FROM THE 2D WIS. REGIMENT
Camp, 2d Wis. Vols.
Battlefield of Sharpsburg, Md.
Sept. 21st 1762 (ed: that is a 19c typo)
The first opportunity offering, I avail to write a long letter of our doings in Maryland. I doubt not but what the telegraph has informed you of our brilliant victories of Sunday and Wednesday last. They were indeed victories that this country may well be proud of.
The newspapers have doubtless given you the meager accounts of the fights of Gainesville and of Manassas. I cannot say that our cause was very much benefited in those three days struggle - but of the part that the Wisconsin troops took, I believe was performed with honor to themselves and the state.
In the battle at Gainesville, our Brigade suffered most terribly, with a loss of 720 killed and wounded. Our noble and brave little Col. O'Connor was killed while he was cheering on his men to greater exertions. His last words to his men as they gathered around him were "boys, you've nobly done your part - stick to the old flag - fight and if needs be die for it. - He was buried close by the field of battle and his place marked.
In this battle our brigade was under fire one hour and ten minutes. My company suffered a loss of three killed and twelve wounded. Our boys done well and showed themselves capable of performing wonders. A braver nobler set of men never held a musket."
We left the Gainesville battlefield at 2 o'clock Friday morning leaving our wounded to fall into the hands of the enemy and our dead on the field unburied. It was hard to fall back to Manassas thus but there was no help for it. On Friday we marched to the old Bull Run battlefield where, a year ago, a great battle had been fought, the results of which are undoubtedly familiar to all the world.
During Friday, while the fresh troops were in battle, we were under the fire of the enemy's artillery. It seemed rather hard to lay flat on one's belly and hear those missiles drop and burst all around you. Friday morning our regiment was consolidated with the 7th Wis., under command of Lieut. Col. Fairchild - making a regiment about 500 strong. On Saturday our division was marched up to engage the enemy's centre - our brigade taking possession of an orchard and supporting Gibbon's Battery. Here our Brigade was freed to undergo the terrors of a thorough rain of cannon balls, shells and canister. Our loss in this engagement was 250, that is from the brigade, in killed and wounded. The brigade held its position until late at night covering the retreat of our forces to Centreville, where we were relieved by some of Smith's division. In the forenoon I had been detailed with a squad of twenty men to go to the field of Gainesville and have all the dead buried, but I had scarcely reached the field when the enemy's skirmishers opened on us, and a battery sent a shell or two near us, when we fell back receiving orders to await until the field was cleared - a thing which proved out of the question on Saturday. On Saturday our Brigade marched to Fairfax thence to Upton's Hill, where we remained a week, when we started for Maryland. Our march to Frederick was a hard one and considering what our men had already undergone, it was a wonder how they held out.
At Frederick we overtook the Secesh and followed them to the South Mountains. Our Brigade was formed on the turnpike to the right and left and at dark, after having under gone the terrors of an artillery duel, we marched up and opened on the enemy at the foot of the mountain.
Previous to reaching the mountain, a shell from the enemy's battery burst in our regiment, killing seven and wounding five. As usual with Jackson, his forces were behind a stone fence and in a ravine at that. After being under fire for some time our Regiment made a wheel giving us a clear range on the secesh behind the fence.- Here our boys piled them up in heaps most awful to speak of. The most of the Secesh appeared to be struck in the head. Gen. Robert Lee, son of the rebel general R. E. Lee, was killed beside several Col's and Majors on their side. We withdrew about 10 o'clock at night. During the time that Gen. Hooker had drove the enemy on the right, General Reno had run them on the left, giving us, after three hours contest, possession of the field. In this engagement our Brigade suffered a loss of over 400. My company had five wounded as follows:
Corporal W. A. Nelson, A. T. Budlong, B. F. Knowlton, G. W. Williams and Geo. Gilbert.
In this battle, as in the former, our men behaved most gallantly and nobly held their ground. The next morning (Monday) we commenced the pursuit of the enemy, after capturing a large number of prisoners. Both Monday and Tuesday we were occupied in cannonading and pushing forward close upon the heels of the retreating foes. Tuesday evening we came upon their lines and lay down without supper, in sight of the enemy, and directly under their guns. During the night, heavy skirmishing and continual cannonading was kit up. At daylight our brigade was forded forward to open for the enemy. We were marching in division front, and had reached a clump of woods when the enemy opened with a battery on us, but a shell burst in a division of the 6th Regiment, killing several and wounding a number - how many I know not. We passed through the woods into an open field and through a corn field with 6th Regiment on the right, and a N.Y. regiment on the left.-We slowly crawled up through the corn field while Gibbon's Battery was throwing canister and shell into the enemy. After passing through the corn field into the open field, the enemy was discovered to be in great force on our right and left, leaving their centre almost open, Cos. I and A had the first shot at the foe, and soon the 6th Reg't., 7th and 19th Ind, and the N.Y. regiments opened upon them. Then commenced the shower of Bullets - volley upon volley was poured in by the contending parties. It seemed as if it were a perfect rain of hail. In all battles I have not seen the like. I thought the battle of the 28th bad enough, but this day's battle seemed most horrible.
Soon our regiment charged directly on the first company giving us a cross fire on the enemy.
Major Allen was wounded and had to leave the field. Captain Ely of Co. D then took command. Our men were falling fast - our ranks were thinned when it seemed that we had scarce forty men left to defend our colors. All around me, men were falling - some begging to be carried off the field - others giving their last request to some comrade. For once, while standing there with but six of my own company left, with the bullets flying all around me and man after man dropping here and there, I thought of the awful carnage - of this dastardly work of taking the lives of human beings. The N.Y. Brooklyn boys came up and with a cheer our boys turned to them and asked them forward. With a hurrah they rushed through our ranks and opened on the enemy, our boys joining with them. But it seemed as if the Secesh rose from the ground - for of a sudden a whole brigade of fresh rebels rose and poured in on our distracted men volley upon volley of Minnie balls. Then, and not till then, did it seem that the old brigade would give way.
But alas! it slowly, gradually fell back till it passed through a column of fresh Union troops who marched forward to meet the exultant foe. Lt. Sanford of my company had fell, wounded in the head- his brains partly protruding when I had him put in a blanket and carried to the rear. Lt. Hill of Co. C was also wounded and carried to the rear, as also was Lt. Jones of Co. A. Our men what could served the wounded. As many as possible rallied around the old Colors and as soon as we reached the woods, a column was formed to stop stragglers coming from the field.
My Orderly Sergeant, Wm. Noble, (and a braver man never shouldered a musket) stuck by the colors, and done his whole duty. He has been all to me and his course and manly bearing has taught me to love the man. For his noble conduct he deserves an honorable promotion. I had Lt. Sanford carried to the hospital but the doctors gave him up. He is now at Keedysville under the care of Geo. H. Legate. He is about the same and as yet unable to speak - at times out of his head. The Surgeons all agree that he cannot live. I have sent, by telegraph, for some of his relations to come to him. In this battle I had wounded:
C. Schloser, badly; William Virgen, badly; N. Geib, slight; H. Coates, slight; Samuel Whitehead, slight; Jerome F. Johnson, slight.
During the balance of the day we lay in the open field and at night again under - went the tunes of a cannonading. This battle, all day the enemy being driven at all points. The number killed and wounded in our Brigade was over 400. In the four battles, our Brigade has suffered a loss of over 1,700 killed and wounded. What the loss can be to our Army I cannot tell but it must be great.
The rebels have certainly, in this last battle, lost two to our one. The rebels under the cover of a flag of truce to bury their dead (which they failed to do) retreated across the river leaving their wounded in our hands. But on the Virginia side, they run into the old Dutchman Sigel and undertook to cross back when they were met by our force and brought to a stand still.
As the thing now stands Secesh are in a bad fix and likely to be annihilated. Their whole army is here and the thing must decide the fate of our government. It is either Confederacy or no Confederacy. Maryland and Pennsylvania are safe enough.
In the fights of Maryland we must have captured at least 12,000 of their army. Our late battle field is an awful spectacle - only our own troops have been buried. The Wisconsin boys were nicely interred and a fence built around their graves - the place marked &c.,
If you should pass over that field you would never go over another. The dead so disfigured - swollen and black as ebony. It would seem out of the question for human beings to be treated so, but be it said - war has its evils.
My letter is growing too lengthy and perhaps you will say a tiresome job to read it but I have tried to give you a hurried sketch of our doings in Virginia and Maryland knowing that you would naturally enough want to hear something from me. Heretofore I have had no chance to write you for the great Pope had deprived us of that privilege and now the gallant Mac, says write. Strange to say I have passed through all these battles with out getting a scratch. My Lieutenants are both gone. I am comparatively alone with twelve or fourteen men, and I assure you I feel lonesome - and at times moan, pine for old Wisconsin. I have seen so much, passed through such terrible fields of strife, that my heart is sickened against war. I would gladly grasp the old "Stick" and pick the types "as of yore" but I came here to perform a part and that part, whatever it may be, I shall cheerfully perform to the end. Our regiment, after receiving some of its absent duty men, is now 110 strong - it is all we can muster. Col. Fairchild has gone to Washington sick. Capt. Stevens of Co. A. is in command. I shall enclose a list of causalities of my company and of absentees & which you will please furnish the Mineral Point papers to publish. Present my compliments to all enquiring friends. Let me hear from you soon.