Among the Wounded at Antietam

The 15th Massachusetts Volunteers went into action at Antietam around 9 o’clock in the morning with 606 officers in men; in less than a half hour of desperate fighting in the West Woods, more than half of those engaged were killed, wounded, or missing. The experience haunted the survivors.

          “As we lay here on our cot, we would stop and think over the past and look upon that battle ground,” one wounded soldier recalled. “We went on, tearing down fence after fence for nearly a mile and also passing over the dead bodies of both friends and foes till we found the enemy in large numbers then we met the deadly fire. Still, we passed on, not heeding the shower of leaden hail that was poured upon us and the command of our officers who were all the time cautioning us not to press forward so eagerly.”

The loss of comrades stung most deeply. “When we were obliged to leave our wounded and dying comrades, and weep because they are gone, more especially would we refer to our brave and kind-hearted friend Lieutenant Frank Corbin who was shot through the body three of four times and died the same night. Oh, he too is gone but long shall we remember him,” he continued.

          The author of the following letter served in Co. I of the 15th Massachusetts and was among the 255 men of the regiment who were wounded at Antietam; altogether, the 15th Massachusetts suffered 344 casualties in less than 30 minutes of fighting in the West Woods including 65 men who were killed outright. This letter was originally published in the October 31, 1862 edition of the Southbridge Journal

Camp A, General Hospital, Near Frederick City, Maryland

October 21, 1862

          The events which have taken place since the date of our last communications have passed along so rapidly that we find it impossible to keep pace with them. The rapid and forced marches from Tenallytown to Frederick; the grand reception that we met with as we hurriedly passed through; the pleasant countenances we beheld; the flags that were flying from house to house, are all vividly brought to mind. Still we passed on over the mountain where we arrived on Sunday night the 14th of September and took the place of Reno’s division and held the field until Monday morning.

One of the seemingly innumerable tent hospitals scattered around Washington, D.C. 

          We quickly followed on after the retreating foe, driving them till Wednesday morning the 17th of September when the engagement became general. General Sedgwick’s division advanced across Antietam Creek, fording the same up to our knees. At 9 a.m. we found ourselves advancing in the face of shot and shell. Thus, we went on, tearing down fence after fence for nearly a mile and also passing over the dead bodies of both friends and foes till we found the enemy in large numbers then we met the deadly fire. Still, we passed on, not heeding the shower of leaden hail that was poured upon us and the command of our officers who were all the time cautioning us not to press forward so eagerly.

Captain George C. Joslin
Co. I, 15th Massachusetts
Wounded at Antietam

Here let us say that our new recruits, who had not handled a rifle previous to this, acted most gallantly and did nobly. Poor fellows; many of them are gone to their last resting place in common with the rest of our boys. This was the time for carnage and death to many of our boys, and we feel as if we cannot be too thankful that we are permitted to communicate through your paper to our friends once more, and although we cannot give them a full description of the several battles of South Mountain and Antietam, and the several ordeals that the 15th Massachusetts boys passed through as we should like to, yet I can truly say that I am thankful to Him “who doeth all things well” that I am permitted to escape that terrible engagement with only a slight flesh wound. We are in hopes that we shall be able to join the regiment by the first of December, ready to do battle for our country’s cause.

As we lay here on our cot, we would stop and think over the past and look upon that battle ground. When we were obliged to leave our wounded and dying comrades, and weep because they are gone, more especially would we refer to our brave and kind-hearted friend Lieutenant Frank Corbin who was shot through the body three of four times and died the same night. Oh, he too is gone but long shall we remember him. Our regimental boys are scattered all around in different hospitals. The Hoffman farm took a large share of us, but since then we have been transferred to different places. On October 3rd, eight of us were sent here.

Lt. Frank Corbin
Co. I, 15th Massachusetts
Killed at Antietam

We will here pay our compliments to Dr. Charles T. Kelsey of the above hospital who belongs to the 64th New York Volunteers. He and his assistant were very faithful indeed in dressing our wounds and taking care of us. Their names deserve to be mentioned as some of the few exceptions to faithfulness among the wounded soldiers. There are five of our regiment in the hospital at the city and some we left behind who were not able to be moved. There were about 800 brought here the first week of October and placed in tents of 18 men in each with two nurses to take care of us, and the whole camp is arranged into wards, 64 men in each, under the charge of our surgeon. The rations that we have daily consist of one small loaf of soft bread a day, coffee for breakfast and supper, fresh meat or potato soup for dinner, and no change but boiled rice and molasses twice a week.

Here we have been 18 days and it seems that the head surgeon has not got the camp arranged yet. Why, we would ask, why is it that we are not better cared for, and why are we not provided better rations such as a wounded man needs? We are only a mile from the hospital at the city and yet we are told by the ladies and attending physicians up there that our boys have good care and plenty of good rations. We know the government provides; now we want to know who is to blame for this negligence? We would that we could speak so it might be understood. Who is to blame? 

Slater Guards

Source:

Letter from Slater Guards, Co. I, 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Southbridge Journal (Massachusetts), October 31, 1862, pg. 1


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