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Chapter 23:

  • On to Maryland
  • -- Hays' and Starke's brigades return to Harper's Ferry -- battle of Sharpsburg -- the terrific struggle at the Dunker church -- valorous deeds of the Washington artillery -- Guard artillery -- Madison Tips.

Long and lusty was the shrill bugle-call—To Maryland—in September, 1862. The pursuit of the enemy by Lee's army in September, 1862, had resulted in the Louisianians with Jackson crossing the Potomac into the State of Maryland, moving first to Frederick City and the Monocacy, where the bridge was burned; from the Monocacy, back again into Virginia by a forced march to Harper's Ferry, a march worthy of ‘Stonewall's’ muscular ‘foot cavalry.’ Under Jackson's forcible, suasive method, the Ferry capitulated with 11,000 prisoners and supplies. The Second Louisiana brigade, under General Starke, was there, formed in a line ‘across a wooded ridge.’ There too, was Hays' brigade, in the division commanded by Gen. A. R. Lawton. On the morning of September 14th the white flag hoisted rendered fighting unnecessary. Harper's Ferry had surrendered.

On September 17th the armies met face to face at Sharpsburg, where Jackson, having left A. P. Hill attending to certain details of the bloodless surrender of Harper's Ferry, had joined Lee on the 16th, bringing hope with the sight of his dingy cap with the dingier visor hiding his brow.

The First brigade, under Gen. Harry T. Hays, who had joined it on the 15th, marched to Sharpsburg with Ewell's division, under Lawton; the Second brigade, under [238] General Starke, with the Stonewall division, under Gen. J. R. Jones. Hays' brigade was not 550 strong, and Starke's could not have been larger, for his division numbered but ,600. The two divisions were stationed in a line behind the Dunker church, before which Hood had already been in battle. As they marched the Louisianians were under the fire of the Federal batteries beyond the Antietam, and about dark the acting adjutantgen-eral of Starke's brigade, gallant Lieut. A. M. Gordon, of the Ninth regiment, was killed by a shell which cut off both his legs at the thigh.

During the night the Louisianians slept upon their arms, snatching brief rest between the outbreaks of musketry. At the first dawn of day skirmishing began in front, followed by a severe artillery fire. ‘About sunrise,’ Jackson reported, ‘the Federal infantry advanced in heavy force to the edge of the wood on the eastern side of the turnpike, driving in our skirmishers. Batteries were opened in front from the wood with shell and canister, and our troops became exposed for near an hour to a terrible storm of shell, canister and musketry. General Jones having been compelled to leave the field, the command of Jackson's division devolved on General Starke. With heroic spirit our lines advanced to the conflict, and maintained their position, in the face of superior numbers, with stubborn resolution, sometimes driving the enemy before them and sometimes compelled to fall back before their well-sustained and destructive fire. Fresh troops from time to time relieved the enemy's ranks, and the carnage on both sides was terrific.’

‘We had scarcely emerged from the woods in which we had rested during the night,’ said Col. Edmund Pendleton, of the Fifteenth, upon whom the command of Starke's brigade finally devolved, ‘when we found ourselves face to face with the enemy, heavily massed and within close musket range. Still, we charged forward in the face of a murderous fire, which thinned our ranks at [239] every step, until our progress was arrested by a lane, on either side of which was a high, staked fence stretching along our whole front, to pass which under the circumstances was an impossibility. The men, being formed along this fence, kept up an accurate and well-sustained fire, which visibly told upon the enemy's ranks; and though we suffered greatly, as well from musketry in front as from a battery on our left, which enfiladed us with grape and canister, still, not a man flinched from the conflict. ... It was in the early part of this engagement that our brave and chivalric leader, Brig.-Gen. W. E. Starke, loved and honored by every man under his command, fell pierced by three minie balls, and was carried from the field in a dying condition, surviving his wounds but an hour.’

Unsupported and about to be flanked, Colonel Stafford withdrew the brigade, reformed his line reinforced by other troops, again rushed upon the exultant enemy and drove him from the field, where he left hundreds dead and wounded and did not again venture during the day. Called out again to support a battery, Colonel Stafford, on account of a painful injury, turned over the command to Colonel Pendleton. Pendleton himself escaped serious hurt, though a spherical case-shot passed between his feet. Col. J. M. Williams, commanding the Second, and Lieutenant-Colonel Nolan, of the First, were badly wounded. Capt. H. D. Monier gallantly commanded the Tenth. Among the officers killed were Capt. R. Grigsby and Lieuts. R. P. Cates, H. Hobart, J. H. McBride, M. V. B. Swann, N. P. Henderson, S. T. Robinson and A. J. Alexander. The total loss of the brigade was 81 killed, 189 wounded and 17 missing, with no report from Coppens' battalion.

Hays' brigade fought with equal valor in this historic struggle of Jackson's corps about the Dunker church. Moving to the support of the Georgia brigade, he advanced with his heroic 500 beyond their line, firing as he [240] went. It was a step into the jaws of death. The enemy poured into his devoted ranks their musketry fire from the front, and on his flank several batteries opened a storm of shell. In a very short time over half his men were killed and wounded, and with the remnant he was compelled to retire, taking shelter with Hood's command. The Eighth suffered the heaviest loss, 103. The total casualties of the brigade were 10 officers killed and 46 wounded, 35 enlisted men killed and 243 wounded; total, 336. The officers killed were Lieut. Dwight Martin, aide-de-camp, Col. H. B. Strong, of the Sixth, Capts. A. M. Callaway, H. B. Ritchie, and E. McFarland, and Lieuts. N. A. Canfield, Robert Gerrold, M. Little, George Lynne, W. P. Newman, and B. F. Birdsell. No words could add to such a bloody record of valor.

Among the earliest participants in the battle were the Washington artillery, posted on a line just east of Sharpsburg, fronting the Antietam. During the afternoon of the 15th the Federal batteries appeared on the hills beyond the creek and opened fire with long-range guns, but Walton's guns were not able to make themselves felt at such a range. Next morning, the 16th, the enemy brought some batteries closer, and at 11 a m. an artillery duel began, lasting for forty minutes, when General Longstreet sent word to save the ammunition. Captain Squires' rifles were the only ones of the battalion engaged. Down in front and to the right of the battalion at Sharpsburg was the bridge to be known as Burnside's, guarded by Toombs, and there Richardson, with two Napoleons, that afternoon drove to cover the first threatening movement of the enemy.

On the morning of the 17th the Federal infantry appeared in front of Squires, posted at the east side of the village, and waiting till they came in effective range, disregarding the enemy's artillery, he drove the infantry from view by a concentrated fire. Now the Federals sent up a regiment against the obnoxious batteries. [241] Twice Squires drove them back. A third time, reinforced, the Federals advanced and were repulsed, and the fourth charge only resulted in heavier loss, for they came within range of Squires' canister. Lieutenant Owen, wounded, and Galbraith and Brown were worthy leaders of brave men in this defense of the Confederate center.

Captain Miller, with his four Napoleons, ordered to the left, was assigned to position by General Longstreet. It was a post of honor and danger, and soon, Lieutenant Hero having been wounded and Lieutenant McElroy having been detached to the right, Miller found himself the only officer with his company and barely enough men left to work a section. Two determined assaults by the enemy met with bloody repulse, and the third, thanks to the able assistance of Sergeant Ellis, in command of a section, suffered the same fate. ‘Too much praise,’ Walton reported, ‘cannot be bestowed on Captain Miller for his stubborn defense of the center for several hours; to Lieutenants Hero and McElroy, Sergeant Ellis and Artificers Bier and Dempsey. This part of the action was under the immediate eye of General Longstreet and his staff, who, when Captain Miller's cannoneers were exhausted, dismounted and assisted the working of the guns.’

Captain Richardson, played upon by three batteries, had one of his guns disabled and retired through the village, but soon righting himself went to the assistance of Toombs at the lower bridge. Later, he and Lieutenant Galbraith were engaged near Miller to nightfall, while Lieutenants Hawes and De Russy fought with Toombs. Lieut. J. D. Britton was wounded late in the evening. Burnside's bridge was a favorite field of activity with the Louisiana gunners that day.

About noon on the 17th Eshleman was sent to guard the ford below Burnside's bridge, and he made a gallant fight against great odds, with orders to hold the enemy in check until A. P. Hill came up. When a heavy column [242] crossing the fords on the extreme south of our line, threatened to carry disaster to that flank, Gen. D. H. Hill turned upon it three guns of Carter's battery and two of Donaldsonville artillery. ‘The firing was beautiful,’ said Hill, ‘and the Yankee columns, 1,200 yards distant, were routed by this artillery fire alone, unaided by musketry. This is the only instance I have ever known of infantry being broken by artillery fire at long range.’

The Louisiana Guard artillery, Captain D'Aquin, entered into the fight with the bubbling enthusiasm which so signally marked the members of every command that fought with Stonewall Jackson. ‘I belong to Jackson's corps,’ as a military vaunt, is quite as fine as that republican boast, egosum civis Romanus, uttered nineteen hundred years ago by a Roman, whether on the banks of the near Rhine or of the distant Jordan. Of all the Louisiana batteries, the Louisiana Guard artillery alone was attached to Stonewall's corps. The battery followed him through the second day of Chancellorsville. After his death the Guard remained equally faithful to Ewell and Early. Fidelity was a proven trait of the Guard. In the battle of the 17th the battery was supported by Captain McClellan's sharpshooters. The boys could see the whites of the enemy's eyes. There was a bold charge; but it was a brave repulse. In the afternoon the company, by a proceeding not set down in the programme, captured a 10-pounder Parrott gun, afterward known as the ‘D'Aquin's gun.’ Brave D'Aquin was fated not to own that gun long. His hand fell as he touched his gun for the last time hard by the Rappahannock.

Moody's Madison ‘Tips,’ with Col. Stephen D. Lee, were under fire on the 15th, north of the pike, before the village. Early on the 17th they were firing near the center, and about 9 o'clock were stationed at a point where other batteries had been cut to pieces. This was on the right of the Hagerstown pike. Hood, falling back, so mixed up with the enemy as to prevent the battery [243] from using its guns. S. D. Lee immediately advanced two of Moody's guns into a plowed field where he could best use them. The enemy's infantry was pouring a most galling fire upon the battery under Captain Moody and Lieut. J. B. Gorey. The ‘Tips’ doggedly retained their position until the infantry on their right and left melted away, when Lee ordered them to the rear. Lieutenant Gorey, while sighting a piece for the last discharge, was killed by a minie ball. In the afternoon, Moody, with four guns, fought with Squires before the village, repulsing many assaults; and two of the guns, with Garnett's brigade, drove the enemy from a ridge to the left of Sharpsburg. Captain Moody, Lieut. J. Sillers, Sergeants Conroy and Price, and Corporals Gaulin and Donoho were mentioned by Colonel Lee.

Like Inkerman, in the Crimea, Sharpsburg on the Antietam was emphatically the battle of the privates. Like Inkerman, too, a fatality seemed to follow the field officers. The report of General Hays remarked, ‘The terrible loss among the officers evinces with what fidelity they discharged their duties;’ Colonel Pendleton said, ‘It is a noteworthy fact that not a single field officer in the brigade who was on duty that day escaped untouched.’ [244]

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