Apr 13, 2023 - Sale 2633

Sale 2633 - Lot 59

Estimate: $ 700 - $ 1,000
(CIVIL WAR--MASSACHUSETTS.) Robert Cowdin. The leader of the 1st Massachusetts Infantry recounts its heroic service. Autograph Letter Signed to his brother. 4 pages, 8 x 5 inches, on one folding sheet; mailing folds, ink blots, minimal wear. Fort Lyons, VA, 11 September 1862

Additional Details

Robert Cowdin (1805-1874) served as the colonel of the 1st Massachusetts Infantry, part of the last Union brigade to leave the field at Bull Run, and then in heavy fighting in the Peninsular and Northern Virginia Campaigns. This letter was apparently responding to reports that he had been injured in the 1 September 1862 Battle of Chantilly. He discusses at length "the trials, and great amount of duty that my Reg has had to perform": "My Reg has been in more engagements, I think I can safely say, than any other one, and I have led every time. Men have fallen on my right and on my left, before and behind, and I have gone clean until the last when I had a reminder. The ball passed through my coat and under clothing, striking my left side, making a mark about two inches long, feeling like a streak of fire. The wound was very slight. I did not intend it should be made publick, but got out by some means."

He adds that "the Mass 1st Reg has never yet retreated exepted when ordered by my superior officer. If a Reg is wanted for any dangerous position, send for the 1st and we always go. If there is a picket to advance, or a fort to be held, or a charge to be made, Col. Cowdin with the First Mass is sent for."

On Army politics: "I stand well with Gen. Hooker, but Gen. Grover is jealous of me, and I don't think he likes me. I will refer you to Brig. Gen. Neagle of Phil. who had command a long time, to Brig. Gen. Sickels, to Col. G. Marston 2nd H.N. Reg a member of Congress, to Gen. Heinselman comanding the Third Army Core. . . . You may ask what they think of Col. Cowdin and his Reg. The last battle I went into, I lead 194 men. 78 were either killed, wound or missing . . . no other reg. can show such a record because they have retreated without orders and I never have. . . . It seems that the government don't want officers who stick to their business." Cowdin was apparently better at fighting than military politics. Soon after this letter, he was promoted to Brigadier General and posted to garrison duty near Washington. However, the promotion was never confirmed by Congress, his position reverted to colonel, and he resigned in disgust.

With--another earlier letter from son Robert J. Cowdin to his uncle, also discussing Colonel Cowdin's political troubles: "Major Chandler of father's regiment, who is a nephew of Governor Andrew, is around bragging that . . . father will not even be nominated for brigadier general. . . . They may have poisoned the president's ear with false stories about him. . . . General McClellan promised General Hooker, who commands the division, that whoever he (Gen. H) recommended, should be nominated." One page, 8 x 8 inches, torn with slight loss of text, separations at folds. Doncaster [MD?], 4 December 1861.