What the Private Saw: Antietam

What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters & Diaries of Oney Foster Sweet

What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters & Diaries of Oney Foster Sweet

On Sept. 25, 1861, Private Oney Foster Sweet wrote to his mother, Caroline Foster Sweet, from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He and his comrades in the 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery, Battery F, believed the war would be over in a few months, and they would be home by Christmas:

We live tip top, have peaches and cream and peach pie, etc. . . . I expect there will be some fighting near Washington soon and I want to be down there when they fight. . . . Do not worry about me, I will take care of myself. I think I shall like a soldier’s life first rate.

A year later, however, following the Battle of Antietam, he revealed a different mindset:

I went over the field after the fight and the dead and wounded lay so thick you could hardly step. Some had legs, arms, and heads torn off. Some groaning and breathing their last. I never want to see such a sight again and I hope I may never have the bullets fly so close to my head again. I have seen enough of war.

He did not know at the time that the war would last another two and a half years, that he would see that scene repeated many more times.

Confederate dead at Spotsylvania.

Confederate dead at Spotsylvania.


  • San Diego Civil War Round Table, October 21, 2015, 8 p.m.: Guest speaker: Larry Edwards, editor of What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters & Diaries of Oney Foster Sweet. Location: Palisades Presbyterian Church, 6301 Birchwood St, San Diego, CA 92120, in the Allied Gardens area.


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NCVC Follow Up – Your comments and Questions answered.

Originally posted on Survivors of Violent Loss:

Murder Survivor's Handbook: Real-life Stories, Tips & Resources         NCVC-2015 Follow-up

Thanks to so many of you for the support and encouragement we received on the work we are doing to help Survivors of Homicide and thanks to all of you who work with them as well.  By our continued commitment together we will increase what is available to such families.

This follow up letter is in response to the many requests and comments received.  

Your feedback is appreciated and I hope we have answered your questions below.

Some of your comments were:

I have come to many workshops and until now, they only told us what we did wrong. Thanks so much for helping me feel so much better with what I am doing.

I am responsible for funding in our state and we have six programs for homicide and so little resources.  I want  your book for our programs.

I have been working with folks for…

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Obits on True-Crime Writer Ann Rule Should Tell Whole Story

Noted true-crime writer Ann Rule has died. I cannot honestly say that I am not saddened by her passing. More of a sense of relief.

Even the New York Times ran an obit on her, as did the Seattle Times.

I empathize with the family’s sense of loss. At least Ann Rule died a natural death after living a full life, and her survivors don’t have to deal with the horror of homicide. But I have no sorrow for the woman herself. Not after the way she treated me and my family, and others that she wrote about.

Dare I Call It Murder? - A Memoir of Violent LossUltimately, she and her publisher became unrepentant opportunists, capitalizing on the misery of others, and, in the case of the deaths of my parents, Loren and Jody Edwards, with little regard for the facts.

I understand the unwritten rule of not speaking ill of the dead, but painting a rosy portrait of an author with documented factual errors in her so-called true-crime books does no service to the newspapers’ readers, or hers.

In my book, Dare I Call It Murder?, I documented many egregious errors and omissions in her account of my parents’ deaths.

Rick Swart documented errors in another of her books in his article, “Ann Rule’s Sloppy Storytelling,” published in the Seattle Weekly in 2011. Ann Rule sued Swart and the publication for defamation, but a Seattle court tossed out the lawsuit last year.


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‘Murder Survivor’s Handbook’ Author Connie Saindon to Speak at POMC Conference, NCVC Training Institute

Murder Survivor's Handbook: Real-life Stories, Tips & ResourcesConnie Saindon, author of “Murder Survivor’s Handbook,” will make presentations at the annual conferences of Parents of Murdered Children, and the National Center for Victims of Crime. She will discuss “Grief and Resiliency,” “Dealing with the Media,” and “Expanding Resources for Those Who Live and Work with Families Traumatized by Homicide.”

Learn more about her presentations and her books at:



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Tiny’s name added to Maine POMC Memorial Plaque

Originally posted on Survivors of Violent Loss:

A POMC (Parents of Murdered Children Chapter of Maine) event was held on June 28, 2015.  The day was a very cold rainy day.    You could see reflections of people in the stone with their raincoats and umbrellas. The event marked the adding of names for this year on the memorial plaque that was established last year in Maine POMC. Many were folks who lost someone many years ago and some with cold cases still.  Our sister, Shirley D. Rollins (Tiny) was among the names added thanks to sister Nina Hodgkins who has been working with POMC and all siblings for a year to have this happen.   It was especially meaningful to have everyone of her siblings in attendance, their spouses and several extended family members and friends. All of us coming from Virginia, Rhode Island, Florida and California and of course Maine.

I was asked to speak for the…

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Retired Librarian reviews Murder Survivors Handbook

Originally posted on Survivors of Violent Loss:

This is a difficult subject and Connie Saindon covers it carefully, with directness and compassion and a wealth of resources. Any family who is surviving the murder of a loved one will benefit from owning a copy of this book. It may need to be read in small doses, but comfort will be found in the shared experiences. Lots of stories from survivors–they are all different yet there is so much that is a common experience. I not only recommend this for counselors and families of survivors, but also for friends of those families. It provides so much insight and really provides some tools to help friends through the horror of murder. Very well done. I recommend it without reservation.

Mary L. Hazelton, Retired Librarian and book Reviewer






Connie Saindon


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‘The music commenced’— Gettysburg turns tide for Union army

One hundred and fifty-two years ago today, “the music commenced” at Gettysburg. The quoted phrase comes from Private Oney F. Sweet, who made reference to the artillery barrages that signaled the beginning of battle.

Confederate General Lee had marched his army from Virginia into Pennsylvania, and the Union forces made a counter move to cut him off. They collided at the small town of Gettysburg.

Sweet and his comrades in Ricketts’ Battery — Battery F of the 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery — were held in reserve that first day of battle. Sweet’s diary entry for July 1 leaves the impression that it was just another day.

Wednesday, July 1, 1863

A cloudy morning, but cleared off near noon. 12 o’clock and we are now in camp. Got two papers. We expected to march but did not.

The following day, his section was ordered into battle and positioned on East Cemetery Hill. His terse diary entries don’t tell the whole story:

Thursday, July 2, 1863

A warm and pleasant day. Marched to Gettysburg. Went into the fight about six o’clock and had a hard fight. Lost about twenty killed and wounded. Myron French, Riggin, Anderson, Miller killed. The Rebels charged on our Battery about dark, but were repulsed. Nead, Given and O. G. Larabee were taken prisoner.

Bodies of dead soldiers, Battle of Gettysburg, 1863.

Bodies of dead soldiers, Battle of Gettysburg, 1863.

Although Sweet doesn’t mention it, he was wounded in one leg and lost his hearing in one ear.

Years later, with the benefit of hindsight, he wrote retrospective pieces about what has become known as the bloodiest and deadliest battle of the U.S. Civil War. He was also quoted in a historical publication and a newspaper.

The History of Franklin and Cero Gordo Counties (Iowa, 1883) cites him as saying he saw twenty-three of his comrades fall around him in as many minutes.


Dead soldier, Battle of Gettysburg, 1863. (Library of Congress)

In a letter published in The National Tribune, April 29, 1909, Sweet wrote: “I pulled the lanyard for every shot from that gun.” In 1931, he told the Long Beach Press-Telegram, that his gun “fired 101 times” during the fighting on July 2.

He also wrote:

The music commenced. . . . If I remember thinking at all it was of mother at home.

The unwritten part of our war is greater than all that has been written. Two soldiers side by side in a hot place in our battles did not see the same things. The generals did not see what the privates saw.

A brigade of rebels known as the Louisiana Tigers had formed in a street of Gettysburg, marched to the edge of town and given that never to be forgotten yell “Yep, Yep, Yep.” The chief of artillery had ordered all the captains of batteries at this point to fight and man the guns as long as they could and make no effort to save the guns as our support, the infantry, in the Baltimore Pike would do the rest. When this racket commenced and our infantry was forced back through us we ceased shelling and prepared to give them grape and cannister.

The men at the Union batteries were outnumbered, but they clung to their guns, and with handspikes, rammers, fence rails, and stones, defended themselves, cheering each other on, and shouting, “Death on our own State soil, rather than give the enemy our guns.” (Bates, 1868)

The Louisiana Tigers, for the first time in the war, were turned back and forced to retreat. The following day the fighting continued until the Confederate army withdrew and returned to Virginia.

Sweet wrote in his diary:

Friday, July 3, 1863

A warm, pleasant day. Heavy fighting all day. Pryne and Christie wounded in the leg. The Rebs were repulsed at every point. General Longstreet wounded and taken prisoner. Very hard fighting all day.

In 1931, speaking to the Long Beach Press-Telegram, Oney F. Sweet summed up what, in hindsight, became the turning point of the war:

My first big fight was the second Battle of Bull Run, and there I showed the Johnnies I could beat them in a foot race. In fact, we seemed to make it a practice of running pretty nearly every time we came to grips with the rebels until Gettysburg. After, we didn’t run any more.

The deadly battle had ended, but the war dragged on for more than a year and a half.

In another retrospective piece written for the The National Tribune, Sweet commented on the historical renditions of the battle and the war:

I realize that to average youth, patriotic tho it may be, the historian has brought but dull statistics and hackneyed description. Of the hot-blooded young fellows who fell at my side in private uniforms, the [historians] know as a number killed, while I see again their tanned faces grow blanch and hear their dying cry of farewell to friends about. Of the more famous few, whom school books have pictured and orators have lauded, they may know as heroes, but not as men.

 The complete articles, along with Oney F. Sweet’s previously unpublished letters and diaries, have been recently published in What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters and Diaries of Oney Foster Sweet.

Through his words, we come to know him and his comrades not as heroes, but as men.

For information about the book, visit the official website: http://whattheprivatesaw.com.

You can read more excerpts and news about the book and related events at the book’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

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