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    "...the Rebels saw the Green Flags of our Irish Regiments and knew the Irish Brigade was a coming in..."

    [Antietam] Sergeant John Murray Atwood, Co. E, 29th Massachusetts Infantry (Irish Brigade): Letter to His Brother Describing the Bloody Battle. Six+ pages in pencil on lined paper, 4.75" x 8", "Sept 21st, 1862", "Sharpsburg [Maryland]". Atwood was a twenty-five year old clerk from Plymouth who enlisted in the 29th Massachusetts Volunteers on May 18, 1861; from June through December 1862, they were part of the legendary Irish Brigade. In this letter, he describes the fighting at South Mountain before Antietam, the fighting at "Bloody Lane," and the gallantry of the Irish Brigade. The Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg), September 17, 1862, was the single bloodiest day of fighting in American history with nearly 23,000 dead, wounded, or missing. Excerpts below. Very fine condition.

    "The next day we had four or five more Batteries and kept up a regular artillery fight all day. You better believe the shot and shells flew thick and fast over and around us all that day..."

    "Our shells made awful havoc among the Rebels, for we can see them carrying off their dead and wounded. Several times we made it so hot for them that they would run and leave their guns..."

    "Our poor fellows fell like grass all along our lines but the way the enemy fell was terrible..."

    "The killed and wounded lay in piles top of one another. I suppose it was the greatest slaughter ever known in this Country."

    "The Rebels all say that our Brigade strikes a dread all through their army for it is the toughest one they have to deal with, they say there is no back down to us and that's a fact for we always face the music whenever we are called upon."

    "I suppose we see some sights that would make you tremble in your boots. It is quite often after a hard battle to see around our hospitals a pile of legs and arms thrown up one side just like a pile of wood. We went around after the battle and piled up the dead Rebels. They looked like a mess of hay stacks."

    We encourage you to read the entire transcript of this letter, available on our website.


    More Information:

    Sharpsburg, Sept 21st, 1862

     

    Dear Brother,

     

    As I have got a few leisure moments this morning, I thought I would write you a few lines just to give you an idea what we have passed through this last week. We left Frederick City about a week ago close to the heels of the enemy and kept gaining on them all the time as we advanced, until we got so close to them they were compelled to stop and give us battle on the mountains which was an awful tough place for us to drive them from, for it was almost right up and down. It was so steep, but we finally drove them out of the mountains by the point of the bayonet which they can't stand know how. But there was a good many killed however on both sides before we routed them. This fight on the mountains lasted two days and the second night the enemy retreated but we were so close to their heels that they did not get out of site. This time our Brigade were in the advance and we captured any quantity of prisoners. I don't know the exact number but it was several hundreds. We still kept advancing until within about two miles of Sharpsburg when the enemy made a stand and waited for us to come up. We still kept on and saw the enemy drawn up in line of battle and waiting for us to get near enough. We saw them and made preparations for the battle. Before we were half ready for them, they opened on us with their artillery. I tell you we waited many minutes in getting our Batteries in position and our Brigade was ordered to support them. We soon opened on them and kept a steady cannonading until dark. We had a good many wounded and about a dozen killed. We had one man wounded in our Company this time, it was Corp. Tribou of Middleborough. He was one our Color Bearers. He had his left foot shot off by a solid shot. The next day we had four or five more Batteries and kept up a regular artillery fight all day. You better believe the shot and shells flew thick and fast over and around us all that day but there was but a very few killed. We burst two of our 20 lb. Parrot Rifle Guns that day. But as good Iuck would have it no one was hurt by them. The occasion of their bursting was they're getting so hot by firing so fast. Our shells made awful havoc among the Rebels, for we can see them carrying off their dead and wounded. Several times we made it so hot for them that they would run and leave their guns, but we did not have enough infantry to go and take them, for our forces had not arrived. But now, we have got enough for almost anything.

     

    The next morning we were relieved from supporting these Batteries and were ordered around on the right. We marched about two hours before getting there. We had to pass through one river where the water was up to our middle, but that's nothing for we quite often do that. We finally came up with the enemy and we formed a line of battle and marched up in line and halted for orders. We soon received orders to go in and relieve Gen. French's Brigade (by the way he was killed). We marched up within about five hundred yards and halted and took off everything but just our equipment. While we were halted here the Rebels saw the Green Flags of our Irish Regiments and knew the Irish Brigade was a coming in and immediately formed a whole Division in or front to receive us. As soon as we were ready again we started at charge bayonets and halted within about a hundred yards of their lines and poured into them. Such a rifling and crashing you never heard. Our poor fellows fell like grass all along our lines but the way the enemy fell was terrible. The killed and wounded lay in piles top of one another. I suppose it was the greatest slaughter ever known in this Country. The enemy formed in our front five times. The prisoners we took here said they had all confidence in capturing our whole Brigade. The Rebels all say that our Brigade strikes a dread all through their army for it is the toughest one they have to deal with, they say there is no back down to us and that's a fact for we always face the music whenever we are called upon. I saw a number of Brigades march up that day and then break and run back, they couldn't stand the fire. I suppose we see some sights that would make you tremble in your boots. It is quite often after a hard battle to see around our hospitals a pile of legs and arms thrown up one side just like a pile of wood. We went around after the battle and piled up the dead Rebels. They looked like a mess of hay stacks. They say we are a going to have two or three days to rest but whether we shall or not I don't know. But I really hope we shall for we have not hardly had time to eat for the last two months. I forgot to say that Lawrence R. Blake was killed in the Battle and John Shannon had two of his ribs broken by a piece of shell. The rest of us are alright. I wish you could see the Flags in our Brigade, they look like a lot of fishnets they are so riddled. As there is nothing more of importance to write about this time, I will close by bidding you goodbye for a few days. You must use your own judgment in directing your letters while we are changing about.

     

    So this is all this time, so goodbye,

    Murray



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