1861 Ball's Bluff Flag










The Twentieth [Mass.] has shrunk to a skeleton, a ghost, a memory, a forgotten name which we other old men keep in our hearts.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes, Memorial Day Address, 1895

We have not got credit for what we did. We never do. No matter. History will show, and the Official Accounts will prove all.

--Henry Ropes to John C. Ropes, July 11, 1862.

Lt. Henry Ropes was killed by friendly fire at Gettysburg, so he did not live to see the strange, and still unfolding, fulfillment of his prophecy. Although praised by army brass and possessing, in Henry's brother John, one of the war's notable early historians, the 20th MA did not receive the full "official" encomiums its record rightly deserved. Instead, it has been through the private papers of several of its young officers that the 20th Massachusetts' claim to prominence has gained credence over the years. A growing awareness of the Twentieth's role as a major player in nearly every battle fought by the Army of the Potomac, is leading to journal articles, academic research, and presentations in new media--such as this web site, possibly a browser MMORPG or two, and other blogs--which will ensure that Henry Ropes' faith in history was indeed well-placed.

· Regimental History

· Letters of Important 20s

· Nantucket's Contribution

· Recent Journal Articles

· In Memoria

· US Army War College Web listing of 20th Mass. materials



George A. Bruce, The Twentieth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry 1861-1865 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1906; reprint Baltimore: Butternut and Blue, 1988)

"Dear Sirs, I send you today the last sheets of the history ready for publication. You know how unwilling I was to take up a task that naturally belonged to others and not to me. I was not only a stranger to the regiment, but, though serving in the same army, never even saw it." Thus wrote George Anson Bruce to the Officers' Association of the Twentieth Massachusetts Regiment, which had chosen him to finally complete a publishable history of the 20th MA. The resulting history (which includes Bruce's letter in its Preface) is better than this disclaimer forewarned, but as historian Robert Garth Scott states in the "Bibliographic Essay" to Fallen Leaves [see below], "A new history of the 20th Massachusetts is sorely needed."  Thankfully, Mr. Scott’s plea has been answered.

Harvard’s Civil War: The History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry


Robert Garth Scott, ed., Fallen Leaves: The Civil War Letters of Major Henry Livermore Abbott (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1991)

Almost 'before the ink was dry,' this book was being hailed as one of the Top 100 Civil War books of all time. Drawn from the collection of Abbott letters at the Houghton Library, Harvard, Fallen Leaves is the single best introduction to the ethos of the 20th MA, as it was laid down and lived out by one of the finest young officers in the Union army.

Mark DeWolfe Howe, ed., Touched with Fire: Civil War Letters and Diary of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1946)

Unlike Abbott, who had no chance to choose which letters history would know him by, Oliver Wendell Holmes lived into the 1930s and carefully 'edited-by-fire' his personal papers. As a result this volume, based on Holmes' wartime correspondence held by Harvard, is not as robust as Fallen Leaves. It is, however, a fascinating glimpse into the mind of the young Holmes, whose experiences with the Twentieth were seminal to a distinguished life.

Martha Derby Perry, comp., Letters from a Surgeon of the Civil War (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1906)

John Perry joined the 20 MA in 1863, after working as a contract surgeon with Union Army. This volume of materials "compiled" by his wife, provides a fascinating look at the experiences of a regimental surgeon, with much important information about the 20 MA in 1863-64. Many excerpts from this book have been reprinted in Robert E. Denney's Civil War Medicine: Care and Comfort of the Wounded (1994).

John C. Grey and John C. Ropes, War Letters 1862-1865 of John Chipman Grey and John Codman Ropes (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1927.) 


Richard F. Miller and Robert F. Mooney, The Civil War: The Nantucket Experience (Nantucket: Wesco Publishing, 1994).

The impact of the War on a small town and its people. More Nantucket men -eighty- served in Company I of the 20th than any other single regiment, and the anxieties of Nantucketers during the war years rested with the fate of the 20th Massachusetts. Brevet Major General George Nelson Macy was the most famous son of Nantucket to serve in the Harvard Regiment. This book also contains the memoirs of Josiah Fitch Murphy, who was shot in the face during the 20th's legendary street fighting in Fredericksburg, and lived until age 88. 


 Robert Dame, "Oliver Wendell Holmes: The Man Who Was Touched By Fire(America's Civil War,   March 2001 issue)

Anthony J. Milano, "Letters from the Harvard Regiments: The Story of the 2nd and 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiments from 1861 through 1863 as told by the letters of their Officers" (Civil War: The Magazine of the Civil War Society, Vol. XIII, pp. 15-73)

Anthony J. Milano, "The Copperhead Regiment: The 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry" (Civil War Regiments: A Journal of the American Civil War, Vol. 3, No. 1)

Richard F. Miller and Robert F. Mooney, "Across the River and Into the Streets: The 20th Massachusetts Infantry and the Street Fight for Fredericksburg" (Civil War Regiments: A Journal of the American Civil War, Vol. 4, No. 4)

Thomas E. Rice, "The Bright and Particular Star-The Life of Henry Abbott" Civil War Times Illustrated (May 1987).


The following works provide biographical information (plus rich Victorian eulogies) for the various fallen officers of the 20th Massachusetts. 

Memorial of Paul Joseph Revere and Edward H.R. Revere (privately printed, 1874).


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