Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Letter from Sharpsburg: 'Buried him with my own hands'

The off-the-beaten path 11th Connecticut monument near Burnside Bridge.
       The 11th Connecticut attacked from right to left across this field on Sept. 17, 1862.
                                      (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

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During visits to Antietam, I always stop at Burnside Bridge early in the morning, perhaps the best time and place to contemplate the slaughter that took place in western Maryland long ago. I’ll touch the witness tree feet from the bridge, stare at the long-ago site of Yankee graves along the stone wall and marvel at mist hovering over Antietam Creek. Occasionally, I’ll walk about 150 yards or so, usually through tall grass, to visit the out-of-the-way 11th Connecticut monument.

No one’s ever around, so I’ll linger and read the names on the gray-granite monument, often running my fingers over the inscriptions of those who sacrificed their lives for the Union. Their stories I know so well.
Daniel Tarbox, 11th Connecticut
private, was mortally wounded
at Antietam. He was 18.
(Image courtesy Scott Hann)
  • Captain John Griswold, from Old Lyme and the grandson of a Connecticut governor, was mortally wounded as he splashed across the creek in a hail of gunfire on the morning of Sept. 17, 1862. "I die as I have ever wished to die, for my country," he told IX Corps commander Ambrose Burnside shortly before his death.
  • Private Daniel Tarbox, an 18-year-old private from Brooklyn, Conn., was shot through the bowels during the attack on the bridge. He died the next day in nearby Middletown, Md. In anticipation of fighting, he had written his father two weeks earlier, "If we go in, we can’t think of coming out."
  • Private Fennimore Weeks, from Norwalk, lived a few moments after he was shot through the head. "His effects I will send to you as soon as I have an opportunity and will write you more of the particulars," his captain wrote the soldier's mother.
  • And Private William Hall, from Mansfield, also killed in fighting at the bridge. More than 150 years later, the 17-year-old soldier's descendant cleaned his begrimed marker in a rural cemetery in Connecticut.  
And now a poignant letter -- auctioned on eBay -- has surfaced revealing how another soldier in the regiment died at what the 11th Connecticut hospital steward called "the creek of death." In the three-page letter to his brother Charles, written four days after the battle, a shaken George L. Dayton, an 11th Connecticut private, quickly got to the point.

"He is dead," he wrote about their brother Lewis, who was shot through the heart in the charge on the stone-arch bridge. The next day, George wrapped Lewis' body in "4 or 5 blankets" and buried the 11th Connecticut private where he fell.

Uninjured physically, George Dayton certainly suffered mental scars from the battle, perhaps lasting a lifetime. "I am unwell and about crazy," he concluded his letter, "so I will not write any more now."

Lewis, from Winchester, Conn., is buried in an unknown grave, but some believe his spirit may linger near the 11th Connecticut monument.

(Letter posted with permission of eBay seller.)
Sept. 21, 1862
Sharpsburg, Md.

Dear Brother Charles

I received your letter directed to Lewis whitch came to late for him ever to read, he is dead.

It is terrible news, but it is true. He was shot while we were making a charge on the rebels at Sharpsburg in the northwestern part of Maryland on the 17th of Sept. He was shot though the heart and fell saying I am killed ,,,

(Letter posted with permission of  eBay seller)
We were obliged to leave the ground where he fell and when we found him the next day the rebels had taken everything from his pockets.

I dug his grave and buried him with my own hands in the field where he fell after wrapping him in 4  or 5 blankets.

We have been in 4 of 5 skirmishes and battles lately and our regt. is terribly cut to pieces. Also the 8th Conn. and 16th [Conn.]. Our regt. lost about 50 killed and 200 wounded on the 17th of Sept. I escaped without a wound. We have driven Stonewall Jackson across the ...

(Letter posted with permission of eBay seller.)
... Potomac and I suppose we are to follow him. Their is no telling when or how this war will end.

I am unwell and about crazy so I will not write any more now.


George L. Dayton.

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  1. Most excellent, John. Thanks for saving that before it disappeared :/

  2. Another great story!!!! I love that you bring the soldiers to life and they are not forgotten.

    From Kevin...A proud Texan with Confederate ancestors.

  3. You neglected to mention that the 11th Conn lost is commander Colonel Henry W. Kingsbury during the charge at Antietam, a rising star in the army. Kingsbury graduated from the West Point Class of 1861, served on Irwin McDowell's staff, commanded Battery D, 5th US Artillery during the Seven Days, and was shot "four times" while rallying his regiment at Antietam. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, DC.

  4. It wasn't meant to be an all-encompassing story about the 11th Connecticut at Antietam. Thanks.

  5. Thanks John. Was there a few days ago

  6. Thanks John. Was there a few days ago