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


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.

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.

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