Notes by General H. L. Benning on Battle of Sharpsburg
SHARPSBURG, 17th September, 1862.
My report of this battle you have in print, I suppose, but I know a few facts which I wish to state in justice to General Toombs. Toombs was nominally in command of a division, consisting of his brigade, Anderson's brigade, and Drayton's brigade; but at Sharpsburg he had only one regiment of Drayton's brigade, the Fiftieth Georgia; five companies of the Eleventh Georgia, of Anderson's brigade, and his own brigade. The rest of the division was immediately under General Jones. Two regiments of Toombs's brigade, Fifteenth and Seventeenth, and the five companies of Eleventh Georgia, had been sent off after the enemy's cavalry that had escaped from Harpers Ferry, so he was reduced to the Second and Twentieth Georgia under my command, the former having about 120 or 130 men and officers, and the latter about 220 or 230, and to Kearse's regiment, Fiftieth Georgia, consisting of from 13o to 150. Besides, he had Richardson's battery, four guns.
The Second and Twentieth held the bridge until 1 o'clock P.M. The Fiftieth on their right left its position. The enemy about 1 o'clock advanced a very long line, with its centre about opposite the bridge and the flanks far beyond ours. These flanks, having nothing to oppose them in their front, waded the creek, which, though wide, was shallow, and came around to envelop the Second and Twentieth. I then ordered them back. In fact, their ammunition was exhausted.
Lieutenant McCrimmon, of the Twentieth Georgia, with sixteen men, not all under him, was captured at the mouth of the bridge, the enemy who had waded the creek above coming in behind them to their surprise, while occupied with the enemy in front at the other end of the bridge. When the seventeen men surrendered, the enemy enraged were about to massacre them, saying they had fought too long against such odds. A colonel rode upon the bridge and remonstrated with the men and mollified them, and then sent the prisoners under guard to General Burnside's headquarters. As they marched off, this colonel rode down to the water's edge to let his horse drink; whilst there a shell from one of our guns burst near him and killed him.
About the same time the other two regiments and the five companies returned from their pursuit of the cavalry, worn down by marching day and night. I took command of them, and was ordered by Toombs to place them behind a stone fence far to the right of the road from the bridge, and stay there till relieved by some of A. P. Hill's troops from Harpers Ferry. In about two hours General Gregg came and relieved us, and then we started to the rear to rest, as we had been informed we should.
As we moved off we saw the enemy's lines, one after another, advancing from the bridge on our lines that held Sharpsburg, but soon we got out of sight; presently Captain Troup, General Toombs's aid, met me and said, "the General (Toombs) wished me to move faster." I increased the speed a little. He soon returned and urged me to go faster. I did so. In a few minutes he galloped rapidly back and said the general required me to double-quick. The double quick was commenced. Troup led the way. Soon we turned down a lane, a road to the right, which led into Sharpsburg. I asked what it meant. He said the enemy have Sharpsburg. A field of rank corn intervened and kept them from view. As soon as this corn was passed, their line became visible at an order arms, occupying our late line, about one hundred yards distant, with three captured guns of McIntosh's battery between us and them. Their line extended from the corn over to the road running from the Antietam bridge, its right being in the orchard. I halted the Fifteenth and Seventeenth, and the five companies of the Eleventh Georgia, as soon as the head of the line got as far as I thought it could, and yet leave a few of the rear men behind the corn, so as not to expose our weakness. The men fired as each came up, and by the rear rank. No time to form. The fire on both sides was very spirited but not effective--they shooting over us, we under them. Very soon our fire improved and became deadly. In ten or fifteen minutes their line showed signs of wavering. At this moment a shot or two from a gun went quartering over us and struck near them; they broke and ran under the hill, and were out of sight in less than a minute. We then advanced, recovered McIntosh's three guns, and continued to advance, until by night the enemy were nearly all forced back across the Antietam. These men, Fifteenth and Seventeenth, and five companies of Eleventh Georgia, some of the Twentieth Georgia, and some of the Second, did all the fighting at the place where the enemy first broke, and nearly all afterwards. There were some troops on our right in the corn. General Branch was killed there by a sort of random shot, as I heard, and others of A. P. Hill's troops came up before night, but none of them had much part in the fight; none of them had any part in first breaking the line. I give the above detail for the benefit of General Toombs, as I have understood that the credit of retaking Sharpsburg was perhaps claimed for General A. P. Hill. Toombs is the man, however. Jones's division (I think it was) was driven from Sharpsburg. The plan was conceived by Toombs, acting on his own views in the manner aforesaid with the troops aforesaid. Troup, his aid, he sent to General Lee for artillery. Troup found Lee just after Jones had found him and had reported to him the loss of Sharpsburg. Troup said to General Lee that if General Toombs had some artillery he thought he could drive them back quite across the creek. "What!" said General Jones, "haven't the enemy got Sharpsburg? "No," said Troup, they had it, but have been driven out, and we have it. Then General Lee said, "tell General Toombs to take any guns he can find, and use them as he thinks best,"--he and General Jones evidently highly elated. Troup told me these facts himself. Of course I give the substance only of the conversation.
Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XVI. Richmond, Va., January-December. 1888
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