Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Antietam Mann's plea to FDR: 'Please read this letter'

Antietam Burnside Mann (upper left), whose father was mortally wounded at the Battle of Antietam, 
suffered with various health issues for her entire life. She made  one final plea for a pension 
to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935. (Mann photo courtesy of her descendants)
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Even decades after the Civil War, awful ripple effects of family tragedy rocked Antietam Burnside Mann. Her 54-year-old father, Peter, a private in the 8th Connecticut, was shot in the groin at the Battle of Antietam. A weaver from Enfield, Conn., Peter died in a field hospital near Sharpsburg on Sept. 27, 1862, 10 days after the battle. Her husband's death was a great shock to Mann's wife, Ann, who was pregnant with her fourth child. After an extremely difficult labor, Ann gave birth to a daughter on Jan. 31, 1863.

Antietam Burnside Mann's grave in Friends Southwestern
  Burial Grounds in Upper Darby, Pa.
"Imperfectly developed," the girl was blind in her left eye and suffered from heart and stomach ailments. The midwives who aided the delivery blamed "depressing influences of prenatal sorrow, grief and anxiety" for the poor health of the child, who was named in honor of the battle and IX Corps General Ambrose Burnside, the man who led the attack in which Peter Mann died. Life was a struggle for Antietam, who suffered most of her life from fainting spells and headaches and dropped out of high school to work in a carpet mill. The family sought help from specialists, but they offered her little hope.

"Thus she lives on," the family's longtime doctor wrote, "doomed to perpetual hopelessness and suffering."

After her mother died in 1890, Antietam lived with relatives in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Unable to work and hoping to take advantage of an act passed by Congress to aid helpless children of Civil War vets, she sought a pension. After she was rejected twice by the government, 72-year-old Antietam took her case to President Franklin Roosevelt himself in 1935 in a final effort to secure government aid. Whether her letter was actually read by the president is unknown, but it did indeed make it to the White House. A stamp acknowledging its receipt included the signature of Louis McHenry Howe, the president's secretary and son of a Civil War vet.

"I can truthfully say I have never enjoyed a day's health in my life," Mann wrote in the letter dated Aug. 7, 1935.  (See below for complete text of Mann's letter to FDR.)

"I have often prayed to the Lord to take me, but God's ways are not our ways.," she added in the heart-rending letter, which I discovered in the National Archives while researching my book, "Connecticut Yankees at Antietam."

Ten days after receipt of the letter, however, the government rejected her claim. "This action was taken after a thorough field examination," a government bureaucrat wrote.

Mann, whose story is told in more detail in my book, lived with relatives until the end of her life. She died at age 79 on Dec. 29, 1943.


--  Peter Mann's pension record, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C., via

Antietam Burnside Mann's letter to President Roosevelt reached the White House.
The arrow points to its receipt by Roosevelt's secretary, Louis McHenry Howe.
Aug. 7, 1935

Mr. President
Washington, D.C.


Please read this letter. My father, Peter Mann of Thompsonville, Connecticut, served in the Civil War; he was over fifty years when the war started but being very patriotic, he soon inlisted (sic). He came home on a furlough, May 1862, went back and was fatally wounded in the battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862. This was a great shock to my mother as I was born the following January 31, 1863. I can truthfully say I have never enjoyed a day's health in my life. The government granted a pension for me until I was sixteen years. My mother died October 9, 1890. Since then I have depended on my relatives.
Unable to hold a job, Mann lived with relatives in three states.
For the last forty five years, I have lived first with one and then with another. It has been a great trial for me for I knew they could not afford to keep me, but I was always treated with kindness. About twenty eight years ago, Mr. Liddell, an old veteran, put in a claim for a pension for me. Several doctors gave statements, stating I was not capable of supporting myself. I was rejected as I was not an idiot, or permanently helpless. I have heart and stomach trouble, very little sight in one eye, and my hands are crippled from arthritis. I have been with my niece in Drexel Hill (Pa.) for the last eight years; they have lost their home as they could not keep up the payments, her husband being out of work. I should feel very thankful if the government would grant me a pension. I should pay may board and have medical attention. I don't like to ask for charity, but that is what I have depended on for ...
"PS," Mann wrote the president, "please excuse pencil writing!"
...many years. I have often prayed to the Lord to take me, but God's ways are not our ways. I sometimes think it was sent to test my faith. If my father had been spared, I would never had to depend on charity and no doubt would have been born with good health. Pardon me for writing you, but everybody advised me to write. If I am not asking to (sic) much, will you please answer.

Yours respectfully

Antietam Mann

Miss Antietam Mann
508 Alexandria Ave.
Drexel Hill, Pa.

PS. Please excuse pencil writing!

Ten days after Antietam Mann wrote a letter to FDR, her claim for a pension was rejected.

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  1. You dig up some of the most interesting stuff.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Sharon.