12th Massachusetts Infantry - Wounded at Antietam - NEW
August 12, 1862
Edward E. Belcher
4 pages, original Civil War Union letter written in period ink and war dated.
Headquarters 12th Regt.
Camped in the Field
August 12th /62
Yours of the 3rd was rec’d by me a few moments ago & as I have got the time to spare I thought it best to answer it right away, which I do by commencing to give you a detail account of the late battle of which we took an active part in. We left Waterloo on the 5th for Culpepper where we arrived at 10 o’clock A.M. the next day & went into camp. The 8th we struck camp & moved 4 miles this side of the town (being in the west now). Here we stopped for the night & in the morning left for this place, but had to stop [on the] side of the road to let Bank’s with his forces pass as they were to make the attack on the enemy which were expected to be found not far from us in a large force. He did find them after he passed us not far from the Rapidan River on this side, where they had drawn up in line of battle. He commenced the attack about noon with artillery but it was ended by the infantry at about 9 o’clock P.M. Our brigade being the last of the field, we started to reinforce the right wing at 4 o’clock P.M. where we arrived about dark. Still we had a good moon for the occasion & we made good use of it. When we got here, the rebels had the ground & felt very proud & disposed to advance which they were doing when we got there but we soon put a stop to them. We had just got into the open field & stacked arms to find out where the enemy were before we advanced when bang goes a gun & down comes a shell right in front of the brigade. They fired about half a dozen before we shifted our position & then we commenced to move towards them by the right flank. We had not gone far before their cavalry made a charge on the outer pickets & were driving them in before them when we popped over the hill & filed right to get a line of battle which we got & a volley of musket shots at the same time from the infantry that were posted in the woods in front of us. We sustained the loss of 1 Capt killed & 2 men wounded. A few scratches were rec’d by some others but not too hurt.
Our Capt got the wind knocked out of him by one of their grape shots. It struck him under the arm on the left side. It leaves a black and blue spot. We could have taken the battery if we had had daylight to work by but did not see the position of it till morning & then only the place where it was. We were not more than 20 rods from it when they opened on to our battery which had got into position & were waiting for them to commence so as to get the range of them. If they had seen us, they would have given us a good peppering of grape & canister but we were behind the corn. From there we went to the rear of our battery & lay down behind the hill & let them shell the woods behind us while our battery gave them all they wanted & more too, for they were obliged to abandon their position & return much disgusted with their defeat, as they were in high spirits at their first attempt on the lines & would have carried the day had it not been for us. They had to leave their guns behind as we had killed all the horses that belong to it & then when they came for them, they had to leave one behind that they spiked. They are short of horses.
It was here that we were fired into by grape & canister & shot our Capt got his bruise. We were under a steady fire for 3 hours & all we could do was to support the battery as it was dangerous to go where we could not be seen by our gunners or if they could keep them at bay for a while it would have done us some good.
We were out on the front all night & then drew in to get a better position in the morning. But after we had fired into the different woods at various points & got no reply, we thought it best not to waste our powder & so we sent out a Regt of cavalry to reconnoiter where to find the enemy was. More than some of us knew but he was found in a safe place & so we let them remain till after we had disposed of the dead & wounded there were on the field when we expected to renew the attack. But all is quiet yet & the report is that they left last night.
Today we have had a heavy thunder shower & it looks as if we should have a stormy night of it by spells.
The Pennsylvania Bucktails took 18 prisoners today. They had on the caps & coats that were worn by our men & which they got from the dead & wounded before they were driven from the field by us. But they had on their gray pants & so did not escape the vigilant watch that our men keep that are out scouting. Quite a number of our dead were stripped of their shoes in which they stood in need of as their men were bare footed & some of them looked as if a new hat would not hurt them.
You spoke of Uncle Edw’d. He was wounded & taken prisoner at Richmond but has been sent to New York. He was on the R. S. Spalding. They could not take care of our wounded so they turned them over to us & he was amongst the lot. I have to burn all my letters for I do not want any of those Secesh to be perusing them if they should be lucky enough to get my pack. I got Father’s letter & it was good news for me. I hope he will be drafted for the war. The thermometer stood to 102 here in the shade this forenoon & yesterday.
No more for the present as I think this quite enough for one letter. If I should get one as long as this from home, it would surprise me. So good bye for now &
I will remain your brother,
E. E. Belcher