The Battle Reverberates


From John Hennessy:

Th1863 1-3 Portland Advertiser 16th Maine Dying letter.jpge news of death at Fredericksburg sped across the land, challenging the will of the sorrowful who received it. The long lists of dead and wounded usually appeared on page two or three of four-page local news sheets. Editors took care to arrange the names so they might be easily found—by regiment and company, the killed first, the wounded second, usually listed alphabetically, without comment. Nearby were often short pieces on
notable members of the community who had fallen, or stories that told of those—former classmates and present sons, friends, fathers, brothers, and husbands—who died dramatic
ally or pathetically.  The Portland Advertiser of January 3, 1863, published the last letter of George Parsons to his father in Gardiner, Maine, written as George lay dying in a field just south of Fredericksburg.  “Much love tall,” Parsons wrote.  “Farewell.”  The editor noted for his readers that the handwriting indicated George’s fingers trembled as he wrote. The paper he etched upon was “slightly tinged with blood.”[1]

In 83-words of type on page 2 of the December 22 issue, New Jersey’s Camden Democrat 1862 12-20 Camden Democrat 15th NJ death of a father.png
announced the death of Sgt. Major John Fowler of the 15th regiment, “struck in the leg by a rifle ball, and bled to death in less than five minutes.” The

Fowler Grave.jpg

Courtesy Find-A-Grave

editor remembered Sgt. Fowler as a “large, powerful man, brave and generous to a fault.”  His death “leaves a widow and nine children to mourn his loss.”[2]

A few columns to the left of the lists, or perhaps on page 1 (but never on page 4), appeared the commentary and letters describing and interpreting the battle itself.  By the end of 1862, the news of battle and the long, sorrowful lists that accompanied it had become not routine, but at least rhythmic, consumed by the public with an increasing equilibrium—with a growing recognition that the news from any individual battlefield would not mark the end of national nightmare (though many still hoped it might).

[1] Letter of George Parsons, December 12 or 13, 1862, in the Portland Advertiser, January 3, 1863. He was in the 16th Maine.

[2] Camden Democrat, December 20, 1862.

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3 thoughts on “The Battle Reverberates

  1. Well, you got me there. I freely admit I got suckered. I mistook the newspaper banner for one of the real Boston papers. Can’t keep them straight.

  2. John I think in this business we often get carried away with numbers – – casualties / bloodiest day of the war, etc. These letters from individual soldiers are so powerful and bring us back to the truly important and emotional element of the battles – – the sacrifice, dedication and courage of individual soldiers and the lasting impact their sacrifice had on families. Thank you for helping us to remember.

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