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Gettysburg: Horrors of War

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Source: Rutgers University Special Collections and University Archives.


Send me ten Dols. Right away.

Bivouac Camp 15 N.J. Vols.


Near Boonesboro, Md. July 9th, 1863


My Dear Mother,


Your kind letter of the 1st was received last night.


I believe I wrote you last from Fairfax, C.H. Va. Well, I will endeavor to give you a rough account of my adventures (?) since that time. We left Fairfax on June 26th and marched to Dianesville, from there, next day to Edwards Ferry where we crossed the Potomac. On the 28th we marched to Hyattstown, Md. And on the 29th to Franklinville, we were mustered the next morning. Here I received a letter from Paul Browning and last pictorials. At noon on the 30th we left camp and marched nearly to Manchester passing through Westminister which is the largest and most business-like town I have seen since we left Frederick City last year.


We laid still all day the 1st inst. And made our muster Rolls nearly out, and at night started at ten o'clock for Gettysburg where we had heard the enemy were. And arrived there at 3P.M. on the 2nd, marching 35 miles in 17 hours which is as good time as was ever made by loaded troops. Here the battle was going on at a fierce rate, the enemy driving the 3d, 5th, 11th and 2nd corps but as soon as they saw the 6th Corps, flag coming over the distant hills the Rebs, set up the cry of "The 6th Corps is coming" and retired precipitately to their hills and behind their stone walls. We laid all night in line of battle and the next day the 3d Division of our Corps, drove the Rebels out of Gettysburg beautifully. This afternoon July 3d, the enemy began to comprehend that he was gradually being surrounded and made a charge the whole length of the line with a view to ascertain our weak point, were repulsed with dreadful loss the whole length of the line. In front our brigade there was an iron battery, and a whole Reb. Brigade attempted to charge and take it but as they came over a plain of about 500 yds. width they were so cut up that they turned and ran leaving about two-third of their men on the field. During this afternoon there was awful cannonading going on. The old troops say, the greatest they were heard. We lost two men in the Regt. Wounded with shell. We laid still all night and the next morning went out on the battlefield and picked up all the arms we could find. I tell you it was a sickening sight to see the dead men lying there all bloated up and with faces as black as ink, and pools of blood lying all around the ground. It rained all day this day so we had no celebrations as we expected. The next morning (July 5th) we woke up and found out the Rebs had escaped from the snare by way of South Mountain Pass which laid right in the rear so the Sixth Corps was sent to follow him up while the other part of the army went around to the right and left to head him off. Our skirmishes came up to the Rebs. Skirmishes in a woods in the afternoon and had a little brush wounding a Reb. Lieut. And killing a Union Corpl.


They retired in the night and we marched on the next morning and crossed South Mountain on the 8th inst. And are now at Boonesboro, Md. With the enemy 4 miles ahead, and I expect a big fight not far off, We have captured 20,000 and killed 50,000 Rebels. The Potomac is too high to ford. Gen. French has burnt their pontoon train and Gen. Kilpatrick is harassing their rear and flanks besides any quantity of their men deserting our lines so think Lee is in a serape.


I will write soon to Paul.


Answer soon.


Yours truly,



  1. Establish historical empathy with Ellis Hamilton by reading his description of the fight at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. How does he describe the horrors of battle here?
  2. Compare and contrast Ellis Hamilton's description of the Battle of Gettysburg and Pickett's Charge with their portrayal in your history textbook.
  3. Why do you think Ellis put a question mark after the word "adventures" in the beginning of his letter?