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Four days after the Battle of Antietam, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain wrote his wife Fanny about the epic battle his new regiment luckily was not heavily engaged in.


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 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.

“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 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.