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Chapter 36:

On the night of the battle of South Mountain orders were given to the corps commanders to press forward their pickets. at early dawn. This advance revealed the fact that the enemy had left his positions, and an immediate pursuit was ordered; the cavalry, under Gen. Pleasonton, and the three corps under Gens. Sumner, Hooker, and Mansfield (the latter of whom had arrived that morning and assumed command of the 12th [Williams's] corps), by the national turnpike and Boonsborough; the corps of Gens. Burnside and Porter (the latter command at that time consisting of but one weak division, Sykes's) by the old Sharpsburg road; and Gen. Franklin to move into Pleasant Valley, occupy Rohrersville by a detachment, and endeavor to relieve Harper's Ferry.

Gens. Burnside and Porter, upon reaching the road from Boonsborough to Rohrersville, were to reinforce Franklin or to move on Sharpsburg, according to circumstances.

Franklin moved towards Brownsville and found there a force of the enemy, much superior in numbers to his own, drawn up in a strong position to receive him.

At this time the cessation of firing at Harper's Ferry indicated the surrender of that place.

The cavalry overtook the enemy's cavalry in Boonsborough, made a dashing charge, killing and wounding a number, and capturing 250 prisoners and 2 guns.

Gen. Richardson's division of the 2d corps, pressing the rear-guard of the enemy with vigor, passed Boonsborough and Keedysville, and came upon the main body of the enemy, occupying in large force a strong position a few miles beyond the latter place.

It had been hoped to engage the enemy on the 15th. Accordingly instructions were given that if the enemy were overtaken on [585]

Map of Antietam, 16th and 17th, September 1862.

[586] the march they should be attacked at once; if found in heavy force and in position, the corps in advance should be placed in position for attack and await my arrival.

Early in the morning I had directed Burnside to put his corps in motion upon the old Sharpsburg road, but to wait with me for a time until more detailed news came from Franklin. About eight o'clock he begged me to let him go, saying that his corps had been some time in motion, and that if he delayed longer he would have difficulty in overtaking it; so I let him go. At about midday I rode to the point where Reno was killed the day before, and found that Burnside's troops, the 9th corps, had not stirred from its bivouac, and still blocked the road for the regular division. I sent for Burnside for an explanation, but he could not be found. He subsequently gave as an excuse the fatigued and hungry condition of his men.

headquarters, Army of Potomac. Sept. 15, 12.30 P. M.
Gen. Burnside:
Gen. McClellan desires you to let Gen. Porter's go on past you, if necessary. You will then push your own command on as rapidly as possible. The general also desires to know the reason for your delay in starting this morning.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Geo. D. Ruggles, Col. and A. D. C.

After seeing the ground where Reno fell, and passing over Hooker's battle-ground of the previous day, I went rapidly to the front by the main road, being received by the troops, as I passed them, with the wildest enthusiasm. Near Keedysville I met Sumner, who told me that the enemy were in position in strong force, and took me to a height in front of Keedysville whence a view of the position could be obtained. We were accompanied by a numerous staff and escort; but no sooner had we shown ourselves on the hill than the enemy opened upon us with rifled guns, and, as his firing was very good, the hill was soon cleared of all save Fitz-John Porter and myself. I at once gave orders for the positions of the bivouacs, massing the army so that it could be handled as required. I ordered Burnside to the left. He grumbled that his troops were fatigued, but I started him off anyhow. [587]

The first rapid survey of the enemy's position inclined me to attack his left, but the day was far gone.

He occupied a strong position on the heights, on the west side of Antietam creek, displaying a large force of infantry and cavalry, with numerous batteries of artillery, which opened on our columns as they appeared in sight on the Keedysville road and Sharpsburg turnpike, which fire was returned by Capt. Tidball's light battery, 2d U. S. Artillery, and Pettit's battery, 1st N. Y. Artillery.

The division of Gen. Richardson, following close on the heels of the retreating foe, halted and deployed near Antietam river, on the right of the Sharpsburg road. Gen. Sykes, leading on the division of regulars on the old Sharpsburg road, came up and deployed to the left of Gen. Richardson, on the left of the road.

Antietam creek, in this vicinity, is crossed by four stone bridges — the upper one on the Keedysville and Williamsport road; the second on the Keedysville and Sharpsburg turnpike, some two and a half miles below; the third about a mile below the second, on the Rohrersville and Sharpsburg road; and the fourth near the mouth of Antietam creek, on the road leading from Harper's Ferry to Sharpsburg, some three miles below the third. The stream /un>is sluggish, with few and difficult fords. After a rapid examination of the position I found that it was too late to attack that day, and at once directed the placing of the batteries in position in the centre, and indicated the bivouacs for the different corps, massing them near and on both sides of the Sharpsburg turnpike. The corps were not all in their positions until the next morning after sunrise.

On the morning of the 16th it was discovered that the enemy had changed the position of his batteries. The masses of his troops, however, were still concealed behind the opposite heights. Their left and centre were upon and in front of the Sharpsburg and Hagerstown turnpike, hidden by woods and irregularities of the ground; their extreme left resting upon a wooded eminence near the cross-roads to the north of J. Miller's farm, their left resting upon the Potomac. Their line extended south, the right resting upon the hills to the south of Sharpsburg, near Snavely's farm.

The bridge over the Antietam near this point was strongly [588] covered by riflemen protected by rifle-pits, stone fences, etc., and enfiladed by artillery. The ground in front of this line consisted of undulating hills, their crests in turn commanded by others in their rear. On all favorable points the enemy's artillery was posted, and their reserves, hidden from view by the hills on which their line of battle was formed, could manoeuvre unobserved by our army, and from the shortness of their line could rapidly reinforce any point threatened by our attack. Their position, stretching across the angle formed by the Potomac and Antietam, their flanks and rear protected by these streams, was one of the strongest to be found in this region of country, which is well adapted to defensive warfare.

On the right, near Keedysville, on both sides of the Sharpsburg turnpike, were Sumner's and Hooker's corps. In advance, on the right of the turnpike and near the Antietam river, Gen. Richardson's division of Gen. Sumner's corps was posted. Gen. Sykes's division of Gen. Porter's corps was on the left of the turnpike and in line with Gen. Richardson, protecting the bridge No. 2 over the Antietam. The left of the line, opposite to and some distance from bridge No. 3, was occupied by Gen. Burnside's corps.

Before giving Gen. Hooker his orders to make the movement which will presently be described, I rode to the left of the line to satisfy myself that the troops were properly posted there to secure our left flank from any attack made along the left bank of the Antietam, as well as to enable us to carry bridge No. 3.

I rode along the whole front, generally in front of our pickets, accompanied by Hunt, Duane, Colburn, and a couple of orderlies, and went considerably beyond our actual and eventual left. Our small party drew the enemy's fire frequently, and developed the position of most of his batteries. I threw some of the regulars a little more to the left, and observed that our extreme left was not well placed to cover the position against any force approaching from Harper's Ferry by the left bank of the Antietam; also that the ground near “Burnside's bridge” was favorable for defence on our side, and that an attack across it would lead to favorable results. I therefore at once ordered Burnside to move his corps nearer the bridge, occupy the heights in rear, as well as to watch the approach from Harper's Ferry just spoken of. I gave this order at midday; it was near night [589] before it was executed. I also instructed him to examine all the vicinity of the bridge, as he would probably be ordered to attack there next morning.

In front of Gens. Sumner's and Hooker's corps, near Keedysville, and on the ridge of the first line of hills overlooking the Antietam, and between the turnpike and Fry's house on the right of the road, were placed Capts. Taft's, Langner's, Von Kleizer's, and Lieut. Weaver's batteries of 20-pounder Parrott guns; on

The Burnside bridge over the Antietam.

the crest of the hill in the rear and right of bridge No. 3, Capt. Weed's 3-inch and Lieut. Benjamin's 20-pounder batteries. Gen. Franklin's corps and Gen. Couch's division held a position in Pleasant Valley in front of Brownsville, with a strong force of the enemy in their front. Gen. Morell's division of Porter's corps was en route from Boonsborough, and Gen. Humphreys's division of new troops en route from Frederick, Md. About daylight on the 16th the enemy opened a heavy fire of artillery on our guns in position, which was promptly returned; their fire [590] was silenced for the time, but was frequently renewed during the day.

It was afternoon before I could move the troops to their positions for attack, being compelled to spend the morning in reconnoitring the new position taken up by the enemy, 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 over the few practicable approaches from Frederick. These had been crowded by the masses of infantry, cavalry, and artillery pressing on with the hope of overtaking the enemy before he could form to resist an attack. Many of the troops were out of rations on the previous day, and a good deal of their ammunition had been expended in the severe action of the 14th.

My plan for the impending general engagement 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 as soon as matters looked favorably there, to move the corps of Burnside against the enemy's extreme right, upon the ridge running to the south and rear of Sharpsburg, 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.

About two P. M. Gen. Hooker, with his corps, consisting of Gens. Ricketts's, Meade's, and Doubleday's divisions, was ordered to cross the Antietam at a ford, and at bridge No. 1, a short distance above, to attack and, if possible, turn the enemy's left. Gen. Sumner was ordered to cross the corps of Gen. Mansfield (the 12th) during the night, and hold his own (the 2d) corps ready to cross early the next morning. On reaching the vicinity of the enemy's left a sharp contest commenced with the Pennsylvania reserves, the advance of Gen. Hooker's corps, near the house of D. Miller. The enemy was driven from the strip of woods where he was first met. The firing lasted until after dark, when Gen. Hooker's corps rested on their arms on ground won from the enemy.

When I returned to the right, and found that Hooker's preparations were not yet complete, I went to hurry them in person. It was perhaps half-past 3 to four o'clock before Hooker could commence crossing and get fairly in motion up the opposite [591] site slopes. I accompanied the movement, at the head of the column, until the top of the ridge was fairly gained, indicated the new direction to be taken, and then returned to headquarters — not to the camp, but to a house further in advance (Fry's house), where I passed the night.

During the night Gen. Mansfield's corps, consisting of Gens. Williams's and Greene's divisions, crossed the Antietam at the same ford and bridge that Gen. Hooker's troops had passed, and bivouacked on the farm of J. Poffenberger, about a mile in rear of Gen. Hooker's position.

At daylight on the 17th the action was commenced by the skirmishers of the Pennsylvania reserves. The whole of Gen. Hooker's corps was soon engaged, and drove the enemy from the open field in front of the first line of woods into a second line of woods beyond, which runs to the eastward of and nearly parallel to the Sharpsburg and Hagerstown turnpike. This contest was obstinate, and as the troops advanced the opposition became more determined and the number of the enemy greater. Gen. Hooker then ordered up the corps of Gen. Mansfield, which moved promptly toward the scene of action.

The first division, Gen. Williams's, was deployed to the right on approaching the enemy; Gen. Crawford's brigade on the right, its right resting on the Hagerstown turnpike; on his left Gen. Gordon's brigade. The second division, Gen. Greene's, joining the left of Gordon's, extended as far as the burnt buildings to the north and east of the white church on the turnpike. During the deployment that gallant veteran, Gen. Mansfield, fell mortally wounded while examining the ground in front of his troops. Gen. Hartsuff, of Hooker's corps, was severely wounded while bravely pressing forward his troops, and was taken from the field.

The command of the 12th corps fell upon Gen. Williams. Five regiments of the first division of this corps were new troops. One brigade of the second division was sent to support Gen. Doubleday.

The 124th Penn. Volunteers were pushed across the turnpike into the woods beyond J. Miller's house, with orders to hold the position as long as possible.

The line of battle of this corps was formed, and it became engaged about seven A. M., the attack being opened by Knapp's [592] (Penn.), Cothran's (N. Y.), and Hampton's (Pittsburgh) batteries. To meet this attack the enemy had pushed a strong column of troops into the open fields in front of the turnpike, while he occupied the woods on the west of the turnpike in strong force. The woods (as was found by subsequent observation) were traversed by outcropping ledges of rock. Several hundred yards to the right and rear was a hill which commanded the debouch of the woods, and in the fields between was a long line of stone fences, continued by breastworks of rails, which covered the enemy's infantry from our musketry. The same woods formed a screen behind which his movements were concealed, and his batteries on the hill and the rifle-works covered from the fire of our artillery in front.

For about two hours the battle raged with varied success, the enemy endeavoring to drive our troops into the second line of wood, and ours in turn to get possession of the line in front.

Our troops ultimately succeeded in forcing the enemy back into the woods near the turnpike, Gen. Greene with his two brigades crossing into the woods to the left of the Dunker church. During this conflict Gen. Crawford, commanding 1st division after Gen. Williams took command of the corps, was wounded and left the field.

Gen. Greene being much exposed and applying for reinforcements, the 13th N. J., 27th Ind., and the 3d Md. were sent to his support with a section of Knapp's battery.

At about nine o'clock A. M. Gen. Sedgwick's division of Gen. Sumner's corps arrived. Crossing the ford previously mentioned, this division marched in three columns to the support of the attack on the enemy's left. On nearing the scene of action the columns were halted, faced to the front, and established by Gen. Sumner in three parallel lines by brigade, facing toward the south and west; Gen. Gorman's brigade in front, Gen. Dana's second, and Gen. Howard's third, with a distance between the lines of some seventy paces. The division was then put in motion and moved upon the field of battle, under fire from the enemy's concealed batteries on the hill beyond the roads. Passing diagonally to the front across the open space, and to the front of the first division of Gen. Williams's corps, this latter division withdrew.

Entering the woods on the west of the turnpike, and driving [593] the enemy before them, the first line was met by a heavy fire of musketry and shell from the enemy's breastworks and the batteries on the hill commanding the exit from the woods. Meantime a heavy column of the enemy had succeeded in crowding back the troops of Gen. Greene's division, and appeared in rear of the left of Sedgwick's division. By command of Gen. Sumner, Gen. Howard faced the third line to the rear preparatory to a change of front to meet the column advancing on the left; but this line, now suffering from a destructive fire both in front and on its left which it was unable to return, gave way towards the right and rear in considerable confusion, and was soon followed by the first and second lines.

Gen. Gorman's brigade, and one regiment of Gen. Dana's, soon rallied and checked the advance of the enemy on the right. The second and third lines now formed on the left of Gen. Gorman's brigade and poured a destructive fire upon the enemy.

During Gen. Sumner's attack he ordered Gen. Williams to support him. Brig.-Gen. Gordon, with a portion of his brigade, moved forward, but when he reached the woods the left of Gen. Sedgwick's division had given way; and finding himself, as the smoke cleared up, opposed to the enemy in force with his small command, he withdrew to the rear of the batteries at the second line of woods. As Gen. Gordon's troops unmasked our batteries on the left they opened with canister; the batteries of Capt. Cothran, 1st N. Y., and “I,” 1st Artillery, commanded by Lieut. Woodruff, doing good service Unable to withstand this deadly fire in front and the musketry-fire from the right, the enemy again sought shelter in the woods and rocks beyond the turnpike.

During this assault Gens. Sedgwick and Dana were seriously wounded and taken from the field. Gen. Sedgwick, though twice wounded and faint from loss of blood, retained command of his division for more than an hour after his first wound, animating his command by his presence.

About the time of Gen. Sedgwick's advance Gen. Hooker, while urging on his command, was severely wounded in the foot and taken from the field, and Gen. Meade was placed in command of his corps. Gen. Howard assumed command after Gen. Sedgwick retired.

The repulse of the enemy offered opportunity to rearrange [594] the lines and reorganize the commands on the right, now more or less in confusion. The batteries of the Pennsylvania reserve, on high ground near J. Poffenberger's house, opened fire and checked several attempts of the enemy to establish batteries in front of our right, to turn that flank and enfilade the lines.

While the conflict was so obstinately raging on the right Gen. French was pushing his division against the enemy still further to the left. This division crossed the Antietam at the same ford as Gen. Sedgwick, and immediately in his rear. Passing over the stream in three columns, the division marched about a mile from the ford, then, facing to the left, moved in three lines towards the enemy: Gen. Max Weber's brigade in front, Col. Dwight Morris's brigade of raw troops-undrilled, and moving for the first time under fire — in the second, and Gen. Kimball's brigade in the third. The division was first assailed by a fire of artillery, but steadily advanced, driving in the enemy's skirmishers, and encountered the infantry in some force at the group of houses on Roulette's farm. Gen. Weber's brigade gallantly advanced with an unwavering front and drove the enemy from their position about the houses.

While Gen. Weber was hotly engaged with the first line of the enemy, Gen. French received orders from Gen. Sumner, his corps commander, to push on with renewed vigor to make a diversion in favor of the attack on the right. Leaving the new troops, who had been thrown into some confusion from their march through cornfields, over fences, etc., to form as a reserve, he ordered the brigade of Gen. Kimball to the front, passing to the left of Gen. Weber. The enemy was pressed back to near the crest of the hill, where he was encountered in greater strength posted in a sunken road forming a natural rifle-pit running in a northwesterly direction. In a cornfield in rear of this road were also strong bodies of the enemy. As the line reached the crest of the hill a galling fire was opened on it from the sunken road and cornfield. Here a terrific fire of musketry burst from both lines, and the battle raged along the whole line with great slaughter.

The enemy attempted to turn the left of the line, but were met by the 7th Va. and 132d Penn. Volunteers and repulsed. Foiled in this, the enemy made a determined assault on the front, but were met by a charge from our lines which drove them back with severe loss, leaving in our hands some 300 prisoners and [595] several stands of colors. The enemy, having been repulsed by the terrible execution of the batteries and the musketry-fire on the extreme right, now attempted to assist the attack on Gen. French's division by assailing him on his right and endeavoring to turn this flank; but this attack was met and checked by the 14th Ind. and 8th O. Volunteers, and by canister from Capt. Tompkins's battery, 1st R. I. Artillery. Having been under an almost continuous fire for nearly four hours, and the ammunition nearly expended, this division now took position immediately below the crest of the heights on which they had so gallantly fought, the enemy making no attempt to regain their lost ground.

On the left of Gen. French, Gen. Richardson's division was hotly engaged. Having crossed the Antietam about 9.30 A. M. at the ford crossed by the other divisions of Sumner's corps, it moved on a line nearly parallel to the Antietam, and formed in a ravine behind the high grounds overlooking Roulette's house; the 2d (Irish) brigade, commanded by Gen. Meagher, on the right; the 3d brigade, commanded by Gen. Caldwell, on his left, and the brigade commanded by Col. Brooks, 53d Penn. Volunteers, in support. As the division moved forward to take its position on the field, the enemy directed a fire of artillery against it, but, owing to the irregularities of the ground, did but little damage.

Meagher's brigade, advancing steadily, soon became engaged with the enemy posted to the left and in front of Roulette's house. It continued to advance under a heavy fire nearly to the crest of the hill overlooking Piper's house, the enemy being posted in a continuation of the sunken road and cornfield before referred to. Here the brave Irish brigade opened upon the enemy a terrific musketry-fire.

All of Gen. Sumner's corps was now engaged--Gen. Sedgwick on the right, Gen. French in the centre, and Gen. Richardson on the left. The Irish brigade sustained its well-earned reputation. After suffering terribly in officers and men, and strewing the ground with their enemies as they drove them back, their ammunition nearly expended, and their commander, Gen. Meagher, disabled by the fall of his horse shot under him, this brigade was ordered to give place to Gen. Caldwell's brigade, which advanced to a short distance in its rear. The lines were [596] passed by the Irish brigade breaking by company to the rear, and Gen. Caldwell's by company to the front, as steadily as on drill. Col. Brooks's brigade now became the second line.

The ground over which Gens. Richardson's and French's divisions were fighting was very irregular, intersected by numerous ravines, hills covered with growing corn, enclosed by stone walls, behind which the enemy could advance unobserved upon any exposed point of our lines. Taking advantage of this, the enemy attempted to gain the right of Richardson's position in a cornfield near Roulette's house, where the division had become separated from that of Gen. French's. A change of front by the 52d N. Y. and 2d Del. Volunteers, of Col. Brooks's brigade, under Col. Frank, and the attack made by the 53d Penn. Volunteers, sent further to the right by Col. Brooks to close this gap in the line, and the movement of the 132d Penn. and 7th Va. Volunteers, of Gen. French's division, before referred to, drove the enemy from the cornfield and restored the line,

The brigade of Gen. Caldwell, with determined gallantry, pushed the enemy back opposite the left and centre of this division, but, sheltered in the sunken road, they still held our forces on the right of Caldwell in check. Col. Barlow, commanding the 61st and 64th N. Y. regiments, of Caldwell's brigade, seeing a favorable opportunity, advanced the regiments on the left, taking the line in the sunken road in flank, and compelled them to surrender, capturing over 300 prisoners and three stands of colors.

The whole of the brigade, with the 57th and 66th N. Y. regiments, of Col. Brooks's brigade, who had moved these regiments into the first line, now advanced with gallantry, driving the enemy before them in confusion into the cornfield beyond the sunken road. The left of the division was now well advanced, when the enemy, concealed by an intervening ridge, endeavored to turn its left and rear.

Col. Cross, 5th N. H., by a change of front to the left and rear, brought his regiment facing the advancing line. Here a spirited contest arose to gain a commanding height, the two opposing forces moving parallel to each other, giving and receiving fire. The 5th, gaining the advantage, faced to the right and delivered its volley. The enemy staggered, but rallied and advanced desperately at a charge. Being reinforced by the [597] 81st Penn., these regiments met the advance by a countercharge. The enemy fled, leaving many killed, wounded, and prisoners, and the colors of the 4th N. C., in our hands.

Another column of the enemy, advancing under shelter of a stone wall and cornfield, pressed down on the right of the division; but Col; Barlow again advanced the 61st and 64th N. Y. against these troops, and, with the attack of Kimball's brigade on the right, drove them from this position.

Our troops on the left of this part of the line having driven the enemy far back, they, with reinforced numbers, made a determined attack directly in front. To meet this Col. Barlow brought his two regiments to their position in line, and drove the enemy through the cornfield into the orchard beyond, under a heavy fire of musketry, and a fire of canister from two pieces of artillery in the orchard, and a battery further to the right throwing shell and case-shot. This advance gave us possession of Piper's house, the strong point contended for by the enemy at this part of the line, it being a defensible building several hundred yards in advance of the sunken road. The musketry-fire at this point of the line now ceased. Holding Piper's house, Gen. Richardson withdrew the line a little way to the crest of a hill — a more advantageous position. Up to this time the division was without artillery, and in the new position suffered severely from artillery-fire which could not be replied to. A section of Robertson's horse-battery, commanded by Lieut. Vincent, 2d Artillery, now arrived on the ground and did excellent service. Subsequently a battery of brass guns, commanded by Capt. Graham, 1st Artillery, arrived, and was posted on the crest of the hill, and soon silenced the two guns in the orchard. A heavy fire soon ensued between the battery further to the right and our own. Capt. Graham's battery was bravely and skilfully served, but, unable to reach the enemy, who had rifled guns of greater range than our smooth-bores, retired by order of Gen. Richardson, to save it from useless sacrifice of men and horses. The brave general was himself mortally wounded while personally directing its fire.

Gen. Hancock was placed in command of the division after the fall of Gen. Richardson. Gen. Meagher's brigade, now commanded by Col. Burke, of the 63d N. Y., having refilled their cartridge-boxes, was again ordered forward, and took position in [598] the centre of the line. The division now occupied one line in close proximity to the enemy, who had taken up a position in the rear of Piper's house. Col. Dwight Morris, with the 14th Conn. and a detachment of the 108th N. Y., of Gen. French's division, was sent by Gen. French to the support of Gen. Richardson's division. This command was now placed in an interval in the line between Gen. Caldwell's and the Irish brigades.

The requirements of the extended line of battle had so engaged the artillery that the application of Gen. Hancock for artillery for the division could not be complied with immediately by the chief of artillery or the corps commanders in his vicinity. Knowing the tried courage of the troops, Gen. Hancock felt confident that he could hold his position, although suffering from the enemy's artillery, but was too weak to attack, as the great length of the line he was obliged to hold prevented him from forming more than one line of battle, and, from his advanced position, this line was already partly enfiladed by the batteries of the enemy on the right, which were protected from our batteries opposite them by the woods at the Dunker church.

Seeing a body of the enemy advancing on some of our troops to the left of his position, Gen. Hancock obtained Hexamer's battery from Gen. Franklin's corps, which assisted materially in frustrating this attack. It also assisted the attack of the 7th Me., of Franklin's corps, which, without other aid, made an attack against the enemy's line, and drove in skirmishers who were annoying our artillery and troops on the right. Lieut. Woodruff, with battery I, 2d Artillery, relieved Capt. Hexamer, whose ammunition was expended. The enemy at one time seemed to be about making an attack in force upon this part of the line, and advanced a long column of infantry towards this division; but on nearing the position, Gen. Pleasonton opening on them with sixteen guns, they halted, gave a desultory fire, and retreated, closing the operations on this portion of the field. I return to the incidents occurring still further to the right.

Between twelve and one P. M. Gen. Franklin's corps arrived on the field of battle, having left their camp near Crampton's Pass at six A. M., leaving Gen. Couch with orders to move with his division to occupy Maryland Heights. Gen. Smith's division led the column, followed by Gen. Slocum's.

It was first intended to keep this corps in reserve on the east [599] side of the Antietam, to operate on either flank or on the centre, as circumstances might require; but on nearing Keedysville the strong opposition on the right, developed by the attacks of Hooker and Sumner, rendered it necessary at once to send this corps to the assistance of the right wing.

On nearing the field, hearing that one of our batteries 4th U. S. Artillery commanded by Lieut. Thomas, who occupied the same position as Lieut. Woodruffs battery in the morning — was hotly engaged without supports, Gen. Smith sent two regiments to its relief from Gen. Hancock's brigade. On inspecting

McClellan at Antietam.

the ground Gen. Smith ordered the other regiments of Hancock's brigade, with Frank's and Cowen's batteries, 1st N. Y. Artillery, to the threatened position. Lieut. Thomas and Capt. Cothran, commanding batteries, bravely held their positions against the advancing enemy, handling their batteries with skill.

Finding the enemy still advancing, the 3d brigade of Smith's division, commanded by Col. Irvin, 49th Penn volunteers, was ordered up, and passed through Lieut. Thomas's battery, charged upon the enemy, and drove back the advance until abreast of the [600] Dunker church. As the right of the brigade came opposite the woods it received a destructive fire, which checked the advance and threw the brigade somewhat into confusion. It formed again behind a rise of ground in the open space in advance of the batteries.

Gen. French having reported to Gen. Franklin that his ammunition was nearly expended, that officer ordered Gen. Brooks, with his brigade, to reinforce him. Gen. Brooks formed his brigade on the right of Gen. French, where they remained during the remainder of the day and night, frequently under the fire of the enemy's artillery.

It was soon after the brigade of Col. Irvin had fallen back behind the rise of ground that the 7th Me., by order of Col. Irvin, made the gallant attack already referred to.

The advance of Gen. Franklin's corps was opportune. The attack of the enemy on this position, but for the timely arrival of his corps, must have been disastrous, had it succeeded in piercing the line between Gens. Sedgwick's and French's divisions.

Gen. Franklin ordered two brigades of Gen. Slocum's division, Gen. Newton's and Col. Torbert's, to form in column to assault the woods that had been so hotly contested before by Gens. Sumner and Hooker; Gen. Bartlett's brigade was ordered to form as a reserve. At this time Gen. Sumner, having command on the right, directed further offensive operations to be postponed, as the repulse of this, the only remaining corps available for attack, would peril the safety of the whole army.

Gen. Porter's corps, consisting of Gen. Sykes's division of regulars and volunteers, and Gen. Morell's division of volunteers, occupied a position on the east side of Antietam creek, upon the main turnpike leading to Sharpsburg, and directly opposite the centre of the enemy's line. This corps filled the interval between the right wing and Gen. Burnside's command, and guarded the main approach from the enemy's position to our trains of supplies.

It was necessary to watch this part of our line with the utmost vigilance, lest the enemy should take advantage of the first exhibition of weakness here to push upon us a vigorous assault for the purpose of piercing our centre and turning our [601] rear, as well as to capture or destroy our supply-trains. Once having penetrated this line, the enemy's passage to our rear could have met with but feeble resistance, as there were no reserves to reinforce or close up the gap.

Towards the middle of the afternoon, proceeding to the right, I found that Sumner's, Hooker's, and Mansfield's corps had met with serious losses. Several general officers had been carried from the field severely wounded, and the aspect of affairs was anything but promising. At the risk of greatly exposing our centre, I ordered two brigades from Porter's corps, the only available troops, to reinforce the right. Six battalions of Sykes's regulars had been thrown across the Antietam bridge on the main road, to attack and drive back the enemy's sharpshooters, who were annoying Pleasonton's horse-batteries in advance of the bridge. Warren's brigade, of Porter's corps, was detached to hold a position on Burnside's right and rear; so that Porter was left at one time with only a portion of Sykes's division and one small brigade of Morell's division (but little over 3,000 men) to hold his important position.

Gen. Sumner expressed the most decided opinion against another attempt during that day to assault the enemy's position in front, as portions of our troops were so much scattered and demoralized. In view of these circumstances, after making changes in the position of some of the troops, I directed the different commanders to hold their positions, and, being satisfied that this could be done without the assistance of the two brigades from the centre, I countermanded the order, which was in course of execution.

Gen. Slocum's division replaced a portion of Gen. Sumner's troops, and positions were selected for batteries in front of the woods. The enemy opened several heavy fires of artillery on the position of our troops after this, but our batteries soon silenced them.

On the morning of the 17th Gen. Pleasonton, with his cavalry division and the horse-batteries, under Capts. Robertson, Tidball, and Lieut. Haines, of the 2d Artillery, and Capt. Gibson, 3d Artillery, was ordered to advance on the turnpike towards Sharpsburg, across bridge No. 2, and support the left of Gen. Sumner's line. The bridge being covered by a fire of artillery and sharpshooters, cavalry skirmishers mere thrown out, and [602] Capt. Tidball's battery advanced by piece and drove off the sharpshooters with canister sufficiently to establish the batteries above mentioned, which opened on the enemy with effect. The firing was kept up for about two hours, when, the enemy's fire slackening, the batteries were relieved by Randall's and Van Reed's batteries, U. S. Artillery. About three o'clock Tidball, Robertson, and Haines returned to their positions on the west of Antietam, Capt. Gibson having been placed in position on the east side to guard the approaches to the bridge. These batteries did good service, concentrating their fire on the column of the enemy about to attack Gen. Hancock's position, and compelling it to find shelter behind the hills in rear.

Gen. Sykes's division had been in position since the 15th, exposed to the enemy's artillery and sharpshooters. Gen. Morell had come up on the 16th, and relieved Gen. Richardson on the right of Gen. Sykes. Continually under the vigilant watch of the enemy, this corps guarded a vital point.

The position of the batteries under Gen. Pleasonton being one of great exposure, the battalion of the 2d and 10th U. S. Infantry, under Capt. Pollard, 2d Infantry, was sent to his support. Subsequently four battalions of regular infantry, under Capt. Dryer, 4th Infantry, were sent across to assist in driving off the sharpshooters of the enemy.

The battalion of the 2d and 10th Infantry, advancing far beyond the batteries, compelled the cannoneers of a battery of the enemy to abandon their guns. Few in numbers, and unsupported, they were unable to bring them off. The heavy loss of this small body of men attests their gallantry.

The troops of Gen Burnside held the left of the line opposite bridge No. 3. The attack on the right was to have been supported by an attack on the left. Preparatory to this attack, on the evening of the 16th, Gen. Burnside's corps was moved forward and to the left, and took up a position nearer the bridge.

I visited Gen. Burnside's position on the 16th, and, after pointing out to him the proper dispositions to be made of his troops during the day and night, informed him that he would probably be required to attack the enemy's right on the following morning, and directed him to make careful reconnoissances.

Gen. Burnside's corps, consisting of the divisions of Gens. [603] Cox, Wilcox, Rodman, and Sturgis, was posted as follows: Col. Crook's brigade, Cox's division, on the right, Gen. Sturgis's division immediately in rear; on the left was Gen. Rodman's division, with Gen. Scammon's brigade, Cox's division, in support.

Gen. Wilcox's division was held in reserve. The corps bivouacked in position on the night of the 16th.

Early on the morning of the 17th I ordered Gen. Burnside to form his troops and hold them in readiness to assault the bridge in his front, and to await further orders.

At eight o'clock an order was sent to him by Lieut. Wilson, topographical engineers, to carry the bridge, then to gain possession of the heights beyond, and to advance along their crest upon Sharpsburg and its rear.

After some time had elapsed, not hearing from him, I despatched an aide to ascertain what had been done. The aide returned with the information that but little progress had been made. I then sent him back with an order to Gen. Burnside to assault the bridge at once and carry it at all hazards. The aide returned to me a second time with the report that the bridge was still in the possession of the enemy. Whereupon I directed Col. Sackett, inspector-general, to deliver to Gen. Burnside my positive order to push forward his troops without a moment's delay, and, if necessary, to carry the bridge at the point of the bayonet; and I ordered Col. Sackett to remain with Gen. Burnside and see that the order was executed promptly.

After these three hours delay the bridge was carried at one o'clock by a brilliant charge of the 51st N. Y. and 51st Penn. Volunteers. Other troops were then thrown over and the opposite bank occupied, the enemy retreating to the heights beyond.

A halt was then made by Gen. Burnside's advance until three P. M.; upon hearing which I directed one of my aides, Col. Key, to inform Gen. Burnside that I desired him to push forward his troops with the utmost vigor and carry the enemy's position on the heights; that the movement was vital to our success; that this was a time when we must not stop for loss of life, if a great object could thereby be accomplished; that if, in his judgment, his attack would fail, to inform me so at once, that his troops might be withdrawn and used elsewhere on the field. He replied that he would soon advance, and would [604] go up the, hill as far as a battery of the enemy on the left would permit. Upon this report I again immediately sent Col. Key to Gen. Burnside with orders to advance at once, if possible to flank the battery, or storm it and carry the heights; repeating that if he considered the movement impracticable, to inform me, so that his troops might be recalled. The advance was then gallantly resumed, the enemy driven from the guns, the heights handsomely carried, and a portion of the troops even reached the outskirts of Sharpsburg. By this time it was nearly dark, and strong reinforcements just then reaching the enemy from Harper's Ferry attacked Gen. Burnside's troops on their left flank, and forced them to retire to a lower line of hills nearer the bridge.

If this important movement had been consummated two hours earlier, a position would have been secured upon the heights from which our batteries might have enfiladed the greater part of the enemy's line, and turned their right and rear. Our victory might thus have been much more decisive.

The ground held by Burnside beyond the bridge was so strong that he ought to have repulsed the attack and held his own. He never crossed the bridge in person!

The following is the substance of Gen. Burnside's operations, as given in his report:

Col. Crook's brigade was ordered to storm the bridge. This bridge, No. 3, is a stone structure of three arches, with stone parapets. The banks of the stream on the opposite side are precipitous, and command the eastern approaches to the bridge. On the hill-side immediately by the bridge was a stone fence running parallel to the stream. The turns of the roadway as it wound up the hill were covered by rifle-pits-and breastworks of rails, etc. These works and the woods that covered the slopes were filled with the enemy's riflemen, and batteries were in position to enfilade the bridge and its approaches.

Gen. Rodman was ordered to cross the ford below the bridge. From Col. Crook's position it was found impossible to carry the bridge.

Gen. Sturgis was ordered to make a detail from his division for that purpose. He sent forward the 2d Md. and 6th N. H. These regiments made several successive attacks in the most gallant style, but were driven back. [605]

The artillery of the left were ordered to concentrate their fire on the woods above the bridge. Col. Crook brought a section of Capt. Simmons's battery to a position to command the bridge. The 51st N. Y. and 51st Penn. were then ordered to assault the bridge. Taking advantage of a small spur of the hills which ran parallel to the river, they moved towards the bridge. From the crest of this spur they rushed with bayonets fixed and cleared the bridge.

The division followed the storming party; also the brigade of Col. Crook as support. The enemy withdrew to still higher ground some five or six hundred yards beyond, and opened a fire of artillery on the troops in the new positions on the crest of the hill above the bridge.

Gen. Rodman's division succeeded in crossing the ford after a sharp tire of musketry and artillery, and joined on the left of Sturgis; Scammon's brigade crossing as support. Gen. Wilcox's division was ordered across to take position on Gen. Sturgis's right.

These dispositions being completed about three o'clock, the command moved forward, except Sturgis's division left in reserve. Clark's and Darell's batteries accompanied Rodman's division, Cooke's battery with Wilcox's division, and a section of Simmons's battery with Col. Crook's brigade. A section of Simmons's battery, and Muhlenberg's and McMullan's batteries, were in position. The order for the advance was obeyed by the troops with alacrity. Gen. Wilcox's division, with Crook in support, moved up on both sides of the turnpike leading from the bridge to Sharpsburg; Gen. Rodman's division, supported by Scammon's brigade, on the left of Gen. Wilcox. The enemy retreated before the advance of the troops. The 9th N. Y., of Gen. Rodman's division, captured one of the enemy's batteries and held it for some time. As the command was driving the enemy to the main heights on the left of the town, the light division of Gen. A. P. Hill arrived upon the field of battle from Harper's Ferry, and with a heavy artillery-fire made a strong attack on the extreme left. To meet this attack the left division diverged from the line of march intended, and opened a gap between it and the right. To fill up this it was necessary to order the troops from the second line. During these movements Gen. Rodman was mortally wounded. Col. Harland's brigade, of Gen. Rodman's [606] division, was driven back. Col. Scammon's brigade, by a change of front to rear on his right flank, saved the left from being driven completely in. The fresh troops of the enemy pouring in, and the accumulation of artillery against this command, destroyed all hope of its being able to accomplish anything more.

It was now nearly dark. Gen. Sturgis was ordered forward to support the left. Notwithstanding the hard work in the early part of the day, his division moved forward with spirit. With its assistance the enemy mere checked and held at bay.

The command was ordered to fall back by Gen. Cox, who commanded on the field the troops engaged in this affair beyond the Antietam.

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 on a field won by their valor and covered with the dead and wounded of the enemy.

Thirteen guns, 39 colors, upwards of 15,000 stands of small arms, and more than 6,000 prisoners mere the trophies which attest the success of our arms in the battles of South Mountain, Crampton's Gap, and Antietam. Not a single gun or color was lost by our army during these battles.

When I was on the right on the afternoon of the 17th I found the troops a good deal shaken — that is, some of them who had been in the early part of the action. Even Sedgwick's division commenced giving way under a few shots from a battery that suddenly commenced firing from an unexpected position. I had to ride in and rally them myself. Sedgwick had been carried off very severely wounded. The death of Mansfield, the mounding of Hooker, Richardson, and Sedgwick, were irreparable losses in that part of the field. It was this afternoon, when I was on the right, that on the field of battle I gave Hancock a division — that of Richardson, who was mortally wounded. [607]

Early next morning (the 18th) Burnside sent to ask me for a fresh division to enable him to hold his own. I sent word that I could send none until I came myself to see the state of affairs, and in a few minutes rode over there and carefully examined the position. Burnside told me that his men were so demoralized and so badly beaten the day before that were they attacked they would give may. I told him I could see no evidences of that, but that I would lend him Morell's division for a short time, though I would probably need it again elsewhere in a few hours. I instructed him to place one brigade on some heights that ran across the valley on our left, in order to cover the left flank, the rest on the heights in rear of the bridge, to cover the retreat of his men, should that prove necessary. The division was accordingly sent to him, and towards evening I learned that he had thrown it across the river and withdrawn his own men, his excuse to me being that he could not trust his men on the other side! The evening before he was at my headquarters, and told some of my aides that his men were badly beaten.

Long afterwards I learned from Col. Grif. Stedman (11th Conn. regiment) that on the night of the 17th he was with his then colonel (Kingsbury), who was mortally wounded and lying in a house on our side of the bridge, close to it. Burnside came by and gave orders for the wounded to be removed still further to the rear, stating that the corps were entirely defeated and demoralized, and that the house in question would soon be occupied by the enemy. As Kingsbury was in no condition to be removed, Stedman determined to remain with him and share his fate. It is needless to say that the house was not occupied by the enemy, and that Burnside was in no condition to know the real state of his command, as he had not been with it. But I have mentioned enough to show what his real opinions and state of mind were on the evening of the 17th and the morning of the 18th. Yet in face of all this he subsequently testified before the Committee on the Conduct of the War that he had on the morning of the 18th asked me for the reinforcement of a division to enable him to renew the attack, stating at the same time that his men were in superb condition, ready for any work, and that I had committed a great error in not renewing the battle early on the morning of the 18th. The real facts, so far as Burnside was concerned, were as I have given them above. But [608] although his men were not, perhaps, in magnificent condition, they were by no means so demoralized as he represented them to be. I cannot, from my long acquaintance with Burnside, believe that he would deliberately lie, but I think that his weak mind was turned; that he was confused in action; and that subsequently he really did not know what had occurred, and was talked by his staff into any belief they chose.

I have only adverted to the very pernicious effects of Burnside's inexcusable delay in attacking the bridge and the heights in rear. What is certain is that if Porter or Hancock had been in his place the town of Sharpsburg would have been ours, Hill would have been thrown back into the Potomac, and the battle of Antietam would have been very decisive in its results.

[In a monograph prepared by Gen. William B. Franklin, “in memory of general McClellan,” that distinguished soldier thus speaks of the Maryland campaign and its results, and specially of the result of the battle of Antietam:

Without orders placing him in command other than the verbal request of the President, and without orders of any kind from any one, he started on the Maryland campaign to find the enemy, who had been so foolish as to invade a State which had remained true to the Union. The victories of Turner's and Crampton's gaps of South Mountain, and of Antietam, were the results, the last battle followed by the hurried retreat of Gen. Lee beyond the Potomac. History will some day tell why the Confederate army was not driven into the Potomac instead of across it. It will show that its escape was not due to want of generalship of the commanding general, nor to the absence of necessary orders to subordinates.

At the time of his death Gen. McClellan was about to write a condensed account of the battle of Antietam for the Century magazine. He had reviewed the events preceding South Mountain when his pen was arrested. From among the papers found lying on his writing-table, where he had left them four hours before his death, the editor regards the letters of Gen. Sackett, which here follow, as important to be published for the purposes of that history which has not heretofore been written.] [609]

Letters from Gen. Sackett.

Feb. 20, 1876.
my dear general: In reply to your note I will state that, at about nine o'clock on the morning of the battle of Antietam, you told me to mount my horse and to proceed as speedily as possible with orders directing Gen. Burnside to move his troops across the bridge or stream in his front at once, and then to push them forward vigorously, without a moment's delay, to secure the heights beyond.

You moreover directed me to remain with Gen. Burnside until I saw his troops well under way up the heights in the direction of Sharpsburg, and then to return and report to you.

I started at once, as fast as my horse could carry me. I found Gen. Burnside on an elevated point (near the position of Lieut. Benjamin's 20-pounder battery) commanding an extensive view of the battle-field. I gave him your orders, which seemed to annoy him somewhat, as he said to me: “McClellan appears to think I am not trying my best to carry this bridge; you are the third or fourth one who has been to me this morning with similar orders.” I told him I knew you were exceedingly anxious, and regarded his getting across the stream and moving on Sharpsburg with rapidity and vigor at once as of vital importance to a complete success.

Gen. Burnside ordered assaults to be made on the bridge, which were for a long time unsuccessful. I had been at his headquarters for fully three hours when Col. Key arrived from your headquarters with positive orders to push across the bridge and to move rapidly up the heights; to carry the bridge at the point of the bayonet, if necessary, and not stop for loss of life, as sacrifices must be made in favor of success.

As soon as Col. Key had gone I suggested to Gen. Burnside, were he to go down near the bridge, his presence among the troops could have the effect to encourage and stimulate the men to renewed efforts. He said he would, and immediately mounted his horse and rode in the direction of the bridge, but soon returned saying the bridge had been carried and the troops were crossing over as rapidly as possible. He likewise mentioned at this time that Col. Henry Kingsbury had been mortally wounded in the assault on the bridge.

Gen. Burnside at once issued instructions for the move in the direction of Sharpsburg, but for some unaccountable reason things moved slowly and there was a long delay in getting the troops in motion.

Col. Key again returned with instructions to Gen. Burnside to push forward his troops rapidly and with vigor, to secure the heights, as every moment gained was of the utmost importance to our success. [610]

I remained with Gen. Burnside until his troops were well, and seemingly successfully, under way up the heights — they having gallantly driven the enemy from the field for fully one-half the distance in the direction of Sharpsburg.

Seeing this, and everything apparently going well, I returned to headquarters, where I found Gen. Fitz-John Porter, you being away temporarily on a visit to the right of the battle-field. It was at this time past four o'clock in the afternoon.

It was not long after this that the check and repulse of Gen. Burnside's advance was witnessed.

Often since that time I have thought what a serious misfortune was the death of the noble and energetic Reno. Had not that chivalric soldier fallen at South Mountain, Antietam certainly would have been in its results a very different affair. It would have been one of the most, if not the most, complete and important battle of the war.

I am, general, very truly yours,

New York City, March 9, 1876.
my dear general: I will state, in respect to a conversation had in my presence between Gen. Burnside and yourself that late in the evening of the day of the battle of Antietam I was with you in your tent when Gen. Burnside entered. The position occupied, and the condition of his command, became at once the topic of conversation with you two.

As I understood the matter, Gen. Burnside desired to withdraw his troops to the left bank of the stream, giving as a reason for the move the dispirited condition of his men; stating further that if he remained in his present position and an attack was made by the enemy, he very much feared the result.

You replied: “General, your troops must remain where they are and must hold their ground.” Gen. Burnside then said: “If I am to hold this position at all hazards I must be largely reinforced” --and, if not much mistaken, he mentioned the number of men necessary for the purpose at 5,000.

You then replied (with emphasis): “General, I expect you to hold your own, and with the force now under your command.”

At this point other general officers arrived, and I left the tent and heard nothing more of the conversation.

Afterward, in looking over Gen. Burnside's testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, I was a good deal surprised to read:

I went to Gen. McClellan's tent, and in course of conversation I expressed the same opinion (that the attack might be renewed the next morning at five o'clock), and told him that if [611] I could have 5,000 fresh troops to pass in advance of my line I would be willing to commence the attack on the next morning.

This statement brought back to my mind vividly that evening's conversation after Antietam. The conversation between Gen. Burnside and yourself, as I heard it, and Gen. Burnside's testimony before the committee, differ widely.

I may be mistaken, but it has always appeared to me that the conversation to which I was a witness, and the statement made before the War Committee, must have referred to one and the same matter — the fighting condition of Gen. Burnside's command on the night after the battle of Antietam.

I am, general, very truly yours,

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