The Battle of Antietam
The Morning Phase
The night before the battle passed quietly, except for some alarms on Hooker's front, and most of the men in both armies probably got a good sleep. The morning broke gray and misty, but the mists disappeared early, and the weather for the rest of the day was perfect. As a great battle cannot be described in detail except at immense length, and even then must be described imperfectly, there seems to be no better plan than to state the parts into which a particular action is divisible, and then to give reasonable development to the description of those parts. Of the battle of the Antietam it may be said that it began with the attack made by the First Corps under Hooker upon the Confederate left. The next stage was the advance of the Twelfth Corps under Mansfield to the support of Hooker. The next was the advance of the Second Corps, under Sumner, and this again must be divided into three parts, as Sumner's three divisions went into action successively, both in time and place. The division that first became engaged was furthest to the Federal right, the next was to the left, and the last still farther to the left. The fourth stage was the slight use of a few troops from the centre, mostly Franklin's, made as late as one o'clock or thereabouts, and the fifth and last was the fighting of the Ninth Corps on the extreme right of the Confederate position.
It will be remembered that McClellan had virtually told Lee where he proposed to attack. That the notice given by him was comprehended by the enemy is shown by the language of Colonel Wofford, commanding a brigade in Hood's division, who says: "It was now evident that the enemy had effected a crossing entirely to our left, and that he would make the attack on that wing early in the morning, moving his forces over and placing them in position during the night." Colonel Wofford's judgment was correct in the main, although he gave McClellan credit in advance for carrying out his own plan more thoroughly than he did. At a very early hour the skirmishers of the Pennsylvania Reserves, Meade's division of the First Corps, advanced, and their advance was followed by that of the whole corps--Meade's division in the centre, Doubleday's on its right, and Ricketts's on its left. The advance was impetuous, and the Confederate resistance was obstinate. The Federal advance was aided by the fire of the batteries posted by McClellan on the east side of the Antietam, which, Jackson says, enfiladed his line, and proved severe and damaging, and it received some assistance from the batteries of the corps, but they do not seem to have been used with remarkable skill or dash. Some of the guns were very roughly handled by Confederates who crept around through the corn and behind rises of ground, and the chief of artillery of one of the Federal divisions seems to have wanted judgment as well as audacity. The batteries most mentioned were I, of the First New York Artillery; B, of the Fourth Artillery; D, of the Rhode Island Artillery; a battery of the First New Hampshire Artillery; F, of the First Pennsylvania, and the Independent Pennsylvania Battery. It was upon Jackson that the blow fell, and he met it with his front line, composed of the brigades of Jones and Winder, of the Stonewall division, and those of Lawton and Trimble, and probably Hays, of Ewell's division. He had also not less than six batteries in action, and more or less aid from Stuart, whose command consisted of cavalry and horse artillery, from S. D. Lee's guns, from Hood and D. H. Hill, and from "a brigade of fresh troops," which Early says came up to the support of Lawton and Hays, but soon fell back. It is impossible to tell what number of troops on each side was engaged in this opening struggle, the more so that Jackson himself says that "fresh troops from time to time relieved the enemy's ranks," which seems to indicate that Hooker's men were not all used at once. As far as can be made out from the various reports, which are singularly wanting on both sides in clear topographical indications, the fighting began not far from the western edge of the East Woods, and resulted, after very severe losses on both sides, in the gradual withdrawal of the Confederates to the West Woods. The story might be told with far greater fulness and completeness, but for the defective character of the reports in the particular to which allusion has been made. They are very numerous, and many of them are not short, but they hardly ever tell to what point of the compass the faces of the troops were turned, and the indefinite article is constantly used. A lane, a road, a fence, a wall, a house, a corn-field, a piece of woods, such are the constantly recurring phrases which constantly baffle and disappoint the curious student.
To go a little more into detail. Hooker's command seems to have passed the night of the 16th about a mile and a half north of Sharpsburg, and in the neighborhood of the point on the Hagerstown pike where the Williamsport road branches off. A signal station was established that night, close to the Hagerstown pike, and near Hooker's headquarters. Hooker's forces seem to have been vastly less than the 14,856 accorded to him in McClellan's Report. He had ten brigades. Ricketts, who commanded his Second Division, comprising three of them, says he took into action 3,158 men. Phelps, who commanded the First Brigade of the First Division, says he had 425 men. If we take the average strength of these four brigades, and compute the strength of the corps from it, Hooker's infantry will fall below nine thousand men. Doubleday's division was formed astride of the turnpike; Gibbon's brigade, supported by Patrick's, advanced along the west side of the Hagerstown pike, while Hoffman's right just reached the pike. Gibbon's front line contained the Second and Sixth Wisconsin; but the resistance he encountered as he advanced caused him to bring forward around his right the Seventh Wisconsin and the Nineteenth Indiana, which obtained to some extent a flank fire along his front. Patrick supported him, and Phelps formed up on his left, and the line was continued to the left by Hoffman. Meade formed Hooker's centre, and Ricketts his left. The Federal troops gained some ground, and as they advanced Hooker's line seems to have gradually advanced its left, until it came nearer to being parallel to the pike than at right angles to it. His right gained ground but little, but gradually his left and centre drove the Confederates into the West Woods, of which Ricketts even claims to have gained the edge. Ricketts advanced with his Third brigade in the centre, and the First and Second in echelon to the rear, to the right and left respectively. The advance had been stubbornly contested throughout, but when the command approached the West Woods, a more terrible struggle took place. The Confederates appear to have then brought into action the whole of Jackson's two divisions, with the exception of Early's brigade, and to have used Stuart's cavalry and artillery both. The two lines almost tore each other to pieces. Ricketts lost a third of his division, having 153 killed and 898 wounded. Phelps's brigade lost about forty-four per cent. Gibbon's brigade lost 380 men. On the Confederate side the carnage was even more awful. General Starke, commanding the Stonewall division, and Colonel Douglas, corn-mantling Lawton's brigade, were killed. General Lawton, commanding Ewell's division, and Colonel Walker, commanding a brigade, were severely wounded. More than half of the brigades of Lawton and Hays were either killed or wounded, and more than a third of Trimble's, and all the regimental commanders in these brigades, except two, were killed or wounded. No better evidence of the exhaustion of both sides need be given than Jackson's own statement: "Jackson's division and the brigades of Lawton, Hays, and Trimble retired to the rear, and Hood, of Longstreet's command, again took the position from which he had before been relieved." Hood had but two brigades, and Jackson's two divisions and Hooker's three must have been nearly annihilated, if Hood could take the place of the one and make head against the other. If Jackson's and Hooker's had been the only forces present, there would have been a lull from necessity, and probably an end of the battle, but D. H. Hill, with five brigades, was close to Jackson's right, McLaws, with four, was coming up in his rear, and several other Confederate brigades were near or hastening toward his part of the field, while Mansfield's Twelfth Corps was near Hooker. If troops moved as chessmen are moved, if corps and divisions went into action as complete wholes, the story of a battle could be told with more precision, but it is not only not so, but as far as possible from being so. The combinations of a battle-field are almost as varying, and far less distinctly visible and separable than those of a kaleidoscope. A supporting force sends forward a regiment, or a battery, or a brigade, or a division, or sends detachments to various points to fill gaps and strengthen parts of the line which are especially threatened, or it advances as a whole, but even in the last case the accidents of the ground, the superior discipline or enthusiasm or handling of the men, or the more or less controlling fire of the enemy, make the advance of a large body irregular. General Patrick, commanding the Third Brigade of the First Division of Hooker's corps, says that the Twelfth Corps came in in succession and at considerable intervals. It is probably not known, and not knowable, at what hour or at what point the First Corps received its first assistance from the Twelfth.
It has already been stated that Mansfield's Twelfth Corps passed the latter part of the night of the 16th September about a mile in rear of Hooker. There are various statements as to the time when Mansfield was ordered forward, but it is quite clear that his whole corps was engaged by, if not before, 7.30 A.M. Before he reached Hooker's position he received information that Hooker's reserves were all engaged, and that he was hard pressed. He himself was killed during the deployment of his corps, while examining the ground in front. General Williams succeeded to the command. There were in the Twelfth Corps two divisions. Of the first, Crawford now took command. He had the brigades of Knipe and Gordon. Greene commanded the second division, composed of the brigades of Tyndale, Stainrook, and Goodrich. The reports of the Twelfth Corps division and brigade commanders make it plain that it went into action with only about seven thousand men, instead of the ten thousand odd with which McClellan credits it. Very early in the advance, one brigade of Greene's division was sent to the right to Doubleday. In the deployment, the First Division was to the right and front, with Knipe's brigade on the right and Gordon's on the left. Greene's division was on the left of the First Division. The attack was opened by Knapp's, Cothran's, and Hampton's batteries. The divisions moved together, but the First Division was somewhat earlier in getting into action. As the First Division advanced, it found Hooker's men badly cut up and slowly retreating from the historic cornfield, which lay between the pike and the East Woods, and the Confederates occupying almost all the cornfield. There are good grounds for believing that the Twelfth Corps received no assistance,
(1) Greene says his three brigades numbered 2,504. Gordon had 2,210. Williams says his loss of 1,744 was twenty-five per cent. of his total. This would leave 2,262 for Crawford's brigade, commanded by Knipe. The regiments of this corps varied much in size, as appears from the Reports. The Sixty-sixth Ohio took in 120; Third Maryland, 148; One Hundred and Eleventh Pennsylvania, Sixtieth New York, and Seventy eighth New York, each less than 250; Third Delaware, 126; while the Twenty-seventh Indiana took in 443 rank and file. Knipe's and Gordon's brigades were made very large by the presence in them of five perfectly new regiments, the Thirteenth New Jersey, the One Hundred and Seventh New York, and the One Hundred and Twenty-fourth, One Hundred and Twenty-fifth, and One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania.
or next to none, from the First Corps. The admirable troops of Gordon's brigade, which contained the Second Massachusetts, Third Wisconsin, and Twenty-seventh Indiana, succeeded in clearing the cornfield, apparently with some aid from Greene's men, who would seem to have obtained an enfilading fire along their front. Knipe's brigade was less successful, but Greene did well on the left. He seems to have found some of the enemy so far to the east as the East Woods, though this is not easy to believe, but whatever force he encountered he succeeded in driving back, and entering open ground, partly covered with corn, and moving to his left and front, he overcame all opposition and entered the woods near the Dunker Church at about eight o'clock. There is no doubt that the fighting of this second stage of the battle was between the Federal Twelfth Corps and the remains of the First Corps, and Hood's Confederate division and such other troops as could then be got together on their left and right. The Federal pressure had caused all of the Confederate line which was to the left of D. H. Hill to fight nearly or quite at right angles to his line. It may have been at this time and place that the disparity of numbers was greatest. The usual difficulty of determining just what troops are engaged at a particular time is illustrated by the contradiction between Hood and Jackson. Jackson, as has been stated, speaks of Hood's going to the front when his own division and the three brigades of Ewell's division retired to the rear. Hood, on the other hand, says: "At six o'clock I received notice from Lawton that he would require all the assistance I could give him. A few minutes after, a member of his staff reported to me that he was wounded, and wished me to come forward as soon as possible. Being in readiness, I at once marched out on the field, in line of battle, and soon became engaged with an immense force of the enemy, consisting of not less than two corps of their army." If Hood is right--and he is corroborated by his brigade commander, Wofford, who says: "Our brigade was moved forward at sunrise to the support of General Lawton,"--Jackson met Hooker with over two thousand men more than he has been credited with, and the fifteen brigades of the First and Twelfth Corps encountered the divisions of Jackson, Ewell, and Hood, with such aid as Stuart from their left and D. H. Hill from their right could give them. It also appears that G. T. Anderson's brigade of D. R. Jones's division was there.
The general result of the second stage of the battle seems to have been that by nine A. M. the Federals held parts of a line extending from the woods near Miller's house on their right to the Dunker Church on the left, though Knipe on the extreme right does not seem to have had a firm hold on his ground. The Federals had gained a good deal of ground, but they were about fought out, and if they could hold what they had gained, it was probably the utmost they could do, especially as their leaders had failed to see and appreciate the importance of seizing and holding a height to the west of where Hooker's right had rested, the possession of which would have enabled them to take in flank and partly in reverse the whole of the wooded and rocky ground which they had thus far failed to carry, and which was to remain in possession of the enemy till the close of the battle.
We have said that the Twelfth Corps held parts of a line extending from the neighborhood of Miller's house to the Dunker Church. The statement requires development. The truth is that the position of the Twelfth Corps when Sumner began to arrive was very peculiar. The First Division was established well to the north of the Dunker Church, perhaps half a mile from it, and it, or much of it, was facing south. The Second Division had effected a lodgment in the woods about the Dunker Church, and it, or much of it, was facing north or northwest. There were practically no troops at all on the ground over which Sedgwick presently advanced with the front of a deployed brigade, or still further to the north, for the statements are positive that there was a stiff post and rail fence on both sides of the pike in the part of the field where Crawford's men were, and it is certain that all or most of Sedgwick's men encountered no such obstacle. At somewhere about nine o'clock, the Twelfth Corps seems to have about lost all aggressive force. Knipe's brigade on the extreme right was retiring, part of Gordon's brigade was preparing to advance, and Greene's division, with a mere handful left from Ricketts's, was hanging on to the corner of the woods about the Dunker Church, and pouring a heavy fire upon the right and rear of Hood's right brigade. At this time the advance of the Second Corps was announced.
On September 17th, Sumner's Corps, the Second, comprised three divisions. The First, under Richardson, contained three brigades, commanded by Meagher, Caldwell, and J. R. Brooke; the Second, under Sedgwick, contained three brigades, commanded by German, Howard, and Dana; the Third, under French, contained three brigades, commanded by Kimball, Morris, and Weber. The corps contained some poor but many very excellent soldiers. The hard fate which its Second Division met in this battle may be an excuse for stating that up to May 10, 1864, the Second Corps never lost a gun nor a color, and that it was then and had long been the only corps in the army which could make that proud claim. General Sumner received orders on the 16th to hold his corps in readiness to march an hour before daylight, to support Hooker, but his orders to march were not received till 7.20 A. M. on the 17th. He put Sedgwick in motion immediately, and French followed Sedgwick, but Richardson was not moved till an hour later, when the General commanding ordered him to move in the same direction. It is probable that this delay was caused by the need of having Morell occupy the ground which he was about to vacate. It would seem that this simple operation should have been attended to earlier, but, whatever the cause may have been, Richardson was delayed. The marching and fighting of the three divisions of the Second Corps were so distinct that they must be described separately.
The three brigades of Sedgwick's division crossed the stream at the same ford at which the First and Twelfth Corps had crossed it, and, moving by the flank in three columns, entered the East Woods. These were a grove of noble trees, almost entirely clear of underbrush. There were sorry sights to be seen in them, but the worst sight of all was the liberal supply of unwounded men helping wounded men to the rear. When good Samaritans so abound, it is a strong indication that the discipline of the troops in front is not good, and that the battle is not going so as to encourage the half-hearted. The brigades entered these woods from the south, and marched northward, and then were faced to the left, and thus formed a column of three deployed brigades, Gorman's leading, next Dana's, next Burns's, commanded that day by Howard. The column was now facing west, parallel to the Hagerstown pike, and separated from it by the famous cornfield. The corn was very high and very strong. There was a short halt while a fence which formed the eastern boundary of the cornfield was thrown down. Then the column marched straight forward, through the corn, and into the open ground beyond. Few troops were in sight. So far as the men of Sedgwick's division could see, they were to have the fighting all to themselves. As they advanced, Crawford's division retired, so Crawford says, but Knipe, of his division, claims to have advanced with Sedgwick. If he did, Sedgwick's men did not know it. Accidents of the ground hid from their view such of Greene's and Ricketts's men as remained at the left front. So far as they could see, their advance, at least from the pike, was made all alone. Williams himself reports that soon after news of Sumner's advance was received, the firing on both sides wholly ceased.
General Sumner rode forward gallantly with his advance. He found Hooker wounded, and his corps not only repulsed, but gone,--routed, and dispersed. He says himself: "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. I sent one of my own staff officers to find where they were, and General Ricketts, the only officer we could find, said that he could not raise three hundred men of the corps."
Sedgwick's division emerged from the cornfield into the open ground near the pike, and swept steadily forward. There were no fences at the part of the pike where they crossed it to delay them. Their march was rapid, and nearly directly west. There was very little distance between the lines. The recollections of the survivors range from fifty feet to thirty paces. Not a regiment was in column--there was absolutely no preparation for facing to the right or left in case either of their exposed flanks should be attacked. The total disregard of all ordinary military precaution in their swift and solitary advance was so manifest that it was observed and criticised as the devoted band moved on. A single regiment in column on both flanks of the rear brigade might have been worth hundreds of men a few minutes later, might indeed have changed the results of the battle. As the column pressed forward into the space between the pike and the West Woods, its left just reaching the Dunker Church, it came under sharp artillery fire, and met with some loss. The lines were so near together that the projectile that went over the heads of the first line was likely to find its billet in the second or third. The swift shot were plainly seen as they came flying toward us. They came from Stuart's unseen guns, planted beyond the woods on or near the high ground which the Federal troops ought to have occupied. As the division entered the West Woods, it passed out of fire, and it moved safely through them to their western edge. There was a fence, and, bordering it on the outside, a common wood road. The brigade of Gorman, followed by that of Dana, climbed this fence, and then their lines were halted. For some cause unknown, the left of the two brigades almost touched, while the line of Gorman's brigade diverged from the line of Dana's, so that there was a long interval from the right of the former to the right of the latter. It is doubtful whether the third line even entered the West Woods. If they did, they did not stay there long. There was a little, and only a little, musketry firing while the troops were in this position, but the Confederate guns to the right front of Sedgwick's position were active and efficient, firing now canister.
As Sedgwick's troops have now been led to the furthest point of their advance, which was also the furthest point reached by any Federal troops in the right attack, it is time to say a word about the ground, and about the Confederate troops which were collected to oppose them, but it is to be remembered that Sedgwick was quite alone. No Federal troops were on his right or left, nor near his rear. Hooker's corps was non-existent. The Twelfth Corps was all of it weary, and much of it withdrawn to a considerable distance, and French had not come up.
There runs through the West Woods to the Dunker Church a little wood road, which leaves the open ground to the west of the West Woods, not far from where Sedgwick's left rested. In these woods, and especially to the left of the ground over which Sedgwick passed, there were many inequalities of surface, and many ledges of limestone which cropped out, and thus excellent cover was afforded to troops on the left of the Federals, and such of their opponents as might be in the little road were so concealed that nothing but their bayonets revealed their presence. Why French was so far from Sedgwick is not explained, but, as will presently appear, he first engaged the enemy in the vicinity of Rullet's house, about half a mile east of the Dunker Church, and considerably more than that from the ground where Sedgwick's three brigades were halted.
It seems to be certain that Law's and Wofford's brigades had been "almost annihilated," as Wofford says, by their fight with the First and Twelfth Corps, and that they were withdrawn by General Hood just before Sedgwick reached them. This must have been at or shortly after nine o'clock, and accounts, in part at least, for the cessation of firing which Williams observed, and the comparative silence which accompanied Sedgwick's advance. General Jackson was the ranking officer on the Confederate left. He had sent word to Early, who had been sent with his brigade to support Stuart, to return and take command of Ewell's division, in place of Lawton, disabled. Early returned, with all of his brigade but one very small regiment, at just this time, and found near the Dunker Church a portion of Jackson's division, which formed on his left. Presently Confederate reinforcements began to arrive from their right, as "another heavy column of Federal troops (i.e., Sedgwick's division) was seen moving across the plateau on his left flank." The reinforcements consisted of Semmes's, Anderson's, Barksdale's, Armistead's, Kershaw's, Manning's, Cobb's, and Ransom's brigades, some of which had been hurried across from the Confederate right.
Early's line was formed perpendicular to the Hagerstown road, and his troops were concealed and protected by the rise in the ground. It is altogether probable that many of them were in the little wood road which has been mentioned. The approach of a Federal battery, which might, if Early's line had been seen, have raked his flank and rear, caused him to throw back his right flank quietly under cover of the woods, so as not to have his rear exposed in the event of his presence being discovered, and threatening movements of the Federal infantry caused him to move his own brigade by the right flank, while he directed Colonel Grigsby, who commanded what was left of Jackson's division, to move his command back in line so as to present front to the enemy. The reinforcements, as they came up, formed line facing the west face of the West Woods, and filled the wood road on Sedgwick's left. Sumner had marched his second division into an ambush. There were some ten Confederate brigades on his front and flank and working rapidly round the rear of his three brigades. The result was not doubtful. His fine division, containing such sterling regiments as the First Minnesota and the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Massachusetts, was at the mercy of their enemy. The fire came upon them from front and flank and presently from the rear. Change of front was impossible. The only fire delivered by the Twentieth Massachusetts regiment of the second line was delivered faced by the rear rank. In less time than it takes to tell it, the ground was strewn with the bodies of the dead and wounded, while the unwounded were moving off rapidly to the north. So completely did the enemy circle round them that a strong body of Confederates marched straight up northward through the open fields between the West Woods and the Hagerstown pike. Nearly two thousand men were disabled in a moment.
The third line, the Philadelphia brigade, so called, was the first to go. Sumner tried to face it about preparatory to a change of front, but, under the fire from its left, it moved off in a body to the right in spite of all efforts to restrain it. The first and second lines held on a little longer, but their left soon crumbled away, and then the whole of the two brigades moved off to their right, where a new line was presently formed. Federal batteries proved very serviceable in checking the Confederates at this juncture. The new line was formed, facing south, at no very great distance northward of the point where the right of the lines had rested. As disaster fell upon Sedgwick, Williams was ordered by Sumner to send forward all of his command immediately available. He sent forward Gordon. Gordon advanced, but it was too late. The troops for whom his support was intended were no longer in position. He reached the fence by the turnpike, and suffered heavy loss, but was forced to retire after a stubborn contest. Greene, at about the same time, reformed his line, refused his right, sent forward skirmishers, and sent to his corps commander for aid. None coming, he eventually retired from or was forced out of his advanced position, though this did not happen till much later in the day.
Thus, by about ten o'clock, the successes of the morning were lost. Our lines had been withdrawn almost altogether to the east of the turnpike, though we had more or less of a lodgment near the Dunker Church, and some of Sedgwick's men were west of the turnpike in the neighborhood of the Miller house, or nearly as far north. Two corps and one division of the Federal army had been so roughly handled that but small account could be made of them in estimating the available force remaining. Most of these troops had damaged the enemy in good proportion to the damage they had themselves received, but there was no such consolation for Sedgwick's men. Their cruel losses were entirely uncompensated. There is no reason for believing that they had inflicted any appreciable injury upon the enemy. The Fifteenth and the Twentieth Massachusetts had been at Ball's Bluff, but their fate at Sharpsburg was harder yet.
What General Sumner may have expected or even hoped to accomplish by his rash advance, it is difficult to conjecture. It is impossible that he can have been ignorant that French had not come up upon his left. His old cavalry training may possibly have planted in his mind some notions as to charging and cutting one's way out, and he may have had a shadowy idea that he could with infantry as well not only charge but cut his way out, should they chance to be surrounded. Indeed there is in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, given February 18, 1863, a very significant statement: "My intention at the time was," he says, "to have proceeded entirely on by their left and moved down, bringing them right in front of Burnside, Franklin, and Porter." With French properly closed up, so as to take care of his flank and rear, and Sedgwick properly formed, such an enterprise might have had some chance of success against an army weakened by the long and hard struggle against Hooker and Williams, but with French at a distance, and Sedgwick formed as he was, the attempt was madness. There is nothing more helpless than a column of long lines with short intervals between them, if they have anything to do other than to press straight forward with no thought of anything but the enemy before them. They cannot take care of their own flanks, and if they are attacked there, disaster is certain.
The jubilant assertions of the Confederate officers in regard to their repulse of Sedgwick's division are not more than the facts warrant. They did "drive the enemy before them in magnificent style," they did "sweep the woods with perfect ease," they did "inflict great loss on the enemy," they did drive them "not only through the woods, but (some of them, at any rate) over a field in front of the woods and over two high fences beyond, and into another body of woods (i.e., the East Woods) over half a mile distant from the commencement of the fight." But it must not be forgotten that it was almost as easy to drive Sedgwick's men, in the unfortunate position in which they found themselves, as to drive sheep, and that, besides the immense advantages which Sumner's blunder gave the Confederates, they probably considerably outnumbered the forces they encountered. As well as can be made out from the Confederate reports, they must have used nearly ten thousand men against Sedgwick's division and what was left of the First and Twelfth Corps, in this vigorous onset.(1) Sedgwick's division may be said, from the
(1) Early's brigade, about 1,000; remains of Jackson's division, under Grigsby and Stafford, 600 (conjectured); McLaws's four brigades, Semmes, Barksdale, Kershaw, Cobb, 3,000: Anderson's brigade, 600; Walker's two brigades, 3,200; co-operation from Stuart and D. H. Hill (conjectured), 1,600. This leaves out Armistead, whose brigade was one of six numbering "some" three or four thousand.
best information accessible, to have gone into action not over five thousand strong, and it was absolutely alone from the time it crossed the Hagerstown pike, and the troops that helped to check the pursuing Confederates were not numerous, and were not engaged till the repulse was complete.
General McClellan reports the loss of Sedgwick's division as 355 killed, 1,579 wounded, and 321 missing, a ghastly total of 2,255. The Twelfth Corps lost 1,744, Greene's division losing 651, Gordon's brigade 649, and Crawford's (commanded by Knipe), 427; being one in four of all of the division who were present. The Third Wisconsin, of Gordon's brigade, lost very nearly sixty per cent.
When the Confederates fell back, after their sharp pursuit of the retreating Federals, for want of immediate support, their line was formed in the West Woods, with the brigades of Ransom, Armistead, Early, Barksdale, Kershaw, and Cobb, with Semmes in reserve. Read's and Carleton's batteries were with them, but they were so cut up by the Federal artillery that they were ordered back. The fire of the Federal artillery upon this part of the Confederate line was terrific, but almost harmless, because of the perfect shelter which the ground afforded to infantry. The Confederate force so assembled was judged to be too weak to warrant a second advance.
Under orders from McClellan, Franklin, commanding as before the Sixth Corps and Couch's division of the Fourth Corps, at half-past five on the morning of the 17th, put Couch in motion for Maryland Heights, and moved with his own corps from Pleasant Valley toward the battle-field. Smith's division of the Sixth Corps led the column, followed by Slocum with the other division. Smith came near the field before 10 A.M., and at first took position in a wood on the left of the stone bridge, but was presently ordered to the right, to the support of Sumner, who was then fiercely engaged and hard pressed by the enemy, that is to say, at about the time when Sedgwick's division gave way. The leading brigade, under Hancock, moved rapidly forward to support two of Sumner's batteries, which the Confederate skirmishers had approached closely. He formed a line of guns and infantry, with Cowan's battery of three-inch guns on the right, Frank's twelve-pounders in the centre, and Cothran's rifled guns on the left. He placed the Forty-ninth Pennsylvania on the right of Cowan, the Forty-third New York and a part of the One Hundred and Thirty-seventh Pennsylvania between Cowan and Frank, and the Sixth Maine and the Fifth Wisconsin between Frank and Cothran. His line was parallel to the line of woods in front, and within canister distance. The enemy placed two batteries opposite him and in front of the woods, and opened fire. He obtained from Sumner the Twentieth Massachusetts of Sedgwick's division to place in the woods on the extreme right of his line. With the fire of his guns and his infantry he drove away the threatening skirmishers, and silenced the Confederate batteries, he took possession of some buildings and fences in his front, and there his brigade remained. His loss was very slight. The enemy in his front was controlled in some measure by the presence and action on his left of the Third (Irwin's) Brigade of Smith's division.
Brooks, with Smith's Second Brigade, went first to Sumner's right, but was presently sent to French, and his experiences may better be told in connection with those of French's division. Irwin's Brigade, the Third of Smith's division, was placed by Smith on the left of Hancock, and it was on his left that Brooks came up when he was sent to French. The clearness of the narrative will be promoted by telling first the story of French's advance, and then that of what Brooks and Irwin did when they came up to his aid.
This page last updated 12/17/03