Friday, June 23, 2017

6th N.H. chaplain: 'May the widow's God be with you ...'

"May the widow's God be with you & sustain you under this great affliction,"
Chaplain John Hamilton wrote to the widow of 6th New Hampshire Private Anthony Welch.
Unfinished Railroad Cut at Second Manassas. Private Anthony Welch may have died near here.
(Photo Shelly Liebler)

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After waiting nearly three months for word of her husband’s fate, Betsey Welch received a short letter confirming her worst fears. Private Anthony Welch of the 6th New Hampshire was dead, killed at Second Manassas on Aug. 29, 1862. His body had not been recovered from the battlefield. The 41-year-old father of two young children was one of 16 men from Canaan, N.H., to march off to war in 1861.

6th New Hampshire Chaplain John Hamilton.
More than 80 days had passed from the day the Union army was routed near Washington until 6th New Hampshire Chaplain John Alexander Hamilton wrote the condolence letter to Mrs. Welch, dated Nov. 18, 1862, from a camp six miles from Fredericksburg, Va. Betsey had made an inquiry about Anthony to his commanding officer, Colonel Simon Goodell Griffin, who forwarded her letter to Hamilton to reply. (Read complete letter below; read all Civil War condolence letters on my blog here.)

Sadly for Widow Welch, the chaplain’s two-page letter lacked concrete information.

“I would hereby say that it is generally understood in this Regt. that he was killed in the battle of Bull Run [Manassas],” Hamilton wrote. “Those of his Co. who had opportunities for knowing say that he was shot at that time through the breast & died of the wound. It is presumed that he lived but a short time after being wounded. Probably he was buried with the others of the same Regt. who were found dead on the field three days after the battle.”

Welch, in Company B, likely was wounded when the 6th New Hampshire, 2nd Maryland and 48th Pennsylvania were ordered by General Jesse Reno to drive the enemy from  woods near the infamous Unfinished Railroad Cut. “The regiment made a gallant attempt to obey the order,” Griffin recalled years later, “not suspecting that it was set to perform an impossible task. As it advanced into the woods it was received with a murderous fire; four color-bearers were shot down in succession; its left flank was uncovered, and it was compelled to retreat to save itself from capture.”

Of the 450 soldiers in the regiment who went into battle, 210 became casualties. If Welch lay wounded behind Confederate lines, it was unlikely he received medical aid from the enemy.

6th New Hampshire regimental historian
Lyman Jackman: "It is one thing a soldier
dreads most, thus to be left wounded on
 the battle-field, to linger perhaps
 for days, and then to die."
"As the rebels had all they could do to attend to their own wounded," Lyman Jackman, a lieutenant in the 6th New Hampshire, wrote in the regimental history, "they did not give much attention, if any, to ours; and the sufferings of these must have been terrible through that night and the next day. But how much they suffered we can never know, for most of them died.  ... It is the one thing a soldier dreads most, thus to be left wounded on the battle-field, to linger perhaps for days, and then to die, with the pangs of hunger and thirst added to those of his neglected wounds."

Added Jackman: "... no sadder night did [the 6th New Hampshire] ever pass than that of August 29, 1862."

Welch’s friends would have looked for his body immediately after the fighting had ended, Chaplain Hamilton explained, but the battlefield was occupied by the enemy, making recovery of the remains impossible.

“It is indeed very sad for you to receive such sad intelligence,” wrote the 32-year-old Congregational minister from Keene, N.H. “Many are the hearts that sympathize with you here. But we can only sympathize. May the widow's God be with you & sustain you under this great affliction and so may this present, most grievous sorrow work out for you and yours a far more exceeding & eternal night of glory.”

Welch’s final resting place is unknown.


-- Anthony Welch widow's pension file, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C., via

-- Griffin, S.G., A History of the Town of Keene, Keene, N.H., Sentinel Printing Company, 1904.

-- Jackman, Lyman, History of the Sixth New Hampshire Regiment in the War for the Union, Concord, N.H., Republican Press Association, 1891.

PAGE 1: National Archives via
PAGE 2: National Archives via

Read more condolence letters on my blog here.
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