Antietam: Letters and Diaries of Soldiers and Civilians

Please Note: These primary sources retain the wording, spelling, punctuation, and lack of punctuation as written by the eyewitnesses of the Battle of Antietam and those who experienced its aftermath.

Teachers: This handout contains excerpts of eyewitness accounts, diary entries, and letters for you to read to your students or to assign to your students as an independent reading activity. Afterwards, have the students imagine that they are Civil War soldiers or civilians. Have them compose their own journal entries or letters to loved ones.

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Sunday Sept. 21, 1862 Dear Folks,
On the 8th we struck up the refrain of "Maryland, My Maryland!" and camped in an apple orchard. We went hungry, for six days not a morsel of bread or meat had gone in our stomachs - and our menu consisted of apple; and corn. We toasted, we burned, we stewed, we boiled, we roasted these two together, and singly, until there was not a man whose form had not caved in, and who had not a bad
attack of diarrhea. Our under-clothes were foul and hanging in strips, our socks worn out, and half of the men were bare-footed, many were lame and were sent to the rear; others, of sterner stuff, hobbled along and managed to keep up, while gangs from every company went off in the surrounding country looking for food. . . Many became ill from exposure and starvation, and were left on the road. The ambulances were full, and the whole route was marked with a sick, lame, limping lot, that straggled to the farm- houses that lined the way, and who, in all cases, succored and cared for them. . .

In an hour after the passage of the Potomac the command continued the march through the rich fields of Maryland. The country people lined the roads, gazing in open-eyed wonder upon the long lines of infantry . . .and as far as the eye could reach, was the glitter of the swaying points of the bayonets. It was the first ragged Rebels they had ever seen, and though they did not act either as friends or foes, still they gave liberally, and every haversack was full that day at least. No houses were entered - no damage was done, and the farmers in the vicinity must have drawn a long breath as they saw how safe their property was in the very midst of the army.

Alexander Hunter


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It was no longer alone the boom of the batteries, but a rattle of musketry--at first like pattering drops upon a roof; then a roll, crash, roar, and rush, like a mighty ocean billow upon the shore, chafing the pebbles, wave on wave, with deep and heavy explosions of the batteries, like the crashing of the thunderbolts.

Charles Carleton Coffin, Army Correspondent


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Sometimes a shell would burst just over our heads, scattering the fragments among us.

Lt. Thomas H. Evans, 12th U.S. Infantry


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Captain Bachelle had a fine Newfoundland dog, which had been trained to perform military salutes and many other remarkable things. In camp, on the march, and in the line of battle, the dog was his constant companion. The dog was by his side when he fell.

Union Major R. R. Dawes, 6th' Wisconsin


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September 22, 1862 (Battlefield Hospital near Sharpsburg)
My Dear Wife;

Day before yesterday I dressed the wounds of 64 different men - some having two or three each. Yesterday I was at work from daylight till dark - today I am completely exhausted - but stall soon be able to go at it again.

The days after the battle are a thousand times worse than the day of the battle – and the physical pain is not the greatest pain suffered. How awful it is - you have not can have until you see it any idea of affairs after a battle. The dead appear sickening but they suffer no pain. But the poor wounded mutilated soldiers that yet have life and sensation make a most horrid picture. I pray God may stop such infernal work - through perhaps he has sent it upon us for our sins. Great indeed must have been our sins if such is our punishment.

Our Reg. Started this morning for Harpers Ferry - 14 miles. I am detailed with others to remain here until the wounded are removed - then join the Reg. With my nurses. I expect there will be another great fight at Harpers Ferry.

Carrie I dreamed of home night before last. I love to dream of home it seems so much like really being there. I dreamed that I was passing Hibbards house and saw you and Lud. in the window. After then I saw you in some place I cannot really know where -you kissed me - and told me you loved me - though you did not the first time you saw me. Was not that quite a soldier dream? That night had been away to a hospital to see some wounded men - returned late. I fastened my horse to a peach tree - fed him with wheat and hay from a barn near by - then I slept and dreamed of my loved ones away in N.H.

Write soon as you can. Tell me all you can about my business affairs and prospects for the future in Bath. Will Dr. Boynton be likely to get a strong hold there. One thing sure Cad, I shall return to Bath - if I live - and spend my days there. I feel so in that way now. Give me all news you can. Tell Parker and John and the girls to write although I can not answer them all. Tell Parker I will answer his as soon as I can.

In this letter I send you a bit of gold lace such as the rebel officers have. This I cut from a rebel officers coat on the battlefield. He was a Lieut.

I have made the acquaintance of two rebel officers - prisoners in our hands. One is a physician - both are masons - both very intelligent, gentlemanly men. Each is wounded in the leg. They are great favorites with our officers. One of them was brought off the field in hottest of the fight by our 5th N.H. officers - he giving them evidence of his being a mason.

Now do write soon. Kisses to you Clint & Kate. Love to all. Yours as ever
W.C.


William Child, Major and Surgeon with the 5th Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers

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Diary entry of September 17, 1862
This has been indeed a fearful day, and it is by God's kindnes alone that I am here to write this We woke up early in the morning I went out and read The Bible and a prayer. In a few minutes the enemy began to throw shells at us from a battery which they had planted near us, killing several of the 8th C.V. We were then moved to the right into a cornfield, but we had hardly got there when the order was countermanded, and we were marched to the left, about 1/4 of a mile, directly under a rapid fire of shells from the rebels, into the forest. The shells burst all around and in us. Our Chaplain had his coat pocket torn by a fragment of shell, and one of Co. I was wounded in the arm. After lying in the woods awhile we were formed and marched about 2 mile over hills and through valleys, fording a river about knee deep. From the ford, we were marched to a side hill near it. Here the Rebels again opened on us from another battery, wounding some of our men. We were after awhile formed and marched over the hill and finally in a sort of valley, behind our battery - here we had to lie down under the bursting of the enemy's shells. One shell burst so near as to scatter dirt in my face as I laid upon the ground. After staying here a short time we were ordered over the hill and were formed in a cornfield upon the opposite side. While we were lying here we were suddenly ordered to come to "attention", as we were obeying this order, a most terrific volley was fired into us - Spiens(?), Maxwell, Willy, Tallcut, Pease and many others of Co. A were here wounded. It is said that the rebels carried the American flag and called to us "don't fire on your own." After staying here a little while and the storm of bullets keeping on I ———— through the valley to the hill beyond when we were formed with the 11th C.V. to support a battery. We went up the hill to the fence in a storm of shell and shot. The battery soon was withdrawn and we with the 11th C.V. were marched off the field some distance beyond the hospital when we formed and rested for the night. Co. A mustered 6 men beside the Capt. but soon a few more came in. Went over to see Thayer who was shot through the shoulder. Came back and laid down to sleep. Thus ended our first day of battle and a fearful one it was. (14th Conn. Vol. fought from near the Mumma farmhouse, down to the west of the Roulette farm near Sunken Road.)

Robert Kellogg, 14th Connetecut Volunteer Infantry

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The truth is, when bullets are whacking against tree trunks and solid shot are cracking skulls like eggshells, the consuming passion in the breast of the average man is to get out of the way."

Pvt. David L. Thompson, Company G, 9th New York Volunteers Battles and Leaders. Vol. II, p. 662.


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Under the dark shade of a towering oak near the Dunker Church lay the lifeless form of a drummer boy, apparently not more than 17 years of age, flaxen hair and eyes of blue and form of delicate mould. As I approached him I stooped down and as I did so I perceived a bloody mark upon his forehead...It showed where the leaden messenger of death had produced the wound the caused his death. His lips were compressed, his eyes half open, a bright smile played upon his countenance. By his side lay his tenor drum, never to be tapped again.

Pvt. J. D. Hicks, Company K, 125th Pennsylvania Volunteers John P. Smith, "History of the Antietam Fight," in Scrapbook of J. P. Smith.


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Sunday Sept. 21, 1862 Sharpsburg, MD

Dear Wife,

Your letters 3 in number reached me 1st evening, and it gave me much pleasure to hear from you. I should have written you before, but did not know for a certainty where to direct. You will doubtless have learned the details of this great battle before this reaches you. The loss of the 11th is dreadful.

I followed in the rear of the Regt. Until it reached the fatal bridge that crosses the creek, this bridge is composed of 3 stone arches and the stream is about the size of that one just west of Berlin. The enemies sharpshooters commenced the action being posted in trees and under cover of a wall on the high ground on the other side of the creek, the order was for the 11th to take and hold the bridge until the division of Genl. Rodman passed.

The action soon became general all along the lines, language would fail me to describe the scene. I was in company with the surgeons and we laid ourselves down between the hills of corn and in a lot west of the bridge being a corn field. I had a bag of bandages and some few other things in hand, we lay low I can assure you and the way the bullets whistled around us is better imagined than described. The shells also bursting over our heads and on the ground around us. The attack was perfectly successful, we fell back to a brick house a mile in the rear and established a hospital.

I took off my coat to dress wounds and met with a great loss. Some villain riffled my pockets of several packages of medicine, my fine tooth comb and what I valued most my needle book containing the little lock of hair you put in. No money would have bought it. It was not the value that I cared for, but the giver. Can you replace it. I should be pleased with your photograph which you spoke of. I think that it will be so that I can get a little box by express soon. I am still in the hospital near the battle ground the Regt. having moved about 3 miles. I will tell you where to send the box soon. You need not put Co. K on my letters in future, but simply Dr G. Bronson 11 Regt. C Burnside division with name of place (Washington) for the present. 11th Connecticut (Fought at Burnside Bridge)

Give me love to all our friends.
Very Truly yours
George


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September 19, 1862

Dear People,
One moment of time before the mail leaves. I am well and in good spirits. We have just had a big battle day before yesterday. The baggage wagons are in sight and we will all not fit. We have not sent any mail for about a fortnight and I would have written more had I known we could have sent it. Will write more the first opportunity I have.
We are on the move and are going into Virginia probably now. We have served in the last two battles. Give my respects to all friends and others
Yours truly, Henry
14th Connecticut Volunteers


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October 14, 1862 Harper's Ferry
Dear Brothers and Sisters

I wish that I was home today; I have got a very mean job. You know that we lost our good Captain and now they think they must put me on guard, and I sit right down on the ground and write just as fast as I can to let you know how I am getting along. Not much you had better believe. My hearing is not as good as it was when I left Madison, and my health has not been good since I was on this hill not far from Harper's Ferry, but I keep about and train all the time is wanted of me. It seems rather hard to be a soldier, but I have got to be one after all, I think. But I can tell you one thing: If I ever live to get home, I won't be another I can tell you, but I suppose that you are making some cider. If you get a chance to send me anything, send me some cider put up in bottles, and some apples and a little bottle of pain killer, and don't try to send me any cake or anything that will get smashed, but I want anything that will keep a week. I have not any news to send you today because I wrote to you the other day and suppose that you will get that first. Give my love to all the neighbors and tell Mister Hill that I received his letter and was glad to hear from him and will try and answer him as soon as possible.

Tell little Charley that I think a great deal of his letter. I used to say that he could read better than I could read better than I could and he beats me at writing and spelling both, and I could read it very fast, his letter. I am glad to hear that your crops are as good and I hope that all the folks are good because we don't have nothing to eat here, and so I hopes you have got something to eat there. I will try and answer as fast as I can, but won't you answer me as fast you can because that it makes me feel pleased to hear from home. Give my love to all the folks and tell them I want to see them all.

From a brother,
John Redfield, 13th New Jersey


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The force of a mini ball or piece of shell striking any solid portion to a person is astonishing; it comes like a blow from a sledge hammer, and the recipient finds himself sprawling on the ground before he is conscious of being hit; then he feels about for the wound, the benumbing blow deadening sensation for a few moments. Unless struck in the head or about the heart, men mortally wounded live some time, often in great pain, and toss about upon the ground."

History of the 35th Massachusetts Volunteers, p. 48.


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Such a storm of balls I never conceived it possible for men to live through. Shot and shell shrieking and crashing, canister and bullets whistling and hissing most fiend-like through the air until you could almost see them. In that mile's ride I never expected to come back alive.

Lt. Col. A.S. "Sandie" Pendleton, CSA Douglass Southall Freeman, Lee's Lieutenants. NewYork, 1946, p. 208.


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The third shell struck and killed my horse and bursting, blew him to pieces, knocked me down, of course, and tore off my right arm...

Pvt. Ezra E. Stickley, Company A, 5th Virginia Infantry "Wounded at Sharpsburg," Confederate Veteran Magazine. Vol XXV, No. 9, September 1917, p. 400.


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A strong, sturdy-looking Reb was coming laboriously on with a Yank of no small proportions perched on his shoulders. Wonderingly I joined the group surrounding and accompanying them at every step, and then I learned why all this especial demonstration; why the Union soldiers cheered and again cheered this Confederate soldier, not because of the fact alone that he had brought into the hospital a sorely wounded Federal soldier, who must have died from hemorrhage had he been left on the field, but from the fact, that was palpable at a glance, that the Confederate too was wounded. He was totally blind; a Yankee bullet had passed directly across and destroyed both eyes, and the light for him had gone out forever. But on he marched, with his brother in misery perched on his sturdy shoulders. He would accept no assistance until his partner announced to him that they had reached their goal - the field hospital. It appears that they lay close together on the field, and after the roar of battle had been succeeded by that painfully intense silence that hangs over a hard-contested battlefield; where the issue is yet in doubt, and where a single rifle shot on the skirmish line falls on your ear like the crack of a thousand cannon. The groans of the wounded Yank reached the alert ears of his sightless Confederate neighbor, who called to him, asking him the nature and extent of his wounds. On learning the serious nature of them, he said: "Now, Yank, I can't see, or I'd get out of here mighty lively. Some darned Yank has shot away my eyes, but I feel as strong otherwise as ever. If you think you can get on my back and do the seeing, I will do the walking, and we'll sail into some hospital where we can both receive surgical treatment." This programme had been followed and with complete success.

We assisted the Yank to alight from his Rebel war-horse, and you can rest assured that loud and imperative call was made for the surgeons to give not only the Yank, but his noble Confederate partner, immediate and careful attention.
J. O. Smith
(Roulette Farm Field Hospital)


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"In the time that I am writing every stalk of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the slain lay in rows precisely as they had stood in their ranks a few moments before. It was never my fortune to witness a more bloody, dismal battlefield."

Gen. Joseph Hooker, Official Records (US War Dept), Series 1, Vol. 19, Pt 1, p. 218.


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Our first tire was rattling volley; then came the momentary interval occupied in loading. The rifles were, or course, muzzle loaders, with iron ramrods; the cartridges were new and the brown paper of the toughest description, so that strong fingers were required to tear out the conical ball and the little paper cap of gunpowder. Emptying these into the muzzle and ramming home and capping the piece took time—seemingly a long time in the hurry of action...

History of the 35th Massachusetts Volunteers, p. 47.


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It was no longer alone the boom of the batteries, but a rattle of musketry--at first like pattering drops upon a roof; then a roll, crash, roar, and rush, like a mighty ocean billow upon the shore, chafing the pebbles, wave on wave, with deep and heavy explosions of the batteries, like the crashing of the thunderbolts.

Charles Carleton Coffin, Army Correspondent, Boston Journal. "Antietam Scenes," Battles and Leaders. Vol. II, p. 683.


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I was lying on my back, supported on my elbows, watching the shells explode overhead and speculating as to how long I could hold up my finger before it would be shot off, for the very air seemed full of bullets, when the order to get up was given, I turned over quickly to look at Col. Kimball, who had given the order, thinking he had become suddenly insane.

Lt. Matthew J. Graham, Company H, 9th New York Volunteers The 9th Regiment. New York Volunteers, p. 293.


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A frenzy seized each man, and impatient with their small muzzle loaded guns, they tore the loaded ones from the hands of the dead and fired them with fearful rapidity, sending ramrods along with the bullets for double execution.

Pvt. G. L. Kilmer, Company I, 14th New York Artillery, John P. Smith, "History of the Antietam Fight," in Scrapbook of J. P. Smith.


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Account from an unknown soldier

At the Battle of Antietam, as one of the regiments was for the second time going into the conflict, a soldier staggered. It was from no wound, but in the group of dying and dead through which they were passing, he saw his father, of another regiment, lying dead. A wounded man, who knew them both, pointed to the father's corpse, and then upwards, saying only, 'It is all right with him.' Onward went the son, by his father's corpse, to do his duty in the line, which, with bayonets fixed, advanced upon the enemy. When the battle was over, he came back. and with other help. buried his father. From his person he took the only thing he had. a Bible, given to the father years before, when he was an apprentice.


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September 26, 1862 (In a hospital near the Battlefield of Antietam)

Dear Wife,

Thinking perhaps that you would like to hear from me. I now have a few moments in writing to you to let you know of an accident which happened to me on the evening of the 18th. One of the 135 P.V. boys
accidentily shot me through the back. The ball passed through my lungs and lodged some where and is in me yet. I suffered considerable pain for the few first days but now I am more comfortable now and am not in much pain. Our brigaid did not get along from Washington soon enough to be engaged in the Battle of the day before. There was a hard fought battle and many lives lost on both sides but I think the loss of the Rebels were more than double our loss. I hope that you will not grow uneasy about me for I am doing as well as can be and have good care for brother William is with me taking care of me and as soon as I get well enough I am coming home and to be with you again, I do not want you to write until you hear from me again for a letter would not come through. I am now 10 miles from Middletown Md and as soon as we get moved I will write to you to let you know where we are moved to. As I do not think of any thing more that will interest you I will bring this letter to a close and write to you again in a few days.

From your affectionate and loving husband,

Erred Fowles

(Erred Fowles died on October 6, 1862. He is buried in Grave #3724 in the cemetery at Antietam. His daughter, Ida May Fowles, was born October 10, 1862.)


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Comrades with wounds of all conceivable shapes were brought in and placed side by side as thick as they could lay, and the bloody work of amputation commenced.

George Allen, Company A, 6th New York Volunteers, From "Scenes in the Hospital at Keedysville," The Antietam Wavalet. Keedysville, Maryland, March 29, 1890.


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September 21, 1862

8th Florida Volunteer Infantry Regiment Shepherdstown, Jefferson County Virginia

My dear wife,

I write to let you know that I am now in this place badly wounded, was shot on Wednesday the 17th near Sharpsburg Washington County Maryland, about three miles from this place. The ball entered my left shoulder and lodged in my brest here it still is. I want you or my brother to come to see me Come by Richmond in Virginia then on to Winchester where you will only be twenty two miles from here. You can then get a conveyance to this place probably by the railway which comes down to Harpers Ferry where a connection is made to a station called Kearneys Ville that is only five miles from here and by the time can here from me and get to this region of country the stage which runs to that place in times of quiet about here, may be running again. We have had hard marching to do, and desperate fighting, our Captain was killed the same day I was shot.

I remain as ever your Devoted husband Bird B Wright

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From the memoirs of Henry Kyd Douglas

I was crossing the main street of town, when I saw a young lady, Miss Savilla Miller, whom I knew, standing on the porch of her father's house, as if unconscious of the danger she was in. At the time the firing was very heavy, and ever anon a shell would explode over the town or in the streets, breaking windows, knocking down chimneys, perforating houses and roofs. Otherwise the village was quiet and deserted, as if it was given up to ruin. It gave one an odd sensation to witness it. Knowing the great danger to which Miss Savilla was exposed, I rode up to protest and ask her to leave.

"I will remain here as long as our army is between me and the Yankees," she replied with a clam voice, although there was excitement in her face. "Won't you have a glass of water?"

Before I had time to answer, she was gone with her pitcher to the well and in an instant she was back again with a glass in her hand. As she approached me, a shell with a shriek in its flight came over the hill, passed just over us down the street and exploded not far off. My horse, "Ashby," sank so low in his fright that my foot nearly touched the curb, some cowardly stragglers on the other side of the street, trying to hide behind a low porch, pressed closer to the foundations of the house, but over the face of the heroic girl only a faint shadow passed through the house from the gable, she took refuge for a little while in the cellar; but when the battle ended, she was still holding the fort.

A "green" Confederate soldier described the shelling of Sharpsburg that took place during the artillery bombardment of September 16:
Every shell went screaming, whistling, whining over our heads, and not a few burst near by us. Sometimes shell after shell would burst in quick succession over the village. . . . None of our soldiers were in the town, except the cooks and a few stragglers who hid themselves in the cellars as soon as the bombardment began, and told us afterwards of the wonderful escapes they made from 'them bursting lamp-posts.'

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I recall a Union soldier lying near the Dunker Church with his face turned upward, and his pocket Bible open upon his breast. I lifted the volume and read the words: Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.' Upon the fly-leaf were the words, 'We hope and pray that you may be permitted by kind Providence, after the war is over, to return.'

Charles Carlton Coffin, Army Correspondent, Boston Journal "Antietam Scenes," Battles and Leaders. Vol II, p. 685.

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For more quotes from soldiers and civilians, visit our "Eyewitness to Battle" page.

Last updated: August 3, 2018

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