Friday, October 18, 2013

Antietam: Envelope addressed to a wounded private

This envelope contained a letter addressed to Horace Lay, a private in the 16th Connecticut who
was wounded at Antietam. He died nearly two months after the battle. (Author's collection)
Lay died at the German Reformed Church Hospital in
 Sharpsburg on Nov. 16, 1862. Worship services are still held
 in the building, now called Christ Reformed Church.
On Oct. 5, 1862, nearly three weeks after he was shot at the Battle of Antietam, Private Horace Lay of the 16th Connecticut was admitted to the German Reformed Church Hospital with severe wounds in his right leg and left thigh. He had another bullet wound in the groin, probably suffered as he lay incapacitated after he was first wounded in John Otto's 40-acre cornfield a short distance from the village of Sharpsburg, Md. (See my interactive panoramas of Otto's cornfield.) A 16th Connecticut comrade who saw Lay at the church hospital in early November recalled that the 36-year-old soldier was “very low” and not expected to recover. A surgeon wrote in his casebook that amputation of Lay’s left leg was imperative because a bullet had fractured the soldier’s left femur. (1)

Also in early November, someone from Connecticut, perhaps Lay's wife Charlotte, wrote to the soldier who suffered in the small church 350 miles from the state. The letter writer may have inquired about the grievously wounded man's condition and perhaps offered a few words of encouragement for Lay, one of many soldiers from Connecticut who were treated in the small building on Sharpsburg's main street. Perhaps the letter writer also noted that Charlotte soon planned to go to western Maryland to help nurse her husband back to health and that Lay's 11-year-old son,
Private Horace Lay's 
gravestone, No. 1,100,  in
 Antietam National Cemetery
also named Horace, was concerned about his father. Sadly, the letter is lost to history, but the envelope for it survives. Postmarked Nov. 2, 1862 in Hartford and affixed with a three-cent stamp with an image of George Washington, it is simply addressed to Lay at the German Reform Church Hospital, Sharpsburg, Md. (See my interactive panorama of the church.)

The letter that the envelope contained may have briefly cheered Lay, who probably had his left leg amputated. But on Nov. 16, 1862, nearly two months after he was wounded, Horace Lay died with Charlotte by his side. Perhaps because she could not afford to transport her husband's body back to Connecticut, the private was buried somewhere in Sharpsburg shortly after his death. His remains were disinterred after the war, and today the shoemaker lies buried in the Connecticut section at Antietam National Cemetery under a weathered marker, No. 1,100, that simply notes his name, state and Civil War allegiance.

(1) Banks, John, "Connecticut Yankees at Antietam," Charleston, S.C., History Press, 2013, Page 62

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