TWO SIGNIFICANT GETTYSBURG LETTERS OF HENRY LIVERMORE ABBOTT
First Letter of Abbott to Charles Paine, dated July 13, 1863
Second Letter of Abbott to Charles Paine, dated July 28, 1863
The 20 MA formed a key section of the "wall" upon which the "high tide of the Confederacy" broke on July 3, 1863. Lt. Sumner Paine, who had joined the regiment only two months earlier, was one of the fatalities the Twentieth bore on that historic day. In the aftermath of a massive struggle such as Gettysburg, the management of "remains" was far from a simple thing. The following two letters by Captain Henry L. Abbott, then regimental commander, to Sumner Paine's father, reveal the heavy work done after firing ceased--the pain, the confusion, and that ultimate grief, which followed on every battle. Abbott's second letter also includes much detail about the position and activity of the 20 MA on that fateful day. These historically significant letters were not included in the book of Abbotts' letters, "Fallen Leaves" by Robert Scott.
[The texts of the letters provided below are taken from transcriptions made on behalf of the Officers' Association and placed in the 20 MA Regimental Collection of the Boston Public Library. They have been made available here through the courtesy of the Trustees of the Boston Public Library.]
Vol 2, p.35
Copy of First Letter of Capt. Abbott to Charles C. Paine, father of Sumner Paine
Near Williamsport, Md July 13/63
Dear Sir, in writing to you of your son's death, I can do little but give testimony to his merits as a friend and his excellence as an officer. I neither saw him when he fell, nor do I know whether his body has yet been sent home. I made the most strenuous efforts to accomplish the latter, by going to corps commanders, division and brigade commanders, but so numerous were the applications that they would do nothing for me. Lt. Ropes was killed before the action commenced, so that a chance was secured for him. I finally had a grave dug, when I heard from our surgeon, Dr. Hayward, that he had managed to find means to send the body on. I accordingly sent the body to him. Since then I have been unable to hear from the Dr. or to learn whether he was successful or not. If not successful his grave can undoubtedly be easily discovered. He has two wounds, one through the body, and the other apparently breaking a leg. His body was found close to the fence where the rebels made their desperate stand. Just a moment before he was killed, he had said to Lt. Summerhayes, "Isn't this glorious" while he was rushing on waving his sword.
It is unnecessary for me to speak to his father of his excellencies as a man. As an officer, he was generally considered fitter to command a company than one half of the old officers. The loss of your son and Ropes, considered merely as officers, is irrepairable. You have the full consolation of knowing the Sumner has kept up the glory of the name he bears, since no man could be more brave, capable and faithful in camp or more devotedly courageous in the field.
Yours Resply H.L. Abbott Capt. Comdg 20 Mass.
I send enclosed some unfinished letters of your son's found in his knapsack. His sword and other effects are with our quartermaster and will be sent to you as soon as possible.
Vol 2, p.41 (Insert pp.1-6) [41.1]
Copy of Capt. Abbott's 2d letter to Charles C. Paine
Near Warrenton Junction Va July 28/63
My dear Sir, I received your two letters of the 21 and 23, last night. I can easily understand the feelings which dictated the former written before you received my letter, the indignation you must have felt at the apparent neglect of your son by his regiment and I think that even since you have got my first letter, you hardly comprehend, as it is impossible for a civilian to comprehend, how little chance there was to attend to one's dearest friend except to send him to the rear, where it was naturally expected somebody would be found better able to see to it than we were, being the first line, with the rebel skirmishers throughout the next day within pistol range of us, with orders to be under arms all the time, only 3 officers present with the regiment. I assure you that, even under these circumstances, it was impossible for those 3 officers to neglect the friend who had won their admiration and affection by his really wonderful pluck and talent. Notwithstanding all my inquiries I can find little more than what I wrote before. You will remember that in the hurry and excitement of a charge at a moment when one sees nothing but the enemy, there is no time to note particulars. A man remembers certain phrases or acts, with a blank on each side, just as he does from a dream. [41.2]
There is one thing I can bear testimony to, and that is, your son's wonderful talent in making himself one of the most accomplished officers I know in the army, in 2 month's time. Col. Hall, our brig commander, tells me that it was not wonderful to him after knowing his brother at West Point. His memory and application were so great that in a month's time he knew the whole book of tactics and Regulations, and commanded a division in battalion and brigade drill as well as any old officers, besides doing all his guard and police duty, with an exactness, a vigor, an enthusiasm that the comdg. of. in vain tried to stimulate in some of the older officers, sparing neither himself nor his men. When Lt. Paine was officer of the Guard, his influence and discipline and indomitable resolution, were so fully recognized by Col. Macy that he often spoke of promoting him over nearly all the other 2d Lts., in fact over all with the exception of Summerhayes. Besides Lt. Summerhayes who saw him as I have described, he was seen by Lt. Perkins during the action, his face according to both, actually glowing with pleasure as it used in Falmouth when he had the best of an argument. I have just got hold of a man in his company who was off when I previously wrote. His name is Wm. Armstrong, private in Co. A. He lives, at home, at 27 Cunard St. Roxbury. He is intelligent and a good soldier. He saw your son fall at the clump of trees close to the fence, out in front of his company, his ankle broken by a piece of shell, or by case. He [41.3] fell on his knee, then turned on his side, and supporting himself on one arm, he waved his sword over his head with the other, and cried out "forward" to his men. He also cried out something, the man thinks, to Lt. Hibbard. He was however, while waving his sword again hit on the breast, and fell flat on the ground, probably never having another sensible moment. This is undoubtedly the correct account of his heroic death. He used always to be asking me, how an officer should bear himself in battle, when he should be behind and when before his men. I had always rather understated than overstated the amount of danger it was necessary to incur, because I had seen at Fredericksburg that he would be rather disposed to expose himslef too much than otherwise. He certainly carried out to the letter the duty as he used to describe it of an officer charging at the head of his men, and he evidently felt all the joy that he supposed he should.
The stories about your son's body being disfigured are all moonshine. I saw him immediately the battle was over and had the body taken to a small barn in the rear. He was lying flat on his back close to the clump of trees within 15 feet of the rail fence where the rebels were forced to halt. His face though very white, was absolutely calm and natural. He was shot through one of his arms and the breast on the same side, which nobody can remember, whether by a case bullet or by a musket bullet, I can't say, but certainly not by a fragment. One foot was bent clear out from the leg at the ankle and the ankle was apparently broken by a fragment. [41.4] of a shell. His sword was by his side, but his pistol was gone. Lt. Perkins says he saw it in your son's hand at one time during the action and he may have dropped it. I had his body taken to the hospital immediately by a detail, one of whom was Joseph Chapman Co. E, supposing of course that it would be sent home. The detail was only allowed to go to a small barn some hundreds of yards to the rear, as the battle was not yet considered over. When the detail reported it to me, I sent back Private Chapman who remained as guard over the body and effects all night and part of the next morning, while I was sending to the regular hospital, reported to me to be some miles to the rear, but which I never had a chance to visit, to have Dr. Hayward send the body home. He sent me word that it was impossible. Ropes and Revere he had got off, before the action was over, but that now, there were so many wounded and such limited transporation, that he would have to be buried. I immediately went myself to brig. div. and corps commanders to see if I couldn't get a pass, but was refused everywhere. All these were regular officers and knew his brother and said they would do it if they could, but that it was impossible. I then had the body brought to our position in the pits, took off the sword and belt which were sent you, had a grave dug, but deferred burying the body until dusk, because the bullets of the enemy's skirmishers who began to fire on us made it necessary to keep every man down. At dusk, I received an intimation from Dr. H. to send the body to him before 8 o'clock next morning. It was then so dark, that it would have been impossible for the men to find [41.5] their way to the hospital. I accordingly waited until 4 o'clock the next morning, when I sent the body. The detail, when back, reported that they had got the body there at 7. Immediately after, we were drawn up in line under orders and at noon marched away.
I supposed of course that the body had been sent, until I heard the day or the next day after, that the Dr. had been unable to send it and that he had been buried. When he fell, Sergeant Hanscom and the remnant of his company were some feet behind him following his lead. Sergeant Michael O'Connor Co. F since gone to the hospital and about to be discharged and sent to Milford where he lives, I sent with the body when it went to the hospital where Dr. H. was sent. He fell at least 2 miles I should think from the brick house you mention, if it is the one I remember. The spot is North West of the house. It is about halfway between the mountains on our extreme left and Cemetery hill on our centre. There was a rail fence over a very low stone wall. The fence we had torn down, and with the stones and a little earth had made a low rampart. It was a continuation of the high stone wall just below the crest of Cemetery hill. The Emmitsburg road at the hill was only a few rods in rear of this wall. Where we lay, a half or 3/4 mile more to the left of our position, the road was so far to the rear as to be out of sight. This was our position when the battle began and we lay there until, after destroying the regiment that advanced against our immediate front, we rushed up to the right, some 15 rods or so [41.6] to a place where the enemy had broken in.
Here the rail fence had not been disturbed, though it may have been after the battle, and here the rebels, with a few exceptions, made a halt and continued until they were destroyed. It was here that Cushing's regular battery was in position. Here was a clump of trees close to the fence, the ground near the fence on this side being covered with bushes. It was at this clump your son fell. I will give you a sketch as near as I can. I just now remember the house you refer to and also that the Emmitsburg main road which you evidently refer to, was in front of us. The brick house was held by our pickets before and after the battle, our position was directly in the rear of it, and your son was killed a little to the right of that position, as follows :
I meant anyway to write you a fuller account when I had time, but undoubtedly I shouldn't have been so minute, if I had not received your letters. I assure you that my conscience would not be easy, was I to neglect any trouble that could give you comfort and I shall be glad to do anything more for you that I can. I am very truly yrs.
H.L.Abbott Capt. Comdg. 20 Mass.
Vol.2, p.33 (Typed w/signature) 6 Joy Street, Boston 2/3/94
Dear Ropes, My eyes rested recently upon a request of yours for a copy of Cpat. [sic] Abbott's letter to my father about Sumner's death. I cannot remember whether such a copy was sent to you or not, and so send one, now.
Yours truly, [signed] Robert Treat Paine
John C. Ropes, Esq. Vol.2, p.39 (Manuscript) 7/27/94 Dear Ropes
Here is a copy of Capt Abbott's other letter which I knew was somewhere + which my <?>finds on file in the <?> my father made of letters <?> about Sumner
Robert Treat Paine