Our Country's Fiery Ordeal

A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)

Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Private George Cramer, 11th Pennsylvania Infantry

Over the next few weeks, I hope to start posting parts of letters that I am coming across in the course of my research. Today, I would like to share a few lines from several letters written by Private George Cramer of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. These typed transcripts of letters were donated by Private Cramer's descendants, and can be found in the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry file in the Antietam National Battlefield library. Private Cramer became ill just before the Battle of South Mountain, and was thus not directly engaged on either the 14th or 17th of September. His letters mention this, referring to South Mountain as the battle fought on Sunday, and Antietam as being fought on Wednesday. His letters give a sense of the exhausted nature of the men, as well as the attrition that the campaign was taking on them. I have italicized one section in the letter of the 21st to highlight those portions which display the effect the campaign was having on the strength of the 11th Pennsylvania. Not only do these letters describe attrition by sickness and casualties, they show that soldiers such as George Cramer firmly understood the stakes of the Maryland Campaign.

September 21st, 1862
Dear Wife,

I have no doubt that you are all anxiety and trouble about me, and disappointed in not getting a letter from me before this, but I assure you it was impossible for me to write to you before this. Since receiving your last, we have been pushed forward where we met the enemy on the mountain between Frederick and Hagerstown, the details of it you will have received through the newspapers which are nowise exaggerated. In my last letter, if you received it, I stated that I have not been well since we left Hall’s Hill, Virginia, and I had not got better all along. On Sunday evening this day last week, forcing the mountain, I was forced to leave ranks and sank down at a tree. It just commenced getting dark, the battle raging furious. I rested for a while and then walked down where our brigade had left its knapsacks. George Righter I met there, sick like myself. We have been together ever since, both almost unable to walk. But this day we came up to our brigade and many a face is missing among us. General Harsuff [sic] is seriously wounded. Colenel [sic] R. Coulter commands the brigade. Captain Kuhn took sick on the march. When we came to Frederick he was compelled to leave the company and go to the hospital. Lieutenant Noble is also in some hospital. Maybe he was taken back to Washington. He took sick before the Bull Run fight, but still tried to stick it out and fought hard at that fight which I believe done him no good. He still kept on and kept with regiment coming from Virginia on to Washington but somewhere between Washington and Frederick he was compelled to stay back. I suppose his people know his whereabouts. Our company has neither captain, lieutenant, nor any sergant [sic], only corporals to command us. We have but one captain in our regiment. The rest is killed, wounded, or back sick. Our Lieutenant colonel got killed at Bull Run. Also our Major was wounded so we have but one field officer in the regiment, and his attention is more required to the brigade now than he can pay to our regiment since Hartsuff is wounded. So you can see we are in a bad trim.
These battles which have been fought here in Maryland will bring sorrow to a great many families as the loss on both sides was heavy. If only God would have mercy on the nation and put a stay to this bloodshed. He has protected me so far and can further if his will.
I must close short with my best wishes to all friends,
And my sincere love to you and Maney.
George Cramer

September 29, 1862
Dear Mary, no doubt you are more anxious to hear how I’m getting along than about anything else. Since we’re laying here resting I got quite well and begin to pick up fast. Of course I’m weak yet and it would set hard if there should a forward movement be made, which I hope will not be for a while, for the authorities can’t be blind to the fact that the old army is a set of men wore down almost unfit for service at present. It is true they fought the last battles (there was but a few regiments in the last actual fight), and were victorious too, but they fought with the last desperation to stop an invading foe from advancing on to their own fireside, and the same time to make good again that most shamefull [sic] defeat of Bull Run which was not caused by the want of bravery by the men, but by the ill management, yes, sometimes it is thought through treachery, of some of our generals.
Hurrah for the Militia that stopped the Rebels! But us poor fellows had to fight them and many a brave fellow had to bite dust and thousands to be crippled for life. But their will is a credit to them.

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