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Chapter 19: the battle of Antietam; I succeed Sedgwick in command of a division

The two columns of the Army of the Potomac, fighting their way through Turner's Gap and Crampton Pass and pressing their pursuit of Lee, debouched into the valley west of the mountains; one appeared at Boonsboro and the other southward at Rohrersville. The stretch of valley from Boonsboro to the Potomac is named the Antietam Valley, because the Antietam, a small river which runs near Hagerstown and a little east of Sharpsburg, enters the Potomac a few miles below. The general course of this crooked stream is south.

September 15th, the day after the defeat at Turner's Gap, Lee rapidly gathered his material and troops upon the peninsula which is formed by the Antietam and the Potomac. The bends of the Potomac cause the intercepted space to be broadened here and there, yet, higher upstream, the neck of the peninsula is scarcely two miles across. The country around Sharpsburg is fertile and beautiful and afforded Lee special advantages as a position in which to halt and stand on the defensive till he could gather in his several scattered columns.

A main road, the Sharpsburg Pike, coming across the Potomac at Shepherdstown where there was a good ford, ran northeast through Sharpsburg, crossed [287] the Antietam by a stone bridge, and kept on through Boonsboro. Another, the Hagerstown Pike, divided the peninsula by a north and south trend. One other important highway divided the southeast angle of the other two bisecting roads; from Sharpsburg, as an apex, this road crossed the Antietam at Burnside's bridge and forked when it reached higher ground; the upper fork led to Rohrersville and the other ran south into the Harper's Ferry road. A few miles above the regular crossing was a zigzag country road --sometimes named “the diagonal.” It intersected the Antietam at Newkirk and passed from pike to pike.

As the Antietam River, from Newkirk to its mouth, had steep banks and scarcely any practicable fords, it was to Lee just the obstacle he needed to cover his front.

He located D. H. Hill and Longstreet on the right and left of the main pike, while he sent off Hood's division to the left. The convenient curves of the Potomac would protect his flanks as soon as he had men enough to fill the space. At first he did not have more than 25,000 men on the ground; but with considerable artillery he was able to so arrange his batteries as to defend the bridges and cover all approaches from the Antietam to Sharpsburg. In fact, he had a surplus of cannon and so sent an artillery reserve across the Potomac to protect the fords in his rear. He found for his use in that uneven country rocky heights, favorable ravines, deep-cut roads, abundant fences of rail and stone, buildings, and well-located strips of woodland.

Dunker Chapel was near a hotly contested spot, being equidistant from Newkirk Bridge, the Potomac upper bend, and Sharpsburg. It was quite enveloped [288] by a small forest that stretched off for a half mile toward the Potomac. People called this forest “the Dunker Woods.” No prize of chivalry was ever more desperately contended for than this locality. East of the Hagerstown Pike, and still farther north near Dunbar's Mills, was a large, open grove called “the East Woods.” That grove was the left of Lee's first temporary line.

McClellan, seeing that Franklin was detained by McLaws, who, having now the impregnable Maryland Heights, was able to avoid battle, ordered Franklin to Antietam. McLaws, quick to notice Franklin's departure, crossed the Potomac twice and reached Lee at Sharpsburg at the same hour that Franklin reported to McClellan.

The column to which I belonged pushed forward its head as rapidly as possible from Boonsboro to the east bank of the Antietam. During that first day, September 15th, only two divisions, Richardson's and Sykes's, drew sufficiently near to receive the enemy's fire.

Eager as McClellan was to engage Lee before Jackson and other detachments could get back to him, Lee's bold attitude and evident preparation forced him to wait, to reconnoiter and get up force enough to attack. Putting together the sickness ana discouragements that followed our second Bull Run and the Harper's Ferry disaster, nobody will wonder that our army had many stragglers between Washington and the Antietam. Even our moderate successes at South Mountain produced much additional weariness and wilfulness with some indifference and slowness on the part of certain officers holding important commands. These suggestions account for unusual delays in the marches [289] which McClellan had ordered, as well as for the comparatively small force assembled as late as the morning of the 16th to take the offensive. McClellan had hoped for a prompt attack on overtaking Lee, certainly by nine o'clock of the 16th. But, coming forward himself to the front, he did not order an immediate assault. He could not at first get Burnside with his left wing to understand or execute what he wished. His own information was too incomplete. He had word that Jackson was already returned to Lee, so that there was no longer need of precipitation. Later, he found that McLaws did not join the main army till the morning of the 17th, Anderson's division afterwards; and A. P. Hlll's, left at Harper's Ferry to finish the work there, was still later on the ground. From want of previous knowledge and from a natural desire that Franklin and Couch should close up to swell his numbers, McClellan delayed action till late in the afternoon of the 16th.

Hooker's corps, Mansfield's in support, and then Sumner's, were destined for the right column. Burnside's command, consisting of four divisions with plenty of artillery to help him, was given the work of storming the lower stone bridge which now bears his name. Porter's or Franklin's troops, or such as could be brought up in time from Pleasant Valley, were to be held in hand for necessary reinforcement or for the direct central thrust, whenever that should become practicable.

The first movement in the way of executing the plan had to begin in plain sight of our watching foes. They understood it from the start. About 4 P. M. Hooker's divisions, having previously worked far up the Antietam, passed over that stream by a bridge and ford west [290] of Keedysville, crossings having been early secured and held for them by our cavalry. General Hooker led his corps, evidently with a hope of completely turning Lee's left, far away past Dunbar Mills. Doubleday's division was in advance. He had proceeded, perhaps, a couple of miles from the bridge and ford northwesterly when the enemy's skirmishers opened fire. Hooker at once faced his command to the left and deployed his lines. The Pennsylvania reserves under Meade formed the center, Doubleday's to the right, and Ricketts's division to the left of Meade.

Hood's division of Confederates with assisting batteries held the “East woods” and was vis-a-vis to Hooker. D. H. Hill extended Hood's line down toward the Antietam. Jackson's two divisions, Lawton's and J. R. Jones's, were by this time holding the “West woods” about Dunker Church. Stuart with cavalry and considerable artillery was farther west than Hood.

Without hesitation the Pennsylvania reserves pressed the enemy and opened a brisk fusillade which was returned with equal spirit. There was considerable musketry that evening and some artillery exchanges with apparent success to Hooker. About ten, Jackson, finding Hood's men overweary and hungry from a long fast, sent him two brigades and put in some fresh artillery, rectifying the lines as well as it could be done in the darkness of the night.

Hooker, sleepless at such a time, rearranged his batteries and their supports and had everything in order for an advance at the first glimmer of daylight.

Mansfield's supporting corps crossed the Antietam where Hooker did, but encamped through the night more than a mile in his rear; while our corps (Sumner's), intended also for the support of Hooker, was [291] still far off near McClellan's center, bivouacking by the Boonsboro and Sharpsburg Turnpike and all the time within the reach of a disturbing artillery fire.

One fact quite impressed me there the evening of the 16th. General Sedgwick, always a warm friend of McClellan, and I were standing together and examining by help of our glasses Lee's position beyond the river, when an officer in charge of McClellan's headquarters' baggage train led his column of wagons to a pleasant spot on the slope, just behind us, in full view of our whole division. The enemy sent a few bursting shells into his neighborhood. This officer, much disturbed, quickly countermarched his train and hurried it off far out of range to the rear. It was done amid the jokes and laughter of our men. Sedgwick, seeing the move, shook his head and said solemnly: “I am sorry to see that l”

McClellan himself did not go back that night; but the men thought that he did. Some of his staff never could understand how easily in times of danger the morale of an army may be injured.

For September 17th Sumner's orders were for him to be ready to march from camp one hour before daylight. We were ready on time, but McClellan's order of execution failed to reach us till 7.20 and then it embraced but two divisions, Sedgwick's and French's, Richardson's being detained to await Franklin's arrival. Immediately our division (Sedgwick's) moved off in good order to the upper crossings of the Antietam, marching at the rate of at least three miles an hour.

As soon as we had crossed the small river, by Sumner's arrangement we moved on in three parallel columns [292] about seventy-five yards apart, Dana's brigade in the middle, mine to the right, and Gorman's to the left.

We pulled on rapidly in this shape till we came in sight of the Dunbar Mills and our columns extended through the “East woods.” Here every column faced to the left, making three brigade lines parallel to each other with Gorman's in front and mine in rear. We formed in an open space in which was a cornfield.

Promptly at the break of day the battle had begun. Hooker's six batteries had started a roar resounding like thunder, being answered by a quick though not so noisy response, which, but for the return projectiles, would have passed for an echo of Hooker's guns. Then, hoping that his cannon had sufficiently opened the way, Hooker had each division commander advance. Doubleday, the first, astride of the Hagerstown Turnpike, pressed forward in the grove as far as the crossroad. But at once he encountered a heavy fire from both artillery and infantry as if it had been all fixed for them. They did as troops usually do, delayed, stopped, and returned fire for fire with rapidity.

Meade, who had the heaviest force before him the night before, succeeded in making more progress than Doubleday, firing and advancing slowly.

Ricketts's division, supporting the batteries to the left of it and materially aided by their fire, gained even more ground than Meade. But soon there was surging to and fro. The forces engaged on the two sides were about equal, and the losses of men, killed and wounded in Hooker's corps, were startling. Ricketts's division alone exceeded a thousand, while Gibbon's small brigade counted nearly four hundred. The [293] Confederate losses were equally heavy, but our men did not then know that.

The depletion was so great that when there was at last not enough infantry to guard his battery, Gibbon ordered it to limber to the rear and retire. Soon he followed with his infantry on account of reduction of numbers and want of ammunition.

Hooker, however, persisted as usual, and, contrary to his first design, kept swinging to his own left and pressing forward. It had the effect to dislodge Jackson and D. H. Hill from their first line, and at last to force them through the cornfields and open spaces into the “West woods.”

In this severe work General Starke, having the “Stonewall” division, and Colonel Douglass, leading Lawton's brigade, were killed. Lawton himself and Walker, brigade commanders, were sadly wounded. At least half of the men whom Lawton and Hays led into battle were disabled. Trimble's brigade suffered nearly as much. All the regimental commanders, excepting two, were killed or wounded.

This is enough to indicate the nature and severity of the struggle for those vital points, the “East” and the “West woods.” About the time Ricketts's enterprise succeeded in seizing the edge of the woods near Dunker Church, Jackson brought in a fresh division and located it in those “West woods.” It was harder for Ricketts's men, for they had no such help. Stuart, the Confederate cavalry commander, had his batteries ready, and the instant Hooker's soldiers came into the open field brought a hurtful plunging fire to bear upon them.

There is no marvel in the fact that Hooker's fine divisions were already much broken before emerging [294] into the open, and now were fearfully handled and must soon have gone to pieces; but just then, though too late for better results, the supports came on in time to prevent anything worse. Just as Hooker's opponents were taking the offensive and about to make a charge Mansfield, whom Hooker had urgently called for, appeared on the ground with his corps. It was then between seven and eight o'clock. Mansfield at first only reenforced Hooker's lines and enabled him to recover a portion of his front that he had lately lost; but the troops went forward only to come back again. Then the old general resolved to make a bold attack. He formed in semicircular order with Greene's division on the left and Williams's on the right. A brisk forward march was made like Hooker's of the early morning and met similar obstinacy. But under that impulsion the Confederates were forced to retire; they were losing heavily, and even Stonewall Jackson's command was driven beyond the Dunker Church, but the gallant Mansfield, with his snowy white hair, while urging his troops in that charge, fell from his horse mortally wounded.

About that period of the battle Lee, seeing little likelihood of McClellan's left under Burnside doing him much damage, almost stripped that quarter of troops. In fact, he left there only D. R. Jones and Toombs with thin lines and rushed the rest forward to his center and left. The distances were not great and the roads were good. In fact, the entire Confederate line did not exceed three miles in length and so curved on the upper flank as to be easily cared for. Hood, thus reinforced, now rested, and D. H. Hill, having all his available troops with the advance, made a strong charge against Mansfield's corps, which was not in [295] good condition for defense, and which was at best but weakly supported by Hooker's tired and broken divisions.

This Confederate move, backed by the fresh troops and batteries well located to sweep our lines, soon succeeded in breaking up and disorganizing the whole front. The greater portion of our men of the two corps fell back to the “East woods” or northward to a grove on the Hagerstown Turnpike. Hooker, badly wounded, had left the field; and the two division commanders, Hartsuff and Crawford, were disabled. What an hour before were — fine regiments now appeared in the edge of the woods and behind trees like squads irregularly firing toward the enemy. The batteries that came with Mansfield's corps were left almost alone, yet, unsupported, had checked that last Confederate charge and prevented the enemy from crossing the open ground between the “East” and “West woods.”

General George S. Greene, a tenacious officer, had, with a part of his division, clung to the “West woods” at a projection, and kept up for a time an effective firing.

This was the condition of affairs in that portion of the battlefield on our arrival. I saw abundant evidence of the preceding conflict, surely not very encouraging to men just coming upon the field. Too many were busying themselves in carrying their wounded comrades to the rear. Sumner sent a staff officer to find the places where Hooker's corps was to be found. He came upon General Ricketts, the only officer of rank left there, who declared that he couldn't raise 300 men of his corps for further work. While at nine o'clock Sumner with our division was preparing to take [296] his turn in the battle, Lee, as we have seen, had already sent troops to watch him.

Without waiting for French's division, not yet near, or Richardson's, still at the distant bivouac, with an extraordinary confidence in our column of brigades and caring nothing for flanks, Sumner, with his gray hair streaming in the wind, rode to the leading brigade and ordered the advance. We broke through the cornfield; we charged over the open space and across the turnpike and forward well into the “West woods” till Gorman's line encountered the enemy's sharp musketry fire. Then all halted. Our three lines, each in two ranks, were so near together that a rifle bullet would often cross them all and disable five or six men at a time. While Gorman's brigade was receiving and returning shots, the waiting brigades, Dana's and mine, naturally sought to protect themselves by taking advantage of the rocks, trees, and hollows, or by the old plan of lying down. While I could hear the whizzing of the balls, the woods being thick thereabouts, I could see no enemy. The first intimation which I had that neither Greene's division, which had held the projection of the woods, nor French's was covering our left flank, came from a visit of Sumner himself. He approached from the rear riding rapidly, having but two or three horsemen with him. The noise of the firing was confusing. He was without his hat and with his arms outstretched motioned violently. His orders were not then intelligible; but I judged that Sedgwick's left had been turned and immediately sent the necessary orders to protect my flank by changing the front of my brigade to the left. Those nearer to the general than I were confident that he said: “Howard, you must get out of here,” or “Howard, you must face about!” [297]

With troops that I had commanded longer I could have changed front, whatever Sumner said; but here, quicker than I can write the words, my men faced about and took the back track. Dana's line soon followed mine and then Gorman's. When we reached the open ground Sumner himself and every other officer of courage and nerve were exerting themselves to the utmost to rally the men, turn them back, and make head against the advancing enemy. But it was simply impossible till we had traversed those cleared fields; for we now had the enemy's infantry and artillery in rear and on our flank against our broken brigades, pelting us with their rapid and deadly volleys. That threeline advance had run Sedgwick's division into a trap well set and baited. Greene's spare command, hanging as we have seen to a projection or fragment of the “West woods,” was the bait, and Hill's brigades, already making for Greene, completely passed our left and sprung the trap. Sumner, too late, discovered Hill's effort. Sedgwick and Dana, badly wounded, left the field. The Second Division Second Corps then fell to me. It had good troops. Though losing heavily in our futile effort to change front before D. H. Hill, the division was speedily re-formed in the edge of the “East woods” and gave a firm support to the numerous batteries which now fired again with wonderful rapidity and effect. We prevented all further disaster except the loss for the third time that day of those mysterious “West woods.”

I have a further picture. It is of a ravine in the “West woods,” where my own staff and that of General Burns sat upon their horses near me, just in rear of my waiting line, when the round shot were crashing through the trees and shells exploding rapidly over our [298] heads, while the hissing rifle balls, swift as the wind, cut the leaves and branches like hail, and whizzed uncomfortably near our ears. Astonishing to tell, though exposed for an hour to a close musketry fire, though aids and orderlies were coming and going amid the shots, seemingly as thick as hail, not one individual of this group was hit.

Captain E. Whittlesey had taken the place of F. D. Sewall, then colonel of the Nineteenth Maine, as adjutant general of the brigade. He and my brother, Lieutenant Howard, badly wounded at Fair Oaks, had rejoined after the command left Washington. It was the first time I had seen Whittlesey under fire. He reminded me, as I observed him, of General Sykes, who, in action, never moved a muscle. The effect of this imperturbability on the part of a commander was wholesome. With a less stern countenance, but an equally strong will, Whittlesey was to me from that time the kind of help I needed in battle. Lieutenant Howard also, if he detected the least lack of coolness in me, would say quietly: “Aren't you a little excited?” This was enough to suppress any momentary nervousness.

The worst thing which resulted from our retreat that day was the effect upon General Sumner himself. He concluded that if such troops as composed Hooker's corps and Sedgwick's division could be so easily beaten any other vigorous effort in that part of the field would be useless.

Franklin's corps arrived from Pleasant Valley and reported to McClellan at 10 A. M. That was all, except Couch's attached division which Franklin had dispatched to Maryland Heights, which came to us the morning of the 18th. [299]

Franklin soon sent his leading division under W. F. Smith to aid Sedgwick, but, like all other supports in this ill-managed battle, it was a little too late. The trap had been sprung already and we had been forced back from the “West woods.” Smith, to guard the batteries, deployed Hancock's brigade to our left. Hancock separated the protecting batteries and put regiments between them. I sent a regiment, the Twentieth Massachusetts, to help him support his right battery. The Confederates fired upon these new arrivals and were answered by the batteries. They ventured no farther, nor did we. General Smith sent Irwin's brigade to prolong Hancock's line leftward, while Sumner took Smith's other brigade to watch his extreme right, being apprehensive of some hostile countermove from that direction.

French, as we have seen, was not in sight when Sedgwick went into action. He formed his parallel columns as we did. Instead of keeping on in our track, when about a mile behind us he faced to the left and marched off toward that part of the enemy's position. He directed his march obliquely toward Roulette's house, making a large angle with Sedgwick's direction. He doubtless thought Greene occupied more space and would move to the front with us — a natural mistake. But a big gap was left. It took four or five batteries, besides Hancock's and Irwin's elongated lines, to fill the interval.

French's division marched briskly, driving in hostile skirmishers and engaging first heavy guns in chosen spots and then thicker musketry. The diagonal road which cuts both pikes and passes in front of Roulette's house is what the officers called the “sunken road.” D. H. Hill filled a part of it with Confederate [300] brigades; standing behind them were several batteries and the brigades of Rodes and Anderson in support. It was a well-chosen position for defense. Some of these troops had fought near Dunker's Church and had run back there after Sedgwick's discomfiture. Colonel Weber, commanding French's leading brigade to my left, now monopolized the fight. Soon his left was turned, while his front was hotly assailed. Kimball, seeing this, rushed his men up to clear Weber's exposed left and drove back the Confederate flankers, but they immediately ran to cover in the “sunken road” and there successfully defied his nearer approach. The hard contest here, varying in intensity from moment to moment, lasted three full hours and our men found quite impossible a decisive forward movement in that place.

French had upward of 2,000 men near there put hors de combat. Irwin's brigade of Smith's division, near Hancock, made one charge in the afternoon and went into those “West woods,” but then experienced the same trouble as the rest of us — it was striking in the dark; they also were forced to retreat.

Richardson's division after the arrival of Franklin was sent by McClellan to join our corps. After crossing the Antietam, Richardson directed his march on the Piper house, taking his cue from French's field, and soon was breasting the same deep roadway farther to the left. He did not attempt our formation but placed Meagher's brigade and Caldwell's abreast, Caldwell's on the left and Brooke's brigade considerably in the rear to watch his flanks. Thus he moved into close action. Once the Confederates were moving between Richardson and French, for there was free space enough. Brooke caught the glimmer of their rifles and [301] sent to his right a regiment to meet and stop them at the right moment.

Cross of the Fifth New Hampshire, aided by the Eighty-first Pennsylvania, did a like handsome thing for Caldwell's left flank. Cross in this successful move made a run for higher ground, while Brooke generously sent forward enough of his brigade to keep up Cross's connection with his proper front line. In these impulsive thrusts of subordinates, almost without orders, a part of that horrid “sunken road” was captured and passed, and Piper's house reached at last and held. Francis C. Barlow was given that day two regimentsthe Sixty-first and Sixty-fourth New York. By quick maneuvering he caught and captured 300 prisoners in the deep road. General Richardson was mortally wounded near that place.

There was not much infantry engagement on our part of the field after one o'clock, but the artillery was unceasing all along the lines. Hancock was quickly sent to command Richardson's division. For one more trial Slocum's division under Franklin's instructions formed lines of attack. They made ready for another desperate charge through those “West woods” and up to the Dunker Church. But Sumner just then hurried one of its brigades to the right and thus created a delay. In a few minutes after this Sumner took a fuller responsibility and ordered Franklin out again to attempt to carry those fatal woods.

Sumner shortly after this order to Franklin had planned a general advance. His adjutant general and aids had distributed the order to four corps, what were left of them, and had cavalry ready to help. All were to start simultaneously at a given signal. All were waiting-but there was an unexpected halt. Sumner [302] consulted with McClellan, and then concluded not to risk the offensive again, and so the work for September 17th for our center and right was substantially closed. Sumner's purpose and McClellan's plan for the early morning of this day, to have Hooker, Mansfield, Sumner, and, finally, Franklin go into battle in echelon by division from right to left as far as possible, was wise. We have seen how the scheme was marred simply in the execution. Hooker was exhausted before Mansfield began. Mansfield was displaced and had fallen when Sedgwick went singly into battle. I, replacing Sedgwick, was back on the defensive when French entered the lists far off to my left; while, in conjunction with French, Richardson alone touched the right spot at the right time. Franklin and the batteries were only in time and place to prevent disaster. Simultaneous action of divisions with a strong reserve would have won that portion of the field, but there was no simultaneous action.

Down by the Burnside bridge was a rise of ground on our side. The enemy there, after Lee had arranged his defense, consisted in the main of D. R. Jones's division and Toombs's brigade in support of abundant artillery. The guns, well placed, swept the road and other approaches. All the country behind them and to their left was favorable to prompt reinforcement. On our bank Burnside's officers of artillery posted a battery of twenty-pounder Parrotts and another of smaller guns, covering the highest knoll, hoping for unusual execution. Crook's brigade of Scammon's division stretched upstream to the right, with Sturgis's division formed in his rear. Rodman's division, with Hugh Ewing's brigade behind it, extended down the Antietam. Pleasonton, commanding and supporting [303] by cavalry several batteries, together with Sykes's division of Porter's corps, held all the ground between Burnside and Richardson. Our Willcox's division and the reserve artillery were kept back for emergencies. There was only the Ninth Corps on the left. Burnside with Hooker away simply commanded Cox. The Ninth Corps that day had virtually two heads, Burnside and Cox. At 7 A. M. of the 17th McClellan ordered Burnside to prepare to assault and take the bridge, but, when ready, to wait for his word. The troops were put in place. Every good spot was occupied by favoring cannon. McClellan at eight o'clock sent the word. Why, nobody knows, but Burnside, standing with Cox, did not receive the order till nine o'clock. He then directed Cox to execute it. Cox went to the front to watch for results, and in person set Crook's brigade, backed up by Sturgis's division, to charge and see if they could not force a crossing. Two columns of four abreast were to rush over under the raking fire and then divide right and left. Meanwhile Rodman's division, forcing the ford below, must charge Toombs's Confederates out from behind a stone wall.

Crook got ready, covered his front with skirmishers, and pushed for the river, reaching it above the bridge. The fire of cannon and musketry from beyond was so worrisome that his men halted and that assault failed.

Next, after some delay, Cox tried Sturgis's division. The Sixth New Hampshire and the Second Maryland were each put into column. They charged, but the enemy's sweeping fire broke them up.

The Fifty-first New York and Fifty-first Pennsylvania were next arranged for a forlorn hope. To help [304] them one of our batteries tried fast firing. It created smoke and noise and sent screeching shells to occupy Confederate attention, while the rush was made. At last a part of our men were over.

Following this lead the troops of Sturgis and Crook passed the bridge, and driving the enemy back formed with speed in good order on the west bank.

Rodman had been led off by false or ignorant guides down the Antietam. After search and experiment he discovered a ford, successfully made his crossing and came up on the other bank as ordered. The daring work was done, but it had taken four good hours to accomplish it, so it was already one o'clock. The hard contest all along our line northward was then substantially over; thus Lee was able to reinforce against Cox, and further, A. P. Hill's Confederate division, en route from Harper's Ferry, was not far from Sharpsburg.

Again, as if to favor Lee, Burnside had further delay. The excessive firing before and after crossing the Antietam had exhausted the ammunition of the leading division, so that Burnside had to send over Willcox's command to make replacement, which consumed another precious hour. Considering that the Confederate D. R. Jones had kept rifle shots and shells flying against Cox's lines, it was a difficult business, after so long halting, to form and send forward attacking and charging brigades.

As soon as ready, urged by repeated orders brought by McClellan's staff officers and forwarded by Burnside from his rise of ground, Cox went forward. Willcox and Crook, carrying Jones's front, made for the village; but Rodman, to the left, was delayed by Toombs; and Cox had to meet a strong reenforcement [305] of A. P. Hill's corps, which had just arrived.

Sturgis, however, seized a hostile battery and marched on through the town, while Crook was giving him good support. A victory seemed already gained, but it was not secure. Rodman's check, of course, created separation and weakness in Cox's corps. At that very juncture, A. P. Hill deployed more and more of his strong force before Sturgis and Crook and commenced firing and advancing rapidly. He first recaptured the Confederate battery just taken, and caused Cox's right to leave the village and the important vantage ground he had so happily obtained. Rodman's division was in this way doubly checkmated, and he, one of our best New England men, once under my command with the Fourth Rhode Island, was slain. His troops, thus defeated, fell back in haste.

Nearer the river Cox took up a strong defensive position, re-formed his corps, and prevented further disaster.

Iee's generalship at Antietam could not be surpassed; but while McClellan's plans were excellent, the tactical execution was bad. Had all of the right column been on the spot where the work was to begin, Sumner, seizing Stuart's heights by the Potomac, could have accomplished the purpose of his heart — to drive everything before him through the village of Sharpsburg and on to Burnside's front. Of course, Burnside's move should have been vigorous and simultaneous with attacks on the right. McClellan so intended. We had, however, a technical victory, for Lee withdrew after one day's delay and recrossed the Potomac. Porter's corps, following closely, lost heavily at the Shepherdstown ford-so that every part of [306] our army except Couch's division, which after its late arrival was only exposed to artillery fire, suffered great loss at the battle of Antietam.

Longstreet says that Antietam was “the bloodiest single day of fighting of the war.” The Confederate loss in Maryland was 12,601; while ours at Antietam alone, including prisoners, was 12,410.

While, with a view to avoid their mistakes in the future, we may study the faults and omissions of the brave men who here contended for the life of the Republic, let us not blame them, for there were often cogent reasons-hindrances and drawbacks which after many years no one can remember.

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