Gettysburg Seminar Papers


A Struggle for American Values

On July 3, 1863, the sun didn't rise until 4:32 a.m. but already there was movement along the line. [1] The day before, the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry together with the rest of Brig. Gen. Thomas Ruger's 3rd Brigade had moved from its 12th Corps position on the Union right, marched across the Baltimore Pike and Taneytown Road to the left of the line, bolstering Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles's faltering 3rd Corps. [2] It was a march of little incident but a move of great consequence for when the Union brigade withdrew to the left, the Confederate forces were able to establish a foothold on the southern slopes of Culp's Hill. This, in turn, set in motion a series of orders and misunderstandings that led to one of the costliest mistakes in the Battle of Gettysburg.

Lt. Col. Charles Mudge
(Quint's History of the 2nd Massachusetts;)

The 2nd Massachusetts and the 27th Indiana were chosen to charge across a meadow and push the Confederate troops from the Union works. The Spangler Meadow was about 100 yards in width - too open to send skirmishers forward. The only possible "chance I had to advance," wrote Colonel Silas Colgrove a month later, "was to carry the position by storming it." [3] The whole line was rocky and wooded. There, running across the Spangler Meadow at the base of Culp's Hill was a stone wall that paralleled the right of the Union line. [4] The charge across the meadow was not easy. Lt. Col. Charles Mudge, commanding the 2nd Massachusetts, called it "murder." They had been ordered to reoccupy their original position along Rock Creek, and as Mudge put it, "it's the order." [5]

The 2nd Massachusetts was not new to battle. Since their muster, May 25, 1861, one of the first three-year regiments to offer their services, they had seen action at Cedar Mountain, Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. [6] They fought for Patterson, Banks, Pope, McClellan, Hooker, and now, Major General George Meade. Their regimental commanders had changed throughout the first two years of war, from West Pointer George Gordon, to George L. Andrews, to Samuel M. Quincy, to Harvard-educated Charles Reddington Mudge. [7] Robert Gould Shaw had served with the regiment before moving on to command the 54th Massachusetts. Most of the regiment's officers were either graduates of West Point or of Harvard. The 2nd Massachusetts was considered one of the best disciplined, drilled and officered units in the entire Union army. This was Boston at its best. [8]

Among the ranks of the 2nd was a private, Edward Elson Ropes, Company D, age 26 at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, the only surviving son of William Henry Ropes and Hannah Anderson Chandler Ropes of Milton, Massachusetts. Standing five feet, eight inches tall, with bright red hair, blue-gray eyes and fair complexion, he must have stood near the right of the company line. He listed his occupation as "gold miner," rather exotic for 1863 Boston. [9] His journey to Gettysburg would have made any Bay Stater proud. But the story was not his alone. Rather, this was the story of a family's battles against injustices and the sacrifice those struggles demanded.

Hannah Anderson Chandler was born into a prominent New England family of attorneys in 1809. Her father practiced law in Bangor, Maine while her two older brothers were prominent in the Boston legal society. [10] Friends of the family included Nathaniel Banks, John Andrew, Massachusetts Congressman Henry Wilson, and Senator Charles Sumner. Perhaps her sense of moral justice was encouraged at the dinner table with family friends or perhaps at school but she showed an early interest in social reform. At the age of twenty-five she married William Henry Ropes, then principal of Foxcroft Academy, near Bangor. By 1836 the young Ropes family moved to Milton Massachusetts when William was named principal of Milton Academy. He served in that capacity until 1837 when the growing family moved again, this time to Waltham. William continued to teach and farm. They had four children during this period, "True Riches" Hannah called them. Eliza, Edward Elson, William Whitman and Alice Shephard. Hannah was, as she said, "very happy and contented" with her family. [11]

Spangler's Meadow, south of Culp's Hill at Gettysburg, 1866

By the late 1840s this all changed. William abandoned his family leaving Hannah with just two surviving children, Alice and Edward. [12] Eliza and William never reached the age of two. With her husband gone, she felt she was being tested. She wrote to her mother in 1853: "What a coterie I could gather around me of intelligence and high purpose if but the power of my own will, were not held in check, by the elements of time and space... why did you give this homely hen the wings of an eagle? Behold they flap heavily against her sides, for the want of proper use — and fret away the life which as yet finds no fit element—or finding, cannot dare accept." [13]

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 gave Hannah her chance to explore her concepts of, and convictions in, the abolitionist movement, ideas she had put aside when she married years before. Her friend John Andrew called it "the high and holy mission and duty to redeem America." [14] Sumner called it "a long season of excitement and 'ribald debate'." [15] The territory was opened to settlement in 1854. Pro-slavery, anti-slavery, squatters, land speculators and adventurers all converged on the territory and the type of governments these states would have, slave or free, rested with the voters. There seemed to be a compromise in the making, Nebraska for the north and Kansas for the south. [16] But groups like the New England Emigrant Aid Company of Boston, supported by abolitionists, began to encourage free-soil settlement in Kansas. [17] "Not one inch further," ran an article in the Lawrence Herold of Freedom. "No chains, shackles, Negro-whips,[or] blood hounds on the beautiful plains of Kansas." [18]

William H. Seward rose to his feet in Congress to press the challenge. "Since there is no escaping your challenge, I accept it in behalf of the cause of freedom. We will engage in competition for the virgin soil of Kansas, and God give the victory to the side which is stronger in numbers as it is in right." [19] During these first months, twelve hundred folks moved to Kansas to share in the adventure. [20] Hannah and her family were among those early settlers. Very few of these early settlers were from New England. Most were from the middle west, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois. [21] Most of them were driven not by the slavery question, considered an "economic curse" by many, but by the want of land. [22]

Emigrants streamed into Kansas and settled almost entirely along the Kansas, the Missouri and the Kaw River valleys. [23] They built ugly, little log cabins and dugouts. Wood was scarce and what was available was cottonwood that had a tendency to warp in the sun. [24] Many found their funds exhausted. Thomas Wentworth Higginson talked about meeting a man in Kansas he had known in the east. His friend told him that he "came out there with $1,500 in money... My wife and nine children have lived more than two weeks on green corn and squash. I have in my house, no meat, no flour, no meal, no potatoes, no money to buy them, no prospect of a dollar, but I'll Live or Die in Kansas." [25]

The war in Kansas may have been encouraged by the abolitionists demanding a free state, but it was actually fought over the 1856 public land surveys, the location of a territorial capital and the want of ambitious congressmen. [26] When the Kansas territory opened in 1854, settlers rushed in, disregarding Indian lands and government rules. They were squatters without legal title. They set up their own courts and built their own towns, founded their own state capitals. By 1856, with the survey of lands completed, many found their lands in dispute not only with their neighbors but also with railroad interests. [27] It was a dirty little land war with free-soil philosophy imposed on it.

Hannah made plans to move her family west to support the free-soil settlers. She considered it a "private glory consistent with the public good." [28] Eighteen-year-old Edward went to Kansas to establish a homestead and by September of 1855 Hannah and fourteen-year-old Alice boarded a boat in Boston. Long days of travel led to long discussions and slavery was the major topic. "There is not a good spirit shown on either side." she wrote. "The subject is very great, but the combatants are puny; they cannot look over it fairly, because they are not tall enough; or at each other justly, because they are prejudiced." [29]

Two weeks later Hannah and Alice met Edward at Lawrence, Kansas, and moved into a small cabin. Instead of spreading her "ennobling ideas," she spent most of her time simply surviving, nursing settlers through bouts of malaria, and worrying about pro-slavery raiding parties from Missouri. She felt that help could come only from Eastern abolitionists. "Alas! between us and our East, there looms up a fearful Ogre, in the shape of the State of Missouri!" [30] As opposed to the shabby Kansas settlements, western Missouri was a society of plantations and farms with cattle and slaves and fields of tobacco. Slave-state raiders were constant across the borders. [31] Fearing physical violence she kept "loaded pistols and a bowie knife upon my table at night, [and] three Sharp's rifles, loaded, standing in the room." [32]

In January, 1856, Hannah wrote to her friend Charles Sumner in Massachusetts that "preparations of the most warlike kind are in progress." [33] Eastern newspapers exaggerated the danger constantly, contrasting the pious free-staters with the "whiskey-swilling, tobacco spitting, Border Ruffians of Missouri." [34] In November she wrote again to Sumner that Missouri had "put forth her mean and treacherous hand, with the will to tear up by the roots every settlement where the southern mark is not stamped upon its inhabitants." [35] On May 19th that year, Charles Sumner rose from his desk in the Senate to deliver his "Crime Against Kansas" address using many of the ideas sent to him by his dear friend Hannah. "I shall make the most thorough and complete speech of my life," he told Salmon P. Chase. "My soul is wrung by this outrage, and I shall pour it forth." [36] Referring to the "hirelings picked up from the drunken spew of an uneasy civilization," he talked about the "rape of a virgin territory compelling it to the hateful embrace of slavery." [37]

As many women did, Hannah found the west too violent and too primitive. She packed up and returned with Alice to the east. [38] She blamed the President for all the troubles in the west. She called Franklin Pierce "that most unmitigated calamity Heaven ever suffered upon the earth." [39] She watched tensions grow after John Brown's Kansas raid, her friend Charles Sumner's caning at the hands of Preston Brooks, the Dred Scott Decision and the Harpers Ferry Raid. She wrote an account of her Kansas experiences, Six Months in Kansas: By a Lady, in 1856, then in a fictional account entitled Cranston House: A Novel, published in 1859.

Hannah returned to Massachusetts and divorced her husband. Though not unusual, divorce was uncommon, but she had been abandoned by her husband. She had taken care of her small family and saw no need to be burdened with an absent spouse. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts allowed divorce for abandonment and with the help of Massachusetts Governor John Andrew, she was granted the divorce in 1860. [40] She approached Charles Sumner on the possibility of a patronage position for Edward as Post Master of Denver but it never materialized. Instead Edward planned a trip to the "headwaters of the Yellowstone" and became a gold miner in the Rocky Mountains. [41]

When war broke out, Edward began a slow move east with the intention of enlisting in the first Massachusetts regiment he could find. [42] By June, 1862, he found the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry at Winchester, Virginia, and signed up. It wasn't the first time Edward had found himself under arms. His time in Kansas allowed him to join the Kansas Free State Army. [43] He had seen enough fighting to know that when his mother tried to get an officer's position for him, he didn't want it. His eyes were bad, he said. And besides, too many good men had died for the want of a good officer. [44]

During the first year of the war the regiment had been on guard duty near Frederick, Maryland. Then in the spring of 1862, they had followed the ill-fated Major General Nathaniel Banks up and down the Shenandoah Valley after Major General Thomas Jackson. The soldiers didn't like Banks much, referring to him as the "Bobbin Boy of Massachusetts". [45] Many thought his qualifications as a commander were substandard. He had even made the comment that he was "not acquainted with the details of military matters, and personally have no pride in them." [46] Lt. Charles Mills, commander of Co. D., 2nd Massachusetts made the comment to his mother that there were "some 150 recruits, whom we have dragged round thro' all this marching with us, and who are utterly useless, as they cannot be armed, much less drilled, until we rest somewhere, which we all of us begin to think we shall never do." [47] Banks was replaced with Major General John Pope but not before Banks led his corps into battle at Cedar Mountain.

A precursor to 2nd Bull Run, Cedar Mountain was only eight miles south of Culpepper. It was an unfortunate contest between the Confederate forces of Stonewall Jackson and the small Union force under Nathaniel Banks. Pope hoped that Banks would not bring on a full-scale engagement, but Banks never got the word. When Jackson's army was near, Banks went after him. The Union attack failed. They were outnumbered two to one. While one Union soldier called it a "glorious defeat," Colonel Andrews of the 2nd Massachusetts wrote to his wife that "the action was totally unnecessary and about as great a piece of folly as I have ever witnessed on the part of an incompetent general... The attack should not have been made on our part with so small a force." [48] Lieutenant Charles F. Morse wrote that "The roar of musketry was perfectly deafening; the noise of the bullets through the air was like a gale of wind; our poor men were dropping on every side—it seemed as if only a miracle could save anyone!" [49] The 2nd Massachusetts was one of the last regiments to withdraw from the field. General Pope called it a victory, but the men of the 2nd Massachusetts thought they could do without such victories "as being driven from the field...leaving their wounded in the hands of the enemy, burying their dead afterwards by permission of the enemy." [50]

It was Edward Ropes's first battle and it was the beginning of his struggles. The Confederate army didn't bring him down but the weather did. By 2:00 p.m. the temperature that August day had reached 98 and there was no breeze. [51] Edward suffered a sunstroke that eventually injured his eyes and his nerves. [52]

Pope's campaign to protect the Union rear after Cedar Mountain brought further distress. "Forced marches, wakeful bivouacs, retreat, retreat. O, it was pitiful. The events of the past weeks are incredible. Disaster, pitiable, humiliating, contemptible," wrote Lt. Colonel Wilder Dwight of the 2nd. [53] There was little to eat. Alonzo Quint, the Chaplin of the 2nd remembered that the men lived on "a diet of green corn, — hard bread, . . . and a little meat scraped by a few men from bones left by another corps. Sheep were discovered; and, after a lively skirmish, they surrendered." [54] This poor diet caused another problem that cursed every soldier in both armies, chronic diarrhea and dysentery. Edward remembered that the circumstances were such that "we were all having a mighty rocky time." [55] The regimental 1st Sergeant of Company D, Charles Kendall recalled that Edward was so sick that for "several days it was so bad that everything that he partook . . . went direct through him." [56] Edward remembered that "at the time he was taken sick, he was hauled from place to place in one of [the regiment's] ambulances. During one of the halts they left him.... He managed to get to the [train] station, but had not had strength enough to get upon the cars... [The] next day [he] managed to reach Warrenton and Sulpher Springs, and not finding his regiment managed to get aboard... [a] train and went on it until it was stopped and burned... He soon found his regiment." [57] The train that was burned may have been destroyed on General Banks's orders. Banks was guarding wagon trains during the 2nd Bull Run Campaign and during the retreat was instructed to "burn trains and locomotives, if necessary." By the 31st of August a "long line of cars [were] in flames." [58]

Pope, out of his depth as an army commander, was replaced by Major General George McClellan. It was September of 1862 and the 2nd Massachusetts was back in Maryland. "Hurrah! We're in the Army of the Potomac, and McClellan is our commander" wrote Charles Mills, Edward's company commander. [59] "The Reg't," he wrote, "is about equally divided about McClellan, unanimously down on Pope, nearly all down on Banks." [60]

In an attempt to harass Washington and relieve any threat to Richmond, Robert E. Lee moved north into Maryland. McClellan moved out to meet him. They came together along a small creek in central Maryland called Antietam. The battle began early as the Union forces began their attack through the North Woods and down the Hagerstown Pike. The battle progressed North to South. The Union attacking from the east. By noon the Union attack began to flounder. Union Brigadier General Edwin Sumner's Corps began to fall back. The 2nd Massachusetts together with the 13th New Jersey Infantry were ordered forward.

The 2nd Massachusetts advanced in line on the diagonal from the Miller Farm through the Cornfield to the Hagerstown Pike, which was fenced on both sides, about one hundred yards from the West Woods. The Confederates poured a murderous fire into the 2nd. The Confederates had the advantage both in position and numbers. One officer recorded that "the men were being shot by a foe they could not see." [61] One of the 2nd Massachusetts found a Confederate flag among the dead along the Pike and handed it to Lt. Colonel Wilder Dwight. Dwight took the flag and rode the line, cheering on his the men. A volley from the tree line took out about a quarter of the 2nd Massachusetts line, including Colonel Dwight. [62] The regiment was unsupported and found it impossible to advance. Colonel Andrews ordered the regiment back. It marched "back in perfect order to the position from which it had advanced." [63]

The brigade commander, Brigadier General George H. Gordon stated that "the loss in the Second Massachusetts was severe." Thirteen killed, one an officer, fifty-four wounded and two missing. [64] The regiment had been under arms all day with little or no food. They had held against artillery fire on the right and front, and infantry fire on the front as well. "I cannot too highly praise my brigade of regiments..." wrote Gordon. [65] Edward Ropes survived it all. In a little over a month he had seen two battles and marched to two others. [66] Through it all, his physical problems continued to bother him, and did so for the rest of his life.

While Edward marched around it, Hannah left Alice in Boston and marched into Washington, D.C. "O woman!" she wrote, "chafing against the walls of thy home, and crying out for a larger sphere of action and enterprise." [67] She wanted to get involved. This was a personal struggle for her, the culmination of all she believed. "The South," she said, "raised her secession flag over our heads; it swung a brief period, when the boys with Edward took it down." She was thinking of her Kansas experience. "The crime there committed against us, has borne its fruit in the up-heaving of the whole country. And God speed the right!" [68]

There were few jobs for women other than making cartridges or clerking in government offices. One job was dangerous and the other unfulfilling. "Every woman is a nurse," wrote Florence Nightingale. [69] Nursing became a ready outlet for many women wanting to contribute to the war effort. Hannah had nursed the sick in Kansas. It was an occupation she understood.

Edward enrolled in the 2nd Massachusetts June 20, 1862. His mother arrived in Washington, D.C. on June 25 to begin her own trials. "Each man and woman is taking his or her measure. As it is taken even so must it stand - it will be recorded." [70] She was assigned as matron at the Union Hotel Hospital in Georgetown. The Union Hotel Hospital was nothing more than a converted tavern. Opened for military use in May of 1861, it was abandoned, only to be reopened to care for the mounting casualties after other hospitals filled up. It was a "great pile of buildings with a flag flying before it." It was dilapidated. Few windows allowed for poor light and ventilation. Wall paper pealed from the walls. Toilets were defective and juxtaposed with the kitchen. There were no bathing facilities. Corpses were stored in the cellar. [71] "Bad sanitary, bad architecture and bad administrative arrangements often make it impossible to nurse," wrote Florence Nightingale. [72] She felt that hospitals should cure the ill, not cause the disease. Staff rooms were not much better.

One of Hannah Ropes' staff, a woman from Concord, Massachusetts, Louisa May Alcott, wrote of the living conditions. "It was well ventilated, for five panes of glass had suffered compound fractures, which all the surgeons and nurses had failed to heal; the two windows were draped with sheets... A bare floor supported two narrow iron beds, spread with thin mattresses like plasters, furnished with pillows in the last stages of consumption. In a fire place, guiltless of shovel, tongs, andirons, or grate, burned a log, inch by inch, being too long to go on all at once; so, while the fire blazed away at one end, I did the same at the other, as I tripped over it a dozen times a day, and flew up to poke it a dozen times at night. A mirror (let us be elegant!) of the dimensions of a muffin and about as reflective, being over a tin basin, blue pitcher, and a brace of yellow mugs. Two invalid tables, ditto chairs, wandered here and there... The closet was a regular Blue Beard cupboard to me; I always opened it with fear and trembling owing to rats, and shut it in anguish of spirit; for time and space were not to be had, and chaos reigned along with rats... Two arks, commonly called trunks, lurked behind the door, containing the worldly goods of the twain who laughed and cried, slept and scrambled in this refuge. . ." [73]

The hospital had one hundred eighty-nine patients, mostly enlisted men. Officers had better quarters elsewhere. [74] In her diary, Hannah confessed that the wounded reminded her of her son "and it seemed as though these were he, in fifty duplicates." [75] The prevailing notion of the time was that in order to be a good nurse, a woman had to have had a disappointment in love, or to be looking for a wounded lover, or even looking for a husband for that matter. [76]

Frederick Law Olmsted wrote to Henry Bellows of the Sanitary Commission that "There is not a woman in all the hospitals of Washington, unless she be of the Sisters, who is not constantly watched for evidences of favor to individuals and for grounds of scandalous suspicion and talked of and probably often talked to, with a double meaning. And this is true not only of the patients and the doctors and the stewards, but of the women toward each other." [77] The government decided that women could be employed. To maintain propriety, Dorothea Dix was placed in charge of the nursing corps. She issued Circular #8 listing qualifications for nurses. All nurses must be between the ages of 35 and 50. They must be in good health. They must display neatness, order, sobriety and industry. They must be matronly. They must have recommendations from two persons, be obedient, wear plain clothing and they must serve for at least three months. [78]

The army surgeons were against women in the wards. They felt that the convalescent patient could serve better as a nurse to his fellow soldier. Two were needed for a 50-bed ward. Wardmasters and surgeons made the lives of women nurses unbearable. One woman recorded that "it seemed a matter of cool calculation, just how much ill-mannered opposition would be requisite to break up the system." [79] Doctors preferred that women work in the kitchens to tend to diets and in the linen-rooms and in the laundry rooms. Doctors felt the women were arbitrary and opinionated. They were also resented simply because they were there. [80]

In a letter to brother Edward, Alice wrote about their mother. "If you should be sick or wounded, make them carry you to mother's hospital, 'The Union', in Georgetown. I wrote you all about her going... She likes the work very much and is doing a great deal of good." [81] Alice wanted to join her mother but Hannah discouraged her. "The surgeons are young," she wrote her daughter, "and look upon nurses as their natural prey." Instead, Alice sold the family home and stayed with friends in Boston. [82]

Hospital scenes including women, such as this one, were common in the Washington, D. C. area throughout the war. Pictured is the Armory Square General Hospital.
(Library of Congress)

The military hospital, like the army itself, was made of many layers. At the very top was the surgeon in charge of the hospital, responsible for everything and everyone. Next came the executive officer, an adjutant to the commanding surgeon. Then the ward physicians, responsible for from one to 75 patients. One of the ward physicians was designated medical officer of the day with the responsibility for the ward for a 24-hour period. The Wardmasters took care of the patients when the physicians were absent. The hospital stewards served as medical clerks responsible for medical property, clothing, kitchens, and hospital funds. [83]

Hannah Ropes was a hospital matron making sure that faces were washed and letters written to families at home. She was also a reformer and she single-handedly won the support of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to effect improvements in the treatment of the wounded. She found military procedures, protocol and tradition tedious. Her concern was for the wounded and if it meant circumventing authority, she did. She wrote to her mother, "I can't go back [home] unless you need me more than the soldiers do." [84] And they did. She protected them from disease and often from the hospital staff. To Alice she wrote that "between surgeons, stewards, nurses and waiters, the poor men in all the hospitals barely escape with life or clothes or money." [85] She had one hospital steward arrested. [86] She fought for better diets. She took on the head surgeon complaining of his military airs. "Every man," she wrote, "made giddy with an epaulet, will learn that God has made the private and officer of one equality, so far as moral treatment of each other is concerned." [87] She fought the new steward when he withheld soap from the laundry. "I think the hardest thing for me to comprehend is such meanness." [88]

Her battle with that second steward took on monumental proportions that included the aid of Nathaniel Banks and Edwin Stanton. Hannah felt that the steward was trying to buy her silence in his schemes. "He was not of the benevolent kind . . . [he said] that he was here to make all the money he could out of the hospital... As for his rude manners to myself, I record no charge; not considering him my equal, there can be no personal contest between us . . . [The] poor privates are my special children for the present." [89]

Hannah went to the head surgeon, Dr. A.M. Clark, and then on to the Surgeon General, William Hammond. Hammond demanded that she prove her charges. Her reply was simple. "Of the dishonesty of the steward, I have no [manner] of doubt. To prove him so would be dabbling in dirtier water than I care to touch and take time which I came here to spend otherwise." [90] The steward was not replaced. The doctors felt that she was simply a meddling woman who didn't understand the military. Her battle continued.

Furious with the steward for striking a patient, Hannah asked for help from a friend. She sent a telegram to Nathaniel Banks. The General came to call at the Union Hotel Hospital and made a surprise inspection. She told of Banks coming to the hospital wearing an old overcoat and talking to the steward. She heard "the steward [say] with an oath, 'It is none of your business.' [the visitor's] shabby coat fell open, revealing a General's strap!" She wrote to Alice that "the cup of chagrin to the steward seemed full!" [91]

Banks' visit did not slow the steward down, he simply stayed out of her way. It seemed that he had created a cell in the basement, a place the soldiers called the "dark hole" where he confined patients who offended him. Hannah found out about it. She couldn't get to Banks, so without a moment's hesitation and not feeling bound by the conventional chain-of command, she went right to Edwin Stanton. Unbeknownst to her, Stanton disliked Hammond, calling him a "McClellan man." [92] Stanton found this criticism an excellent opportunity to discredit Hammond. In her diary of November 4, 1862, she wrote: "A whole lifetime has been crowded into the past four days. Straps and buttons have been hurrying through the halls; wise looking men in long boots have stood about; and legal people have been into my rooms to take testimony. Above everything else, the head surgeon has been spirited off and locked in the Old Capital Prison . . . Stanton . . . sent an 'Official Order' for the head surgeon not to remove me from my place in this hospital." [93]

Again on November 8, she wrote: "I think through all this troubled water the men have been much less clear in the sense of right than the women have. Is it that they hate to give up one of their own club to the law? Certainly, if ever there was a case demanding prompt action, it was this." [94] The steward was removed. She often talked of her own idea of duty. "I have given myself to this work, not as the strutting officers on the avenue have, for salary, and laziness, but for love of country. This sentiment sprang into active life in Kansas; it lives anew in this out of all rule district, where a high toned life is unknown." [95]

The hospital work was hard. "Poke up the fire," wrote Louisa May Alcott, "add blankets, joke, coax, and command... for a more perfect pestilence-box than this house I never saw, -- cold, damp, dirty, full of vile odors from wounds, kitchens, wash-rooms, and stables." [96] In a take off of Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade," Alcott wrote of the chaos:

Beds to the front of them,
Beds to the right of them,
Beds to the left of them,
Nobody blundered.
Beamed at by hungry souls,
Screamed at with brimming bowls,
Steamed at by army rolls,
Buttered and sundered.
With coffee not cannon plied,
Each must be satisfied,
Whether they lived or died,
All the men wondered. [97]

Again in December, 1862, Alice requested a visit to Washington. Hannah called the capital an ugly city. She told Alice to wait. "You have no idea of the hospital, nor has anyone who simply calls in to see me. We get lousy!" she wrote, "and dirty. We run the gauntlet of disease from the disgusting itch to smallpox! My needle woman found nine body lice inside of her flannel waistcoat after mending the clothes that had been washed! And I caught two inside the binding of my drawers! I don't know of any price that would induce me to have you here!" [98]

The battle to care for the wounded was beginning to take its toll both emotionally and physically. By January 1863 she complained to Alice that she was run down. On January 9, she wrote to Edward that she and Miss Alcott "worked together over four dying men and saved all but one, the finest of the four . . . we took cold . . . we both have pneumonia and have suffered terribly." [99] It didn't seem life-threatening. Then Alice was sent for. She wrote to Edward that "Mother has been ill for some weeks and indeed nearly all the nurses are ill, so they sent for me to help a little." [100] The letter was dated January 19, 1863. The next day Hannah Anderson Chandler Ropes of Massachusetts, Kansas and Washington was dead. Massachusetts Congressman Henry Wilson tried to reach Edward, but it was impossible to find his regiment. [101] Her friend Charles Sumner wrote to her family that "Mrs. Ropes was a remarkable character, noble & beautiful, & I doubt if she has ever appeared more so than while she has been here in Washington, nursing soldiers." [102] One observer noted, "She has died for her country, as much as a soldier shot in battle." [103]

Edward received his pass and was in Washington January 28, a week after his mother passed away. "God has taken our mother to himself," he told his sister, "and I am here only too late..." [104] The next day he wrote that "Mother was near me last night. It seemed as if I was a little boy playing on the floor, and mother was sitting, as if knitting, and looking at me very thoughtfully. It seemed also as if she was needed somewhere else, for she did not stay long. It does seem as if mother was nearer to me now than ever before." [105] In a letter to Edward, Alice wrote: "Don't think you have nothing to live for now, for you must live for me. I need you very much, and hope you will need me. . ." [106]

Edward returned to Virginia to prepare for the spring campaign. He didn't have long to wait. In order to drive Lee back toward Richmond, Union Major General Joseph Hooker took a part of his large army and began a turning movement north and west of Chancellorsville. The 2nd Massachusetts moved across the Rappahannock and then toward the tavern near the Plank Road. By April 30, the 2nd was on the left of the Plank Road, west of Chancellorsville. [107] Breastworks were thrown up. [108] Lee moved his men west from Fredericksburg to meet him. The Battle of Chancellorsville was fought from May 1 to 4, 1863. The field belonged to Lee. His battle plan was masterful. Lee divided his small army in the face of the enemy and attacked. Jackson's Confederates struck Union Major General Oliver O. Howard's 11th Corps on the flank and began driving them back toward the center of the Union line. By May 3, the 2nd began a battle for their own works. Three times their lines advanced against the 1st South Carolina. [109] The 2nd ran out of ammunition. Both Colonel Quincy, and the brigade commander, Thomas Ruger, sent for more. [110] "I cannot make men or ammunition," they were told. [111]

They were forced to retire. Rice C. Bull talked about the retreat of the 2nd Massachusetts. He called it "wonderful." The regiment "retired marching backwards in perfect order." [112] They then "fixed bayonets and stood at 'order arms,'" waiting. [113]

The Union army was bloodied again. They had lost thirteen per cent of their men, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis decided to take advantage of the loss. [114] Together with Lee, he charted a path into Maryland and Pennsylvania. The Confederates moved north for a number of reasons. They moved north for supplies; to relieve pressure on the west; to impress Europe; to end the war with a swift victory. Lee started north from the Fredericksburg area in early June, heading toward Pennsylvania. The Union army came very slowly behind, staying between the advancing Confederates and Washington, D.C., and Edward Ropes, Company D, 2nd Massachusetts marched with them.

It was a long, hard march into Pennsylvania. One member of the 27th Indiana remembered how sore his feet had become with all the marching. "After being upon one's feet so much through the day, besides feeling cramped and sore, they swell and become feverish during the night and make loud and persistent appeals to be let out for airing and relaxation." [115] There was no time for tents and the niceties of camp life. Mudge and Morse of the 2nd had nothing but a rubber blanket between them. [116]

By June 30, the regiment marched into Pennsylvania and camped near Littlestown, only seven short miles from Gettysburg. [117] Major General George Gordon Meade was in command now, replacing Hooker. On July 1, they moved forward to Two Taverns, arriving about noon, where they "filed leisurely into a field, under orders, and went into bivouac," [118] but the sound of artillery prompted their commanders to rush the regiments forward. In anticipation of a major engagement, baggage trains, the sick and disabled, all were sent to the rear as the regiments moved forward in quick time. [119] That evening, they arrived near Wolf Hill where they went into position to the left of a meadow in the woods near Spangler's Spring. There they threw up breastworks. [120]

On the morning of July 2, skirmishers on both sides began to feel out the enemy position. [121] No fighting took place in front of the 2nd Massachusetts. Late in the afternoon the regiment, together with the rest of the third brigade moved to the aid of the 3rd Corps on the south end of the field. The advance of the Confederates was stopped but their Rebel yell still sounded through the woods. An old woman, watching the regiment march by called out, "Never mind, boys, they're nothing but men." [122] Their only instruction, for that evening, was to return to the position they had left earlier that day. [123]

As the brigade moved east toward the base of Culp's Hill, they realized that their earlier position was occupied by Confederates. Lt. Col. Mudge of the 2nd sent a company of skirmishers forward with orders to uncover the Confederate position. They quickly came in contact with the Confederate skirmish line and a brisk conflict ensued. [124] The men returned with prisoners and the information that the Confederate army not only occupied the 2nd Massachusetts position but were also in a "line of battle across our works, and extending through the woods towards the Baltimore Pike." [125] These were the men commanded by Brig. Gen. George H. Steuart and Brigadier General John M. Jones of Gen. Edward Johnson's division. [126]

It reminded one soldier of the Chancellorsville fighting. "Matters had gone wrong in our absence," he wrote. [127] By midnight it became evident to Ruger and to Union division commander Brig. Gen. Alpheus Williams that the Confederate threat to the lower side of the hill was real and had to be eliminated. [128]

Around 4:30 a.m. on July 3, Union artillery opened on the Confederate positions in the woods in an effort to drive the Confederates from cover. [129] Rounds exploded around them for almost an hour but the stubborn enemy did not move. While skirmishers continued to snipe at each other, the 2nd sat down to an early breakfast. [130] The Confederates had to be moved from the woods on the lower part of the hill, but who would do it? Who would charge old works? Colgrove ordered forward the 2nd Massachusetts and the 27th Indiana. He chose the 2nd Massachusetts possibly because it was already in position to make the charge and because it was a good regiment and had proven itself on at least three previous occasions. He chose the 27th Indiana because this was his old regiment and he knew what it would do. [131] The 2nd was to charge straight ahead into the works while the 27th attacked on the oblique. The order concerned Mudge but without hesitating he gave the command "Up men, over the works! Forward, double quick!" [132] With a Yankee cheer of their own, the men of the 2nd poured over their log and rail breastworks. They moved as fast as the rocks and trees and soggy meadow allowed. [133] They pushed into the woods almost up to the Confederate works. The charge of the 27th Indiana was brought up short on the right, about half way to their goal, and they were forced to move back. Because the 27th's attack had been on the right oblique, the right and rear of the 2nd was exposed to fire.

With the retreat of the 27th, the Massachusetts boys found themselves alone. They were almost out of ammunition and had lost half their force. [134] Mudge and five color-bearers were down. [135] "I looked back over the meadow and saw a thin rebel line deploying immediately in our rear," recalled Morse. This was the 49th Virginia and part of the 52nd Virginia coming in on the right. "This line was under the muskets of our brigade at point-blank range," he continued, "but our friends dared not fire, as they could not do so without equal danger to us." [136] He was referring to parts of the 3rd Wisconsin in line behind them. The 2nd had to move out of that forward position. Morse, now in command called his men to attention, about-faced, and moved on the right oblique back into the woods. [137] One officer recalled that "I never saw a finer sight than to see that regiment, coming back over that terrible meadow face about and form in line as steady as if on parade." [138] They continued the battle over the low stone wall until they were out of ammunition and forced to retire.

The fighting for the southern slopes of Culp's Hill was over. When it was done, all the men were present or accounted for. [139] Many never left the meadow. Colonel Morse wrote that the 2nd Massachusetts had learned "that most valuable lesson which soldiers have to learn, that each man, however brave, is only a component part of his regiment, and that to be effective the whole regiment must act as one man." [140] The casualties were high, thirty-four percent. [141] Of the 102 wounded, many were shot in the leg making it impossible for the men to walk. [142] The dead were buried on the McAllister farm not far from the sight of the battle. [143] Edward Ropes survived the day, unharmed. As the regiment marched away from the field the next day, Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum and his 12th Corps staff removed their hats in respect to the gallant 2nd Massachusetts. [144]

The war continued for almost two more years with the ultimate goal of freedom as its end. Hannah had written to Alice early in her work in Washington the "there is to be NO PEACE till Freedom for all". [145] Edward continued to serve in the army, first in New York to support the draft and later in the west with Sherman and the Army of the Cumberland. He marched into New York to conserve a freedom already won and into Atlanta to win a freedom long sought. Perhaps Edward Ropes remembered something his mother had written before her death. "The true question," she wrote, "was, whether we would have our sons sacrificed, or the blacks, for whose freedom this war is waged. We decided, as we always have done, pig-headedly—and now the only way out of this trouble remains just where it did before, only to be gained by immediate, unreserved emancipation. Declare for it, oh men of Boston! Forget all the lines of party—look at this thing from the standpoint of fifty years ahead, when the fever of political strife, with those who struggled for supremacy, has passed and gone." [146]


There were a number of people involved with the search for material for this project; Louise Arnold-Friend, James Clouse, Diane Depew, Sally Hertzog, Trish Murphy and Karlton Smith. Though they helped the author locate sources, the author takes all responsibility for the comments made.

1 The Hannah Ropes papers are in the Skinner-Ropes Manuscript Collection at the University of California at Riverside. They were edited by John R. Brumgardt and published in 1980 by The University of Tennessee Press and entitled: Civil War Nurse: The Diary and Letters of Hannah Ropes; Samuel H. Wright, The Illustrated Family Christian Almanac, American Tract Society, 1863, 11.

2 David Ladd and Audrey J. Ladd, editors, The Bachelder Papers, Vol. I, Morningside, 1994, 156 (cited hereafter as Bachelder).

3 U.S. War Department, War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official records of the Union and Confederate Armies, vol. 27, pt. 1, 813.

4 Harry Pfanz, Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1993, 340-41

5 Ibid., 341.

6 OR, Series III, Vol. I, 262; Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the Civil War, Norwood Press, 1931, Vol. 1, 69.

7 Massachusetts Soldiers, 69; OR, XXV, pt. 1, 168.

8 Russell Duncan, editor, Blue-eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Col. Robert Gould Shaw, 1992, xv; Everett W. Pattison, 1st. Lt. 2nd MA., U.S. Military History Institute, Carlisle, 253; Gregory Coco, editor, Through Blood and Fire, The Civil War Letters of Major Charles J. Mills, 1982, 1; Anthony J. Milano, "A Call of Leadership: Lt. Col. Charles Reddington Mudge, U.S.V. and the Second Massachusetts Infantry at Gettysburg," The Gettysburg Magazine, Jan/1992, #6, 69.

9 Edward Elson Ropes, Pension File, Certificate #794, 312, National Archives.

10 John R. Brumgardt, Civil War Nurse: The Diary and Letters of Hannah Ropes, University of Tennessee Press, 1980, 7.

11 Ibid., 8.

12 Ibid., FN #11, 8-9.

13 Ibid., 12.

14 Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, Oxford University Press, 1995, 110.

15 David Herbert Donald, Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War, Fawcett Columbine, 1960, 278.

16 Goodrich, Bloody Dawn, The Kent State University Press, 1991, 2.

17 James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, Oxford University Press, 1988, 145; Avery Craven, The Coming of the Civil War, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1942, 357; Merton L. Dillon, The Abolitionists, W.W. Norton & Company, 225.

18 Goodrich, Bloody Dawn, 2.

19 McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 145.

20 Craven, The Coming of the Civil War, 357.

21 Albert Castel, A Frontier State at War: Kansas 1861-1865, Kansas Heritage Press, 1958, 3.

22 Ibid., 3.

23 Goodrich, Bloody Dawn, 3-4.

24 Castel, A Frontier State at War, 6.

25 John L. Thomas, Slavery Attacked: The Abolitionist Crusade, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1965; Craven, The Coming of the Civil War, 362.

26 Donald, Charles Sumner, 280.

27 Goodrich, Bloody Dawn, 4; Craven, The Coming of the Civil War, 362-3.

28 Ame C. Rose, Victorian America and the Civil War, Cambridge University Press, 1992, 70.

29 Brumgardt, Civil War Nurse, 14.

30 Ibid., 17

31 Castel, A Frontier State at War, 2-3; Goodrich, Bloody Dawn, 2, 4.

32 Brumgardt, Civil War Nurse, 17.

33 Donald, Charles Sumner, 279.

34 Castel, A Frontier State at War, 7.

35 Brumgardt, Civil War Nurse, 17.

36 McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 149.

37 Donald, Charles Sumner, 283.

38 Castel, A Frontier State at War, 7.

39 Brumgardt, Civil War Nurse, 20.

40 Nancy F. Cott, "Divorce and the Changing Status of Women in Eighteenth Century Massachusetts," The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. XXXIII, 1976, 586-614.

41 Edward Ropes, Pension Files.

42 Ibid.

43 Ibid.

44 Brumgardt, Civil War Nurse, 62.

45 Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Blue, Louisiana State University Press, 1964, 17-18.

46 Champ Clark, Decoying the Yanks, Time-Life Books, 1994, 59.

47 Coco, Through Blood and Fire, 24.

48 Robert K. Krick, Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain, The University of North Carolina Press, 1990, 276.

49 Editors, Lee Takes Command, Time-Life Books, 1994, 108.

50 Krick, Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain, 358.

51 Ibid., 48.

52 Edward Ropes, Pension Files.

53 Editors, Lee Takes Command, 144.

54 Alonzo H. Quint, The Record of the Second Massachusetts Infantry, James P. Walker, 1867, 122.

55 Edward Ropes, Pension Files.

56 Ibid.

57 Ibid.

58 Quint, The Record of the Second Massachusetts Infantry, 124-25.

59 Mills, Through Blood and Fire, 25.

60 Ibid., 19.

61 Ronald Bailey, The Bloodiest Day: The Battle of Antietam, Time-Life Books, 1984, 93.

62 Ibid., 92.

63 OR, XIX, Pt: 1, 500.

64 Ibid., 501.

65 Ibid., 496-7.

66 Duncan, Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune, 227.

67 Brumgardt, Civil War Nurse, 2.

68 Ibid., 27.

69 Florence Nightingale, Notes on Nursing What it is and What it is Not, Dover Publications, Inc., 1969, 3.

70 Brumgardt, Civil War Nurse, 48.

71 Martha Saxton, Louisa May, Houghton Muffin Company, 1977, 243, 244; Louisa May Alcott, Hospital Sketches, edited by Bessie Jones, The Belknap Press, 1960, xxv, 26.

72 Nightingale, Notes on Nursing, 8.

73 Alcott, Hospital Sketches, 60-61.

74 Brumgardt, Civil War Nurse, 40.

75 Ibid., 53.

76 Nightingale, Notes on Nursing, 133-134.

77 Jane Turner Censer, The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986, Vol. IV, 202-03.

78 Alcott, Hospital Sketches, xxviii-xxix.

79 Lori D. Ginsberg, Women and the Work of Benevolence: Morality, Politics, and Class in the Nineteenth Century United States, Yale University Press, 1990, 147.

80 Ibid., 146; Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, 1881, Part III, Vol. 1, 957-958.

81 Brumgardt, Civil War Nurse, 59.

82 Ibid., 61.

83 Medical and Surgical History, 955-957.

84 Brumgardt, Civil War Nurse, 66.

85 Ibid., 69.

86 Ibid., 70.

87 Ibid., 73.

88 Ibid., 74.

89 Ibid., 77.

90 Ibid., 76.

91 Ibid., 79.

92 Ibid., 83.

93 Ibid., 85-86.

94 Ibid., 93.

95 Ibid., 95.

96 Ibid., 40.

97 Alcott, Hospital Sketches, 34-35.

98 Brumgardt, Civil War Nurse, 115-116.

99 Ibid., 121.

100 Ibid., 123.

101 Ibid., 124.

102 Ibid., 125.

103 Ibid., 127.

104 Ibid., 128.

105 Ibid.

106 Ibid.

107 OR, XXV, pt. 1, 707.

108 Ibid., 708.

109 Ibid., 714

110 Ibid., 709; Quint, The Record of the Second Massachusetts Infantry, 110.

111 Quint, The Record of the Second Massachusetts Infantry, 167.

112 Paddy Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War, Yale University Press, 1989, 107.

113 Quint, The Record of the Second Massachusetts Infantry, 167.

114 OR, XXV, pt. 1, 710.

115 E.R. Brown, The Twenty-Seventh Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Butternut Press, 1899, 375.

116 Ibid., 374.

117 Milano, "A Call of Leadership," 71; Bachelder Papers, 156.

118 Brown, The Twenty-Seventh Indiana, 365; Charles F. Morse, History of the Second Massachusetts Regiment of Infantry at Gettysburg, George H. Ellis, 1882, 6.

119 Brown, The Twenty-Seventh Indiana, 367.

120 Morse, History of the Second Massachusetts, 7.

121 Bachelder Papers, 156; Morse, History of the Second Massachusetts, 7.

122 Morse, History of the Second Massachusetts, 8-9.

123 Ibid., 9.

124 Bachelder Papers, 157.

125 OR, XXVII, Pt: 1, 780; Milano, "A Call of Leadership," 73.

126 Pfanz, Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill, 232.

127 Brown, The Twenty-Seventh Indiana, 373.

128 Pfanz, Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill, 234.

129 M. Jacobs, Notes on the Rebel Invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania, J. B. Lippincott and Co. 1864, 40; Bachelder Papers, 157; Brown, The Twenty-Seventh Indiana, 329; Milano, "A Call of Leadership," 73.

130 Milano, "A Call of Leadership," 73.

131 Pfanz, Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill, 341.

132 Morse, History of the Second Massachusetts, 3; Pfanz, Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill, 341.

133 Pfanz, Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill, 341-44; Milano, "A Call of Leadership," 74.

134 Morse, History of the Second Massachusetts, 14; Bachelder Papers, 147.

135 Brown, The Twenty-Seventh Indiana, 381; Pfanz, Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill, 345-346.

136 Morse, History of the Second Massachusetts, 14; Milano, "A Call of Leadership," 74.

137 Morse, History of the Second Massachusetts, 14; Pfanz, Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill, 349-50.

138 Pfanz, Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill, 348.

139 Ibid., 350.

140 Morse, History of the Second Massachusetts, 17.

141 Edmund J. Raus, A Generation on the March -- The Union Army at Gettysburg, H.E. Howard, Inc., 1987, 32.

142 John W. Busey, These Honored Dead, Longstreet House, 1988, 50-53.

143 Ibid., 50-53.

144 Milano, "A Call of Leadership," 75.

145 Brumgardt, Civil War Nurse, 66.

146 Ibid., 114-15.

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