David Parsons Chamberlin was born on November 12, 1825 in Genesee County, New York, the son of Nathaniel Chamberlin and his wife, Mary Knapp, who died when David was fourteen years old. David eventually moved to Hudson, Michigan, where was a practicing physician at the time he entered the service as an Assistant Surgeon in the Fourth Michigan Infantry on June 20, 1861. He was commissioned to the date of May 16, 1861 and eventually commissioned as Surgeon in the regiment on August 12, 1862. David resigned and was honorably discharged for disability on March 3, 1863. After the war, Dr. Chamberlin continued to be very popular among his comrades and was highly esteemed in the various events and reunions held by the men of the Fourth Michigan Infantry until his death on August 23, 1900, in Toledo, Ohio.
The following letter is shared through the courtesy of the Burton Collection in the Detroit Public Library.
Camp of the 4th Mich. Vol.
Near Sharpsburg, Md.
October 13th 1862
Dr. Sir, I do not know as I shall be able to interest you, but knowing the interest you have always felt in the Old 4th Reg., I conclude to write you a few lines in relation to our condition, prospects, etc.. Well Sir, we are here near the Potomac River, about 10 miles above Harper’s Ferry.
Shephardstown is opposite us in Va.. We have been here since the next day but one, after the great battle of Antietam. We were in reserve, & did not come into the fight on that day. And it was to us, something of a novelty, to be near a battle & not be in the front rank. The location of the country is such, that we had a fair view of a part of the battlefield [and] could see the masses of troops rushing to the encounter, with the falling ones making the fields speckled with their prostrate forms. The Rebs had a fine position, & we had to assail them to a great disadvantage to ourselves. But the men felt confidence in their commander and what “Little Mac” tells the men to do, will be done if in the range of possibilities. The carnage was terrible. You have undoubtedly seen some accounts of “our going across the river & taking some guns and prisoners.2 One acct. gives us credit for more than we [had] done, while others much less. The facts are about as follows. The big battle was on Sept. 17th. On the 19th, we moved down to the river, hurrying up, and taking some guns & prisoners from the rear of the Reb column. This was in the fore part of the day. Towards night, Brig. Gen. Griffin3, who by the way is [a] restless fellow, was anxious to go over & see what was over there. Gen. Porter4 told him [that] it would be death for a regt. to do so, but he finally got permission. He came and took our Reg. and a few of Berdan’s Sharpshooters who worked their way down to the river, all the time under a heavy fire from the Rebs. They waited until about dusk, when they plunged in, a few of the sharpshooters going with them, no other regts., or parts of regiments, being there.
The ford is about 50 rods wide [with] water from 1 to 3 feet deep [and] some much deeper, [with the] water running quite swift. On the Va. side is a bluff, 60 to 80 ft. high. On this were stationed some six guns, which were pouring into our boys, grape & canister. Also, some infantry & sharps-shooters [were there as well]. But the boys had a reputation for wading and swimming into battle, and disliked to lose it, so no man faltered, and through they went, yelling and cheering, like a band of wild Indians. The other side gained the bluff taken, but [the] Secesh had commenced to run by the time the boys struck the shore and by the time they had gained the bluff, were all gone, taking all but one gun back out of sight, it being now nearly dark. The gun left was a 12 pound brass piece & we dumped it down the bluff. The Regt. threw out skirmishers and took three cavalry men & one aid to a General. [The boys] stayed, looking around [for] awhile & came back. At daybreak [the] next morning they went back & found 4 more guns & brought them over. After this there was sent over Martingdale’s Brigade5 & others, who got into the fight, which got mixed up with our part of the transaction. Our loss [was] one man killed6, five wounded, including Capt. Gordon [of] Co. I, who by the way, is getting well very fast, as is all the others. The Regt. is in good health & in good fighting trim. Recruits [are] coming in slowly. Here let me caution you in Detroit. There was sent from there, a man by the name of N. O. Pierce7, who has the syphilis bad, [and] has not done one hours duty, nor will he be able to in six months. He pockets your bounty, comes here, goes into a U. S. Hospital, is cured by care and attention in from 3 to 6 months, draws his pay, clothing, etc., and really makes a good thing of it. I felt very much like wringing his neck for him when I found out his case. He says he was examined by the surgeon of the 17th Mich. [Infantry]. Be sure [that] all [of] your recruits are well examined before they get their bounty. My paper is nearly gone & I must close. Give my regards to Mrs. Hinchman & any who may inquire for me. Capt. C.8 I presume, is in the field. May success attend him.
Sergt. Maltz9 is here & tough as a brick. [Please] overlook the mistakes & believe me, [I am] most truly yours,
D. P. Chamberlin
Surg. 4th Mich. Vol.
1 This letter is addressed to Theodore H. Hinchman, of T. H. Hinchman and Sons, a large drug firm in Detroit, Michigan. The firm was originally began by Marshall Chapin, the father of Marshall W. Chapin of Co. I of the Fourth Michigan Infantry, in 1819. Theodore Hinchman began working for Chapin in 1836 and took over the business in 1848.
2 This in reference to the Fourth Michigan’s part in the “skirmish” at Shepardstown Ford, Virginia on September 19th and 20th, 1862.
3 Brigadier General Charles Griffin, was a Brigade commander in General Fitz John Porter’s Fifth Corps
4 General Fitz John Porter was in command of the Fifth Corps of the Army of the Potomac at this time.
5 This is in reference to the brigade that had served under General John Henry Martindale
6 Private Luman Buck was killed by an artillery shell to the head while crossing the river at Shephardston on September 19, 1862. His body is buried at Antietam National Cemetery.
7 Private Normon O. Pierce enlisted in Company I of the Fourth Michigan Infantry on July 25, 1862 at Detroit, Michigan. He was discharged for disability nine days after this letter was written, on October 22, 1862 at Sharpsburg, Maryland.
8 Captain Marshall W. Chapin of Company I of the Fourth Michigan Infantry had just resigned on September 1, 1862 in order to serve as the new Colonel of the Twenty-Third Michigan Infantry
9 Sergeant George Maltz of Company of Company I, Fourth Michigan Infantry.