Sunday, December 28, 2014

To the West Woods: The Correspondence of Henry Ropes, 20th Massachusetts, Entry 4

This is the fourth 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 Defiance⁠1 near Rockville
Md. Monday September 8th 1862.

My dear Father.

We marched from Tenallytown⁠2 on Saturday last and drew up here in line of battle in support of batteries and sent out pickets. We had heard of the invasion of the Rebels, and we quite expected a battle, as their pickets occupied Darnestown⁠3 a few miles before us. However, they have not molested us, and now we have an immense force here. Banks⁠4 is on our left, and the 2d. Mass.⁠5 is close to us in the 2d line. I was really very much astonished to hear that the Rebels had crossed, but I think it will be their ruin, that is if they are here in force. I do not think they will attack us here, for we are in a very strong position, and they seem to me making to the North. Perhaps after all they will retire after supplying themselves with what food and clothing they can get.
Mr. John Gray⁠6 has just been here and is getting a good idea of military matters. We are in a most beautiful and healthy Camp, and as Genl. Sumner⁠7 has to_day given it a name “Defiance” and as our baggage had just come up, I think we may be some time here. My feet is much better. I enclose 2 bills of $2. Each of N.E. Banks.⁠8 I understand both are good but they will not often take N.E. bills here. If they are good, will you please send me back the $4 in U.S. $1, or better still, postage stamps and small change?
Bank note issued by the White Mountain Bank,
New Hampshire, 1862. See further, note 8 below.
I received yesterday yours of the 4th and Mother’s of August 28th enclosing a letter from Frank at Berlin⁠9 and Lizzy at Lewisham.⁠10 Please thank all and say I hope to answer soon. I am delighted you gave such a handsome present to Mr. Willard.⁠11 I know he will value it exceedingly. All friends here well. The Colonel ⁠12 as brisk and active as ever. He already looks much better than when he came, for he is sunburnt and ruddy. Very much obliged to you for attending to my little matters, and for sending to their owners the contents of the trunk.
Letter for Mary Ann⁠13 enclosed.

Your affectionate Son


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.


1 Camp Defiance was two miles north of Rockville, Maryland. Henry P. Goddard, The Good Fight that Didn’t End: Henry P. Goddard’s Accounts of Civil War and Peace Calvin Goddard Zon, ed. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2008), p. 51.
2 Tennallytown, District of Columbia.
3 Darnestown, Maryland.
4 Bank’s Corps, II Corps of the Army of Virginia. Banks would be relieved from command on September 7 and five days later General Order 129 would change its designation to the XII Corps, Army of the Potomac, under command of Major General Joseph F. Mansfield.
5 Second Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Third Brigade, XII Corps.
6 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.
7 Edward Vose Sumner, headed II Corps, Army of the Potomac.
8 During this time, private banks issued bank notes in various denominations. The image here is of a two dollar note issued by the White Mountain Bank in New Hampshire. Image from
9 This is probably Frank Ropes (b. 1838), Henry’s brother, from Berlin, Germany.
10 This is probably Elizabeth Ropes (b. 1825), Henry’s sister, at Lewisham, London, England.
11 This is probably Major Sidney Willard (1831-1863) a Harvard graduate (1852) and Boston lawyer who served as a Major in the 35th Massachusetts, IX Corps. The “handsome present” may have been “a military sash and a handsome silver platter” presented to him by the Washington Home Guard, Cambridge on his departure “for the seat of war on Friday, August 22.” On September 3 he would be appointed to Major of the regiment. 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.
12 Colonel William Raymond Lee (1807-1891) commanded the 20th Massachusetts.

13 This is probably Ropes’ sister Mary Ann Ropes (b 1842). 1850 U.S. Census Record for Massachusetts.

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