Letter – Emmet Irwin, 5 December 1862

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Letter written by Corporal Emmet Irwin of Company C, 2nd NY State Militia (82nd NY Volunteer Infantry), to his sister, dated December 5th, 1862, from Fredericksburg, VA, after a major Union defeat. Irwin describes the fighting at Fredericksburg as the hardest he ever saw, “Antietam being but child’s play in proportion.” He writes disparagingly of General Ambrose Burnside’s tactics that led to the loss of at least 5,000 men.


                   Fredericksburg, Virginia Monday, 15th/62

Dear Sister

I take the present moment to send you a few lines on some paper that is not very clean, which you must excuse as I have no other with me. I have once more passed through battle unscathed. This present one has been the hardest one I ever saw, Antietam being but child’s play in proportion. I think this is the tightest place I was ever in, and one of the most foolhardy movements of the war. Gen. Burnside advance to the edge of the river and squat down for two weeks and let the enemy build strong works within the reach of his guns during the daytime. Is a very singular piece of strategy. But this is not all. He goes and advances troops in what I call a human slaughter house with but little prospect of success, loses not less than 5,000 men, and then fell back across the river, as this morning (16th) finds us again in our old camp. James was over the river, but I believe not engaged. We both wrote to you the 10th. No more at present.

You must excuse dirty paper, as it is all I have. Also bad writing, as it is written on my knee.

     I will write again soon and let you know whether we change our position. I take the New York Times.

Love to all from your brother,                  Emmet

-Page 2, folded to form the cover-

Mrs. Helen S. Lounsbery

New Milford

Orange Co. N.Y.


Emmet M. Irwin, aged 19, enlisted in Company C, of the 2nd NY State Militia (82nd NY Volunteer Infantry) on May 21, 1861. He was promoted to corporal in 1862, then assigned to Co. C of the 12th Regiment Veteran Reserve Corps due to disability in 1863. He was discharged from the V.R.C. on May 23, 1864, at the expiration of his three year’s enlistment. He participated in the following battles: 1st Bull Run, Edward’s Ferry, Yorktown, West Point, Fair Oaks, Seven Day’s battles, South Mountain, Antietam, and Fredericksburg.

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