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


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.


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.

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