A Captain’s letter

12 February 2020

This is Captain Samuel H. Sims, who led Company G of the 51st New York Infantry across the Lower Bridge at Antietam.

Among the many of his Company killed there was Private Thomas Stockwell. A few days later Captain Sims wrote to Thomas’s widow Caroline.

It is one of the finest such letters I’ve ever read:

It has become my most painful and unavoidable duty to announce to you the death of your husband. He was killed while in the faithful discharge of his duty at the storming of Antietam Bridge Maryland in the morning of September 17th, 1862. Our joy at gaining the victory that day has been restrained by our remembrance of the brave men who fell – the faces of our comrades once so familiar that are lost to us, and more than that, the grief that we know will be brought to the home of our noble brother who has rendered his life a sacrifice to prove his devotion to our country, flag, and constitution.

Your husband died at the moment of victory. Our Regiment with the Brigade had been ordered forward by Genl. Burnside to advance to the Bridge where the rebels were posted in strong force. They were the Brigade of sharpshooters called ‘Toombs Brigade’ consisting I believe of Georgia, S. Carolina and Mississippi riflemen. The action lasted about one hour before poor Tom fell. He heard as he died the shout of victory. A noble death! but to you a stroke which I fear no words of mine can render alleviation. I humbly pray to my God that he will be with you in your affliction.

His grave is in the valley near the bridge, fifteen of his comrades lie there with him. I have caused an inscription to be placed over him. A final statement of his effects will be sent forward today to Washington. I enclose a lock of his hair …

Sims was himself killed in action while rallying troops in the Crater at Petersburg, VA on 30 July 1864.


A transcription of the letter is from Stockwell’s bio sketch online from Green-Wood Cemetery.

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