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    "We have just forced the Rebs out of Maryland"

    [Antietam Campaign]. Colonel Francis Parker Archive, consisting of seven letters containing reports pertaining to the Battle of Antietam, all dated between September 14, and September 30, 1862. Colonel Francis J. Parker of the 32nd Massachusetts Volunteers writes seven letters to his wife, three are dated before the battle and four are dated shortly afterwards.

    The first letter is two pages "In camp near Frederick City, Md," September [14], 1862. During the day, Parker writes, he could hear in the distance George McClellan's larger force clashing with Robert E. Lee's force at the Battle of South Mountain. "We have heard heavy firing all day. . . . We are to march tomorrow (Monday) morning at 3. . . . My regiment is reduced to 375 Effective men by the fatigues of the march. . . . The report is that we are driving the Rebs. There are 2000 prisoners here mostly Stragglers of the Enemy."

    The second letter is one page dated September 15 [n.p.]. As the opposing forces move into position two days before the Battle of Antietam, Parker reports that he has just arrived at Frederick, Maryland, "on the bank of the Monocacy [River]. The firing to the West is not so loud or rapid."

    In the third letter, dated September 16 from "Bivouac between Boonsboro & Sharpsboro, Md," Parker writes that Union soldiers anticipate that a "great battle is to be fought," though he believed it would be fought on the 16th: "We are all in a heat here 100,000 of us & they say that a great battle is to be fought today. Already the Artillery near us is at work and we are hurried & harried with orders abt ammunition. Nobody seems to know anything about the position force or spirit of the Enemy. . . . Col. [Asa W.] Wildes is wounded but insists upon it that he can save his arm." (Colonel Wildes commanded the 16th Maine.)

    The fourth letter is one page [n.p.] and dated September 18, 1862, the day after the Battle of Antietam. From a safe position-though not completely safe, as he explains-Parker witnessed the battle known as the turning point in the Civil War. "Yesterday was fought the great Battle of Shaftsboro [Sharpsburg] full in view of my position and an occasional shell over our heads showed that we were within reach. . . . Four generals are wounded & many officers and men killed. It was a wonderful fight and we expect a second dose today."

    In the fifth letter (one page, "In Bivouac near Sharpsburg," September 19, 1862), the colonel exults in ending General Lee's first invasion of the North. "We have just forced the Rebs out of Maryland and over the Potomac and our batteries are now sending their compliments after them. . . . I have heard the sound of angry shot & shell so that I think I shall always know it again. The [Confederate] invasion of Maryland has been a failure the people hate them and have no hesitation in calling them all sorts of names. In Sharpsburg as we passed through a woman from her steps harangued us on the wickedness of the Rebs."

    The sixth letter is two pages dated September [21] from "Bivouac near Shepherdstown." Parker informs his wife of Union attempts to cross the Potomac River into Virginia. "Yesterday our Corps ([Major General Fitz John] Porters) were repulsed in an attempt to cross over to the Virginia side and we were in view just preparing to cross when [Brigadier General George] Sykes & [Brigadier General John Henry?] Martindales brigades were driven helter skelter into the river. We laid waiting to repel any attempt on the part of the enemy to cross for the most part of the day and then returned to our previous camp." Parker informs his wife that he prefers to return home, but can't because "little Mac can't spare me yet." He ends his letter by writing that some Rebel prisoners of war told him that "their army is used up but they fought sharp yesterday."

    After the battle, the Army of the Potomac failed to pursue General Lee's army across the Potomac River, to President Lincoln's chagrin. In Parker's final letter of this archive (two and one-half pages, September 30, 1862), he, along with the rest of the Union Army, remain near Sharpsburg. He reports grisly details of what he saw when he revisited the Antietam battlefield. "I availed myself of the opportunity to visit the bluff where the fight was that we looked upon a week since. It had been pretty well picked over before but I saw enough to satiate me two rebels lay there still black in decay and rapidly turning to be skeletons. The ground was strewn with signs of the fight and the graves dotted the vicinity thickly."

    The Battle of Antietam was fought on September 17 near Sharpsburg, Maryland, the first major battle of the Civil War fought in a Union state. Though McClellan had a much larger force, he failed to win a decisive victory and, more importantly, failed to pursue General Lee across the Potomac River. With over 22,000 casualties, it was also the bloodiest single-day battle in U.S. history witnessed by Parker and his regiment from a distance. Two months later, President Lincoln relieved General McClellan of command of the Army of the Potomac. The letters exhibit usual folds. Some exhibit slightly darker toning along the left edges. Overall, this is a well-preserved collection of significant letters.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2013
    17th-18th Thursday-Friday
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