Report of Brig. Gen. George Sykes, U. S. Army, commanding Second Division, of the battle of Antietam, skirmish at Blackford's or Botelet's Ford, and action near Shepherdstown.
SEPTEMBER 3-20, 1862.-The Maryland Campaign.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XIX/1 [S# 27]
HEADQUARTERS SYKES' DIVISION,
Camp near Sharpsburg, Md., September 30, 1862.
Lieut. Col. FRED. T. LOCKE,
Assistant Adjutant General, Fifth Army Corps.
SIR: My division left Middletown about 10 a.m. on the 15th instant, crossed the South Mountain, and, reaching the east bank of the Antietam River, took position behind some hills on the left of the turnpike leading direct to Sharpsburg. My skirmishers were thrown at once to the front and occupied the crest of the river bank. The batteries were massed in rear of Buchanan's brigade. Some apprehension being entertained that the enemy would destroy the bridge over the Antietam, the officer in command of the skirmishers was directed to watch it closely and frustrate any attempt thus made.
Early on the 16th Weed's and Benjamin's batteries (3-inch and 20-pounders) were established on the heights behind which my infantry lay, and opened a lively cannonade upon such of the enemy as could be seen. The return fire ranging near Warren's camp, I moved his brigade and Randol's battery farther to the left, occupying a piece of woods and covering the approaches in the direction of Harper's Ferry. This brigade subsequently connected with Burnside's corps on their left. During the day the fire of the enemy's sharpshooters and his scattering shot and shell were the only annoyances we received.
On the 17th some light batteries and cavalry, under General Pleasonton, were thrown across the Antietam via the turnpike bridge. Their position being one of great exposure, and General Pleasonton desiring some infantry to protect his guns, I sent the battalion of the Second and Tenth U.S. Infantry, under Capt. J. S. Poland, Second Infantry, to his support. Subsequently, the ammunition of Pleasonton's batteries having been exhausted, I was ordered to relieve his guns by my own, and accordingly (against my judgment) sent Randol's and Van Reed's batteries across the Antietam, and with them four additional battalions of regular infantry, under the command of Capt. H. Dryer, Fourth Infantry. Randol, finding his horses exposed to the enemy's sharpshooters and his position untenable, very properly withdrew his battery. Van Reed was posted farther to the right. The battalion of the Second and Tenth Infantry was thrown forward as skirmishers, and, occupying a line far in advance of our artillery, compelled the cannoneers of the rebel battery to leave their guns. Few in number and unsupported, we were unable to bring them off. Soon after the enemy recovered them by the advance of a large infantry force. Dryer's infantry and Van Reed's battery were held across the Antietam until dark, when both were withdrawn to the east bank. The remainder of my division was unengaged on the 17th. The troops under Captain Dryer behaved in the handsomest manner, and, had there been an available force for their support, there is no doubt he could have crowned the Sharpsburg crest.
On the 18th of September my command continued in position on the east bank of the Antietam. On the 19th the division and batteries moved through Sharpsburg and bivouacked near the Potomac opposite Blackford's Ford. Skirmishers were thrown out in front of each brigade and a desultory fire maintained with those of the enemy on the Virginia side. In the course of the day, Weed's battery was brought within easy range of the enemy's cannon covering the ford, and had the satisfaction of driving his gunners off, compelling the abandonment of several pieces, which subsequently fell into our hands.
On the 20th I was directed to cross the Potomac with a brigade and push it on the Charlestown road. I immediately put Major Lovell, Tenth Infantry, commanding Second Brigade, in motion, and, passing with him to the Virginia side, caused skirmishers to be deployed and the brigade to advance. I was also informed that cavalry had or would precede me in this movement. That arm of the service did not, however, reach the Virginia shore until my pickets were in close proximity to the advancing foe. Major Lovell occupied some woods a mile from the river, and had scarcely done so when a dispatch from him gave the intelligence that the enemy, about 3,000 strong, with artillery, was rapidly approaching. I at once directed him to fall back slowly to the crest of the river bank and hold it.
I then ordered the Second and Sixth U.S. Infantry to occupy a belt of woods in front, sent for my Third Brigade, under Colonel Warren, to cross, and regiments of Morell's division, under Colonel Barnes, coming over at this time, I requested the colonel to occupy the crest on the right of the road leading from the river and to connect with Lovell's right. These troops were making their way to Shepherdstown, to which point the colonel informed me he had been ordered.
In the mean time Colonel Warren crossed his brigade, took post on the left of Major Lovell, and covered his front with light troops. Weed, Randol, and Van Reed, commanding batteries of my division, got in position on the heights on the Maryland side, and opened a destructive fire on the enemy, which impeded the advance of his masses and turned his skirmishers above the ford in the direction of Shepherdstown.
Knowing that the Virginia side of the river was no place for troops until a proper reconnaissance had been made, and several reports from citizens inducing the belief that a large force of the enemy was moving upon us, I expressed my opinion to General Porter, who, agreeing with me, directed the immediate recrossing of the troops. Lovell and Warren effected the movement in excellent order and without loss. Colonel Warren, on regaining the Maryland side, threw his brigade behind the embankment of the canal, and occupied it until relieved the following day.
In all these operations my batteries under Weed, Randol, and Van Reed did most excellent service. Captain Weed was especially active and distinguished as usual. My acting brigadiers, Colonels Buchanan and Warren and Major Lovell, were ever zealous and vigilant. The two latter in a very delicate position on the 20th handled their troops with great skill and success.
I desire to call the attention of the major-general to the services of Captains Dryer, Fourth Infantry, Poland, Second Infantry, and Carlton, Fourth Infantry, who were in command of the advance troops on the 17th and 19th September. The two former were under a very severe fire, and with extended lines of skirmishers protected our artillery, gained ground upon the enemy, and held it until ordered to withdraw.
My personal staff, Lieut. H. Cutting, Tenth Infantry, acting assistant adjutant-general; Lieuts. James A. Snyder, Third Infantry, and George T. Ingham, Eleventh Infantry, aides-de-camp, gave me every assistance possible, and were active and zealous.
Several cases of particular merit among non-commissioned officers being mentioned by battalion commanders, I trust their claims to promotion may be regarded. This is not the first or second occasion in which they have been noticed.
I inclose the reports of brigade, regimental, and battery commanders, and unite in the recommendations therein offered.
A list of casualties accompanies this report.
I am, sir, respectfully, your obedient servant,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Division.
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