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by John G. Walker, Major-General, C. S. A.

Rallying behind the turnpike fence.

Alittle past the hour of noon on the 16th of September, 1862, General “StonewallJackson and myself reached General Lee's headquarters at Sharpsburg and reported the arrival of our commands. I am thus particular in noting the hour of the arrival of my division for the reason that some writers have fallen into the error of mentioning my arrival as coincident with that of McLaws's division, which was some twenty-two hours later.

The thought of General Lee's perilous situation, with the Potomac River in his rear, confronting, with his small force, McClellan's vast army, had haunted me through the long hours of the night's march, and I expected to find General Lee anxious and careworn. Anxious enough, no doubt, he was; but there was nothing in his look or manner to indicate it. On the contrary, he was calm, dignified, and even cheerful. If he had had a well-equipped army of a hundred thousand veterans at his back, he could not have appeared more composed and confident. On shaking hands with us, he simply expressed his satisfaction with the result of our operations at Harper's Ferry, and with our timely arrival at Sharpsburg; adding that with our reenforcement he felt confident of being able to hold his ground until the arrival of the divisions of R. H. Anderson, McLaws, and A. P. Hill, which were still behind, and which did not arrive until the next day.

At four in the afternoon I received an order from General. Lee to move at 3 o'clock the next morning, and take position with my division on the extreme right of his line of battle, so as to cover a ford of the Antietam, and to lend a hand, in case of necessity, to General Toombs, whose brigade was guarding the bridge over the Antietam called by Federal writers “Burnside's Bridge.” [676]

Burnside's Bridge — I. This picture, after a photograph taken in 1885, is a view of the Confederate position from the slope of the hill occupied by the Union batteries before a crossing was effected. At the time of the battle the buildings had not been erected, and the Confederate hill-side was covered with trees. A Confederate battery on the left enfiladed the crossing. Union sharp-shooters took advantage of the stone-wall on the right of the approach to the bridge. The continuation of the road to Sharpsburg is seen on the right across the bridge.--Editors.

At daybreak on the 17th I took the position assigned me, forming my line of battle on the crest of a ridge in front of the ford just mentioned. The ground, from my position to the creek, distant about five hundred yards, sloped gradually down to the crossing, just below which there was a wooded, bluff-like hill commanding the approach to the ford from the east.2 Here I posted a battalion of skirmishers.

While these dispositions, after a careful reconnoissance of the ground on both sides of the Antietam, were being made, the booming of artillery, at some distance on my left, warned us that the battle had begun. As the morning wore on the firing grew heavier and heavier, until Elk Mountain, to the eastward, gave back an incessant echo.

About 9 o'clock an order was brought by a staff-officer of General Lee, directing me to hurry to the left to reinforce Jackson, who was being hard pressed. Hastily recalling my skirmishers, I hurried forward, left in front, along the rear of the whole Confederate line of battle. As I passed what is now known as Cemetery Hill, I saw General Lee standing erect and calm, with a field-glass to his eye, his fine form sharply outlined against the sky, and I [677]

Burnside's Bridge — ii. This picture, after a photograph taken in 1885, is a view of the Union position from the hill where Confederate artillery was planted to enfilade the bridge. From a point below, the 2d Maryland and the 6th New Hampshire charged up the road, but they were swept by such a mourderous fire that only a few reached the bridge and sought shelter behind the stone-wall above. Subsequently, the bridge was carried by the 51st Pennsylvania and the 51st New York, charging from the pines on the hill-side (see p. 652).--Editors.

thought I had never seen a nobler figure. He seemed quite unconscious that the enemy's shells were exploding around and beyond him.

To those who have not been witnesses of a great battle like this, where more than a hundred thousand men, armed with all the appliances of modern science and skill, are engaged in the work of slaughtering each other, it is impossible by the power of words to convey an adequate idea of its terrible sublimity. The constant booming of cannon, the ceaseless rattle and roar of musketry, the glimpses of galloping horsemen and marching infantry, now seen, now lost in the smoke, adding weirdness to terror, all together make up a combination of sights and sounds wholly indescribable.

Opposite the rear of Longstreet's position I overtook General Ripley, of D. H. Hill's division, who, after having had dressed a serious wound in the neck, was returning to the command of his brigade, then hotly engaged. From him I obtained some information of the progress of the battle in the center.

Hurrying on, I was soon met by a staff-officer, who informed me that it was General Jackson's wish that I should go to the assistance of Hood, who was hard pressed and almost out of ammunition, adding that if I found the [678] Federals in possession of the wood on the Hagerstown road, I must drive them out, as it was the key of the battle-field.

He further explained that there was between the wood, just referred to, and the left of D. H. Hill's position, a gap of at least a third of a mile, and that I must leave a part of my command to fill it, and to support the reserve batteries under Colonel Stephen D. Lee which would also occupy the gap. For this purpose I detached the 27th North Carolina and the 3d Arkansas of Manning's brigade, and placed them under the orders of Colonel John R. Cooke, of the former regiment.3

Moving forward, we soon reached the rear of Hood's position, and there, forming line of battle with Ransom on the left, we moved forward to Hood's relief, supported by McLaws's division, which at that moment (10:30 A. M.) arrived from Harper's Ferry. By this time the Federals [under Sedgwick] had forced Hood's men out of the wood, and were in possession of the key of the battle-field. To regain this position and restore our line was now

Brigadier-General Roswell S. Ripley, C. S. A. From a photograph.

the task before us. This we soon accomplished, but only after perhaps the severest struggle of the day.

The Federals contended for every foot of the ground, but, driven from rock to rock, from tree to tree, of the “West Wood,” after a bloody struggle of some thirty minutes, Sedgwick's forces were pressed back into the open fields beyond, and, being there exposed to the fire of S. D. Lee's artillery, broke and fled in great disorder back to the cover of the “East Wood,” beyond the Hagerstown road.

My loss in this attack was heavy, including the gallant Colonel Van H. Manning, commanding Walker's brigade, who fell severely wounded. The regiment which suffered most was the 30th Virginia. In the ardor of their pursuit of the enemy through the wood, the Virginians followed three hundred yards into the open, where they were fearfully cut up by the Federal batteries; they only saved themselves from annihilation by a timely retreat to the cover of the wood.

This ended the attempt of the Federals to drive Jackson from his position by infantry attacks. Their artillery, however, continued throughout the day to pour a heavy fire upon him, but with little effect. Our position was a most advantageous one. The space between it and the “East Wood,” occupied by [679] the Federals, consisted of meadows and corn-fields, intersected by fences, and in passing over the ground their attacking columns were exposed to the fire of our batteries. Seventy or eighty yards in front of our position, and parallel with it, was a ridge, which, although slight, was sufficient to cover our men as they lay down among the trees and bowlders which covered the ground. The projectiles from the Federal batteries, striking this ridge, passed harmlessly over our heads, shattering the branches of the trees and tumbling them down in showers upon our men. Occasionally a shell would explode above us and send its hissing fragments in the midst of us, but our loss from this cause was surprisingly small.

The Federal infantry assaults having ceased, about half-past 12 I sought Jackson to report that from the front of my position in the wood I thought I had observed a movement of the enemy, as if to pass through the gap where I had posted Colonel Cooke's two regiments.o I found Jackson in rear of Barksdale's brigade, under an apple-tree, sitting on his horse, with one leg thrown carelessly over the pommel of his saddle, plucking and eating the fruit. Without

Confederate dead on Ti-E West side of the Hagerstown road opposite the corn-field. From a photograph.

making any reply to my report, he asked me abruptly: “Can you spare me a regiment and a battery?” I replied that Colonel Hill's 49th North Carolina, a very strong regiment, was in reserve, and could be spared, and that I could also give him both French's and Branch's batteries, but that they were without long-range ammunition, which had been exhausted at Harper's Ferry.

Jackson then went on to say that, owing to the nature of the ground, General Stuart's cavalry could take no part in the battle and were in the rear, but that Stuart himself had reported for such duty as he could perform.

Jackson added that he wished to make up, from the different commands on our left, a force of four or five thousand men, and give them to Stuart, with orders to turn the enemy's right, and attack him in the rear; that I must give orders to my division to advance to the front, and attack the enemy as soon as I should hear Stuart's guns — and that our whole left wing would move to the attack at the same time. Then, replacing his foot in the stirrup, he said with great emphasis: “We'll drive McClellan into the Potomac.”

After giving orders for the regiment and batteries to report to Stuart, I galloped down the line where I had posted Cooke, but found that General Longstreet, having observed the danger from General French's formidable attack, had ordered Cooke forward, and that (together with D. H. Hill's division) [680] he was then closely engaged. Soon returning to my command, I repeated General Jackson's order to my brigade commanders and directed them to listen for the sound of Stuart's guns. We all confidently expected to hear the welcome sound by 2 o'clock, at least, and as that hour approached every ear was on the alert. Napoleon at Waterloo did not listen more intently for the sound of Grouchy's fire than did we

North-West angle of the “East Wood” and the corn-field. From a sketch made at the time. When the artist sketched this scene he was told that the guns in the corn-field belonged to a Maryland battery (Union), which was firing into the Dunker Church wood beyond. Most of the dead and wounded in this angle of the “East Wood” were Confederates. One of them, under the large tree at the left, had bound his shattered leg with corn-stalks and leaves to stop the flow of blood. He asked for water, of which there was none, and then begged the artist to remove his dead comrade, who was lying partly upon him, which was done. He wanted to be carried out of the woods, because he expected his friends to return alnd fight for them again. At the right was a tall young Georgian with a shattered ankle, sitting at the feet of one of the dead, who, he said, was his father.--Editors.

for Stuart's. Two o'clock came, but nothing was heard of Stuart. Half-past 2 and then three, and still Stuart made no sign.

About half-past 3 a staff-officer of General Longstreet brought me an order from that general to advance and attack the enemy in my front. As the execution of this order would materially interfere with Jackson's plans, I thought it my duty before beginning the movement to communicate with General Longstreet personally. I found him in rear of the position in which I had posted Cooke in the morning, and upon informing him of Jackson's intentions, he withdrew his order.

While we were discussing this subject, Jackson himself joined us with the information of Stuart's failure to turn the Federal right, for the reason that he had found it securely posted on the Potomac. Upon my expressing surprise at this statement, Jackson replied that he also had been surprised, as he had supposed the Potomac much farther away; but he remarked that Stuart had an excellent eye for topography, and it must be as he represented. He added: “It is a great pity,--we should have driven McClellan into the Potomac.”

By this time, with staff-officers, couriers, etc., we were a mounted group of some ten or a dozen persons, presenting so tempting a target that a Federal battery, at a distance of five hundred yards, opened fire upon us, but with no other result, strange to say, than the slaughter of the horse of one of my couriers. [681]

The attempt of the Federals to penetrate our center, and its repulse by D. H. Hill, materially assisted by Colonel John R. Cooke's two regiments of my division,4 ended infantry operations on our portion of the field for the day. The batteries, however, continued to pound away at each other until dark.

Late in the afternoon the direction of the firing on our extreme right was most alarming,--indicating, as it did, that the Federal left had forced a crossing of the Antietam, and that it must be perilously near our only line of retreat to the Potomac, at Shepherdstown. Could it be that A. P. Hill had come up and had been repulsed? If so, we had lost the day.

We hoped that A. P. Hill was still behind, but within striking distance. Soon the sound of musketry, which had almost ceased, roared out again with increased volume, indicating that fresh troops had been brought up, on one side or the other. For thirty minutes the sound of the firing came steadily from the same direction; then it seemed to recede eastward, and finally to die away almost entirely. We knew then that Hill was up; that the Federals had been driven back, and that the Confederate army had narrowly escaped defeat.

As night closed down, the firing along the whole line ceased; one of the bloodiest and most hotly contested battles of the war had been fought. The men of my division — worn out by a week's incessant marching and fighting by day and night — dropped down where they were, and could with difficulty be roused, even to take their cooked rations, brought up from our camp in the rear.

But there was little sleep for the ambulance corps; and all night long their lanterns could be seen flashing about the battle-field while they were searching for and bringing in the wounded, of friend and foe alike. In company with General Barksdale of Mississippi, whose brigade was on my left, I rode over that part of the battle-field where our own troops had been engaged, to see that none of the wounded had been overlooked. While passing along a worm fence, in the darkness, we heard a feeble voice almost under our horses' feet: “Don't let your horses t-r-e-a-d on m-e!” We at once pulled up, and peering over the pommels of our saddles into the darkness, we could distinguish the dim outlines of a human form extended across our path. “Who are you?” we inquired. “I belong to the 20th Mas-sa-chu-setts rig-i-ment,” answered the voice; “I can't move — I think my back's broken.” We sent for an ambulance and gave orders to care for the poor fellow, who was one of Sedgwick's men. This was but one of the very many instances of human suffering we encountered that night.

During the whole of the 18th the two armies rested in the positions which they had occupied at the close of the battle. There was a tacit truce, and Federal and Confederate burying-parties passed freely between the lines. [682]

We had fought an indecisive battle, and although we were, perhaps, in as good a condition to renew the struggle as the enemy were, General Lee recognized the fact that his ulterior plans had been thwarted by this premature engagement, and after a consultation with his corps commanders he determined to withdraw from Maryland. At dark on the night of the 18th the rearward movement began; and a little after sunrise of the next morning the entire Confederate army had safely recrossed the Potomac at Shepherdstown.

Detained in superintending the removal of a number of the wounded of my division, I was among the last to cross the Potomac. As I rode into the river I passed General Lee, sitting on his horse in the stream, watching the crossing of the wagons and artillery. Returning my greeting, he inquired as to what was still behind. There was nothing but the wagons containing my wounded, and a battery of artillery, all of which were near at hand, and I told him so. “Thank God!” I heard him say as I rode on.

1 for an account of the part taken by General Walker's division in the operations leading to the surrender of Harper's Ferry, see pp. 604 to 611.--Editors.

2 The ford by which Rodman crossed after Walker's forces were withdrawn.--Editors.

3 These are the troops spoken of in General D. H. Hill's report as “Walker's,” who assisted in the repulse of Federal General French, later in the day. As the main body of my division was some distance to the left of the corn-fields where Cooke's regiments were posted, General Palfrey [in his volume “The Antietam and Fredericksburg,” p. 94] expresses some uncertainty as to General Hill's meaning.--J. G. W.

See also General Longstreet, p. 669.--Editors.

4 The gallant conduct of Colonel Cooke on this occasion deservedly won for him promotion to the grade of brigadier-general. His losses in this engagement were terrible. In his own regiment, the 27th North Carolina, out of 26 commissioned officers who went into action, 18 were killed or wounded. In the 3d Arkansas the losses were equally great.--J. G. W.

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