Transcription of a letter written by Lt. Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the 20th Maine to his wife Fanny describing his actions in the crossing of Antietam Creek and Sharpsburg. As he writes he is on the bank of the Potomac River on picket. "I am lying in a hollow where I am not much exposed, & really not at all disturbed…I can see plenty of dead & wounded men lying around, from where I sit. As soon as it can be done we are going to rescue some wounded who are calling to us from the rebel shore." Some of the letter was written directly after the battle and the rest on the 21st of September, a few days later.
(Copyright held by the Pearce Civil
War Collection, Navarro College Archives.
On picket on the banks of the Potomac near Sharpsburg, Sunday morning Sept. 21, 1862
My dear Fanny, Since I wrote you last, we have gone through
a good deal. I wrote you a few lines a day or two ago which I have had
no opportunity to send, so I enclose. Just after writing those we were
called up to defend a new position on the left, where the terrible storming
of the bridge over the Antietam took place. We did not find ourselves
much exposed however. But the next morning we started in pursuit, &
on the second reached the ford at dam no 4 the only place left the enemy
to recross. Here our batteries pounded their rear, & out Division
was ordered to cross. Of all the unearthly din I ever heard that was
the worst. The banks on both sides were high the rebels were in line
of battle to meet us across & 25 or 30 pieces of artillery on our
side shelling them over our heads as we forded leg deep. The Col. Mr.
Brown & I on horseback. The rebel sharpshooters were hard at work.
I was ordered to stand in the middle of the river & urge on the
men who halted for fear of the fire. The balls splashed all around me
during the whole time & just as I reached the shore two struck just
over my head in a tree. Sometimes our own shells would explode right
over out head, & scare the men dreadfully. No sooner had we got
over, & in line than we were ordered to recross. The General sent
Col. Ames with six companies to defend the ford by lying behind the
bank of the canal, & me with four companies to support the batteries
on the heights. We had four wounded, not seriously. At dusk we were
sent out as pickets & we have been lying here all night-the whole
Regt.-crouching along the banks of the river. The rebels firing every
time they saw a head, & we doing the same for them. The river is
narrow. At about mid night I rode softly along examining our pickets,
& whenever the horse stumbled--whiz--would come a bullet in the
dark. All this morning, & at least as often as every three words
I have written, a bullet of a shell has hissed over my head either from
our own sharpshooters or the rebels-5 in that last line. I am lying
in a hollow where I am not much exposed, & really not at all disturbed.
Glancing down at this moment I see a rebel ball that had struck right
by my side, but I suppose, before I came. I hoped to be relieved soon,
& get somewhere I can live like a civilized being. Our eating, drinking
& sleeping arrangements are not remarkable for comfort. I can see
plenty of dead & wounded men lying around, from where I sit. As
soon as it can be done we are going to rescue some wounded who are calling
to us from the rebel shore. Our Regt. has not done much yet, but we
feel as if we could. I am very well, & happy as one need be, not
all at sorry I came, I assure you. I think I did right & whatever
comes of it, I have no fears. Some of our Regt. have just crossed the
river at the risk of their lives to bring away the wounded we can see,
some have died since we were looking at them. The poor fellows some
8 or 10 we have got are badly hurt in all sorts of ways. They belong
to our brigade & were shot in our crossing yesterday. Two were dead
when they got over. I took some letters about them to find out who they
were. affectionate letters from wives, & answers written but never
sent. I sent the letters to the Col. of the 118th Penn. Regt. which
they belonged to. I do not pretend to write much of a letter. You know
under what circumstances I am writing. Tell all my friends that I have
so much to do, & in such places that writing is out of the question.
We have to go in places no body would ever think of going into were
it not for the necessities of war.
Don't worry about me & take all the comfort you can. Give my love to Dear Daise & to the old Myllys & to Aunt Pattie and Helen. Tell [?] that I carry her dressing case strapped on my saddle wherever I go. My horse I keep a little in the rear. I should have been killed if I had ridden him in the crossing of the Potomac
I hope that dreadful night in Portland did not make you
sick. I am very well. Hyde got out of the battle alive-but two Bowdoin
boys in his Regt. fell. H.P. Brown; & Haskell may survive. L.