The last words of James R. Woodworth

From John Hennessy, for Memorial Day weekend (Eric is working on special post fitting for Memorial Day, but until then, we offer this):

The annual Luminaria at the Fredericksburg National Cemetery, set this year for Saturday May 28.

Somewhere among the 12,000 unknown graves in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery probably lie the remains of a young Union soldier, James R.  Woodworth, from Varick, New York. Woodworth served in the 44th New York Infantry of the Fifth Corps. “Ellsworth’s Avengers,” the regiment was called, and they gained fame by virtue of steady service on many battlefields, including Fredericksburg and Gettysburg. Woodworth joined the 44th in the late summer of 1862, leaving behind his farm, young wife–Phebe Burroughs Woodworth–and baby Frankie.

Woodworth’s letters and diaries record his toils in the army as so many thousands of others do–the blessings of life, the curses of war, and the desire to go home mingling (and sometimes conflicting) with the commitment to do one’s duty. In many ways they are unremarkable. Except for one passage.

James Woodworth died on May 8, 1864 in the fighting at Laurel, a the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. Months before, inside the cover of his diary, he had written a note to his wife, bidding her (and all of us) not to forget in case he fell. It is, I think, one of the most beautiful pieces of writing to emerge from the Civil War.

Should it be my lot to die in the present struggle, let the thought that I die in defense of my country console you. And when peace with its happy train of attendants shall once more visit this land, let it be your greatest joy to teach my child that I was one who loved my country more than life. This is the only legacy I can bequeath to him, but it is one that a prince might well be proud of.

4 thoughts on “The last words of James R. Woodworth

  1. Thanks for posting the “Last words of James R. Woodworth”. They make personal the loss of so many, many soldiers on both sides who sacrificed everything for their homelands. I’m glad we have a Memorial Day in which to honor them at least once a year. Woodworth’s eloquent words remind me of Sullivan Ballou’s last letter to his wife shortly before he was mortally wounded at First Manassas- though much more brief. Sad that we don’t know where he is buried…

  2. Amazing John! So short, to the point and yet incredibly powerful! Thanks for sharing this, as we prepare to honor all those who fell this Luminari night.

    May God be with all those who serve our country, keep them safe and bring them home.

  3. I believe we live in the house of Phebe Woodworth, the wife he left behind in the Finger Lakes, central NY. We now run the estate historically known as “Burrwood” (named for Burroughs and Woodworth families) as a Bed and Breakfast and it is currently up for sale. Inside one of the barns is an inscription carved in wood: Lee Burroughs Woodworth Aug 2, 1897. Perhaps Lee was the grandson of James and son of Frankie? Frankie’s uncle Sidney Burroughs and his father both were members of the 44th and died only one day apart in the civil war. There is a memorial to both in the cemetery near our house. Check out “Burrwood,” now renamed “Cayuga Sunrise” on our website


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