were the hardest and deadliest struggles of the day. For half an hour after the battle had grown to its full strength, the line of fire swayed neither way. Hooker's men were fully up to their work. They saw their General every where in front, never away from the fire, and all the troops believed in their commander, and fought with a will. Two thirds of them were the same men who under McDowell had broken at Manassas. The half-hour passed, the rebels began to give way a little — only a little, but at the first indication of a receding fire, Forward, was the word, and on went the line with a cheer and a rush. Back across the corn-field, leaving dead and wounded behind them, over the fence, and across the road, and then back again into the dark woods which closed around them went the retreating rebels. Meade and his Pennsylvanians followed hard and fast — followed till they came within easy range of the woods, among which they saw their beaten enemy disappearing — followed still, with another cheer, and flung themselves against the cover. But out of those gloomy woods came suddenly and heavily terrible volleys — volleys which smote, and bent, and broke in a moment that eager front, and hurled them swiftly back for half the distance they had won. Not swiftly, nor in panic, any further. Closing up their shattered lines, they came slowly away; a regiment where a brigade had been; hardly a brigade where a whole division had been victorious. They had met at the woods the first volleys of musketry from fresh troops — had met them and returned them till their line had yielded and gone down before the weight of fire, and till their ammunition was exhausted. In ten minutes the fortune of the day seemed to have changed; it was the rebels now who were advancing, pouring out of the woods in endless lines, sweeping through the corn-field from which their comrades had just fled. Hooker sent in his nearest brigade to meet them, but it could not do the work. He called for another. There was nothing close enough, unless he took it from his right. His right might be in danger if it was weakened, but his centre was already threatened with annihilation. Not hesitating one moment, he sent to Doubleday: “Give me your best brigade instantly.” The best brigade came down the hill to the right on the run, went through the timber in front through a storm of shot and bursting shell and crashing limbs, over the open field beyond and straight into the corn-field, passing as they went the fragments of three brigades shattered by the rebel fire and streaming to the rear. They passed by Hooker, whose eyes lighted as he saw these veteran troops, led by a soldier whom he knew he could trust. “I think they will hold it,” he said. General Hartsuff took his troops very steadily, but, now that they were under fire, not hurriedly, up the hill from which the corn-field begins to descend, and formed them on the crest. Not a man who was not in full view — not one who bent before the storm. Firing at first in volleys, they fired then at will with wonderful rapidity and effect. The whole line crowned the hill and stood out darkly against the sky, but lighted and shrouded ever in flame and smoke. They were the Twelfth and Thirteenth Massachusetts and another regiment which I cannot remember — old troops all of them. There for half an hour they held the ridge, unyielding in purpose, exhaustless in courage. There were gaps in the line, but it nowhere bent. Their General was severely wounded early in the fight, but they fought on. Their supports did not come — they determined to win without them. They began to go down the hill and into the corn; they did not stop to think that their ammunition was nearly gone; they were there to win that field, and they won it. The rebel line for the second time fled through the corn and into the woods. I cannot tell how few of Hartsuff's brigade were left when the work was done, but it was done. There was no more gallant, determined, heroic fighting in all this desperate day. General Hartsuff is very severely wounded, but I do not believe he counts his success too dearly purchased. The crisis of the fight at this point had arrived. Ricketts's division, vainly endeavoring to advance and exhausted by the effort, had fallen back. Part of Mansfield's corps was ordered in to their relief, but Mansfield's troops came back again, and their General was mortally wounded. The left nevertheless was too extended to be turned, and too strong to be broken. Ricketts sent word he could not advance, but could hold his ground. Doubleday had kept his guns at work on the right, and had finally silenced a rebel battery that for half an hour had poured in a galling enfilading fire along Hooker's central line. There were woods in front of Doubleday's hill which the rebels held, but so long as those guns pointed toward them they did not care to attack. With his left, then, able to take care of itself, with his right impregnable, with two brigades of Mansfield still fresh and coming rapidly up, and with his centre a second time victorious, Gen. Hooker determined to advance. Orders were sent to Crawford and Gordon — the two Mansfield brigades — to move forward at once, the batteries in the centre were ordered to advance, the whole line was called on, and the General himself went forward. To the right of the corn-field and beyond it was a point of woods. Once carried and firmly held, it was the key of the position. Hooker determined to take it. He rode out in front of his furthest troops on a hill to examine the ground for a battery. At the top he dismounted and went forward on foot, completed his reconnaissance, returned, and remounted. The musketry-fire from the point of woods was all the while extremely hot. As he put his foot in the stirrup a fresh volley of rifle-bullets came whizzing by. The tall, soldierly figure of the General, the white
This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.