One Of The Gamest Of Modern Fights (Antietam)
Fifteenth Virginia, Of Semmes' Brigade, McLaws' Division At the Crisis
One Of The Gamest Of Modern Fights.
From the Times-Dispatch, December 10th, 1905.
No Equal Area of the American Continent so Drenched in Blood.
Sharpsburg or Antietam
Fifteenth Virginia, of Semmes' Brigade, McLaws' Division, at the Crisis.
In many a nook and cranny of Virginia, "far from the madding crowd", is some old soldier, scarred with wounds, who without pay and without title, did deeds for his State and the Southern cause which, had he served a victorious people, would have crowned his name with honors, perpetuated his fame, and brought to him the emoluments with which fortune endows her favorites. Though such things came not to him, it has never soured his temper nor disturbed the serenity of his spirit.
If the old cry "vae victis" fulfilled itself to him in many ways, so also did the fortitude of his manliness put under him his protecting arms.
In many a nook and cranny in Virginia, too, is a valiant leader of his neighbors, who commanded and guided them in the battle shock, and stepped behind the scenes to the work of restoration when war's dread thunders stormed no more.
One of these is Colonel E. M. Morrison, of the 15th Virginia Infantry, who now resides at Smithfield, in the Isle of Wight county, and who is yet busy with his tasks.
The 15th Virginia lost at Sharpsburg 58 per cent. of its men, which is 23 per cent. more than the Light Cavalry Brigade of the English army, lost in the world-heralded "Battle of Balaklava." Our folks write poems in honor of the Light Brigade and our schoolboys declaim Tennyson's verses; but what do we know of our own boys who stood proof on this red day at Sharpsburg?
Fourteen officers and one hundred and fourteen men of the Fifteenth Virginia were in that fight, of whom one officer was killed (Captain A. V. England) and six were wounded, including Captain E. M. Morrison. Of the non-commissioned officers and privates ten (10) were killed and fifty-eight (58) wounded.
General Paul J. Semmes' Brigade of McLaws' division consisted of two Georgia and two Virginia regiments. In his report, General Semmes says: "The loss in killed and wounded was of the Fifty-third Georgia, 30 per cent.; 32d Virginia, 45 per cent.; Tenth Georgia, 57 per cent.; Fifteenth Virginia, 58 per cent."
As to the colors, he says: "The colors of the Fifty-third received two shots; that of Fifteenth Virginia ten, and the pike was once cut in two; two color-bearers were wounded, and one of the color guard was killed and one wounded."
The colors of the Thirty-second Virginia received seventeen shots, and the pike was once cut in two, and one of the color guard wounded.
McLaws' division came to the aid of Jackson on the Confederate left at a critical time. Every one of Jackson's brigades had been forced back by the heavy assaults, saving only the brigade of Early, which was the extreme left of Lee's infantry. Early, with a remnant of Ewell's old division, under the indomitable Colonel Grigsby, of the Twenty-seventh Virginia Infantry, Stonewall Brigade, and with McLaws' division (after himself checking the enemy), made the counterstroke that turned the fortunes of the day. The statistics tell the terrible struggle, but it takes a soldier who was there to give vivacity to the same. Knowing Mr. C. A. Richardson, of the Life Guard, of Richmond, which was in the Fifteenth Virginia, and having been favorably impressed by an article from his pen, I asked him to give his account of the Fifteenth in the battle. This he in turn asked his brave commander, Col. E.M. Morrison, and he has kindly done it. The colonel was a Virginia Military Institute cadet when the war came, and, like so many of the gallant boys of this illustrious school, soon became a drillmaster of the crude Virginia Volunteers, then a captain, and a little later a field officer of the famous Fifteenth. When the Fifteenth, with Semmes' Brigade, was flung into the crucible of battle, the fine mettle of its composition appeared, and Morrison, its commander, showed the stuff he was made of. The Thirty-second was its twin comrade, and with the gallant Georgians, carried high the shredded flag of Lee's Paladins in "the gamest fight of the Nineteenth Century."
I have added to the colonel's account General Ezra A. Carman's comparison of the Sharpsburg with other great battles. He commanded there the Thirty-fourth New York, and is a careful and painstaking scholar, who has made a special study of the Sharpsburg combat.
It is hoped that some officer or soldier who was there will do for the Thirty-second Virginia what Colonel Morrison has done for the Fifteenth.
JOHN W. DANIEL.
Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XXXIII. Richmond, Va., January-December. 1905
This page last updated 12/17/03