Early in 1863, when the government determined to form negro regiments, Governor Andrew offered him, by the following letter, the colonelcy of one to be raised in Massachusetts; being the first recruited under State authority, it makes you pity them all the more, as they lie moaning on the field. The Second Massachusetts came to close quarters, i. e. within musket range, twice during the day; but we had several men wounded by shell, which were flying about loosely all day. It was the greatest fight of the war, and I wish I could give you a satisfactory account of everything I saw. . . . At last, night came on, and, with the exception of an occasional shot from the outposts, all was quiet. The crickets chirped, and the frogs croaked, just as if nothing unusal had happened all day long; and presently the stars came out bright, and we lay down among the dead, and slept soundly until daylight. There were twenty dead bodies within a rod of me. The next day, much to our surprise, all was quiet, and the burying and hospital parties worked hard, caring for the dead and wounded. . . . . I never felt before the excitement which makes a man want to rush into the fight, but I did that day. Every battle makes me wish more and more that the war was over. It seems almost as if nothing could justify a battle like that of the 17th, and the horrors inseparable from it.
Fairfax Station, January 1, 1863.Dear ——,—It is needless for me to say anything to you of my feelings when I heard of Joe's death. He and Theodore are two more of the best ones sacrificed. So far, among our friends, the best and dearest seem to have been picked out. ... And is n't it fearful to think of the families on both sides who have had similar losses for the last two years? This life gradually makes us feel that, so far as man himself is concerned, he may as well die now as a few years hence; but I never see one killed without thinking of the people he leaves at home; that is the sad part of it. I had to get up at twelve o'clock last night, to make the rounds, and as the New Year came in, I wondered what the next twelve months would bring forth. What a day, and what a year this is going to be in the history of the world, if the Emancipation Proclamation is really what we hope it is. At any rate, it must be an eventful one for our country, even if nothing decisive takes place.
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Ode recited at the Harvard commemoration, July 21 , 1865 .
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