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

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 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; see also, James M. Schmidt, “A Balm from Gilead,” posted at the Civil War Medicine (and Writing) blog at