Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Note from Antietam: 'You must be prepared for bad news'

Union surgeon Anson Hurd cares for wounded at the Otho J. Smith farm, near the 
Antietam battlefield. 108th Corporal Richard Morrell died there on or about Oct. 4, 1862.
(Library of Congress collection)
                  An Alexander Gardner photograph of the Otho J. Smith farm hospital.
       (HOVER ABOVE  FOR "NOW" PHOTO | Then: LOC collection | Now: John Banks.)

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When Richard Henry Morrell went into battle at Antietam the morning of Sept. 17, 1862,  he bore immense responsibility. The 45-year old shoemaker had a family that included his wife, Margaret, and 10 children -- four boys and six girls -- ranging in age from 11 months to 17 years. The Morrells had emigrated from England in the 1850s, settling in Rochester, N.Y.

"(He) is well cared for, but the Doct is much concerned about him,"
 S.D. Porter wrote of Richard Morrell, seriously wounded at
the Battle of Antietam. (National Archives via
Despite his family obligations, Morrell enlisted in the 108th New York as a private in July 1862 -- he was promoted to corporal later that month. Less than two months later, he marched through a farmer William Roulette's field with rest of the 108th New York en route to an assault on the Rebels' position in a sunken farm lane.

Sometime during the attack on Bloody Lane, a bullet or piece or artillery shell tore into Morrell's arm, which required two amputations. He was taken to General William French's division hospital at Otho J. Smith's farm, less than a mile from the battlefield.

While Morrell recuperated there, a man from Rochester visited with the grievously injured soldier, whom he noted was in dire condition. "[He] is well cared for, but the Doct is much concerned about him," S.D. Porrter wrote Sept. 28 in the one-page note, presumably to Margaret. "He may recover, but you must be prepared for bad news."

The bad news came in a short note to Morrell's wife dated Oct. 14, 1862, from Bolivar Heights, Va., and signed by two 108th New York officers:
"Dear Madam, I take this opportunity to inform you of the death of your husband. He died on or about the 4th day of this month after having his arm amputated twice. Once at the elbow and again at the shoulder. He seemed to be getting along well when lockjaw set in and after intense suffering [of] three days died. His remains were neatly draped and he was buried at Sharpsburg, Maryland. His personal effects I will forward to you by Express tomorrow. Anything further in regard to him will be cheerfully furnished by your obdt. svt. and sympathy in affliction."
Although Morrell's final resting place is unknown, he may be buried among the thousands of other Union soldiers at Antietam National Cemetery.


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

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-- Richard Morrell widow's pension file, National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C., via


  1. HI John,

    Great work here on Antietam. My name is Tim K. I wrote to you about three years ago and I think you were watching West Virginia Mountaineers in a college game that day. I am currently working on a 4K documentary on Antietam and would like to use a couple of your photos (the Mckinley monument and the 5th Maryland plaque monument). If possible. I would also like to quote you from your book if possible and get your expertise on the subject of Antietam if at all possible. . .thanxs so much.

    Timothy Klejnot