Letter from 2nd Lieutenant John Townsend Ketcham, Company M, 4th New York Cavalry
July 8, 1863
I telegraphed to thee as soon as I could, and wrote about Edward. I cannot realize that he is dead. Don’t let it kill thee, mother! Thee and I are all that is left of us.
Edward was the first man killed in the regiment. They were lying on the ground, behind a little mill, in front of our batteries, making a part of the outer line of battle. It is always necessary in such time for someone to keep a lookout to watch the movements of the enemy. As the men all lay on their faces, Edward was sitting up to look; a sharpshooter’s bullet probably struck him in the temple, and went through his head. He put up his hand, and said, “Oh!” and fell on his elbow, quite dead…
I lay down behind a big rock. Whilst I lay there, two rebel batteries commenced to play on ours. I never imagined such a thunder as the firing made; there were twenty-four cannon at work, and the shells burst over our heads, fifty feet or more; one or two men were hurt near me, and the limbs of the trees dropped occasionally. I then took a musket, thinking I would stay with the infantry, till they advanced, as I was not needed with the department, it being with the mule train; the rest of our regiment was at Washington…
I went out at night, to look for Edward, but could not find him. The next morning our line advanced, and I went out to the tree, and there, on his back, his hands peacefully on his breast, lay all that was left of the brother I have lived so closely with all my life. His features, though discolored and swollen, had an expression I have seen on them before–peaceful rest. He had lain thirty-six hours on the field, with the roaring of cannon and bursting of shells over him, and the feet of contending boots, of darkness and freedom, trampling the ground he lay on.
When I got him, I brought him down under a tree. A Captain of one of the batteries said to me, “If he were a brother of mine, I would bury him on the field of glory.” He was very kind, and sent me men to dig the grave. In a little grove behind the batteries, under an oak tree, in his soldier’s uniform, wrapped in a shelter-tent, lies all the earthly remains of my brother. “He has gone to be a soldier in the army of the Lord.” And mother, thee and I walk this world of sorrow.
I set for his head-stone a piece of a young oak cut off by a rebel shell, and marked his name and regiment.
Mother, yet a little time thee and I have to walk this earth, when we compare it to the great eternity beyond, where father and Edward are gone before us.
Oh, he was cut down in the very morning of his manhood! He is laid a sacrifice on the altar of Liberty!
He died to give to every other man the right to his own manhood–a precious sacrifice–for in him were heroism, a brave heart, and an iron will. He died as he would have died–with his face toward the enemies of freedom, on the battlefield.
Edward has marched many a weary mile; he has lain on the wet, cold ground, with nothing over him, long nights, with the rain pouring on him, and never murmured; he has lain and shivered in the snow and slush, all long winter nights, after weary marches, hungry, perhaps, or after eating a few hard crackers, and a little raw meat; and, in his discomfort, he has never wished for home; except, perhaps, to look forward to that bright day when the rebellion would be crushed, and he should return home, war-worn, and covered with his well worn honors. That day, alas! he can never see. Oh, God! Thy price for freedom is a dear one!
Source: Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 149-52
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