previous next

Chapter 10:

  • Campaign in Maryland
  • -- battle of South Mountain -- battle of Antietam

The campaign of General Pope in Virginia was closed with the disastrous battle of August 30, 1862, fought on the ill-omened field of Bull Run, [281] and with that of Chantilly, two days after, in which our success was dearly bought by the loss of two of the best officers in the service, General Stevens and General Kearney. On the 1st of September General McClellan went into Washington, where he had an interview with General Halleck, who instructed him verbally to take command of the defences of the place, with authority expressly limited to the works and their garrisons, and not extending to the troops in front under General Pope.

On the same day General McClellan waited upon the President of the United States, at the house of General Halleck, and in obedience to a message from him. He was then and there told by the President that he had reason to believe that the Army of the Potomac was not cheerfully co-operating with and supporting General Pope, and was asked to use his influence in correcting this state of things. General McClellan replied that the information could not be true, and that the Army of the Potomac, whatever might be their estimate of General Pope, would obey his orders and do their duty. But this did not satisfy the President, who seemed much moved during the interview; and, at his earnest and reiterated request, General McClellan telegraphed to General Porter as follows :

Washington, September 1, 1862.
I ask of you, for my sake, that of the country, and the old Army of the Potomac, that you and all my friends will lend the fullest and most cordial co-operation to General Pope in all the operations now going on. The destinies of our country, the honor of our army, are at [282] stake, and all depends now upon the cheerful co-operation of all in the field. This week is the crisis of our fate. Say the same thing to my friends in the Army of the Potomac, and that the last request I have to make of them is that, for their country's sake, they will extend to General Pope the same support they ever have to me.

I am in charge of the defences of Washington, and am doing all I can to render your retreat safe, should that become necessary.

General Porter sent the following reply:--

Fairfax Court-House, 10 A. M., September 2, 1862.
You may rest assured that all your friends, as well as every lover of his country, will ever give, as they have given, to General Pope their cordial co-operation and constant support in the execution of all orders and plans. Our killed, wounded, and enfeebled troops attest our devoted duty.

It need hardly be said that General McClellan's message, unexplained, is open to the obvious inference that he had some doubt whether General Porter and the troops under him would be faithful in the discharge of their duty to the nation and its cause; but no such impression ever crossed his mind, and what he did was done solely at the President's request.

On the same day, September 2, the roads leading [283] into Washington from the west began to be filled with the broken fragments of a defeated and demoralized army, like a lee shore strewn with the wreck of a noble fleet. Ambulances moved slowly along with their mournful freight of wounded men. Groups and squads of straggling soldiers appeared, weary and footsore, some slightly hurt, and all dispirited, some sadly silent, and some uttering curses and threats. The emergency of the case required immediate action; and in view of the attachment of the Army of the Potomac to their late commander, and of their unabated confidence in him, the President of the United States did the best and wisest thing he could have done under the circumstances: he turned to General McClellan for help. In a personal interview, he begged of the latter to reassume command of the forces, make provisions for the defence of the capital, and act according to the best of his judgment for the common cause. Not readily, not without a good deal of anxious misgiving, did General McClellan yield; but he did yield at last. He accepted the trust, and instantly began the discharge of its duties with his wonted energy. Aides were sent out to the commanders of divisions, with instructions to move their commands to designated points. On the very day of his reappointment, General McClellan was himself in the saddle, giving personal directions to portions of the advancing army; and the next day he was at Alexandria, rectifying the positions of the troops and issuing necessary orders.

The soldiers of the Army of the Potomac, as soon [284] as they learned that their beloved commander was to lead them again, took heart once more. Confidence returned. “Hope elevated and joy brightened their crests.” Missing men reappeared, the broken fragments of divisions and brigades were reunited, order reigned anew in the lately disordered files, and the shattered and demoralized host began instantly to assume the method and proportions of an army, with “degree, priority, and place.” Before the close of that very 2d of September, such dispositions were made as insured the successful defence of Washington against any attack on the south side of the Potomac.1 [285]

But this was not the intention of the enemy; for on the 3d he had disappeared from the front of Washington, and the information received of his movements induced the belief that he intended to cross the Upper Potomac into Maryland. This made an active campaign necessary in order to cover Baltimore, prevent the invasion of Pennsylvania, and clear Maryland; and measures were immediately taken accordingly. General Banks was left in command of the defences of Washington; and on the 4th of September a forward movement of the army was commenced, and General McClellan himself left the capital and took the field on the 7th. At this time it was known that the mass of the rebel army had passed up the south side of the Potomac, in the direction of Leesburg, and that a portion had crossed into Maryland; but whether they intended to send over their whole force with a view to turn Washington by a flank movement down the north bank of the Potomac, or to move on Baltimore, or to invade Pennsylvania, were matters of uncertainty. This constrained General McClellan to proceed with great caution for a few days, and so move as to keep both Baltimore and Washington covered, and at the same time hold the troops in readiness to follow the enemy if he went into Pennsylvania.

The general course of the march was in a northwesterly direction, the points of destination being the city of Frederick. in Maryland, and its vicinity. [286] The army moved in five columns, stretching across the region embraced between the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Potomac. The left always rested on the river, and the extreme right was as far out as Cooksville. On the 14th of September, Burnside and Sumner, each with two corps, were at South Mountain, Franklin's corps and Couch's division were at Burkettsville, and Sykes's division was at Middletown.

As soon as General McClellan had left Washington, an active intercourse by telegraph-wires began to be kept up between him and the authorities there, especially the President of the United States and the commander-in-chief. The communications sent to General McClellan are tinged with a questioning and complaining spirit, showing that he no more enjoyed the confidence of the Administration than during the campaign in Virginia, and forcing upon him the conviction that his appointment was rather extorted from them in deference to the strong sentiment of the army than as a spontaneous movement of their own. General Halleck's mind was darkened with apprehensions for the safety of the capital, and he feared that General McClellan's movements were too precipitate, and that he was exposing his front and rear. Upon these views of the commander-in-chief, General McClellan remarks, in his Report,--

The importance of moving with all due caution, so as not to uncover the national capital until the enemy's position and plans were developed, was, I believe, fully appreciated by me; and, as my troops extended from the [287] Baltimore & Ohio Railroad to the Potomac, with the extreme left flank moving along that stream, and with strong pickets left in rear to watch and guard all the available fords, I did not regard my left or rear as in any degree exposed. But it appears from the foregoing telegrams that the general-in-chief was of a different opinion, and that my movements were, in his judgment, too precipitate not only for the safety of Washington, but also for the security of my left and rear.

The precise nature of these daily injunctions against a precipitate advance may now be perceived. The general-in-chief, in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, says, “In respect to General McClellan's going too fast, or too far from Washington, there can be found no such telegram from me to him. He has mistaken the meaning of the telegrams I sent him. I telegraphed him that he was going too far, not from Washington, but from the Potomac, leaving General Lee the opportunity to come down the Potomac and get between him and Washington. I thought General McClellan should keep more on the Potomac, and press forward his left rather than his right, so as the more readily to relieve Harper's Ferry.”

As I can find no telegram from the general-in-chief recommending me to keep my left flank nearer the Potomac, I am compelled to believe that when he gave this testimony he had forgotten the purport of the telegrams above quoted, and had also ceased to remember the fact, well known to him at the time, that my left, from the time I left Washington, always rested on the Potomac, and that my centre was continually in position to reinforce the left or right, as occasion might require. Had I advanced my left flank along the Potomac more rapidly than the other columns marched upon the roads to the right, I should have thrown that flank out of supporting distance of the other troops, and greatly exposed it. And [288] if I had marched the entire army in one column along the banks of the river, instead of upon five different parallel roads, the column, with its trains, would have extended about fifty miles, and the enemy might have defeated the advance before the rear could have reached the scene of action. Moreover, such a movement would have uncovered the communications with Baltimore and Washington on our right, and exposed our left and rear. I presume it will be admitted by every military man that it was necessary to move the army in such order that it could at any time be concentrated for battle; and I am of opinion that this object could not have been accomplished in any other way than the one employed. Any other disposition of our forces would have subjected them to defeat in detached fragments.

In the mean time the Confederate army had crossed the Potomac at two fords near Point of Rocks, entered Maryland, and marched as far as Frederick, which they reached and occupied on the 6th. The main body of the army encamped for some days on a line between Frederick and the Potomac River. Recruiting-offices were opened in the city, and citizens invited to enlist; but very few recruits were obtained. An address was issued to the people of Maryland by General Lee, but no enthusiastic response was made; and the Confederate leaders were much disappointed at the coldness and indifference with which they were received.

On the 10th, General Lee began to evacuate Frederick, and, taking the road to Hagerstown, crossed the Catoctin Mountains, passed through the valley in which Middletown is situated, and drew up his forces along the crest of South Mountain, to [289] await the advance of General McClellan. At the same time he detached a portion of his force, amounting to twenty-five thousand men, and sent them, under command of General Jackson, to Harper's Ferry, by the Williamsport road. On the 13th, the rear-guard of the enemy's army was found in strong position at Turner's Gap of the South Mountain, over which the main road from Frederick to Hagerstown is carried; and preparations were made for an attack the next morning. The position of the Confederates was very strong on the sides and summit of the mountain, both to the right and left of the gap. The battle began on the morning of the 14th, but was some hours merely an artillery duel, with no very decisive results, though, on the whole, with gain to our side. At three, our line of battle was formed, and orders were given to move the whole forward, and take or silence the enemy's batteries. They were executed with enthusiasm and complete success. Our right, centre, and left advanced simultaneously towards the enemy, unbroken by a fire from two pieces of cannon which played upon our columns for upwards of an hour before they were silenced by our batteries. The right wing, where General Hooker was in command, was first engaged, and the left followed at no long interval. The tactics and order of battle were simple, and substantially the same all along the line. Steadily, without pause or wavering, our gallant troops pressed up the slope, and delivered heavy volleys of musketry as they came within range. It was for some time a hot and steady fight [290] of man against man, company against company, regiment against regiment. The woods, the ledges of rock, all the natural lines of attack and defence, were for some time blazing with steady sheets of dazzling flame and ringing with sharp volleys. But our line moved on with the sweeping and irresistible force of a mighty flood, and the Confederates soon began to waver and give way. They were driven up to the top of the mountain, and thence down on the other side. At six o'clock the enemy had been beaten from all their positions, and we held undisturbed possession of the heights.

The battle of South Mountain reflected high honor upon the officers and men who took part in it. The judicious plans of the general commanding were admirably and successfully carried out. Our numbers were probably somewhat larger than the enemy's; but this advantage was more than counter-balanced by his superiority in position, on the crest and sides of a hill, with woods and rocky ledges for shelter and defence, and broken ground everywhere to embarrass the movements of our troops.

Our losses were three hundred and twelve killed, twelve hundred and thirty-four wounded, twenty-two missing. Among the killed was General Reno, a brave and valuable officer, who was General McClellan's classmate at West Point.

At the same time with the battle of South Mountain, an engagement took place at Crampton's Pass, between a division under General Franklin and a portion of the Confederate army. The enemy were found in the rear of Burkettsville, at the base of [291] the mountain, with infantry posted in force on both sides of the road, and artillery in strong positions to defend the approaches to the Pass. They were forced from their positions by a steady charge of our line, and driven up the slope, and at the end of three hours fighting the crest was carried, and the enemy fled down the mountain on the other side.

On the 12th of September, the Confederate force under General Jackson, which had been detached for the purpose, appeared before Harper's Ferry, and on the 15th the unfortunate and humiliating surrender of that position took place,--the Union cavalry having, on the night of the 14th, cut their way through the enemy's line and reached Green-castle, Pa., in safety the next morning. The untoward surrender of this post awakened a very strong feeling throughout the country, and a court of inquiry was immediately summoned to investigate the circumstances. The court met in Washington on the 25th of September, and their report was published early in November. It gives a detailed narrative of the surrender, and states the conclusion that “the incapacity” of Colonel Miles, the commanding officer (who, happily for him, was killed during the assault), “amounting almost to imbecility, led to the shameful surrender of this important post.” The report also strongly reflects upon “the military incapacity” of Colonel Ford, the officer second in command, in consequence of which he was dismissed from the service of the United States.

But the military commission diverges a little [292] from its legitimate path of inquiry, and lends itself to the persistent hostility with which General McClellan was pursued by the general-in-chief, in the paragraphs following:--

The commission has remarked freely on Colonel Miles, an old officer, who has been killed in the service of his country; and it cannot, from any motives of delicacy, refrain from censuring those in high command when it thinks such censure deserved.

The general-in-chief has testified that General McClellan, after having received orders to repel the enemy invading the State of Maryland, marched only six miles per day, on an average,when pursuing this invading enemy.

The general-in-chief also testifies that, in his opinion, he could and should have relieved and protected Harper's Ferry; and in this opinion the commission fully concur.

Upon these charges General McClellan quietly and pertinently remarks in his Report,--

I have been greatly surprised that this commission, in its investigations never called upon me, nor upon any officer of my staff, nor, so far as I know, upon any officer of the Army of the Potomac able to give an intelligent statement of the movements of that army. But another paragraph in the same report makes testimony from such sources quite superfluous. It is as follows:--

“By a reference to the evidence it will be seen that, at the very moment Colonel Ford abandoned Maryland Heights, his little army was in reality relieved by Generals Franklin's and Sumner's corps at Crampton's Gap, within seven miles of his position.”

The corps of Generals Franklin and Sumner were a part of the army which I at that time had the honor to [293] command, and they were acting under my orders at Crampton's Gap and elsewhere; and if, as the commission states, Colonel Ford's “little army was in reality relieved” by those officers, it was relieved by me.

It will be observed that the general-in-chief testifies and the commission reports on an issue not then legitimately on trial; and that is, the rate at which the army of General McClellan marched during the Maryland campaign. Good haters should have good memories; and the general-in-chief had apparently forgotten, when he was censuring General McClellan before the commission for moving only six miles a day, that only a short time before he had been apprehensive that the army was going too fast, and was thus uncovering Washington as well as exposing its own front and rear.

Why, in point of fact, the army moved no more than six miles a day may be easily explained.

In the first place, it was not distinctly known where the rebel army was going, and it was necessary to proceed cautiously, so as to keep watch upon it and be ready to anticipate and foil any sudden movement. In the second place, the invading army was well organized, well disciplined, led by a skilful commander, and flushed with victory, whereas our own was demoralized by a recent defeat and by a sudden change in command; and these slow marches were necessary for organization and consolidation, and to establish true relations between the soldiers and their new leader.

But to return to the surrender of Harper's [294] Ferry. Before General McClellan left Washington, he recommended to the proper authorities that the garrison at Harper's Ferry should be withdrawn by way of Hagerstown to aid in covering the Cumberland Valley, or that, taking up the pontoon bridge and obstructing the railroad bridge, it should fall back to the Maryland Heights and there hold out to the last. This was unquestionably judicious advice; but it was not deemed proper to adopt either of the plans suggested. The garrison was not withdrawn,--as would have been the wiser course, for the position was of no value as a strategic point, as the enemy's troops then stood,--nor were measures taken to protect them from capture.

It was not until the 12th that General McClellan was directed to assume command of the garrison at Harper's Ferry, as soon as he should open communication with that place; but when this order was received, all communication from the direction he was approaching was cut off. Nothing, therefore, was left to be done but to endeavor to relieve the garrison. Artillery was ordered to be fired by our advance, at frequent intervals, as a signal that relief was at hand; and these reports, as was afterwards ascertained, were distinctly heard at Harper's Ferry. It was confidently expected that Colonel Miles would hold out till our forces had carried the mountain-passes and were in a condition to send a detachment to his relief; and this he assuredly might have done, had he been competent to the important command intrusted to him. And it was [295] with a view of relieving the garrison at Harper's Ferry that Franklin's column was ordered to move through Crampton's Pass, in front of Burkettsville, while the centre and right marched upon Turner's Pass in front of Middletown.

On the 14th a verbal message from Colonel Miles reached General McClellan, which was the first authentic intelligence the latter had received as to the condition of things at Harper's Ferry. The messenger reported as to the position of our force there, and stated that Colonel Miles instructed him to say that he could hold out with certainty two days longer. General McClellan directed him to make his way back, if possible, with the information that he was rapidly approaching and felt confident that he could relieve the place. It does not appear that this message ever reached Colonel Miles.

On the afternoon of the 14th, General McClellan addressed a letter to Colonel Miles, giving him instructions and information, assuring him that the centre was making every effort to relieve him, and entreating him to hold out to the last extremity. Three copies of this letter were sent by three different couriers on three different routes, but none of them succeeded in reaching Harper's Ferry.

On the previous day, September 13, General McClellan had sent to General Franklin a letter of detailed instructions as to his movements, and further orders were despatched on the following day.

The results of the battle of South Mountain--considering [296] Franklin's attack on Crampton's Pass as a part of one general and concerted plan — responded exactly to General McClellan's hopes and wishes; and the close of the action, on the evening of the 14th, found General Franklin's advance within six miles of Harper's Ferry. A despatch was sent to him from Headquarters during the night of the 14th, containing instructions as to his movements in case he should succeed in opening communication with Colonel Miles; and this would have been done had the place held out for twenty-four hours longer. But the surrender was made at eight A. M. on the 15th.

Upon a fair examination of the case, it cannot be maintained that General McClellan is guilty of the charge made by the general-in-chief, and sanctioned by the Committee of Inquiry, that he failed to relieve and protect Harper's Ferry, having the power to do so.

The battle of Antietam.

The pursuit of the enemy followed immediately after the battle of South Mountain, and on the 15th they were found strongly posted behind Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg. Our troops were not up in sufficient force to begin the attack on that day. The ground occupied by the Confederates was a rugged and wooded plateau, descending to the banks of the Antietam, which is here a deep stream, with few fords, and crossed by three stone bridges. On all favorable points the enemy's artillery [297] was posted; and their reserves, hidden from view by the hills on which their line of battle was formed, could manoeuvre without being seen by our army, and, from the shortness of their line, could easily reinforce any point which needed strengthening. Their position, stretching across the space included between the Potomac and tho Antietam, their flanks and rear protected by these streams, was very strong, and it had the further advantage of masking their numbers from our observation.

On the morning of the 16th it was discovered that the enemy had changed the position of his batteries; and the whole forenoon was spent in reconnoitring, in examining the ground, finding fords, clearing the approaches, and hurrying up the ammunition and supply trains, which had been delayed by the rapid march of the troops. About daylight the enemy opened a heavy fire of artillery on our guns in position, which was promptly returned. Their fire was silenced for the time, but it was frequently renewed during the day.

General McClellan's plan was to attack the enemy's left with the corps of Hooker and Mansfield, supported by Sumner's, and, if necessary, by Franklin's; and, in case of success at this point, to move Burnside's corps against the enemy's extreme right, and, having carried their position, to press along the crest towards our right, and, whenever either of these flank movements should be successful, to advance our centre with all the forces then disposable. The general in command himself [298] occupied a ridge on the centre, where Porter's corps, including Sykes's division, was stationed as a reserve.

About three o'clock, General Hooker crossed the Antietam by the bridge on the Hagerstown road and an adjacent ford, and soon gained the crest of the hill on the right bank of the stream. He then turned to the left, and followed down the ridge, under a sharp fire of musketry, which lasted till dark.

During the night, General Mansfield's corps crossed the Antietam by the same bridge and ford used by Hooker's.

At daylight on the 17th, General Hooker attacked the enemy's forces before him, and drove them from the open field in front of the first line of woods into a second line of woods beyond. But out of this second line a very destructive fire was poured from a body of fresh troops, before which our own forces recoiled. General Mansfield's corps was now ordered up, and came promptly into action; and for about two hours the tide of battle swayed to and fro with varying fortunes. The scene of the heaviest fighting was a piece of ploughed land, nearly enclosed by woods, and entered by a corn-field in the rear, on the crest of the hill. Three or four times this position was taken and lost, and the ground was thickly strewn with the bodies of the dead. Early in the fight, the gallant veteran General Mansfield was mortally wounded. General Hartsuff, of Hooker's corps, and General Crawford, of Mansfield's corps, [299] were both wounded, the former severely. Between nine and ten, General Hooker, who had shown excellent conduct and the most brilliant courage, was shot through the foot, and, after having fainted with pain, was obliged to leave the field.

At this time General Sumner's corps reached this portion of the field, and became hotly engaged; but it suffered severely from a heavy fire of musketry and shell from the enemy's breast-works and batteries, and portions of the line were compelled to withdraw. General Sedgwick and General Dana were seriously wounded, and taken from the field. On the left, General Richardson was mortally wounded, and General Meagher disabled by the fall of his horse, shot under him.

At one o'clock the aspect of affairs on our right flank was not promising. Our troops had suffered severely, and our loss in officers had been frightful. Portions of our force were scattered and demoralized, and the corn-field before mentioned was in the enemy's possession. We were in no condition to assume the offensive, and hardly able to hold the positions we had gained. At this time General Franklin arrived upon the field with fresh troops; and while one of his divisions, under Slocum, was sent forward on the left to the support of French and Richardson, another, under Smith, was ordered to retake the woods and corn-fields which had been so hotly contested during the day. This order was executed in the most gallant style, and in ter minutes the enemy were driven out and our troop, were in undisturbed possession of the whole field. [300]

This was substantially the close of the battle on our right, though the artillery on both sides maintained a fire for some time longer. It was not deemed safe for Franklin's corps to push on any farther, because the rest of our troops had suffered too severely to be relied upon as an efficient reserve. The battle had been fought with desperate courage on both sides, but the advantage, on the whole, was with us. But we had lost too many men, and were too much exhausted, to make any new attack, and the enemy were not able to assume the offensive.

Meanwhile, Burnside had been engaged on the extreme left of the Federal position in attempting to cross the lower stone bridge,--a structure strongly defended by infantry and artillery. After two unsuccessful attacks, it was finally carried by assault, and the Confederates driven to a range of hills in the rear, where their batteries played upon our troops with damaging effect. A halt was then made until three o'clock, when urgent orders were sent from Headquarters to General Burnside to push forward his force and carry these heights at any cost. The advance was then gallantly resumed, the enemy driven from his guns, and the heights carried. By this time it was nearly dark, and strong reinforcements having just then reached the enemy from Harper's Ferry, attacked Burnside's troops on the left flank, and forced them to retire to a lower line of hills nearer the bridge. During this movement General Rodman was mortally wounded.

All day long General Porter's reserve corps filled the interval between the right wing and General [301] Burnside's command, guarding the main approach from the enemy's position to our trains of supply. It had been necessary to maintain this part of our line in strong force, lest the enemy, taking advantage of an exhibition of weakness there, should pierce our centre, gain our rear, and capture or destroy our supply-trains. General Burnside, at the close of the day, hotly pressed by the enemy, had sent an urgent request for reinforcements; but they could not be had, and he was ordered to hold his ground, or at least the bridge, till dark. At one moment, about the middle of the afternoon, the position on our right was so critical that two brigades from Porter's corps were ordered to reinforce our troops on that wing; but, after conference with General Sumner, the order was countermanded while in the course of execution.

Our entire force engaged at Antietam was about eighty-seven thousand men. That of the Confederates was less at the beginning, but they were reinforced during the day by Jackson's command from Harper's Ferry; and during the afternoon the numbers were probably about equal. Our loss in killed, wounded, and missing was twelve thousand four hundred and nine; that of the Confederates was at least as great.

Thirteen guns, thirty-nine colors, upwards of fifteen thousand stand of small arms, and more than six thousand prisoners were our trophies of success in the battles of South Mountain and Antietam. Not a gun or a color was lost by our army. [302]

Early on the 18th the Confederates sent in a flag of truce, asking permission to bury their dead who had fallen between the lines of the two armies. The request was granted. General McClellan says, in his Report, after a detailed account of the battle,--

Night closed the long and desperately-contested battle of the 17th. Nearly two hundred thousand men and five hundred pieces of artillery were for fourteen hours engaged in this memorable battle. We had attacked the enemy in a position selected by the experienced engineer then in person directing their operations. We had driven them from their line on one flank, and secured a footing within it on the other. The Army of the Potomac, notwithstanding the moral effect incident to previous reverses, had achieved a victory over an adversary invested with the prestige of recent success. Our soldiers slept that night conquerors oh a field won by their valor and covered with the dead and wounded of the enemy.

The night, however, brought with it grave responsibilities. Whether to renew the attack on the 18th or to defer it, even with the risk of the enemy's retirement, was the question before me.

After a night of anxious deliberation, and a full and careful survey of the situation and condition of our army, and the strength and position of the enemy, I concluded that the success of an attack on the 18th was not certain. I am aware of the fact that, under ordinary circumstances, a general is expected to risk a battle if he has a reasonable prospect of success; but at this critical juncture I should have had a narrow view of the condition of the country had I been willing to hazard another battle with less than an absolute assurance of success. At that moment — Virginia lost, Washington menaced, Maryland invaded — the [303] national cause could afford no risks of defeat. One battle lost, and almost all would have been lost. Lee's army might then have marched as it pleased on Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, or New York. It could have levied its supplies from a fertile and undevastated country, extorted tribute from wealthy and populous cities, and nowhere east of the Alleghanies was there another organized force able to arrest its march.

He then proceeds to set forth some of the considerations which led him to doubt the certainty of success in attacking before the 19th.

The troops were greatly overcome by the exhaustion of the recent battles, and the long day and night marches of the previous three days.

The supply-trains were in the rear, and many of the troops had suffered from hunger. They required rest and refreshment.

One division of Sumner's and all of Hooker's corps, on the right, after fighting valiantly for many hours, had been driven back in disorder, and were somewhat demoralized.

Our losses had been very heavy.

Many of our heaviest batteries had consumed all their ammunition, and they could not be supplied till late on the 18th.

Large reinforcements which were immediately expected had not arrived.

Supplies of forage had to be brought up and issued, and infantry-ammunition distributed.

The 18th was, therefore, spent in collecting the dispersed, giving rest to the fatigued, burying the dead, and the necessary preparations for a renewal [304] of the battle. Orders were given for an attack at daylight on the 19th. But during the night of the 18th the enemy abandoned their position, and crossed the Potomac into Virginia, just two weeks from the day they had entered Maryland. As their line was near the river, the evacuation presented little difficulty, and was effected before daylight.

On the 19th, General McClellan sent to the commander-in-chief a telegraphic report as follows--:

I have the honor to report that Maryland is entirely freed from the presence of the enemy, who has been driven across the Potomac. No fears need now be entertained for the safety of Pennsylvania. I shall at once occupy Harper's Ferry.

On the following day this despatch was received:--

Washington, September 20, 1862, 2 P. M.
We are still left entirely in the dark in regard to your own movements and those of the enemy. This should not be so. You should keep me advised of both, so far as you know them.

In reply to this curt and ungracious message, General McClellan, after giving the information sought, as far as it was in his power to do, said,--

I regret that you find it necessary to couch every despatch I have the honor to receive from you in the spirit of fault-finding, and that you have not yet found leisure [305] to say one word in commendation of the recent achievements of this army, or even to allude to them.

On the same 19th of September, in the midst of his onerous cares and labors, General McClellan found time to send another despatch to the commander-in-chief, as an act of prompt justice to a brave officer. It was as follows:--

Headquarters army of the Potomac, September 19.
As an act of justice to the merits of that most excellent officer, Major-General Joseph Hooker, who was eminently conspicuous for his gallantry and ability as a leader in several hard-fought battles in Virginia, and who in the battle of Antietam Creek, on the 17th inst., was wounded at the head of his corps while leading it forward in action, I most urgently recommend him for the appointment of brigadier-general in the United States Army, to fill the vacancy created by the death of the late Brigadier-General Mansfield. This would be but a fit reward for the service General Hooker rendered his country. I feel sure his appointment would gratify the whole army.

George B. McClellan, Major-General. Major-General H. W. Halleck, General-in-Chief.

This suggestion was adopted, and General Hooker was made a brigadier-general in the regular army of the United States, his commission bearing date September 2, 1862.

The result of the victories at South Mountain and Antietam was to drive the enemy from Maryland, to secure Pennsylvania from invasion, and to put Harper's Ferry once more into our possession. [306] This was much to have been done in a fortnight's time by an army in the shattered and demoralized condition that General McClellan's was in when he took it in hand on the second day of September. How strong a sense of the value of these services was felt by those who were most nearly interested may be learned by an executive order of the Governor of Maryland, as follows:--

State of Maryland, Executive Department, Annapolis, September 29, 1862.
The expulsion of the rebel army from the soil of Maryland should not be suffered to pass without a proper acknowledgment, and the cordial thanks of her authorities to those who were chiefly instrumental in compelling that evacuation.

I would tender, therefore, on behalf of the State of Maryland, to Major-General McClellan, and the gallant officers and men under his command, my earnest and hearty thanks for the distinguished courage, skill, and gallantry with which the achievement was accomplished. It reflects a lustre upon the ability of the commander-in-chief, and the heroism and endurance of his followers, that the country everywhere recognizes, and that even our enemies are constrained to acknowledge.

A. W. Bradford. By the Governor: Wm. B. Hill, Secretary of State.

1 “To-day, by order of the President, General McClellan has again assumed the supreme command of the army. Immediately after accepting the chief command of all the Union forces in the neighborhood of Washington, General McClellan proceeded to inspect the troops and fortifications on the south side of the river. This occupied him until after midnight. His reception by the officers and soldiers was marked by the most unbounded enthusiasm. In every camp his arrival was greeted by hearty and prolonged cheering, and manifestations of the wildest delight. Many of the soldiers who fought under him in the hardest battles of the war wept with joy at again having for their commander one upon whom they could place implicit reliance. Already his hurried visit to our camps has wrought a remarkable change in the soldiers. His presence seemed to act magically upon them: despondency is replaced by confidence, and all are glad that McClellan will, hereafter direct them.” --Elis's Leaves from the Diary of an Army Surgeon, p. 214.

“To-night the Union army will all be concentrated in the works around this city, and General McClellan has already assumed the position of commander-in-chief of all the forces in the field in this part of the country. The announcement of this latter fact has been hailed with acclamations of infinite delight by nearly the whole population.” --Same, p. 218.

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)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: