Reports of Brig. Gen. Orlando B. Willcox, U.S. Army, commanding First Division, of the battles of South Mountain and Antietam.
SEPTEMBER 3-20, 1862.-The Maryland Campaign.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XIX/1 [S# 27]
HEADQUARTERS FIRST DIVISION, NINTH ARMY CORPS,
Mouth of Antietam Creek, Md., September 21, 1862.
Lieut. Col. LEWIS RICHMOND,
SIR: I respectfully submit a report of my division for the 14th instant at South Mountain.
In compliance with orders from General Reno, we left camp, 1 miles beyond Middletown, and marched to the base of South Mountain to support General Cox's division. Communicating with General Cox, he advised me to keep my command where it was, near the main pike or Cumberland road, and consult with General Pleasonton as to taking a position. Found General Pleasonton near his batteries on the left slope of the mountain. The general indicated an attack along the slope of the mountain on the right of the main pike, and, leaving Benjamin's battery with him, I marched my division to the front, and there formed, Welsh's brigade, the One hundredth Pennsylvania, under Lieutenant Colonel Leckey, leading as skirmishers, and was about to march Christ's brigade through the woods higher up the slope, when I was ordered by General Burnside to withdraw my division and march up by the Sharps-burg road, and take up a position near Cox. Found the latter to the left of the road some few hundred yards, skirmishing on the wooded slope with the enemy. The Sharpsburg road here crosses South Mountain near a hollow called Shriver's Gap. The mountain inclines down toward the main pike, and just where the Sharpsburg road crosses the slope it winds around to the left, but up to this point it runs straight. The right of the road looks down on the main pike; the left is covered by the eastern slope of the mountain.
At General Cox's request I sent two regiments, viz, Eighth Michigan, Lieutenant-Colonel Graves, and Fiftieth Pennsylvania, Major Overton, to follow up his line, and was proceeding to take up a position on his right, when I was ordered by General Reno to take position overlooking the main pike to our right. I planted a section of Cook's battery near the turn of the road, and opened fire on enemy's battery across the main pike. After a few good shots, the enemy unmasked a battery on his left, over Shriver's Gap, from a small field enveloped by woods. He threw canister and shell, and drove Cook's cannoneers and drivers down the road with their limbers. Cook gallantly remained with his guns. Cook here lost 1 man killed, 4 wounded, and 2 horses killed. The attack was so sudden, the whole division being under this fire (a flank fire), that a temporary panic occurred until I caused the Seventy-ninth New York, Lieutenant-Colonel Morrison, and Seventeenth Michigan, Colonel Withington, on the extreme left, to draw across the road, facing the enemy, who were so close that we expected a charge to take Cook's battery. The Seventy-ninth and Seventeenth here deserve credit for their coolness and firmness in rallying and changing front under a heavy fire.
I now made a new disposition of the division, viz: The rear, Seventy-ninth up in front and left of Cook's pieces, and Seventeenth on right and little in rear; Seventy-ninth as skirmishers along whole line, supported by Forty-fifth Pennsylvania, Lieutenant-Colonel Curtin; connected Welsh's brigade with Cox's right, and stretched Christ's brigade from Welsh and across the road, holding the One hundredth Pennsylvania Volunteers, Lieutenant-Colonel Leekey, in reserve, and moved up my whole command under cover of the hillside.
Meantime the enemy's guns continued to play on us, killing and wounding at all points, but few in number. We lay silent and kept concealed. Our picket officers reported the enemy in heavy force of regiments in rear of their skirmishers.
I soon received orders from Generals Reno and McClellan to silence the enemy's battery at all hazards. Sent picket report to Reno, and was making disposition to charge, moving the Seventeenth Michigan so as to cross the hollow and flank the enemy's guns, when the enemy charged out of the woods on their side directly upon our front in a long, heavy line, extending beyond our left to Cox's right. I instantly gave the command "Forward," and we met them near the foot of the hill, the Forty-fifth Pennsylvania in front. The Seventeenth Michigan rushed down into the hollow, faced to the left, leaped over a stone fence, and took them in flank. Some of the supporting regiments over the slope of the hill fired over the heads of those in front, and after a severe contest of some minutes the enemy was repulsed, followed by our troops to the opposite slope and woods, forming their own position. Their battery in front of us was withdrawn, but the guns across the main pike played upon us heavily with shot and shell. Cook reopened his fire. Reno and Sturgis came up. The firing, except from artillery, had about ceased. Sturgis' regiments relieved my division in the front as soon as our ammunition was exhausted.
Sturgis opened with his artillery on the enemy's battery and troops across the main pike, and night came on. A large number of prisoners and the wounded were collected. After dark the enemy opened fire on Sturgis with musketry, in which the gallant and beloved Reno was killed, and a temporary confusion occurred until Sturgis' troops were handsomely rallied, and my division took position close up in their support. Still later a heavy fire of musketry opened on us, the enemy (as was learned from a prisoner) being re-enforced by a brigade of Whiting's division, and the troops were engaged until 10 o'clock, our soldiers firmly holding the ground they had won. Before 12 o'clock the enemy was in full retreat, abandoning his wounded.
In mentioning names for commendation I would say that the coolness and gallantry of the commanding officers of brigades and regiments alike shine brightly. Colonel Welsh handled his brigade handsomely, and Colonel Christ performed his duty coolly and well. The Seventeenth Michigan, Colonel Withington, performed a feat that may vie with any recorded in the annals of war, and set an example to the oldest troops. This regiment had not been organized a single month, and was composed of raw levies. Scarcely less praise is due to the Forty-fifth Pennsylvania, Lieutenant-Colonel Curtin, for its bravery and dashing spirit, meeting the enemy's charge in front in full career. Captain Cook deserves credit individually for his courage and perseverance under a disorganizing fire, for his activity in repairing the disaster to his battery, and bringing it to bear upon the enemy's infantry at the right moment. I am specially indebted to the assistance of Capt. Robert A. Hutchins, assistant adjutant-general, and to Lieut. Levi Brackett, Twenty-eighth Massachusetts, aide-de-camp, in my efforts to keep the troops in hand and changing front under fire, and for their rapid delivery of orders.
Appended is a list of casualties.
O. B. WILLCOX,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Division.
HDQRS. FIRST DIVISION, NINTH ARMY CORPS,
Mouth of Antietam Creek, Md., September 21, 1862.
SIR: I have the honor to submit my report for the 17th instant.
This division marched out of camp to the hills overlooking the Antietam, near the stone bridge, Sharpsburg road. My orders, received from General Burnside in person, were to cross over after Sturgis should have carried the bridge, and after Cox's and Rodman's divisions should have crossed. My orders then were to take the right of the corps in the attack on Sharpsburg.
After crossing the bridge, the road turns sharply to the right, runs up the stream about 200 yards, then to the left along an open hollow or ravine, which winds along to the village, overlooked by heights to the right and left. Once on the heights, the country is rolling and intersected with field fences, many of which are of stone. The enemy's sharpshooters were posted behind these fences as well as hay-stacks, which also, with orchards and corn-fields, served to conceal their lines. A battery of field guns also commanded the road and hollow down to the river, and the whole plateau above was swept by cross-fire of artillery. Christ's brigade was filed across the hollow and drawn up along the crest on the right of the road, his left, resting near the road, the Seventy-ninth New York (Highlanders), Lieutenant-Colonel Morrison command-rag, deployed as skirmishers, and the other three regiments of the brigade in line of battle. These regiments were the Fiftieth Pennsylvania, Major Overton; the Twenty-eighth Massachusetts, Captain Caraher, and Seventeenth Michigan, Colonel Withington.
The Second Brigade, under Colonel Welsh, formed on the heights to the left of the road, deploying the One hundredth Pennsylvania, Lieutenant-Colonel Leckey, as skirmishers, and forming his other three regiments in line of battle, viz: Forty-fifth Pennsylvania, Lieutenant-Colonel Curtin, on the right; Forty-sixth New York, Lieutenant-Colonel Gerhardt, in the center; Eighth Michigan, Captain Ely, on the left. I brought with the division Cook's battery, Eighth Massachusetts, and left Benjamin's battery, Second U.S. Artillery, doing good work in a commanding position across the river in our rear, against the enemy's guns on the plateau and heights in front of us.
My division now formed part of a line which Generals Burnside and Cox were commanding, and all moved forward about--o'clock. We were under fire from the moment a man appeared at the crest of the plateau or crossed the hollow. Taking two pieces of Cook's battery, under Lieutenant Coffin, I moved up the road, while the two brigades gallantly advanced over the plateau toward Sharpsburg.
The rest of Cook's battery was posted on a hill near the bridge. Crook's brigade, of Cox's division, followed in support of my line. Christ's brigade attacked a force of the enemy's infantry along his front, and drove them steadily before him. In following them up, his brigade got in advance of the rest of the line; his supports were not up. While halting, the enemy turned their battery on him from their right (our left), and for a few moments his troops were exposed to the fire of their battery, a fire of infantry from a corn-field in his front protected by a stone fence, and from a battery farther up in front, beyond the cornfield. The left coming up, soon attracted the attention of the flanking battery. Lieutenant Coffin directed his pieces on the battery beyond the corn-field, and at the same time Christ threw forward the Seventeenth Michigan, with supports, to charge the battery, seeing the guns were withdrawn.
Meantime Welsh conducted his brigade against the enemy in his front and drove them before him with the same success, his right following the crest of the hollow, gradually approaching Christ's left, so that by the time we entered Sharpsburg the greater part of my division was on the right of the road and extended across the hollow, up the side hill, and on the plateau. On this side hill was an orchard, in which a large force of the enemy was posted and firing heavily at both Welsh and Christ.
In finding a position for Coffin's two guns at the head of a lane, which turned up at the first house we passed, I was now able both to see and assist my division at every part of the ground, and Coffin threw solid shot, shell, and canister with great precision and effect into the enemy's ranks. The force in the orchard were dislodged, and fled up the hillside, followed by our fire of both infantry and artillery, and Welsh occupied the orchard.
Our musket ammunition was now exhausted. We had carried the heights of Sharpsburg, and rested partly in the town and partly on the hills. The enemy kept up a desultory fire along our line, but at a respectful distance, so that when Sturgis on the extreme left became heavily pressed, and I was ordered to withdraw to the place where my division formed near the river, every regiment marched back in perfect order. To assist the struggling left, I had already detached Coffin, with his two guns. He moved across the field to the left and rear, and opened upon the enemy within 300 yards. Here he remained, doing signal execution, until he also exhausted his ammunition and withdrew.
As Lieutenant Benjamin was detached from the division, I inclose a copy of his report separately.
I have particularly to notice the good conduct of Cols. B. C. Christ and Thomas Welsh, commanding brigades, and all the officers and men under their commands. There is no officer or man among them who cannot feel proud of having been engaged in the battle of Sharpsburg, and I recommend that all the regiments of my division be allowed to inscribe "Sharpsburg" on their colors as well as "South Mountain." I would also commend the cool, skillful, and gallant conduct of Lieutenant Benjamin and his officers and men, and the efficiency of Lieut. John N. Coffin, of Cook's battery, who, with his section, acted under my own eyes, moving up in the most dashing manner into the village, and striking with his shot on every side. He mentions his two chiefs of pieces, Sergts. William Davis and Newell B. Allen, and all his men. Of my personal staff, I have particularly to commend Capt. Robert A. Hutch-ins, assistant adjutant-general, and my aides, Lieutenant Brackett, Twenty-eighth Massachusetts Volunteers, and Lieut. James W. Romeyn, Fourth Michigan, for promptness and fearlessness in carrying orders, and Lieutenant [Orrin M.] Dearborn, aide-de-camp, also in charge of the ammunition train, for following up the command with ammunition and delivering it to all the troops of the corps at a critical time.
This report is with the supplementary battle reports. I append a list of casualties.
O. B. WILLCOX,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Division.
Itinerary of the First Division, Ninth Army Corps, September 1-October 31, 1862.
September 1, division left camp west of Centreville, Va., proceeding toward Fairfax, and met the enemy at Chantilly about 5 p.m. A severe engagement ensued, lasting until after dark, in which the enemy were driven from the field. Brig. Gen. Isaac I. Stevens, commanding the division, was killed, bearing the colors of the Seventy-ninth New York Volunteers, which he took up after two color-sergeants had been shot. On the death of General Stevens, Col. Benjamin C. Christ, Fiftieth Pennsylvania Volunteers, took command, and remained in charge until relieved by Brig. Gen. O. B. Willcox. Division remained on the battlefield during the night.
September 2, marched to Alexandria.
September 4, marched at 9 p.m., crossed Long Bridge, and encamped on Meridian Hill, Washington, at 4 a.m. of the 5th.
September 7, struck camp at 8 a.m., marched to Leesborough, Md., 10 miles, halting at 7 p.m.
September 8, General Willcox arrived and took command of the division.
September 9, moved at 6.30 a.m., arriving at Brookville, Md., at 2 p.m.
September 10 the Seventeenth Michigan Infantry Volunteers joined the division.
September 11, moved at 5 a.m. toward New Market; encamped at Forer's Creek.
September 12, resumed march at 9 a.m., and marched to the Monocacy, within 2 miles of Frederick City.
September 13, moved at 2 p.m.; camped within 1 miles of Middletown.
September 14, division ordered to South Mountain by Boonsborough road, left of main pike, and engaged the enemy at Shriver's Gap, on the right of Cox's division. Enemy dislodged with heavy loss, and collected 1,100 stand of arms and some hundred prisoners.
September 15, marched a short distance after crossing South Mountain, and halted until 11 p.m., at which time resumed march and continued to near Porterstown.
September 16, an artillery engagement occurred, in which Benjamin's battery took part. Christ's brigade on picket duty.
September 17, division marched to Antietam Creek, crossed to the west bank by the stone bridge, and took position on Rodman's right and on both sides of road, toward Sharpsburg, and engaged the enemy at 5 p.m. Charged up the hill toward the village, broke the rebel lines, driving them in confusion from their position opposite our front, and held the position till ordered by General Burnside to fall back a short distance, holding the west bank of the Antietam, near a ford, and the road to the bridge.
September 18, remained all day in the position taken on the 17th until 5 p.m., when the division, being relieved by other troops, recrossed the Antietam.
September 19, recrossed to the west bank of the Antietam, and marched toward the Potomac, encamping within 1 mile of the Shepherdstown Ford.
September 21, Thirty-sixth Massachusetts Volunteers joined the division.
September 24, Twentieth Michigan Infantry Volunteers joined the division.
September 26, moved to east side of Antietam Creek, near Antietam Iron Works, and encamped, where the division remains, drilling and doing picket duty.
The division was stationed on October 1 at Antietam Iron Works, Md. Broke camp on the 7th and marched to Pleasant Valley. The division remained in camp at Pleasant Valley until October 26. when camp was broken, and marched to Berlin, and there crossed the Potomac River over the pontoon bridge, reaching Lovettsville, Va., the same day. Remained at Lovettsville until the 29th, when the division moved to its present station at Waterford, Va.
The several brigades of this command were ordered for a time away from their encampment during the time in Pleasant Valley, as follows:
The First Brigade was ordered to Frederick, Md., on the 11th, leaving camp equipage and baggage behind. The brigade remained at Frederick until the 15th, when it returned to Pleasant Valley.
The Second Brigade was ordered to guard fords between Knoxville and mouth of Monocacy River. Headquarters was established at Point of Rocks, Md.
The Fiftieth Pennsylvania Volunteers and one company Twentieth Michigan Volunteers, under Lieutenant-Colonel Brenholtz, were ordered to guard Mock's Ford. Nine companies of the Twentieth Michigan Volunteers and the Twenty-eighth Massachusetts Volunteers, under Colonel Williams, were stationed to guard Noland's Ferry.
On October 29 brigade moved from Point of Rocks, forded the Potomac at Heedle's Ford, and joined remainder of the division at Waterford at 5 p.m. the same day.
The Third Brigade was ordered to Frederick, Md., on October 11, leaving camp equipage and baggage behind.
On the 12th the Forty-fifth Pennsylvania and Thirty-sixth Massachusetts Volunteers, of the brigade, moved to Point of Rocks, Md. The One hundredth Pennsylvania was ordered to Monocacy Junction. The Thirty-sixth Massachusetts Regiment remained at Point of Rocks, and the Forty-fifth Pennsylvania moved to Noland's Ferry. At midnight of the 13th the One hundredth Pennsylvania, having arrived at the Point of Rocks from Monocacy Junction, was ordered to Noland's Ferry, and on the l5th all the brigade returned to camp at Pleasant Valley.
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