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.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

To the West Woods: The Correspondence of Henry Ropes, 20th Massachusetts, Entry 11

This is the eleventh 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.



Camp 20th Regiment Bolivar
Heights, Va. September 23d 1862.
My dear John.

I answered your two last letters and have only to tell you that we marched here yesterday and forded the river. Sumner’s Corps is here and he in command.


I enclose a letter for Mary Ann⁠ [1]. I have sent home by Mr. Folsom⁠[2] who was kind enough to take charge of it, a bundle containing my heavy revolver, cartridge boxes, ammunition &c., some books I have done with, some private papers, a knife, &c. Please have “Barchester Towers”[3] bound, if you think it is worth it, and “Bleak House⁠”[4] too, when I send home the other volumes which Herbert⁠ [5] is now-reading.

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)
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. 
Please have new plates put in the knife and send it to me when you have a chance. Let the pistol be cleaned, oiled and put away and the fixed ammunition kept for it. Give the private letters to Mary Ann to put in my box. As I know you like to keep some relics of a battle field, I send a piece of shell, and grape shot I picked up. It will give you some idea of what sort of a buzzing we had about our ears. Please tell me if you ever got my Buffalo skin I sent home last spring. I have forgotten whether or not it went safely.

Please send me by mail $6._ in U.S. Ones, and $4._ in postage stamp change. I have nothing smaller than $5._ and find great trouble in making change. Charge the $10._ to my account. By the way, can you not tell me roughly about how much you have charged to me? I feel sure I must have a considerable balance on hand, but would very much like to know how much.

We ought to be paid every day now, and when we are, I shall send home another $100._ Herbert is very much obliged to you for attending to a tent for him. I advised him to wait till mine came, and see how he liked it, but he read my description and felt sure it would answer. I hope it is of white Rubber, that is if both are equally strong. Very likely you will find some light lantern all made which will be quite as light and compact as the one I described. If so, buy it instead.

If the tent is what I expect it will be, it will be invaluable. Especially at this season, it is important to keep dry at night. The rubber coat will be very useful, I know. I hope the boots will not give you trouble. If Rice has saved my measure, it is all right. Do not let the soles be of extravagant thickness, as was formerly the fashion for “Army Shoes.”⁠[6]


I have not seen the 2d. Mass. since we were at Rockland⁠,[7] but hope, if we are near them again, to get acquainted with Capt. Morse⁠.[8] The 2d. Is now at Sandy Hook, about 6 miles from here, across the river.

I am at present quite lame from a boil which has selected a very unfortunate position. It is exactly on the cord or tendon which connects the extremity of the heel with the calf of the leg. It is very small, however, and will no doubt be well in a couple of days.
You never tell me how business matters and the estates are getting on, and whether the general affairs of the family are in a flourishing state. Please do tell me.

I suppose you no have quite an income from law. Write soon.

Your affectionate brother
Henry.

P.S. The Colonel’s man, George, desires respects.⁠
[9]


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 This is probably Charles Walker Folsom, Quartermaster of the 20th Massachusetts. Richard F. Miller, Harvard's Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Lebanon, N.H., University Press of New England, 2005), pp. 11-12.
3 Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers (1857).
4 Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1852-53).
5 Lt. Herbert Cowpland Mason (1840-1884), Harvard College, 1862.
See Henry Ropes to John C. Ropes, September 3, 1862 posted on this blog.
7 Probably Rockville, Maryland.
8 Lt. Charles Fessenden Morse (1839-1926), Harvard (1858) served as Captain of Company B, 2nd Massachusetts.
9 Colonel William Raymond Lee (1807-1891). “George” is probably an aide to Lee.

Monday, February 16, 2015

To the West Woods: The Correspondence of Henry Ropes, 20th Massachusetts, Entry 10

This is the tenth 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. 

Camp 20th Regiment Mass: Volunteers
Bolivar Heights, Va. September 26th 1862.
Friday.

My dear Father.

I have received no letters from home since I wrote last to you from this Camp. We are still quietly recruiting ourselves, drilling our new men and getting things generally to rights.

Col. Lee⁠ [1] is, as you know, in command of the Brigade, and to-day he detailed me to act as Aide-de-Camp. Lieut’s. Hallowell [⁠2] and Milton [⁠3], the two regular Aides of Genl. Dana⁠ [4] being away ill. I am to remain “during the absence of Lt. Milton.” The Colonel asked me to share his tent, and I am now with him. He has quite a cold yet and is not well, but
Capt. Norwood Penrose Hallowell (1839-1914)
Courtesy, Massachusetts Historical Society
I hope he will soon improve. I of course get a horse by this arrangement, and many other comforts. It is of course only temporary.

We are camped on the brow of the hill, the air is very pure and healthy, and I think I never saw a better place for one’s health. If you can find a recruit or Officer coming on, I should be very glad if you would send me my buffalo skin. By the time it gets here the nights will be cold enough for it.

I am perfectly well. Best love to Mother. Please thank Sister Mary or her letter and say I intend to write very soon.

By the way, I believe I have not acknowledged yours of the 20th. Enclosing Sister Mary’s letter.

You seem to overestimate the battle of Sunday⁠ [5] 
compared with that of Wednesday the 17th. Sunday’s fight was a decided victory, but the battle of the 17th was the greatest battle ever fought on this continent and the loss fearful. Our Corps of about 15,000 men lost between 5000 and 6000, our Division more in proportion and our Brigade the most of any in the Division although it is the smallest. Col. Lee says except at Ball’s Bluff he never was under such a fire. It seems to me an awful responsibility rests somewhere. The 2d and 3d lines were advanced under the heaviest fire for no purpose, and the left flank left entirely exposed. Had the 3d line covered the left, the 2d been placed on the open field and ordered to lie down and the first kept the enemy at bay by skirmishers till a battery could have been brought to bear on the enemy’s position, I think things might have resulted differently, and lives saved.

However it is easy to criticise after all is over.

Col. Lee sends his respects.

Your ever 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 Colonel William Raymond Lee (1807-1891).

2 Capt. Norwood Penrose Hallowell (1839-1914), Harvard College, 1861 was severely wounded in the arm in the West Woods.

3 Lt. William F. Milton, Harvard (1858).

4 Brig. Gen. Napoleon J.T. Dana (1822-1905).

5 The Battle of South Mountain was fought on Sunday, September 14, 1862.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

To the West Woods: The Correspondence of Henry Ropes, 20th Massachusetts, Entry 9.

This is the ninth 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.

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
Col. William Raymond Lee
Courtesy, Massachusetts Historical Society
unfit for service. As you know Genl. Dana⁠
[1] is wounded; and of our Regiments the 7th. Michigan is almost destroyed, the 42d New York (Tammany) dispersed and almost broken up, and the 19th and 20th suffered heavily. Col. Hinks⁠ [2] mortally wounded, Lt. Colonel Devereaux⁠ [3] and the 1st Captain⁠ [4] wounded, the Lieut. Colonel of the 59th killed⁠ [5], and we have lost Col. Palfrey⁠ [6]. Col. Lee [7] 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 of enduring 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 &c, 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 so out here is that they take things easily and take great care of themselves, like old Sumner ⁠[8] for instance. So as we are very short of Officers, and the Regiments 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 [9] is Major. I have tried to see him but have been as yet unable. Capt. Macy⁠ [10] 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 ⁠[11] was particularly exposed, as he was on the left. He lost all his non-commissioned Officers, and half of his men. Our Division lost about one half.


A very good man of my Company, named Riley⁠ [12], 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 [13] does very well now, and I shall no doubt keep him. 

Love to Mary Ann⁠ [14] and all. I shall try to write to her next.


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 Brig. Gen. Napoleon J.T. Dana (1822-1905), West Point (1842), commanded the Third Brigade of John Sedgwick’s Second Division, II Corps (second brigade in line in the West Woods). He was seriously wounded in the leg. See further, biographical entry in Cullum’s Register.

2 Colonel Edward Winslow Hinks (Hincks) (1830-1894) commanded the 19th Massachusetts, Third Brigade (Dana’s), Second Division (Sedgwick), II Corps. He was seriously wounded, but not killed, in the West Woods.

3 Lt. Col. Arthur Forrester Devereux (1838-1906), 19th Massachusetts.


4 Probably Captain Edmund Rice (1842-1906). For more on Rice, see Brian Downey’s Antietam on the Web under Edmund Rice.


5 This is John Lemuel Stetson (1834-1862). For more on Stetson, see blog entry for November 11, 2009.


6 Col. Francis Winthrop Palfrey (1831-1889), Harvard College, 1851, Harvard Law School, 1853. He would be hit with grapeshot in his shoulder in the West Woods on September 17.


7 Colonel William Raymond Lee (1807-1891) led the 20th Massachusetts from its inception at the outbreak of the war through Antietam. He was captured at the Battle of Ball's Bluff (Virginia, October 1861) and spent four months in close confinement in bad conditions at a Richmond POW camp. Once paroled in late February 1862, he returned to Boston to recuperate. A family member was struck by the changes to Lee and other returning officers: "They were worn and old-looking, with the strange expression those carry who have been in confinement, or under a great pressure of care. [Y]outh had gone out of them...[replaced by] silence and listlessness, and dull lines about the face that were sad to see." After convalescing in Boston, Lee rejoined the regiment and took them through the punishing Peninsula Campaign of the spring/summer 1862 where he was left severely wounded and unable to walk. A commentator wrote of the regiment that at the end of the campaign, "they look used up." Returning to the regiment in early September 1862, Lee led the 20th into the West Woods on September 17th. Of the 400 that entered the woods that morning, 137, or 34%, were left dead or wounded on the field. Some went missing and have never been found. Nearly all regimental officers were counted as casualties including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Francis Palfrey, and Edward Revere. The action left Lee broken. Two days after the battle, Capt. George Macy found Lee in a stable not far from the field, he was "drunk, broke, and hungry, and his uniform soiled with his own diarrhea...he was just like a little child wandering away from home." He resigned his commission shortly afterwards and he remained "frail and shaky" for the remainder of his life. 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. 116-119, 127-28, 154, 161, 170-183, 218; John C. Ropes, “William Raymond Lee,” Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 28 (May, 1892-May, 1893), pp. 346-348.


8 Edwin Vose Sumner (1797-1863) commanded II Corps, Army of the Potomac.


9 Major Sidney Willard (1831-1863), a Harvard graduate (1852) and Boston lawyer, served as a Major in the 35th Massachusetts, IX Corps. He would be killed at Fredericksburg on December 13. C.A. Bartol, A Nation’s Hour: A Tribute to Major Sidney Willard (Boston: Walker, Wise, and Company, 1862), pp. 14, 30-31.


10 Lt. George Nelson Macy (1837-1875) from one of Nantucket’s oldest families would rise to General by war’s end.


11 Lt. Herbert Cowpland Mason (1840-1884), Harvard College, 1862, was severely wounded in the West Woods.


12 Irish born Private John Riley (1824-1862) served in Company K of the 20th Massachusetts. A resident of Chelsea, Massachusetts he was an “iron puddler” at the time of his enlistment on August 26, 1861. The 1860 Massachusetts Census found him residing in Worcester with his wife Fanny, also born in Ireland, and six children ages 15 to 1 years old. Fanny filed for widow’s and minors' pensions on May 11, 1863. John Riley is buried at Antietam National Cemetery, Section 17, Lot A, Grave 15. U.S. Census, Massachusetts, 1860; Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the Civil War, The Adjutant General, compiler (Norwood, MA: Norwood Press, 1931), p. 585; NARA, RG 15, Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900, compiled 1949 - 1949, documenting the period 1861 - 1942.


13 James Smith (1842-1864) was a “case maker” from Northampton before the war. He wrote to John C. Ropes on November 5, 1863 “a few lines in accordance with the expressed wish of your late Brother Lt. Ropes with whom I was a servant…” He signed his letter “James Smith, Head Qrs, 3d Brig., 2d Div., 2nd Corps, A.P.” He would be killed on June 9, 1864 at Cold Harbor. Ropes Manuscript, Rare Books and Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library; Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the Civil War, The Adjutant General, compiler (Norwood, MA: Norwood Press, 1931), p. 586.


14 Ropes’ sister, Mary Ann Ropes (b 1842).






Sunday, January 11, 2015

To the West Woods: The Correspondence of Henry Ropes, 20th Massachusetts, Entry 7

This is the seventh 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.

Camp on Battlefield near Sharpsburg
Md. September 20, 1862.

My dear John.

I have written to Father giving an account of the late battle. I have received 2 letters from you of the 12th one from Mother of the 8th and one from Mary Ann, and one from Father of the 9th inst. Which I have not yet acknowledged.

Yesterday I went over the field, and it was really a most awful sight. The dead were really piled up and lay in rows. The slaughter was more awful than anything I ever read of, for it is not a small field on which the dead lay thickly scattered as if there was a separate fight at that one place, but a vast extent of country several times as large as the Commons⁠[1] where there is no place which you can stand and not see the field black with dead bodies as far [as] the eye can reach. Then the wounded gathered into barns &c. are an awful sight. The Rebels let them lay for 2 days without care, and would not allow our men to either take them off, or dress their wounds, as they lay, although their own men robbed them of everything and often stripped their clothes from their bodies. No description I ever
Location of the 20th Massachusetts in the West Woods.
Detail from Cope/Carman Map, 1904. Library of Congress.
read begins to give one an idea of the slaughter and the horrible sights of this battle-field. We drove them for about 1/2 miles, and they then repulsed us from the ravine into which we were too hastily advanced.⁠
[2] The Artillery was by far the heaviest we have ever yet heard.

The 20th has lost about 150 about of about 400, and it never acted better or better supported its reputation for perfect steadiness. The advance of our Division was a splendid sight. I had 2 very narrow escapes. The spent ball made a hole in my coat and only scraped up the shirt a little and made me lame for a day. The Cannon ball I saw distinctly. It first hit the branch of a tree, glanced, passed between my legs slightly burning my knee and leaving a black mark on my pants. It struck the ground behind me and again glanced up and smashed the shoulder of Corporal Campion⁠[3] of my Company. A great many of our men were killed by the grape shot they piled into us from the top of the hill⁠[4] about as far off as from our house to Charles St.⁠[5] 

Well, it is over, and we may not see another such battle for many months.

Much obliged to you for your attention to my things. Your recruit has not yet come. James is doing better of late and [seems] capable of improvement. I should not take an enlisted man for a servant. Col. Lee⁠[6] is well and in command of the Brigade, Genl. Howard⁠[7] of the Division; Capt. Dreher⁠[8] of the Regiment. Herbert⁠[9] is all right and unhurt. So are all other friends except those I mentioned as wounded. We have beaten the enemy badly and they acknowledge it. I should not wonder if the war was now brought to a speedy end.

I have heard that our left was unprotected in consequence of Genl. French taking a wrong road. He should have been there.

I have received the pistol &c. And have determined to keep John Bradlee⁠[10] and send home the heavy one. Have not seen Lieut. Morse⁠[11] of the 2d. They were out near us for 2 days. Saw Caspar⁠[12] and Forbes⁠[13] of the Cavalry the other day. Murphy⁠[14] and Abbot⁠[15] were left sick at Frederick and were not in the battle.

Your affectionate brother,

Henry


Source NoteThe 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 The Boston Commons.

2 The location of the 20th Massachusetts in the West Woods placed them in a broad depression between two limestone ridges. See, illustration.

3 This was Irish-born Corporal Edward J. Campion. He and his brother, Sgt. Patrick J. Campion, served in Company K, 20th Massachusetts. The medical history of Corporal Campion follows: “Campion, Edward J., Corporal, Co. K, 20th Massachusetts, aged 31 years. Antietam, September 17th 1862. Shell fracture of right temporal bone. Baltimore hospitals. Removal of spicular of bone. Discharged March 10, 1863. Examiner David Choate, M.D., reports, November 27th, 1863, that the patient is subject to vertigo, palpitation, and morbid wakefulness. He was admitted to the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers at Togus, Maine on September 20, 1887 where he lived until his death on December 26, 1910. The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1870), p. 238; 62d Congress, 2d Session (December 4, 1911-August 26, 1912) House Documents, Vol. 121 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1912), p. 287; National Archives, Record Group 94, (M544, Roll 0006). Alphabetical card index to the compiled service records of volunteer Union soldiers belonging to units from the State of Massachusetts.

4 This would be Hauser’s Ridge.

5 The 9:00 to 9:30 location of the 20th Massachusetts is marked on the Antietam Battlefield Board Atlas a little less than 600 yards from Brockenbrough’s and D’Aquin batteries located on Hauser Ridge. The distance from the family residence on 92 Beacon Street and Charles Street is 500 feet. Cope/Carman Map 1904; Boston Directory… for the Year Commencing, July 1, 1862 (Boston: Adams, Sampson, & Co., 1862); Mitchell’s New General Atlas, Plan of Boston (Philadelphia: S. Augustus Mitchell, 1866).

6 Colonel William Raymond Lee (1807-1891), attended West Point but dropped out in 1829. John C. Ropes, “William Raymond Lee,” Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 28 (May, 1892-May, 1893), pp. 346-348.

7 General Oliver O. Howard (1830-1909), took command of the division vice the wounded John Sedgwick. Cullum’s Register.

8 Captain Ferdinand Dreher (1822-1863) commissioned as Major on September 5, 1862 will be wounded at Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862 and die in Boston on April 30, 1863. Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with reports from the Quartermaster-General, Surgeon-General, and Master of Ordnance for the Year Ending December 31, 1862 (Boston: Wright & Potter, 1863), pp. 676-77; NARA, RG 15, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Veterans of the Army and Navy Who Served Mainly in the Civil War and the War With Spain, compiled 1861 - 1934, Application Number WC8673.

9 Lt. Herbert Cowpland Mason (1840-1884), Harvard College, 1862, will be severely wounded in the West Woods.

10 Unknown reference.

11 Lt. Charles Fessenden Morse (1839-1926), Harvard (1858) served as Captain of Company B, 2nd Massachusetts.

12 Caspar Crowinshield (1837-1897), Harvard (1860), originally with the 20th Massachusetts, was a captain in the First Regiment of Massachusetts Cavalry. The regiment, deployed across the Middle Bridge and finding some refuge in the hollows and banks adjacent to Antietam Creek as the “air was full of shot and shell.” Ezra A. Carman, The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, Vol. II: Antietam. Thomas G. Clemens, ed. (California: Savas Beatie, 2012), p. 363.

13 William Hathaway Forbes (1840-1897), Harvard (1861), served in the First Regiment of Massachusetts Cavalry. Obituary, The Harvard Crimson, October 31, 1897.

14 Lt. James Murphy would resign his commission on August 28, 1863 due to wounds received at Chancellorsville. He will serve as one of Henry Ropes’ pallbearers.

15 Lt. Henry Livermore Abbott (1842-1864), Harvard College, 1860 will be killed at the Battle of the Wilderness.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

To the West Woods: The Correspondence of Henry Ropes, 20th Massachusetts, Entry 6

This is the sixth 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. 

Field near Sharpsburg, Va.⁠ [1]

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.[2] Last night the enemy left and have probably crossed the river. We are drawn back, our forces in pursuit. Col: Palfrey⁠ [3] is wounded in shoulder, and I believe missing; Capt. Holmes⁠ [4] in neck; Capt. Hallowell⁠ [5] in arm; Lt. Milton⁠ [6] slightly in three places; Lt. Col: Revere⁠ [7] in arm; Col: Lee⁠ [8] safe and well; Genl. Richardson⁠ [9] mortally; Genl. Sedgwick⁠ [10] badly; Genl. Dana⁠ [11] in leg; Col: Hinks⁠ [12] 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 my Knee. Herbert⁠ [13] and all the rest safe. Abbott⁠ [14] and Macy⁠ [15] not there.

Most affectionate son

Henry

P.S. Have just heard that Dr. Revere⁠ [16] is killed, may not be true.

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 Maryland. This is probably an error in transcription.
2 Cope Carman Map location of the 20th Massachusetts.
3 Col. Francis Winthrop Palfrey (1831-1889), Harvard College, 1851, Harvard Law School, 1853. He would be hit with grapeshot in his shoulder in the West Woods on September 17.
4 Capt. Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841-1935). For more on Holmes in the West Woods, see posts on this blog entered on July 21, August 13, August 29, and October 29, November 11, 2010.
5 Capt. Norwood Penrose Hallowell (1839-1914), Harvard College, 1861 was severely wounded in the arm in the West Woods
6 Lt. William F. Milton, Harvard (1858). Richard F. Miller, Harvard's Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts (Lebanon, N.H., University Press of New England, 2005), p. 54.
7 Lt. Col. Paul Joseph Revere, grandson of Paul Revere and Harvard graduate (1862). He will be killed at Gettysburg.
8 Colonel William Raymond Lee (1807-1891), attended West Point but dropped out in 1829. John C. Ropes, “William Raymond Lee,” Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 28 (May, 1892-May, 1893), pp. 346-348.
9 Maj. Gen. Israel Richardson (1815-1862), West Point (1841), commanded the First Division, II Corps. He would die of his wound at Pry House on November 3. See further, biographical entry in Cullum’s Register.
10 Major General John Sedgwick (1813-1864), West Point (1837), commanded the Second Division of the II Corps (Sumner). Shot in the wrist, leg, and shoulder in the West Woods on September 17, he survived, but lost his life at Spotsylvania Court House on May 9, 1864. See further, biographical entry in Cullum’s Register.
11 Brig. Gen. Napoleon J.T. Dana (1822-1905), West Point (1842), commanded the Third Brigade of John Sedgwick’s Second Division, II Corps. He was seriously wounded in the leg. See further, biographical entry in Cullum’s Register.
12 Colonel Edward Winslow Hinks (Hincks) (1830-1894) commanded the 19th Massachusetts, Third Brigade (Dana’s), Second Division (Sedgwick), II Corps. He was seriously wounded, but not killed, in the West Woods.
13 Lt. Herbert Cowpland Mason (1840-1884), Harvard College, 1862, was severely wounded in the West Woods.
14 Lt. Henry Livermore Abbott (1842-1864), Harvard (1860).
15 Lt. George Nelson Macy (1837-1875) from one of Nantucket’s oldest families would rise to General by war’s end.
16 Dr. Edward Hutchinson Robbins Revere, was the older brother of Major Paul Revere. A graduate of Harvard Medical School (1849), maintained a practice in Greenfield, Massachusetts at the outbreak of the war. He was "performing field surgery when he suddenly found himself in front. He remained and calmly finished the operation before he was shot and killed." Richard F. Miller, Harvard's Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts (Lebanon, N.H., University Press of New England, 2005), pp. 25-26, 177.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

To the West Woods: The Correspondence of Henry Ropes, 20th Massachusetts, Entry 5

This is the fifth 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. 

Camp 20th Regiment near 
Middletown, Md.  Monday September 15th 1862
6 A.M.

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 Middlebrook⁠1, and camped day before yesterday close to Frederick. The people show every sign of joy at our arrival. There was a severe battle⁠2 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.⁠3 was
Major General Jesse Reno (1823-1862)
Tenleytown Historical Society, Washington, D.C.
engaged. Genl. Reno
⁠4 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 Abbott⁠5, Murphy⁠6 and Beckwith⁠7 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
Henry.

Source.

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 Middlebrook Post Office was located along the Frederick Road just west of Great Seneca Creek. 
2 The Battle of South Mountain, September 14, 1862.
3 The 35th Massachusetts was organized at Worcester, Massachusetts on August 1, 1862. They joined the 2nd Brigade (Ferrero), 2nd Division (Sturgis), of the IX Corps for the advance into Maryland. They participated at the Battle of South Mountain on September 14th. Ropes’ interest in the regiment probably is his family relationship with Major Sidney Willard (1831-1863) who served as a Major in the 35th Massachusetts. See previous post, December 29, 2014. Bartol, A Nation’s Hour: A Tribute to Major Sidney Willard (Boston: Walker, Wise, and Company, 1862), pp. 14, 30-31; The Civil War in the East website; Union Order of Battle, Official Records.
4 Major General Jesse Reno (1823-1862), a Virginian by birth, headed the Union IX Corps. He was mortally wounded at Fox Gap, South Mountain while directing troop positions toward the end of the battle. See further, John Hoptak, The Battle of South Mountain, (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011), pp. 82-85.
5 Lt. Henry Livermore Abbott (1842-1864), Harvard College, (1860), will be killed at the Battle of the Wilderness.
6 Lt. James Murphy will resign his commission on August 28, 1863 due to wounds received at Chancellorsville, Murphy will serve as one of Henry Ropes’ pallbearers.
7 Sgt. Robert Beckwith (1840-1862) a Scottish-born ironworker will be commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant following Antietam. He will be killed on the assault on Mayre’s Heights, Fredericksburg on December 13th.  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.