Reports of Maj. Gen. Lafayette
McLaws, C. S. Army,
Commanding Division, Of Operations September 10-17.
The Maryland Campaign, September 3 - 20, 1862
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XIX/1 [S# 27]
October 18, 1862.
Col. R. H. CHILTON,
SIR: On the 10th ultimo, in compliance with Special Orders, No. 191, of September 9, 1862, from your headquarters, I proceeded with my own and General Anderson's division, via Burkittsville, to Pleasant Valley, to take possession of Maryland Heights, and endeavor to capture the enemy at Harper's Ferry and vicinity. I reached the valley on the 11th. Pleasant Valley runs north and south, and is bounded on the east by the Blue Ridge, on the west by Elk Ridge, the southern portion of which ridge being more specially designated as Maryland Heights, the distance across in an air-line between the summits of the two ridges being about 2 or 3 miles. The valley itself is rolling and irregular, having one main road along or near the foot of the Blue Ridge, and there is another along the base of Elk Ridge, but it is very much out of repair and not much used. The Potomac River runs along the south ends of both ridges, Harper's Ferry town being on the opposite side of the river but entirely commanded by Maryland Heights, from which a plunging fire, from musketry even, can be made into the place. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the turnpike to Frederick, Md., through Middletown, and the canal to Washington City pass along the south end of Blue Ridge, there being just enough space for them between the mountains and the river. They also pass under the south end of Maryland Heights, where a crowded space for them has been made by blasting the rocks for a very considerable distance. The railroad bridge crosses the river just under the precipice of Maryland Heights, and about 50 yards above it the Yankees had a pontoon bridge for wagons, &c. The railroad bridge was defended by cannon placed on the farther end; the narrow causeway along the river under Elk Ridge, by cannon placed under the precipice and on the road. The river there is near 400 yards wide. On the west slope of Elk Ridge the enemy had three heavy guns, placed so as to command the approaches along the road and the town on the opposite side, and, I believe, the road coming from the west, and they also swept Bolivar Heights, which defended the approaches to the town from the side between the Shenandoah and the Potomac, west and south. So long as Maryland Heights was occupied by the enemy, Harper's Ferry could never be occupied by us. If we gained possession of the heights, the town was no longer tenable to them. Pleasant Valley was approached from the east--first, by the railroad, turnpike, and canal, at, the south end of Blue Ridge; second, by a road over the ridge passing Burkittsville, a small town about a mile or less from the foot of the Blue Ridge, over Brownsville Gap, and by another through a gap to the north of the last-named road, known as Crampton's Gap. The two last were about 1 mile apart. The second road was distant from the one along the south end of the ridge 4 miles. Thus Crampton's Gap was 5 miles from the first road along the Potomac. Passing from the valley going west were two roads--one along the south end of Maryland Heights, already mentioned, and another through Solomon's Gap, a slight depression in Elk Ridge, about 5 miles north of the first. At the south end of Blue Ridge, and just at the commencement of the pass, coming from the east, is the small town of Weverton. About half-way between that place and Harper's Ferry, along the turnpike, is another small place called Sandy Hook. The road from Sandy Hook ran about the middle of the valley, and joined the main road along the foot of the Blue Ridge 2 miles from the Potomac. Understanding that there was a road running from the top of Solomon's Gap along the ridge to the heights commanding Harper's Ferry, I directed General Kershaw, with his brigade and that of General Barksdale, to proceed along that road and carry the heights, using infantry alone, as the character of the country forbade the use of any other arm.
On the 12th he proceeded to carry out the order. I then directed a brigade of General Anderson's division (General Wright's) to ascend the Blue Ridge with two pieces of artillery, and, proceeding down it to the point overlooking Weverton, to command the approaches to the pass there, along the turnpike, railroad, and canal. General Semmes was left opposite the gap the troops had passed over into the valley (the one next south of Crampton's Gap), with his own and General Mahone's brigade, commanded by Colonel Parham, with orders to send a brigade to the top of Solomon's Gap, to protect the rear of General Kershaw and also to take precautions to guard the passes over the Blue Ridge. General Cobb's brigade was directed to cross the valley, and, marching along its base, to keep in communication with General Kershaw above and up to his advance, so as to give support,, if possible, if it was needed, and to serve as a rallying force should any disaster render such necessary. I then moved down the valley toward the fiver with the rest of the command, the inhabitants generally impressing it upon me that Maryland Heights was lined with cannon for a mile and a half. The main force was kept with the advance of General Kershaw, of which I was constantly informed by signal parties stationed on the heights moving with General Kershaw. General Kershaw soon encountered the skirmishers of the enemy, and drove them before him until darkness put an end to the conflict. General Wright gained his position without opposition, and at sundown General Anderson pushed forward a brigade (General Pryor's), as I directed, and took possession of Weverton, and disposed the troops to effectually defend the pass. The brigades of Generals Armistead and Cobb were moved up, forming a line across the valley from the right, commanding the road from Sandy Hook.
On the 13th, General Kershaw--after a very sharp and spirited engagement through the dense woods and over a very broken surface, there being no road from the point he had ceased operations the night previous, and across two abatis, the last quite a formidable work, the east and west sides being precipices of 30 or 40 feet, and across the ridge were breastworks of heavy logs and large rocks--succeeded in carrying the main ridge, where the enemy had a telegraph station, and by 4.30 p.m. we had possession of the entire heights, the enemy going down a road which they had constructed on the side opposite the Ferry, invisible to our troops from the valley, and were fired on by our skirmishers as they crossed the pontoon bridge to Harper's Ferry town. The report concerning cannon along the heights proved to be false, as the enemy used but one battery on the heights, and that was placed on the road toward Harper's Ferry, and was withdrawn so soon as the main ridge was carried. The battery of heavy guns placed on the west slope of the mountains, which during the day fired frequently on the storming party and dropped shells into Pleasant Valley, was spiked and abandoned at the same time. The troops in the valley were then advanced, and General Cobb's brigade occupied Sandy Hook with but little resistance, the enemy having abandoned the place with their main force of 1,500 on the night previous, leaving several hundred new muskets and other stores. The road, then, from Harper's Ferry, which presented egress from the place, coming east, was now completely commanded. Up to this time I had received no notice of the advance of either General Jackson or General Walker, except that a courier from General Jackson brought a dispatch from him to the effect that he hoped his leading division would be near Harper's Ferry about 2 o'clock on this day, and some firing in that direction led to the belief that he was advancing. During the day heavy cannonading was heard to the east and northeast, and the cavalry scouts were constantly reporting the advance of the enemy from various directions, but the truth of these reports was questionable, as the lookouts from the mountains saw nothing to confirm them.
On the 14th, the morning was employed in cutting a road to the top of Maryland Heights practicable for artillery. Major McLaws, of my staff, had examined the ground, and, reporting a road practicable, was directed to make one, and by 2 p.m. Captain Read and Captain Carlton, under the direction of Major Hamilton, chief of artillery, had two pieces from each of their batteries in position overlooking Bolivar Heights and the town. Fire was opened at once, driving the enemy from their works on the right of Bolivar Heights and throwing shells into the town. In the meanwhile General Walker, who had informed me of his arrival after dark on the 13th instant, had opened fire from Loudoun Heights, and General Jackson's batteries were playing from several points. Hearing of an advance of the enemy toward the gap over which the command had passed into Pleasant Valley, I had, about 12 o'clock, ordered General Cobb to return with his brigade to the camp near the point where the road came into the valley, and directed General Semmes to withdraw the brigade from Solomon's Gap, leaving a mere guard, and to tell General Cobb, on his arrival in the vicinity, to take command of Crampton's Gap. This gap was over 5 miles from the positions of my main force. I was on Maryland Heights, directing and observing the fire of our guns, when I heard cannonading in the direction of Cramp-ton's Gap, but I felt no particular concern about it, as there were three brigades of infantry in the vicinity, besides the cavalry of Colonel Mun-ford, and General Stuart, who was with me on the heights and had just come in from above, told me he did not believe there was more than a brigade of the enemy. I, however, sent my adjutant-general to General Cobb, as also Major Goggin, of my staff, with directions to hold the gap if he lost his last man in doing it, and shortly afterward went down the mountain and started toward the gap. On my way, with General Stuart, I met my adjutant-general returning, who informed me that the enemy had forced the gap and that re-enforcements were needed by General Cobb. I at once ordered up Wilcox's brigade, commanded by Col. Alfred Cumming, of the Tenth Georgia Regiment, who had been detached from General Semmes' brigade for that purpose, and rode toward the gap.
Fortunately, night came on and allowed a new arrangement of the troops to be made to meet the changed aspect of affairs. The brigades of Generals Kershaw and Barksdale, excepting one regiment of the latter and two pieces of artillery, were withdrawn from the heights, leaving the regiment and two rifle pieces on the main height overlooking the town, and formed line of battle across the valley about 1 miles below Cramp-ton's Gap, with the remnants of the brigades of Generals Cobb, Semmes, and Mahone, and those of Wilcox, Kershaw, and Barksdale, which were placed specially under command of General Anderson. Generals Wright and Pryor were kept in position guarding the Weverton Pass, and Generals Armistead and Featherston that from Harper's Ferry. That place was not yet taken, and I had but to wait and watch the movements of the enemy. It was necessary to guard three positions: First, to present a front against the enemy advancing down the valley; second, to prevent them from escaping from Harper's Ferry and acting in conjunction with their troops in front; third, to prevent an entrance at Weverton Pass. The force of the enemy engaged and in reserve at Crampton's Gap was estimated to be from 15,000 to 25,000 and upward.
The loss in those brigades engaged was, in killed, wounded, and missing, very large, and the remnant collected to make front across the valley was very small. I had dispatched Lieutenant Tucker, my aide-de-camp, with a courier and guide, to report to General Lee the condition of affairs, but, on getting beyond our threes, he rode suddenly on a strong picket of the enemy, was halted, and fired on by them as he turned and dashed back. The courier was killed, but Lieutenant Tucker and the guide escaped. General Stuart had, however, started couriers before that, and sent others from time to time during the night, and I, therefore, was satisfied that General Lee would be informed before morning.
On the 15th the enemy did not advance, nor did they offer any opposition to the troops taking position across the valley. The line to oppose them from that direction was, therefore, formed, and the artillery posted to the best advantage, our artillery on Maryland Heights firing on the enemy below so soon as light permitted.
About 10 a.m. it was telegraphed to me from Maryland Heights that the enemy at Harper's Ferry had hoisted a white flag and had ceased firing. I t once ordered the troops which were defending the pass from Harper's Ferry to advance their skirmishers along the road to the bridge, or until they were fired on, and directed all the trains to be sent toward the Ferry, still keeping the line of battle opposed to that of the enemy above. They, in the mean time, were planting batteries on the Blue Ridge to operate against the artillery on the left of the valley looking north, which had been advantageously placed in position by my chief of artillery, Major Hamilton, along the line formed across the valley. My aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Tucker, had been sent to communicate with General Jackson, in Harper's Ferry, and he returned and reported that General Jackson wished to see me. The enemy showing no disposition to advance, I left the command to General Anderson, with directions to push the train across, the river as fast as possible and follow with the infantry when the trains were well over. I then rode over and received orders to proceed to Sharpsburg with all possible dispatch. I returned to Pleasant Valley, and, as the troops had been gradually withdrawn, I formed a new line across at the foot of the valley, still holding Maryland Heights and Weverton Pass, and waited until near 2 o'clock, when, the trains having passed over the river, the troops were withdrawn to the right bank, and, marching through Harper's Ferry, encamped near Hall-town, 4 miles distant, about 8 o'clock on the 16th instant.
The troops that were engaged in the attack and capture of Maryland Heights are entitled to especial commendation, as they were laboriously employed for two days and one night along the summit of the Elk Ridge, constantly working their way, under fire, during the day, and at night resting in position, all this time without water, as none could be obtained but from the valley beneath, over a mile down the mountain, and at the close of the contest there was not a straggler from the two brigades. General Kershaw, who had special command of this force, acted in this instance (as he has in all others when under my command) with great skill, coolness, and daring, and is deserving of special praise. I refer you to his report for other particulars of the engagement and for the operations of the brigade of General Barksdale, which accompanied him and materially assisted in the capture of the place.
Seeing that the canal was full of water about Weverton, I directed General Pryor (if tools could be obtained) to cut the canal just above a culvert near the place, which he did, and thinks the canal was materially damaged. He also broke the canal lock.
The enemy having forced Crampton's Gap, thereby completely cutting off my route up the valley to join the forces with General Lee, as Solomon's Gap, the only road over Elk Ridge, was just in front of the one over the Blue Ridge occupied by the enemy, I had nothing to do but to defend my position. I could not retire under the bluffs along the river, with the enemy pressing my rear and the forces at Harper's Ferry operating in conjunction, unless under a combination of circumstances I could not rely on to happen at the exact time needed; could not pass over the mountain except in a scattered and disorganized condition, nor could have gone through the Weverton Pass into the open country beyond to cross a doubtful ford when the enemy was in force on the other side of the Blue Ridge and coming down in my rear. There was no outlet in any direction for anything but the troops, and that very doubtful. In no contingency could I have saved the trains and artillery. I therefore determined to defend myself in the valley, holding the two heights and the two lower passes in order to force a direct advance down the valley, to prevent co-operation from Harper's Ferry, and at the same time to carry out my orders in relation to the capture of that place. I received several communications from your headquarters in relation to my position, which were obeyed so far as circumstances permitted, and I acted, in departing from them, as I believed the commanding general would have ordered had he known the circumstances. The force in Harper's Ferry was nearly, if not quite, equal to my own, and that above was far superior. No attempt was made to cooperate from Harper's Ferry with the force above, and the force above did not press down upon me, because, I believe, General Lee offered battle at Sharpsburg. The early surrender of Harper's Ferry relieved me from the situation, and my command joined the main army at Sharps-burg on the morning of the 17th.
My special thanks are due to General Anderson, whose division was under my command, for his advice and assistance, and the cordial co-operation of all in generally performing their whole duties. The operations at Crampton's Gap I give in a separate paper.
To the members of my staff--Major Mcintosh, assistant adjutant-general; Majors Goggin, McLaws, and Edwards, acting commissaries of subsistence; chief surgeon of division, Surgeon Gilmore; Captain King, who accompanied General Kershaw during the whole of his operations on the heights; Captain Costin and Lieutenant Tucker, aides-de-camp; Captain Taliaferro and Lieutenant Edwards, ordnance officers--I am indebted for their aid and active assistance. Captain Manning, who had charge of the signal corps, being unable to attend to his duties from a sudden attack of erysipelas in the head, Captain Costin took charge of the party, and it rendered very great service during the three days it was required. Lieutenant Campbell, of the Engineers, also distinguished himself for his activity in reconnoitering the positions of the enemy.
October 20, 1862.
Headquarters General Longstreet.
SIR: On the morning of September 16, ultimo, my command, consisting of my own division and that of General Anderson, marched through Harper's Ferry from Pleasant Valley, and halted near Halltown and a short distance from the road which turned to the right toward Shepherdstown, which was on the way to Sharpsburg, to which place I had been directed to march by orders direct from General Lee and afterward from General Jackson. The entire command was very much fatigued. The brigades of Generals Kershaw and Barksdale had been engaged on Maryland Heights on the 12th, 13th, and 14th, and on the 15th had been marched from the heights to the line of battle up the valley, formed to oppose that of the enemy below Crampton's Gap. Those of Generals Cobb, Semmes, and Mahone (Colonel Parham)had been engaged and badly crippled at Crampton's Gap, and all the others had been guarding important points under very trying circumstances. A large number had no provisions, and a great portion had not had time or opportunity to cook what they had. All the troops had been without sleep during the night previous, except while waiting in line for the wagon trains to pass over the pontoon bridge at Harper's Ferry. I had ridden on to Charlestown to look after the sick and wounded from Pleasant Valley, when notice was sent me to hasten the troops to Sharpsburg. I returned to camp and started the command at 3 p.m. Halted after dark (and the night was very dark) within 2 miles of Shepherdstown, when, receiving orders to hasten forward, again commenced the march at 12 o'clock that night, many of the regiments still without provisions. I may here state that the crossing at Harper's Ferry was very much impeded by the paroled prisoners passing over the bridge whenever there was an opportunity offered by any accident to the bridge causing temporary halt in the trains or batteries, which was of frequent occurrence, and the streets of Harper's Ferry town were crowded with prisoners and wagons, all of which prevented me from halting, even for a moment, in the town, to obtain provisions there.
On the morning of the 17th, about sunrise, the head of my column reached the vicinity of General Lee's headquarters near Sharpsburg. I rode on to the town, looking for General Lee, and on my return, not finding him, met General Longstreet, who directed me to send General Anderson's division direct down the road to the hill beyond Sharpsburg, where he would receive orders. I learned from him where General Lee's camp was, and reported to General Lee for orders. He directed me to halt my division near to his headquarters, which was done, and I then rode back to hasten up General Anderson, whose division was in the rear. About an hour after this my division was ordered to the front by an aide-de-camp of General Lee, Major Taylor. In about 1 mile we came in rear of the position, which was pointed out by Major Ratchford, of General D. H. Hill's staff, as the one the division was to occupy. I was, of course, entirely ignorant of the ground and of the location of the troops. General Hood, however, who was present, pointed out the direction for the advance, and my line of battle was rapidly formed, General Cobb's brigade on the right, next General Kershaw's, Generals Barksdale and Semmes on the left. Just in front of the line was a large body of woods, from which parties of our troops, of whose command I do not know, were seen retiring, and the enemy, I could see, were advancing rapidly, occupying the place. My advance was ordered before the entire line of General Kershaw could be formed. As the enemy were filling the woods so rapidly, I wished my troops to cross the open space between us and the woods before they were entirely occupied. It was made steadily and in perfect order, and the troops were immediately engaged, driving the enemy before them in magnificent style at all points, sweeping the woods with perfect ease and inflicting great loss on the enemy. They were driven not only through the woods, but over a field in front of the woods, and over two high fences beyond and into another body of woods over half a mile distant. From the commencement of the fight, the men were scattered, by the engagement, through the woods where the enemy made their only stated, and, there being no immediate support, the several brigades fell back into the woods, and the line, to maintain the position, was formed by the brigades of Generals Ransom (Walker's division) and Armistead (General Anderson's division), which had been sent to my support; of General Early, which was already in position, and the brigades of Generals Barksdale and Kershaw. Captain Read's battery had been placed in position on the right of the woods, which we had entered, and did most excellent service, but it was exposed to such a severe fire, General Kershaw ordered it back after losing 14: officers and men and 16 horses. Another battery, Captain Carlton's, which I had ordered into position in the woods in front of General Ransom's brigade, was so severely cut up in a short time by the direct and cross-fires of numerous batteries that I ordered it to retire. The enemy did not make an attempt to retake the woods after they were driven from them, as I have mentioned, but kept up a terrific fire of artillery. There was an incessant storm of shot and shell, grape and canister, but the loss inflicted by the artillery was comparatively very small. Fortunately, the woods were on the side of a hill, the main slope of which was toward us, with numerous ledges of rocks along it. Thus it was, our men, although under this fire for hours, suffered so little from it. I could do nothing but defend the position my division occupied. The line was too weak to at tempt an advance. There were not men enough to make a continuous single line. In some places for considerable distance there were no men at all, while just beyond us, across an open field, about 400 or 500 yards distant, were the lines of the enemy, apparently double and treble, supporting numerous batteries, which crossed fire over every portion of' the ground. The artillery of the enemy was so far superior to our own in weight of metal, character of guns and numbers, and in quality of ammunition, that there was but very little to be gained by opposing ours to it, and I therefore did not renew the attempt after the first experiments. The ground over which the Mississippi Brigade (General Barksdale) advanced, and to his right, was thickly strewn with the dead and wounded of the enemy, far exceeding our own, and their dead were much more numerous than their wounded. The close proximity of the combatants to each other may account for the disproportion. General Cobb's brigade, going in, extended itself farther to the right than I intended, but the colonel commanding, Colonel [C. C.] Sanders, Twenty-fourth Georgia, did not hear my orders to correct the error, so it is reported, and, the engagement commencing immediately, the brigade went on to a position several hundred yards to the right of the woods and defended it. General Semmes was sent to the left just after his brigade came on the ground, by direction of General Jackson, to give support to General Stuart. His brigade drove the enemy through the woods and beyond them for a considerable distance. General Kershaw's brigade was more exposed in its first advance than any other, as it had to move over a large, open space before reaching the woods, which then afforded less protection, but the command went on with enthusiasm and drove the enemy up to their batteries and reserves, and then retired to the woods from which they had first driven the enemy, as did the other brigades of Cobb, Semmes, and Barksdale, because of the weakness of their own lines, the want of immediate support, the want of ammunition, and the fatigue of the men. I call attention to the tact that Colonel [J. D.] Nance, commanding the Third South Carolina Regiment, of General Kershaw's brigade, brought his regiment from the ground in perfect order and formed it in the rear, to be supplied with ammunition, with the precision of a parade. This perfect control of his men is owing to the high state of discipline and good drill for which his regiment is distinguished. General Barksdale reformed on the ground he went over; General Semmes was placed in reserve in his rear; General Cobb's brigade on the left of General Kershaw, who had previously moved to the left of the line.
The enemy having abandoned their attempt to advance, I had an opportunity to examine the relative positions of our troops and those of the enemy, and soon became convinced that we had nothing to gain by an advance of our troops. The strong position of the enemy was along the Antietam, the right bank of which (the side toward our army) was swept by numerous batteries of artillery posted along the left bank, which commanded the right. Their position along the left bank was a very strong one, having the Antietam in their front and Maryland Heights in their rear. For us to force them back on the Antietam was to force them to concentration on their reserves, of which we had none, to weaken our lines, and scatter our troops, so that, in the event of a reverse, no rally of any considerable body could be made, and the final results would not probably have been such as to have entitled us to claim, as we now can, the battle of Sharpsburg as one of the greatest successes, if not the greatest success, of the war, when the enormous disparity between our forces and those of the Yankees are considered. Brigadier-Generals Kershaw, Semmes, and Barksdale deserve high praise for their heroic conduct in the fight and for the skillful manner their brigades were handled. Colonel Sanders, Twenty-fourth Georgia, who commanded Cobb's brigade during the first part of the engagement, carried it forward in good order, and the brigade maintained its position and drove the enemy for some distance, retiring only after losing 43 per cent. of its strength. Lieutenant-Colonel MacRae, of the Fifteenth North Carolina Regiment, commanded the brigade during the latter part of the fight.
The losses in the different brigades, including the different batteries, were as follows:
carried into action
carried into action
Missing Percent General Average Brigadier-General Kershaw 112 824 44 305 6 38 } Brigadier-General Semmes 63 646 27 281 6 44 } 39.5 Brigadier-General Barksdale 89 802 32 258 4 33 } Brigadier-General Cobb --- 357 11 135 10 43 }
Which, taken in connection with the small number of missing, shows how dearly, yet how gloriously, their success was obtained.
It is with sincere regret that I have to state my adjutant-general, Maj. T. S. Mcintosh, was killed, shot through the heart while carrying out one of my orders. The country has lost in him as brave and as gallant an officer and gentleman as any that survive him. My inspector-general, Major Goggin, was with me during the day, carrying orders and superintending their execution, in the performance of which duties he exhibited great daring and cool, sound judgment. To Captain King and Lieutenant Tucker, aides-de-camp, and Captain Costin, signal officer; Lieutenant Campbell, of the Engineers, and Lieutenant Edwards, ordnance officer, I am indebted for their zeal and activity; their gallantry was conspicuous in the performance of their duties. Col. Henry Coalter Cabell, chief of artillery, who had been absent, sick, joined me on the field, and remained during the rest of the engagement.
I inclose reports of brigade commanders, and call attention to their notices of individual merit.
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