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Chapter 5:

  • The Maryland campaign of 1862
  • -- along the route -- Pleasant Valley -- south Mountain -- Antietam -- reminiscences of the sojourn in Maryland after the battle of Antietam

The Sixth Corps moved to Fairfax, C. H., where a brief halt was made. On the afternoon of the first of September, we passed Fairfax Seminary on the edge of the county, four miles from Alexandria, and a few minutes later crossed the field to the Leesburg pike, through our last winter's camp. We noticed a tiny Union flag flying from a pole nailed to John Going's gable. As it was alleged that John had said he would rot in Fort Ellsworth before he would raise the Union colors, and as John was not at home, it would seem that some one had kindly planted the flag for him.

We crossed Cameron Run, and marched across the country at though making for Arlington Heights; but when in sight of Fort Albany we moved east, along the line of the Alexandria and Loudon Railroad, struck the Washington road, and crossed Long Bridge into the capital.

We moved through the ‘city of magnificent distances,’ over Georgetown Heights to Tennallytown. How many times and on how many different errands, did we, during our career as an element either of the Army of the Potomac or of the Army of the Shenandoah, pass through or rest at this little village? The turnpike gate on the west side is one of the landmarks figured in memory.

It was now evident that there was or was about to be an invasion of Maryland. Our course the next day led us through Rockville, in the midst of a thrifty agricultural region in harvest time, when the fruit, cereals, and cattle were a sight to tempt to desperation the Confederates, if, as was often affirmed, their subsistence store sorely needed replenishment. We halted beyond Rockville. The several divisions of infantry, and the batteries belonging to [73] the Sixth Corps, were seemingly to wait here, unless some emergency were to hasten them on, until their wagons should overtake them with supplies, (we had not yet commenced to forage here, issuing quartermaster's vouchers,) and first of all, probably, to await further development of the enemy's plans.

He certainly has not crossed with any considerable force, east of the Blue Ridge. Had he crossed into Cumberland Valley, we should not be resting here. Our corps is being led by our old commander, Gen. Franklin. There seem to be no other troops along our line of march; probably the other corps have pursued a line farther north, taking the same general direction west. What may be the special mission of the Sixth Corps in the next eight days, will be manifest in good time. In the meanwhile it is positively stated that Little Mac has resumed the command of the Army of the Potomac. The news was almost universally welcomed in the Sixth Corps. The effect of it, as in the case of a rumor of his return, a year later, was a stimulus to the ardor and patriotism of the troops.

We need not resort to invidious comparisons of our first commander with his successors, or indulge in carping criticism of the war department during 1861 and 1862, in a vain endeavor to fix the responsibility for the misfortunes of that period. We should first remember the successes of that epoch, and the glory of our arms; then, whatever conclusion may be reached in regard to McClellan's conduct of the Peninsula campaign, these facts will still remain, perpetually incontrovertible: He was the wonderful organizer who developed from a chaotic mass of raw levies, during the fall and winter of 1861, the splendid Army of the Potomac; he was invested with a subtle personal magnetism, that inevitably impelled toward him generals and troops, and awakened their enthusiasm to the last; he drove back the army of Lee, with its prestige of a victorious march through northern Virginia, before it had hardly gained a foothold on Maryland soil; he turned over his command at the mandate of the department, amid the universal regret of the army and its corps commanders. Posterity will do him justice.

On the morning of the first day after our arrival at the camp beyond Rockville, our teams came up and our mail-carrier, Comrade Marsh, rode in with a full pack. We recollect Capt. Porter's [74] greeting of the carrier, and the captain's characteristic smile which was a part of the greeting. A smile that shines through clear spectacles is peculiarly attractive, if the eyes behind them are in a genial face, as they were in this case.

During this and succeeding days, the boys who had any scrip visited farmhouses in the vicinity, and purchased loaves of homemade bread and canteens of milk. At this time, one of our men mysteriously disappeared and was seen no more by us for one year. Whether he was kidnapped by some of the secession sympathizers and conveyed to Dixie, or whether he went home by the underground route, or went into a trance, only awakening on the eve of the Wilderness campaign, we never knew. We left this camp, in painful uncertainty as to the fate of our friend, and during the next five days by easy stages, on a generally western course, made our way to the foot of that section of the Blue or Kittatinny Mountains, called in Maryland the Kittoctan. It was on the morning of the 12th of September that we moved over their crest and commenced the descent on their west side. What a panorama of autumn landscape, grandeur and loveliness, lay before us!

'T was Pleasant Valley. An earthly paradise, if anywhere there be one, lies in Maryland between the Kittoctan on the east, and the Blue Ridge on the west. There were the slopes of the mountains on either hand, now rounded in outline, now broken and craggy, now approaching their bases, descending in gentle declivities. There was the broad valley stretching up from the Potomac, on the east, miles of undulating curves; on the west, miles of intervale; over the face of all, farms, almost perfect pictures of thrift and plenty; orchards groaning with fruit of many varieties; broad acres golden with the ripened grain; groves of timber clean of underbrush; snug farm cottages and capacious barns, giving just the necessary variety to the scene; there were sheep on the hillsides, and herds of cows in the meadows; there were fine horses feeding in pastures. There away through the intervale extended the Monocacy like a broad ribbon of silver. All this, bathed by a healthy, stimulating atmosphere, and gilded by the rays of the September sun, was presented to our view. We seemed by some mental process, without conscious analysis, to grasp each of the elements of this wonderful picture at the moment the whole was presented to view when we [75] came over the summit. A deep voice behind us exclaimed: ‘Is not this superb!’ We turned and beheld the speaker, Lieut. Col. Platt, U. S. A., riding with Gen. Franklin and his staff. The eyes of the general and of all his suite were bent in admiration upon the scene before us.

Through this valley for nearly a week Jackson and Hill have been marching and countermarching, for the irrepressible ‘Stonewall,’ leading the van of the Confederates, crossed near Point of Rocks on Friday, the 5th of September, and at ten o'clock, A. M., on the next day, his advance is said to have entered Frederick, its bands playing ‘Dixie’ and ‘My Maryland.’ On Sunday he is said to have attended service at the Presbyterian church. On Monday, the 8th, troops have been continually coming in. Gen. Lee is reported to have opened recruiting offices for the purpose of obtaining Maryland volunteers, he having issued a proclamation, in which he said that he had entered the state ‘to rescue its people from thraldom.’ On Tuesday, the 9th, a large portion of the army of northern Virginia must have been lying in and around the town of Frederick.

On the 10th, two days ago, Jackson moved over South Mountain, the Maryland section of the Blue Ridge, to Cumberland Valley beyond. We shall hear from him to our mortification and chagrin, later. A division commanded by Gen. Walker is said to have returned down Pleasant Valley along the Monocacy and to have recrossed the Potomac. A force under McLaws and Anderson is reported to have moved along South Mountain yonder, toward Maryland Heights. It was a part of this last corps that we encountered two days later at Crampton's Gap.

It would appear then, that our slow movement since the 5th of the month had been to keep in a position to cover Washington and Baltimore, and, while observing the movements of the invaders, to permit their march into the interior sufficiently to secure their stand when attacked, at a point far enough inland from the Potomac to render their escape impossible without severe punishment and crippling their strength. Now we are moving into Pleasant Valley as part of a force which is being thrown between Lee and the lower fords of the Potomac. We camp in the undulating fields along the line of roads from Frederick to the Potomac and the road that crosses these nearly at right angles, leading to [76] Burkittsville and thence over the mountain through Crampton's Gap. The farms seem not to have been plundered. Indeed, except the wear and tear of the roads, there is little to denote that an army has recently passed through. It was doubtless the policy of the southern commander to prevent the least act of devastation in pursuance of his avowed purpose of awakening the slumbering patriotism of Maryland, and of winning the state to the Confederacy. The people of western Maryland seem not to have been in the least attracted by the ‘pomp and circumstance’ of the Confederate troops during their brief visit. The effect of this movement of the Sixth Corps, and of other movements of the army made in conjunction with it, was the hasty departure of Lee from Frederick on this day, the 12th, he crossing the mountain by the pass opposite that place.

On the 14th of September, Sunday morning, we were again in motion. A portion of our army under Burnside was known to be in front of Turner's Gap near Frederick. All the troops in the vicinity of the Potomac except those at Harper's Ferry, are in Pleasant Valley.

The Sixth Corps, about mid-day, moved through the little hamlet of Burkittsville abreast of Crampton's Gap. There on the crest, holding the pass, was a Confederate force of uncertain number but occupying a position that seemed impregnable. On reaching the base of the mountain, lines of infantry, ranged across the road which winds up the declivity through the gap, were pushed up the side.

Bartlett's brigade of Slocum's division, comprising the Fifth Maine, Sixteenth and Twenty-seventh New York, and Ninety-sixth Pennsylvania, was upon the right of the road, companies from these regiments supporting two batteries, one of which was the First Massachusetts. We moved steadily over the rising, uneven ground, brush and stones impeding the way. Perhaps one third of the distance up the side we were met by a solid line of grays, and a murderous discharge of muskets. They receive an equally cruel return, backed by a broadside from the batteries. Their gaps are closed, their dead lying at their feet. They pour forth another volley; this is met by one from our lines, and more artillery fire. Their line wavers. Our right now presses hard their left, and turns it in and upward. A bevy of grays in our front [77] are forced into the hands of our infantry, and are taken to the rear. Then the Confederate line falls back, firing as it recedes.

There is a lively forward motion of our infantry, and a round of shots; now an artillery discharge, and both have reached a belt of the mountain side, that is like the top of a terrace. Here is a stubborn contest for an hour, and bloody work; here on the morrow the corpses lie thick, and the leaves and turf are stained. The engagement lasted three hours, and resulted in driving the enemy from the pass. They were many of them Georgians, brave, hardy fellows, not a few of them quite young; none of them seemed old. Among the prisoners was a young man whom we saw a year after in Pennsylvania, he having been again captured at Gettysburg. He said in answer to our inquiry if we had not seen him at South Mountain, that he was taken prisoner there. The next day, as we lay upon the side of the mountain, a detail of the prisoners was employed under the direction of a noncom-missioned officer, in burying their dead. A large trench was dug, and a large number of bodies were carefully placed in it, their feet toward the foot of the mountain. We saw some young fellows lying among the trees, whose countenances even in death looked fresh and wholesome, and actually seemed to have a glow of color; some had their name and the name of their regiment pinned upon their shirts. Some bodies were inky black, and frightful to behold.

It goes without saying that the prisoners were well cared for, and the men engaged in the burial of their comrades were pronounced in their expression of their satisfaction at the treatment they had received. They were in truth good fellows, and our company comrades, who had much conversation with them, learned to appreciate the fact, and to regret that a different training, and a different scale and trend of educational means, had arrayed them against us.

To-day brings ill-starred tidings. There come into camp some paroled Union Maryland prisoners from Harper's Ferry. That place surrendered to Jackson yesterday, while the battle was raging here and at Turner's Pass, abreast of Frederick. In fact, away at the southern end of this South Mountain, where we are, on Maryland Heights, were Anderson's and McLaw's commands, from which was drawn the force which we encountered yesterday. Eleven thousand men by this surrender are lost to us. [78]

We spent the following day, the 16th of September, on South Mountain, and we had some further opportunity to examine on this Tuesday the character of the surface and soil of the lower slope of the ridge in this vicinity. This we found to be cultivated here and there; we particularly recollect a field of sweet potatoes, the vines being thrifty, and the roots three fourths matured. There is excellent water here, if one is only habituated to the use of it. The rock formation on which the soil rests, through which the water percolates, is limestone, or magnesian rock traversed by limestone; this region, therefore, and that on the other side of the mountain, is especially adapted to grain-growing.

Turner's, or South Mountain Pass, is several miles north of Crampton's Gap. There, on the 14th, Hooker and Reno were hotly engaged with a portion of Lee's army, which disputed the passage of the Federals at that point. The enemy was dislodged, driven from the pass, and fell back to Boonesboro, which lies at the base of the mountain on the west side of the pass; the next day they moved toward Williamsport on the Potomac. But the victory was purchased with the lives of the gallant Reno and several hundred brave men. There were wounded, here and at Crampton's Gap, eighteen hundred and six, and the Federal dead on both fields numbered four hundred and forty-three. The enemy, in retreating from South Mountain, crossed Antietam Creek and retired to Sharpsburg. The Antietam, from a point near Boonesboro, runs nearly parallel with the South Mountain, five or six miles from it; there is a bridge over it, west of Boonesboro, on the Hagerstown road which comes over the mountain; there is another near Keedysville, which is situated as to Crampton's Gap relatively the same as Boonesboro is to Turner's or South Mountain Pass. By this latter bridge and a ford near it, Hooker's corps crossed on the afternoon of the 16th in pursuit of Lee. Hooker's orders were to attack, and, if possible, turn the enemy's left. Arrived in position on the high ground southwest of Keedysville and north of Sharpsburg, the Pennsylvania Reserves, the head of Hooker's corps, became engaged in a sharp contest with the enemy, which lasted until dark, when it had succeeded in driving in a portion of the opposing line, and had held its ground. Mansfield's corps was sent in the evening to support Hooker. At daylight the contest was renewed. Hooker's attack was [79] successful for a time, but masses of the enemy thrown upon the corps, checked it. Mansfield's corps came to its aid, and the two corps drove back the enemy. But the veteran Mansfield fell, and Fighting Joe Hooker was wounded and carried from the field, where his services had been indispensable.

Within an hour afterward, Sumner's corps arrived, and on its general devolved the command of the right. Sedgwick's division and that of Crawford penetrated the woods in front of Hooker's and Mansfield's corps; French and Richardson were placed to the left of Sedgwick, thus attacking the enemy toward his left centre. The battle now raged around a cornfield surrounded by woods, to which Hooker had in the beginning driven the enemy. Crawford's and Sedgwick's lines yielded to a destructive fire of the Confederates in the wood, suffering extremely, and, their leaders both being wounded, fell back in some confusion; yet they rallied in the wood.

It was now one o'clock, P. M.; at this moment of extreme need Gen. Franklin arrived with Smith's and Slocum's divisions of the Sixth Corps, and their artillery. We had come through the gap, over to Keedysville, across the Antietam at that place, arrived between twelve and one at Brownsville, and then pushed forward to the aid of the right wing. The destructive fire of the artillery now prevented the enemy from pursuing his temporary advantage at the moment that Crawford's and Sedgwick's lines rallied. These were immediately replaced by the two fresh divisions of the Sixth Corps, whose infantry, advancing steadily, followed by its artillery, which came into position in the cornfield beyond the belt of woods on its north side, and swept over the ground just lost, now permanently regained. Smith's Vermont, Maine, and other regiments, went forward on the run, cheering vociferously, fell upon the troops in the wood in their front, and in less than a quarter of an hour cleared and held it. Slocum's Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin regiments, were sent forward along the slopes lying under the first ranges of the hills occupied by the Confederates, and poured a storm of shot into the opposing lines, driving them back from their foremost position. Franklin now sent his batteries forward in the cornfield; they blazed away upon the woods in front and right. We seemed about to carry those woods; if there were any batteries there at [80] this moment, they were either disabled or without ammunition. It is said the order to advance the infantry at this stage was countermanded, because of a message from Gen. Sumner to McClellan, that if Franklin went on and was repulsed, his own corps was not sufficiently organized to be depended upon as a reserve.

Nevertheless, at four o'clock our guns were still active; every ridge along the line was enveloped in clouds of smoke. It is said that at this moment there were four miles of battle. For an hour thenceforward there is artillery practice on the right. As the sun went down we were in possession of the cornfield which had been four times lost and won. But what a harvest lay garnered there! Literally winrows of dead,—the blue and the gray. Like as the rows of bound sheaves before they are stacked may lie one line above another on a hillside, so lay the bodies in lines from the lower belt of woods on the north side, over the rise to the upper range of wood on the south. Frightful indeed was the spectacle of those blackened corpses, already commencing to decompose under the influence of the hot sun. Now a head which a shell had crushed was seen deprived of its contents, like an empty case; here was a stark form, its hand clutching the strap of a canteen; there a headless body,—corpses piled upon corpses. Independent of the frightful evidence of human slaughter which met the eye on every hand, the field itself suggested to one a recent visitation of a hell-storm; the cornstalks broken, blighted, bloody; the ground, torn, and stained; toward the west side lay a bull, which, maddened by the sound of his own bellowing or by the thunder of the battle, had rushed onto the field to be destroyed.

From General McClellan's report we have the following account of the action during the day, upon the left:—

The effect of Burnside's movement on the enemy's right was to prevent his further massing of troops on his left, and we held what we had gained. Burnside's corps, consisting of Wilcox's, Sturgis's, Rodman's and Cox's Kanawha division, was intrusted with the difficult task of carrying the bridge across the Antietam at Rohrback's Farm, and assaulting the enemy's right, the order having been communicated to him at ten o'clock, A. M. The valley of the Antietam, at and near the bridge, is narrow with high banks. On the right of the [81] stream the bank is wooded and commands the approaches both to the bridge and the ford. The steep slopes of the bank were lined with rifle-pits, and breastworks of rails and stones. These together with the woods were filled with the enemy's infantry, while their batteries completely commanded and enfiladed the bridge and ford and their approaches.

The advance of the troops brought on an obstinate and sanguinary contest, and from the great natural advantages of the position, it was nearly one o'clock before the heights on the right bank were carried. About three P. M. the corps again advanced, and with success, driving the enemy before it, and pushing him nearly to Sharpsburg.


With the day, closed this memorable battle, in which perhaps nearly two hundred thousand men were for fourteen hours engaged in combat. We had attacked the enemy in position, driven them from their line on one flank, and secured a footing within it on the other. Under the depression of previous reverses, we had achieved a victory over an adversary invested with the prestige of former successes, and inflated with a recent triumph. The Union forces slept that night on a field won by their valor, and covered with the dead and wounded of the enemy.


From the time the Union troops first encountered the Confederates in Maryland, until the latter were driven back into Virginia, we captured thirteen guns, seven caissons, nine limbers, two field forges, two caisson bodies, thirty-nine colors, and one signal flag; the Union army had lost neither gun nor color.


We slept that night on the field; it was very dark, and one of our comrades, coming off post at relief, made his way, as he supposed, to the spot where his chum lay under a blanket; as he lay down, he asked his bed-fellow to move along and give him more room, but receiving no satisfaction he went to sleep; four hours later he was waked up, to find himself stretched beside a dead man.

Gen. McClellan had ordered the attack to be renewed in the morning; but at that hour the Confederates asked for an armistice to bury their dead, which was granted. We therefore remained [82] amidst this ghastly scene all day, the motionless Confederate pickets looking down over the field from the edge of the woods. All the forenoon, surgeons with staffs were moving, as best they could pick their way, over the field; seeking among the motionless forms for those in which life was not extinct, and ministering to the severely wounded who had not been removed. The burial parties will have a long range of duty. In the road, bodies lay scattered all around, and the stench that arose from their decomposition was wellnigh unendurable. Along the line for not more than a single mile, fifteen hundred lay unburied. Yesterday has been called the bloodiest day that America has ever known; and the determined character, terrible in its determination, of the contest on the Union right and Confederate left, in the forenoon, may be judged from the fact that Hooker and Jackson there confronted each other.

During the night of the 18th, Lee withdrew his forces from the Federal front; this had probably begun and been continued under cover of the operations for which the truce was obtained. On the morning of the 19th, the thin line of grays which was visible to us yesterday has disappeared. On the 20th, the Sixth Corps marches to Hagerstown. Our company lay for a week, just south of the village on the Boonesboro road, near the Antietam. There was at this point and at the rear of our camp a large grist-mill, and behind it a whiskey distillery; whether any tangle-foot could have been obtained at this mill during that week, we do not know, but the existence of the still gave rise to a facetious yarn at the expense of one of our corporals. It had been his unpleasant duty to adjust an eccentric soldier upon a spare wheel of a caisson, where he was to sit upon the hub a couple of hours. The story was, that the eccentric one, knowing the road to the mill, blindfold, and being an expert at untying knots, set himself free from the wheel, spent an hour away, returned, tied himself again upon the wheel, and was never missed by the corporal, the latter never distinguishing the eccentric boy's knots from his own.

In a day or two after our arrival, we were visited by one of those severe thunder-storms that largely have their origin in the condition of the atmosphere after a great battle, and which invariably follow a protracted burning of gunpowder. This settled into a two days [83] rain, which drenched the camps and their inhabitants, soaked the roads and fields, and swelled the Antietam and its little tributary which ran along the north end of our camp.


During the week, citizens from the northern states, even from New England, visited the Union camps. There came to our headquarters two gentlemen, residents of a Boston suburb, who were fathers of two of our comrades. The next day after their arrival, they visited the battlefield of Antietam with their sons. One of the boys, ruuning to the wagon with his father's umbrella, caused considerable merriment, such a utensil in a soldier's hands being as anomalous as a linen collar upon his neck.

A week after the battle of Antietam, a reconnoissance in force was made upon the Virginia side, in the neighborhood of Shepardstown, to ascertain the position and strength of the enemy; this reconnoitring party, consisting of one brigade, part of another, and a battery, fell into an ambush, after driving back a battery which commanded the ford, and escaped with difficulty and considerable loss across the river under the fire of the enemy. This movement seems to have resulted in setting in motion the whole or a part of the Sixth Corps, for we set out in the evening of the 24th and were upon the road all night; just what was the significance of our movement, we do not know. We found ourselves in the morning at St. James College, in Washington County; we remained here through the day and during the next night, and on the following day marched to Bakersville. This is north of Williamsport in the same county; we lay upon the high ground, over and down which, to the south, extends the road to the Potomac. There is a valley to the north of this ridge through which flows a small stream, which furnished sufficient water for all the camp purposes; but it seemed to contain ingredients which were productive of chronic diarrhea, which prevailed, during the fortnight's sojourn at this place, to an extent and in a degree never equalled before or afterward. It was pitiful to observe the condition of many of the boys during this period; not a few of them were emaciated as well as feeble. Privates who had not answered sick-call since the army moved in April, were now obliged to succumb for a time to the ravages of this debilitating scourge.

... [84]

It was during our tarry at Bakersville, that our commander, Capt. Josiah Porter, was compelled, by pressure of family bereavement, and business affairs growing out of it, to accept leave of absence. As he never returned to this command, we wish to give testimony here to his worth as a gentleman and a citizen, and his honorable reputation as an officer of artillery and soldier of the Union. There was general regret at his departure. We were, however, as a battery of light artillery, left in able hands, our first lieutenant commanding being, in point of pluck, zeal, and what is called esprit de corps, the equal of any volunteer battery commander in the service; this without disparagement to the gallant volunteer captains of this arm, in the various artillery brigades of this and other military departments. Under his command we marched in the middle of October to Williamsport, on the Potomac, near the mouth of Conochocheague Creek. Our guns were in position on the ridge west of the town, overlooking the Potomac. The infantry who accompanied us thither, and ourselves, seemed to have come there as a corps of observation, and to have taken a position that commanded the ford at this place. How much force there might have been upon the heights beyond the river, we do not know; probably not a vast number, as it is now known that Lee's main army was leisurely making its way to the Rappahannock. There were troops, however, visible over there, and citizens of the village who strolled out to our camp would point to them, and make some uncomplimentary remark. But this was a possible gateway of invasion, inasmuch as Lee subsequently crossed here; hence we presume a corps of observation, with additional troops within supporting distance, was despatched to this place. This village in 1862 had a somewhat dilapidated and non-progressive appearance, this probably due to its unfortunate geographical situation. Whiskey, which seems to be about the last supply to fail in the decadence of a village, was abundant here, and, notwithstanding strict orders forbidding the sale to privates, was obtained by some of them too frequently. Our stay here was uneventful. October was wearing away, and one evening, six weeks after the battle of Antietam, after a two days march from Williamsport, we found ourselves at Berlin, below Harper's Ferry.

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