the Maryland campaign. September-October, 1862.
I. Manoeuvres previous to Antietam.
put his columns in motion from Richmond
, it was with no intent of entering upon a campaign of invasion across the great river that formed the dividing line between the warring powers.
But who can foretell the results that may spring from the simplest act in that complex interplay of cause and effect we name war?
A secondary operation, having in view merely to hold Pope
in check, had effected not only its primal aim, but the infinitely more important result of dislodging the Army of the Potomac from the Peninsula
Thus relieved of all care touching Richmond
was free to assume a real offensive for the purpose not merely of checking but of crushing Pope
The success of the campaign had been remarkable.
From the front of Richmond
the theatre of operations had been transferred to the front of Washington
; the Union
armies had been reduced to a humiliating defensive, and the rich harvests of the Shenandoah Valley and Northern Virginia
were the prize of the victors.
To crown and consolidate these conquests, Lee
now determined to cross the frontier into Maryland
The prospective advantages of such a transfer of the theatre of war to the north of the Potomac
seemed strongly to invite it; for, in addition to the telling blows Lee
hope to inflict in the demoralized condition of the Union
army, and the prestige that the enterprise would lend the Confederate
cause abroad, it was judged that the presence of the hostile force would detain McClellan
on the frontier long enough to render an invasion of Virginia
during the approaching winter difficult, if not impracticable.1
Yet, if the enterprise had promised only such military gain, it is doubtful whether the Richmond
government would have undertaken a project involving the renunciation of the proved advantages of their proper defensive; but it seemed, in addition, to hold out certain ulterior inducements, which were none the less alluring for being somewhat vague.
The theory of the invasion assumed that the presence of the Confederate army in Maryland
would induce an immediate rising among the citizens of that State for what General Lee
calls ‘the recovery of their liberties.’
If it did not prompt an armed insurrection, it was, at least, expected that the people of Maryland
would assume such an attitude as would seriously embarrass the Government
and necessitate the retention of a great part of its military force for the purpose of preventing anticipated risings.
By this means it was believed that it would be difficult for the Union
authorities to apply a concentrated effort to the expulsion of the invading force.2
Without the prospect of some such incidental and ulterior advantages as these, the enterprise would hardly have been undertaken; for, not only was it perilous in itself, but the Confederate army was not properly equipped for invasion: it lacked much of the material of war and was feeble in transportation, while the troops were so wretchedly clothed and
shod that little else could be claimed for them than what Tilly
boasted of his followers—that they were an army of ‘ragged soldiers and bright muskets.’3
Plausible though this anticipation of a secessionist uprising in Maryland
seemed, it rested on a false basis and was not more emphatically belied by experience than it was condemned by sound reasoning before the fact.
Nevertheless, misled by this illusion, Lee
turned the heads of his columns away from the direction of Washington
, which he never seems to have dreamed of assailing directly, and put them in motion towards Leesburg
Between the 4th and 7th of September the whole Confederate army crossed the Potomac
by the fords near that place, and encamped in the vicinity of Frederick
, where the standard of revolt was formally raised, and the people of Maryland
invited by proclamation of General Lee
to join the Confederate
But it soon became manifest that the expectation of practical assistance from the Marylanders was destined to grievous disappointment; and the ragged and shoeless soldiers who entered the State
chanting the song in which Maryland
was made passionately to invoke Southern aid against Northern despotism found, instead of the rapturous reception they had anticipated, cold indifference or ill-concealed hostility.
Of the citizens of Maryland
a large number (and notably the population of the western counties) were really loyal, a considerable number indifferent, and a smaller number bitterly secessionist.
But to permit the secessionists to move at all, it was necessary that Lee
should first of all demonstrate his ability to remain in the State
by overthrowing the powerful Union force that was moving to meet him; while the lukewarm, whom the romance of the invasion might have allured, were repelled by the wretchedness, the rags, and the shocking filth of the ‘army of liberation.’
In the dark hour when the shattered battalions that survived Pope
's campaign returned to Washington
, General Mc-Clellan
, at the request of the President
, resumed command of the Army of the Potomac, with the addition thereto of Burnside
's command and the corps composing the late Army of Virginia.
Whatever may have been the estimate of McClellan
's military capacity at this time held by the President
, or General Halleck
, or Mr. Secretary Stanton
, or the Committee
on the Conduct of the War
, there appears to have been no one to gainsay the propriety of the appointment or dispute the magic of his name with the soldiers he had led. McClellan
's reappearance at the head of affairs had the most beneficial effect on the army, whose morale
immediately underwent an astonishing change.
The heterogeneous mass made up of the aggregation of the remnants of the two armies, and the garrison of Washington, was reorganized into a compact body—a work that had mostly to be done while the army was on the march;4
and as soon as it became known that Lee
had crossed the Potomac
moved towards Frederick
to meet him. The advance was made by five parallel roads, and the columns were so disposed as to cover both Washington
; for the left flank rested on the Potomac
, and the right on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
The right wing consisted of the First and Ninth corps, under General Burnside
; the centre, of the Second and Twelfth corps, under General Sumner
; and the left wing, of the Sixth Corps, under General Franklin
The uncertainty at first overhanging Lee
's intentions caused the advance from Washington
to be made with much circumspection; and it might, perhaps, be fairly chargeable with tardiness, were there not on record repeated dispatches of the time from the general-in-chief
, charging McClellan
with too great a precipitancy of movement for the safety of the capital.
The van of the army entered Frederick
on the 12th of September, after a brisk skirmish at the outskirts of the town with the Confederate
troopers left behind as a rearguard.
It was found that the main body of Lee
's army had passed out of Frederick
two days before, heading westward towards Harper's Ferry
It is now necessary, for a just appreciation of the events of the Maryland campaign
, that I should give an outline of the plan of operations which the Confederate
commander had marked out for himself.
This plan was simple, but highly meritorious.
did not propose to make any direct movement against Washington
with the Union
army between him and these points, but aimed so to manoeuvre as to cause McClellan
to uncover them.
With this view, he designed, first of all, to move into Western Maryland
and establish his communications with Richmond
through the Shenandoah Valley.
Then, by a northward movement, menacing Pennsylvania
by the Cumberland Valley
, he hoped to draw the Union
army so far towards the Susquehanna
as to afford him either an opportunity of seizing Baltimore
, or of dealing a damaging blow at the army far from its base of supplies.
His first movement from Frederick
was, therefore, towards the western side of that mountain range which, named the Blue Ridge
south of the Potomac
, and the South Mountain
range north of the Potomac
, forms the eastern wall of the Shenandoah
and Cumberland valleys
his line of communications with Richmond
and the latter his line of manoeuvre towards Pennsylvania
Now, at the time Lee
crossed the Potomac
, the Federal
post at Harper's Ferry
, commanding the debouteh
of the Shenandoah Valley, was held by a garrison of about nine thousand men, under Colonel D. H. Miles
, while a force of twenty-five hundred men, under General White
, did outpost duty at Martinsburg
These troops received orders direct from General Halleck
had assumed that his advance on Frederick
would cause the immediate evacuation of Harper's Ferry6
Union force, because that position, important as against a menace by way of the Shenandoah Valley, became utterly useless now that the Confederates
were actually in Maryland
; and the garrison, while subserving no purpose, was in imminent danger of capture.
In this anticipation, Lee
had proceeded solely on a correct military appreciation of what ought to have been done; and indeed General McClellan
, who had no control over this force, urged the evacuation of the post the moment he learned Lee
was across the Potomac
But it was the whim of General Halleck
to regard Harper's Ferry
as a point per se
and in any event of the first importance to be held; and he would listen to no proposition looking to its abandonment.
It is a remarkable illustration of the mighty part played in war by what is called accident that this gross act of folly which, as might have been expected, resulted in the capture of the entire garrison of Harper's Ferry
, was, nevertheless, as will presently appear, a main cause of the ultimate failure of the Confederate
Finding that, contrary to his expectation, Harper's Ferry
was not evacuated, it became necessary for Lee
to dislodge that force before concentrating his army west of the mountains, and to this duty Jackson
, with his own three divisions, the two divisions of McLaws
, and the division of Walker
, was assigned.
was to proceed by way of Sharpsburg
, crossing the Potomac
above Harper's Ferry
, and, investing it by the rear; McLaws
was to move by way of Middletown
on the direct route to the ferry, and seize the hills on the Maryland
side known as Maryland Heights
was to cross the Potomac
below Harper's Ferry
and take possession of the Loudon Heights
The advance was begun on the 10th: the several commanders were all to be at their assigned positions by the night of the 12th, cause the surrender by the following morning, and immediately rejoin the remainder of the army, with which Lee
was to move to Boonsboroa or Hagerstown
Up to the time of Lee
's leaving Frederick
's advance had been so tardy as to justify the Confederate
commander in the belief that the reduction of Harper's Ferry
would be accomplished and his columns again concentrated before he would be called upon to meet the Union
But this expectation was disappointed, and all Lee
's plans for ulterior operations in Maryland
were thwarted by a piece of good fortune that befell General McClellan
at this time.
There accidentally fell into the hands of the Union
commander on the day of his arrival at Frederick
a copy of Lee
's official order for the above movements of his troops, whereby his whole plan was betrayed to his antagonist.
Instructed of the project of his rival, McClellan
immediately ordered a rapid movement towards Harper's Ferry
; and Lee
, unaware of what had happened, suddenly found the Union
army pressing forward with an unwonted rapidity that threatened to disconcert all his plans.
On the afternoon of the 13th, before Lee
had received any word from Jackson
, who with his troopers was covering the Confederate
rear, reported McClellan
approaching the passes of South Mountain
, and it became evident that if he were allowed to force these, he would be in position to strike Lee
's divided columns, relieve the garrison at Harper's Ferry
, and put a disastrous termination to the Confederate
had not intended to oppose any resistance to the passage of the South Mountain
, and had already moved to Boonsboroa and Hagerstown
to await Jackson
But when the news of McClellan
's approach reached him, he instantly ordered Hill
's division back from Boonsboroa to guard the South Mountain
passes, and instructed Longstreet
to countermarch from Hagerstown
, by his knowledge of Lee
's movements, was so perfectly master of the situation, and the stake was so great as to authorize, indeed to demand, the very boldest action on his part.
He knew the imperilled condition of the garrison at Harper's Ferry
, which had by this time been placed under his control, and though its investment was the result of that absurd policy that, against his protest and in violation of sound military principle, had retained it in an untenable position, still he was bound to do his utmost to relieve it. McClellan
acted with energy but not with the impetuosity called for. If he had thrown forward his army with the vigor used by Jackson
in his advance on Harper's Ferry
, the passes of South Mountain
would have been carried before the evening of the 13th, at which time they were very feebly guarded, and then debouching into Pleasant Valley
, the Union
commander might next morning have fallen upon the rear of McLaws
at Maryland Heights
, and relieved Harper's Ferry
, which did not surrender till the morning of the 15th.
But he did not arrive at South Mountain
until the morning of the 14th; and by that time the Confederates
, forewarned of his approach, had recalled a considerable force to dispute the passage.
The line of advance of the Union
right and centre conducted across South Mountain
by Turner's Gap, that of the left by Crampton's Gap, six miles to the southward.
's corps was moving towards the latter; and Burnside
's command (the corps of Reno
) had the advance by the former.
The Confederate defence of Crampton's Pass was left to McLaws
, who was engaged in the investment of Harper's Ferry
from the side of Maryland Heights
; but Turner's Pass, as commanding the debouche
of the main highway from Frederick
westward, was committed to the combined commands of Hill
This pass is a deep gorge in the mountains, the crests of which on each side rise to the height of one thousand feet. The gap itself is unassailable; but there is a practicable road over the crest to the right of the pass, and another to the left.
The key-point of the whole position is a rocky and precipitous peak which dominates the ridge to the right of the pass.
With a considerable force this position is very defensible; but when the advance of the Union
force reached the mountain, on the morning of the 14th, it was guarded only by D. H. Hill
's division of five thousand men. Reno
's corps arrived near the pass early in the forenoon; but that officer directed all his efforts to the assault of the crest on the left—the key-point being overlooked.
After a sharp fight Reno
succeeded in dislodging
the Confederate brigade opposed to him, and established his troops on the first ridge, but was unable to push beyond.7
The commanding importance of the ground to the right of the pass soon developed itself, however, and on the arrival of Hooker
's corps in the middle of the afternoon, he was directed to assault that position.
By this time Hill
had been re-enforced by two divisions of Longstreet
The ridge to the north of the turnpike is divided into a double crest by a ravine, and Hooker
put in Meade
's division on the right, and Hatch
's on the left; Rickett
's division being held in reserve.
The ground is very difficult for the movement of troops, the hill-side being steep and rocky; but the advance was made with much spirit—the light-footed skirmishers leaping and springing up the slopes and ledges with the nimbleness of the coney.
It was found that, owing to the precipitous figure of the mountain sides, the hostile artillery did little hurt; but the Confederate
riflemen, fighting behind rocks and trees and stone walls, opposed a persistent resistance.
They were, however, forced back, step by step; and by dark, Hooker
's troops had carried the crest on the right of the gap. Now, as simultaneous with this, Gibbon
with his brigade had worked his way by the main road well up towards the top of the pass, and as Reno
's corps had gained a firm foothold on the crest to the left of the pass, it seemed that the position was carried; and though it was by this time too dark to push through to the western side of the mountain, yet the whole army was up, and with the position secured would in the morning force an issue by its own pressure.
Yet these successes were not gained without a heavy sacrifice.
Fifteen hundred men were killed and wounded in this severe struggle, and among those who fell was General Reno
, commander of the Ninth Corps, an able and respected
The Confederate loss was above three thousand men, whereof fifteen hundred were prisoners.
The action at South Mountain
deservedly figures as a brilliant affair; and the only adverse comment that may be made thereon will turn on the tardiness in commencing the attack; for, with a more vigorous conduct on the part of General Burnside
, he might have forced the pass during the forenoon, while yet defended only by Hill
's small force; and not-withstanding the previous delay, this would still have put Mc-Clellan in position to succor Harper's Ferry
During the contest at Turner's Gap, Franklin
was struggling to force the passage of the ridge at Crampton's Pass, defended by a part of the force of McLaws
, who was then engaged in the investment of Harper's Ferry
The position here was similar to that at Turner
's Gap, and the operations were of a like kind.
Forming his troops with Slocum
's division on the right of the road and Smith
's on the left, Franklin
advanced his line, driving the Confederates
from their position at the base of the mountain, where they were protected by a stone wall, and forced them back up the slope of the mountain to near its summit, where, after an action of three hours, the crest was carried.9
Four hundred prisoners, seven hundred stand of arms, one piece of artillery, and three colors were captured in this spirited action.
's total loss was five hundred and thirty-two, and the corps rested on its arms, with its advance thrown forward into Pleasant Valley
During the night, the Confederates
at Turner's Gap
withdrew, and the Union
right and centre in the morning passed through to the west side of the mountain.
If not too late, McClellan
was now in a position to succor the garrison at Harper's Ferry
, whose situation was one of almost tragic interest.10
But by a hapless conjuncture, on the very morning that the army broke through the South Mountain
, and was in position to relieve the beleaguered force, it was surrendered by Colonel Miles
I shall briefly detail the circumstances under which this took place.
Leaving Frederick on the 10th, Jackson
made a very rapid march by way of Middletown
, Boonsboroa, and Williamsport
, and on the following day crossed the Potomac
, at a ford near the latter place.
Disposing his forces so that there should be no escape for the garrison from that side, he moved down towards Harper's Ferry
On his approach, General White
with the garrison of Martinsburg
evacuated that place, and retired to Harper's Ferry
, the rear of which, at Bolivar Heights, Jackson
reached on the 13th, and immediately proceeded to put himself in communication with Walker
, who were respectively to co-op erate in the investment from Loudon
and Maryland heights
was already in position on Loudon Heights, and McLaws
was working his way up Maryland Heights
The latter position is the key-point to Harper's Ferry
, as a brief description will show.
The Elk Ridge
, running north and south across parts of Maryland
, is rifted in twain by the Potomac
, and the cleavage leaves on each side a bold and lofty abutment of rock.
is the name given the steep on the north bank, and Loudon Heights the steep on the south bank.
Between Loudon Heights and Harper's Ferry
breaks into the Potomac
, and to the rear of
the ferry is a less bold ridge, named Bolivar Heights, which falls off in graceful undulations southward into the Valley of the Shenandoah
The picturesque little village of Harper's Ferry
lies nestling in the basin formed by these three heights, which tower into an almost Alpine
A line drawn from any one mountain-top to either of the others must be two miles in stretch; yet rifle-cannon crowning these heights can easily throw their projectiles from each to other— a sort of Titanic game of bowls which Mars
and cloudcom-pelling Jove might carry on in sportive mood.
But the Maryland Height
is the Saul
of the triad of giant mountains, and far o'ertops its fellows.
Of course, it completely commands Harper's Ferry
, into which a plunging fire even of musketry can be had from it. While therefore Harper's Ferry
is itself the merest military trap, lying as it does at the bottom of this rocky funnel, yet the Maryland Height
is a strong position, and if its rearward slope were held by a determined even though small force, it would be very hard and hazardous to assail.
, in the distribution of his command, had posted on Maryland Heights
a force under Colonel Ford
, retaining the bulk of his troops in Harper's Ferry
This was a faulty disposition.
He should have evacuated the latter place, and transferred his whole force to Maryland Heights
, which he could readily have held till McClellan
came up. Under his instructions from General Halleck
, he was bound, however, to hold Harper's Ferry
to the last extremity, and, interpreting this order literally as applying to the town itself, he refused to take this step when urged to it by his subordinates.
But what was worse, Ford
, after opposing a very feeble and unskilful resistance to McLaws
' attack on the 13th, retired to Harper's Ferry
, spiking his guns and toppling them down the declivity.
Thus Maryland Heights
was abandoned altogether.
succeeded in dragging some pieces up the rugged steep, and Jackson
being already in position, the investment of Harper's Ferry
was by the morning of the 14th complete.
Loudon heights were crowned with artillery during the day, and at dawn of the 15th the three co-operating forces opened fire upon the garrison.
They were already doomed men; and in two hours, Miles raised the white flag in token of surrender.
The Confederates, not perceiving the signal, continued the fire for some time after this, and one of the shot killed Miles on the spot he had surrendered to his own disgrace.
received the capitulation of twelve thousand men, and came into possession of seventy-three pieces of artillery, thirteen thousand small-arms, and a large quantity of military stores.
But leaving the details to be arranged by his lieutenant, General Hill
(A. P.), the swift-footed Jackson
turned his back on the prize he had secured, and headed towards Maryland
to unite with Lee
, who was eagerly awaiting his arrival at Sharpsburg
The successful lodgment McClellan
had gained on the crest of South Mountain
by the night of the 14th admonished Lee
that he might no longer hope to hold Turner's Pass.
He therefore withdrew Longstreet
and D. H. Hill
across Pleasant Valley
and over Elk Ridge
into the valley beyond—the valley of the Antietam
In the morning McClellan
passed through his right and centre and took position at Boonsboroa.
, having the night previously swept away the adverse force, passed through Crampton's Pass and debouched into Pleasant Valley
in the rear of McLaws
This seemed a favorable opportunity to destroy that force, which was isolated from all the rest of Lee
's army; but, appreciating his danger, the Confederate officer, in the morning, withdrew all his force from Maryland Heights
, with the exception of a single regiment, and formed his troops in battle order across Pleasant Valley
to resist any sudden attack, and before Franklin
could make his dispositions to strike, the garrison at Harper's Ferry
This left free exit for McLaws
, who skilfully retired down the Valley
towards the Potomac
, which he repassed at Harper's Ferry
, and by a detour by way of Shepherdstown
Upon the retirement of the Confederates
on the morning of the 15th, McClellan
pushed forward his whole army in pursuit; but after a few miles' march, the heads of the columns were brought to a sudden halt at Antietam Creek
, a rivulet that, running obliquely to the course of the Potomac
, empties into it six miles above Harper's Ferry
On the heights crowning the west bank of this stream, Lee
, with what force he had in hand, took his stand to oppose McClellan
's pursuit, and form a point of concentration for his scattered columns.
the battle of Antietam.
Whatever ulterior purposes Lee
may have had touching the prosecution of the Maryland
invasion, affairs had so worked together that it had become now absolutely necessary for him to stand and give battle.
Whether he designed abandoning the aggressive and repassing the Potomac
, or purposed manoeuvring by the line of Western Maryland
, he was obliged first of all to take up a position on which he might unite his divided forces, closely pressed by the advancing Union columns, and receive the attack of his antagonist.
The circumstances were such that a battle would necessarily decide the issue of the invasion.
It was late in the afternoon of the 15th when the Army of the Potomac drew up on the left bank of Antietam Creek
, on the opposite side of which the Confederate infantry was seen ostentatiously displayed.
The day passed in observation of the position, and next morning that moiety of the Confederate
force that had been engaged in the investment of Harper's Ferry
. The Confederate commander formed his troops on a line stretched across the angle formed by the Potomac
; and as the Potomac
here makes a sharp curve, Lee
was able to rest both
flanks on that stream, while his front was covered by the Antietam
The Confederate line was drawn in front of the town of Sharpsburg
's command being placed on the right of the road from Sharpsburg
to Boonsboroa, and D. H. Hill
's command on the left.
a turnpike runs northward across the Potomac
, from which direction the position might be turned; and to guard against this, Hood
's two brigades were placed on the left.
's command was placed in reserve near the left.
The 16th saw the whole Confederate force concentrated at Sharpsburg
, with the exception of the divisions of McLaws
and A. P. Hill
, which had not yet returned from Harper's Ferry
So greatly had the Confederate army become reduced by its previous losses and by straggling, that Lee
was unable to count above forty thousand bayonets.
In this vicinity, the Antietam
is crossed by four stone bridges; but three of these were covered by the hostile front, and so guarded as to forbid the hope of forcing a direct passage.
therefore determined to throw his right across the creek by an upper and unguarded bridge, beyond the Confederate
left flank, and when this manoeuvre should have shaken the enemy, the centre and left were to carry the bridges in their front.
's corps was posted on the left of the turnpike, opposite Bridge No. 2
's Ninth Corps on the Rohrersville and Sharpsburg turnpike
, directly in front of Bridge No. 3
The turning movement was intrusted to Hooker
's corps, to be followed by Sumner
's two corps.
The examination of the ground, and the posting of troops, and of artillery to silence the fire of the enemy's guns on the opposite side of the Antietam
, occupied the hours of the 16th till the afternoon,—a lively artillery duel being, meanwhile, waged between the opposing batteries.11
towards the middle of the afternoon, Hooker
's corps was put in motion, and crossed the stream at the upper bridge and ford, out of range of the hostile fire.
Advancing through the woods, Hooker
soon struck the left flank of the Confederate
line, held by Hood
's two brigades.
had anticipated a menace on that flank, and had made his dispositions accordingly,—Hood
's brigades forming a crotchet on the Confederate
It was towards dusk when the troops of Hooker
met; and after a smart skirmish between the Confederates
and the division of Pennsylvania Reserves under General Meade
, the opposing forces rested on their arms for the night, both occupying a skirt of woods which forms the eastern and northern inclosure of a considerable clearing on both sides of the Hagerstown
This movement across the Antietam
on the 16th was of no advantage: it was made too late in the day to accomplish any thing, and it served to disclose to Lee
his antagonist's purpose.
The Confederate commander made no change in his dispositions, save to order Jackson
, who lay in reserve in the rear of the left, to substitute a couple of his brigades in the room of Hood
's worn-out command.
strengthened the turning column by directing Sumner
to throw over, during the night, the Twelfth Corps under General Mansfield
to the support of Hooker
; and he ordered Sumner
to hold his own corps (the Second) in readiness to cross early in the morning.
At the first dawn of the 17th the combat was opened by Hooker
, who assailed the Confederate
left, now held by
The ground on which the battle opened was the same field on which the action continued to be waged during the day; and it has already been indicated in that opening extending to the east and west of the Hagerstown
road bounded on each side by woods.
In the fringe of forest on the eastern side of the road, Hooker
had the previous evening effected a lodgment, though morning found the Confederate
riflemen still clinging to its margin, while the main force of Jackson
lay in the low timbered ground on the west side of the road,13
where the Confederate
troops were pretty well protected by outcropping ledges of rock.
But though it had this tactical advantage for the defence, the position was really untenable; for it was completely commanded and seen in reverse by high ground a little to the right of where Hooker
formed his line of battle.
This height was the keypoint of all that part of the field, and had it been occupied by Union batteries, as it should have been, the low timbered ground around the Dunker church where Jackson
's line lay could not have been held fifteen minutes. It is a noteworthy fact, that neither General Hooker
, nor General Sumner
who followed him in command on this part of the field, at all appreciated the supreme importance of this point.14
The former, beginning the combat, opened a direct attack with the view of carrying the Hagerstown
road and the woods on the west side of it; and this continued to be the aim of all the subsequent attacks, which were made very much in detail, and thus lost the effective character they might have had with more comprehensive dispositions.
formed his corps of eighteen thousand men, with Doubleday
's division on the right, Meade
's in the centre, and Ricketts
' on the left.
opposed him with two divisions, Ewell
's division being advanced to command the open ground, while the Stonewall
division lay in reserve in the
woodland on the west side of the Hagerstown
His entire force present numbered four thousand men—a great disproportion of numbers.15
After an hour's bloody ‘bushwhacking,’ Hooker
's troops succeeded in clearing the hither woods of the three Confederate brigades, which retired in disorder across the open fields, with a loss of half their reduced numbers.16
The Union batteries on the opposite bank of the Antietam had secured an enfilade fire on Jackson
's advanced and reserve line, and, together with the batteries in front, inflicted severe loss on the enemy.
then advanced his centre under Meade
to seize the Hagerstown
road and the woods beyond.
In attempting to execute this movement, the troops came under a very severe fire from Jackson
's reserve division, which, joined by the two brigades of Hood
that had moved up in support, issued from the woods, and threw back Meade
's line, which was much broken.
At the same time, Ricketts
' division on the left became hotly engaged with three brigades of Hill
's division, which were at this time closed up on the right of Jackson
in support; and Hooker
's right division, under Doubleday
, was held in check by the fire of several batteries of Stuart's horse-artillery posted on commanding ground on his right and front.
had suffered severely by the enemy's fire; but, worse still, had lost nearly half his effective force by straggling.17
In this state of facts, his offensive power was completely gone; and, at seven o'clock, Mansfield
's corps, which had crossed the Antietam
during the night and lay in reserve a mile to the rear, was ordered up to support and relieve Hooker
Of this corps, the first division, under General Williams
, took position on the right, and the second, under General Greene
, on the left.
During the deployment, that veteran soldier, General Mansfield
, fell mortally wounded.
The command of the corps fell to General Williams
, and the division of the latter to General Crawford
, who, with his own and Gordon
's brigade, made an advance across the open field, and succeeded in seizing a point of woods on the west side of the Hagerstown
At the same time, Greene
's division on the left was able to clear its front, and crossed into the left of the Dunker church.
Yet the tenure of these positions was attended with heavy loss; the troops, reduced to the attempt to hold their own, began to waver and break, and General Hooker
was being carried from the field severely wounded, when, opportunely, towards nine o'clock, General Sumner
with his own corps reached the field.18
The battle had now declared itself with great obstinacy between the Union
right and Confederate left without having burst forth on any other part of the line.
The action was fought very much in detail by both sides—each, as from time to time re-enforcements reached it, being able to claim a partial success.
, after driving one of Jackson
's divisions, was in turn forced back by the other; and Mansfield
's corps, having caused this to retreat, found itself overmastered by the fresh battalions of Hood
The combat, though very murderous to each side, had been quite indecisive.
It was in this situation of affairs that Sumner
's force reached the ground; and it seemed at first that this preponderance of weight thrown into the Union
scale would give it the victory.
The troops of Jackson
had been so severely punished as to leave little available fight in them; so that, when Sumner
's divisions on his right across the open field into the woods opposite—the woods in which Crawford
had been fighting—he easily drove the shattered Confederate troops before him, and held definitive possession of the woods around the Dunker church.
At the same time, Sumner
's division on what had hitherto been the left, and Richardson
's division still further to the left to oppose the Confederate
centre under Hill
had got handsomely to work, and French had cleared his front, when disaster again fell on the fatal right.
At the moment that Sedgwick
appeared to grasp victory in his hands, and the troops of Jackson
were retiring in disorder,20
two Confederate divisions, under McLaws
, taken from the Confederate
right, reached the field on the left, and immediately turned the fortunes of the day.21
A considerable interval had been left between Sumner
's right division under Sedgwick
and his centre division under French
Through this the enemy penetrated, enveloping Sedgwick
's left flank, and, pressing heavily at the same time on his front, forced him out of the woods on the west side of the Hagerstown
road, and back across the open field and into the woods on the east side of the road—the original position held in the morning.22
The Confederates, content with dislodging the Union
troops, made no attempt to follow up their advantage, but retired to their
original position also.
We must now look a little to Sumner
's other divisions—to French and Richardson
on his centre and left.
When the pressure on Sedgwick
became the hardest, Sumner
sent orders to French to attack, as a diversion in favor of the former.
French obeyed, with the brigades of Kimball
, and succeeded in forcing back the enemy to a sunken road which runs almost at right angles with the Hagerstown
This position was held by the division of D. H. Hill
, three of whose brigades had been advanced to assist Jackson
in his morning attacks; and it was these that were assailed by French and driven back in disorder to the sunken road.23
Uniting here with the other brigades of Hill
, they received the attacks both of French and of Richardson
's division to his left.
The latter division was composed of the brigades of Meagher
, and Brooke
Meager first attacked, and fought his way to the possession of a crest overlooking the sunken road in which Hill
's line was posted.
After sustaining a severe musketry fire, by which it lost severely, this brigade, its ammunition being expended, was relieved by the brigade of Caldwell
—the former breaking by companies to the rear, and the latter by companies to the front.
immediately became engaged in a very determined combat, and was supported by part of Brooke
's brigade, the rest of the latter being posted on the right to thwart an effort on the part of the enemy to flank in that direction.
The action here was of a very animated nature; for Hill
, being re-enforced by the division of Anderson
assumed a vigorous offensive, and endeavored to seize a piece of high ground on the Union
with the view of turning that flank.
This manoeuvre was, however, frustrated by the skill and promptitude of Colonel Cross
of the Fifth New Hampshire (Caldwell
's brigade), who, detecting the danger, moved his regiment towards the menaced point.
Between his command and the Confederate
force there then ensued a spirited contest—each endeavoring to reach the high ground, and both delivering their fire as they marched in parallel lines by the flank.25
The race was won by Cross.
The effort to flank on the right was handsomely checked by Brooke
, and Barlow
—the latter of whom, changing front with his two regiments obliquely to the right, poured in a rapid fire, compelling the surrender of three hundred prisoners with two standards.
A vigorous direct attack was then made, and the troops succeeded in carrying the sunken road and the position, in advance, around what is known as Piper's House, which, being a defensible building, formed, with its surroundings, the citadel of the enemy's strength at this part of the line.
The enemy was so much disorganized in this repulse that only a few hundred men were rallied on a crest near the Hagerstown
This slight array formed the whole Confederate centre; and there is little doubt that a more energetic following up of the success gained would have carried this position and fatally divided Lee
The few Confederates showed a very bold front, however, and, deceived by this, Richardson
himself with taking up a position to hold what was already won.
Three out of the six corps of the Army of the Potomac, and they the strongest, had thus been drawn into the seething vortex of action on the right; and each in succession, while exacting heavy damage of the enemy, had been so punished as to lose all offensive energy; so that noon found them simply holding their own. Porter
with his small reserve corps, numbering some fifteen thousand men, held the centre, while Burnside
remained inactive on the left, not having yet passed the Antietam
Now, between twelve and one o'clock, Franklin
with two divisions of his corps, under Slocum
and W. F. Smith
remaining behind to occupy Maryland Heights
), reached the field of battle, from where the action at Crampton's Pass had left him. General McClellan
had designed retaining Franklin
on the east side of the Antietam
, to operate on either flank or on the centre, as circumstances might require.
But by the time he neared the field, the strong opposition developed by the attacks of Hooker
rendered it necessary for him to be immediately pushed over the creek to the assistance of the right.28
The arrival of Franklin
was opportune, for Lee
had now accumulated so heavily on his left, and the repulse of Sumner
's right under Sedgwick
had been so easily effected, that the enemy began to show a disposition to resume the offensive— directing his efforts against that still loose-jointed portion of Sumner
's harness, between his right and centre.
, with quick perception of the needs of tile case, of his own accord filled up this interval with a part of his division; and his third brigade, under Colonel Irwin
, charged forward with much impetuosity, and drove back the advance until abreast the Dunker church.
could not hold what he had wrested from the Confederates
, his boldness, seconded by another charge made soon after by the Seventh Maine Regiment alone, served to quell the enemy's aggressive ardor.
then formed the rest of his available force in a column of assault, with the intent to make another effort to gain the enemy's stronghold in the rocky woodland west of the Hagerstown turnpike
—the woods Hooker
had striven for, and Sumner
had snatched and lost.
having command on the right, now intervened to postpone further operations on that flank, as he judged the repulse of the only remaining corps available for attack would peril the safety of the whole army.29
It is now necessary to look to the other end of the Union
line, held by the Ninth Corps under Burnside
This force lay massed behind the heights on the east bank of the Antietam, and opposite the Confederate
right, which it was designed he should assail after forcing the passage of the Antietam
by the lower stone-bridge.
The part assigned to General Burnside
was of the highest importance, for a successful attack by him upon the Confederate
right would, by carrying the Sharpsburg
crest, force Lee
from his line of retreat by way of Shepherdstown
, appreciating the full effect of an attack by his left, directed Burnside
early in the morning to hold his troops in readiness30
to assault the bridge in his front.
Then, at eight o'clock, on learning how much opposition had been developed by Hooker
, he ordered Burnside
to carry the bridge, gain possession of
the heights, and advance along their crest upon Sharpsburg
as a diversion in favor of the right.
's tentatives were frivolous in their character; and hour after hour went by, during which the need of his assistance became more and more imperative, and McClellan
's commands more and more urgent.
Five hours, in fact, passed, and the action on the right had been concluded
in such manner as has been seen, before the work that should have been done in the morning was accomplished.
Encouraged by the ease with which the left of the Union
force was held in check, Lee
was free to remove two-thirds of the right wing under Longstreet
— namely, the divisions of McLaws
—and this force he applied at the point of actual conflict on his left, where, as has already been seen, the arrival of these divisions served to check Sumner
in his career of victory, and hurl back Sedgwick
This step the Confederate
commander never would have ventured on had there been any vigor displayed on the part of the confronting force; yet this heavy detachment having been made from the hostile right, should have rendered the task assigned to General Burnside
one of comparative ease, for it left on that entire wing but a single hostile division of twenty-five hundred men under General Jones
, and the force actually present to dispute the passage of the bridge did not exceed four hundred.32
Nevertheless, it was one o'clock, and after the action on the right had been determined, before a passage was effected; and this being done, two hours passed before the attack of the crest was made.33
This was successfully executed at three o'clock, the Sharpsburg ridge
being carried and a Confederate battery that had been delivering an annoying fire, captured.
It was one of the many unfortunate results of the long delay in this operation on the left that just as this success was gained, the division of A. P. Hill
, which Jackson
had left behind to receive the surrender of Harper's Ferry
, reached the field from that place by way of Shepherdstown
and uniting his own re-enforcement of two thousand men35
with the troops of Jones
that had been broken through in the attack, he assumed the offensive, recaptured the battery, and drove back Burnside
over all the ground gained, and to the shelter of the bluff bordering the Antietam
This closed the action on the left, and as that on the right had been suspended, the battle ceased for the day. It was found that the losses on the Union
side made an aggregate in killed and wounded of twelve thousand five hundred men; while the Confederate
loss proves to have been above eight thousand.36
The morning of the 18th brought with it the grave question for McClellan
whether to renew the attack or to defer it, even with the risk of Lee
After anxious deliberation, he resolved to defer attack37
during the 18th, with the determination, however, to renew it on the 19th, if re-enforcements, expected from Washington
, should arrive.
But during the night of the 18th, Lee
withdrew across the Potomac
, and by morning he stood again with his army on the soil of Virginia
This inactivity of McClellan
, has been made the theme for so much animadversion, that it may be proper to set forth briefly the facts that should guide criticism in this case.
It should first of all be borne in mind that the action at Antietam
, though a victory in its results, seeing that it so crippled Lee
's force as to put an end to the invasion, was tactically a drawn battle—a battle in which McClellan
had suffered as much as he had inflicted.
In such cases, it requires in the commander a high order of moral courage to renew battle.
An ordinary general, overwhelmed with his own losses, the sum and details of which forcibly strike his mind, and powerfully appeal to his sensibilities, is apt to lose sight of those equal, or perhaps greater, suffered by the enemy; and hence indecision, timidity, and consequent inaction.
knew was that the battle had cost the terrible sacrifice of over twelve thousand men; that two of his corps were completely shattered, and that his oldest generals counselled a surcease of operations.
He did not know, what is now a matter of historic certainty, that the Confederate army was by this time frightfully disorganized and almost at the end of its supplies both of food and ammunition.
The general situation was, moreover, such as to inspire a circumspect policy on the part of McClellan
; for Virginia
had been lost, and Maryland
was invaded, and his
army was all that stood between Lee
, and Philadelphia
The conduct of a commander should be judged from the facts actually known to him; and these were the facts known to General McClellan
Nevertheless, I make bold to say (and in doing so I think I am seconded by the opinion of a majority of the ablest officers then in the army38
), that General McClellan
should have renewed the attack on the morning of the 18th.
This opinion is grounded in two reasons—the one, general in its nature; the other, specific and tactical.
If it is possible to imagine a conjuncture of circumstances that would authorize a general to act á l'outrance and without too nice a calculation of risks, it is when confronting an enemy who, having moved far from his base, has crossed the frontier, and being foiled in his plan of invasion, is seeking to make good his retreat.
This was the situation of Lee
. He was removed an infinite distance from his base; his plan of campaign had been baulked; his army, reduced to half the effective of that of his opponent, was in a condition of great demoralization, and he had a difficult river at his back.
stood on his base, with every thing at his hand, and his troops, doing battle on loyal soil, fought with a verve
and moral force they never had in Virginia
and could be called on for unwonted exertion.
But in addition to these considerations there is a special reason that promised a more successful result of an attack on the 18th than that which had attended the action of the 17th.
The battle-field was by this time better understood; and notably General McClellan
had had his attention directed to that commanding ground on the right, before mentioned, which formed the key-point of the field; but which, strange to say, had been overlooked the day before.
It was proposed to seize this point with a part of Franklin
's corps; and had
this been done, Jackson
's position would have been wholly untenable.
held the deboiche
of the bridge on the extreme left, and threatened the Confederate
right; and Porter
's corps was fresh—having been in reserve the day previous.
If these considerations may be regarded as overruling the reasons that prompted McClellan
to postpone attack, then his conduct must be looked upon as an error.
The Confederate campaign in Maryland
lasted precisely two weeks. Its failure was signal.
Designed as an invasion, it degenerated into a raid.
Aiming to raise the standard of revolt in Maryland
, and rally the citizens of that State around the secession cause, it resulted in the almost complete disruption of that army itself.
Instead of the flocks of recruits he had expected, Lee
was doomed to the mortification of seeing his force disintegrating so rapidly as to threaten its utter dissolution, and he confessed with anguish that his army was ‘ruined by straggling.’39
Thoroughly disillusionized, therefore, respecting co-operation in Maryland
, on which he had counted so confidently, it is not probable that Lee
would have sought to push the invasion far, even had its military incidents turned out better for him; but from the moment he set foot across the Potomac
circumstances so shaped themselves as to thwart his designs.
The retention of the garrison at Harper's Ferry
compelled him to turn aside
and reduce that place.
This required the presence of his whole army to cover the operation; and before it was completed, McClellan
had come up and forced him into a corner, so that he never was able to carry out his original design of taking up a position in Western Maryland
, whence to threaten Pennsylvania
Crippled at Antietam
, he was fain to cross the Potomac
, and seek in Virginia
the opportunity to gather up the fragments of his shattered strength; for he had no longer the army with which the campaign was begun.
More than thirty thousand men of the seventy thousand with which he set out from Richmond
, were already dead or hors de combat
. The remainder were in a sorry plight.
Both armies in fact felt the need of some repose; and, glad to be freed from each other's presence,40
they rested on their arms—the Confederates
in the Shenandoah Valley, in the vicinity of Winchester
, and the Army of the Potomac near the scene of its late exploits, amid the picturesque hills and vales of Southwestern Maryland
Close of McClellan's career.
The movement from Washington
to meet Lee
's invasion, was defensive in its purpose, though it assumed the character of a defensive-offensive campaign.
Now that this had been accomplished and Lee
driven across the frontier, it remained to organize on an adequate scale the means of a renewal of grand offensive operations directed at the Confederate army and towards Richmond
The completion of this work, including the furnishing of transportation, clothing, supplies, etc., required upwards of a month, and
during this period no military movement occurred, with the exception of a raid into Pennsylvania
About the middle of October, that enterprising officer, with twelve or fifteen hundred troopers, crossed the Potomac
, passed through Maryland
, penetrated Pennsylvania
, occupied Chambersburg
, where he burnt considerable government stores, and after making the entire circuit of the Union
army, recrossed the Potomac
below the mouth of the Monocacy
He was all the way closely pursued by Pleasonton
with eight hundred cavalry, but though that officer marched seventy-eight miles in twenty-four hours, he was unable to intercept or overtake his fast-riding rival.
On the recrossing of the Potomac
hastened to seize the debouche
of the Shenandoah Valley, by the possession of Harper's Ferry
. Two corps were posted in its vicinity, and the Potomac
spanned by ponton-bridges.
At first McClellan
contemplated pushing his advance against Lee
directly down the Shenandoah Valley, as he found that, by the adoption of the line east of the Blue Ridge
, his antagonist, finding the door open, would again cross to Maryland
But this danger being removed by the oncoming of the season of high-water in the Potomac
determined to operate by the east side of the Blue Ridge
, and on the 26th his advance crossed the Potomac
by a ponton-bridge at Berlin
, five miles below Harper's Ferry
By the 2d November the entire army had crossed at that point.
Advancing due southward towards Warrenton
, he masked the movement by guarding the passes of the Blue Ridge
, and by threatening to issue through these, he compelled Lee
to retain Jackson
in the Valley
With such success was this movement managed, that on reaching Warrenton
on the 9th, while Lee
had sent half of his army forward to Culpepper
to oppose McClellan
's advance in that direction, the other half was still west of the Blue Ridge
, scattered up and down the Valley
, and separated from the other moiety by at least two days march.
's next projected move was to strike across obliquely westward and
interpose between the severed divisions of the Confederate
force; but this step he was prevented from taking by his sudden removal from the command of the Army of the Potomac, while on the march to Warrenton
Late on the night of November 7th, amidst a heavy snow-storm, General Buckingham
, arriving post-haste from Washington
, reached the tent of General McClellan
He was the bearer of the following dispatch, which he handed to General McClellan
It chanced that General Burnside
was at the moment with him in his tent.
Opening the dispatch and reading it, without a change of countenance or of voice, McClellan
passed over the paper to his successor, saying, as he did so: ‘Well, Burnside
, you are to command the army.’41
Thus ended the career of McClellan
as head of the Army of the Potomac—an army which he had first fashioned, and then led in its maiden but checkered experience, till it became a mighty host, formed to war, and baptized in fierce battles and renowned campaigns.
From the exposition I have given of the relations which had grown up between him and those who controlled the war-councils at Washington
, it will have appeared that, were these relations to continue, it would have been better to have even before this removed McClellan
—better for himself, and better for the country.
was practically done, when, on the return from the Peninsula
, his troops were sent forward to join Pope
; but the disastrous termination of that campaign prompted the recall of McClellan
as the only man who could make the army efficient for the trying emergency.
Having accomplished his work of expelling Lee
, he entered, after a brief repose, on a new campaign of invasion; and it was in the midst of this, and on the eve of a decisive blow, that he was suddenly removed.
The moment chosen was an inopportune and an ungracious one; for never had McClellan
acted with such vigor and rapidity—never had he shown so much confidence in himself or the army in him. And it is a notable fact that not only was the whole body of the army-rank and file as well as officers—enthusiastic in their affection for his person, but that the very general appointed as his successor was the strongest opponent of his removal.
The military character of McClellan
will not be difficult to settle, however much it is yet obscured by malicious detraction on the one hand, or blind admiration on the other.
He was assuredly not a great general; for he had the pedantry of war rather than the inspiration of war. His talent was eminently that of the cabinet; and his proper place was in Washington
, where he should have remained as generalin-chief.
Here his ability to plan campaigns and form large strategic combinations, which was remarkable, would have had full scope; and he would have been considerate and helpful to those in the field.
But his power as a tactician was much inferior to his talent as a strategist, and he executed less boldly than he conceived: not appearing to know well those counters with which a commander must work-time, place, and circumstance.
Yet he was improving in this regard, and was like Turenne
, of whom Napoleon
said that he was the only example of a general who grew bolder as he grew older.
To General McClellan
personally it was a misfortune that he became so prominent a figure at the commencement of the contest; for it was inevitable that the first leaders should be sacrificed to the nation's ignorance of war. Taking this into
account, estimating both what he accomplished and what he failed to accomplish, in the actual circumstances of his performance, I have endeavored in the critique of his campaigns to strike a just balance between McClellan
Of him it may be said, that if he does not belong to that foremost category of commanders made up of those who have always been successful, and including but a few illustrious names, neither does he rank with that numerous class who have ruined their armies without fighting.
He ranges with that middle category of meritorious commanders, who, like Sertorius
, and William of Orange
, generally unfortunate in war, yet were, in the words of Marmont
, ‘never destroyed nor discouraged, but were always able to oppose a menacing front, and make the enemy pay dear for what he gained.’