Saturday, June 10, 2017

"They were making it rather warm for the troops on our right:" The 111th Pennsylvania and "Greene's Salient" at the Dunker Church--Part 1

Clermont, Pa, Feb. 4
th. 1892.[1]

Maj. J. M. Gould,
     Portland, Me.


In reply to your letter of inquiry, in regard to our position at Antietam, would say, that I cannot give you much information as it has been thirty years since the battle was fought and as I never have visited the field since_ and as I was rather young_to know much about the organization of the army at that time, and as Popes army and McClellan had been consolidated only a few days before, I hardly know what Brigade or Div. I did belong to. So you must not think strange, if I fail to give you the required information.

The situation between 1000 and 1030 HRS as shown in the
Cope / Carman map. The 3rd Maryland, 111th Pennsylvania, 28th Pennsylvania,
and the 5th and 7th Ohio push into the Woods and the 30th Virginia,
46th and 48th North Carolina, along with Carlton's Battery give way.
Library of Congress.
As near as I can remember, on the night of the 16th of Sept. We were camped in a large field near a piece of woods, directly in front of us facing the enemy, but another field between us and the woods, and a road to our right. [2]I remember the field that we lay in that night for there had been manure spread over it and not a very nice place to sleep on. But we were tired enough to sleep almost anywhere. Early in the morning of the 17th, we were ordered to pack up before we had time to get any breakfast_ as the battle having already begun._ and moved to the next field, joining the one we were in and next to the woods_ and there we halted a few minutes, and were told that we would have time to get our breakfast, but had barely got a fire started_when we were ordered ahead[.] We then moved off to the left, perhaps a quarter of a mile_ towards a farm house and large barn[3]_ just before we reached them we formed in line_ and moved to the front, with the 3rd Md. on our left_ what regiment was on our right I don’t remember _ but think it was 28th Pa. We moved up in line of battle towards a strip of woods[4]_ as near as I can remember about thirty or forty rods wide_ with a strong rail fence at edge of woods and the Rebs_ in that strip of woods[5], we moved up close to the fence and opened fire_ in meantime, we were under fire from the time we came out from behind this large piece of woods at our right and formed in line in front of this strip of woods. And the Captain of Co. B[6] was killed before we fired a shot and I don’t know how many more, but I saw him fall. We fired a few rounds_ and were ordered to charge, and we climbed the fence, and drove the Rebs out of this strip of woods, and on the other
The situation between Noon and 12:15 as the 27th North Carolina and
Third Arkansas attack across the Hagerstown Turnpike. The 46th and 49th
North Carolina push through just to the north of the Dunker Church.
Library of Congress.
side was a large plowed field, and a cornfield [7]at our left. As we came out of the woods at the other side, there were no Rebs in sight, or at least only a few_ and they were getting out of sight as fast as they could. At our left, I think there were some in the cornfield yet, but did not stay there long. We stopped there a short time and then advanced across the plowed field, at the other side was a small ravine_ and beyond a rise of ground[8], where a battery[9] was brought up and stationed on this hill or knoll. We were behind this battery, at the foot of the hill. I don’t know what battery it was_but think it was six brass guns. The Rebs charged [10]us and tried to take the guns_ but failed, and moved off in an oblique direction to the left_ across the road[11], and as our lines were at a right angle or nearly so, they were making it rather warm for the troops on our right we went to their assistance and joined in their line, and succeeded in driving them out of there, and we moved ahead across the road bringing our regt. near a school house or Church[12]. I don’t know which, I always supposed it was the Sharpsburg school house, but it might have been a Church for aught I know. We held them there[13] for an hour or so and about four o’clock_ we were reinforced by a new Reg. I think they must have been fully 800 men strong, and our Reg’t gave way to the left, and the Reg’t on our right_ gave way to the right, and let them in on our line, and before they had time to get formed in line and ready for business, the Rebs charged[14] and poured a volley into them_ and they broke and run[15] like the d__l. And that left a gap in our line_ that we had not time to close up_ and we had to retreat over nearly all the ground that we had fought over all day. I think if they had not come in at all, we could held our line, still there can be no blame attached to them, as it was the first time they were under fire_ and perhaps any other new regiment would done the same under the same circumstances, I don’t know what reg’t it was, but think it was a Penna regt and I heard some say that it was a New York Reg. but it does not matter. That ended our fighting for the day_ as the reserves[16] were brought up and we were relieved. I cannot trace with any degree of accuracy on your map where we entered the fight, but think it was near where the dead of the 111
th Pa were buried, but I am not sure. Such, my old comrade, is as near a description of our movements at Antietam as I can give you from memory_ but I will see a member of our reg’t before long_ who lives but a few miles from here_ and will talk it over with him, and if we can give you any more information, will gladly do so. Should we both live that long_ I would be glad to meet you at Washington D.C. Next summer--at the National Encampment where we can talk it over and perhaps visit the battle field which I would very much like to do. Hoping to hear from you again, I remain yours in F. C. & L[17].

J. Porter Howard
     Co. G, 111th Pa. V.
     McKean Post 347 G.A.R.
     Smithport, Pa.
     P.O. (Clermont Pa.)

[1] J. Porter Howard to John M. Gould, Februrary 4, 1892, Gould Papers, Dartmouth College. I’d like to express my thanks to Tom Clemens for forwarding a copy of the original letter to me. Tom is the editor of the Ezra Carman manuscript, The Maryland Campaign of 1862 (New York: Savas Beatie, 2010-17), in 3 Volumes. Notations by Gould in top margin: “Sent Fair pamphlet; Write me if you go to G.A.R., for a map; Write me if your comrade knows anything. (His map was returned without marks).”

John M. Gould (1839-1930) served as an adjutant with the 10th Maine at Antietam. Following the war, he wrote articles that appeared in the National Tribune recounting his experience on the battlefield. Like Ezra Carman he entered into extended correspondence with battle survivors. Brian Downey's Antietam on the Web under Gould.

[2] Smoketown Road.
[3] Probably the Middlekauf farmstead.
[4] The East Woods.
[5] This was probably Evander Law’s 2nd and 11th Mississippi and the 6th North Carolina. See Carman 07:20 map.
[6] This was Capt. Arthur Corrigan.
[7] This was probably the thin northwestern strip of the East Woods. A post and rail fence runs through it.
[8] This is the knoll on which the Visitor’s Center now stands.
[9] Carman’s 9 am map shows the 111th behind the First RI Light Battery D under command of Capt. J. Albert Monroe. He had 6 Napoleons (brass) in his battery.
[10] This charge is depicted clearly in the Cope/Carman 900 hrs map. Kershaw’s 2nd, 7th, and 8th South Carolina made a dash for the guns. The 111th was directly behind Monroe’s battery’s left guns and took on the 2nd and 7th South Carolina.
[11] Hagerstown Pike
[12] The Dunker Church.
[13] “there” is the salient south of the Dunker Church
[14] There was a charge, at approximately Noon and recorded in Carman’s Noon map; but no such charge at 4 p.m. Howard seems to have his time wrong. The Noon Confederate advance consisted of the 46th North Carolina (Manning) and 49th North Carolina (Ransom) and elements of John Bell Hood’s Texas Division. This advanced pushed the 111th out of the Dunker Church Woods. The 111th spent the remainder of the day in the environs of the Samuel Poffenberger farmstead.
[15] Howard may have been referring to the 13th New Jersey which consisted of 630 green troops under the command of Col. Ezra Carman. They were part of Williams’ Division (not Greene’s) and positioned themselves to the right of the 111th.
[16] Sixth Corps.
[17] Fraternity, comradeship, and loyalty.

Post Script: Henry Ropes

Headquarters 3d. Brig. 2d. Divn_
Novr. 5, 1863
John C. Ropes Esq.
Dear Sir

I intended long before this to have written you a few lines in accordance with the expressed wish of your late brother Lt. Ropes with whom I was servant as perhaps you are aware, but knowing that the Officers of the 20th must have written you full particulars of the event, and our late rapid movement, I was prevented from fulfilling my desire, and altho’ I may have nothing new or of any additional interest to communicate yet I think it my duty to write in accordance with the wishes of your late Brother. When he died from his wounds at the battle of Gettysburg, Capt. Abbott found in his pocket $128 notes and one dollar in silver and his watch and chain which he handed to me and I afterwards returned him for the purposes of being restored to you. It will satisfactory to me to learn that you received the property all in proper order._

When Lt. Ropes sent home his superfluous clothing last Spring from Falmouth, Va. There was also a blue cloth military overcoat belonging to me sent with the rest, if it is not putting you to too much trouble I should feel obliged by your causing it to be expressed to me here as I require it much, and do not fancy the idea of drawing a new one for only one winter’s wear, as they cost considerable $9.56. The envelope covering this was one written by your late Brother and found in his valise, together with one directed to his Father, which if you wish to have I shall send__ I need not here assure you of my sympathy in the loss sustained by your family in the death of Lt. Ropes, he was also my best friend in the army, and on many accounts I deplore his death.

With much respect,

I remain

Your Very Obedt. Serve.
James Smith [1]
Head Qrs.
3d. Brig.
2d Divn.
2nd Corps


Camp near Brandy Station
Nov. 19, 1863

John Ropes Esq.
Dear Sir

Your kind letter of the 19th I received on the 16th and now have pleasure in replying. On the 17th Dr. Wm. Folsom handed me $21 for which I beg you to accept my best thanks, and also for the assurance you give of the interest you express in my future welfare. I enclose the envelope addressed by your late Brother as you request. The overcoat has not yet arrived but no doubt I will receive it when the Express matter comes up. You ask me a question of my own personal knowledge relating to your late Brother which I am happy in having it in my power to answer. Your Brother was reading one of Dickens' Novels in a sitting posture slightly reclining and it is my opinion he could not have possible received the wound he did unless in that position___ The photograph of your late Brother I am truly glad to have in my possession, nothing you have sent me is so valuable in my estimation, and I shall treasure it as a moment of one whom I not only greatly respected, but to whom I was much attached. Should it be my good fortune to reach Boston after the conclusion of my period of service, I shall feel it not only a privelege and a pleasure but also a duty to call for you and have the pleasure of your acquaintance, with much respect

I remain

Yours very truly 

James Smith

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. This is probably 23 year old James Smith who appears on the Company K, 20th Massachusetts Muster Roll dated August 28, 1861 at Readville, Massachusetts. He is killed at Cold Harbor, June 7, 1864.  National Archives Record Group 94, Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Volunteer Organizations During the American Civil War, compiled 1890 - 1912, documenting the period 1861 - 1866 (Roll: RG94-CMSR-MA-20INF-Bx1997).