August 23, 2012

Soldier Letter from Antietam

"Federal buried, Confederate unburied" LOC

 Army of the Potomac, October 6th 1862

Dear Brother--I was surprised to hear of the death of Henry. I had heard that he was wounded, and got a furlough of two days to go and find him. Starting when your letter came to me, I wandered all day over the field at Antietam. I kept going for miles and miles, looking at every grave I saw, and was about to give up the search from fatigue and hunger (for I had already gone over twenty-five miles), but I kept on till dark, and just as I was about to lie down for the night, I saw a few graves under an apple-tree, a few rods off, and there I found the grave of our dear brother. It was a solemn time for me as I sat by the grave. 

I found a person who watched with him, and was present at his burial. He was shot in the early part of the action. He died without a struggle. It will be a hard struggle for mother. To think he was taken away in so short a time after leaving home, while I have been engaged in six or seven battles! But the thought of his dying so peacefully  (and no one can doubt his Christian character or fitness to meet his Maker), will lessen the grief of our mother, and brothers and sisters. We have lost him; but this we know, he was a Christian, and showed a Christian spirit in all his actions. It seems like a dream. As I look from the "heights" [Bolivar], I can see the rebel army, and a battle is expected in a few days. I am willing to meet them, no matter how hard the battle, or how long the forced marches are, if we can only finish the war, or make a beginning to an end. I may too, like Henry be shot down. If I die, I die in the faith of Christ, and have no fears as to what awaits me. I am happy wherever I am. I can lie down with as much ease, and rest for the night within range of the enemy's guns, knowing that at dawn we may meet face to face, as I could at home upon my bed. It is near midnight, and I must close.

SERGEANT S.P. KEELER

Letter from: Soldiers' Letters from Camp, Battlefield and Prison edited by Lydia Minturnin Post in 1865.

93rd New York at Antietam, LOC

Henry Keeler was a corporal in the 14th Connecticut Co. C . He was 23 years old when he died at Antietam on September 17, 1862. He had only been in he army since early August. The 14th Connecticut is remembered for fighting near Bloody Lane.

 According to Anna Resseguie's (a distant relation) diary, Henry’s grave was marked by a wooden board. Silas Keeler, the author of the above letter, was 21 years old and a Sergeant with the 8th Connecticut, Co. E. One of Silas' sisters sent his letter to be included in a book of letters published by the U.S. Sanitary commission in 1865. With the letter, she notes that Henry's body had been retrieved and re-interred at home. His funeral took place on November 2, 1862. She also notes at the time of her sending the letter that she had two wounded brothers in the army.

Anna 's family owned a tavern in Ridgefield, Connecticut which amazingly, you can visit today. Once called the Keeler Tavern and later the Resseguie Hotel, the Keeler Tavern Museum and Garden House  is now open to the public. Anna Resseguie's wartime diary can be read as View from the Inn.  She details a lot of the goings on in the town, including weather, festivities and tragedies. She even writes of one local who died after sticking his hand near a lion's cage when a menagerie came to the town. 

It's rare that there is so much wartime information from one family but it is fantastic that you can read about their lives in the form or letters and diaries and visit a site that they would have spent a lot of time in. The Inn has a very unique history of its own, it hosted action during the Revolutionary War. It is also speculated that Alexander Gardner stayed there a few years before the Civil War.

The above letter seems cold at first but when you realize that it is the youngest brother in the family writing to an older one, it seems likely that his emotions were subdued. This letter also brings up the custom of retrieving dead for a burial closer to home. For many men, this was not an option.

References:

Boughton, Gary. "Henry Keeler." Find a Grave. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=keeler&GSfn=henry&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSob=n&GRid=41766850&df=all& (accessed August 23, 2012).
 
Keeler Tavern Preservation Society. "Keeler Tavern Museum and Garden House." http://keelertavernmuseum.org/ (accessed August 23, 2012).

Penkenier, Charles. Ridgefield Fights the Civil War. Worthy Shorts, 2011. 



2 comments:

  1. I'm not sure I'd call the letter cold. If this was written a time later, he may have had time to process his feelings and grieve. He mentioned that the time he spent by the grave was solemn. Another thought I had was that perhaps being through "six or seven battles," perhaps he was a bit desensitized to death.

    I think that if I were to be in the area, the museum would be something I'd like to check out. I'd certainly read up on the family first. It would make a pretty cool trip. :)

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    Replies
    1. :D I think it's cold. After his death a letter had to be sent home from the army and another letter had to be sent back to the army. That's 2 letters in 19 days in 1862. I'm sure he was desensitized though, as well.

      Road trip.

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