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 LEFT
Ninth Corps positions near Antietam Creek--Rodman's division at lower ford--Sturgis's at the bridge--Burnside's headquarters on the field--View from his place of the battle on the right--French's fight--An exploding caisson--Our orders to attack--The hour--Crisis of the battle--Discussion of the sequence of events--The Burnside bridge--Exposed approach--Enfiladed by enemy's artillery--Disposition of enemy's troops--His position very strong--Importance of Rodman's movement by the ford--The fight at the bridge--Repulse--Fresh efforts--Tactics of the assault--Success--Formation on further bank--Bringing up ammunition--Willcox relieves Sturgis--The latter now in support--Advance against Sharpsburg--Fierce combat--Edge of the town reached--Rodman's advance on the left--A. P. Hill's Confederate division arrives from
Harper's Ferry--Attacks Rodman's flank--A raw regiment breaks--The line retires--Sturgis comes into the gap--Defensive position taken and held--Enemy's assaults repulsed--Troops sleeping on their arms--McClellan's reserve--Other troops not used--McClellan's idea of Lee's force and plans--Lee's retreat--The terrible casualty lists.
We have seen that the divisions of the Ninth Corps were conducted by staff officers of Burnside's staff to positions that had been indicated by McClellan and marked by members of his staff. The morning of Wednesday the 17th broke fresh and fair. The men were astir at dawn, getting breakfast and preparing for a day of battle. The artillery fire which opened Hooker's battle on the right spread along the whole line, and the positions which had been assigned us in the dusk of evening were found to be exposed, in some places, to the direct fire of the Confederate guns. Rodman's division suffered more than the others, Fairchild's brigade alone reporting thirty-six casualties before they could find cover. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 451.] My own tents had been pitched at the edge of a little grove of forest trees, and the headquarters mess was at breakfast at sunrise when the cannonade began. The rapid explosion of shrapnel about us hastened our morning meal; the tents were struck and loaded upon the wagons, horses were saddled, and everything made ready for the contingencies of the day. It was not till seven o'clock that orders came to advance toward the creek as far as could be done without exposing the men to unnecessary loss. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 424.] Rodman was directed to acquaint himself with the situation of the ford in front of him, and Sturgis to seek the best means of approach to the stone bridge. All were then to remain in readiness to obey further orders.
When these arrangements had been made, I rode to the position Burnside had selected for himself, which was upon a high knoll northeast of the Burnside bridge, near a haystack which was a prominent landmark. Near by was Benjamin's battery of twenty-pounder Parrotts, and a little further still to the right, on the same ridge,
General Sturgis had sent in Durell's battery. [Footnote: _Ibid_.] These were exchanging shots with the enemy's guns opposite, and had the advantage in range and weight of metal. At this point I remained until the order for our attack came, later in the day. We anxiously watched what we could see at the right, and noted the effect of the fire of the heavy guns of Benjamin's battery. We could see nothing distinctly that occurred beyond the Dunker Church, for the East and West Woods with farm-houses and orchards between made an impenetrable screen. A column of smoke stood over the burning Mumma house, marking plainly its situation.
As the morning wore on, we saw lines of troops advancing from our right upon the other side of the Antietam, and engaging the enemy between us and the East Wood. The Confederate lines facing them now also rose into view. From our position we looked, as it were, down between the opposing lines as if they had been the sides of a street, and as the fire opened we saw wounded men carried to the rear and stragglers making off. Our lines halted, and we were tortured with anxiety as we speculated whether our men would charge or retreat. The enemy occupied lines of fences and stone walls, and their batteries made gaps in the National ranks. Our long-range guns were immediately turned in that direction, and we cheered every well-aimed shot. One of our shells blew up a caisson close to the Confederate line. This contest was going on, and it was yet uncertain which would succeed, when one of McClellan's staff rode up with an order to Burnside. The latter turned to me, saying we were ordered to make our attack. I left the hill-top at once to give personal supervision to the movement ordered, and did not return to it. My knowledge by actual vision of what occurred on the right ceased.
The question at what hour Burnside received this order, has been warmly disputed. The manner in which we had waited, the free discussion of what was occurring under our eyes and of our relation to it, the public receipt of the order by Burnside in the usual and business-like form, all forbid the supposition that this was any reiteration of a former order. [Footnote: I leave this as originally written, although the order itself has since come to light; for the discussion of the circumstantial evidence may be useful in determining the value of McClellan's report of 1863 where it differs in other respects from his original report of 1862 and from other contemporaneous documents.
ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, September 17, 1862,--9.10 A. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL BURNSIDE: GENERAL,--General Franklin's command is within one mile and a half of here. General McClellan desires you to open your attack. As soon as you shall have uncovered the upper stone bridge you will be supported, and, if necessary, on your own line of attack. So far all is going well.
Respectfully, GEO. D. RUGGLES, Colonel, etc."
This order appears in the supplementary volume of the Official Records, vol. li. pt. i. p. 844. From Pry's house, where McClellan's headquarters were that day, to Burnside's, was over two miles as the crow flies. This establishes the accuracy of the original reports of both, which stated the hour of receipt at ten o'clock. It corroborates also the time of Franklin's arrival on the field, and the connection of this with Burnside's advance.] If then we can determine whose troops we saw engaged, we shall know something of the time of day; for there has been a general agreement reached as to the hours of movement of Sumner's divisions during the forenoon on the right and right centre. The official map settles this. No lines of our troops were engaged in the direction of Bloody Lane and the Rullett farm-house, and between the latter and our station on the hill, till French's division made its attack. We saw them distinctly on the hither side of the farm buildings, upon the open ground, considerably nearer to us than the Dunker Church or the East Wood. In number we took them to be a corps. The place, the circumstances, all fix it beyond controversy that they were French's men or French's and Richardson's. No others fought on that part of the field until Franklin went to their assistance at noon or later. The incident of their advance and the explosion of the caisson was illustrated by the pencil of Mr. Forbes on the spot, and was placed by him at the time Franklin's head of column was approaching from the direction of Rohrersville, which was about ten o'clock. [Footnote: Forbes's sketch is reproduced in "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War," vol. ii. p. 647, and is of historical importance in connection with the facts stated above.]
It seems now very clear that about ten o'clock in the morning was the great crisis in this battle. The sudden and complete rout of Sedgwick's division was not easily accounted for, and, with McClellan's theory of the enormous superiority of Lee's numbers, it looked as if the Confederate general had massed overwhelming forces on our right. Sumner's notion that Hooker's corps was utterly dispersed was naturally accepted, and McClellan limited his hopes to holding on at the East Wood and the Poffenberger hill, where Hooker's batteries were massed and supported by the troops that had been rallied there. Franklin's corps, as it came on the field, was detained to support the threatened right centre, and McClellan determined to help it further by a demonstration upon the extreme left by the Ninth Corps. At this time, therefore, he gave his order to Burnside to cross the Antietam and attack the enemy, thus creating a diversion in favor of our hard-pressed right. His preliminary report of the battle (dated October 16, 1862) explicitly states that the order to Burnside to attack was "communicated to him at ten o'clock A.M." This exactly agrees with the time stated by Burnside in his official report, and would ordinarily be quite conclusive. [Footnote: See note, p. 334, _ante_. C. W., pt. i. p. 41; Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. pp. 31, 416.]
In the book published in 1864 as his official report of his whole military career, McClellan says he ordered Burnside to make this attack at eight o'clock. The circumstances under which his final published statements were made take away from them the character of a calm and judicial correction of his first report. He was then a general set aside from active service and a political aspirant to the Presidency. His book was a controversial one, issued as an argument to the public, and the earlier report must be regarded in a military point of view as the more authoritative unless good grounds are given for the changes. When he wrote his preliminary report he certainly knew the hour and the condition of affairs on the field when he gave the order to Burnside. To do so at eight o'clock would not accord with his plan of battle. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 30, 55.] His purpose had been to move the Ninth Corps against the enemy "when matters looked favorably" on our right, after an attack by Hooker,
Mansfield, and Sumner, supported, if necessary, by Franklin. But Sumner's attack was not made till after nine, and Franklin's head of column did not reach the field till ten. McClellan's book, indeed, erroneously postpones Franklin's arrival till past noon, which, if true, would tend to explain why the day wore away without any further activity on the right; but the preliminary report better agrees with Franklin's when it says that officer reached the field about an hour after Sedgwick's disaster. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. pp. 30, 61, 376.]
Still further, matters had at no time "looked favorably" on the right up to ten o'clock. The condition, therefore, which was assumed as precedent to Burnside's movement, never existed; and this was better known to McClellan than to any one else, for he received the first discouraging reports after Mansfield fell, and the subsequent alarming ones when Sedgwick was routed. Burnside's report was dated on the 30th of September, within two weeks of the battle, and at a time when public discussion of the incomplete results of the battle was animated. It was made after he had in his hands my own report as his immediate subordinate, in which I had given about nine o'clock as my remembrance of the time. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 424.] As I directed the details of the action at the bridge in obedience to this order, it would have been easy for him to have accepted the hour named by me, for I should have been answerable for any delay in execution after that time. But he then had in his possession the order which came to him upon the hill-top overlooking the field, and no officer in the whole army has a better established reputation for candor and freedom from any wish to avoid full personal responsibility for his acts. It was not till his report was published in the Official Records (1887) [Footnote: _Id_., p. 416.] that I saw it or learned its contents, although I enjoyed his personal friendship down to his death. He was content to have stated the fact as he knew it, and did not feel the need of debating it. The circumstances have satisfied me that his accuracy in giving the hour was greater than my own. [Footnote: Upon reflection, I think it probable that the order from McClellan was read to me, and that I thus got the hour of its date connected in my mind with the beginning of our attack.]
It will not be wondered at, therefore, if to my mind the story of the eight o'clock order is an instance of the way in which an erroneous recollection is based upon the desire to make the facts accord with a theory. The actual time must have been as much later than nine o'clock as the period during which, with absorbed attention, we had been watching the battle on the right,--a period, it is safe to say, much longer than it seemed to us. The judgment of the hour which I gave in my report was merely my impression from passing events, for I hastened at once to my own duties without thinking to look at my watch; whilst the cumulative evidence seems to prove, conclusively, that the time stated by Burnside, and by McClellan himself in his original report, is correct. The order, then, to Burnside to attack was not sent at eight o'clock, but reached him at ten; it was not sent to follow up an advantage gained by Hooker and Sumner, but to create, if possible, a strong diversion in favor of the imperilled right wing when the general outlook was far from reassuring.
McClellan truly said, in his original report, that the task of carrying the bridge in front of Burnside was a difficult one. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 31.] The hill on which I have placed the station of General Burnside was the bolder and more prominent crest of the line of hills which skirted the Antietam on the east, and was broken by depressions here and there, through which the country roads ran down to the stream. Such a hollow was just at the south of Burnside's position at the haystack on the Rohrback farm. In rear of him and a little lower down were the farm buildings, and from these a road ran down the winding hollow to the Antietam, but reached the stream several hundred yards below the bridge. Following the road, therefore, it was necessary to turn up stream upon the narrow space between the hills and the water, without any cover from the fire of the enemy on the opposite side. The bluffs on that side were wooded to the water's edge, and were so steep that the road from the bridge could not go up at right angles to the bank, but forked both ways and sought the upper land by a more gradual ascent to right and left. The fork to the right ran around a shoulder of the hill into a ravine which there reaches the Antietam, and thence ascends by an easy grade toward Sharpsburg. The left branch of the road rises by a similar but less marked depression.
These roads were faced by stone fences, and the depth of the valley and its course made it impossible to reach the enemy's position at the bridge by artillery fire from the hill-tops on our side. Not so from the enemy's position, for the curve of the valley was such that it was perfectly enfiladed near the bridge by the Confederate batteries at the position now occupied by the National Cemetery. The bridge itself was a stone structure of three arches with stone parapets on the sides. These curved outward at the end of the bridge to allow for the turn of the roadway. On the enemy's side, the stone fences came down close to the bridge.
The Confederate defence of the passage was intrusted to D. R. Jones's division of six brigades, [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 804.] which was the one Longstreet himself had disciplined and led till he was assigned to a larger command. Toombs's brigade was placed in advance, occupying the defences of the bridge itself and the wooded slopes above, while the other brigades supported him, covered by the ridges which looked down upon the valley. The division batteries were supplemented by others from the enemy's reserve, and the valley, the bridge, and the ford below were under the direct and powerful fire of shot and shell from the Confederate cannon. Toombs's force, thus strongly supported, was as large as could be disposed of at the head of the bridge, and abundantly large for resistance to any that could be brought against it. Our advance upon the bridge could only be made by a narrow column, showing a front of eight men at most; but the front which Toombs deployed behind his defences was three or four hundred yards both above and below the bridge. He himself says in his report: [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 890.] "From the nature of the ground on the other side, the enemy were compelled to approach mainly by the road which led up the river near three hundred paces parallel with my line of battle and distant therefrom from fifty to a hundred and fifty feet, thus exposing his flank to a destructive fire the most of that distance." Under such circumstances the Confederate position was nearly impregnable against a direct attack over the bridge; for the column approaching it was not only exposed at almost pistol-range to the perfectly covered infantry of the enemy and to two batteries which were assigned to the special duty of supporting Toombs, having the exact range of the little valley with their shrapnel; but, if it should succeed in reaching the bridge, its charge across it must be made under a fire ploughing through its length, the head of the column melting away as it advanced, so that, as every soldier knows, it could show no front strong enough to make an impression upon the enemy's breastworks, even if it should reach the other side. As a desperate sort of diversion in favor of the right wing, it might be justifiable; but I believe that no officer or man who knew the actual situation at that bridge thinks that a serious attack upon it was any part of McClellan's original plan. Yet, in his detailed report of 1863, instead of speaking of it as the difficult task the original report had called it, he treats it as little different from a parade or march across which might have been done in half an hour.
Burnside's view of the matter was that the front attack at the bridge was so difficult that the passage by the ford below must be an important factor in the task; for if Rodman's division should succeed in getting across there, at the bend of the Antietam, he would come up in rear of Toombs, and either the whole of D. R. Jones's division would have to advance to meet Rodman, or Toombs must abandon the bridge. In this I certainly concurred, and Rodman was ordered to push rapidly for the ford. It is important to remember, however, that Walker's Confederate division had been posted during the earlier morning to hold that part of the Antietam line, supporting Toombs as well, [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 914.] and it was probably from him that Rodman suffered the first casualties that occurred in his ranks. But, as we have seen, Walker had been called away by Lee only an hour before, and had made the hasty march by the rear of Sharpsburg to fall upon Sedgwick. If therefore Rodman had been sent to cross at eight o'clock, it is safe to say that his column, fording the stream in the face of Walker's deployed division, would never have reached the further bank,--a contingency that McClellan did not consider when arguing, long afterward, the favorable results that might have followed an earlier attack. As Rodman died upon the field, no full report for his division was made, and we only know that he met with some resistance from both infantry and artillery; that the winding of the stream made his march longer than he anticipated, and that, in fact, he only approached the rear of Toombs's position from that direction about the time when our last and successful charge upon the bridge was made, between noon and one o'clock.
The attacks at the Burnside bridge were made under my own eye. Sturgis's division occupied the centre of our line, with Crook's brigade of the Kanawha division on his right front, and Willcox's division in reserve, as I have already stated. Crook's position was somewhat above the bridge, but it was thought that by advancing part of Sturgis's men to the brow of the hill, they could cover the advance of Crook, and that the latter could make a straight dash down the hill to our end of the bridge. The orders were accordingly given, and Crook advanced, covered by the Eleventh Connecticut (of Rodman's) under Colonel Kingsbury, deployed as skirmishers. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. pp. 419, 424.] In passing over the spurs of the hills, Crook came out on the bank of the stream above the bridge and found himself under a heavy fire at short range. He faced the enemy and returned the fire, getting such cover for his men as he could and trying to drive off or silence his opponents. The engagement was one in which the Antietam prevented the combatants from coming to close quarters, but it was none the less vigorously continued with musketry fire. Crook reported that his hands were full and that he could not approach closer to the bridge. Later in the contest, his men, lining the stream, made experiments in trying to get over, and found a fordable place a little way above, by which he got over five companies of the Twenty-eighth Ohio at about the same time as the final and successful charge. But on the failure of Crook's first effort, Sturgis ordered forward an attacking column from Nagle's brigade, supported and covered by Ferrero's brigade, which took position in a field of corn on one of the lower slopes of the hill opposite the head of the bridge. The whole front was carefully covered with skirmishers, and our batteries on the heights overhead were ordered to keep down the fire of the enemy's artillery. Nagle's effort was gallantly made, but it failed, and his men were forced to seek cover behind the spur of the hill from which they had advanced. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 444.] We were constantly hoping to hear something from Rodman's advance by the ford, and would gladly have waited for some more certain knowledge of his progress, but at this time McClellan's sense of the necessity of relieving the right was such that he was sending reiterated orders to push the assault. Not only were these forwarded to me, but to give added weight to my instructions, Burnside sent direct to Sturgis urgent messages to carry the bridge at all hazards.
I directed Sturgis to take two regiments from Ferrero's brigade, which had not been engaged, and make a column by moving them together by the flank, the one left in front and the other right in front, side by side, so that when they passed the bridge they could turn to left and right, forming line as they advanced on the run. He chose the Fifty-first New York, Colonel Robert B. Potter, and the Fifty-first Pennsylvania, Colonel John F. Hartranft (both names afterward greatly distinguished), and both officers and men were made to feel the necessity of success. [Footnote: _Ibid_.] At the same time Crook succeeded in bringing a light howitzer of Simmonds's mixed battery down from the hill-tops, and placed it where it had a point-blank fire on the further end of the bridge. The howitzer was one we had captured in West Virginia, and had been added to the battery, which was partly made up of heavy rifled Parrott guns. When everything was ready, a heavy skirmishing fire was opened all along the bank, the howitzer threw in double charges of canister, and in scarcely more time than it takes to tell it, the bridge was passed and Toombs's brigade fled through the woods and over the top of the hill. The charging regiments were advanced in line to the crest above the bridge as soon as they were deployed, and the rest of Sturgis's division, with Crook's brigade, were immediately brought over to strengthen the line. These were soon joined by Rodman's division, with Scammon's brigade, which had crossed at the ford, and whose presence on that side of the stream had no doubt made the final struggle of Toombs's men less obstinate than it would otherwise have been, the fear of being taken in rear having always a strong moral effect upon even the best of troops.
It was now about one o'clock, and nearly three hours had been spent in a bitter and bloody contest across the narrow stream. The successive efforts to carry the bridge had been as closely following each other as possible. Each had been a fierce combat, in which the men with wonderful courage had not easily accepted defeat, and even, when not able to cross the bridge, had made use of the walls at the end, the fences, and every tree and stone as cover, while they strove to reach with their fire their well-protected and nearly concealed opponents. The lulls in the fighting had been short, and only to prepare new efforts. The severity of the work was attested by our losses, which, before the crossing was won, exceeded 500 men, and included some of our best officers, such as Colonel Kingsbury of the Eleventh Connecticut, Lieutenant-Colonel Bell of the Fifty-first Pennsylvania, and Lieutenant-Colonel Coleman of the Eleventh Ohio, two of them commanding regiments. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 427.] The proportion of casualties to the number engaged was much greater than common; for the nature of the combat required that comparatively few troops should be exposed at once, the others remaining under cover.
Our next task was to prepare to hold the heights we had gained against the return assault of the enemy which we expected, and to reply to the destructive fire from the enemy's abundant artillery. Light batteries were brought over and distributed in the line. The men were made to lie down behind the crest to save them from the concentrated cannonade which the enemy opened upon us as soon as Toombs's regiments succeeded in reaching their main line. But McClellan's anticipation of an overwhelming attack upon his right was so strong that he determined still to press our advance, and sent orders accordingly. The ammunition of Sturgis's and Crook's men had been nearly exhausted, and it was imperative that they should be freshly supplied before entering into another engagement. Sturgis also reported his men so exhausted by their efforts as to be unfit for an immediate advance. On this I sent to Burnside the request that Willcox's division be sent over, with an ammunition train, and that Sturgis's division be replaced by the fresh troops, remaining, however, on the west side of the stream as support to the others. This was done as rapidly as was practicable, where everything had to pass down the steep hill-road and through so narrow a defile as the bridge. [Footnote: As a mode of ready reckoning, it is usual to assume that a division requires an hour to march past a given point by the flank. With the crossing of an ammunition train, the interval of time is more than accounted for.] Still, it was three o'clock before these changes and preparations could be made. Burnside had personally striven to hasten them, and had come over to the west bank to consult and to hurry matters, and took his share of personal peril, for he came at a time when the ammunition wagons were delivering cartridges, and the road at the end of the bridge where they were was in the range of the enemy's constant and accurate fire. It is proper to mention this because it has been said that he did not cross the stream. The criticisms made by McClellan as to the time occupied in these changes and movements will not seem forcible if one will compare them with any similar movements on the field; such as Mansfield's to support Hooker, or Sumner's or Franklin's to reach the scene of action. About this, however, there is fair room for difference of opinion: what I personally know is that it would have been folly to advance again before Willcox had relieved Sturgis, and that as soon as the fresh troops reported and could be put in line, the order to advance was given. McClellan is in accord with all other witnesses in declaring that when the movement began, the conduct of the troops was gallant beyond criticism.
Willcox's division formed the right, Christ's brigade being north, and Welsh's brigade south of the road leading from the bridge to Sharpsburg. Crook's brigade of the Kanawha division supported Willcox. Rodman's division formed on the left, Harland's brigade having the position on the flank, and Fairchild's uniting with Willcox at the centre. Scammon's brigade was the reserve for Rodman at the extreme left. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. pp. 425, 430.] Sturgis's division remained and held the crest of the hill above the bridge. About half of the batteries of the divisions accompanied the movement, the rest being in position on the hill-tops east of the Antietam. The advance necessarily followed the high ground toward Sharpsburg, and as the enemy made strongest resistance toward our right, the movement curved in that direction, the six brigades of Jones's Confederate division being deployed diagonally across our front, holding the stone fences and crests of the cross-ridges and aided by abundant artillery, in which arm the enemy was particularly strong.
The battle was a fierce one from the moment Willcox's men showed themselves on the open ground. Christ's brigade, taking advantage of all the cover the trees and inequalities of surface gave them, pushed on along the depression in which the road ran, a section of artillery keeping pace with them in the road. The direction of movement brought all the brigades of the first line in echelon, but Welsh soon fought his way up beside Christ, and they together drove the enemy successively from the fields and farm-yards till they reached the edge of the village. Upon the elevation on the right of the road was an orchard in which the shattered and diminished force of Jones made a final stand, but Willcox concentrated his artillery fire upon it, and his infantry was able to push forward and occupy it. They now partly occupied the town of Sharpsburg, and held the high ground commanding it on the southeast, where the National Cemetery now is. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 431.] The struggle had been long and bloody. It was half-past four in the afternoon, and ammunition had again run low, for the wagons had not been able to accompany the movement. Willcox paused for his men to take breath again and to fetch up some cartridges; but meanwhile affairs were taking a serious turn on the left.
As Rodman's division went forward, he found the enemy before him seemingly detached from Willcox's opponents, and occupying ridges on his left front, so that he was not able to keep his own connection with Willcox in the swinging movement to the right. Still, he made good progress in the face of stubborn resistance, though finding the enemy constantly developing more to his left, and the interval between him and Willcox widening. The view of the field to the south was now obstructed by fields of tall Indian corn, and under this cover Confederate troops approached the flank in line of battle. Scammon's officers in the reserve saw them as soon as Rodman's brigades echeloned, as these were toward the front and right. This hostile force proved to be A. P. Hill's division of six brigades, the last of Jackson's force to leave Harper's Ferry, and which had reached Sharpsburg since noon. Those first seen by Scammon's men were dressed in the National blue uniforms which they had captured at Harper's Ferry, and it was assumed that they were part of our own forces till they began to fire. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 468.] Scammon quickly changed front to the left, drove back the enemy before him, and occupied a line of stone fences, which he held until he was afterward withdrawn from it. [Footnote: _Id._, p. 466.] Harland's brigade was partly moving in the corn-fields. One of his regiments was new, having been organized only three weeks, and the brigade had somewhat lost its order and connection when the sudden attack came. Rodman directed Colonel Harland to lead the right of the brigade, while he himself attempted to bring the left into position. In performing this duty he fell, mortally wounded. Harland's horse was shot under him, and the brigade broke in confusion after a brief effort of its right wing to hold on. Fairchild also now received the fire on his left, and was forced to fall back and change front. [Footnote: _Id._, pp. 451, 453.]
Being at the centre when this break occurred on the left, I saw that it would be impossible to continue the movement to the right, and sent instant orders to Willcox and Crook to retire the left of their line, and to Sturgis to come forward into the gap made in Rodman's. The troops on the right swung back in perfect order; Scammon's brigade hung on at its stone wall at the extreme left with unflinching tenacity till Sturgis had formed on the curving hill in rear of them, and Rodman's had found refuge behind. Willcox's left then united with Sturgis, and Scammon was withdrawn to a new position on the left flank of the whole line. That these manoeuvres on the field were really performed in good order is demonstrated by the fact that although the break in Rodman's line was a bad one, the enemy was not able to capture many prisoners, the whole number of missing, out of the 2349 casualties which the Ninth Corps suffered in the battle, being 115, which includes wounded men unable to leave the field. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. pp. 200, 427.]
The enemy were not lacking in bold efforts to take advantage of the check we had received, but were repulsed with severe punishment, and as the day declined were content to entrench themselves along the line of the road leading from Sharpsburg to the Potomac at the mouth of the Antietam, half a mile in our front. The men of the Ninth Corps lay that night upon their arms, the line being one which rested with both flanks near the Antietam and curved outward upon the rolling hill-tops which covered the bridge and commanded the plateau between us and the enemy. With my staff, I lay upon the ground behind the troops, holding our horses by the bridles as we rested, for our orderlies were so exhausted that we could not deny them the same chance for a little broken slumber.
The Ninth Corps occupied its position on the heights west of the Antietam without further molestation, except an irritating picket firing, till the Confederate army retreated on the 19th of September. But the position was one in which no shelter from the weather could be had, nor could any cooking be done; and the troops were short of rations. My division wagon-train, which I had brought from the West, here stood us in good stead, for the corps as a whole was very short of transportation. The energy of Captain Fitch, my quartermaster, forced the train back and forth between us and the nearest depot of supplies, and for several days the whole corps had the benefit of the provisions thus brought forward. Late in the afternoon of Thursday the 18th, Morell's division of Porter's corps was ordered to report to Burnside to relieve the picket line and some of the regiments in the most exposed position. One brigade was sent over the Antietam for this purpose, and a few of the Ninth Corps regiments were enabled to withdraw far enough to cook some rations, of which they had been in need for twenty-four hours. [Footnote: General Porter in his report says Morell took the place of the whole Ninth Corps. In this he is entirely mistaken, as the reports from Morell's division, as well as those of the Ninth Corps, show.] Harland's brigade of Rodman's division had been taken to the east side of the stream to be reorganized, on the evening of Wednesday the 17th. The sounds heard within the enemy's lines by our pickets gave an inkling of their retrograde movement in the night of Thursday, and at break of day on Friday morning the retreat of Lee's whole army was discovered by advancing the picket line. Reconnoissances sent to the front discovered that the whole Confederate army had crossed the Potomac.
The conduct of the battle on the left has given rise to several criticisms, among which the most prominent has been that Porter's corps, which lay in reserve, was not put in at the same time with the Ninth Corps. It has been said that some of them were engaged or in support of the cavalry and artillery at the centre. This does not appear to have been so to any important extent, for no active fighting was going on elsewhere after Franklin's corps relieved Sumner's about noon. McClellan's reports do not urge this. He answered the criticism by saying that he did not think it prudent to divest the centre of all reserve troops. No doubt a single strong division, marching beyond the left flank of the Ninth Corps, would have so occupied A. P. Hill's division that our movement into Sharpsburg could not have been checked, and, assisted by the advance of Sumner and Franklin on the right, would apparently have made certain the complete rout of Lee. As troops are put in reserve, not to diminish the army, but to be used in a pinch, I am convinced that McClellan's refusal to use them on the left was the result of his rooted belief, through all the day after Sedgwick's defeat, that Lee was overwhelmingly superior in force, and was preparing to return a crushing blow upon our right flank. He was keeping something in hand to fill a gap or cover a retreat, if that wing should be driven back. Except in this way, also, I am at a loss to account for the inaction of the right during the whole of our engagement on the left. Looking at our part of the battle as only a strong diversion to prevent or delay Lee's following up his success against Hooker and the rest, it is intelligible. I certainly so understood it at the time, as my report witnesses, and McClellan's original report sustains this view. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. pp. 31, 426.] If he had been impatient to have our attack delivered earlier, he had reason for double impatience that Franklin's fresh troops should assail Lee's left simultaneously with our assault of his other wing, unless he regarded action there as hopeless, and looked upon our movement as a sort of forlorn hope to keep Lee from following up his advantages.
But even these are not all the troublesome questions requiring an answer. It will be remembered that Franklin's corps, after forcing Crampton's Gap, had remained in Pleasant Valley between Rohrersville and Boonsboro until Tuesday night (16th September). McClellan then ordered Couch's division to be sent to occupy Maryland Heights and observe the enemy in Harper's Ferry, whilst Franklin with Smith's and
Slocum's divisions should march to the battle-field at daybreak of Wednesday. Why could not Couch be called up and come on our left as well as A. P. Hill's division, which was the last of the Confederate troops to leave the ferry, there being nothing to observe after it was gone? Couch's division, coming with equal pace with Hill's on the other side of the river would have answered our needs as well as one from Porter's corps. Hill came, but Couch did not. Yet even then, a regiment of horse, watching that flank and scouring the country as we swung forward, would have developed Hill's presence and enabled the commanding general either to stop our movement or to take the available means to support it. The cavalry was put to no such use. It occupied the centre of the whole line, only its artillery being engaged during the day. It would have been invaluable to Hooker in the morning, as it would have been to us in the afternoon.
McClellan had marched from Frederick City with the information that Lee's army was divided, Jackson being detached with a large force to take Harper's Ferry. He had put Lee's strength at 120,000 men. Assuming that there was still danger that Jackson might come upon our left with his large force, and that Lee had proven strong enough without Jackson to repulse three corps on our right and right centre, McClellan might have regarded his own army as divided also for the purpose of meeting both opponents, and his cavalry would have been upon the flank of the part with which he was attacking Lee; Porter would have been in position to help either part in an extremity or to cover a retreat; and Burnside would have been the only subordinate available to check Lee's apparent success. Will any other hypothesis intelligibly account for McClellan's dispositions and orders? The error in the above assumption would be that McClellan estimated Lee's troops at nearly double their actual numbers, and that what was taken for proof of Lee's superiority in force on the field was a series of partial reverses which resulted directly from the piecemeal and disjointed way in which McClellan's morning attacks had been made.
The same explanation is the most satisfactory one that I can give for the inaction of Thursday, the 18th of September. Could McClellan have known the desperate condition of most of Lee's brigades, he would also have known that his own were in much better case, badly as they had suffered. I do not doubt that most of his subordinates discouraged the resumption of the attack, for the belief in Lee's great preponderance in numbers had been chronic in the army during the whole year. That belief was based upon the inconceivably mistaken reports of the secret-service organization, accepted at headquarters, given to the War Department at
Washington as a reason for incessant demands of reinforcements, and permeating downward through the whole organization till the error was accepted as truth by officers and men, and became a factor in their morale which can hardly be overestimated. The result was that Lee retreated unmolested on the night of the 18th of September, and that what might have been a real and decisive success was a drawn battle in which our chief claim to victory was the possession of the field.
The numbers engaged and the losses on each side have been the subject of unending dispute. If we take the returns of Lee at the beginning of his campaign against
Pope, and deduct his acknowledged losses, he crossed the Potomac with over 72,000 men. [Footnote: See my review of Henderson's
Stonewall Jackson, "The Nation," Nov. 24, 1898, p.396.] If we take his returns of September 22, and add the acknowledged losses of the month, he had over 57,000. [Footnote: See my review of Allan's Army of Northern Virginia, "The Nation," Feb. 2, 1893, p.86. Also reply to General Fitzhugh Lee, _Id_., Dec. 20, 1894, p.462; Confederate Statistics, _Id_., Jan. 24, 1895, p.71; Review of Ropes's Story of the Civil War, _Id_., March 9, 1899, p.185.] McClellan's 87,000 present for duty is accepted by all, though various causes considerably reduced the number he brought into action. The best collation of reports of casualties at Antietam gives 12,410 as those on the National side, and 11,172 on the Confederate. [Footnote: Century War Book, vol. ii. p.603.] Longstreet, comparing the fighting in the fiercest battles of the war, says "on no single day in any one of them was there such carnage as in this fierce struggle." [Footnote: From Manassas to Appomattox, p.239.]