previous next

Crisis at Sharpsburg.

Comparison of losses there with those of other great battles,

General Carman has said of this battle, in an address delivered on the field:

The Confederate victories in June, July and August appeared so conclusive of the ability of the South to maintain itself that September 14th, the day of South Mountain, when Lord Palmerston, prime minister of England, read in the Observer the accounts of Lee's victories at Second Manassas, he wrote Lord John Russell, secretary for foreign affairs, that the Federals had got a very complete smashing, and it seems not altogether unlikely that still greater disasters await them, and that even Washington or Baltimore may fall into the hands of the Confederates, and suggested that in this state of affairs the time had come for mediation between the North and South, upon the basis of separation.

Gettysburg only exceeded it in the number killed and wounded, but that was a three days fight. Antietam was but one day, and on this one day as many men were killed and wounded as were killed and wounded in any two of the three days at Gettysburg. Chickamauga, the greatest battle of the West, does not show the loss, killed and wounded, for its two days fighting that Antietam does for one. The true test of the severity of a battle is the percentage of loss of those engaged for illustration, the ‘old Fifteenth’ Virginia sustained a loss of 58 per cent. The percentage here for one day, on the Union side, was 20 64-100, or nearly 21 for every 100 engaged; Chickamauga, 19 60-100 for two days, and Gettysburg, 21 20-100 per cent. for three days. Reducing the equation to one day, we have 20 64-100 per cent. for Antietam, 9 8-10 per cent. for Chickamauga, and 7 7-100 per cent for Gettysburg. This shows the relative or comparative severity of the fighting, that it was more than twice as desperate as it was at Chickamaugua, and three times as desperate as it was at Gettysburg. The Confederate loss, killed and wounded, was 24 65-100 per cent. of those engaged.

After walking up and down the line several times, exhorting them [106] to keep cool, aim low, fire straight, etc., etc., I found myself, with rifle, in line with my men, firing away and liking it better than walking about and exhorting men who were nobly doing all they could do.

In a hot place; on a stretcher; and in a Hay stack.

I shot away the ammunition left in one dead man's cartridge-box, and walked a few yards to pick up another. I was about to fire the third shot from this box, when something happened; for a minute or so surely I must have lost consciousness, else I would not have allowed the ambulance corps to attempt to take me off the hotly contested field, which we still held. They started with me, in but a moment, it seems to me, four of us were on the ground in a pile almost. As I lay on the stretcher, I saw the ball strike poor Charlie Watkins in the head, scattering his brains. He fell with a thud and never breathed again. ‘Billie’ Briggs (William H. Briggs) had his thigh broken and second and third finger cut off, and another man, name unknown, wounded. I tell you, it was a hot place, and getting hotter each moment. Others offered to take up the stretcher, but I commanded them not to do this, but go back to the firing-line. At this time our line charged, and the enemy ran. I crawled and walked to a hay-stack, full of wounded. I was as bloody as I could be, and it is a fact, I could feel and hear the blood in my boots. Among the wounded in that hay-stack was Lieutenant John Fussell, struck on the breast by something that had raised a great blue place as big as a child's first.

It must have been a pitiful and pathetic sight seeing good old John cut off the sleeve of my coat looking for a wound in the arm, when it was more serious, through the brachial plexus of the right breast. Someone called out that the stack was on fire, and it was horrible to see the poor wounded fellows getting away from it. I lay in the corner of a fence—how long, I know not. I do believe, without better information, we were the extreme regiment on the left of our whole army, for the first unemployed men and doctors we met with were cavalry, among them my friend, Captain John Lamb, member of Congress, who, I knew, was instrumental in having me taken from the field—how I do not exactly remember; it seems in a blanket tied to poles.

If this meets his eye, will he please let me know exactly how it was.


Some Sharpsburg incidents.

Several months after the memorable battle, when I was nicely recovering from my wounds, a comrade related to me three incidents that came under his experience at Sharpsburg. I think them entirely relevant and worthy of space in this sketch since they rightly belong with the stirring events of that sanguinary field.

Abont 6 P. M., when the heat and turmoil of battle had subsided, I was reminded that I had not eaten anything since early in the morning, and then only two ‘hardtacks’; three of us soon filled our haversacks with fine apples from a nearby orchard, then kindled a fire, got out frying pan, and a chunk of very fat mess pork; two of our party were slicing apples, B——doing the cook's duties. The first pan of apples was being turned into a tin plate, when bang! bang!! bang!! in quick succession, exploded three shells most uncomfortably near, tendering us the untimely and cruel compliments of a Federal battery which had spied us, and made a target of our little tea party. The Federal gunners soon had our range and dropped a dozen or more shells about us in a few minutes, doing no serious damage, causing us to postpone the meal on fried apples, in the mode a la Sharpsburg.

One way of stopping a ‘Rebel yell.’

In a headlong charge, all going at a double quick, and yelling like wild Comanches, a hardy, muscular, fearless ‘Tar Heel,’ who had joined us in a determined rush on the Federal lines, received a minie ball in his open mouth. He did not seem to immediately lose his speech, for he blurted out: ‘Boys, I'll have to leave you. Going to the rear to look for that damned ball. Give 'em hell and my compliments.’ The narrator subsequently learned that the brave fellow rejoined his own famous fighting regiment (Thirteenth North Carolina) three months later, still a good and staying fighter, but minus the full notes of that lusty yell at Sharpsburg.

A hasty meal on apple butter.

In a few moments after a ‘hot mix-up’ when we were getting our ‘second-wind’ for another onset or attack, either offensive or defensive, a brave and hungry Georgian who was ‘taking chances’ with us proceeded to unroll his blanket that had a considerable bulge in it which disappeared when relieved of a half gallon crock [108] of apple butter. In a twinkling the cloth covering of the crock was removed, and the ravenously hungry son from Georgia began to fill an aching void. Soon came the ringing, stirring command, ‘forward men, double quick,’ when lo! the crock was empty, most of its contents in the Georgian's stomach, and no small portion smeared over an unwashed face already begrimed with the smoke and dust, the joy and toil of battle.

The Georgians were hard, but also gay and festive fighters. Survivors of the ‘Old Fourteenth’ will kindly recall Major General MacLaws' ‘fighting division’ as one of the famous divisions of General Longstreet's Corps.

Infantry strength of the Confederate Army.

While thus speaking incidently of the fighting quality of the Georgia soldiers I am tempted to a slight digression that may be regarded as a correctly summarized statement of some interest. The seventy-six regiments of infantry furnished the Confederate army by the gallant State of Georgia were men of the same stamp as the seventy-one regiments from North Carolina, and the seventy regiments from old Virginia; these three States during the war 1861-5 put in the field two hundred and seventeen of the five hundred and seventy regiments composing the grand army of the Confederacy. Eight other Southern States supplied three hundred and fifty-three regiments, fully as brave, true and patriotic as the three States named, and which are only thus mentioned because they were in the order named the largest numerical contributors, but excelling in nothing else. Not since the dawn of creation, or since men have lived under any form of government has the world known a truer, braver or nobler half million of patriotic men who fought for their country with all the principles and ideas involved in a great and protracted struggle, only ending at Appomattox when

Flodden's fatal field
Where shivered was fair Scotland's spear
And broken was her shield.

Perhaps an error in judgment prompts the writer to relate an additional incident of memorable Sharpsburg. However, he makes bold to assert that it rightly belongs with this authentic record of the gallant ‘Old Fifteenth’ Virginia Infantry.


A telling one on President Lincoln.

In one of the companies, of the ‘Old Fifteenth’—I think Company E—there was a tall, stout, robust fellow; a dare—devil, rollicking chap, who gloried in a fight; in the Sharpsburg fight when about half the regiment had been killed and wounded my comrade and hero, ‘Beauregard’—a nickname given him in the regiment—was badly wounded and left on the field; the enemy already in superior force and receiving additional reinforcements drove us from that part of the terrible field, compelling us to leave ‘Beauregard’ with many others; he was taken to the Federal field hospital, where he received as good attention as the crowded condition permitted.

A bright, sunny day of the week following the great battle, there was a grand review of the Federal army which had failed to defeat ‘Marse Robert's’ veterans. President Lincoln did the reviewing, riding a tall horse—both rider and steed being tall—and all under a very tall silk hat. The President was not considered a striking military figure (he was at his best as a tall, gaunt, rawboned, angular citizen in ill-fitting clothes and awkward manners). Our wounded hero, with other badly wounded comrades had been brought out on stretchers and placed on cots in front of the hospital, doubtless with the idea of impressing them with the grand parade: several hundred pieces of artillery had passed in most imposing array when the President rode up and drew reins near our ‘Beauregard’ whom he noticed and thus addressed: ‘Now, Johnnie, tell me what do you think of our artillery, honest, now, a square opinion?’

“Well, Mr. President, I will tell you, it surely does look fine, and there's lots of it too. In our army we haven't got so much, but it looks jest like yours, on nearly all the limber chests there's the letters U. S. same as yours.” This retort courteous, and straight from the shoulder greatly pleased Mr. Lincoln, who never failed to see and enjoy a good joke no matter at whose expense, or whose undoing.

The kindly and tactful Lincoln was quick to see such a palpable hit, he knew full well how often the ranks of the Federal Army had been rent, shattered and torn by the captured ‘U. S.’ guns so well served by the Confederate artillerists.


Gamest fight of the Nineteenth century.

There were more men killed and wounded on the Union side in the one day at Antietam than in the two days battles of Shiloh, Corinth, Stone River and Chickamauga; more than in the three days battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Cold Harbor; more than in the five days of Groveton, Second Manassas and Chantilly; more than in the seven days on the Peninsula; more than in the eleven days campaign ending at Appomattox; more than in all the battles around Atlanta, and more than in all the operations around Vicksburg, including the siege from May 1, to July 4, 1863.

Between daybreak and the setting sun of September 17, 1862, forty-three years ago, over 93,000 men of kindred blood (56,300 Union and 37,300 Confederate) and 520 cannon engaged on this field in a desperate struggle, and when the sun went down and mercifully put an end to the strife 3,634 were dead and 17,222 wounded, an aggregate of 20,856; Union, 12,400; Confederate, 9,600. About 1,770 were missing, some of whom were dead, but most of whom were carried as prisoners from the field. It was the bloodiest day of American history. Every state from the Great Lakes, on the North, to the Gulf of Mexico on the South, from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, and, with the exception of Iowa and Missouri, every state watered by the Mississippi, contributed to this carnival of death and suffering.

The most desperate fighting and the great part of the loss was in this vicinity. Here, within 1,200 yards of the Dunkard Church, 55,— 728 infantry (Union and Confederate) were engaged; with a loss of 2,845 killed and 13,661 wounded, an aggregate of 16,515, or nearly 30 per cent. of the number engaged. All this loss occurred before I P. M., more than three-fourth of it in the little over four hours, from 6 o'clock to half-past 10, and on a field not over 1,500 yards from North to South, with an average width, East and West, of 900 yards, an area of about 300 acres. No other equal area on the American continent has been so drenched in human blood. It was a gamer fight than Waterloo, more stubborn, more desperate; and all culminating in a drawn battle.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Lincoln (4)
Beauregard (3)
William H. Briggs (2)
Charlie Watkins (1)
George Washington (1)
John Russell (1)
MacLaws (1)
James Longstreet (1)
Robert E. Lee (1)
John Lamb (1)
John Fussell (1)
Ezra A. Carman (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1865 AD (1)
July 4th, 1863 AD (1)
September 17th, 1862 AD (1)
1861 AD (1)
September 14th (1)
July (1)
June (1)
May 1st (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: