Letter – Edward Clark, 31 January 1862


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Letter written by Chaplain Edward L. Clark of the 12th MA Infantry to William Dehon, from the camp of the 12th Regiment MA Volunteers in Frederick, MD. Clark’s letter focuses on the politics of the Webster Regiment. He begins by stating that the 12th MA and its colonel, Fletcher Webster, are “the envy of all,” though he annoyed that some members of the regiment are speaking ill of himself. He concludes the letter by mentioning that Dehon’s son, Lieutenant Arthur Dehon, has recently arrived, and praises the young Dehon for his diligence and hard work.

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Frederick, Md. Jan. 31, 1862

                       Camp 12th Reg. Mass. Vols.

Mr. Dehon

Dear Sir

     On my last visit “home” I tried frequently to see you, but failed every attempt. Mr. Butler requested me to write to you or himself concerning the regiment. I take therefore, great pleasure in saying that both at division Head Quarters and among the other officers our regiment and Col. [Fletcher Webster] are the envy of all. Col.[George H.] Gordon, [2nd MA Infantry] last of all men to say such a thing, confessed to me that our men were far superior to his own. You could hardly expect him to compare cols., but our own “boys” do with delight, and his boys with longing! In discipline, in materiel, in spirit, there is nothing wanting. Order and propriety are the orders of the camp.

     I need not tell you how much loved our Col. is, or how much we admire his kindness and greatness of heart. As a gentleman he did not surprise, but I have not ceased to wonder at the power of the man. In the one, all are pleased, but

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[in] the other only his friends are delighted, because they only feel it. I was called at home extravagant for the terms I used in his praise, but to you they would seem justice. From my personal observation I assure you that as a military man he stands here, as he does everywhere, for his social qualities.

     But one thing has annoyed me very much. If it could be met, I would bear it alone. As it now comes it is not only without foundation, but the more vexatious, because it misleads by opinion and influence. I feel confident that time would adjust it, but before then it might be unpleasant if not injurious. Could you imagine that within a plan to separate any who might have mutual interests and consequently lend somewhat of strength to each other, such and imputation might be cast and pressed day after day as this, that one has secretly injured the other. It is not uncommon, but unfortunate. Because it is called “secret,” no proof is called for. You are one of the Col’s. best friends. Do you think or know I have by my public or private letters or conversation cast a shade on my own Col. and regiment?

If you have a suspicion, please let me know on what it rests. If not, will you not write to the Col. and say so. Mr. Butler and Mr. Eaton expressed their entire disbelief in any such accusation, and Mr. Eaton mentioned as an example

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a certain report believed to have come from Dr. Clark, which was found out to be untrue. Now a chaplain is a scapegoat for the sins of a thousand. He is not always with Col. Bryan [Lieut. Col. Timothy M. Bryan] and Adj., and does not lean on such men. But they make him bear what they can. I know that I have quietly but resolutely set my face against such reports, not only among the authorities, but at home, and among business men. Therefore, I do not write for the sake of myself, but the Col. Beside this, my remaining with the reg. is a matter of so much uncertainty that I feel the more anxious to dispose all such things while I am still a chaplain.

     Mr. Butler gave me $14 for the express of my library to the regiment. It just paid the freight. At present we have 400 books and 500 magazines in circulation among our boys.

     I saw Mrs. Webster and family yesterday. They leave for home tomorrow or Monday. The col. hopes to get 8 days leave of absence and return with them. Mrs. W[ebster] will explain many things which I have not time to write.

     Hoping to hear at least a line from you,

I remain with deepest respect

Your old servant

E.L. Clark

                                  Chaplain, 12th Mass. Vols.  

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P.S. Your son [Lieut. Arthur Dehon] has so recently arrived that I had forgotten for the moment his joining our regiment. He applies himself with the utmost diligence to his “Hardee’s” and feels much delighted with his progress. He has been put on duty for several days. The men who always express themselves about such things in a democratic way, warmly give their approval! Of course, their opinion is quite independent of means, but one token of it.

     May I take the liberty of calling your attention to a little article “Charity” in the Courier. It may possibly give more fully the condition of the reg. in two respects – comfort and intelligence.

Edward Lord Clark, from Andover, MA, aged 23, enrolled as chaplain in the 12th MA Infantry on June 26, 1861. He resigned on June 16, 1862. Died Feb. 4, 1910.

Arthur Dehon was William Dehon’s son and a 2nd Lieutenant in Webster’s 12 MA Infantry.

Letter – Fletcher Webster, 30 August 1862


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The last letter of Col. Fletcher Webster, written just a few hours before his death at the Battle of Second Bull Run to his wife, Caroline. It describes the action at Thoroughfare Gap, VA on August 28th of 1862. Webster ominously speculates that this may be his last letter, as he “will not spare” himself if a large battle is fought. This is a copy of the original letter, made by William Dehon after the original was destroyed in fire at the Webster home in Marshfield, Massachusetts on February 14th, 1878.

Hd. Qrts. 12th Light

                             Bull Run, Aug. 30th, 62

Dear Wife

     Since I wrote you last we marched to Thoroughfare Gap, where the enemy was expected to try and pop through. We got there after a hard march, Wednesday about 3 P.M. Our brigade in advance. On getting near the gap, our brigade was sent forward skirmishing, and as support to Matthew’s battery. The coast was reported clear.

     On each side the gap, which is just wide enough for a carriage road, rise high, steep, thickly wooded hills. Just at the mouth of the gap on the eastern side there is a small space for [a] building, and there are some stone houses and a large stone mill. We approached the gap from the East, so these buildings were on our right. [Col. Richard] Coulter, with the 11th Pa., supported by the N.Y. 9th ,

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had the right. The 12th and 13th [MA Infantries] the left of the advance. No sooner had we got within a short distance than the enemy, concealed in the woods and stone buildings, opened. On the right, Coulter had a sharp fight; the buildings were too strong for him. He fought like a hero, but was obliged to fall back, and with the 9th, retired up the road to the rear. He lost 2 officers and 60 men. We sent our skirmishers into the woods in front of us, and for a short time cleared them. But shortly they were reinforced.

     I drew up “ours” well under cover and listened to the balls as they whizzed over our heads. We saw the other regts. retiring. The battery on our side retired, and I felt uncomfortable. At last an order came for us to retire, which we did across a plain, and when the enemy saw us crossing, they opened pretty well. It was nasty business, but the 12th marched as if on parade. Capt. [Richard H.] Kimball [acted] as if all the girls in Boston were looking

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at him. [1st Lt. Thomas P.] Haviland, the brave, rode smoking a cigarette; the major was glorious; Arthur [Dehon] a young hero. I thought he was hit; a ball passed between us, and I saw him throw up his hand, but it was nothing. Officers and men were all good. [Lt. Col. Timothy M.] Bryan was sick and not in the action at all.

   We got here last night. Today a great and decisive battle is expected. Forrester Devereux [Arthur F., col. 19th Mass. Inf.] has just called and here sits by me on the grass under a tree, while I write. He was again in action the day before yesterday, and has lost nearly all his company. He is unhurt

     If a fight comes off, it will be today or tomorrow, and will be a most dreadful and decisive one. Both sides are  preparing; some three hundred thousand men are on the eve of a conflict, and Washington depends on the issue. This may be my last letter, dear love; for I shall not spare myself. God bless and protect you and the dear darling children.

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We are all under his protection.

     Love to Don and Charlie. I have not means to write more. You must show this letter to the girls, with my love. Good bye dear wife, darling Carrie.

     Love to Bertie and dear Rose. I hope to have many a good gallop with them on nice horses.    

Bye, bye, dearest.        

Yrs. Fletcher           

Fletcher Webster was the only surviving child of the famous Massachusetts Senator and orator, Daniel Webster. He organized the “Webster Regiment,” the 12th MA Infantry in 1861 at the age of 47. He was killed in action on the afternoon of August 30, 1862 at the Battle of 2nd Bull Run. Lt. Arthur Dehon, obtained a special pass from the C.S. authorities to recover the body of his dead colonel.

Webster’s knapsack, containing his last letter, was captured by members of the 11th VA Infantry, but was subsequently recaptured at Leesburg, VA about September 2nd. A quote from the letter was read at Webster’s state funeral in Boston on September 9th.

This letter is a copy, made by William Dehon ca. 1862, from the original in the possession of Caroline White Webster, Fletcher’s widow. Because the Marshfield home  of Mrs. Webster was destroyed by fire on Feb. 14, 1878 with the loss of her valuable papers, Dehon’s copy is believed to be the only surviving document.

For more information, see Blue & Gray Magazine, Vol. XIII No. 1, Fall 1995, pp. 20-27, for “Col. Fletcher’s Last Letter,” by Wiley Sword.