Joshua Chamberlain


Lying in a hollow, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain writes home to his wife Fanny, describing
the Battle of Sharpsburg... 

"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 or a shell has hissed over my head either from
our own sharpshooters or the rebels -- 5 in that last line." 

He writes in full: 

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, & our 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
our 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 or 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 hope to be relieved soon, & get somewhere where 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. 

I must hurry, for we are in a critical moment & expecting some move. 

Don't worry about me & take all the comfort you can. Give my love to Dear Daise & to the
old Myllys & to Aunties 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 who may
survive. L.

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