Saturday, June 10, 2017

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).

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