what a tremendous battle it was. Fair Oaks, White Oak swamp, Malvern Hill, and the others, do not compare with it. It was from daylight till dark, and most obstinately fought, and at very close quarters. As you see, the comparative loss in our Corps, Division, Brigade, and Regiment greatly exceeds that of the British at Waterloo, or the Almor, or of the French at Magenta and Solferimo.

It was the first time I ever appreciated what I have often read of “men mowed down in rows like corn,” but it was so. When they came in on our left and rear the fire was awful. I was once covered with stones and dirt cast up by a shell striking close to me, and the trees of the wood were crackling as if on fire. Then, when the New-York and Pennsylvania troops were rushing by us and through us like sheep, our Regiment showed its discipline, and my Company did not take one step at double quick, but marked out at shouldered arms without the loss of one man, except those left dead an wounded on the field.

If you want to know more of the battle, you must ask questions, and I will try to answer them. I think McClellan was right in keeping troops near Washington, How did he know the whole rebel force was here? The day after the battle he got a despatch from Hillock, telling him this fact. It would have been wrong to leave Washington in the slightest danger. That should be protected at every cost.

I am sorry you found so much trouble with the tents. Please also send me from my trunk the pair of dark blue pants I sent back, also 1 pair woolen ribbed drawers. Let stoups (for riding) be put on the pants, to unbutton, of course. Probably the Express⁠[17] will soon run to Harper’s Ferry. Grafton’s Regiment (the 2d Mass.) is not with ours, but at Sandy Hook, 6 miles off. I can send there easily, however. Please send me $1._ worth letter stamps. I have none at all now. I hear poor Abbott is very ill indeed. [18] I am exceedingly sorry for him. Glad you are well, Mary Ann must not be sickly. Make her ride on horseback, and walk &c. Love to all.

Your affectionate brother

Henry.

P.S. Direct in future “Lieut. Ropes, Head Quarters, Dana’s Brigade.

H.R.

Source Note

The source for Henry Ropes’ correspondence is the three volume transcription of Ropes outbound correspondence to his father, mother, and his brother, John C. Ropes. The original transcription can be found at the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library.

Henry Ropes was killed at Gettysburg on July 3 and from that point on, John C. Ropes undertook a life-long pursuit to memorialize his brother’s life and the regiment’s history. The transcription volumes are the center piece of John C. Ropes work and his legacy. Each of the three transcribed volumes are organized chronologically: Volume 1 is Henry Ropes’ correspondence to his father and mother, and Volume 2 and 3 to his brother, John C. Ropes. For more on the Ropes correspondence, see Richard F. Miller’s excellent essay on historical bibliography at pages 495-499 in his superlative study on the 20th Massachusetts in Richard F. Miller, Harvard’s Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 2005). Any errors in transcribing and annotating the selected correspondence are mine.

Notes:

1 Ropes’ sister Mary Ann Ropes (b 1842)

2 Colonel William Raymond Lee (1807-1891) commanded the 20th Massachusetts.

3 For more on the state of Col. Lee, see Henry Ropes to Mother, September 21, 1862, footnote 7 and posted on this blog.

4 Captain William B. Leach (1834-1903), served as Brig. Gen. Dana’s aid. OR, Dana’s Report, September 30, 1862. For more on Leach, see the excellent First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment site at http://www.1stminnesota.net website, see Roster  for Leach’s biographical entry.

5 Lt. Herbert Cowpland Mason (1840-1884), Harvard College, 1862.

6 Scottish born Robert Beckwith, 22, an ironworker before the war, will be killed at Marye’s Heights. Richard F. Miller, Harvard’s Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 2005), pp. 183, 212.

7 Capt. Alan Shepard headed Company K. He will be wounded at Fredericksburg and end the war in the Invalid Corps. Miller, pp.  22, 206.

8 As the 20th Massachusetts moved across the Hagerstown Pike, it traversed an open field and then, at the eastern edge of the West Woods descended on a gradual 200 yard downslope ending at the Alfred Poffenberger farmstead. A number of accounts from those engaged in the West Woods describe this part of the field as a valley or ravine.

9 Ropes is referring to the action in and around the Hougoumont farmstead, 5 km south of the village of Waterloo. For an excellent source on Waterloo, see Napoleon, His Army and Enemies at www.napolun.com.

10 Casualty counts in the West Woods vary as they do in nearly all engagements. As of October 2013, the National Park Service numbers for the West Woods is 5,400 Federal troops engaged with 2,200 casualties and 9,000 Confederate troops engaged with 1,850 casualties.

11 One of the enduring misconceptions of the fighting in the West Woods is that action took place over a 15 to 20 minute span. Primary sources, however, strongly suggest that elements of Sedgwick’s Division engaged in a running battle from 
the Dunkard Church northward to the David R. Miller farmstead. This conflict lasted from approximately 9:15 a.m. to approximately 10:30 a.m.

12 The third line was Oliver O. Howard’s Philadelphia Brigade.

13 The first line was Willis Gorman’s brigade.

14 The second line was Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh Dana’s brigade.

15 The Alfred Poffenberger farmstead included a two-bay cabin, some outbuildings, and a bank barn. A small orchard grew on the east side of the cabin while corn was planted in the fields west and north of the farmstead.

16 Hauser’s Ridge.

17 Adams Express Agency. See Henry Ropes to John Ropes, September 3, 1862 and posted here on December 22, 2014.

18 Lt. Henry Livermore Abbott (1842-1864), suffering from typhoid, had been left in Frederick on September 14. Miller, p. 165.