Two weeks after licking their wounds from the mauling they encountered at Second Bull Run, which had left more than half the Regiment who fought there either dead or wounded, the 18th Massachusetts entered Maryland through a portal at Rockville on September 13, 1862. Four days later they and the rest of the Fifth Corps would be mere spectators to a carnival of death that raged along the seemingly placid waters of Antietam Creek. But Plymouth and Norfolk County blood would flow again, when on the 20th of September the 18th briefly touched the soles of their brogans on the "Sacred Soil" at Shepherdstown, where fifteen of their numbers would fall, before they waded back across the Potomac.
For the rest of month and on into late October, when temperatures and spirits began to drop, they stood picket and in the absence of tents were exposed to the elements round the clock, covering themselves with woolen and rubber blankets when they closed their eyes in the night, alternately slumbering in fitful and restless sleep. Stationary for far too long, the rumblings of discontent surfaced. McClellan's oft cited brilliance began to tarnish in the eyes of many in the ranks, for what was an army's purpose if not to fight.
Movement came at last on October 30th when the 18th was told to pack up and fall in, little knowing it was the beginning of a rendezvous with destiny at Fredericksburg. Herein follows four comparative accounts of men on the march, each with eyes wide open to the same exact surroundings.
Diary of Corp. Harrison O. Thomas, Co. D, dated October 31, 1862
[Friday] 31st – After lunching from rations in haversacks, and making coffee, marched to the Maryland side of Harper’s ferry and cross the Potomac into town on the pontoon bridge, passing on across the Shenandoah to the valley about four miles from the place. Moved very slowly, on account of Army trains in our front. I have always had a strong desire to visit this region, and I might devote pages to the description of the interesting scenery, natural fortifications, etc., in this vicinity.
Letter from Capt. Joseph W. Collingwood, Co. H, to his wife Rebecca
Camp at Snickers Gap, Va Nov 4th 1862
My Dear Wife,
Once more on the sacred soil of Va and now I must tell you how we got here. Last Thursday night I recieved [sic] notice [while on Provost Guard duty at Keedysville, MD] that our Corps had marched for Berlin. So I comenced [sic] packing up and started early Friday morning, arrived at Berlin at 4 PM and bivouaced [sic] for the night. In the morning I ascertained that the troops had crossed the river at Harpers Ferry, so we started again after breakfast, crossed the Ferry (a wild looking place it is) and at 3 PM joined our Regt. some 3 miles in advance encamped between the mountains.
Letter from Corp. Richard H. Holmes, Co. D
Camp of the 18th Mass Regt., November 10, 1862
Near Warrenton, Virginia
I received your kind letter of the third day before yesterday. We left Sharpsburg October 30 at sunset, and arrived at Maryland Heights at about 10 o’clock in the evening, where we remained during the night. The next morning we started on again, crossing the Potomac at Harpers Ferry, we went on beyond the ferry about four miles, and camped for the night.
Letter from Pvt. Thomas H. Mann, Co. I, in camp near Snickersville Gap, Va. Nov. 5th 
Friday morning we took up the line of march for Harpers Ferry. We were soon among the mountains that I so much love. At times we climbed steep ascents and then filed round almost at the mountain's top where the road was hewn from solid rock, a precipice below and above the rock overhanging us, the road barely wide enough for five men to walk abreast. Soon we would descend the mountainside by a winding road graded as much as possible yet in some places steep enough for one to roll down. We passed large quarries where building stone was blasted and hewn out, the stone being of a bluish color with the same grain as limestone. There was also soapstone quarries where many of our slate pencils come from, the best kind.
We reached Harpers Ferry soon after noon coming upon or rather descending upon it rather unexpectedly. I had wished to see Harpers Ferry but ideas of the place were more than realized. As I said we came upon it suddenly, that is we descended from Maryland Heights a winding road. steep within some places high overhanging rocks on either side, and came upon the river through almost an aron like entering a barrel through the bunghole. If you remember the village is on the Va. side of the river. We marched a half mile along the river bank, the ever perpetual rock towering 300 feet above our heads and in some places hanging over us. The village is entirely out of sight of the world situated on the point of land formed by the Potomac and Shenendore [sic] rivers. The bridge had been destroyed by the rebels and we had to cross by means of a pontoon bridge into the village. I saw the depot where John Brown, the celebrated, fought and the old arsenal or rather the remains of it. We marched through the place and crossed the Shenendore upon a pontoon, then marched down the Potomac nearly a mile and finally turned abruptly to the right. We left the place as we came with the exception that we are now on the sacred soil instead of "My Maryland."