Welsh of Co. K was a 31-year old
carpenter from New York who was looking for work in Boston when he
decided to enlist in the 28th Massachusetts on September 3, 1862. In
the following letter, he describes the regiment's horrific experiences
in the charge up Marye's Heights at the Battle of Fredericksburg on
December 13, 1862. Promoted to Sergeant, Welsh carried the green
regimental colors at the head of the 28th Massachusetts through all the
battles that followed until being mortally wounded at Spotsylvania on
May 12, 1864.
Falmouth, Virginia December 25, 1862
My Dear Wife... On Thursday morning the
11th, we had reveille at 4 o'clock. We got up and had our breakfast,
got our luggage packed up, left our knapsacks in camp and left some
sick men to take care of them. We started about sunrise and marched
about two hours. The cannonading was going on all day from daylight in
the morning. We lay behind the hills opposite the city until evening,
and then we moved into a small woods and camped until morning.
(We) started again about sunrise and crossed
the pontoon bridges into Fredericksburg. We lay there all day expecting
to be going into the fight at any moment. When it became dark, we moved
our position a little and stacked arms for the night with mud ankle
deep (upon which) to lay down and sleep on. We hunted up pieces of
boards and lay them down on the mud and then lay down and covered
ourselves in our blankets. I slept as sound I think as ever I slept in
my life, although our blankets were covered thick with frost in the
morning. We were woken up at four o'clock and cooked our breakfast. We
were ready to start before daylight. Every man cooks his own grub in
our company when we are out(since)the cook was left in the camp.
About eight o'clock we were ordered to fall
in and we were drawn up in line of battle in one of the streets, ready
to start into it at a moment's notice. While we were in that position,
the enemy commenced to shell us and they did it with good effect. They
threw their shell into our line with great precision, wounding a good
many. Once, there were two men wounded in the file next to me. The
first brigade of our division went in first, and in a few minutes, we
got the word forward (with) ball and shell flying in all directions.
The rebels' position is on a range of hills about a mile outside of the
city. We had to cross that distance, which is low and level with their
batteries playing on us both in front and from right and left. The
storm of shell and grape and cannister was terrible, mowing whole gaps
out of our ranks (and) we (were) having to march over their dead and
We advanced boldly despite it all, and drove
the enemy into their entrenchments. But the storm of shot was then most
galling, and our ranks were soon thinnned. Our troops had to lay down
to escape the raking fire of the batteries, and we had but a poor
chance at the enemy, who was sheltered in his rifle pits and
entrenchments. I saw some hot work at South Mountain and Antietam in
Maryland, but they were not to be compared to this. Old troops say that
they never were under such a heavy fire before in any battle. Every man
that was near me in the right of the company was either killed or
wounded except one. We lost twelve in killed and wounded out of 37 men
in our company (1). Our Captain (2) was wounded in the foot and our
Second Lieutenant (3) was killed.
Welsh continued his Fredericksburg narrative
in the next letter he wrote to his wife, dated December 30, 1862:
Our brigade did not have to go to the front
after the day of the battle, so we escaped the unpleasant task of
laying ten or twelve hours on the wet ground with the certainty of
having a ball whirred at our head if we raised it up. That part was
performed chiefly by such troops that were not engaged in the battle,
and we had our full share of that. In my last (letter), I gave you an
account of our part in the battle up to where we laid down in front.
Other troops came, and we soon got orders to cease firing. The officers
after a while undertook to take out what they could of the brigade, but
they could not form in line in the position we were in. Some went out,
but a great many remained in front, as in going out they would be again
exposed to the raking fire of the enemy's batteries. By remaining in
front, we had only the fire of infantry and sharp-shooters to bear. Our
position was beside a fence, a house, and yard which was in our line. A
great number of our wounded were carried into that house, and some of
them had to remain there until Sunday night, as our anbulance wagons
could not be brought up there. Those who had no friends to come carry
them out at night had to remain until men were sent from the different
regiments to bring them out.
I remained in front until dark, and then
brought out some wounded belonging to our company. I went over the
battlefield again before daylight to see if I could find any more of
our men, and the sights that were to be seen there were hard enough. I
slept about an hour that night in the house which was being used as a
hospital in which I left the wounded that I brought out. I cooked
myself some coffee there, and then came across the river, as our
brigade had come across that night. I got to the place where they had
camped just as they were falling in to go back to Fredericksburg. I
reported to the Captain (and) he rejoiced to see me out safe. He
thought I was either killed or wounded. We had only just got engaged
(when) he got wounded. He got a list from me of all the killed and
wounded I knew of, and then we started and crossed over the pontoon
bridge and stacked arms in the first street of the city fronting the
river. I then went to the house where I left the wounded men. I came
back and told the Colonel (4) of their being there (so) he told me to
get men to help me and bring them over to this side to our brigade
We remained there in that street that night
and the next day until after dark. We were (then) ordered to fall in
and moved along that street on the line of the river to the upper
pontoon, and came across. The troops were brought across in good order.
We had to march to this old camp that night. The next morning, the
whole regiment had to go on picket... I am very sorry for the death of
our Second Lieutenant. He was killed in the battle. In him, I lost a
warm friend. We (now) have no commissioned officer belonging to the
company with us now."
1. The Adjutant General's records indicate a total of 18 casualties in
Company K suffered on December 13, 1862. This includes 6 killed or
mortally wounded, and 12 wounded. Altogether, this would be the
single-most costly day in the long and bloody history of the 28th
Massachusetts, with a total of 160 men in the regiment counted as
casualties (including 1 captured and 11 missing).
2. Captain Charles H. Sanborn would return to the regiment after
recovering from his wound, but would resign in June, 1863 (see note on
previous letter above).
3. 2nd Lieutenant John Sullivan was a Milford bootmaker when he
enlisted as a Sergeant in Company K at the formation of the regiment in
1861. He had been promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in September.
4. Col. Richard Byrnes assumed command of the regiment in November,
1862, and would lead it through the next year and a half before finally
suffering a mortal wound at Cold Harbor, June 3, 1864.
Letter to the Boston Herald
written by one or more officers of the 28th Massachusetts angry at
having been passed over for promotion by men who had not previously
served in the regiment and received their commissions by virtue of
being political allies of Gov. John Andrew.
28th Mass. Vol., Camp "Israel," Pleasant
Valley, Md., Oct. 8, 1862
One year ago to-day the officers of the 28th
Mass. Vol. were commissioned. Their number then thirty-three field and
line officers, has been reduced, by losses in battle, by death, wounds
and sickness, to nine now doing duty. After the late severe campaign in
Virginia and Maryland they have arrived in camp to find from Boston
newspapers the announcement that a second lieutenant of the regular
army was to be sent to command them. Yes, the officers, who have
commanded faithfully and well, who have been with the regiment always,
in camp and in the field, are now thrown aside, their claims for
promotion ignored. The circular of Major General Halleck to Governor of
States to fill up vacancies in the regiments from deserving offices is
disregarded. The officers, who on hard fought battle-fields have fairly
won the right to promotion, now find that bravery on the field and
constant duty with their regiment are not appreciated by the Governor.
That the claims of a recruiting officer, a stranger to all in the
regiment, and an officer of junior rank, takes preference over them,
who, unfortunately for their own claims, were where their duty called,
with their regiment.
The officers of the 28th are going home.
They will then be where Governor Andrew can see them, and where they
will not be liable to the same insult and disgrace which has been cast
upon them by the person, of all others, who should seek to honor
instead of insulting them. Some of them will seek service in other
States, for their patriotism will not allow them to leave the service.
Others will leave it all together. The deep feeling of indignation
against Gov. Andrew, for his treatment of the officers, is not confined
to our regiment. It is shared by officers of neighboring regiments.
Those who have been us, who have fought side by side with us, are
surprise at, and can in no way account for, the course pursued by the
Governor towards us.
Others, officers of new regiments, to whom
we are unknown, look on us with distrust- look upon us as officers who
have not done their duty, or who are incompetent to do it. And can we
as officers remain in a regiment where we cannot meet officers of other
regiments without a feeling of shame? Does the Governor expect this of
us? Does he expect that sons of Massachusetts can tamely submit to this
gross injury? Does he suppose that, because the 28th is known as an
Irish regiment, the officers are not gentlemen, and soldiers- that they
have not the same feelings as officers of other regiments? War has not,
and never will, render us insensible to disgrace; our feelings are as
sensitive to an insult now as before the war. Bitter indeed are our
feelings that now, after a year's campaigning, acquainted thoroughly
with our men, knowing the good from the bad, knowing whom to trust and
whom not to, we find we have yet to earn a name as officers by seeking
services in regiments from other States.
For Governor Andrew has, by one stroke of
his pen, dishonored us. It were better, by far, that he had given us
notice of his intention, that we could have resigned, and thus escaped
the disgrace; but he chose to act differently, and we are the sufferers
by his caprice. We, as well as our men, are to be the school for a
young officer to practice, and whatever merit we may have earned will
be credited to him. At Hilton Head, S. C., by order, letter writing to
newspapers was prohibited; this order, although not in force now, has
prevented any notoriety being given our regiment in Boston newspapers.
Our record is to be found in our losses in battle, and to the official
reports of our Brigade and Division Commanders. Our losses during the
month of September alone, were over 200. We have now in hospital, sick
and wounded, over 400 men. We are proud of our regiment, and are only
sorry that we cannot, with honor, follow its future dangers and
[Boston Herald, October 23, 1862, Page 1,