Through ‘help of the Lord’

After a battle that history remembers, Cordello Collins writes to parents to tell them he’s alive

Photo from the Library of Congress/Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton Above, a photo taken in the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam. Collins describes walking through a portion of the battlefield in a letter home.

After the Peninsula Campaign, Collins and the rest of the Bucktails were transferred from the Army of the Potomac to the Army of Virginia.

They fought at the Second Battle of Bull Run, which went about as well for the Union as the first one had. A resounding Confederate victory, Collins writes home a few days after the battle. The three battles he mentions are likely Gainesville, Groveton and Bull Run.

Camp Bucktails 17

Sept 4 /62

Dear Mother

The monument to the regiment on the southern end of the Gettysburg Battlefield.

I recived a letter from you last night. I was glad to hear from you and to hear your health was so good. My health is midling good. We have had hard times lately. For about 2 weeks we have had to march every day hard and had 3 fights. Fought three battles in the time. Last thirsday friday and Saturday all day hard. We had 1 days ration of food to last the 3 days. I was the nearist dun out then that I ever was. I could hardly stand a lone but I had to keep a going. I hant got over it yet. You can see that by my writing. I hant but a time to write now. I will write soon and let you know all the perticlers. I came through the fights safe and sound. We have got new guns, the Sharps rifles, the best guns out. Lods (loads) in the brich (breach) and caps its self. I can load in 5 seconds and keep it up. Tell me if you have got the $12 dollars from Warren lately since you got the 57 dollars. Now I will close.

Your dear sun


PS tell Phebe I greately thank her for the Warren Mail.

(This letter is undated but accompanied letter of Sept. 4, 1862)

Dear Friend Susan

I received the letter you wrote to me with the greatest of plesure. I was very glad to hear from home and from my nabors. We are now on Arlington hights near Washington. It is very likely we will stay here and recrute up again.

We have had some very hard fighting on the same old battle ground at Bulls run. The rebels flanked us and wehad to fall back but we whiped them in frunt and was driving them when the order came to fall back.

I was in 3 different battles there. We drove them every time tho there. But Mcdowel let them flank us so we had to fall back to the rear. It is very hard work for me to write now for I am tired and nervis and have to write on my knees and set on the ground. So I will clos. Write soon.

From your Friend

Cordello Collins

To Susen English

With my pen I write the same

Cordello Collins is my name

The pen is blind and couldent see

So blaime the pen and dont blame me.

With the debacle of Second Bull Run in their rear view mirror, Collins — and his regiment — was transferred back to the Army of the Potomac and assigned to the Fifth Corps.

At about the same time, Lee launched his first invasion of the north. The campaign had several possible objectives — bring Union leaders (i.e. President Lincoln) to the peace table if a victory could be secured, shift the fighting out of war-ravaged Virginia (it takes A LOT of resources to supply an army of 80,000-100,000, let alone two of them), and potentially bring additional Confederates in Maryland into the fold of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Ultimately, the only objective that you could argue was achieved was the second –and that was for just a period of weeks.

But Collins couldn’t have known that as Union forces marched after Lee, maintaining position between Lee’s army and the capital at Washington, D.C.

As he writes, his regiment’s first engagement in the campaign that resulted in the Battle of Antietam — the war’s bloodiest single day — was on September 16.

According to, the regiment was involved in heavy skirmishing after crossing Antietam Creek in an engagement that killed the regiment’s commander — Col. Hugh McNeil, the first officer to die in the Battle of Antietam.

The battle that history remembers — and that resulted in 23,000 combined casulaties in one day of fighting — took place the next day, September 17.

Collins and the Fifth Corps were largely held in reserve.

Camp Bucktails

Sept 22 1862

Dear pearants

I now take my pen in hand to inform you that I am yet a live and well.

We have seen 3 days more of hard fighting. 4 killed out of our Co. D. Sargent Trask private Cob and Henry Glasier from Corydon is dead and Stewart. And 7 wounded, Nelt Gear in the Right brest mortely (mortally). The 14 day we comence fighting on South hill (mountain).The rebel ocupide the side of the behind rocks and Stone walls while we took the flat. But we chaised them over the mounting and slauted (slaughtered) them big. There 1 was killed 3 wounded of our Co D.

The 15th we laid over. The 16 fought again: 3 killed and 4 wounded of our Co. The 17 none hurt of our Co. William Kibby was killed from Kinzua. Steven Harris is wounded in the hand. He is in the Regment. Our Regt lost more men in this battle than we ever did at once before.

Alass and we lost our Col. McNeil. The 16 he was shot through the hart. We hant got but 2 captins in our regt. One of them act as Col.

Oh Dear parents we day before yesterday we came a cross a part of the battle field where the dead laid so thick a man could step from one to a nother without eny trouble at all. Some places they laid a cross each other and they was swelled so they looked more like some kind of wild brutes than men and black as (African Americans). Oh how horable it did look. Some shot in the head in the boddy. Some both lages of lost up and some mangel in the most horabel maner that can be thought. They was mostly secesh (secessionists or Southern soldiers).

But we want in that fight there. Our Regt has the best guns in the U.S. Brich (breach) loders and self capers.

All the kinds of fish we could catch this summer was catfish bass sunfish eels herrins and perch.

Tell me where Leeorren Labree is and how to write to him. Tell me if you got the last $12 I sent to you.

I will now close by abserving that it is through the help of the Lord that I yet live. Write soon.

Your sun

Cordello Collins


is 25 cents