Battle of Harper's Ferry


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Chapter XVIII
Battle of Harper's Ferry

Stonewall Jackson Index | Stonewall Jackson at West Point | Stonewall Jackson and Mexican War | Stonewall Jackson Lexington | Stonewall Jackson and Secession | Stonewall Jackson and Harper's Ferry | Stonewall Jackson at Battle of Bull Run | Stonewall Jackson at Romney | Stonewall Jackson at Kernstown | Battle of McDowell | Battle of Winchester | Battle of Cross Keys and Port Republic | Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign | The Seven Days Battle | Battle of Frayser's Farm and Malvern Hill | Battle of Cedar Run | Second Battle of Bull Run | Battle of Second Bull Run Conclusion | Battle of Harper's Ferry | Battle of Sharpsburg | Battle of Fredericksburg | The Army of Northern Virginia | Stonewall Jackson's Winter Quarters | Battle of Chancellorsville | Battle of Chancellorsville Conclusion

Sept. 1862   The Confederate operations in Virginia during the spring and summer of 1862 had been successful beyond expectation and almost beyond precedent. Within six months two great armies had been defeated; McClellan had been driven from the Peninsula, and Pope from the Rappahannock. The villages of Virginia no longer swarmed with foreign bayonets. The hostile camps had vanished from her inland counties. Richmond was free from menace; and in the Valley of the Shenandoah the harvest was gathered in without let or hindrance. Except at Winchester and Martinsburg, where the garrisons, alarmed by the news of Pope’s defeat, were already preparing to withdraw; in the vicinity of Norfolk, and at Fortress Monroe, the invaders had no foothold within the boundaries of the State they had just now overrun; and their demoralised masses, lying exhausted behind the fortifications of Washington and Alexandria, were in no condition to resume the offensive. The North had opened the campaign in the early spring with the confident hope of capturing the rebel capital; before the summer was over it was questionable whether it would be able to save its own. Had the rival armies been equally matched in numbers and equipment this result would have hardly been remarkable. The Federals had had great difficulties to contend with—an unknown country, bad roads, a hostile population, natural obstacles of formidable character, statesmen ignorant of war, and generals at loggerheads with the Administration. Yet so superior were their numbers, so ample their resources, that even these


disadvantages might have been overcome had the strategy of the Southern leaders been less admirable. Lee, Jackson, and Johnston had played the rôle of the defender to perfection. No attempt had been made to hold the frontier. Mobility and not earthwork was the weapon on which they had relied. Richmond, the only fortress, had been used as a pivot of operations, and not merely as a shelter for the army. The specious expedient of pushing forward advanced guards to harass or delay the enemy had been avoided; and thus no opportunity had been offered to the invaders of dealing with the defence in detail, or of raising their own moral by victory over isolated detachments. The generals had declined battle until their forces were concentrated and the enemy was divided. Nor had they fought except on ground of their own choice. Johnston had refused to be drawn into decisive action until McClellan became involved in the swamps of the Chickahominy. Jackson, imitating like his superior the defensive strategy of Wellington and Napoleon, had fallen back to a zone of manœuvre south of the Massanuttons. By retreating to the inaccessible fastness of Elk Run Valley he had drawn Banks and Frémont up the Shenandoah, their lines of communication growing longer and more vulnerable at every march, and requiring daily more men to guard them. Then, rushing from his stronghold, he had dealt his blows, clearing the Valley from end to end, destroying the Federal magazines, and threatening Washington itself; and when the overwhelming masses he had drawn on himself sought to cut him off, he had selected his own battle-field, and crushed the converging columns which his skill had kept apart. The hapless Pope, too, had been handled in the same fashion as McClellan, Banks, Shields, and Frémont. Jackson had lured him forward to the Rapidan; and although his retreat had been speedy, Lee had completed his defeat before he could be efficiently supported. But, notwithstanding all that had been done, much yet remained to do.

It was doubtless within the bounds of probability that a second attempt to invade Virginia would succeed no


better than the first. But it was by no means certain that the resolution of the North was not sufficient to withstand a long series of disasters so long as the war was confined to Southern territory; and, at the same time, it might well be questioned whether the South could sustain, without foreign aid, the protracted and exhausting process of a purely defensive warfare. If her tactics, as well as her strategy, could be confined to the defensive; that is, if her generals could await the invaders in selected and prepared positions, and if no task more difficult should devolve upon her troops than shooting down their foes as they moved across the open to the assault of strong intrenchments, then the hope might reasonably be entertained that she might tire out the North. But the campaign, so far as it had progressed, had shown, if indeed history had not already made it sufficiently clear, that opportunities for such tactics were not likely to occur. The Federal generals had consistently refused to run their heads against earthworks. Their overwhelming numbers would enable them to turn any position, however formidable; and the only chance of success lay in keeping these numbers apart and in preventing them from combining.

It was by strategic and tactical counterstrokes that the recent victories had been won. Although it had awaited attack within its own frontier, the Army of Northern Virginia had but small experience of defensive warfare. With the exception of the actions round Yorktown, of Cross Keys, and of the Second Manassas, the battles had been entirely aggressive. The idea that a small army, opposed to one vastly superior, cannot afford to attack because the attack is costly, and that it must trust for success to favourable ground, had been effectually dispelled. Lee and Jackson had taught the Southerners that the secret of success lies not in strong positions, but in the concentration, by means of skilful strategy, of superior numbers on the field of battle. Their tactics had been essentially offensive, and it is noteworthy that their victories had not been dearly purchased. If we compare them with those of the British in the Peninsula, we shall


find that with no greater loss than Wellington incurred in the defensive engagements of three years, 1810, 1811, 1812, the Confederates had attacked and routed armies far larger in proportion than those which Wellington had merely repulsed.1

But if they had shown that the best defence lies in a vigorous offensive, their offensive had not yet been applied at the decisive point. To make victory complete it is the sounder policy to carry the war into hostile territory. A nation endures with comparative equanimity defeat beyond its own borders. Pride and prestige may suffer, but a high-spirited people will seldom be brought to the point of making terms unless its army is annihilated in the heart of its own country, unless the capital is occupied and the hideous sufferings of war are brought directly home to the mass of the population. A single victory on Northern soil, within easy reach of Washington, was far more likely to bring about the independence of the South than even a succession of victories in Virginia. It was time, then, for a strategic counterstroke on a larger scale than had hitherto been attempted. The opportunity was ripe. No great risk would be incurred by crossing the Potomac. There was no question of meeting a more powerful enemy. “The Federals, recruited by fresh levies; would undoubtedly be numerically the stronger; and the Confederate equipment, despite the large captures of guns and rifles, was still deficient. But for deficiencies in numbers and in materiel the higher moral and the more skilful leading would make ample compensation. It might safely be inferred that the Northern soldiers would no longer display the cool confidence of Gaines’ Mill or even of Malvern Hill. The places of the brave and seasoned soldiers who had fallen would

1  Wellington’s losses in the battles of these three years were 33,000. The Confederates lost 23,000 in the Valley and the Seven Days and 10,000 in the campaign against Pope. It is not to be understood, however, that the Duke’s strategy was less skilful or less audacious than Lee’s and Jackson’s. During these three years his army, largely composed of Portuguese and Spaniards, was incapable of offensive tactics against his veteran enemies, and he was biding his time. It was the inefficiency of his allies and the miserable support he received from the English Government that prevented him, until 1813, from adopting a bolder policy.


be filled by recruits; and generals who had been out-manœuvred on so many battle-fields might fairly be expected, when confronted once more with their dreaded opponents, to commit even more egregious errors than those into which they had already fallen.

Sept. 2   Such were the ideas entertained by Lee and accepted by the President, and on the morning of September 2, as soon as it was found that the Federals had sought shelter under the forts of Alexandria, Jackson was instructed to cross the Potomac, and form the advanced guard of the army of invasion. It may be imagined with what feelings he issued his orders for the march on Leesburg, above which lay an easy ford. For more than twelve months, since the very morrow of Bull Run, he had persistently advocated an aggressive policy.1 The fierce battles round Richmond and Manassas he had looked upon as merely the prelude to more resolute efforts. After he had defeated Banks at Winchester he had urged his friend Colonel Boteler to inform the authorities that, if they would reinforce him, he would undertake to capture Washington. The message had been conveyed to Lee. “Tell General Jackson,” was the reply of the Commander-in-Chief, “that he must first help me to drive these people away from Richmond.” This object had been now thoroughly accomplished, and General Lee’s decision to redeem his promise was by none more heartily approved than by the leader of the Valley army. And yet, though the risks of the venture were small, the prospects of complete success were dubious. The opportunity had come, but the means of seizing it were feeble. Lee himself was buoyed up by no certain expectation of great results. In

1  In Mrs. Jackson’s Memoirs of her husband a letter is quoted from her brother-in-law, giving the substance of a conversation with General Jackson on the conduct of the war. This letter I have not felt justified in quoting. In the first place, it lacks corroboration; in the second place, it contains a very incomplete statement of a large strategical question; in the third place, the opinions put in Jackson’s mouth are not only contradictory, but altogether at variance with his practice; and lastly, it attributes certain ideas to the general—raising “the black flag.” &c.—which his confidential aid officers declare that he never for a moment entertained.


advocating invasion he confessed to the President that his troops were hardly fit for service beyond the frontier. “The army,” he wrote, “is not properly equipped for an invasion of the enemy’s territory. It lacks much of the material of war, is feeble in transportation, the animals being much reduced, and the men are poorly provided with clothes. And in thousands of instances are destitute of shoes. . . . What concerns me most is the fear of getting out of ammunition.”1

This description was by no means over-coloured. As a record of military activity the campaign of the spring and summer of 1862 has few parallels. Jackson’s division, since the evacuation of Winchester at the end of February, that is, in six months, had taken part in no less than eight battles and innumerable minor engagements; it had marched nearly a thousand miles, and it had long ago discarded tents. The remainder of the army had been hardly less severely tasked. The demands of the outpost service in front of Richmond had been almost as trying as the forced marches in the Valley, and the climate of the Peninsula had told heavily on the troops. From the very first the army had been indifferently equipped; the ill effects of hasty organisation were still glaring; the regimental officers had not yet learned to study the wants and comfort of their men; the troops were harassed by the ignorance of a staff that was still half-trained, and the commissariat officials were not abreast of their important duties. More than all, the operations against Pope, just brought to a successful issue, had been most arduous; and the strain on the endurance of the troops, not yet recovered from their exertions in the Peninsula, had been so great that a period of repose seemed absolutely necessary. It was not only that battle and sickness had thinned the ranks, but that those whose health had been proof against continued hardships, and whose strength and spirit were still equal to further efforts, were so badly shod that a few long marches over indifferent roads were certain to be more productive of casualties than a pitched battle. The want of

1  O.R., vol. xix, part ii, pp. 590, 591.


boots had already been severely felt.1 It has been said that the route of the Confederate army from the Rappahannock to Chantilly might have been traced by the stains of bloody feet along the highways; and if the statement is more graphic than exact, yet it does not fall far short of the truth. Many a stout soldier, who had hobbled along on his bare feet until Pope was encountered and defeated, found himself utterly incapable of marching into Maryland. In rear of the army the roads were covered with stragglers. Squads of infantry, banding together for protection, toiled along painfully by easy stages, unable to keep pace with the colours, but hoping to be up in time for the next fight; and amongst these were not a few officers. But this was not the worst. Lax discipline and the absence of soldierly habits asserted themselves with the same pernicious effect as in the Valley. Not all the stragglers had their faces turned towards the enemy, not all were incapacitated by physical suffering. Many, without going through the formality of asking leave, were making for their homes, and had no idea that their conduct was in any way peculiar. They had done their duty in more than one battle, they had been long absent from their farms, their equipment was worn out, the enemy had been driven from Virginia, and they considered that they were fully entitled to some short repose. And amongst these, whose only fault was an imperfect sense of their military obligations, was the residue of cowards and malingerers shed by every great army engaged in protracted operations.

Lee had been joined by the divisions of D. H. Hill, McLaws, Walker, and by Hampton’s cavalry, and the strength of his force should have been 65,000 effectives.2 But it was evident that these numbers could not be long

1  “1,000 pairs of shoes were obtained in Fredericktown, 250 pairs in Williamsport, and about 400 pairs in this city (Hagerstown). They will not be sufficient to cover the bare feet of the army.” Lee to Davis, September 12, 1862. O.R., vol. xix, part ii, p. 605.
2  Calculated on the basis of the Field Returns dated July 20, 1862, with the addition of Jackson’s and Ewell’s divisions, and subtracting the losses (10,000) of the campaign against Pope.


maintained. The men were already accustomed to half-rations of green corn, and they would be no worse off in Maryland and Pennsylvania, untouched as yet by the ravages of war, than in the wasted fields of Virginia. The most ample commissariat, however, would not compensate for the want of boots and the want of rest, and a campaign of invasion was certain to entail an amount of hard marching to which the strength of the troops was hardly equal. Not only had the South to provide from her seven millions of white population an army larger than that of Imperial France, but from a nation of agriculturists she had to provide another army of craftsmen and mechanics to enable the soldiers to keep the field. For guns and gun-carriages, powder and ammunition, clothing and harness, gunboats and torpedoes, locomotives and railway plant, she was now dependent on the hands of her own people and the resources of her own soil; the organisation of those resources, scattered over a vast extent of territory, was not to be accomplished in the course of a few months, nor was the supply of skilled labour sufficient to fill the ranks of her industrial army. By the autumn of 1862, although the strenuous efforts of every Government department gave the lie to the idea, not uncommon in the North, that the Southern character was shiftless and the Southern intellect slow, so little real progress had been made that if the troops had not been supplied from other sources they could hardly have marched at all. The captures made in the Valley, in the Peninsula, and in the Second Manassas campaign proved of inestimable value. Old muskets were exchanged for new, smooth-bore cannon for rifled guns, tattered blankets for good overcoats. “Mr. Commissary Banks,” his successor Pope, and McClellan himself, had furnished their enemies with the material of war, with tents, medicines, ambulances, and ammunition waggons. Even the vehicles at Confederate headquarters bore on their tilts the initials U.S.A.; many of Lee’s soldiers were partially clothed in Federal uniforms, and the bad quality of the boots supplied by the Northern contractors was a very general subject of complaint in the


Southern ranks. Nor while the men were fighting were the women idle. The output of the Government factories was supplemented by private enterprise. Thousands of spinning-wheels, long silent in dusty lumber-rooms, hummed busily in mansion and in farm; matrons and maids, from the wife and daughters of the Commander-in-Chief to the mother of the drummer-boy, became weavers and seamstresses; and in every household of the Confederacy, although many of the necessities of life—salt, coffee and sugar—had become expensive luxuries, the needs of the army came before all else.

But notwithstanding the energy of the Government and the patriotism of the women, the troops lacked everything but spirit. Nor, even with more ample resources, could their wants have been readily supplied. In any case this would have involved a long halt in a secure position, and in a few weeks the Federal strength would be increased by fresh levies, and the moral of their defeated troops restored. But even had time been given the Government would have been powerless to render substantial aid. Contingents of recruits were being drilled into discipline at Richmond; yet they hardly exceeded 20,000 muskets; and it was not on the Virginia frontier alone that the South was hard pressed. The Valley of the Mississippi was beset by great armies; Alabama was threatened, and Western Tennessee was strongly occupied; it was already difficult to find a safe passage across the river for the supplies furnished by the prairies of Texas and Louisiana, and communication with Arkansas had become uncertain. If the Mississippi were lost, not only would three of the most fertile States, as prolific of hardy soldiers as of fat oxen, be cut off from the remainder, but the enemy, using the river as a base, would push his operations into the very heart of the Confederacy. To regain possession of the great waterway seemed of more vital importance than the defence of the Potomac or the secession of Maryland, and now that Richmond had been relieved, the whole energy of the Government was expended on the operations in Kentucky and


Tennessee. It may well be questioned whether a vigorous endeavour, supported by all the means available, and even by troops drawn from the West, to defeat the Army of the Potomac and to capture Washington, would not have been a more efficacious means to the same end; but Davis and his Cabinet consistently preferred dispersion to concentration, and, indeed, the situation of the South was such as might well have disturbed the strongest brains. The sea-power of the Union was telling with deadly effect. Although the most important strategic points on the Mississippi were still held by Confederate garrisons, nearly every mile of the great river, from Cairo to New Orleans, was patrolled by the Federal gunboats; and in deep water, from the ports of the Atlantic to the roadsteads of the Gulf, the frigates maintained their vigilant blockade.

Even on the northern border there was hardly a gleam of light across the sky. The Federal forces were still formidable in numbers, and a portion of the Army of the Potomac had not been involved in Pope’s defeat. It was possible, therefore, that more skilful generalship than had yet been displayed by the Northern commanders might deprive the Confederates of all chance of winning a decisive victory. Yet, although the opportunity of meeting the enemy with a prospect of success might never offer, an inroad into Northern territory promised good results.

1.  Maryland, still strong in sympathy with the South, might be induced by the presence of a Southern army to rise against the Union.

2.  The Federal army would be drawn off westward from its present position; and so long as it was detained on the northern frontier of Virginia nothing could be attempted against Richmond, while time would be secured for improving the defences of the Confederate capital.

3.  The Shenandoah Valley would be most effectively protected, and its produce transported without risk of interruption both to Lee’s army and to Richmond.

To obtain such advantages as these was worth an effort, and Lee, after careful consideration, determined to cross the


Potomac. The movement was made with the same speed which had characterised the operations against Pope. It was of the utmost importance that the passage of the river should be accomplished before the enemy had time to discover the design and to bar the way. Stuart’s cavalry formed the screen. On the morning after the battle of Chantilly, Fitzhugh Lee’s brigade followed the retreating Federals in the direction of Alexandria. Hampton’s brigade was pushed forward to Dranesville by way of Hunter’s Mill. Robertson’s brigade made a strong demonstration towards Washington, and Munford, with the 2nd Virginia, cleared out a Federal detachment which occupied Leesburg. Behind the cavalry the army marched unmolested and unobserved.1

Sept. 6   D. H. Hill’s division was pushed forward as advanced guard; Jackson’s troops, who had been granted a day’s rest, brought up the rear, and on the morning of the 6th reached White’s Ford on the Potomac. Through the silver reaches of the great river the long columns of men and waggons, preceded by Fitzhugh Lee’s brigade, splashed and stumbled, and passing through the groves of oaks which overhung the water, wound steadily northward over the green fields of Maryland.

1  The Army of Northern Virginia was thus organised during the Maryland campaign:—


McLaws’ Division
R. H. Anderson’s Division
D. R. Jones’ Division
J. G. Walker’s Division
Evans’ Brigade
Washington Artillery
S. D. Lee’s Artillery battalion

= 35,600


Ewell’s (Lawton) Division
The Light (A. P. Hill) Division
Jackson’s own (J. R. Jones) Division

= 16,800


D. H. Hill’s Division

=   7,000

Pendleton’s Reserve Artillery, 4 battalions

=   1,000


Hampton’s Brigade
Fitzhugh Lee’s Brigade
Robertson’s Brigade
3 H.A. Batteries, Captain Pelham

=   4,000




    No allowance has been made for straggling. It is doubtful if more than 55,000 men entered Maryland.


Sept. 7   The next day Frederick was occupied by Jackson, who was once more in advance; the cavalry at Urbanna watched the roads to Washington, and every city in the North was roused by the tidings that the grey jackets had crossed the border. But although the army had entered Maryland without the slightest difficulty, the troops were not received with the enthusiasm they had anticipated. The women, indeed, emulating their Virginia sisters, gave a warm welcome to the heroes of so many victories. But the men, whether terrorised by the stern rule of the Federal Government, or mistrusting the power of the Confederates to secure them from further punishment, showed little disposition to join the ranks. It is possible that the appearance of the Southern soldiery was not without effect. Lee’s troops, after five months’ hard marching and hard fighting, were no delectable objects. With torn and brimless hats, strands of rope for belts, and raw-hide moccasins of their own manufacture in lieu of boots; covered with vermin, and carrying their whole kit in Federal haversacks, the ragged scarecrows who swarmed through the streets of Frederick presented a pitiful contrast to the trim battalions which had hitherto held the Potomac. Their conduct indeed was exemplary. They had been warned that pillage and depredations would be severely dealt with, and all requisitions, even of fence-rails, were paid for on the spot. Still recruits were few. The warworn aspect and indifferent equipment of the “dirty darlings,” as more than one fair Marylander spoke of Jackson’s finest soldiers, failed to inspire confidence, and it was soon evident that the western counties of Maryland had small sympathy with the South.

There were certainly exceptions to the general absence of cordiality. The troops fared well during their sojourn in Frederick. Supplies were plentiful; food and clothing were gratuitously distributed, and Jackson was presented with a fine but unbroken charger. The gift was timely, for “Little Sorrel,” the companion of so many marches, was lost for some days after the passage of the Potomac; but the Confederacy was near paying a heavy price for


the “good grey mare.” When Jackson first mounted her a band struck up close by, and as she reared the girth broke, throwing her rider to the ground. Fortunately, though stunned and severely bruised, the general was only temporarily disabled, and, if he appeared but little in public during his stay in Frederick, his inaccessibility was not due to broken bones. “Lee, Longstreet, and Jackson, and for a time Jeb Stuart,” writes a staff officer, “had their headquarters near one another in Best’s Grove. Hither in crowds came the good people of Frederick, especially the ladies, as to a fair. General Jackson, still suffering from his hurt, kept to his tent, busying himself with maps and official papers, and declined to see visitors. Once, however, when he had been called to General Lee’s tent, two young girls waylaid him, paralysed him with smiles and questions, and then jumped into their carriage and drove off rapidly, leaving him there, cap in hand, bowing, blushing, speechless. But once safe in his tent, he was seen no more that day.”1 The next evening (Sunday) he went with his staff to service in the town, and slept soundly, as he admitted to his wife, through the sermon of a minister of the German Reformed Church.2

But it was not for long that the Confederates were permitted to repose in Frederick. The enemy had made no further reply to the passage of the Potomac beyond concentrating to the west of Washington. McClellan, who had superseded Pope, was powerless, owing to the inefficiency of his cavalry, to penetrate the cordon of Stuart’s pickets, and to ascertain, even approximately, the dispositions of the invading force. He was still in doubt if the whole or only part of Lee’s army had crossed

1  “Stonewall Jackson in Maryland.” Colonel H. K. Douglas. Battles and Leaders, vol. ii, p. 621.
2  “The minister,” says Colonel Douglas, “was credited with much loyalty and courage, because he had prayed for the President of the United States in the very presence of Stonewall Jackson. Well, the general didn’t hear the prayer, and if he had he would doubtless have felt like replying as General Ewell did, when asked at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, if he would permit the usual prayer for President Lincoln—‘Certainly; I’m sure he needs it.’ ”


into Maryland; and whether his adversary intended to attack Washington by the left bank of the Potomac, to move on Baltimore, or to invade Pennsylvania, were questions which he had no means of determining. This uncertainty compelled him to move cautiously, and on September 9 his advanced guard was still twenty miles east of Frederick.

Nevertheless, the situation of the Confederates had become suddenly complicated. When the march into Maryland was begun, three towns in the Valley were held by the Federals. 3,000 infantry and artillery occupied Winchester. 3,000 cavalry were at Martinsburg; and Harper’s Ferry, in process of conversion into an intrenched camp, had a garrison of 8,000 men. Lee was well aware of the presence of these forces when he resolved to cross the Potomac, but he believed that immediately his advance threatened to separate them from the main army, and to leave them isolated, they would be ordered to insure their safety by a timely retreat. Had it depended upon McClellan this would have been done. Halleck, however, thought otherwise; and the officer commanding at Harper’s Ferry was ordered to hold his works until McClellan should open communication with him.

On arrival at Frederick, therefore, the Confederates, contrary to anticipation, found 14,000 Federals still established in their rear, and although Winchester had been evacuated,1 it was clear that Harper’s Ferry was to be defended. The existence of the intrenched camp was a serious obstacle to the full development of Lee’s designs. His line of communication had hitherto run from Rapidan Station to Manassas Junction, and thence by Leesburg and Point of Rocks to Frederick. This line was within easy reach of Washington, and liable to be cut at any moment by the enemy’s cavalry. Arrangements had therefore been already made to transfer the line to the Valley. There, sheltered by the Blue Ridge, the convoys of

1  On the night of September 2. Lee’s Report, O.R., vol. xix, part i, p. 139.


sick and wounded, of arms, clothing, and ammunition, could move in security from Staunton to Shepherdstown, and the recruits which were accumulating at Richmond be sent to join the army in Northern territory. But so long as Harper’s Ferry was strongly garrisoned this new line would be liable to constant disturbance, and it was necessary that the post should either be masked by a superior force, or carried by a coup de main. The first of these alternatives was at once rejected, for the Confederate numbers were too small to permit any permanent detachment of a considerable force, and without hesitation Lee determined to adopt the bolder course. 25,000 men, he considered, would be no more than sufficient to effect his object. But 25,000 men were practically half the army, and the plan, when laid before the generals, was not accepted without remonstrance. Longstreet, indeed, went so far as to refuse command of the detachment. “I objected,” he writes, “and urged that our troops were worn with marching and were on short rations, and that it would be a bad idea to divide our forces while we were in the enemy’s country, where he could get information, in six or eight hours, of any movement we might make. The Federal army, though beaten at the Second Manassas, was not disorganised, and it would certainly come out to look for us, and we should guard against being caught in such a condition. Our army consisted of a superior quality of soldiers, but it was in no condition to divide in the enemy’s country. I urged that we should keep it in hand, recruit our strength, and get up supplies, and then we could do anything we pleased. General Lee made no reply to this, and I supposed the Harper’s Ferry scheme was abandoned.”1

Jackson, too, would have preferred to fight McClellan first, and consider the question of communicating afterwards;2 but he accepted with alacrity the duty which his colleague had declined. His own divisions, reinforced by

Battles and Leaders, vol. ii, p. 662.
2  Dabney, vol. ii, p. 302.


those of McLaws, R. H. Anderson,1 and Walker, were detailed for the expedition; Harper’s Ferry was to be invested on three sides, and the march was to begin at daybreak on September 10. Meanwhile, the remainder of the army was to move north-west to Hagerstown, five-and-twenty miles from Frederick, where it would alarm Lincoln for the safety of Pennsylvania, and be protected from McClellan by the parallel ranges of the Catoctin and South Mountains.

Undoubtedly, in ordinary circumstances, General Longstreet would have been fully justified in protesting against the dispersion of the army in the presence of the enemy. Hagerstown and Harper’s Ferry are five-and-twenty miles apart, and the Potomac was between them. McClellan’s advanced guard, on the other hand, was thirty miles from Harper’s Ferry, and forty-five from Hagerstown. The Federals were advancing, slowly and cautiously it is true, but still pushing westward, and it was certainly possible, should they receive early intelligence of the Confederate movements, that before Harper’s Ferry fell a rapid march might enable them to interpose between Lee and Jackson. But both Lee and Jackson calculated the chances with a surer grasp of the several factors. Had the general in command of the Federal army been bold and enterprising, had the Federal cavalry been more efficient, or Stuart less skilful, they would certainly have hesitated before running the risk of defeat in detail. But so long as McClellan controlled the movements of the enemy, rapid and decisive action was not to be apprehended; and it was exceedingly improbable that the scanty and unreliable information which he might obtain from civilian sources would induce him to throw off his customary caution. Moreover, only a fortnight previously the Federal army had been heavily defeated.2

Sept. 10   Lee had resolved to woo fortune while she was in the

1  Anderson was placed under McLaws’ command.
2  “Are you acquainted with McClellan?” said Lee to General Walker on September 8, 1862. “He is an able general but a very cautious one. His enemies among his own people think him too much so. His army is in a very demoralised and chaotic condition, and will not be prepared for offensive operations—or he will not think it so—for three or four weeks.”—Battles and Leaders, vol. ii, pp. 605 and 606.


mood. The movement against Harper’s Ferry once determined, it was essential that it should be carried out with the utmost speed, and Jackson marched with even more than ordinary haste, but without omitting his usual precautions. Before starting he asked for a map of the Pennsylvania frontier, and made many inquiries as to roads and localities to the north of Frederick, whereas his route lay in the opposite direction. “The cavalry, which preceded the column,” says Colonel Douglas, “had instructions to let no civilian go to the front, and we entered each village we passed before the inhabitants knew of our coming. In Middletown two very pretty girls, with ribbons of red, white, and blue floating from their hair, and small Union flags in their hands, rushed out of a house as we passed, came to the kerbstone, and with much laughter waved their flags defiantly in the face of the general. He bowed, raised his hat, and turning with his quiet smile to the staff, said, ‘We evidently have no friends in this town.’

Sept. 11   “Having crossed South Mountain at Turner’s Gap, the command encamped for the night within a mile of Boonsboro’ (fourteen miles from Frederick). Here General Jackson must determine whether he would go to Williamsport or turn towards Shepherdstown. I at once rode into the village with a cavalryman to make some inquiries, but we ran into a Federal squadron, who without ceremony proceeded to make war upon us. We retraced our steps, and although we did not stand upon the order of our going, a squad of them escorted us out of the town with great rapidity. Reaching the top of the hill, we discovered, just over it, General Jackson, walking slowly towards us, leading his horse. There was but one thing to do. Fortunately the chase had become less vigorous, and with a cry of command to unseen troops, we turned and charged the enemy. They, suspecting trouble, turned and fled, while the general quickly galloped to the rear. As I returned to camp I picked up the gloves which he had dropped in mounting, and took them to him. Although he had sent a regiment of infantry to the front as soon as he went back, the only


allusion he made to the incident was to express the opinion that I had a very fast horse.

“The next morning, having learned that the Federal troops still occupied Martinsburg, General Jackson took the direct road to Williamsport. He then forded the Potomac, the troops singing, the bands playing ‘Carry me back to ole Virginny!’ We marched on Martinsburg.

Sept. 12   “General A. P. Hill took the direct turnpike, while Jackson, with the rest of his command, followed a side road, so as to approach Martinsburg from the west, and encamped four miles from the town. His object was to drive General White, who occupied Martinsburg, towards Harper’s Ferry, and thus ‘corral’ all the Federal troops in that military pen. As the Comte de Paris puts it, he ‘organised a grand hunting match through the lower Valley, driving all the Federal detachments before him and forcing them to crowd into the blind alley of Harper’s Ferry.’

“The next morning the Confederates entered Martinsburg. Here the general was welcomed with enthusiasm, and a great crowd hastened to the hotel to greet him. At first he shut himself up in a room to write dispatches, but the demonstration became so persistent that he ordered the door to be opened. The crowd, chiefly ladies, rushed in and embarrassed the general with every possible outburst of affection, to which he could only reply, ‘Thank you, you are very kind.’ He gave them his autograph in books and on scraps of paper, cut a button from his coat for a little girl, and then submitted patiently to an attack by the others, who soon stripped the coat of nearly all the remaining buttons. But when they looked beseechingly at his hair, which was thin, he drew the line, and managed to close the interview. These blandishments did not delay his movements, however, for in the afternoon he was off again, and his troops bivouacked on the banks of the Opequon.”1

Battles and Leaders, vol. ii, pp. 622, 623. Major Hotchkiss relates that the ladies of Martinsburg made such desperate assaults on the mane and tail of the general’s charger that he had at last to post a sentry over the stable.


Sept. 13   On the 13th Jackson passed through Halltown and halted a mile north of that village,1 throwing out pickets to hold the roads which lead south and west from Harper’s Ferry. Meanwhile, McLaws and Walker had taken possession of the heights to the north and east, and the intrenched camp of the Federals, which, in addition to the garrison, now held the troops who had fled from Martinsburg, was surrounded on every side. The Federal officer in command had left but one brigade and two batteries to hold the Maryland Heights, the long ridge, 1,000 feet high, on the north shore of the Potomac, which looks down on the streets of the little town. This detachment, although strongly posted, and covered by breastworks and abattis, was driven off by General McLaws; while the Loudoun Heights, a portion of the Blue Ridge, east of the Shenandoah, and almost equally commanding, were occupied without opposition by General Walker. Harper’s Ferry was now completely surrounded. Lee’s plans had been admirably laid and precisely executed, and the surrender of the place was merely a question of hours.

Nor had matters progressed less favourably elsewhere. In exact accordance with the anticipations of Lee and Jackson, McClellan, up till noon on the 13th, had received no inkling whatever of the dangerous manœuvres which Stuart so effectively concealed, and his march was very slow. On the 12th, after a brisk skirmish with the Confederate cavalry, his advanced guard had occupied Frederick, and discovered that the enemy had marched off in two columns, one towards Hagerstown, the other towards Harper’s Ferry, but he was uncertain whether Lee intended to recross the Potomac or to move northwards into Pennsylvania. On the morning of the 13th, although General Hooker, commanding the First Army Corps, took the liberty of reporting that, in his opinion, “the rebels had no more intention of going to Pennsylvania than they had

1  On September 10 he marched fourteen miles, on September 11 twenty, on September 12 sixteen, and on September 13 twelve, arriving at Halltown at 11 a.m.


of going to heaven,” the Federal Commander-in-Chief was still undecided, and on the Boonsboro’ road only his cavalry was pushed forward. In four days McClellan had marched no more than five-and-twenty miles; he had been unable to open communication with Harper’s Ferry, and he had moved with even more than his usual caution. But at noon on the 13th he was suddenly put into possession of the most ample information. A copy of Lee’s order for the investment of Harper’s Ferry, in which the exact position of each separate division of the Confederate army was laid down, was picked up in the streets of Frederick, and chance had presented McClellan with an opportunity unique in history.1 He was within twenty miles of Harper’s Ferry. The Confederates were more than that distance apart. The intrenched camp still held out, for the sound of McLaws’ battle on the Maryland Heights was distinctly heard during the afternoon, and a resolute advance would have either compelled the Confederates to raise the siege, or have placed the Federal army between their widely separated wings.

But, happily for the South, McClellan was not the man for the opportunity. He still hesitated, and during the afternoon of the 13th only one division was pushed forward. In front of him was the South Mountain, the name given to the continuation of the Blue Ridge north of the Potomac, and the two passes, Turner’s and Crampton’s Gaps, were held by Stuart. No Confederate infantry, as Lee’s order indicated, with the exception, perhaps, of a rear-guard, were nearer the passes than

1  General Longstreet, in his From Manassas to Appomattox, declares that the lost order was sent by General Jackson to General D. H. Hill, “but was not delivered. The order,” he adds, “that was sent to General Hill from general headquarters was carefully preserved.” General Hill, however, in Battles and Leaders, vol. ii, p. 570 (note), says: “It was proper that I should receive that order through Jackson, and not through me. I have now before me (1888) the order received from Jackson. My adjutant-general swore affidavit, twenty years ago, that no order was received at our office from General Lee.” Jackson was so careful that no one should learn the contents of the order that the copy he furnished to Hill was written by his own hand. The copy found by the Federals was wrapped round three cigars, and was signed by Lee’s adjutant-general.


the Maryland Heights and Boonsboro’.1 The roads were good and the weather fine, and a night march of twelve miles would have placed the Federal advanced guards at the foot of the mountains, ready to force the Gaps at earliest dawn. McClellan, however, although his men had made no unusual exertions during the past few days, preferred to wait till daylight.

Nevertheless, on the night of the 13th disaster threatened the Confederates. Harper’s Ferry had not yet fallen, and, in addition to the cavalry, D. H. Hill’s division was alone available to defend the passes. Lee, however, still relying on McClellan’s irresolution, determined to hold South Mountain, thus gaining time for the reduction of Harper’s Ferry, and Longstreet was ordered back from Hagerstown, thirteen miles west of Boonsboro’, to Hill’s assistance.

Sept. 14   On the same night Jackson, at Halltown, opened communications with McLaws and Walker, and on the next morning (Sunday) he made the necessary arrangements to ensure combination in the attack. The Federal lines, although commanded by the Maryland and Loudoun Heights to the north and east, opposed a strong front to the south and west. The Bolivar Heights, an open plateau, a mile and a quarter in length, which has the Potomac on the one flank and the Shenandoah on the other, was defended by several batteries and partially intrenched. Moreover, it was so far from the summits occupied by McLaws and Walker that their guns, although directed against the enemy’s rear, could hardly render effective aid; only the extremities of the plateau were thoroughly exposed to fire from the heights.

In order to facilitate communication across the two great rivers Jackson ordered a series of signal stations to be established, and while his own batteries were taking up their ground to assail the Bolivar Heights he issued his instructions to his colleagues. At ten o’clock the flags on the Loudoun Heights signalled that Walker had six rifled guns in position. He was ordered to wait until McLaws,

1  For the lost order, see Note at end of chapter.


who was employed in cutting roads through the woods, should have done the same, and the following message explained the method of attack:—

“General McLaws,—If you can, establish batteries to drive the enemy from the hill west of Bolivar and on which Barbour’s House is, and from any other position where he may be damaged by your artillery. Let me know when you are ready to open your batteries, and give me any suggestions by which you can operate against the enemy. Cut the telegraph line down the Potomac if it is not already done. Keep a good look-out against a Federal advance from below. Similar instructions will be sent to General Walker. I do not desire any of the batteries to open until all are ready on both sides of the river, except you should find it necessary, of which you must judge for yourself. I will let you know when to open all the batteries.

“T. J. JACKSON,          
“Major-General Commanding.”1

About half-past two in the afternoon McLaws reported that his guns were up, and a message “to fire at such positions of the enemy as will be most effective,” followed the formal orders for the co-operation of the whole force

“Headquarters, Valley District,
Sept. 14, 1862.        

“1.  To-day Major-General McLaws will attack so as to sweep with his artillery the ground occupied by the enemy, take his batteries in reverse, and otherwise operate against him as circumstances may justify.

“2.  Brigadier-General Walker will take in reverse the battery on the turnpike, and sweep with his artillery the ground occupied by the enemy, and silence the batteries on the island of the Shenandoah should he find a battery (sic) there.

“3.  Major-General A. P. Hill will move along the left bank of the Shenandoah, and thus turn the enemy’s left flank and enter Harper’s Ferry.

1  Report of Signal Officer, O.R., vol. xix, part i, p. 958.


“4.  Brigadier-General Lawton will move along the turnpike for the purpose of supporting General Hill, and otherwise operating against the enemy to the left of General Hill.

“5.  Brigadier-General Jones will, with one of his brigades and a battery of artillery, make a demonstration against the enemy’s right; the remaining part of his division will constitute the reserve and move along the turnpike.

“By order of Major-General Jackson,

“WM. L. JACKSON,           
“Acting Assistant Adjutant-General’1

Jackson, it appears, was at first inclined to send a flag of truce, for the purpose of giving the civilian population time to get away, should the garrison refuse to surrender; but during the morning heavy firing was heard to the northward, and McLaws reported that he had been obliged to detach troops to guard his rear against McClellan. The batteries were therefore ordered to open fire on the Federal works without further delay.

According to General Walker, Jackson, although he was aware that McClellan had occupied Frederick, not over twenty miles distant, could not bring himself to believe that his old classmate had overcome his prudential instincts, and attributed the sounds of battle to a cavalry engagement. It is certain that he never for a single moment anticipated a resolute attempt to force the passages of the South Mountain, for, in reply to McLaws, he merely instructed him to ask General P. H. Hill to protect his rear, and to communicate with Lee at Hagerstown. Had he entertained the slightest suspicion that McClellan was advancing with his whole force against the passages of the South Mountain, he would hardly have suggested that Hill would be asked to defend Crampton’s as well as Turner’s Gap.

Harper's Ferry, Virginia- a Battle Map

With full confidence, therefore, that he would have time to enforce the surrender of Harper’s Ferry and to join Lee on the further bank of the Potomac, the progress of

1  Report of Signal Officer, O.R., vol xix, part i, p. 659.


his attack was cautious and methodical. “The position in front of me,” he wrote to McLaws, “is a strong one, and I desire to remain quiet, and let you and Walker draw attention from Furnace Hill (west of Bolivar Heights), so that I may have an opportunity of getting possession of the hill without much loss.” It was not, then, till the artillery had been long in action, and the fire of the enemy’s guns had been in some degree subdued, that the infantry was permitted to advance. Although the Federal batteries opened vigorously on the lines of skirmishers, the casualties were exceedingly few. The troops found cover in woods and broken ground, and before nightfall Hill had driven in the enemy’s pickets, and had secured a knoll on their left flank which afforded an admirable position for artillery. Lawton, in the centre, occupied a ridge over which ran the Charlestown turnpike, brought his guns into action, and formed his regiments for battle in the woods. Jones’ division held the Shepherdstown road on Lawton’s left, seized Furnace Hill, and pushed two batteries forward.

No attempt was made during this Sunday evening to storm the Bolivar Heights; and yet, although the Confederate infantry had been hardly engaged, the enemy had been terribly shaken. From every point of the compass, from the lofty crests which looked down upon the town, from the woods towards Charlestown, from the hill to westward, a ceaseless hail of shells had swept the narrow neck to which the garrison was confined. Several guns had been dismounted. More than one regiment of raw troops had dispersed in panic, and had been with difficulty rallied. The roads were furrowed with iron splinters. Many buildings had been demolished, and although the losses among the infantry, covered by their parapets, had been insignificant, the batteries had come almost to their last round.

During the night Jackson made preparations for an early assault. Two of A. P. Hill’s brigades, working their way along the bank of the Shenandoah, over ground which the Federal commander had considered impassable, established themselves to the left rear of the Bolivar Heights. Guns were brought up to the knoll which Hill


had seized during the afternoon; and ten pieces, which Jackson had ordered to be taken across the Shenandoah by Keyes’ Ford, were placed in a position whence they could enfilade the enemy’s works at effective range. Lawton and Jones pushed forward their lines until they could hear voices in the intrenchments; and a girdle of bayonets, closely supported by many batteries, encircled the hapless Federals. The assault was to be preceded by a heavy bombardment, and the advance was to be made as soon as Hill’s guns ceased fire.

Sept. 15   All night long the Confederates slept upon their arms, waiting for the dawn. When day broke, a soft silver mist, rising from the broad Potomac, threw its protecting folds over Harper’s Ferry. But the Southern gunners knew the direction of their targets; the clouds were rent by the passage of screaming shells, and as the sun, rising over the Loudoun Heights, dispersed the vapour, the whole of Jackson’s artillery became engaged. The Federal batteries, worked with stubborn courage, and showing a bold front to every fresh opponent, maintained the contest for an hour; but, even if ammunition had not failed them, they could not have long withstood the terrible fire which took them in front, in flank, and in reverse.1 Then, perceiving that the enemy’s guns were silenced, Hill ordered his batteries to cease fire, and threw forward his brigades against the ridge. Staunch to the last, the Federal artillerymen ran their pieces forward, and opened on the Confederate infantry. Once more the long line of Jackson’s guns crashed out in answer, and two batteries, galloping up to within four hundred yards of the ridge, poured in a destructive fire over the heads of their own troops. Hill’s brigades, when the artillery duel recommenced, had halted at the foot of the slope. Beyond, over the bare fields, the way was obstructed by felled timber, the lopped branches of which were closely interlaced, and above the abattis rose the line of breastworks. But before the charge was sounded

1  The ten guns which had been carried across the Shenandoah were specially effective. Report of Colonel Crutchfield, Jackson’s chief of artillery. O.R., vol. xix, part i, p. 962.


the Confederate gunners completed the work they had so well begun. At 7.30 a.m. the white flag was hoisted, and with the loss of no more than 100 men Jackson had captured Harper’s Ferry with his artillery alone.

The general was near the church in the wood on the Charlestown road, and Colonel Douglas was sent forward to ascertain the enemy’s purpose. “Near the top of the hill,” he writes, “I met General White (commanding the Federals), and told him my mission. Just then General Hill came up from the direction of his line, and on his request I conducted them to General Jackson, whom I found sitting on his horse where I had left him. He was not, as the Comte de Paris says, leaning against a tree asleep, but exceedingly wide-awake. . . . The surrender was unconditional, and then General Jackson turned the matter over to General A. P. Hill, who allowed General White the same liberal terms that Grant afterwards gave Lee at Appomattox. The fruits of the surrender were 12,520 prisoners, 13,000 small arms, 73 pieces of artillery, and several hundred waggons.

“General Jackson, after a brief dispatch to General Lee announcing the capitulation, rode up to Bolivar and down into Harper’s Ferry. The curiosity in the Union army to see him was so great that the soldiers lined the sides of the road. Many of them uncovered as he passed, and he invariably returned the salute. One man had an echo of response all about him when he said aloud: ‘Boys, he’s not much for looks, but if we’d had him we wouldn’t have been caught in this trap.’ ”1

The completeness of the victory was marred by the escape of the Federal cavalry. Under cover of the night 1,200 horsemen, crossing the pontoon bridge, and passing swiftly up the towpath under the Maryland Heights, had ridden boldly beneath the muzzles of McLaws’ batteries, and, moving north-west, had struck out for Pennsylvania. Yet the capture of Harper’s Ferry was a notable exploit, although Jackson seems to have looked upon it as a mere matter of course.

Battles and Leaders, vol. ii, pp. 625–7.


“Through God’s blessing,” he reported to Lee at eight o’clock, “Harper’s Ferry and its garrison are to be surrendered. As Hill’s troops have borne the heaviest part of the engagement, he will be left in command until the prisoners and public property shall be disposed of, unless you direct otherwise. The other forces can move off this evening so soon as they get their rations. To what point shall they move? I write at this time in order that you may be apprised of the condition of things. You may expect to hear from me again to-day, after I get more information respecting the number of prisoners, etc.”1

Lee, with D. H. Hill, Longstreet, and Stuart, was already falling back from the South Mountain to Sharpsburg, a little village on the right bank of the Antietam Creek; and late in the afternoon Jackson, Walker, and McLaws were ordered to rejoin without delay.2 September 14 had been an anxious day for the Confederate Commander-in-Chief. During the morning D. H. Hill, with no more than 5,000 men in his command, had seen the greater part of McClellan’s army deploy for action in the wide valley below and to the eastward of Turner’s Gap. Stuart held the woods below Crampton’s Gap, six miles south, with Robertson’s brigade, now commanded by the gallant Munford; and on the heights above McLaws had posted three brigades, for against this important pass, the shortest route by which the Federals could interpose between Lee and Jackson, McClellan’s left wing, consisting of 20,000 men under General Franklin, was steadily advancing.

The positions at both Turner’s and Crampton’s Gaps were very strong. The passes, at their highest points, are at least 600 feet above the valley, and the slopes steep, rugged, and thickly wooded. The enemy’s artillery had

1  O.R., vol. xix, part i, p. 951. General Longstreet (From Manassas to Appomattox, p. 233) suggests that Jackson, after the capitulation of Harper’s Ferry, should have moved east of South Mountain against McClellan’s rear. Jackson, however, was acquainted neither with McClellan’s position nor with Lee’s intentions, and nothing could have justified such a movement except the direct order of the Commander-in-Chief.
2  “The Invasion of Maryland,” General Longstreet, Battles and Leaders, vol. ii, p. 666.


little chance. Stone walls, running parallel to the crest, gave much protection to the Southern infantry, and loose boulders and rocky scarps increased the difficulties of the ascent. But the numbers available for defence were very small; and had McClellan marched during the night he would probably have been master of the passes before midday. As it was, Crampton’s Gap was not attacked by Franklin until noon; and although at the same hour the advanced guard of the Federal right wing had gained much ground, it was not till four in the evening that a general attack was made on Turner’s Gap. By this time Longstreet, after a march of thirteen miles, had reached the battle-field;1 and despite the determination with which the attack was pressed, Turner’s Gap was still held when darkness fell.

The defence of Crampton’s Gap had been less successful. Franklin had forced the pass before five o’clock, and driving McLaws’ three brigades before him, had firmly established himself astride the summit. The Confederate losses were larger than those which they had inflicted. McClellan reports 1,791 casualties on the right, Franklin 533 on the left. McLaws’ and Munford’s loss was over 800, of whom 400 were captured. The number of killed and wounded in Hill’s and Longstreet’s commands is unknown; it probably reached a total of 1,500, and 1,100 of their men were marched to Frederick as prisoners. Thus the day’s fighting had cost the South 3,400 men. Moreover, Longstreet’s ammunition column, together with an escort of 600 men, had been cut up by the cavalry which had escaped from Harper’s Ferry, and which had struck the Hagerstown road as it marched northward into Pennsylvania.

1  The order for the march had been given the night before (“The Invasion of Maryland,” General Longstreet, Battles and Leaders, vol. ii, p. 666), and there seems to have been no good reason, even admitting the heat and dust, that Longstreet’s command should not have joined him at noon. The troops marched “at daylight” (5 a.m.), and took ten hours to march thirteen miles. As it was, only four of the brigades took part in the action, and did so, owing to their late arrival, in very disjointed fashion. Not all the Confederate generals appear to have possessed the same “driving power” as Jackson.


Yet, on the whole, Lee had no reason to be chagrined with the result of his operations. McClellan had acted with unexpected vigour. But neither in strategy nor in tactics had he displayed improvement on his Peninsular methods. He should have thrown the bulk of his army against Crampton’s Gap, thus intervening between Lee and Jackson; but instead of doing so he had directed 70,000 men against Turner’s Gap. Nor had the attack on Hill and Longstreet been characterised by resolution. The advanced guard was left unsupported until 2 p.m., and not more than 30,000 men were employed throughout the day. Against this number 8,000 Confederates had held the pass. Cobb, one of McLaws’ brigadiers, who commanded the defence at Crampton’s Gap, though driven down the mountain, had offered a stout resistance to superior forces; and twenty-four hours had been gained for Jackson. On the other hand, in face of superior numbers, the position at Turner’s Gap had become untenable; and during the night Hill and Longstreet marched to Sharpsburg.

Sept. 15   This enforced retreat was not without effect on the moral of either army. McClellan was as exultant as he was credulous. “I have just learned,” he reported to Halleck at 8 a.m. on the 15th, “from General Hooker, in advance, that the enemy is making for Shepherdstown in a perfect panic; and that General Lee last night stated publicly that he must admit they had been shockingly whipped. I am hurrying forward to endeavour to press their retreat to the utmost.” Then, two hours later: “Information this moment received completely confirms the rout and demoralisation of the rebel army. It is stated that Lee gives his losses as 15,000. We are following as rapidly as the men can move.”1 Nor can it be doubted that McClellan’s whole army, unaccustomed to see their antagonists give ground before them, shared the general’s mood.2 Amongst the Confederates, on the other hand, there was some depression. It could not be disguised that

1  O.R., vol. xix, pp. 294, 295.
2  “The moral of our men is now restored.” McClellan to Halleck after South Mountain. O.R., vol. xix, part ii, p. 294.


a portion of the troops had shown symptoms of demoralisation. The retreat to the Antietam, although effectively screened by Fitzhugh Lee’s brigade of cavalry, was not effected in the best of order. Many of the regiments had been broken by the hard fighting on the mountain; men had become lost in the forest, or had sought safety to the rear; and the number of stragglers was very large. It was not, then, with its usual confidence that the army moved into position on the ridge above the Antietam Creek. General Longstreet, indeed, was of opinion that the army should have recrossed the Potomac at once. “The moral effect of our move into Maryland had been lost by our discomfiture at South Mountain, and it was evident we could not hope to concentrate in time to do more than make a respectable retreat, whereas by retiring before the battle [of Sharpsburg] we could have claimed a very successful campaign.”1 So spake the voice of prudence. Lee, however, so soon as he was informed of the fall of Harper’s Ferry, had ordered Jackson to join him, resolving to hold his ground, and to bring McClellan to a decisive battle on the north bank of the Potomac.

Although 45,000 men—for Lee at most could count on no more than this number, so great had been the straggling—were about to receive the attack of over 90,000, Jackson, when he reached Sharpsburg on the morning of the 16th, heartily approved the Commander-in-Chief’s decision, and it is worth while to consider the reasons which led them to disagree with Longstreet.

1.  Under ordinary conditions, to expect an army of 45,000 to wrest decisive victory from one of 90,000 well-armed enemies would be to demand an impossibility. The defence, when two armies are equally matched, is physically stronger than the attack, although we have Napoleon’s word for it that the defence has the harder task. But that the inherent strength of the defence is so great as to enable the smaller force to annihilate its enemy is contrary to all the teaching of history. By making good use of favourable ground, or by constructing substantial works,

Battles and Leaders, vol. ii, pp. 666, 667.


the smaller force may indeed stave off defeat and gain time. But it can hope for nothing more. The records of warfare contain no instance, when two armies were of much the same quality, of the smaller army bringing the campaign to a decisive issue by defensive tactics. Wellington and Lee both fought many defensive battles with inferior forces. But neither of them, under such conditions, ever achieved the destruction of their enemy. They fought such battles to gain time, and their hopes soared no higher. At Talavera, Busaco, Fuentes d’Onor, where the French were superior to the allies, Wellington repulsed the attack, but he did not prevent the defeated armies taking the field again in a few days. At the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, the North Anna, and Cold Harbour, the great battles of 1864, Lee maintained his ground, but he did not prevent Grant moving round his flank in the direction of Richmond. At the Second Manassas, Jackson stood fast for the greater part of two days, but he would never have driven Pope across Bull Run without the aid of Longstreet. Porter at Gaines’ Mill held 55,000 men with 35,000 for more than seven hours, but even if he had maintained his position, the Confederate army would not have become a mob of fugitives. No; except on peculiarly favourable ground, or when defending an intrenched camp, an army matched with one of equal efficiency and numerically superior, can never hope for decisive success. So circumstanced, a wise general will rather retreat than fight, and thus save his men for a more favourable opportunity.1

But Lee and Jackson had not to deal with ordinary conditions. Whatever may have been the case in the Peninsula and in the Valley, there can be no question but that the armies in Maryland were by no means equal in

1  Before Salamanca, for instance, because Marmont, whose strength was equal to his own, was about to be reinforced by 4,000 cavalry, Wellington had determined to retreat. It is true, however, that when weaker than Masséna, whom he had already worsted, by 8,000 infantry and 3,800 sabres, but somewhat stronger in artillery, he stood to receive attack at Fuentes d’Onor. Yet Napier declares that it was a very audacious resolution. The knowledge and experience of the great historian told him that to pit 32,000 Infantry against 40,000 was to trust too much to fortune.


quality. The Federals were far more accustomed to retreat than advance. For several months, whether they were engaged on the Shenandoah, on the Chickahominy, on the Rappahannock, or on Bull Run, they had been invariably outmanœuvered. Their losses had been exceedingly severe, not only in battle, but from sickness and straggling. Many of their bravest officers and men had fallen. With the exception of the Second and Sixth Army Corps, commanded by Sumner and by Franklin, by far the greater part of the troops had been involved in Pope’s defeat, and they had not that trust in their leaders which promises a strong offensive. While at Washington the army had been reinforced by twenty-four regiments of infantry, but the majority of these troops had been but lately raised; they knew little of drill; they were commanded by officers as ignorant as themselves, and they had never fired a musket. Nor were the generals equal in capacity to those opposing them. “If a student of history,” says a Northern officer, “familiar with the characters who figured in the War of Secession, but happening to be ignorant of the battle of Antietam, should be told the names of the men who held high commands there, he would say that with anything like equality of forces the Confederates must have won, for their leaders were men who made great names in the war, while the Federal leaders were, with few exceptions, men who never became conspicuous, or became conspicuous only through failure.”1 And the difference in military capacity extended to the rank and file. When the two armies met on the Antietam, events had been such as to confer a marked superiority on the Southerners. They were the children of victory, and every man in the army had participated in the successes of Lee and Jackson. They had much experience of battle. They were supremely confident in their own prowess, for the fall of Harper’s Ferry had made more than amends for the retreat from South Mountain, and they were supremely confident in their leaders. No new regiments weakened

The Antietam and Fredericksburg. General Palfrey p. 53.


the stability of their array. Every brigade and every regiment could be depended on. The artillery, which had been but lately reorganised in battalions, had, under the fostering care of General Pendleton, become peculiarly efficient, although the materiel was still indifferent; and against Stuart’s horsemen the Federal cavalry was practically useless.

In every military attribute, then, the Army of Northern Virginia was so superior to the Army of the Potomac that Lee and Jackson believed that they might fight a defensive battle, outnumbered as they were, with the hope of annihilating their enemy. They were not especially favoured by the ground, and time and means for intrenching were both wanting; but they were assured that not only were their veterans capable of holding the position, but, if favoured by fortune, of delivering a counterstroke which should shiver the Army of the Potomac into a thousand fragments.

2.  By retreating across the Potomac, in accordance with General Longstreet’s suggestion, Lee would certainly have avoided all chances of disaster. But, at the same time, he would have abandoned a good hope of ending the war. The enemy would have been fully justified in assuming that the retrograde movement had been made under the compulsion of his advance, and the balance of moral have been sensibly affected in favour of the Federals. If the Potomac had once been placed between the opposing forces, McClellan would have had it in his power to postpone an encounter until his army was strongly reinforced, his raw regiments trained, and his troops rested. The passage of the river, it is true, had been successfully forced by the Confederates on September 5. But it by no means followed that it could be forced for the second time in face of a concentrated enemy, who would have had time to recover his moral and supply his losses. McClellan, so long as the Confederates remained in Maryland, had evidently made up his mind to attack. But if Maryland was evacuated he would probably content himself with holding the line of the Potomac; and, in view of the relative strength of the two armies, it would be an


extraordinary stroke of fortune which should lay him open to assault. Lee and Jackson were firmly convinced that it was the wiser policy to give the enemy no time to reorganise and recruit, but to coerce him to battle before he had recovered from the defeat which he had sustained on the heights above Bull Run. To recross the Potomac would be to slight the favours of fortune, to abandon the initiative, and to submit, in face of the vast numbers of fresh troops which the North was already raising, to a defensive warfare, a warfare which might protract the struggle, but which must end in the exhaustion of the Confederacy. McClellan’s own words are the strongest justification of the views held by the Southern leaders:—

“The Army of the Potomac was thoroughly exhausted and depleted by the desperate fighting and severe marching in the unhealthy regions of the Chickahominy and afterwards, during the second Bull Run campaign; its trains, administrative services and supplies were disorganised or lacking in consequence of the rapidity and manner of its removal from the Peninsula, as well as from the nature of its operations during the second Bull Run campaign.

“Had General Lee remained in front of Washington (south of the Potomac) it would have been the part of wisdom to hold our own army quiet until its pressing wants were fully supplied, its organisation was restored, and its ranks were filled with recruits—in brief, until it was prepared for a campaign. But as the enemy maintained the offensive, and crossed the Upper Potomac to threaten or invade Pennsylvania, it became necessary to meet him at any cost, notwithstanding the condition of the troops, to put a stop to the invasion, to save Baltimore and Washington, and throw him back across the Potomac. Nothing but sheer necessity justified the advance of the Army of the Potomac to South Mountain and Antietam in its then condition. The purpose of advancing from Washington was simply to meet the necessities of the moment by frustrating Lee’s invasion of the Northern States, and when that was accomplished, to push with


the utmost rapidity the work of reorganisation and supply, so that a new campaign might be promptly inaugurated with the army in condition to prosecute it to a successful termination without intermission.”1

And in his official report, showing what the result of a Confederate success might well have been, he says: “One battle lost and almost all would have been lost. Lee’s army might have marched as it pleased on Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, or New York. It could have levied its supplies from a fertile and undevastated country, extorted tribute from wealthy and populous cities, and nowhere east of the Alleghenies was there another organised force to avert its march.”2

3.  The situation in the West was such that even a victory in Maryland was exceedingly desirable. Confederate movements in Tennessee and Kentucky had won a measure of success which bade fair to open up a brilliant opportunity. Should the Federals be defeated in both the theatres of war, the blow would be felt throughout the length and breadth of the Northern States; and, in any case, it was of the utmost importance that all McClellan’s troops should be retained in the East.

So, when the tidings came of Jackson’s victory at Harper’s Ferry, both armies braced themselves for the coming battle, the Confederates in the hope that it would be decisive of the war, the Federals that it would save the capital. But the Confederates had still a most critical time before them, and Lee’s daring was never more amply illustrated than when he made up his mind to fight on the Antietam. McClellan’s great army was streaming through the passes of the South Mountain. At Rohrersville, six miles east of the Confederate bivouacs, where he had halted as soon as the cannonade at Harper’s Ferry ceased, Franklin was still posted with 20,000 men. From their battle-field at Turner’s Gap, ten miles from Sharpsburg, came the 70,000 which composed the right and centre; and on the banks of the Antietam but 15,000 Southerners were in position.

Battles and Leaders, vol. ii, p. 554.
2  O.R., vol. xix, part i, p. 65.


Jackson had to get rid of his prisoners, to march seventeen miles, and to ford the Potomac before he could reach the ground. Walker was twenty miles distant, beyond the Shenandoah; and McLaws, who would be compelled by Franklin’s presence near Rohrersville to cross at Harper’s Ferry and follow Jackson, over five-and-twenty. Would they be up before McClellan attacked? Lee, relying on McClellan’s caution and Jackson’s energy, answered the question in the affirmative.

The September day wore on. The country between the South Mountain and Sharpsburg, resembling in every characteristic the Valley of the Shenandoah, is open and gently undulating. No leagues of woodland, as in Eastern Virginia, block the view. The roads run through wide cornfields and rolling pastures, and scattered copses are the only relics of the forest. It was not yet noon when the Federal scouts appeared among the trees which crown the left bank of the Antietam Creek. “The number increased, and larger and larger grew the field of blue until it seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see. It was an awe-inspiring spectacle,” adds Longstreet, “as this grand force settled down in sight of the Confederates, shattered by battles and scattered by long and tedious marches.”1 But when night fell upon the field the only interchange of hostilities had been a brief engagement of artillery. McClellan’s advance, owing to the difficulty of passing his great army through the mountains, and to the scarcity of roads, had been slow and tedious; in some of the divisions there had been unnecessary delay; and Lee had so disposed his force that the Federal commander, unenlightened as to the real strength of his adversary, believed that he was opposed by 50,000 men.

Sept. 16   Nor was the next morning marked by any increase of activity. McClellan, although he should have been well aware that a great part of the Confederate army was still west of the Potomac, made no attack. “It was discovered,” he reports, “that the enemy had changed the position of some of his batteries. The masses of

Battles and Leaders, vol. ii, p. 667.


his troops, however, were still concealed behind the opposite heights. It was afternoon before I could move the troops to their positions for attack, being compelled to spend the morning in reconnoitring the new position taken up by the enemy, examining the ground, and finding fords, clearing the approaches, and hurrying up the ammunition and supply trains.”1

Considering that McClellan had been in possession of the left bank of the Antietam since the forenoon of the previous day, all these preliminaries might well have been completed before daylight on the 16th. That a change in the dispositions of a few batteries, a change so unimportant as to pass unnoticed in the Confederate reports, should have imposed a delay, when every moment was precious, of many hours, proves that Lee’s and Jackson’s estimate of their opponent’s character was absolutely correct. While McClellan was reconnoitring, and the guns were thundering across the Antietam, Jackson and Walker crossed the Potomac, and reported to Lee in Sharpsburg.2 Walker had expected to find the Commander-in-Chief anxious and careworn. “Anxious no doubt he was; but there was nothing in his look or manner to indicate it. On the contrary, he was calm, dignified, and even cheerful. If he had had a well-equipped army of a hundred thousand veterans at his back, he could not have appeared more composed and confident. On shaking hands with us, he simply expressed his satisfaction with the result of our operations at Harper’s Ferry, and with our timely arrival at Sharpsburg; adding that with our reinforcements he felt confident of being able to hold his ground until the arrival of the divisions of R. H. Anderson, McLaws, and A. P. Hill, which were still behind, and which did not arrive till next day.”3

Yet the reinforcements which Jackson and Walker had brought up were no considerable addition to Lee’s

1  O.R., vol. xix, part i, p. 55.
2  According to Jackson’s staff officers he himself reported shortly after daylight.
Battles and Leaders, vol. ii, p. 675.


strength. Jones’ division consisted of no more than 1,600 muskets, Lawton’s of less than 3,500. Including officers and artillery, therefore, the effectives of these divisions numbered about 5,500. A. P. Hill’s division appears to have mustered 5,000 officers and men, and we may add 1,000 for men sick or on detached duties. The total should undoubtedly have been larger. After the battle of Cedar Run, Jackson had 22,450 effectives in his ranks. His losses in the operations against Pope, and the transfer of Robertson’s cavalry to Stuart, had brought his numbers down by 5,787; but on September 16, including 70 killed or wounded at Harper’s Ferry, they should have been not less than 16,800. In reality they were only 11,500. We have not far to look for the cause of this reduction. Many of the men had absented themselves before the army crossed into Maryland; and if those who remained with the colours had seen little fighting since Pope’s defeat, they had had no reason to complain of inactivity. The operations which resulted in the capture of Harper’s Ferry had been arduous in the extreme. Men who had taken part in the forced marches of the Valley campaign declared that the march from Frederick to Harper’s Ferry surpassed all their former experiences. In three-and-a-half days they had covered over sixty miles, crossing two mountain ranges, and fording the Potomac. The weather had been intensely hot, and the dust was terrible. Nor had the investment of Harper’s Ferry been a period of repose. They had been under arms during the night which preceded the surrender, awaiting the signal to assault within a few hundred yards of the enemy’s sentries. As soon as the terms of capitulation were arranged they had been hurried back to the bivouac, had cooked two days’ rations, and shortly after midnight had marched to the Potomac, seventeen miles away. This night march, coming on the top of their previous exertions, had taxed the strength of many beyond endurance. The majority were badly shod. Many were not shod at all. They were ill-fed, and men ill-fed are on the highroad to hospital. There were stragglers, then, from every company in the command. Even the Stonewall


Brigade, though it had still preserved its five regiments, was reduced to 300 muskets; and the other brigades of Jackson’s division were but little stronger. Walker’s division, too, although less hardly used in the campaign than the Valley troops, had diminished under the strain of the night march, and mustered no more than 3,500 officers and men at Sharpsburg. Thus the masses of troops which McClellan conceived were hidden in rear of D. H. Hill and Longstreet amounted in reality to some 10,000 effective soldiers.

It was fortunate, indeed, that in their exhausted condition there was no immediate occasion for their services on September 16. The shadows grew longer, but yet the Federals made no move; even the fire of the artillery died away, and the men slept quietly in the woods to north and west of the little town. Meanwhile, in an old house, one of the few which had any pretensions to comfort in Sharpsburg, the generals met in council. Staff officers strolled to and fro over the broad brick pavement; the horses stood lazily under the trees which shaded the dusty road; and within, Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet pored long and earnestly over the map of Maryland during the bright September afternoon. But before the glow of a lovely sunset had faded from the sky the artillery once more opened on the ridge above, and reports came in that the Federals were crossing the Antietam near Pry’s Mill. Lee at once ordered Longstreet to meet this threat with Hood’s division, and Jackson was ordered into line on the left of Hood. No serious collision, however, took place during the evening. The Confederates made no attempt to oppose the passage of the Creek. Hood’s pickets were driven in, but a speedy reinforcement restored the line, and except that the batteries on both sides took part the fighting was little more than an affair of outposts. At eleven o’clock Hood’s brigades were withdrawn to cook and eat. Jackson’s division filled their place; and the night, although broken by constant alarms, passed away without further conflict. The Federal movements had clearly exposed their intention of attacking, and had even revealed the point which they would first assail.


McClellan had thrown two army corps, the First under Hooker, and the Twelfth under Mansfield, across the Antietam; and they were now posted, facing southward, a mile and a half north of Sharpsburg, concealed by the wood beyond Jackson’s left.



The essential paragraphs of the lost order ran as follows:—

“The army will resume its march to-morrow, taking the Hagerstown road. General Jackson’s command will form the advance, and after passing Middletown, with such portions as he may select, take the route towards Sharpsburg, cross the Potomac at the most convenient point, and by Friday night (September 12) take possession of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, capture such of the enemy as may be at Martinsburg, and intercept such as may attempt to escape from Harper’s Ferry.

“General Longstreet’s command will pursue the same road as far as Boonsboro’, where it will halt with the reserve, supply, and baggage trains of the army.

“General McLaws, with his own division and that of General Anderson, will follow General Longstreet; on reaching Middletown he will take the route to Harper’s Ferry, and by Friday morning (September 12) possess himself of the Maryland Heights and endeavour to capture the enemy at Harper’s Ferry and vicinity.

“General Walker with his division . . . will take possession of the Loudoun Heights, if practicable by Friday morning (September 12), . . . He will as far as practicable co-operate with General McLaws and General Jackson in intercepting the retreat of the enemy.

“General D. H. Hill’s division will form the rear-guard of the army, pursuing the road taken by the main body.

“General Stuart will detach a squadron of cavalry to accompany the commands of Generals Longstreet, Jackson, and McLaws, and, with the main body of the cavalry, will cover the route of the army and bring up all stragglers.

“The commands of Generals Jackson, McLaws and Walker, after accomplishing the objects for which they have been detached, will join the main body at Boonsboro’ or Hagerstown.”

The second paragraph was afterwards modified by General Lee so as to place Longstreet at Hagerstown.



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