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.

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).