previous next

First Maryland campaign.

Review of General Longstreet by Colonel W. Allan.

In the Century for June, 1886, General Longstreet has an article on the Maryland campaign of 1862, which is remarkable for its ill-natured allusions to General Jackson, as well as for its partial view of the campaign and its severe and unfair criticism of General Lee's strategy. General Longstreet leads us to infer that he prevailed over Lee's hesitancy to go into Maryland at all by reminding him of his (Longstreet's) ‘experiences in Mexico, where, on several occasions, we had to live two or three days on green corn.’ As Jackson's corps certainly, and Longstreet's probably, had to live on green corn for some days before the second battle of Manassas, it was hardly necessary in General Longstreet to recur to Mexican experiences in order to overcome the hesitancy of Lee. But however much Lee yielded to the influence of Longstreet in crossing the Potomac, it is evident from General Longstreet's article that Lee unfortunately refused to be guided by the wisdom of his lieutenant when he had once entered upon the campaign. General Longstreet thinks that Lee ought not to have attempted the reduction of Harper's Ferry. Longstreet is careful to throw all blame for this movement off his own shoulders, for he tells us that when Lee proposed to him to undertake it he objected, and urged that ‘our troops were worn with marching,’ &c. He thinks, too, that the fight at South Mountain was a mistake, and that the stand ought to have been made at Sharpsburg, and not at the Mountain, though he does not frankly admit that this would have involved the failure of Lee's plans for the reduction of Harper's Ferry. After South Mountain he criticises the battle of Sharpsburg—thinks it should not have been fought [103] —but that the Confederate army ought to have yielded the moral effects of victory without further struggle by retiring at once to the south side of the Potomac. After defending General D. H. Hill from some imaginary assailant for the loss of the captured dispatch, he adopts, more or less, General Hill's idiosyncrasy in regard to the value of that dispatch to McClellan and its effect upon the fortunes of the campaign. He thinks it did McClellan little good, and that it contributed in no considerable degree to General Lee's failure. The animus of the article is unfair to the Confederate leader, but makes up for this by being very complimentary to General Longstreet himself.

If the author looks back with distorted vision upon Lee and his deeds in this campaign, his bile is evidently deeply stirred when the vision of Jackson passes before his mind. Speaking of the results of the campaign, he says: ‘Jackson was quite satisfied with the campaign, as the Virginia papers made him the hero of Harper's Ferry, although the greater danger was with McLaws, and his was the severer and more important service.’ Again: ‘Jackson made a wide, sweeping march around the Ferry, passing the Potomac at Williamsport, and moving from there on towards Martinsburg, and turning thence upon Harper's Ferry to make his attack by Bolivar Heights. McLaws made a hurried march to reach Maryland Heights before Jackson could get into position, and succeeded in doing so. With Maryland Heights in our possession the Federals could not hold their position there. McLaws put two or three hundred men to each piece of his artillery, and carried it up the Heights, and was in position before Jackson came on the Heights opposite. Simultaneously Walker appeared upon Loudoun Heights, south of the Potomac and east of the Shenandoah, thus completing the combination against the Federal garrison.’ In the description of the battle of Sharpsburg but a very meagre allusion is made to the tremendous struggle which took place on Jackson's line, and which was the heaviest attack made by McClellan during the day; and only the obscurest mention is made of the magnificent blow struck by A. P. Hill in the afternoon, which relieved Longstreet's own line from overwhelming pressure, and sent Burnside's corps broken and bleeding back to the Antietam.

The purpose and plans of this Maryland campaign are not hard to understand. Lee had just defeated one-half of the Federal troops in Virginia, and driven them to the fortifications of Washington. He could not get at his foe in that position, and to remain idle at Manassas was to give the enemy an opportunity to recover from the blow [104] he had struck. He, therefore, (after, it would seem, being satisfied by General Longstreet that his army might live on green corn!) crossed into Maryland for he purpose of drawing the Federal army away from Washington in order to defend the North from invasion. His movement was immediately successful. McClellan, without waiting to reorganize his disjointed forces, set forth from Washington towards Frederick city, that he might cover Baltimore as well as the Federal capital. His movements were necessarily slow, and this slowness was increased by his cautious temperament and the panic fears of the National Administration, which, but a few days before, had looked upon the fall of the capital as certain. McClellan crept slowly up the Potomac, carrying on his work of reorganization as he went, stretching his army from the Potomac to the Patapsco, so as to cover the great cities upon those rivers. His force was large, from 80,000 to 90,000 effective men, but his army was not in good condition. One part of it had but recently returned from the unsuccessful Peninsula campaign, another part under Pope had been dreadfully beaten at Manassas. Gaps had been filled by new troops not yet inured to service. With his usual tendency to exaggerate the strength of his foes, McClellan believed that the veteran and victorious army in his front was at least equal in strength to his own. Add to these considerations the fact that General Halleck, the Federal commander-in-chief, had not recovered from the nightmare induced by Pope's disasters, and seemed possessed of but one idea, which was, that Lee's object was to draw off the Federal army from Washington, and then suddenly cross to the Virginia side of the Potomac and attack that city. Halleck was therefore constantly warning McClellan against such a movement. Halleck says on the 9th: ‘We must be very cautious about stripping too much the forts on the Washington side. It may be the enemy's object to draw off the mass of our forces, and then attempt to attack from the Virginia side of the Potomac.’ On the 12th President Lincoln telegraphs: ‘I have advices that Jackson is crossing the Potomac at Williamsport, and probably the whole Rebel army will be drawn from Maryland.’ On the 13th Halleck says: ‘Until you know more certainly the enemy's forces south of the Potomac you are wrong in thus uncovering the capital. I am of the opinion that the enemy will send a small column towards Pennsylvania and draw your forces in that direction, then suddenly move on Washington with the forces south of the Potomac, and those he might cross over.’ This was the very day on which McClellan obtained the lost dispatch. On [105] the 14th Halleck says: ‘I fear you are exposing your left and rear.’ And even as late as the 16th he urges the same idea upon McClellan. Now, if we put together the condition of McClellan's army, his slowness and caution as a commander, which was so fully evidenced in the Peninsula campaign, and the apprehension with which the Federal Administration viewed his increasing distance from Washington, is it not evident that McClellan's progress must have been slow, and as he approached the mountains slower still? In estimating McClellan's progress, General Lee could not have known fully of Halleck's fears, and of the constant pulling back exercised upon Mc-Clellan from Washington, but he knew the sensitiveness of the Federal Government in regard to that city, he knew McClellan's cautious character as a commander thoroughly, he knew the disordered condition of his army—indeed, probably underrated the rapidity with which it was recuperating—and from these data he estimated, fairly and justly, we believe, the length of time it would take McClellan to reach the South Mountain.

General Lee expected, of course, when he entered Maryland that the garrison at Harper's Ferry would leave the place and escape to the North. Finding that it continued there, he determined, while watching and waiting for McClellan, to capture this garrison and the large amount of ordnance and other supplies which had been collected at Harper's Ferry. He proposed to General Longstreet, it seems, to carry out this plan, but finding his senior lieutenant unable to appreciate the opportunity, he turned to Jackson, whose vigor and boldness better suited the enterprise.

On the 10th of September the army left Frederick. Jackson, as General Longstreet states, was to make a sweeping march by way of Williamsport and Martinsburg, and, driving the Federal troops at the latter place towards Harper's Ferry, close all the avenues of escape in the angle between the Shenandoah and the Potomac. At the same time McLaws, with his own and Anderson's divisions, was sent into Pleasant Valley, with instructions to take Maryland Heights, and hedge in the garrison on the north side of the Potomac. J. G. Walker, with two brigades, was ordered from the mouth of the Monocacy to cross the Potomac, move towards Harper's Ferry, and, seizing the Loudoun Heights, to shut up the eastern angle formed by the Shenandoah and the Potomac. Longstreet was sent to Hagerstown to look after some supplies and reported movements of troops from Pennsylvania, while D. H. Hill was left at Boonesboroa to be ready to support Stuart's cavalry and to guard the mountainpass [106] which led to McLaws's rear until Harper's Ferry should fall. It was not General Lee's original intention to dispute the passage of South Mountain with McClellan. His design, on the other hand, was to induce the Federal army, if possible, to cross that range into the Hagerstown Valley, and when this army had thus gotten fairly out of the reach of Washington the Confederate commander expected to give it battle upon his own terms. And, judging from McClellan's character and movements, Lee believed he would have ample time for the reduction of Harper's Ferry and the reunion of his divided army in the neighborhood of Hagerstown before McClellan would be ready to cross the mountain. Consequently D. H. Hill and Stuart were expected to delay McClellan's march until the operations at Harper's Ferry should be completed.

On the 13th of September a copy of General Lee's order, giving the proposed movements of every division in his army until it should be reunited after the capture of Harper's Ferry, fell into the hands of General McClellan at Frederick. The copy so captured was the one sent from General Lee's headquarters addressed to General D. H. Hill. How it was lost, and where, are not definitely known. General Hill states that he never received this copy of the order, and consequently it must have been lost through the carelessness of some one else, but we believe no means exist of tracing the history of this accident further. General Longstreet thinks that McClellan might have gotten through his own agencies all the information the order gave him; but such a supposition is at variance with all the facts of the case. As Halleck's dispatches show, the movement of Confederate troops to the south side of the Potomac was interpreted as a menace to Washington, and served simply to hamper McClellan. Nor could any agencies, even had they been vastly more efficient than usual, have revealed to McClellan the position for days to come of every part of Lee's army as well as the designs of its commander. McClellan, it is certain, valued the importance of the order infinitely higher than General Longstreet does. He gave vent to demonstrations of joy when he read it, and at once comprehended the opportunity presented for striking his adversary a tremendous blow. By a prompt movement forward he might expect to overwhelm the small part of Lee's army in his front, and, turning down upon the rear of McLaws, might raise the siege of Harper's Ferry, and perhaps destroy a portion of the troops engaged in conducting it.

At once orders were issued to every part of the Federal army for a vigorous forward movement. Stuart found his cavalry pickets [107] attacked and pressed back with unusual vigor. Everything on the evening of September 13th gave indications of a change in the mode of movement of the Federal army. Some one who had been a witness of the scene at McClellan's headquarters when the lost dispatch was brought to him came through the lines and informed Stuart, who then understood the cause of the Federal activity. Stuart sent in turn, the information to General Lee at Hagerstown. Lee received it some time during the night of the 13th, and at once ordered Longstreet back to Boonesboroa to support Hill. General Longstreet says that he urged Lee not to make a stand at Boonesboroa, but to bring D. H. Hill back to Sharpsburg. General Longstreet leaves us in doubt as to his opinion of the effect of this movement on the Harper's Ferry enterprise, but as such a movement would have uncovered McLaws's rear, there is no doubt that it would have cost the failure of the plan for the reduction of Harper's Ferry. General Lee was not prepared to yield so much to his enemy. Nor is it certain that the line of the Antietam presented any better opportunity for opposing McClellan than did South Mountain, where greatly inferior forces could, if well handled, keep back, for a time at least, the Federal army.

It is not our purpose to discuss the battle of South Mountain, about which much might be said. General D. H. Hill, aided later in the day by General Longstreet, was able to hold the mountain passes at Turner's Gap all day of September 14th. Their commands suffered heavily, however, and such positions were won by the Federal army as to insure their possession of the mountain next day. Meantime the Federals had gained possession of Crampton's Gap, but not until too late to press McLaws on the 14th. Hence Lee withdrew towards Sharpsburg next morning. While this movement was in progress he learned of the fall of Harper's Ferry, and ordered the concentration of his whole army behind the Antietam.

Let us turn now to operations about Harper's Ferry. According to General Lee's captured order McLaws was to possess himself of Maryland Heights by Friday morning, September 12th; Walker, at the same time, was, if practicable, to be in possession of Loudoun Heights; Jackson, by Friday night, September 12th, was expected to be in possession of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, and ‘of such of the enemy as may be at Martinsburg.’ Jackson had by far the longest march to make to reach Harper's Ferry; it amounted to about fifty miles. He was at Martinsburg, according to orders, on the night of the 12th, and had driven the Federal troops from that place towards Harper's Ferry. [108]

About 11 o'clock on the morning of the 13th the head of his column came in sight of the enemy drawn up on Bolivar Heights, the southwestern suburb of Harper's Ferry. Thus Jackson was fully on time. McLaws, who had not half the distance of Jackson to march, entered Pleasant Valley on the 11th, and on the 12th proceeded towards Maryland Heights. The way was rough. The Heights themselves were not strongly guarded—by a small force, I think, of two regiments. It was about half-past 4 on Saturday evening, the 13th, when General Kershaw succeeded in carrying the Heights. The Confederate loss in this operation was slight, which shows that the resistance was not very determined. It was difficult to get artillery upon the mountain from the Pleasant Valley side and General McLaws had to haul them up by hand, and it was 2 o'clock P. M. Sunday, 14th, before McLaws's guns were in position to cooperate with Jackson's in the reduction of Harper's Ferry. Thus the capture of Maryland Heights was accomplished, not on Friday morning, but some thirty hours later, on Saturday evening, and when McLaws got possession of the Heights, Jackson had been for some hours at Bolivar. Walker, who crossed to the Virginia side at the Point of Rocks, reached the foot of Loudoun Heights by 10 o'clock on the 13th (Saturday), and took possession of them without opposition by 2 P. M. of that day. By 8 o'clock on the morning of the 14th his artillery was up and ready for action. It thus appears that McLaws and Walker were each more than a day late in reaching their positions and about two days late in getting their artillery into place for effective co-operation in the reduction of the garrison. Hence the statement by General Longstreet that McLaws made a hurried march to reach Maryland Heights before Jackson could get in position, and succeeded in doing so, gives an entirely erroneous impression. We have nothing to say in derogation of the brave and skillful part performed by General McLaws and General Walker in the reduction of Harper's Ferry—all honor to them for what they did—but it is evident that if McLaws made a hurried march, Jackson must have made one more than twice as much hurried, since in the same time he marched about fifty miles to McLaws's twenty. Nor is it true that McLaws reached Maryland Heights before Jackson got in position. It was General Lee's intention, evidently, from his order, that both McLaws and Walker should be in position before Jackson, as it was likely that the enemy, when alarmed, would attempt to escape through the avenues to be guarded by their commands, but Jackson, as we have seen, was in front of Bolivar before either Maryland or Loudoun Heights were occupied. [109]

After the various commands were in position the intervention of the rivers between Jackson and his colleagues made it difficult to communicate with them. The only means of communication was by signals, and some hours were consumed in learning the condition of affairs and transmitting the orders for attack. General Walker opened fire from his guns on the afternoon of the 14th. Jackson then followed suit, and McLaws joined in a little later in the afternoon. The fire from Walker's guns was effective, as it was a plunging fire at no great distance. McLaws was too far off to accomplish as much, but the moral effect of his shells, plunging from the mountain tops, was no doubt great. Jackson's troops were the only ones who could come in contact with the garrison since the Potomac separated the Federals from McLaws, and the Shenandoah separated them from Walker. Jackson made disposition therefore to attack the Federal works. General Walker, in his interesting article in the June Century, says that as late as midday on the 14th Jackson had no knowledge of the important events transpiring at the South Mountain passes, and thought the fight going on there was simply a cavalry affair. He therefore spoke at that time of regularly summoning the garrison to surrender, and of giving time for the removal of non-combatants before opening his batteries. Later in the day Jackson learned from General Lee of the great danger threatened by McClellan's unexpectedly rapid advance, and was informed of the urgent necessity for completing the operations at Harper's Ferry. Jackson set to work with all his energy on the night of the 14th, and accomplished the object in view. During that night A. P. Hill, who was next the Shenandoah, was thrown forward, until some of his troops were on the right and in the rear of the Federal line of defence. Jones's division, near the Potomac, was thrown forward to attack the portion of the Federal line in its front. Ewell's division was moved forward on the turnpike between the two. During the night Colonel Crutchfield took ten guns over the Shenandoah, and established them near the foot of Loudoun Heights, so as to attack the formidable fortifications of the Federals in reverse. Colonel Lindsay Walker, and his gallant adjutant, Ham. Chamberlayne, brought up a large number of Hill's batteries to a position which a portion of Hill's infantry had gained. The greatest activity prevailed in Jackson's command during the night. The General himself took little if any rest, and soon after daylight mounted his horse and rode to the front. Fire was opened from all of Jackson's batteries that were in position at an early hour. This fire was [110] seconded by McLaws's and Walker's guns from the mountain tops. ‘In an hour,’ says Jackson, ‘the enemy's fire seemed to be silenced, and the batteries of General Hill were ordered to cease their fire, which was the signal for storming the works.’ Again, however, the enemy opened, drawing a rapid fire from Hill's batteries at close quarters. At 8 o'clock, as Jackson's lines were about moving forward to the attack, the white flag was hoisted, and the garrison surrendered. The captures amounted to over 1,000 men, 73 pieces of artillery, 13,000 stand of small arms, and other stores.

During the 14th McClellan had thrown forward Franklin to Cramp ton's Gap, through which McLaws had entered Pleasant Valley. After a spirited resistance by Colonel Munford's cavalry and Mc-Laws's rear guard, the mountain pass was forced, and at nightfall Franklin had full possession of the road to McLaws's rear. But a day had been gained, and this was enough to insure the fall of Harper's Ferry. During the evening and night of the 14th McLaws moved back a large part of his troops, and drew them up across the Valley in so strong a position, and so skillfully, that Franklin next morning declined to attack. After the surrender of Harper's Ferry, McLaws who, on the morning of the 15th, was hedged in by the garrison at the one end of Pleasant Valley, and by Franklin at the other, was relieved from his unpleasant position. He withdrew through Harper's Ferry, and returned to the army by the route taken by Jackson. Jackson, many of whose men had had little rest on the night of the 14th, left A. P. Hill to dispose of the prisoners and stores at Harper's Ferry, and on the evening of the 15th set out to rejoin his chief. By a severe night-march he reached the Potomac at Shepherdstown, and on the morning of the 16th crossed the river and rejoined Lee. Walker followed him closely, and reached the battlefield at about the same time. McLaws rested for some time near Harper's Ferry, and then moved towards Sharpsburg, which he did not reach until about 9 o'clock on the 17th.

Of the soldiers of the Federal garrison cooped up in Harper's Ferry none escaped except about 1,300 cavalry under Colonel Davis. They silently made their way up the north bank of the Potomac at the foot of Maryland Heights during the night of the 14th. Next morning in their retreat they ran foul of some of Longstreet's trains near Sharpsburg and did some damage. The road by which these soldiers escaped was on General McLaws's line. Stuart had suggested to McLaws the propriety of guarding it, and Jackson had cautioned him against the danger of the garrison's attempting [111] to escape into Maryland, but McLaws, no doubt, thought his troops on Maryland Heights sufficiently blocked the road at its base, and the consequence was the escape of the Federal cavalry.

The operations of Harper's Ferry were under Jackson's control as the senior officer. There was, we believe, no disposition on the part of the Virginia papers, nor of anyone else, to make Jackson the ‘hero of Harper's Ferry’ to the disparagement of any of his colleagues, but it probably never occurred to any one but General Longstreet that Jackson's was not the leading part in this brilliant operation. All honor to General McLaws for what he did, but his was not the ‘severer and more important service.’ Creditable as was the part he played, it has no claim either from its intrinsic importance, or from the manner in which he discharged the duties assigned him, to be classed with Jackson's achievements on the same occasion.

Though McClellan, after the capture of the lost dispatch, was no longer perplexed as to his adversary's designs, but was free to devote all of his energies to the relief of Harper's Ferry and the crushing of that part of the Confederate army which was nearest to him before the other portion could rejoin it, the habitual caution and slowness of the Federal commander prevented him from reaping the full advantage of his good fortune. As we have seen, Lee was able to hold him back at the South Mountain passes until nightfall on the 14th of September, and the time thus gained was sufficient to insure the fall of Harper's Ferry early next morning. This disaster to the Federal army was known to McClellan as soon as it was to Lee, and thenceforward the former's only object must have been to exact as severe a penalty as possible from his adversary for this success. When Lee took position behind the Antietam, on September 15th, he had but Longstreet and D. H. Hill with him, and as this fact was known to McClellan, it is difficult to account for the deliberation of his movements. Lee, it is true, disposed of his troops and batteries so as to show as formidable a front as possible Imposed upon to some extent by this, and slow at best, McClellan not only did not attack on the afternoon of the 15th, but was not ready to do so until nightfall of the 16th. It was Wednesday morning, the 17th of September, before the Federal commander was able to deliver battle. Lee used every hour of his time in energetic efforts to re-unite his army. The troops about Harper's Ferry were recalled to Sharpsburg by orders suitable to the urgency of the occasion. Jackson, leaving A. P. Hill's division, marched back on the evening and night [112] of the 15th. J. G. Walker was close behind him. These two reached Sharpsburg during the forenoon of the 16th. McLaws and Anderson were a day later, and arrived on the morning of the 17th after the battle had been some hours in progress. A. P. Hill was sent for on the night of the 16th, and, leaving early on the 17th, reached the field, as we shall see, in time to snatch victory from Burnside's corps. Thus, Lee, by great effort, concentrated all his army in time for participation in the battle. This concentration was, however, effected by exhausting marches and at the price of much straggling.

On the 16th the two armies were separated by Antietam creek, Lee occupying the hills west of the stream, which offered a fine commanding position. His right rested at the Burnside bridge-the lower one of the three which were used in the battle. His right centre faced towards the bridge on the turnpike leading from Sharpsburg to Boonesboroa. His left centre and left extended northward, gradually receding from the creek and finally resting upon the Hagerstown turnpike some two miles or so north of Sharpsburg. Cavalry continued the line thence to the Potomac. Jackson's—two divisions held the left, supported by Hood. In the centre was D. H. Hill. Beyond him, towards the right, was Evans and D. R. Jones's division of Longstreet's command. A part of Toombs's brigade held the bridge on the right. J. G. Walker's brigades had been sent to this flank on the 16th, but early on the 17th were ordered to the other wing to help Jackson. Stuart's cavalry was mainly on Jackson's left guarding that flank. A number of batteries had been sent to assist him.

McClellan's plan was to throw the corps of Hooker, Mansfield, and Sumner, supported by Franklin if necessary, against the Confederate left wing, and, as soon as matters looked favorable there, to move Burnside's corps against the Confederate right wing. Whenever either of these attacks were successful, he intended to advance his centre with all the forces then disposable. It thus appears that McClellan intended to throw the half of his army upon Lee's left and support it if necessary by Franklin in addition. His other operations were to be in concert with this, but subsidiary. At daylight on the 17th, Hooker opened the battle by fiercely attacking Jackson. After a terrible struggle, Jackson's two weak divisions were forced back, when Hood's veteran brigades and part of D. H. Hill's brave men came to the rescue, and Hooker's corps was broken in pieces. Mansfield, who was close [113] behind Hooker, came to his assistance, and once more ensued a struggle of the fiercest and bloodiest character. Gradually Jackson and Hood yielded to the pressure and were forced to the west side of the Hagerstown turnpike, while Hill's men were driven back upon the remainder of his division along the ‘Bloody Lane.’ The Federals got for a time a foothold near the Dunker church; but if the Confederates on Jackson's wing had been forced to yield ground, they had exacted a fearful price for it, and at 9 o'clock in the morning Mansfield's corps was fought out. There was nothing left of it but a few fragments, in no condition of themselves to renew the attack. Mansfield had fallen and Hooker had been borne wounded from the field. Now it was that McClellan threw in Sumner, whose corps made the Federal force that had been launched against the left of the Confederate army, in all 40,000 men. Sumner's corps became divided in moving to the attack. Sumner himself, leading Sedgwick's division, followed the track of Hooker and Mansfield and moved against Jackson's weak lines in the woods north of the Dunker church. Sumner found that at this time Hooker's corps was not only repulsed but dispersed. He says: ‘I saw nothing of his corps at all as I was advancing with my command on the field. There were some troops lying down on the left which I took to belong to Mansfield's command. General Hooker's corps was dispersed. There is no question about that.’ Though it is plain from this that Jackson had nothing to fear from Hooker and Mansfield, the advance of Sedgwick's five or six thousand fresh men threatened to overwhelm the weak Confederate line. But one brigade (Early's) of Jackson's command had not been seriously engaged. Early was instructed (in conjunction with the other forces at hand) to hold the enemy in check if possible until reinforcements could arrive. Fortunately McLaws and J. G. Walker were rapidly approaching. Stuart, with his artillery, and Grigsby, with a handful of Jackson's old division, clung tenaciously to some ground in Sedgwick's front, while Hood, in the woods near the church, fiercely contested every inch he was forced to yield.

A bold and skillful move of Early defeated and drove back some of Mansfield's men, who were pressing Hood, and opened the way for a crushing flank attack upon Sedgwick. In a few moments this attack was made by McLaws, Walker, and Early, all in conjunction, and in twenty minutes two fifths of Sedgwick's men were hors de combat, and the remainder were driven in confusion to the refuge of the Federal batteries from the line of which they had advanced. [114] This ended the serious fighting on the Confederate left. McClellan's attack had failed, and Jackson and his gallant colleagues held the field. When Sumner was leading Sedgwick to the attack the other two divisions of his corps, under French and Richardson, turned southward, and soon found themselves face to face with the centre of the army along the Bloody Lane. This position was held at first by two of D. H. Hill's brigades and some fragments of the others. A little later R. H. Anderson's division reinforced it. Sumner, when Sedgwick was being pressed, ordered French and Richardson to attack the troops in their front in order to make a diversion. After a most gallant resistance Hill was driven from the Bloody Lane. Anderson was involved in the defeat, and it looked as if the enemy was about to pierce the Confederate centre. The noble efforts of many brave men prevented this result. The artillery was managed and served with a skill and gallantry never surpassed. Fragments of commands fought with a splendid determination. As General Longstreet says, the brave Colonel J. R. Cooke showed front to the enemy when he no longer had a cartridge. Such instances of courage and gallantry as General Longstreet relates of his own staff did much to encourage our men. The manner in which Longstreet, D. H. Hill, and other officers of high rank exposed themselves contributed to the result, and though, as General Longstreet says, some ground was gained and held at this point by the Federals, the attempt to break through the centre failed.

General Longstreet's article would lead one to infer that this attack of French and Richardson was the leading event of the day on the field north of Sharpsburg. It does not, however, deserve this distinction, having been subsidiary to the efforts made early in the morning further to the Confederate left. Let us see how the battle seemed to the people who were making the attacks up to this time. General Palfrey, a gallant officer of Sedgwick's division, who has given us the best account so far written of this campaign, says: ‘The right attack spent its force when Sedgwick was repulsed. Up to that time there had been close connection of place and some connection of time between the movements of the First (Hooker's), Twelfth (Mansfield's), and Second (Sumner's) corps, but after that the attacks were successive, both in time and place; and good as were some of the troops engaged, and gallant as some of the fighting, the movements of French and Richardson excite but a languid interest, for such use as was made of these troops was not of the kind to drive Hill, Hood, Jackson, Longstreet, and Lee from a strong position, [115] from which six divisions of the Federal army had already recoiled, and recoiled in a condition which left them for the moment almost incapable of further service.’

The fighting on the Confederate left and left centre was over by one o'clock in the day. Here McClellan's heaviest blows had been delivered, and they had been foiled with such fearful loss to the Federal army, that when Franklin reached the field about midday Sumner would not permit him to resume the offensive lest the repulse of this last body of fresh men might lead to overwhelming disaster. It would be difficult to gather from General Longstreet's article that Jackson and his men had much to do with this tremendous struggle on the Confederate left, though they received the first and most terrible blows delivered that morning against the Confederate army.

McClellan's plan of throwing Burnside forward against the Confederate right flank at the same time that his main attack was being made on their left failed of execution Toombs, with a handful of Georgians, held the bridge over the Antietam for hours against all efforts of Burnside to cross it. No more gallant thing was done that day than the defence of this bridge, and it was taken only when Burnside had found his way across the creek at a ford below, and threatened to envelop Toombs. Though forced from his position at last, the time Toombs had gained was invaluable to the Confederates. The fighting on Jackson's and D. H. Hill's line had been over some hours before Burnside was ready to advance. When the advance did come, however, it was in such overwhelming force that D. R. Jones's division was gradually driven back from point to point, until, by the middle of the afternoon, the Federal troops were in the very suburbs of Sharpsburg, and the day that McClellan had lost on his right seemed about to be won by Burnside on his left. It was at this critical moment that A. P. Hill, who had marched seventeen miles from Harper's Ferry that morning, and had waded the Potomac, reached the field upon the flank of Burnside's victorious column. With a skill, vigor and promptness, which cannot be too highly praised, A. P. Hill formed his men in line, and threw them upon Burnside's flank. Toombs, and the other brigades of D. R. Jones's division, gave such aid as they were able. The Confederate artillery was used with the greatest courage and determination to check the enemy, but it was mainly A. P. Hill's attack which decided the day at this point, and drove Burnside in confusion and dismay back to the bridge. There is no part of General Longstreet's article more unworthy than the single line in which he obscurely refers to [116] the splendid achievement of a dead comrade, whose battles, like Ney's, were all for his country, and none against it, and who crowned a brilliant career by shedding his life's blood to avert the crowning disaster. A. P. Hill's march was a splendid one. He left Harper's Ferry sixteen hours after McLaws, but reached the battle-field only five hours behind him. McLaws had, however, the night to contend with. The vigor of Hill's attack, with hungry and march worn men, is shown by the fact that he completely overthrew forces twice as numerous as his own. Though his force of from two thousand to three thousand five hundred men was too small to permit of an extended aggressive, his arrival was not less opportune to Lee than was that of Blucher to Wellington at Waterloo, nor was his action when on the field in any way inferior to that of the Prussian field marshal.

The battle of Sharpsburg was a very bloody one, and a very exhausting one to the Confederate army. As General Longstreet says: ‘Nearly one-fourth of Lee's men were killed and wounded,’ but they had met and defeated all the attempts of an army more than twice as numerous as themselves to drive them from their position. We think General Longstreet must have forgotten much of the battle when he says that ‘at the close of the day 10,000 fresh troops could have come in and taken Lee's army and everything he had.’ A fact or two will show how wide he is of the mark. In the afternoon McClellan visited the right of his lines, where the main battle had taken place. Sumner had refused permission to Franklin, with more than ‘1,000 fresh men,’ to resume the attack. Sumner declared that these troops were the only ones available for any effective resistance in case of attack; that Hooker's, Mansfield's, and his own corps had suffered so heavily that they could not be counted on, and that it was not safe to risk in fight the last body of fresh troops that was within reach.

This opinion of one of the bravest of his subordinates, of the man who had had charge for hours of that part of the battle-field, and who had been in the midst of the battle himself, was approved by McClellan. About the same time, or somewhat before it, Jackson, under Lee's direction, was trying to organize a force of 4,000 or 5,000 men from his meagre lines with which to move out and attack the right flank of the Federal army. A little later Longstreet himself was ordering J. G. Walker, near the Dunker church, to resume the offensive. Stuart went out in advance of Jackson to feel the way for his movements. He found the enemy commanding, with a great [117] mass of artillery in good position, the country extending all the way to the Potomac, and Jackson reluctantly concluded that the movement was impracticable with the forces he had at hand. Thus, while McClellan and his lieutenants were husbanding a fresh corps of 12,000 men because the 40,000 men who had been engaged on the Federal right were deemed incapable of even holding their own lines in case of a counter attack, Lee and his subordinates were planning such a counter attack to be made, not by fresh troops, but by regiments every one of which had been engaged in the morning struggle.

Note another fact: General Lee held his position all next day, and no attempt was made upon it by the Federal army. McClellan was unwilling to risk further battle without reinforcements, and these were on their way to him. Lee, on the other hand, offered battle all day on the 18th. He was ready and willing to meet the army he had repulsed on the 17th. But he could expect no reinforcements to offset those which were about to join McClellan, and he, therefore, withdrew his forces across the Potomac on the night of the 18th. It seems to me very clear that there were no 10,000 soldiers in McClellan's army (and he had more than that number of fresh troops) who could have overwhelmed Lee. The truth of the matter is that the Confederate army was better off at the close of Sharpsburg than the Federal army, and it is far more likely that Jackson with ‘10,000 fresh men’ would have driven the latter into the Antietam than have been driven from his own position. It is certain at any rate that Lee and Jackson and Sumner and McClellan thought so, and their views may be taken as a fair offset to General Longstreet's.

When General Lee undertook the reduction of Harper's Ferry, he expected to accomplish it and to reunite his army in the Hagerstown Valley before having to deal with McClellan. We have seen that this expectation was justified by the condition of the Federal army, by McClellan's character as a commander, and by the sensitiveness of the Federal Government in regard to Washington. This expectation was defeated by the loss of the dispatch containing General Lee's plans, and, we believe, by this alone. General Longstreet seems to think that only Virginian writers consider this dispatch of great importance. We believe that Generals Longstreet and D. H. Hill are the only two people who refuse to see the decisive importance of the lost dispatch upon the campaign. (See Swinton, Comte de Paris, Palfrey, &c.) General Lee, we know, thought it the most important factor in the campaign. It changed all his plans and, as he believed, the result. A single day of delay on McClellan's part [118] at South Mountain would probably have rendered the battle at this barrier unnecessary. Two days delay would certainly have relieved Lee from all necessity of defending the passes, and would have rendered possible the concentration of his army anywhere in the Hagerstown Valley in time for battle. There seems to us no reasonable room for doubt that the lost dispatch cost Lee these days, and perhaps several others. The rapid advance of McClellan threw Lee on the defensive, forced him to fight at South Mountain or permit Harper's Ferry to be relieved, and compelled him either to give battle at Sharpsburg with a march-worn and depleted army or to yield the prestige of victory without a struggle. He succeeded in capturing Harper's Ferry and all it contained, but a few days' delay would have enabled him to concentrate his army without forced marches and the straggling produced by them, and would have placed him in condition to give McClellan battle instead of receiving it. He might even then have failed, for, as General Lee once said, ‘no man can predict the result of a battle.’ But does not the wonderful skill, ability, and courage with which the Confederate commander extricated himself from the dangers that threatened him after the capture of the lost dispatch show what might have been expected had not an untoward accident prevented the execution of his original plans?

We regret the tone in which General Longstreet speaks of Virginians, of the great leader under whom he served, of the gallant colleagues by whose side he fought. Virginians can never forget on how many of their fields General Longstreet won imperishable laurels. They can never forget the true, brave, skilful soldier who shed his blood upon Virginian soil. They will ever gladly turn away from his carping criticisms to recall the leader who, in conjunction with A. P. Hill, struck so splendidly at Frazier's Farm, whose ability was so conspicuous in seconding Jackson at Second Manassas, whose name is indissolubly associated with Sharpsburg, Marye's Hill, the Wilderness, and many other noted fields; who was ever ready to strike great blows alongside of his Virginian colleagues and under the leadership of his great Virginian commander.

McDonough, Maryland, July 26, 1886.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
17th (4)
16th (3)
14th (3)
13th (3)
September 14th (2)
September 13th (2)
September 12th (2)
15th (2)
12th (2)
July 26th, 1886 AD (1)
June, 1886 AD (1)
1862 AD (1)
September 17th (1)
September 15th (1)
September 10th (1)
June (1)
18th (1)
11th (1)
9th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: