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[1]

1859.


George Wellington Batchelder.

Sergeant 8th Mass. Vols. (Infantry), April 18—August 1, 1861; first Lieutenant 19th Mass. Vols. (Infantry), August 22, 1861; Captain, March 21, 1862; killed at Antietam, Md., September 17, 1862.


George Wellington Batchelder was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, on the 20th of December, 1838, and was the youngest son of Jacob and Mary Wellington Batchelder. He was a child of very delicate organization, and at several periods during his infancy and boyhood was reduced so low by severe illness that his recovery was regarded as almost miraculous. He possessed a sweet and happy disposition and a buoyant and joyous temperament, which caused him to be greatly beloved by all who knew him. Nearly all of his school days were passed under the instruction of his father, who, at the time that George entered college, was principal of Lynn High School, where his preparatory studies had been completed. During all this time he was a studious and thoughtful boy, and the commonplace-books in which he daily wrote, and which contain a sort of school diary, in connection with poetical and prose extracts, notices of passing events, etc., show the character of his mind and the interest which he took in men and events.

In 1855 he entered Harvard College, and here he was blessed, during the whole course, with the constant intimacy of a classmate and room-mate whose presence was a benediction, [2] and whose public services and pathetic death are recorded in these volumes,—Ezra Martin Tebbets. In such society his college course became a period of great enjoyment, and he always looked back upon his classmates with pleasure and with regard. He preserved with interest a large collectionof papers relating to college matters, and placed them in the charge of his mother, as objects of special care. He was faithful in the discharge of all his college duties and bore an honorable part in the Junior and Senior Exhibitions, and in the services on Commencement Day.

After leaving Cambridge he returned to his home, which was at that time in Salem, Massachusetts. Having enjoyed the benefit of a State scholarship, he considered himself bound to engage for a time in the occupation of teaching, and had indeed previously written to his friends: ‘I hope to show by my life as a teacher, and in any other profession in which I may engage, that I can appreciate the kindness and indulgence of my father at its true value.’ As, however, no opening immediately offered itself, he began the study of law in November, 1859, in the office of Messrs. Perry and Endicott in Salem. It is pleasant to his friends to look back on the enjoyment which this last period of peaceful life afforded him, and the generous kindness which he received from the legal gentlemen above named. At the same time he enjoyed his home and home comforts most thoroughly, and the sound of his cheerful voice and of his springing, joyous step was like sweetest music there. He seemed to be overflowing with joy, and the desire to impart this feeling to others was not wanting. He was eager to relieve distress when it was in his power to do so. He would seize a plate of food while the family were still at the table, and, before they were aware of his intention, would pour the contents into the basket of a poor child at the door, and returning, say with a smile, ‘There, mother, we shall never need that’; or, taking a shivering little one into the kitchen, would place her upon a chair with her feet upon the stove, and with an injunction to ‘sit still until thoroughly warmed,’ at the same time not forgetting the necessity of relieving hunger. [3]

In 1860 he was elected a member of the Salem Light Infantry, and entered with his characteristic earnestness and zeal upon his duties, engaging with ardor in the drill, determined to be satisfied with nothing short of perfection. During this year, he began in earnest to fit himself for the life of a soldier, long before the pressing need for his services in his country's defence was even anticipated; lying at night upon a carpet with but a slight covering, and with a pillow of wood for his head, and engaging in manual exercises calculated to increase his strength and augment his powers of endurance. He prophesied that the disaffection and disturbances in different portions of the country would result in civil war, which his friends, however, were slow even to fear.

When the crisis at last came, the commander of the Salem Light Infantry tendered promptly to the government the services of his well-trained little band. They were at once accepted, and the company was joined to the Eighth Massachusetts Regiment of Volunteer Militia, and left Salem for Washington, bearing with it the blessings and prayers of all true and patriotic hearts. George was at this time Second Sergeant of the company, and, with his elder and only brother, hesitated not to share its fortunes, though he deeply mourned the stern necessity of civil strife. ‘Were I going out to contend with a foreign power,’ he said, ‘with what different feelings should I meet the emergency.’ But the necessity that was laid upon him was no less binding, and he accepted it with a soldierly bearing and a patriot's spirit.

During his three months campaign, which he afterwards describes as being, ‘in comparison with the three years service, but a mere militia training,’ his letters to his friends were frequent, bright, and cheering, giving constant evidence of his deep love for home, friends, and country. He writes from New York: ‘Every day I am swelling with pride for Massachusetts, and the position which she has taken in this struggle; and she will not be behind other States in what comes afterwards, no matter how hard fighting there may be.’ June 24, the anniversary of the Class Day of 1859, he writes from the Relay House:— [4]

This morning I received a package from Boston, which I found contained a handsome sword and sword-belt from my classmates. The note which accompanied it informed me that four of my Class are already in active service. They will all receive the like present to mine.

Just before the return of the regiment, at the close of the three months campaign, he says: ‘All our talk at present is about going home. . . . . There is not a man in our whole regiment whose heart will not leap for joy when he sets foot in Massachusetts.’ Yet when this great joy had come to him, he lingered not long amidst home delights. Arriving in Salem on the 1st of August, he enlisted on the 3d of the same month in the Nineteenth Massachusetts Regiment, under Colonel Hinks, with whom he had already served, and Lieutenant-Colonel Devereux, his former Captain, for whom he had the warmest esteem. On joining his regiment at Lynnfield, he enjoyed the pleasant surprise of finding a friend in another superior officer,—Major How of the Class of 1859. He spent but three weeks with his friends before leaving Massachusetts, and devoted much of that time to the enlistment of recruits for Company C, of the Nineteenth Regiment, in which he was commissioned First Lieutenant. Upon receiving his commission, he spoke of his connection with the privates of his company, expressing his determination to attend to their comfort and welfare. ‘I know that I shall be kind to them,’ said he. ‘I used to pity the poor fellows sadly who received punishment when we were out before. It seemed hard enough that they should be obliged to leave their comfortable homes for the hard service, without the addition of this discipline, and yet I knew that it was a necessary one.’

His regiment left Lynnfield for the seat of war on the 28th of August, and we must now gather from his letters, and from the testimony of officers and soldiers, the history of his short military career.

In a letter dated October 30, not long after arriving in Maryland, he writes:—

I don't know when I have come so near to feeling homesick as [5] to-night, after receiving a letter from my sister. . . . I suppose that this would be properly called the ‘blues’; and as I don't choose to encourage such dismal visitors, I rise in dignified remonstrance. “Avaunt, my cerulean friend!” and stealing out through our company street, through the ruined graveyard upon which some of the tents are pitched, I turn into one of the tents of the men, and from an observation of their patriotic self-sacrifice and cheerful view of matters, I learn a lesson of patience and endurance. Brave fellows! Most of them, at a personal sacrifice, have left loving hearts, hearts aching at their absence, to follow duty's call. I came among these boys—for many of them are but boys of from nineteen to twenty—a stranger, but now I call each one “friend” ; and as such I know they look upon me. At any rate, it is my endeavor to deserve their regard, and it is worth having. Some of them are men in the prime of life, who enlisted, not from any love of martial display, but from a stern sense of duty; and upon them the privations of war and the rugged duties of camp life press the most heavily; but to a man they resolve to see it out. And if this war were to last a lifetime, they would see the end. That is my determination now. No matter for the blues, let them come if they will. I stay till the end comes.


Bolivar, Virginia, March 22.

At nine A. M., General Gorman's brigade started, and going to the rear of the town, to the side of a very high hill which commanded one of the most beautiful views down that most beautiful of rivers, the Shenandoah, we hung almost in mid-air directly above the winding road down which marched the different regiments; and as the splendid bursts of music rose to our eager, listening ears, softened by the distance, and again made doubly distinct when almost lost to us, by the ever potent echo which “here does dwell.” embosomed in a thousand hills,—the steady, regular tramp of the marching thousands, and the momentary glinting of a musket barrel, brushed by some vagrant sun-ray, effervesced our spirits to such a degree that one of our lieutenants expressed the feeling of the whole party when he said, drawing a long breath, “ What a plaguy fool a young fellow is who stays at home from this war!” I wish that you and all the family could come out here, and, standing upon this same hillside, so far flatter my vanity as to declare, as I do, this the most splendid scenery in the world. At a height of a hundred and fifty feet, you glance up and down the Shenandoah, closely enwalled by chains of verdant hills, stretching on and on, apparently higher and higher as they recede, with here and there a peak far [6] outstretching its humble neighbors, cloud-encapped at its summit, while Harper's Ferry, with the many-curved Potomac and Winchester Railroad, is all laid open to your view. To crown all, looking eastward, almost at the limit of vision is the well-known Maryland shore and the Potomac River, so long to us an impassable barrier.


June 25.
‘dear mother,—Our regiment has been in a fight this morning, and we have lost quite a number of good men; but I am all right, not even a scratch. I received your letter just after we returned from the fight, and was right glad to have it, although it contained the sad news of my uncle's death. My head aches badly from the terrible din of the musketry and the smell of gunpowder, so that I cannot write you more. Besides, I must write to the friends of the poor fellows who have fallen. Good by for to-day, mother. Rejoice with me that I am not a coward. I never felt better in my life.’


July 10.

Poor Major How! He died a soldier's death. He was the bravest, coolest man I ever saw, and his place cannot be filled in an action. He said, when he fell, “Let me die here, on the field. It is more glorious to die on the field of battle.” He retained his senses perfectly to the last, conversing calmly and sensibly with those about him, dying at about eight in the evening. He expressed a wish that his body might be carried home, but it could not be done at this time. He told me on the occasion of one of our alarms at Fair Oaks, I think on June 14th, that in case he were killed, he wished me to take his pistol, and keep it in remembrance of our friendship as classmates and fellow-soldiers. Although I do not need that to keep him ever in my recollection, yet as he expressed that wish of himself, I should be glad to comply with it.


During the summer months the friends of George were made aware, from pauses in his correspondence, and from an occasional allusion to a slight illness, that his health was impaired from the duties and exposures of the campaign; and they keenly felt the impossibility of doing anything to obtain relief or respite, in order that his strength might be recruited.

July 15, he wrote from Malverton, Virginia:—

President Lincoln has been here, visiting the various camps and [7] reviewing the regiments. The day on which he came to our division was the one to which, on account of illness and headache, I marked with a particularly wide and heavy black mark. On this account I could not rouse up sufficiently to go twenty rods to see him, though ordinarily I would go to a much greater distance, for I believe in him most thoroughly as the man for this most trying hour in our country's history.


August 3.

It is absolutely impossible to get a leave of absence at the present time, from the fact that at the time of the retreat so many officers deserted their posts and went home without leave of absence. Much as I love my home, and earnestly as I desire to visit it, I will not return to it until I can do so without causing disgrace to my home and friends.


September 1.

My health and strength permitting, I hope soon to write to you, far beyond Centreville, the account of our great victory there, which God grant to our arms! I feel rather despondent at times. I am not at all well, and not nearly so strong as I was three months since, and sometimes I feel as if I must lie down, and give up trying to do anything but be sick for a short time; but I “spunk up,” and have thus far held out, though no one can say how much longer I shall be able to do so. I usually keep in good spirits, however, and hope for the best; and, sick or well, can always enjoy a letter from home, and am always thinking of the dear hearts there who love me so much, and whom I hold so dear.


September 4.

On board the Atlantic, after leaving Newport News, I made a discovery. I found that Frank Balch, who, you remember, graduated as the first scholar in our Class, had enlisted as a private in the Twentieth Massachusetts Regiment. Him sought I out, and conversed about old times. He was very cheerful, and disposed to see only the bright phases of soldier life. But he looked much too feeble to bear the fatigue and exposures of camp life, and I am afraid that he will not endure it for a long time.


His last letter was written on the day before the fatal battle of Antietam, his last on earth, and proves him a true soldier, kind, faithful, appreciating, and enduring to the last. His friend, Lieutenant Newcomb of his company, writes:—

After supper, in the twilight of September 16th, George took my Bible, and, as well as I can recollect, read aloud portions of the [

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