Saturday, May 25, 2013

Antietam: 'It becomes my painfull duty to inform you...'

Letter to the mother of Pvt. Fennimore Weeks, who was killed at Antietam.

In this image of your humble blogger at the 11th Connecticut monument
at Antietam, near Burnside Bridge, Fennimore Weeks' name is
barely in view second from the bottom on the left.
The passage of more than 150 years doesn't soften the impact of a letter like the one above, discovered in pension records digitized on (premium website). A private in Company F of the 11th Connecticut, Fennimore Weeks of Norwalk was killed at the Battle of Antietam during a disastrous attack near Burnside Bridge at about 10 a.m. on Sept. 17, 1862.

"It becomes my painfull duty to inform you of the death of your son Fennimore Weeks who was killed in the battle of the 17th," Company F Capt. John Kies wrote to Rachel Weeks four days after the battle. "He was shot through the head and did not live but a few moments after he was struck. His effects I will send to you as soon as I have an opportunity and will write you more of the particulars."

During the Civil War, it was the responsibility of a high-ranking officer such as Kies to inform a family of the death of a loved one. The captain wrote a similar letter to the father of Company F Pvt. Daniel Tarbox of Brooklyn, Conn., who also was killed in the attack that cost Weeks his life. In the Hartford Courant on Sept. 26, Fennimore's name was published among those killed, so perhaps that's how his mother found out about her son's fate. Or perhaps she received the awful news by another means days before Kies' letter arrived in Norwalk, about 70 miles southeast of Hartford.

In any case, the impact of this short note must have been devastating for Weeks' family. Remember that terrible ripple effect the next time you see a list of names of soldiers killed on a Civil War monument. For more on the more than 200 Connecticut deaths at Antietam, check out my updated Excel spreadsheet, which now includes information on the families that soldiers left behind.

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