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The battle of Sharpsburg. [from the Norfolk Landmark]

To the Editor of the Landmark :
Sir—Having observed with great interest the attack upon the accuracy of the statement of General Fitz Lee concerning the strength of the Confederate army at Sharpsburg, made by certain of his critics, I respectfully ask the privilege of the use of your columns for the following contribution to the discussion of this subject.

Let it be borne in mind that what we seek to ascertain is the number [268] of troops actually engaged in the Battle of Sharpsburg; and if this can be established by contemporaneous, documentary evidence, it is unnecessary to attempt a conjectural estimate of numbers based upon returns of the army made at some time previous or subsequent to the date of the battle, although, to those cognizant of all of the facts, there is no difficulty in harmonizing the results of the two methods.

For a correct understanding of the matter, it is necessary to consider briefly the interesting events of the week immediately preceding the engagement.

On September the 9th the army of General Lee was well in hand near Frederick City, Md.; his purpose was not yet fully developed to the enemy. The Federal authorities at Washington were fearful lest his advance into Maryland was but a feint to cover his real purpose of attacking the Capital. This uncertainty and the necessity for covering that city and Baltimore caused General McClellan to advance very cautiously and slowly.

Quite a large Federal force, between twelve and thirteen thousand men, was at and near Harper's Ferry, Virginia. This force seriously threatened General Lee's line of communication by the Shenandoah Valley and it was essential to the success of his plans to be rid of it. Relying on a continuation of the cautious tactics of his opponent, he determined to detach a force sufficient to reduce Harper's Ferry, and drive away or capture the troops about there, confident of his ability to do this, and then reunite his forces in time to meet General McClellan.

The order for this movement was issued on the 9th of September, and was put into execution on the next day. General Jackson, with his own division and those of A. P. Hill and Ewell, moved directly upon Harper's Ferry; General McLaws, with his division and that of General R. H. Anderson, was ordered to occupy the Maryland heights, on the north side of the Potomac river overlooking Harper's Ferry. General Walker with his division of two brigades, was directed to take possession of Loudoun heights, on the Virginia side, also overlooking Harper's Ferry. These three columns were to cooperate against the enemy at Harper's Ferry. General Longstreet, with his command, embracing six brigades under D. R. Jones, Hood's two brigades and Evans' brigade, was ordered to move to Boonsborough and halt. General D. H. Hill, with his division, was made the rear guard, and ordered to follow General Longstreet.

It was not until the afternoon of the 14th of September that the [269] three bodies of troops co-operating against Harper's Ferry were in their respective positions and ready for operations.

On the 15th, after a brief engagement, the garrison at Harper's Ferry surrendered.

Meanwhile, on September 13th, General McClellan had reached Frederick, and it was there, by a strange accident, constituting one of the pivots upon which the result of the war seemed to turn, that he came into possession of a copy of General Lee's order, and was so made aware of the division of our army and of the comparatively small force that confronted him. His movements, so very slow up to this time, were greatly accelerated. In his report he says, ‘Upon learning the contents of this order, I at once gave orders for vigorous pursuit.’

General Longstreet, with nine brigades, was now at Hagerstown, and General D. H. Hill, with five brigades, was at Boonsborough guarding the pass through South Mountain and immediately confronting the Federal army. General McClellan moved promptly on the morning of September 14th to force a passage here, and sent Franklin's Corps to intercept the movements of General McLaws, whose position, until the capture of Harper's Ferry, was one of great peril.

According to General D. H. Hill's official report, the strength of his division at this time was less than 5,000 men. For six or seven hours this force at South Mountain pass resisted the assaults of two corps of General McClellan's army. At about 3 o'clock P. M. General Hill was re-enforced by the brigades of Drayton and Anderson, and later in the day he was joined by General Longstreet, with the brigades of Pickett, Kemper, Jenkins, Hood, Whiting and Evans; only four of these, however, numbering about 3,000 men, became seriously engaged. Thus it will be seen that a force of less than 10,000 men resisted the assaults of two corps of the Federal army and held General McClellan in check for an entire day. General McClellan in his report states that he had 30,000 men in this encounter.

While General Hill was thus hotly engaged at Boonsborough pass, General McLaws was being pressed at Crampton Gap by General Franklin, in command of the force sent by General McClellan to overwhelm him and prevent his rejoining General Lee. The commands engaged in these encounters with the enemy were, of course, seriously reduced. [270]

On the 15th of September General Lee had withdrawn the commands of Longstreet and D. H. Hill to Sharpsburg. On the same day, as soon as practicable after the capture of Harper's Ferry, General Jackson, with his division and Ewell's, began the march to rejoin General Lee. He left General A. P. Hill with his division at Harper's Ferry to take charge of the captured property and to parole the prisoners. General Walker, with his two brigades, followed General Jackson. General McLaws was enabled by the capture of Harper's Ferry to escape from the trap prepared for him, for he crossed the river and proceeded at once to rejoin General Lee by moving up the south bank of the Potomac. General Jackson, with his two divisions and Walker's, reported to General Lee on the afternoon of the 16th of September. General McLaws reached Sharpsburg in the forenoon of the 17th.

General A. P. Hill, with his division—except Thomas' Brigade, left in charge of Harper's Ferry—did not start to rejoin General Lee until the morning of the 17th. He made a forced march to Sharpsburg, seventeen miles distant, having to cross the Potomac river, reached the battlefield in the afternoon and went immediately into action.

I have given this review of the division and subsequent concentration of General Lee's army in order that the condition of the several commands that participated in the battle may be properly understood. In his official report General Lee says: ‘The arduous service in which our troops had been engaged, their great privation of rest and food, and the long marches without shoes over mountain roads, had greatly reduced our ranks before the action began.’

The infantry under General Lee at Sharpsburg embraced the following:

Jackson's command—J. R. Jones' division of four brigades and Ewell's division of four brigades (under Lawton, until wounded, and then Early).

Longstreet's command—D. R. Jones' division of six brigades, Hood's division of two brigades and Evans' (unassigned) brigade, D. H. Hill's division of five brigades, R. H. Anderson's division of six brigades. A. P. Hill's division of five brigades (this other brigade was at Harper's Ferry), McLaws' division of four brigades and J. G. Walker's division of two brigades.

I will now state the strength of these several commands on the 17th day of September, as given in the official reports of their respective commanders. [271]

General J. R. Jones says: ‘I found the division at this time very much reduced in numbers by the recent severe battles and the long and wearisome marches. * * * The division not numbering over 1,600 men at the beginning of the fight.’

General Early says: ‘Lawton's brigade had sustained a loss (in this battle) of 554 killed and wounded, out of 1,150; Hay's brigade had sustained a loss of 323 out of 550. Including every regimental commander and all his staff, Trimble's brigade, under Walker, had sustained a loss of 228 out of less than 700 present, including three out of four regimental commanders.’ The casualties in his own brigade are not specifically given, but he further says: ‘The loss of the division at Sharpsburg alone was 199 killed, 1,115 wounded and 38 missing, being an aggregate loss of 1,352 out of less than 3,500 with which it went into that action.’

General D. R. Jones says of his division: ‘When it is known that on moving my entire command of six brigades, comprised only 2,430 men, the enormous disparity of force with which I contended can be seen.’ The strength of General Hood's division at the commencement of the campaign was 3,852 (see return of July 20, 1862). His official report gives the loss of the division in the encounters with the enemy previous to the battle of Sharpsburg as 972. This would make his strength in that battle 2,880, making no allowance for straggling. General Evans states that his brigade numbered 2,200 effective at the opening of the campaign, and reports his loss in the battles about Manassas at 631; his brigade was also engaged at South Mountain and could not have exceeded 1,500.

General D. H. Hill says: ‘My ranks had been diminished by some additional straggling, and the morning of the 17th I had but 3,000 infantry.’ * * ‘In the meantime, General R. H. Anderson reported to me with some 3,000 or 4,000 men.’

General A. P. Hill's command consisted of the brigades of Branch, Gregg, Archer, Pender, and Brockenborough. He states the strength of the first three at 2,000. The other two were smaller, but allowing the average, say of 700, for each and we have for the division a total effective of 3,400.

General McLaws reports in detail the effective strength of his four brigades carried into action as 2,893.

General J. G. Walker, who commanded his own and Ransom's Brigades, does not report his strength. General Ransom puts his effective strength at 1,600, and I have his authority for saying that [272] his brigade was larger than Walker's, making the strength of this division less than 3,200.

With the exception of the brigade last mentioned and the two brigades of A. P. Hill's Division, which are estimated, the following recapitulation is established upon indisputable and contemporaneous authority, being nothing less than the testimony of the commanding officers, as shown by their official reports made immediately after the battle:

Jackson's Command,5,000
Longstreet's Command,6,812
D. H. Hill's Division,3,000
R. H. Anderson's Division,4,000
A. P. Hill's Division,3,400
McLaws' Division,2,893
J. G. Walker's Division,3,200
Total effective infantry,28,305

The cavalry and artillery have been generally estimated at 8,000. They certainly did not exceed this. The returns of the Army of Northern Virginia for October 10th, 1862, shows an effective force of these two arms of the service of 7,870 men.

The figures given above can be verified by reference to the official reports of the operations of the Army of Northern Virginia, published by authority of the Congress of the Confederate States and also contained in the records of the Union and Confederate armies. Series I, Vol. XIX, Part I.

It is an abandonment of the argument to contend that the ranking officers in General Lee's army made their reports without knowledge of such important facts, and it would be a suggestion unworthy of notice to intimate that such men, in such a matter, would make any statement that was not true. In the one case, it would be a reflection upon their intelligence; and in the other, a denial of their integrity.

With the official reports of his subordinates before him, General Lee, in his report of this battle to the War Department, says: ‘This great battle was fought by less than 40,000 men on our side, all of whom had undergone the greatest labors and hardships in the field and on the march.’ The figures given in this statement will allow ample margin for probable discrepancies and yet be found within the numbers as reported by General Lee. [273]

The army had marched and fought incessantly for over a month. Its route was marked by stragglers, who for many reasons had been unable to keep up with their commands. After the army crossed into Maryland, orders were given to collect these men and hold them on the south side of the Potomac, as it would have been dangerous for them to attempt to rejoin their commands while the army was operating in Maryland. I was sent by General Lee from Frederick City to Virginia to meet President Davis and dissuade him from his purpose of joining the army. On my return to General Lee, whom I rejoined just before the battle of Sharpsburg, I found the provost guard at Winchester with orders to halt and collect at that point all men who were attempting to rejoin their commands. The men returning from furlough, the stragglers from Cedar Run, Second Manassas, Chantilly, and Harper's Ferry, and those left on the march before the army crossed into Maryland, as well as in the hurried movements involved in the capture of Harper's Ferry, were collected on the south side of the Potomac and only rejoined their commands after the return of the Army to Virginia.

General McClellan did not renew his attack on the 18th of September; the day was one of comparative quiet; both armies had suffered terribly, and during the night of the 18th General Lee withdrew his army to the south side of the Potomac river.

Every day after the battle witnessed the return of a large number of men to their regiments, and those, together with the force collected about Winchester, made a very material increase in the strength of the army before the next regular return was made.

General McClellan, in his official report, states that he had in action in the same engagement 87,64 men of all arms. If, however, we undertake to construct a table of strength of his army after the method adopted by the critic of General Fitz. Lee's book, these numbers would be materially increased.

Treating all the engagements between the 14th and the 18th as one encounter, as does this critic, let us proceed to construct a statement, similar to his, of the strength of the Union army:

The return of that army for September 20th, 1862, shows an effective total of93,149
The Federal loss at Boonsborough and Sharpsburg, as officially reported, was14,794
The force at Harper's Ferry was about12,000
Total strength, by this method,119,943


We might thus contend that General Lee had 120,000 men opposed to him, which would bear to 57,000, the number of his army as made up by General Fitz. Lee's critic, about the same proportion as the ‘less than 40,000’ reported by General Lee, bears to the ‘87, 164 carried into action’ by General McClellan.

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