Battle History



                            
                                    ANTIETAM, MD.
                                 SEPT. 16-17TH, 1862

                 Antietam, Md., Sept. 16-17, 1862.  Army of the Potomac.
                In his report of the battle of South Mountain, which was
                fought on the 14th, Gen. Meade says: "The command rested on
                their arms during the night.  The ammunition train was brought
                up and the men's cartridge-boxes were filled, and every
                preparation made to renew the contest at daylight the next
                morning should the enemy be in force.  Unfortunately, the
                morning opened with a heavy mist, which prevented any view
                being obtained, so that it was not until 7 a. m. that it was
                ascertained that the enemy had retired from the mountain."  As
                soon as this discovery was made the whole Union army began
                pouring through the passes of South Mountain in pursuit.  At
                Boonsboro Pleasonton's cavalry came up with the Confederate
                rear guard.  The 8th Ill., which was in the advance,
                immediately charged and then pursued the retreating enemy for
                a distance of 2 miles.  There the Illinois regiment was joined
                by a section of Tidball's battery, which threw a few shells
                into the Confederate lines, completely routing the enemy from
                the field.  The Union loss in this skirmish was 1 killed and
                15 wounded, while the Confederates left 30 killed and 50
                wounded on the field, and a number of prisoners were taken.
                About the time this engagement commenced another was taking
                place on the Sharpsburg road, between the Confederate rear and
                the 5th N. H. infantry.  This skirmish lasted until 9 p. m.,
                when the New Hampshire troops were relieved, after losing 4
                men in killed and wounded.  The enemy's loss here was 12
                killed and wounded and 60 prisoners.  The 2nd Del. and 52nd
                N. Y. also skirmished with the rear guard at other points, and
                in the afternoon the Confederates opened a heavy artillery
                fire on the Federal advance near Antietam creek, keeping it up
                until after dark.  This was replied to by Tidball's horse
                artillery and Battery B, 1st N. Y. light artillery, from the
                heights east of the creek.

McClellan's hope was to bring on an engagement before the Confederate forces could be united. Lee, on the other hand, was bending every effort to concentrate his army in time to resist the general attack which he now realized was imminent. Stonewall Jackson, with his own division and those of Ewell and A. P. Hill, was at Harper's Ferry. McLaws, after his defeat at Crampton's pass on the 14th, formed his forces across the lower end of Pleasant Valley, while the Union forces under Gen. Franklin confronted him at the upper end of the valley, about 2 miles distant. Here the two lay all day on the 15th, each supposing the other to be superior in strength and neither daring to attack. The morning of the 16th found Longstreet and D. H. Hill occupying a position on the west side of the Antietam, between that stream and the little town of Sharpsburg. Here Lee personally directed the movements of his army, selecting the strongest possible ground to withstand an attack until the detachments under Jackson and McLaws could be united with the main body. Soon after crossing the Antietam Lee learned that the Federal garrison at Harper's Ferry had surrendered, and sent orders for the whole force near the ferry to move at once to Sharpsburg. The Army of the Potomac at this time was organized as follows: The 1st army corps, commanded by Maj.-Gen. Joseph Hooker, consisted of the divisions of Doubleday, Ricketts and Meade; the 2nd corps, Maj.Gen. Edwin V. Sumner, included Richardson's, Sedgwick's and French's divisions; Couch's division of the 4th corps, the 5th corps, Maj.-Gen. Fitz John Porter, was composed of the divisions of Morell Sykes and Humphreys; the 6th corps, Maj.-Gen. William B. Franklin, embraced the divisions of Slocum and W. F. Smith , the 9th corps, Maj.-Gen Ambrose E. Burnside consisted of the divisions of Willcox, Sturgis and Rodman, and the Kanawha division, commanded by Brig.-Gen. Jacob D. Cox , the 12th corps, Maj.- Gen. Joseph K. F. Mansfield, included the divisions of Williams and Greene; the cavalry division numbering five brigades and commanded by Brig.-Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, and over 50 batteries of artillery. In his report of the campaign McClellan gives the number of his forces at 87,164. Lee, in his official report on the battle of Antietam, says: "This great battle was fought by less than 40,000 men on our side "

The Confederate line of battle on the 16th extended from the Potomac, at a point a little below Mercersville, to the Antietam about a mile below Sharpsburg. It was nearly four miles long and occupied a broken country, the low hills being separated by narrow valleys, while almost everywhere the limestone cropped out above the surface, affording a natural shelter for the troops. In front the line was protected by the Antietam, which was crossed by three bridges and several fords, though the latter were all too difficult to attempt a crossing with artillery. Near the south end of Lee's line was the bridge afterward known as the "Burnside bridge;" on the Sharpsburg and Boonsboro road, near the center of the line, was the second bridge, while the third was the stone bridge on the Williamsport road still further north. Near the mouth of the stream was a fourth bridge, but it was not used during the operations, except by A. P. Hill in bringing up his division from Harper's Ferry. On the Hagerstown pike, about a mile from Sharpsburg, stood the Dunker church in the edge of a patch of timber, since known as the "West woods." At the church the Smoketown road leaves the pike, and about half a mile north on this road were some more timber patches called the "East woods." In forming his line Lee posted Longstreet on the right, so as to cover the Burnside bridge, and D. H. Hill on the left, covering the bridge on the Boonsboro road. On the opposite side of the Antietam lay the Union army with the 1st corps on the extreme right and the 9th on the left. McClellan established his headquarters at the Pry house, a short distance northwest of the Boonsboro road and near the center of his line. Lee's headquarters were at the west side of Sharpsburg on the road leading to Shepherdstown.

Shortly after 1 p. m. on the 16th Hooker received orders to cross the Antietam and attack the Confederate left. Meade's and Ricketts, divisions crossed at the stone bridge and Doubleday's at the ford just below. Once across the stream he turned to the right in order to gain the watershed between the Antietam and Potomac, intending to follow the ridge until he gained the enemy's left flank. Some skirmishing occurred along the line of march, and information of Hooker's movements was at once carried to Lee. At the time the messenger arrived Lee was in council with Longstreet and Jackson, who had arrived from Harper's Ferry that morning. Lee immediately ordered Jackson to the command of the left wing and Hood's command was moved from the center to a position near the Dunker church. A little while before sunset Hooker pushed forward a battery and opened fire on Jackson's left. The fire was promptly returned and the artillery duel was continued until after dark, when the corps went into bivouac a short distance north of the East woods, where the men rested on their arms during the night, ready to begin the attack the next morning. All that night there was desultory firing between the pickets, who were so close to each other that at times their footsteps could be heard. During the night Mansfield's corps was sent over to the assistance of Hooker and about 2 a. m. on the 17th took up a position on the Poffenberger farm, about a mile in Hooker's rear. As soon as it was light enough to distinguish objects on the morning of the 17th the Federal skirmishers began their work in the East woods. Soon afterward the entire corps was thrown into line with Doubleday on the right, Ricketts on the left, and Meade in reserve in the center, with instructions to reinforce either of the other divisions as circumstances might require. Thus formed the whole line moved forward and the real battle of Antietam was begun. In the triangular space between the Hagerstown and Smoketown roads, and directly in front of Hooker, was a 30-acre field of corn in which the enemy had stationed a large force of infantry during the night. Before this force fired a shot its presence was discovered by the sun's rays on the bayonets, and in his report Hooker says: "Instructions were immediately given for the assemblage of all my spare batteries, near at hand, of which I think there were five or six, to spring into battery, on the right of this field, and to open with canister at once. In the time 1 am writing every stalk of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the slain lay in rows precisely as they had stood in their ranks a few moments before. It was never my fortune to witness a more bloody, dismal battle-field." The survivors beat a rapid retreat toward the church and there sought shelter behind rocks, trees and stone fences. The Union men pressed forward in close pursuit for some distance, but the Confederates were rallied and reinforced, when the Federals were in turn forced to fall back.

At this juncture Mansfield arrived, but while deploying his men he fell mortally wounded and the command of the corps fell on Gen. Williams, who had barely time to receive a few general instructions from Hooker before he was forced to go into the fight. Not knowing the exact position of the 1st corps there was some lack of unity in the movements of the various division commanders, but after nearly two hours of hard fighting the enemy was driven back to the West woods. Greene's division succeeded in turning Jackson's right and in gaining a position in the edge of the woods near the Dunker church, where he hung on tenaciously, repulsing several attempts to dislodge him. In this part of the engagement the Confederates suffered severely. J. .R Jones, who was in command of Jackson's division, was wounded. Starke, who succeeded him, was soon afterward killed. Lawton then took command of the division and was wounded and borne from the field. Nearly one-half the entire force on the Confederate left were killed or wounded, and it is probable that if Sumner had arrived at this time the entire Confederate army could have been crushed. It was nearly 10 o'clock, however, before Sumner's corps, some 18,000 strong, reached the field, coming on in three columns. Sedgwick on the right occupied the position from which Hooker had been driven earlier in the action. Next came the divisions of French and Richardson, the Union line now being extended well down toward the Boonsboro road. Sedgwick's division went into battle in three lines. The first had hardly become engaged when the Confederates made a desperate rush, broke through the Union line and turned Sedgwick's left. The third line was quickly faced about to repel an attack from the rear, but the Confederate fire on the left was so effective that the entire division was forced to retire. Here Sedgwick was wounded, but he remained in the saddle until his command was rallied and placed in a strong position, where, under the command of Gen. Howard, it remained throughout the rest of the battle.

The battle was gradually moving southward and after ten o'clock there was no more serious fighting north of the church. About half a mile south of the church a road leaves the pike and, following a zigzag course, strikes the Boonsboro road about half-way between Sharpsburg and the Antietam. For some distance after leaving the pike this road was lower than the ground on either side, forming a natural breastwork, and was known as the sunken road. It was toward this road that French and Richardson directed their movements. When Lee saw that his left was defeated and his center in danger of being broken, he brought up every available man from his right. In quick succession the divisions of Walker, Anderson and McLaws were hurled against Sumner's veterans. Sumner was reinforced by part of Mansfield's corps and the Confederates were slowly forced back every foot of the ground being stubbornly contested, until their final stand was made at the sunken road. In this part of the engagement the heavy guns of the Union batteries east of the Antietam rendered important service by preventing the enemy from using his artillery. D. H. Hill, who commanded this part of the Confederate line, says: "Our artillery could not cope with the superior weight, caliber, range and number of the Yankee guns. They were smashed up or withdrawn before they could be turned against the massive columns of attack." At last Col. Barlow, commanding the 1st brigade of Richardson's division, made a successful flank movement on the road and captured about 300 men who still clung to it, more as a place of shelter than in the hope of checking the Federal advance. The road was filled with Confederate dead and is referred to in all descriptions of the battle as the "Bloody Lane."

In his report of the battle of Antietam McClellan says: "My plan for the impending general engagement was to attack the enemy's left with the corps of Hooker and Mansfield, supported by Sumner's, and if necessary by Franklin's and as soon as matters looked favorably there to move the corps of Burnside against the enemy's extreme right upon the ridge running to the south and rear of Sharpsburg, and having carried their position, to press along the crest toward our right, and whenever either of these flank movements should be successful, to advance our center with all the forces then disposable." In pursuance of this plan the 9th corps was stationed on the Federal left, with instructions to assault and carry the Burnside bridge whenever an order to that effect should be issued from headquarters. McClellan says that this order was sent to Burnside at 8 a. m. on the 17th, while the latter says he received it "about ten o'clock." The bridge was guarded by Toombs, brigade, which occupied a strong position among the rocks and trees on the bluff commanding the west end of the bridge, while the bridge, the ford below, and in fact, the entire valley, were all effectually covered by the Confederate batteries. The first attempt to carry the bridge was made by Crook's brigade of the Kanawha division, with the 11th Conn. deployed as skirmishers to cover the advance. The plan was to move the brigade across the bridge in two columns of fours, which were to turn to the right and left as soon as they reached the opposite bank, Rodman's division meanwhile to try to cross at a ford about a third of a mile farther down the creek. This plan failed because Crook missed his way and reached the stream some distance above the bridge, where he became engaged with the enemy on the west bank. A second effort, made by the 2nd Md. and 6th N. H. infantry, likewise proved a failure. The two regiments charged across the bridge with fixed bayonets, but were met by a withering fire of artillery and musketry and forced to fall back. Gen. Cox, to whom Burnside had entrusted the work of carrying the bridge, then directed Gen. Sturgis to select two regiments from Ferrero's brigade and push them across the bridge in accordance with the first plan. Sturgis selected the 51st N. Y. and the 51st Penn. A howitzer from Simmonds, battery was brought forward and placed where it covered the west end of the bridge. When everything was in readiness the strong skirmish line opened fire, the howitzer was operated rapidly, throwing double charges of canister into the ranks of Toombs' men, and under this protection the two regiments advanced at the double-quick with fixed bayonets and dashed across the bridge, the Confederates hastily retreating before the impetuous charge. The remainder of Sturgis, division and Crook's brigade were hurried over to the support of the two gallant regiments, and these were soon further strengthened by Rodman's division and Scammon's brigade, which had succeeded in crossing at the ford. Here another delay ensued. Sturgis' and Crook's men had almost exhausted their ammunition and a halt was made necessary until their cartridge-boxes were replenished. During the pause Willcox's division and several light batteries were brought over, the remaining batteries being planted on the hills east of the creek, and at 3 p.m. the left wing began its advance on Sharpsburg. The Confederates under D. R. Jones were soon encountered, drawn up diagonally across the ridge, screened by stone fences, etc., and well supported by artillery. Welsh's and Christ's brigades, which were in advance, drove them back after some sharp fighting, until near the edge of the village, where Jones made his final stand in an old orchard. From this position he was routed by the batteries with Willcox's division and the orchard was occupied by the infantry. In the advance Rodman's division formed the extreme left, and as the movement was made in the form of a right wheel he became separated from Willcox, causing a break in the line and throwing Rodman's brigades en echelon. To the south was a field of tall corn, through which A. P. Hill's division, just up from Harper's Ferry, was advancing in line of battle to strike the left flank. They wore the blue uniforms captured at the ferry and it was thought they were part of the Union forces until they opened fire. Scammon quickly faced his brigade to the left and held Hill in check until the line could be reformed. In order to do this it was necessary for Willcox and Crook to retire somewhat from their advanced position, while Sturgis came up with his command to fill the break in the line. This gave Jones an opportunity to retire beyond Sharpsburg and take a position on the high ground where the national cemetery is now located, but it no doubt saved Rodman's division from being cut to pieces. This virtually ended the battle of Antietam, and at the close the two armies held the same relative positions they occupied at the commencement of the fight.

The Union loss was 2,108 killed, 9,549 wounded and 753 captured or missing. According to Confederate reports Lee's army lost 1,512 killed, 7,816 wounded and 1,844 captured or missing, a much greater loss in proportion to the number of troops engaged than that inflicted on the Federal forces. Both sides claimed a victory and the engagement might well be designated as a drawn battle. The 18th was spent by both armies in resting the tired troops and in caring for the dead and wounded. McClellan's intention was to renew the fight on the 19th, but when the sun rose that morning it was discovered that the enemy had evacuated his position during the night, crossed the Potomac at a ford some distance below the Shepherdstown road, and retired into Virginia. Lee's invasion of Maryland was ended. Source: The Union Army, vol. 5

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