Friday, December 26, 2014

To the West Woods: The Correspondence of Henry Ropes, 20th Massachusetts, Entry 3

This is the third 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
Tennallytown near Washington, D.C.

September 5th 1862.

My dear Father.

Battery Martin Scott in the District
of Columbia overlooking Chain Bridge.
Harper's Weekly, August 24, 1861.
I wrote to you last from Alexandria, day before yesterday, telling you of our heavy marches to and [1] I was unable to march yesterday and came in an ambulance with Col. Hinks⁠ [2] of the 19th Regiment, a very pleasant man. He told me that we marched 30 miles on Sunday, from 2 A.M. till 12 P.M., and that taking the 3 days together we marched 65 miles in 64 consecutive hours. This march quite used up my foot, and I found yesterday that I was quite unable to march, but to-day it is much better and I have no doubt a few day’s rest will quite restore it.
from Fairfax Court House. Yesterday the Brigade (under Col. Lee) marched to this place crossing at Chain Bridge. Our Corps, and Banks’ is here, and I understand Banks is to-day to move up the river to Poolesville.

We are now on very high land and shall probably be very comfortable.[3] I have written to Poolesville ⁠2and ordered my two boxes there to be sent home to you by Adams’ Express. I enclose the keys. They are filled with Camp equipage which, I could not carry with me from Poolesville. Please open the boxes and make any use of the contents. Some of the things I may need and if so will send for them.

[Notation in pencil: “For close see close of letter 26 September /62_” The “close” from September 26th is amended below. Someone has added a notation in pencil to this amendment that “This is probably the close of a letter dated Sept. 5, 1862 “].

From all I hear, McDowell [4] made a bad job of his retreat and our loss was heavy, and a great deal of valuable Stores and many wagons fell into the enemy’s hands. I can see no excuse for this. A good firm rear guard can stop almost any pursuit. We have now twice covered a retreat, and both times with success.

Jackson seems to strike terror everywhere. I hope Sumner [5] will meet him some day and turn the tables. We expect to be here several weeks. I am perfectly well as usual. Herbert [6] is quite strong and well, and stood the hard marching perfectly. I have written to John [7] to get me a number of things, and I have no doubt it will take up much of his time to see to them, be he is very kind in attending to everything, and I think I have now found out exactly what I need.

Best love to Mother and all. I shall write soon and answer all letters when I can get a tent up.

Ever your affectionate Son


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] Poolesville, Montgomery County, Maryland.

[2] Colonel Edward Winslow Hinks (Hincks) (1830-1894) commanded the 19th Massachusetts. He would be seriously wounded in the West Woods.

[3] Tennallytown, District of Columbia, at 500 feet elevation, is on one of the highest points of the District.

[4] Gen. Irwin McDowell led the III Corps of the Army of Virginia under John Pope.

[5] Edwin Vose Sumner commanded the II Corps of the Army of the Potomac.

[6] Lt. Herbert Cowpland Mason (1840-1884), Harvard College, 1862, would be severely wounded in the West Woods.

[7] John C. Ropes, his brother.

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