The Battle of Antietam: a Philadelphia soldier’s experience

This past Monday, September 17, marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single-day battle in American history. The 69th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers, with which Philadelphia native William C. White served, participated in this harrowing conflict. Several letters that White wrote to his parents shortly after the battle describe some his experiences.

In a letter dated September 19, 1862, White writes:

we had a terrible battle in which Sargent Neal Gillen a great friend of Jimmy Hughes had his leg nearly torn off from a solid shot and i am almost certain he is dead his brother our captain stayed with him and was taken prisoner our brigade was on the right and the left broke and [??] then the rebels got on our left and rear and we got out as quick as we could the rebels were behind us we had to get out the best way we could our company lost from eight to ten killed and wounded and prisoners...we expected another battle to day but they have skedadled...

September 19, 1862, page 1

September 19, 1862, page 2

One week later, White continues to discuss the horror he had experienced:

after i wrote the last letter i took a walk over to the battlefield it was an awful sight if it had been the first battlefield i saw it would make me sick it was worse than Fair Oak [Battle of Fair Oaks, also known as the Battle of Seven Pines, which took place in Virginia on May 31 and June 1, 1862]. it was four miles long and the dead lie all along in lines in one place there was a regular line of battle for about one hundred yards they lay in twos where Ricketts [Brig. Gen. James B. Ricketts] battery opened grape and canister it mowed the rebels down like grass i saw a great many of our dead, but twice as many rebels...

September 26, 1862, page 1

September 26, 1862, page 2

White began his service during the Civil War on August 19, 1861. His collection of letters to his parents recount his experiences in some of the most important battles of the war– Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. The letters provide a glimpse of Union camp life during the Civil War and insight into the psyche of a Union soldier. They also document the experience of Irish Americans, specifically in White's case Irish Catholics,  as the men who made up the 69th regiment were mostly of Irish origin from Philadelphia.


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