A Confederate Surgeon's Letters to His Wife
Originally published as A Confederate Soldier's Letters to His Wife
by Spencer Glasgow Welch, Surgeon
South Carolina 13th Infantry Regiment
Dr. Welch served as the surgeon for the South Carolina 13th Infantry Regiment. This regiment was a part of Gregg's, later MdGowan's brigade and consisted of the 12th, 13th and 14th South Carolina Infantry, and the 28th North Carolina Infantry Regiments. Following the reorginzation of the army in the spring of 1862, the brigade consisted of the 1st South Carolina volunteers, the 12th South Carolina volunteers, the 13th South Carolina volunteers, the 14th South Carolina volunteers, and Orr’s regiment of rifles, also from South Carolina.
Welch gives detailed accounts of the horrors he saw in the aftermath of the battles. From the regiment's first battle at Ellison's Mill he wrote:
On Sunday I was sent to Richmond to look after our sick and did not return until late yesterday afternoon. While there I had an opportunity to observe the shocking results of a battle, but, instead of increasing my horror of a battlefield, it made me more anxious than ever to be in a conflict and share its honors. To me every wounded man seemed covered with glory.
Our casualties were certainly very great, for every house which could be had was being filled with the wounded. Even the depots were being filled with them and they came pouring into the hospitals by wagon loads. Nearly all were covered with mud, as they had fought in a swamp most of the time and lay out all night after being wounded. Many of them were but slightly wounded, many others severely, large numbers mortally, and some would die on the road from the battlefield. In every direction the slightly wounded were seen with their arms in slings, their heads tied up, or limping about. One man appeared as if he had been entirely immersed in blood, yet he could walk. Those in the hospitals had received severe flesh wounds or had bones broken, or some vital part penetrated. They did not seem to suffer much and but few ever groaned, but they will suffer when the reaction takes place. I saw one little fellow whose thigh was broken. He was a mere child, but was very cheerful.
In the weeks leading up to Gettysburg, Welch's spirits are high as are the rest of the army:
We are in Yankeedom this time, for certain, and a beautiful and magnificent country it is too. Since we started we have traveled about fifteen miles a day, resting at night and drawing rations plentifully and regularly. We are about fifteen miles over the Pennsylvania and Maryland line and within seven miles of Chambersburg. We are resting to-day (Sunday) and will get to Harrisburg in three more days if we go there.
We hear nothing of Hooker’s army at all, but General Lee knows what he is about. This is certainly a grand move of his, and if any man can carry it out successfully he can, for he is cautious as well as bold.
We are taking everything we need—horses, cattle, sheep, flour, groceries and goods of all kinds, and making as clean a sweep as possible. The people seem frightened almost out of their senses. They are nearly all agricultural people and have everything in abundance that administers to comfort. I have never yet seen any country in such a high state of cultivation. Such wheat I never dreamed of, and so much of it! I noticed yesterday that scarcely a horse or cow was to be seen. The free negroes are all gone, as well as thousands of the white people. My servant, Wilson, says he "don’t like Pennsylvania at all," because he "sees no black folks."
His comments after the battle however, are quite an understatement:
You will see by this letter that we have gotten back into "Old Virginia" again. It seems that our invasion of the North did not prove successful. We fought a dreadful battle at Gettysburg, Pa. It was the greatest battle of the war. We drove the Yankees three miles from the battlefield to a long range of high hills, from which it was impossible to dislodge them. General Lee had to fall back to keep them from getting the advantage. My brother was not hurt in the battle. Milton Bossard, Captain Cromer, Buford Wallace, Mr. Daniel’s two sons and many others from Newberry were killed; but it is better for us all to be killed than conquered.
Dr. Welch survived the war, returning to Newberry where he served as a doctor for many years. The letters were compiled and edited by his daughter after his death.
Another fine first hand account exists for the service of the South Carolina 12th Infantry Regiment. "A History of a Brigade of South Carolinians" by J. F. J. Caldwell. Rosters of these units may be found in the Historical Sketch and Roster volumes for each regiment.