MILITARY REMINISCENCES OF THE CIVIL WAR
BY JACOB DOLSON COX, A.M., LL.D.
Formerly Major-General commanding Twenty-Third Army Corps
APRIL 1861--NOVEMBER 1863
ANTIETAM: THE FIGHT ON THE RIGHT
Hooker astir early--The field near the Dunker Church--Artillery combat--Positions of Hooker's divisions--Rocky ledges in the woods--Advance of
Doubleday through Miller's orchard and garden--Enemy's fire from West Wood--They rush for Gibbon's battery--Repulse--Advance of Patrick's brigade--Fierce fighting along the turnpike--Ricketts's division in the East Wood--Fresh effort of
Meade's division in the centre--A lull in the battle--Mansfield's corps reaches the field--Conflicting opinions as to the hour--Mansfield killed--Command devolves on Williams--Advance through East Wood--Hooker wounded--Meade in command of the corps--It withdraws--Greene's division reaches the Dunker Church--Crawford's in the East Wood--Terrible effects on the Confederates--Sumner's corps coming up--Its formation--It moves on the Dunker Church from the east--Divergence of the divisions--Sedgwick's passes to right of Greene--Attacked in flank and broken--Rallying at the Poffenberger hill--Twelfth Corps hanging on near the church--Advance of French's division--Richardson follows later--Bloody Lane reached--The Piper house--Franklin's corps arrives--Charge of Irwin's brigade.
Before the break of day on Wednesday the 17th, it was discovered that Doubleday's division of Hooker's corps lay exposed to artillery fire from batteries of the enemy supposed to be in position on their front and right. In rousing the men and changing their place, the stillness of the night was so far broken that the Confederates believed they were advancing to attack, and a lively cannonade and picket firing anticipated the dawn. [Footnote: R. R. Dawes, Service with the Sixth Wisconsin, p. 87.] The chance for getting their breakfast was thus destroyed, and Hooker prepared his whole command for action as soon as it should be light enough to move. Looking south from the Poffenberger farm along the turnpike, he then saw a gently rolling landscape of which the commanding point was the Dunker Church, whose white brick walls appeared on the right of the road, backed by the foliage of the West Wood, which came toward him filling a hollow that ran parallel to the turnpike, with a single row of fields between. On the east side of the turnpike was the Miller house, with its barn and stack-yard across the road to the right, and beyond these the ground dipped into a little depression. Still further on was seen a large cornfield between the East Wood and the turnpike, rising again to the higher level, and Hooker noticed the glint from a long line of bayonets beyond the corn, struck by the first rays of the rising sun. There was, however, another little hollow at the further side of the cornfield, which could not be seen from Hooker's position; and on the farthest ridge, near the church and extending across the turnpike toward the East Wood, were the Confederate lines, partly sheltered by piles of rails taken from the fences. They looked to Hooker as if they were deployed along the edge of the corn, but an open sloping field lay between the corn and them, after passing the second hollow. It was plain that the high ground about the little white church was the key of the enemy's position, and if that could be carried, Hooker's task would be well done.
The enemy's artillery had opened early from a high hill nearly east of the Miller house in a position to strike our forces in flank and rear as they should go forward, and Hooker placed batteries on the equally commanding height above Poffenberger's and detached Hofmann's brigade from Doubleday's division to support it and to prevent the enemy from turning our extreme right. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 224.] This force maintained its position during the day, and was the nucleus about which both Hooker's and Sedgwick's men rallied after their fight. The enemy's artillery referred to were several batteries under Stuart's command supported by his cavalry and by Early's brigade of infantry which Jackson detached for that purpose. [Footnote: Official Records vol. xix. pt. i. p. 819.]
Doubleday's division (except Hofmann), was in two lines, Gibbon's and Phelps's in front, supported by Patrick's. Of Meade's division
Seymour's brigade, which had sustained the combat of the evening before, had continued to cover the front with skirmishers during the night, and remained on the northeast side of the East Wood. The other brigades (Anderson and Magilton) were placed in reserve behind Doubleday. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 269.] The Tenth Regiment Pennsylvania Reserves was sent from Anderson's to a strong position west of the turnpike near the extremity of the strip of wood northwest of the Miller house. It was among ledges of rock looking into the ravine beyond which were Stuart and Early. The ravine was the continuation northward to the Potomac of a little watercourse which headed near the Dunker Church and along one side of which the West Wood lay, the outcrop of rock making broken ledges along its whole length. Indeed, all the pieces of wood in the neighborhood seemed to be full of such rocks, and for that reason had been allowed to remain in forest. The regiment was ordered to cover its front with skirmishers and to hold its position at all hazards. Ricketts's division had bivouacked in a wood east of Doubleday's. Its three brigades (Duryea's, Hartsuff's, and Christian's) were deployed on the left of Doubleday, and were to march toward the Dunker Church through the East Wood, passing the line of Seymour's brigade, which was then to become its support.
The Confederates opened a rapid artillery fire from the open ground in front of the Dunker Church as well as from Stuart's position, and Hooker answered the challenge by an immediate order for his line to advance. Doubleday directed Gibbon, who was on the right, to guide upon the turnpike. Patrick remained for a time in the wood north of the Miller house, till he should be needed at the front. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 224.] Doubleday and his brigade commanders seem to have supposed that Meade's men occupied part at least of the West Wood, and that they would cover Gibbon's flank as he advanced. This belief was based on the stationing of the Tenth Pennsylvania Reserves; but that regiment was fifteen or twenty rods north of the northern end of the West Wood, and Gibbon's right flank, as he advanced, was soon exposed to attack from Ewell's division (Lawton in command), which held the wood, hidden from view and perfectly protected by the slope of the ground and the forest, as they looked over the rim into the undulating open fields in front. Part of Battery B, Fourth United States Artillery (Gibbon's own battery), was run forward to Miller's barn and stack-yard on the right of the road, and fired over the heads of the advancing regiments. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 229, 248.] Other batteries were similarly placed, more to the left, and our cannon roared from all the hill crests encircling the field. The line moved swiftly forward through Miller's orchard and kitchen garden, breaking through a stout picket fence on the near side, down into the moist ground of the hollow, and up through the corn which was higher than their heads and shut out everything from view. [Footnote: Dawes, Sixth Wisconsin, p. 88.] At the southern side of the field they came to a low fence, beyond which was the open field already mentioned, and the enemy's line at the further side of it. But the cornfield only covered part of the line, and Gibbon's right had outmarched the left, which had been exposed to a terrible fire. The direction taken had been a little oblique, so that the right wing of the Sixth Wisconsin (the flanking regiment) had crossed the turnpike and was suddenly assailed by a sharp fire from the West Wood on its flank. They swung back into the road, lying down along the high, stout post-and-rail fence, keeping up their fire by shooting between the rails. [Footnote: Dawes, Sixth Wisconsin, p. 89.]
Leaving this little band to protect their right, the main line, which had come up on the left, leaped the fence at the south edge of the cornfield, and charged up hill across the open at the enemy in front. But the concentrated fire of artillery and musketry was more than they could bear. Men fell by scores and hundreds, and the thinned lines gave way and ran for the shelter of the corn. They were rallied in the hollow on the north side of the field. The enemy had rapidly extended his left under cover of the West Wood, and now made a dash at the right flank and at Gibbon's exposed guns. His men on the right faced by that flank and followed him bravely, though with little order, in a dash at the Confederates who were swarming out of the wood. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 91.] The gunners double-charged the cannon with canister, and under a terrible fire of artillery and rifles Lawton's division broke and sought shelter. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 248.]
Patrick's brigade had now come up in support of Gibbon, and was sent across the turnpike into the West Wood to cover that flank, two regiments of Gibbon's going with him. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 243.] His men pushed forward, the enemy retiring, until they were in advance of the principal line in the cornfield upon which the Confederates of Jackson's division were now marching to attack. Patrick faced his brigade to the left, parallel to the edge of the wood and to the turnpike, and poured his fire into the flank of the enemy, following it by a charge through the field and up to the fence along the road. Again the Confederates were driven back, but their left came forward in the wood again, attacking Patrick's right, forcing him to resume his original direction of front and to retire to the cover of a rocky ledge in the open at right angles to the turnpike not far from the northern end of the timber. Phelps's brigade had gone forward with Gibbon's, pushing nearly to the Confederate lines, and being driven back with great loss when they charged over open ground against the enemy.
Ricketts's division advanced from the wood in which it had spent the night, passed through Seymour's skirmishers and entered the East Wood, swinging his left forward as he went. This grove was open, but the rocks made perfect cover for Jackson's men, and every stone and tree blazed with deadly fire. Hartsuff endeavored to reconnoitre the ground, but was wounded and disabled immediately. Ricketts pushed on, suffering fearfully from an enemy which in open order could fall back from rock to rock and from tree to tree with little comparative loss. He succeeded at last in reaching the west edge of this wood, forming along the road and fences that were just within its margin. Here he kept up a rapid fire till his ammunition was exhausted. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 258.]
When Doubleday's men had been finally repulsed, our line on the right curved from the ledge where Patrick took refuge, forward in front of Miller's orchard and garden, part of Gibbon's men lying down along the turnpike fence facing to the west. Meade's two brigades in reserve were sent forward, but when they reached Gibbon and Phelps, Ricketts was calling for assistance in the East Wood and Magilton's brigade was sent to him, leaving a gap on the left of Anderson. Another gallant effort was now made, Seymour's depleted brigade striving to cover the opening, but the enemy dashed at it as Anderson came up the slope, and the left being taken in flank, the whole broke again to the rear. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 269, 270.] Ricketts's right was also imperilled, and he withdrew his exhausted lines to reorganize and to fill their empty cartridge-boxes. There was a lull in the battle, and the combatants on both sides were making desperate efforts to reform their broken regiments.
Mansfield had called the Twelfth Corps to arms at the first sound of Hooker's battle and marched to his aid. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 475.] It consisted of two divisions, Williams's and Greene's, the first of two and the other of three brigades. There were a number of new and undrilled regiments in the command, and in hastening to the front in columns of battalions in mass, proper intervals for deployment had not been preserved, and time was necessarily lost before the troops could be put in line. Indeed, some of them were not regularly deployed at all. They had left their bivouac at sunrise which, as it was about the equinox, was not far from six o'clock. They had marched across the country without reference to roads, always a very slow mode of advancing, and doubly so with undrilled men. The untrained regiments must, in the nature of things, have been very much like a mob when their so-called columns-in-mass approached the field of battle. It is impossible to reconcile the statements of the reports as to the time they became engaged. General Williams says they were engaged before seven o'clock. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 476.] General Meade says they relieved his men not earlier than ten or eleven. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 270.] It seems to be guesswork in both cases, and we are forced to judge from circumstantial evidence. Ricketts thinks he had been fighting four hours when he retired for lack of ammunition, and the Twelfth Corps men had not yet reached him. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 259.] Patrick, on the extreme right, says that his men had made their coffee in the lull after his retreat to the sheltering ledge of rocks, and had completed their breakfast before the first of Mansfield's men joined him there. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 244.] The circumstantial details given by several officers make the interval between the attack by the Twelfth Corps and the arrival of Sumner a very short one. It may be regarded as probable, therefore, that Hooker's battle covered the larger part of the time between six o'clock and the arrival of Sumner at about ten.
On reaching the field, Mansfield had a brief consultation with Hooker, resulting in his ordering Williams to form his division nearly as Doubleday's had been, and to advance with his right upon the turnpike. He himself led forward the left of Crawford's brigade, which was the first to arrive, and pushed toward the East Wood. The regiments were still in columns of companies, and though Williams had ordered them deployed, the corps commander himself, as Crawford says, countermanded this order and led them under fire in column. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 484.] He evidently believed Ricketts's men to be still holding the East Wood, and tried to keep his own from opening fire upon the troops that were seen there. At this moment he was mortally wounded, before the deployment was made.
General Alpheus S. Williams, on whom the command devolved, was a cool and experienced officer. He hastened the deployment of Crawford's and Gordon's brigades of his own division, sending one of the new and large regiments to assist the Pennsylvania regiment in holding the important position covering the right beyond the turnpike. As Greene's division came up, he ordered him to form beyond Gordon's left, and when deployed to move on the Dunker Church through the East Wood, guiding his left by the cloud of smoke from the Mumma house, which had been set on fire by D. H. Hill's men. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 475, 1033.] At Doubleday's request, he detached Goodrich's brigade from Greene, and sent it to Patrick on the right with orders to advance into the West Wood from its northern extremity. Patrick says the regiments came separately and at considerable intervals, [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 244.] and it is not unlikely that the older regiments were sent in to relieve Hooker's men as fast as they were ready, and the more disorganized ones were obliged to delay till they could be got into some sort of shape. Williams made his first disposition of his troops according to Hooker's suggestion, but the latter received a serious wound in the foot, as it would seem, before the attack by the Twelfth Corps had begun. Hooker turned over the command to Meade, and a formal order confirming this was issued from McClellan's head-quarters later in the day. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. ii. p. 315.]
So many of the regiments were carried under fire while still in column that not only was the formation of the line an irregular one, but the deployment when made was more diagonal to the turnpike than Hooker's had been, and the whole line faced more to the westward. But they advanced with a courage equal to the heroism already shown on that field. The Confederates who now held the open space at the Dunker Church were Hood's two brigades, and the rest of Jackson's corps extended into the West Wood. Stuart had found his artillery position on the hill too far from Jackson's line, and the fighting was so near the church that he could not fire upon our men without hurting his own. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. i. p. 820.] He therefore moved further to the south and west, and Early carried his brigade (except the Thirteenth Virginia) back toward Ewell's division, which now came under his command by the disabling of General Lawton in the fight. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 968, 969.]
Williams's first line was a good deal shortened, and the divisions, guiding as well as they could upon Greene, crowded so far to the south that even Crawford's brigade, which was on the right of all, went partly through the East Wood advancing on a line nearly at right angles to the turnpike. The enemy had followed Ricketts's retiring battalions and were again in occupation of the East Wood. His work was to be done over again, though the stubborn courage of Hood's depleted brigades could not make up for the numbers which the National officers now led against him. But the rocks, the ledges, and the trees still gave him such cover that it was at a fearful cost that the Twelfth Corps men pushed him steadily back and then by a final rush drove him from the roads which skirted the grove on west and south. What was left of Jackson's corps except Early's brigade had come out of the West Wood to meet Crawford's division, and the stout high fences along the turnpike were the scene of frightful slaughter. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. pp. 485, 487.] The Confederates tried to climb them, but the level fire of our troops swept over the field so that the top of the fence seemed in the most deadly line of the leaden storm, and the men in gray fell in windrows along its panels. Our own men were checked by the same obstacle, and lay along the ground shooting between the rails and over the fallen bodies of the Confederate soldiers which made a sort of rampart.
In obedience to his original orders, Greene took ground a little more to his left, occupying a line along a fence from the burning Mumma house to the road leading from the East Wood directly to the Dunker Church. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 505.] The two brigades with thinned ranks barely filled this space, and Crawford's division connected with them as well as it could. Batteries came forward on Greene's left and right, and helped to sweep the grove around the church. Hill attempted to hold him back, and a bold dash was made at Greene, probably by Hill's left brigades which were ordered forward to support Hood. Greene's men lay on the ground just under the ridge above the burning house till the enemy were within a few rods of them, then rose and delivered a volley which an eyewitness (Major Crane, Seventh Ohio) says cut them down "like grass before the mower." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 506.] Those who escaped sought refuge in the wood behind the church, where the crowning ridge is some distance back from the road. Greene now dashed forward and gained the grove immediately about the church, where he held on for an hour or two. Crawford's division, after several ebbs and flows in the tide of battle, was holding the western skirt of the East wood with one or two of its regiments still close to the turnpike fence on his right.
Meanwhile Goodrich had been trying to advance from the north end of the West Wood to attack the flank of the enemy there; but Early with his own brigade held the ledges along the ravine so stubbornly that he was making little progress.
Greene was calling for support about the Dunker Church, for he was close under the ridge on which Hill and Jackson were forming such line as they could, and he was considerably in advance of our other troops. Williams withdrew one regiment from Goodrich's brigade and sent it to Greene, and directed Crawford to send also to him the Thirteenth New Jersey, a new and strong regiment which had been left in reserve, as we have seen, in a bit of wood northeast of the field of battle. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 476, 505.] Gordon's brigade was withdrawn by Crawford to enable it to reorganize in rear of the East Wood, and Crawford's own brigade held the further margin of it. It will thus be seen that the Twelfth Corps was now divided into three portions,--Greene's division at the church, Crawford's in the East Wood, and Goodrich's brigade near the north end of the West Wood.
Meade had withdrawn the First Corps to the ridge at Poffenberger's, where it had bivouacked the night before, except that Patrick's brigade remained in support of Goodrich. The corps had suffered severely, having lost 2470 in killed and wounded, but it was still further depleted by straggling, so that Meade reported less than 7000 men with the colors that evening. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. ii. p. 349.] Its organization had been preserved, however, and the story that it was utterly dispersed was a mistake. The Twelfth Corps also had its large list of casualties, increased a little later by its efforts to support Sumner, and aggregating, before the day was over, 1746.
But the fighting of Hooker's and Mansfield's men, though lacking unity of force and of purpose, had also cost the enemy dear. J. R. Jones, who commanded Jackson's division, had been wounded; Starke, who succeeded Jones, was killed; Lawton, who commanded Ewell's division, was wounded. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. i. p. 956.] Lawton's and Trimble's brigades had been fearfully crippled in the first fight against Hooker on the plateau between the Dunker Church and the East Wood, and Hood was sent back to relieve them. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 923.] He, in turn, had been reinforced by the brigades of Ripley, Colquitt, and McRae (Garland's) from D. H. Hill's division. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 1022.] When Greene reached the Dunker Church, therefore, the Confederates on that wing were more nearly disorganized than our own troops. Nearly half their numbers were killed and wounded, and Jackson's famous "Stonewall" division was so completely broken up that only a handful of men under Colonels Grigsby and Stafford remained, and attached themselves to Early's command. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 969.] Of the division now under Early, his own brigade was all that retained much strength, and this, posted among the rocks in the West Wood and vigorously supported by Stuart and the artillery on that flank, was all that covered the left of Lee's army. Could Hooker and Mansfield have attacked together, or, still better, could Sumner's Second Corps have marched before day and united with the first onset, Lee's left must inevitably have been crushed long before the Confederate divisions of McLaws, Walker, and A. P. Hill could have reached the field. It is this failure to carry out any intelligible plan which the historian must regard as the unpardonable military fault on the National side. To account for the hours between daybreak and eight o'clock on that morning, is the most serious responsibility of the National commander. [Footnote: A distinguished officer (understood to be Gen. R. R. Dawes) who visited the field in 1866 has published the statement that at the Pry house, where McClellan had his headquarters, he was informed that on the morning of the 17th the general rose at about seven o'clock and breakfasted leisurely after that hour. (Marietta, Ohio, Sentinel.)]
Sumner's Second Corps was now approaching the scene of action, or rather two divisions of it, Sedgwick's and French's, for Richardson's was still delayed till his place could be filled by Porter's troops. Although ordered to be ready to move at daybreak, Sumner emphasizes in his report the fact that whilst his command was prepared to move at the time ordered, he "did not receive from headquarters the order to march till 7.20 A. M." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 275.] By the time he could reach the field, Hooker had fought his battle and had been repulsed. The same strange tardiness in sending orders is noticeable in regard to every part of the army, and Richardson was not relieved so that he could follow French till an hour or two later. [Footnote: _Ibid_.]
Sumner advanced, after crossing the Antietam, in a triple column, Sedgwick's division in front, the three brigades marching by the right flank and parallel to each other. French followed in the same formation. They crossed the Antietam by Hooker's route, but did not march so far to the northwest as Hooker had done. On the way Sumner met Hooker, who was being carried from the field, and the few words he could exchange with the wounded general were enough to make him feel the need of haste, but not enough to give him any clear idea of the situation. When the centre of the corps was opposite the Dunker Church, and nearly east of it, the change of direction was given; the troops faced to their proper front, and advanced in line of battle in three lines, fully deployed and sixty or seventy yards apart, Sumner himself being in rear of Sedgwick's first line and near its left. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 305.] As they approached the position held by Greene's division at the church, French kept on so as to form on Greene's left, [Footnote: _Id_., p. 323.] but Sedgwick, under Sumner's immediate leading, diverged somewhat to the right, passing through the East Wood, crossing the turnpike on the right of Greene and of the Dunker Church, and plunged into the West Wood. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 305.] The fences there had been destroyed by the Confederates before the battle began, for the purpose of making room for their own manoeuvres as well as to make barricades in front of the cornfield. Sedgwick's right did not extend far enough north to be obstructed by the fences where the Twelfth Corps men had lain along them in repulsing Jackson. When he entered the wood, there were absolutely no Confederate troops in front of him. The remnants of Jackson's men, except Early's brigade, were clustered at the top of the ridge immediately in front of Greene, and Early was further to the right, opposing Goodrich and Patrick; Early, however, made haste under cover of the woods to pass around Sedgwick's right and to get in front of him to oppose his progress. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 970.] This led to a lively skirmishing fight in which Early was making as great a demonstration as possible, but with no chance of solid success. Sedgwick pushed him back, and his left was coming obliquely into the open at the bottom of the hollow beyond the wood, when, at the very moment, McLaws's and Walker's Confederate divisions came upon the field. The former had only just arrived by rapid marching from Shepherdstown beyond the Potomac; the latter had been hastily called away by Lee from his position on the lower Antietam opposite the left wing of Burnside's Ninth Corps. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. pp. 857, 914.]
Walker charged headlong upon the left flank of Sedgwick's lines, and McLaws, passing by Walker's left, also threw his division diagonally upon the already broken and retreating brigades. Taken at such a disadvantage, these had never a chance; and in spite of the heroic bravery of Sumner and Sedgwick with most of their officers (Sedgwick being severely wounded), the division was driven off to the north with terrible losses, carrying along in their rout Goodrich's brigade of the Twelfth Corps which had been holding Early at bay. Goodrich was killed, and his brigade suffered hardly less than the others. Patrick's brigade of Hooker's corps was in good order at the rocky ledges north of the West Wood which are at right angles to the turnpike, and he held on stubbornly till the disorganized troops drifted past his left, and then made an orderly retreat in line toward the Poffenberger hill. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 245.] Meade was already there with the remnants of Hooker's men. Here some thirty cannon of both corps were quickly concentrated, and, supported by everything which retained organization, easily checked the pursuers and repulsed all efforts of Jackson and Stuart to resume the offensive or to pass between them and the Potomac. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 306.]
Sumner did not accompany the routed troops to this position, but as soon as it was plain that the division could not be rallied, he galloped off to put himself in communication with French and with headquarters of the army and to try to retrieve the situation. From the flag station east of the East Wood he signalled to McClellan, "Reinforcements are badly wanted; our troops are giving way." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 134.] Williams was in that part of the field, and Sumner sent a staff officer to him ordering that he should push forward to Sedgwick's support anything he could. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 477.] Williams in person ordered Gordon's brigade to advance, for this, as we have seen, had been reorganized behind the East Wood. He sent the same order to Crawford for the rest of that division. Crawford had withdrawn his men in the East Wood to let Sedgwick pass diagonally along his front, and now advanced again to the west margin of the grove. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 485.] Gordon was ahead of him in time and further to the right, and again charged up to the turnpike fences. But the routed troops were already swarming from the wood across his front, and their pursuers were charging after them. Again the turnpike was made the scene of a bloody conflict, and the bodies of many more of the slain of both armies were added to those which already lined those fences. Gordon's men were overpowered and fell back in the direction they had come. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 495.] The enemy's attack spread out toward Greene and toward Crawford, who was now at the edge of the East Wood again; but both of these held firm, and a couple of batteries on the rise of ground in front poured canister into the enemy till he took refuge again in the wood beyond the church. It was between nine and ten o'clock, probably about ten, [Footnote: The reports on the Confederate side fix ten o'clock as the time McLaws and Walker reached the field, and corroborate the conclusion I draw from all other available evidence.] when Sumner entered the West Wood, and in fifteen minutes or a little more the one-sided combat was over.
Sumner's principal attack was made, as I have already indicated, at right angles to that of Hooker. He had thus crossed the line of Hooker's movement in both the advance and the retreat of the latter. This led to some misconceptions on Sumner's part. Crawford's division had retired to the right and rear to make way for Sedgwick as he came up. It thus happened that Greene's division was the only part of the Twelfth Corps troops Sumner saw, and he led Sedgwick's men to the right of these. Ignorant as he necessarily was of what had occurred before, he assumed that he formed on the extreme right of the Twelfth Corps, and that he fronted in the same direction as Hooker had done. This misconception of the situation led him into another error. He had seen only stragglers and wounded men on the line of his own advance, and hence concluded that Hooker's Corps was completely dispersed and its division and brigade organizations broken up. He not only gave this report to McClellan at the time, but reiterated it later in his statement before the Committee on the Conduct of the War. [Footnote: C. W., vol. i. p. 368.] The truth was that he had marched westward more than a mile south of the Poffenberger hill where Meade was with the sadly diminished but still organized First Corps, and half that distance south of the Miller farm buildings, near which Goodrich's brigade had entered the north end of the West Wood, and in front of which part of Williams's men had held the ground along the turnpike till they were relieved by Sedgwick's advance. Sedgwick had gone in, therefore, between Greene and Crawford, and the four divisions of the two corps alternated in their order from left to right, thus: French, Greene, Sedgwick, Crawford, the last being Williams's, of which Crawford was in command.
It was not Sumner's fault that he was so ill-informed of the actual situation on our right; but it is plain that in the absence of McClellan from that part of the field he should have left the personal leadership of the men to the division commanders, and should himself have found out by rapid examination the positions of all the troops operating there. It was his part to combine and give intelligent direction to the whole, instead of charging forward at haphazard with Sedgwick's division. Both Meade and Williams had men enough in hand to have joined in a concerted movement with him; and had he found either of those officers before plunging into the West Wood, he would not have taken a direction which left his flank wholly exposed, with the terrible but natural results which followed. The original cause of the mischief, however, was McClellan's failure to send Sumner to his position before daybreak, so that the three corps could have acted together from the beginning of Hooker's attack.
But we must return to Sumner's divisions, which were advancing nearer the centre. The battle on the extreme right was ended by ten o'clock in the morning, and there was no more serious fighting north of the Dunker Church. The batteries on the Poffenberger hill and those about the East Wood swept the open ground and the cornfield over which Hooker and Mansfield had fought, and for some time Greene was able to make good his position at the church. The Confederates were content to hold the line of the West Wood and the high ground back of the church, and French's attack upon D. H. Hill was now attracting their attention. French advanced toward Greene's left, over the open farm lands, and after a fierce combat about the Rullett and Clipp farm buildings, drove Hill's division from them. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 323.] At what time the Confederates made a rush at Greene and drove him back to the edge of the East Wood is uncertain; but it must have been soon after the disaster to Sedgwick. It seems to have been an incident of the aggressive movement against Sedgwick, though not coincident with it. It must certainly have been before French's advance reached the Rullett and Clipp houses, for the enemy's men holding them would have been far in rear of Greene at the church, and he must by that time have been back near the burnt house of Mumma and the angle of the East Wood. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 505. Greene says that he held the ground at the church for two hours, and that his men were in action from 6.30 A. M. to 1.30 P. M. The length of time and hours of the day are so irreconcilable as given in different reports that we are forced to trust more to the general current of events than to the time stated.]
Richardson's division followed French after an hour or two, [Footnote:
Hancock says the division crossed the Antietam about 9.30. Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 277.] and then, foot by foot, field by field, from fence to fence, and from hill to hill, the enemy was pressed back, till the sunken road, since known as "Bloody Lane," was in our hands, piled full of the Confederate dead who had defended it with their lives. Richardson had been mortally wounded, and Hancock had been sent from Franklin's corps to command the division. Colonel Barlow had been conspicuous in the thickest of the fight, and after a series of brilliant actions had been carried off desperately wounded. On the Confederate side equal courage and a magnificent tenacity had been exhibited. Men who had fought heroically in one position no sooner found themselves free from the struggle of an assault than they were hurried away to repeat their exertions, without even a breathing-spell, on another part of the field. They exhausted their ammunition, and still grimly held crests, as Longstreet tells us, with their bayonets, but without a single cartridge in their boxes. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 840.] The story of the fight at this part of the field is simpler than that of the early morning, for there was no such variety in the character of the ground or in the tactics of the opposing forces. It was a sustained advance with continuous struggle, sometimes ebbing a moment, then gaining, but with the organization pretty well preserved and the lines kept fairly continuous on both sides. Our men fought their way up to the Piper house, near the turnpike, and that position marks the advance made by our centre. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 279.] The crest of the ridge on which the
Hagerstown turnpike runs had been secured from Piper's north to Miller's, and it was held until the Confederate retreat on the 19th.
The head of Franklin's Corps (the Sixth) had arrived about ten o'clock, and had taken the position near the Sharpsburg bridge, which Sumner had occupied in the night. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 376.] Before noon Smith's and
Slocum's divisions were both ordered to Sumner's assistance. As they passed by the farm buildings in front of the East Wood, the enemy made a dash at Greene and French. Smith ordered forward Irwin's brigade to their support, and Irwin charged gallantly, driving the assailants back to the cover of the woods about the church. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 402, 409.] Franklin's men then formed under the crest already mentioned, from "Bloody Lane" by the Clipp, Rullett, and Mumma houses to the East Wood and the ridge in front. The aggressive energy of both sides seemed exhausted. French and Richardson's battle may be considered as ended at one or two o'clock. There was no fighting later but that on the extreme left, where Burnside's Ninth Corps was engaged, and we must turn our attention to that part of the field.