Battle of Sharpsburg
D. H. Hill’s Division
On the far side of the Potomac the Shepherdstown Ford was protected by the remainder of the reserve artillery, with an infantry escort; but so small was the force whose retreat was thus secured that nearly every man was required in the fighting-line. Except the divisions of Hood and Walker, 5,500 men all told, there was no immediate reserve.
But at daybreak on the 17th the troops which had been left at Harper’s Ferry were rapidly coming up. McLaws and Anderson, who had started before midnight, were already nearing the Potomac; Hampton’s cavalry brigade was not far behind, and orders had been dispatched to A. P. Hill. But could these 13,000 bayonets be up in time—before Hooker and Mansfield received strong support, or before the Burnside Bridge was heavily attacked? The question was indeed momentous. If the Federals were to put forth their whole strength without
1 The majority of Jackson’s guns appear to have been left behind the team. Having broken down, at Harper’s Ferry.
delay, bring their numerous artillery into action, and press the battle at every point, it seemed hardly possible that defeat could be averted. McClellan, however, who had never yet ventured on a resolute offensive, was not likely, in Lee’s judgment, to assault so strong a position as that held by the Confederates with whole-hearted energy, and it was safe to calculate that his troops would be feebly handled. Yet the odds were great. Even after the arrival of the absent divisions1 no more than 35,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry, and 194 guns would be in line, and the enemy’s numbers were far superior. McClellan had called in Franklin from Rohrersville, and his muster roll was imposing.
In comparison with the masses arrayed between the Red Hill and the Antietam, the Confederate army was but a handful.
5 a.m. Notwithstanding McClellan’s caution, the opening of the battle was not long delayed. Before sunrise the desultory firing of the pickets had deepened to the roar of battle. Hooker, who had been ordered to begin the attack, forming his troops behind the North Wood, directed them on the Dunkard Church, which, standing on rising ground, appeared the key of the position. Jackson had already thrown back his two divisions at nearly a right angle to the Confederate front. His
1 A. P. Hill’s Division
right, which connected with the left of D. H. Hill, and resting on the western edge of the East Wood extended as far as the Miller House, was held by Lawton, with two brigades in front and one in second line. West of the Hagerstown turnpike, and covering the ground as far as the Nicodemus Farm, was Jones’ division; the Stonewall and Jones’ brigades in front, Taliaferro’s and Starke’s along the edge of the wood in rear. Three guns stood upon the turnpike; the remainder of the artillery (thirteen) guns was with Stuart on the high ground north of Nicodemus Run. Hood, in third line, stood near the Dunkard Church; and on Hood’s right were three of Longstreet’s batteries under Colonel Stephen Lee.
The ground which Jackson had been ordered to occupy was not unfavourable for defence, although the troops had practically no cover except the rail-fences and the rocky ledges. There was a wide and open field of fire, and when the Federal skirmishers appeared north of the Miller House the Confederate batteries, opening with vigour at a range of eight hundred yards, struck down sixteen men at the first salvo. This fire, and the stubborn resistance of the pickets, held the enemy for some time in check; but Hooker deployed six batteries in reply, and after a cannonade of nearly an hour his infantry advanced. From the cover of the woods, still veiled by the morning mist, the Federals came forward in strong force. Across the dry ploughed land in Lawton’s front the fight grew hot, and on the far side of the turnpike the meadows round the Nicodemus Farm became the scene of a desperate struggle. Hooker had sent in two divisions, Meade on the left and Doubleday on the right, while a third under Ricketts acted in close support of Meade.1 The attack was waged with the dash and energy which had earned for Hooker the sobriquet of Fighting Joe, and the troops he commanded had already proved their mettle on many murderous fields. Meade’s Pennsylvanians, together with the Indiana and Wisconsin
1 Doubleday’s Division consisted of Phelps’, Wainwright’s, Patrick’s, and Gibbon’s brigades; Rickett’s Division of Duryea’s, Lyle’s, and Hartsuff’s; and Meade’s Pennsylvania Division of Seymour’s, Magilton’s, and Anderson’s.
regiments, which had wrought such havoc in Jackson’s ranks at Grovetown, were once more bearing down upon his line. Nor were the tactics of the leaders ill-calculated to second the valour of the troops. Hooker’s whole army corps of 12,500 men was manœuvred in close combination. The second line was so posted as to render quick support. No portion of the front was without an adequate reserve in rear. The artillery was used in mass, and the flanks were adequately guarded.
The conflict between soldiers so well matched was not less fierce than when they had met on other fields. Hooker’s troops had won a large measure of success at South Mountain three days previously, and their blood was up. Meade, Gibbon, and Ricketts were there to lead them, and the battle opened with a resolution which, if it had infected McClellan, would have carried the Sharpsburg ridge ere set of sun. Stubborn was the resistance of Jackson’s regiments, unerring the aim of his seasoned riflemen; but the opposing infantry, constantly reinforced, pressed irresistibly forward, and the heavy guns beyond the Antietam, finding an opening between the woods, swept the thin grey line from end to end. Jones’ division, after fighting for three-quarters of an hour on the meadows, fell back to the West Wood; General Jones was carried wounded from the field, and the guns on the turnpike were abandoned.
6.30 a.m. So tremendous was the fire, that the corn, said Hooker, over thirty acres was cut as close by the bullets as if it had been reaped with the sickle, and the dead lay piled in regular ranks along the whole Confederate front. Never, he added, had been seen a more bloody or dismal battle-field. To the east of the turnpike Lawton’s division, strengthened at the critical moment by the brigade in second line, held Meade in check, and with a sharp counterstroke drove the Pennsylvanians back upon their guns. But Gibbon, fighting fiercely in the centre by the Miller House, brought up a battery in close support of his first line, and pressed heavily on the West Wood until the Confederate skirmishers, creeping through the maize, shot
down the gunners and the teams;1 and Starke, who had succeeded Jones, led the Valley regiments once more into the open field. The battle swayed backwards and forwards under the clouds of smoke; the crash of musketry, reverberating in the woods, drowned the roar of the artillery; and though hundreds were shot down at the shortest range neither Federal nor Confederate flinched from the dreadful fray. Hooker sent in a fresh brigade, and Patrick, reinforcing Gibbon with four regiments, passed swiftly to the front, captured two colours, and made some headway. But again the Virginians rallied, and Starke, observing that the enemy’s right had become exposed, led his regiments forward to the charge. Doubleday’s division, struck fiercely in front and flank, reeled back in confusion past the Miller House, and although the gallant Starke fell dead, the Confederates recovered the ground which they had lost. Jackson’s men had not been left unaided. Colonel Lee’s guns had themselves to look to, for along the whole course of the Antietam McClellan’s batteries were now in action, sweeping the Sharpsburg ridge with a tremendous fire; but Stuart, west of the Nicodemus Farm, had done much to embarrass Hooker’s operations. Bringing his artillery into action, for the ground was unsuited to cavalry, he had distracted the aim of the Federal gunners, and, assailing their infantry in flank, had compelled Doubleday to detach a portion of his force against him. Jackson, with supreme confidence in the ability of his men to hold their ground, had not hesitated to reinforce Stuart with Early’s brigade, the strongest in his command; but before Doubleday was beaten back, Early had been recalled.
7.30 a.m. It was now half-past seven. The battle had been in progress nearly three hours, and Hooker’s attack had been repulsed. But fresh troops were coming into action from the north and north-east, and Lawton’s and Jones’ divisions were in no condition to withstand a renewed assault. No less than three officers in succession had led the latter. Not one single brigade in either
1 This battery of regulars, “B” 4th U.S. Artillery, lost 40 officers and men killed and wounded, besides 33 horses. O.R., vol. xix, part i, p. 229.
division was still commanded by the officer who brought it into action, and but few regiments. Of 4,200 infantry,1 1,700 had already fallen. Never had Jackson’s soldiers displayed a spirit more akin to that of their intrepid leader, and their fierce courage was not to be wasted. Reinforcements were close at hand. Early’s brigade, 1,100 strong,2 was moving across from Nicodemus Run into the West Wood. Hood brought his Texans, 1,800 muskets, to the relief of Lawton; and on Hood’s right, but facing eastward, for Ricketts was working round Jackson’s right, three of D. H. Hill’s brigades, hitherto hidden under cover, came rapidly into line. Lawton’s division, nearly half the command being killed or wounded, was withdrawn to the Dunkard Church; but on the skirt of the West Wood the heroic remnant of the Valley regiments still held fast among the limestone ledges.
The 8,500 infantry which McClellan had sent to Hooker’s assistance formed the Twelfth Army Corps, commanded by Mansfield; and with those men, too, Jackson’s soldiers were well acquainted.3 They were the men who had followed Banks and Shields from Kernstown to Winchester, from Port Republic to Cedar Run; and the Valley army had not yet encountered more determined foes. Their attack was delivered with their wonted vigour. Several regiments, moving west of the turnpike, bore down on the West Wood. But coming into action at considerable intervals, they were roughly handled by Jones’ division, now commanded by Colonel Grigsby, and protected by the rocks; and Stuart’s artillery taking them in flank they were rapidly dispersed. East of the highroad the battle raged with still greater violence. Hood and his Texans, as Lawton’s brigades passed to the rear, dashed across the corn-field against Meade and Ricketts, driving back the infantry on the batteries, and shooting down the
1 Early’s brigade had not yet been engaged.
2 One small regiment was left with Stuart.
3 Mansfield’s corps consisted of two divisions, commanded by Crawford (two brigades) and Greene (three brigades). The brigadiers were Knipe, Gordon, Tynedale, Stainbrook, Goodrich.
gunners. But the Federal line remained unbroken, and Mansfield’s troops were already moving forward. Crawford’s brigade, and then Gordon’s, struck the Texans in front, while Greene, working round the East Wood, made a resolute onslaught on D. H. Hill. The struggle was long and bloody. The men stood like duelists, firing and receiving the fire at fifty or a hundred paces. Crawford lost 1,000 men without gaining a foot of ground; but Gordon turned the scale, and Hood’s brigades were gradually forced back through the corn-field to the Dunkard Church. A great gap had now opened in Jackson’s line. Jones’ division, its flank uncovered by Hood’s retreat, found itself compelled to seek a new position. D. H. Hill’s brigades, in the same plight, gave ground towards Sharpsburg; and Greene, following in pursuit, actually crossed the turnpike, and penetrated the West Wood; but neither Hooker nor Mansfield were able to support him, and unassisted he could make no progress.
9 a.m. At this moment, as if by common consent, the firing ceased on this flank of the battle; and as McClellan’s Second Army Corps, led by Sumner, advanced to sustain the First and Twelfth, we may stand by Jackson near the Dunkard Church, and survey the field after four hours’ fighting.
Assailed in front by superior numbers, and enfiladed by the batteries beyond the Antietam, the Confederate left had everywhere given back. The East Wood was in possession of the enemy. Their right occupied the Miller House; their centre, supported by many batteries, stood across the corn-field; while the left, thrust forward, was actually established on the edge of the West Wood, some five hundred yards to northward of the church. But if Jackson had yielded ground, he had exacted a fearful price. The space between the woods was a veritable slaughter-pen, reeking under the hot September sun, where the blue uniforms lay thicker than the grey. The First Army Corps had been cut to pieces. It had been beaten in fair fight by Jackson’s two divisions, counting at the outset less than half its numbers, and aided only by
the cavalry. It had lost in killed and wounded over 100 officers and 2,400 men. Hooker himself had been struck down, and as far as the Antietam the field was covered with his stragglers. The Twelfth Corps had suffered hardly less severely; and Mansfield himself, an old man and a gallant soldier, was dying of his wounds. His batteries indeed remained in action, pouring shot and shell on the West Wood and the Dunkard Church; but his infantry, reduced by more than 1,500 rifles, could do no more than hold their ground.
Nor was the exhaustion of the enemy the only advantage which the Confederates had gained by the slaughter of 4,000 men. The position to which Jackson had retired was more favourable than that from which he had been driven. The line, no longer presenting a weak angle, was almost straight, and no part of the front was open to enfilade. Stuart and his artillery, withdrawn to a more favourable position, secured the left. D. H. Hill on the right, though part of his force had given way, still held the Roulette House and the sunken road, and the troops in the West Wood were well protected from the Northern batteries. The one weak point was the gap occupied by Greene’s Federals, which lay between Grigsby’s regiments in the northern angle of the West Wood and Hood’s division at the Dunkard Church. The enemy, however, showed no signs of making good his opportunity; Early’s brigade was close at hand, and Lee had promised further reinforcements.
A glance southward showed that there was no reason for despair. Over all the field lay the heavy smoke of a great artillery battle. From near the Dunkard Church to the bluff overhanging the Antietam, a distance of two miles, battery on battery was in line. Here were Longstreet’s artillery under Stephen Lee, together with the six-and-twenty guns of Cutts’ reserve battalion, forty-eight guns in all; the divisional batteries of D. H. Hill, and the Washington artillery of New Orleans,1 and in addition to these eighty guns others were in action above the Burnside Bridge. An array even more formidable crowned the opposite
1 Both D. H. Hill and the Washington artillery had sixteen guns each.
crest; but although the Confederate batteries, opposed by larger numbers and heavier metal, had suffered terribly, both in men and in matériel, yet the infantry, the main strength of the defence, was still intact.1 The cliffs of the Red Hill, replying to the rolling thunder of near 800 guns, gave back no echo to the sharper crack of musketry. Save a few skirmishers, who had crossed the Sharpsburg Bridge, not one company of McClellan’s infantry had been sent into action south of the Dunkard Church. Beyond the Antietam, covering the whole space between the river and the hills, the blue masses were plainly to be seen through the drifting smoke; some so far in the distance that only the flash of steel in the bright sunshine distinguished them from the surrounding woods; others moving in dense columns towards the battle:
Standards on standards, men on men;
In slow succession still.
But neither by the Sharpsburg nor yet by the Burnside Bridge had a single Federal regiment crossed the stream; Lee’s centre and right were not even threatened, and it was evident his reserves might be concentrated without risk at whatever point he pleased.
Walker’s division was therefore withdrawn from the right, and McLaws, who had reached Sharpsburg shortly after sunrise, was ordered to the front. G. T. Anderson’s brigade was detached from D. H. Hill; and the whole force was placed at Jackson’s disposal. These fresh troops, together with Early’s regiments, not yet engaged, gave 10,000 muskets for the counterstroke, and had Hooker and Mansfield been alone upon the field the Federal right wing would have been annihilated. But as the Confederate reserves approached the Dunkard Church, Sumner, whom McClellan
1 “Our artillery,” says General D. H. Hill, “could not cope with the superior weight, calibre, range, and number of the Yankee guns; hence it ought only to have been used against masses of infantry. On the contrary, our guns were made to reply to the Yankee guns, and were smashed up or withdrawn before they could be effectually turned against massive columns of attack.” After Sharpsburg Lee gave orders that there were to be no more “artillery duels” so long as the Confederates fought defensive battles.
had ordered to cross Pry’s Bridge with the Second Army Corps, threw three divisions against the West Wood and the Roulette House. In three lines, up the slope from the Antietam, at sixty yards distance and covering a wide front, came Sedgwick on the right, French on the left, and Richardson to the left rear. So orderly was the advance of those 18,000 Northerners, and so imposing their array, that even the Confederate officers watched their march with admiration, and terrible was the shock with which they renewed the conflict.
Sedgwick, emerging from the East Wood, moved directly over the corn-field, crossed the turnpike, and entering the West Wood to northward of the point still held by Greene, swept through the timber, and with a portion of his advanced brigade reached the further edge. Greene, at the same moment, moved upon the Dunkard Church, and Early, who with the fragments of Jones’ division was alone within the wood, marched rapidly in the same direction. Attacked suddenly in flank from behind a ridge of rock Greene’s regiments were driven back; and then Early, observing Sedgwick’s third line pushing across the turnpike, reformed his troops for further action. Greene, for the moment, had been disposed of, but a more formidable attack was threatening. Sedgwick’s 6,000 muskets, confronted only by some 6001 of the Valley soldiers under Grigsby, were thronging through the wood, and a change of front southward would have sent them sweeping down the Confederate line. Early could hardly have withstood their onset; Hood was incapable of further effort, and D. H. Hill was heavily pressed by French. But Jackson’s hand still held the reins of battle. During the fierce struggle of the morning he had remained on the edge of the West Wood, leaving, as was his wont, the conduct of the divisions to his subordinates, but watching his enemy with a glance that saw beyond the numbers arrayed against him. He had already demanded reinforcements from General Lee; and in anticipation of their speedy arrival
1 Letter of Jackson’s Adjutant-General. Memoirs of W. N. Pendleton, D.D., p. 216.
their orders had been already framed. They had not been called for to sustain his front, or to occupy a new position. Despite the thronging masses of the Federals, despite the fact that his line was already broken, attack, and attack only, was in Jackson’s mind, and the reserves and the opportunity arrived together. A staff officer was dispatched to direct Walker, on the left, to sustain the Texans, to clear the West Wood, and to place a detachment in the gap between the Dunkard Church and the batteries of Colonel Lee;1 while Jackson himself, riding to meet McLaws, ordered him “to drive the enemy back and turn his right.” Anderson’s brigade was sent to support McLaws, and Semmes’ brigade of McLaws’ division was detached to strengthen Stuart.
Forming into line as they advanced, McLaws and Walker, leaving the Dunkard Church on their right, and moving swiftly through the wood, fell suddenly on Sedgwick’s flank. Early joined in the mêlée, and “the result,” says Palfrey, a Northern general who was present on the field, “was not long doubtful. Sedgwick’s fine division was at the mercy of their enemy. Change of front was impossible. In less time than it takes to tell it the ground was strewn with the bodies of the dead and wounded, while the unwounded were moving off rapidly to the north. Nearly 2,000 men were disabled in a moment.”2 And the impetus of the counterstroke was not yet spent. Gordon’s brigade of the Twelfth Corps had been dispatched to Sedgwick’s help, but McLaws had reformed his troops, and after a short struggle the Confederates drove all before them.
Confusion reigned supreme in the Federal ranks. In vain their powerful artillery, firing case and canister with desperate energy, strove to arrest the rush of the pursuing infantry. Out from the West Wood and across the cornfield the grey lines of battle, preceded by clouds of skirmishers, pressed forward without a check, and the light batteries, plying whip and spur, galloped to the front in
Sharpsburg. By Major-General J. G. Walker, C.S.A. Battles and
Leaders, vol. ii, pp. 677, 678.
2 Memoirs, p. 572. The Antietam and Fredericksburg, p. 87.
close support. Hope rose high. The Southern yell, pealing from ten thousand throats, rang with a wild note of anticipated triumph, and Jackson, riding with McLaws, followed with kindling gaze the progress of his counterstroke attack. “God,” he said to his companion, as the shells fell round them and the masses of the enemy melted away like the morning mist, “has been very kind to us this day.”
But the end was not yet. Sedgwick’s brigades, flying to the north-east, rallied under the fire of their batteries, and as the Confederates advanced upon the East Wood, they found it already occupied by a fresh brigade. Smith’s division of the Sixth Corps had been sent forward by McClellan to sustain the battle, and its arrival saved his army from defeat. Once more the corn-field became the scene of a furious struggle, the Southerners fighting for decisive victory, the Federals for existence. So impetuous was McLaws’ attack that the regiments on his left, although checked by the fences, drove in a battery and dashed back the enemy’s first line; but the weight of the artillery in front of the North Wood, supported by a portion of Smith’s division, prevented further advance, and a Federal brigade, handled with rare judgment, rushed forward to meet the assailants in the open. Sharp was the conflict, for McLaws, a fine soldier, as daring as he was skilful, strove fiercely to complete the victory; but the fight within the woods and the swift pursuit had broken the order of his division. Brigade had mingled with brigade, regiment with regiment. There were no supports; and the broken ranks, scourged by the terrible cross-fire of many batteries, were unable to withstand the solid impact of the Federal reserve. Slowly and sullenly the troops fell back from the deadly strife. The enemy, no less exhausted, halted and lay down beyond the turnpike; and while the musketry once more died away to northward of the Dunkard Church, Jackson, rallying his brigades, re-established his line along the edge of the West Wood.
Near the church was a portion of Walker’s division. Further north were two of McLaws’ brigades; then Armistead, who had been sent forward from Sharpsburg, and
then Early. A brigade of McLaws’ division formed the second line, and Anderson was sent back to D. H. Hill. Hood also was withdrawn, and the survivors of Jones’ division, many of whom had shared in the counterattack, were permitted to leave the front.
10.30 a.m. Their rifles were no longer needed, for from half-past ten onwards, so far as the defence of the Confederate left was concerned, the work was done. For many hours the West Wood was exposed to the concentrated fire of the Federal artillery; but this fire, although the range was close, varying from six to fifteen hundred yards, had little effect. The shattered branches fell incessantly among the recumbent ranks, and the shells, exploding in the foliage, sent their hissing fragments far and wide; yet the losses, so more than one general reported, were surprisingly small.
But although the enemy’s infantry had been repulsed, no immediate endeavour was made by the Confederates to initiate a fresh counterstroke. When Lee sent McLaws and Walker to Jackson’s aid, he sent in his last reserve, for A. P. Hill had not yet reached the field, and R. H. Anderson’s division had already been taken to support the centre. Thus no fresh troops were available, and the Federal right was strong. At least fifteen batteries of artillery were in position along the edge of the North Wood, and they were powerfully supported by the heavy guns beyond the stream.
Yet the infantry so effectively protected was only formidable by reason of its numbers. The First Corps and the Twelfth no longer existed as organised bodies.1 Sedgwick’s division of the Second Corps was still more shattered. Only Smith’s division was effective, and General McClellan, acting on the advice of Sumner, forbade all further attack. Slocum’s division of the Sixth Corps, which reached the East Wood at twelve o’clock, was ordered to remain in rear as support to Smith. The Confederate left wing, then, had offered such strenuous resistance that eight divisions of infantry, more than half of McClellan’s army, lay paralysed before them for the remainder of
1 It was not until two o’clock that even Meade’s Pennsylvanians were reformed.
the day. 30,500 infantry, at the lowest calculation,1 and probably 100 guns, besides those across the Antietam, had been massed by the Federals in this quarter of the field. Jackson’s numbers, even after he had been reinforced by McLaws and Walker, at no time approached those arrayed against him, and 19,400 men, including Stuart and three brigades of Hill, and 40 guns, is a liberal estimate of his strength.2 The losses on both sides had been exceedingly heavy. Nearly 13,000 men,3 including no less than fifteen generals and brigadiers, had fallen within six hours. But although the Confederate casualties were not greatly exceeded by those of the enemy, and were much larger in proportion to their strength, the Federals had lost more than mere numbers. The moral of the troops had suffered, and still more the moral of the leaders. Even
3 The Federals engaged against Jackson lost in five and a half hours 7,000 officers and men. During the seven hours they were engaged at Gravelotte the Prussian Guard and the Saxon Army Corps lost 10,349; but 50,000 infantry were in action. The percentage of loss (20) was about the same in both cases. The Confederate losses up to 10.30 a.m. were as follows:
Sumner, bravest of men, had been staggered by the fierce assault which had driven Sedgwick’s troops like sheep across the corn-field, nor was McClellan disposed to push matters to extremity.
Over in the West Wood, on the other hand, discouragement had no place. Jackson had not yet abandoned hope of sweeping the enemy from the field. He was disappointed with the partial success of McLaws’ counterstroke. It had come too late. The fortuitous advance of Smith’s division, at the very crisis of the struggle, had, in all human probability, rescued the Federal right from a terrible defeat. Had McLaws been able to reach the East Wood he would have compelled the hostile batteries to retreat; the Federal infantry, already shattered and disorganised, could hardly have held on, and the line would have been broken through. But although one opportunity had been lost, and he was once more thrown on the defensive, Jackson’s determination to make the battle decisive of the war was still unshaken. His judgment was never clearer. Shortly before eleven o’clock his medical director, appalled by the number of wounded men sent back from the front, and assured that the day was going badly, rode to the West Wood in order to discuss the advisability of transferring the field hospitals across the Potomac. Dr. McGuire found Jackson sitting quietly on “Little Sorrel” behind the line of battle, and some peaches he had brought with him were gratefully accepted. He then made his report, and his apprehensions were not made less by the weakness of the line which held the wood. The men, in many places, were lying at intervals of several yards; for support there was but one small brigade, and over in the corn-fields the overwhelming strength of the Federal masses was terribly apparent. Yet his imperturbable commander, apparently paying more attention to the peaches than to his subordinate’s suggestions, replied by pointing to the enemy and saying quietly, “Dr. McGuire, they have done their worst.”
Meanwhile, the tide of battle, leaving Jackson’s front and setting strongly southwards, threatened to submerge the Confederate centre. French’s division of Sumner’s
corps, two brigades of Franklin’s, and afterwards Richardson’s division, made repeated efforts to seize the Dunkard Church, the Roulette Farm, and the Piper House.
1 p.m. From before ten until one o’clock the battle raged fiercely about the sunken road which was held by D. H. Hill, and which witnessed on this day such pre-eminence of slaughter that it has since been known by the name of the “Bloody Lane.” Here, inspired by the unyielding courage of their leaders, fought the five brigades of D. H. Hill, with B. H. Anderson’s division and two of Walker’s regiments; and here Longstreet, confident as always, controlled the battle with his accustomed skill. The Confederate artillery was by this time overpowered, for on each battery in turn the enemy’s heavy ordnance had concentrated an overwhelming fire, and the infantry were supported by no more than a dozen guns. The attack was strong, but the sunken road, fortified by piles of fence-rails, remained inviolable. Still the Confederate losses were enormous, and defeat appeared a mere question of time; at one moment, the enemy under French had actually seized the wood near the Dunkard Church, and was only dispossessed by a desperate counterstroke. Richardson, who advanced on French’s right, and at an appreciable interval of time, was even more successful than his colleague. The “Bloody Lane,” already piled with dead, and enfiladed from a height to the north-west, was carried by a brilliant charge; and when the Roulette Farm, a strong defensive post, was stormed, Longstreet fell back to the turnpike through the wreck of the artillery. But at this critical juncture the Federals halted. They had not been supported by their batteries. Richardson had received a mortal wound, and a succession of rough counterstrokes had thinned their ranks. Here, too, the musketry dwindled to a spattering fire, and the opposing forces, both reduced to the defensive, lay watching each other through the long hours of the afternoon. A threat of a Federal advance from the Sharpsburg Bridge came to nothing. Four batteries of regulars, preceded by a force of infantry, pushed across the stream and came into action on either side of
the Boonsboro’ road; but on the slopes above, strongly protected by the walls, Evans’ brigade stood fast; Lee sent up a small support, and the enemy confined his movements to a demonstration.
Still further to the south, however, the battle blazed out at one o’clock with unexpected fury. The Federal attack, recoiling first from Jackson and then from Longstreet, swung round to the Confederate right; and it seemed as if McClellan’s plan was to attempt each section of Lee’s line in succession. Burnside had been ordered to force the passage of the bridge at nine o’clock, but either the difficulty of the task, or his inexperience in handling troops on the offensive, delayed his movements; and when the attack was made, it was fiercely met by four Confederate brigades. At length, well on in the afternoon, three Federal divisions crowned the spur, and, driving Longstreet’s right before them, made good their footing on the ridge. Sharpsburg was below them; the Southern infantry, outflanked and roughly handled, was falling back in confusion upon the town; and although Lee had assembled a group of batteries in the centre, and regiments were hurrying from the left, disaster seemed imminent. But strong assistance was at hand. A. P. Hill, who had forded the Potomac and crossed the Antietam by the lower bridge, after a forced march of seventeen miles in eight hours from Harper’s Ferry,1 attacked without waiting for orders, and struck the Federals in flank with 3,000 bayonets. By this brilliant counterstroke Burnside was repulsed and the position saved.
Northern writers have laid much stress on this attack. Had Burnside displayed more, or A. P. Hill less, energy, the Confederates, they assert, could hardly have escaped defeat. It is certainly true that Longstreet’s four brigades had been left to bear the brunt of Burnside’s assault without further support than could be rendered by the artillery. They were not so left, however, because it was impossible to aid them. Jackson’s and Longstreet’s
1 Hill received his orders at 6.30 a.m. and marched an hour later, reaching the battle-field about 3.30 p.m.
troops, despite the fiery ordeal through which they had passed, were not yet powerless, and the Confederate leaders were prepared for offensive tactics. A sufficient force to sustain the right might have been withdrawn from the left and centre; but Hill’s approach was known, and it was considered inadvisable to abandon all hold of the means for a decisive counterstroke on the opposite flank. Early in the afternoon Longstreet had given orders for an advance. Hood’s division, with full cartridge-boxes, had reappeared upon the field. Jones’ and Lawton’s divisions were close behind; the batteries had replenished their ammunition, and if Longstreet was hardly warranted in arranging a general counter-attack on his own responsibility, he had at least full confidence in the ability of the troops to execute it. “It seemed probable,” he says, “that by concealing our movements under cover of the (West) wood, we could draw our columns so near to the enemy to the front that we would have but a few rods to march to mingle our ranks with his; that our columns, massed in goodly numbers, and pressing heavily upon a single point, would give the enemy much trouble and might cut him in two, breaking up his battle arrangements at Burnside Bridge.”1
The stroke against the centre was not, however, to be tried. Lee had other views, and Jackson had been already ordered to turn the Federal right. Stuart, reinforced by a regiment of infantry and several light batteries, was instructed to reconnoitre the enemy’s position, and if favourable ground were found, he was to be supported by all the infantry available. “About half-past twelve,” says General Walker, “I sought Jackson to report that from the front of my position in the wood I thought I had observed a movement of the enemy, as if to pass through the gap where I had posted Colonel Cooke’s two regiments. I found Jackson in rear of Barksdale’s brigade, under an apple tree, sitting on his horse, with one leg thrown carelessly over the pommel of his saddle, plucking and eating the fruit. Without making any reply to my report, he asked me abruptly: ‘Can you spare me a
1 From Manassas to Appomattox, pp 256, 257.
regiment and a battery?’ . . . Adding that he wished to make up, from the different commands on our left, a force of four or five thousand men, and give them to Stuart, with orders to turn the enemy’s right and attack him in the rear; that I must give orders to my division to advance to the front, and attack the enemy as soon as I should hear Stuart’s guns, and that our whole left wing would move to the attack at the same time. Then, replacing his foot in the stirrup, he said with great emphasis, ‘We’ll drive McClellan into the Potomac.’
“Returning to my command, I repeated General Jackson’s order to my brigade commanders and directed them to listen to the sound of Stuart’s guns. We all confidently expected to hear the welcome sound by two o’clock at least, and as that hour approached every ear was on the alert. Napoleon at Waterloo did not listen more intently for the sound of Grouchy’s fire than did we for Stuart’s. Two o’clock came, but nothing was heard of Stuart. Half-past two, and then three, and still Stuart made no sign.
“About half-past three a staff officer of General Longstreet’s brought me an order to advance and attack the enemy in my front. As the execution of this order would have materially interfered with Jackson’s plans, I thought it my duty before beginning the movement to communicate with General Longstreet personally. I found him in rear of the position in which I had posted Cooke in the morning, and upon informing him of Jackson’s intentions, he withdrew his order.
“While we were discussing this subject, Jackson himself joined us with the information of Stuart’s failure to turn the Federal right, for the reason that he found it securely posted on the Potomac. Upon my expressing surprise at this statement, Jackson replied that he also had been surprised, as he had supposed the Potomac much further away; but he remarked that Stuart had an excellent eye for topography, and it must be as he represented. ‘It is a great pity,’ he added; ‘we should have driven McClellan into the Potomac’ ”1
1 Battles and Leaders, vol. ii, pp. 679, 680.
That a counterstroke which would have combined a frontal and flank attack would have been the best chance of destroying the Federal army can hardly be questioned. The front so bristled with field artillery, and the ridge beyond the Antietam was so strong in heavier ordnance, that a purely frontal attack, such as Longstreet suggested, was hardly promising; but the dispositions which baffled Stuart were the work of a sound tactician. Thirty rifled guns had been assembled in a single battery a mile north of the West Wood, where the Hagerstown turnpike ascends a commanding ridge, and the broad channel of the Potomac is within nine hundred yards. Here had rallied such portions of Hooker’s army corps as had not dispersed, and here Mansfield’s two divisions had reformed; and although the infantry could hardly have opposed a resolute resistance the guns were ready to repeat the lesson of Malvern Hill. Against the rifled pieces the light Confederate smooth-bores were practically useless. Stuart’s caution was fully justified, and the sun sank on an indecisive battle.
“The blessed night came, and brought with it sleep and forgetfulness and refreshment to many; but the murmur of the night wind, breathing over fields of wheat and clover, was mingled with the groans of the countless sufferers of both armies. Who can tell, who can even imagine, the horrors of such a night, while the unconscious stars shone above, and the unconscious river went rippling by?”1 Out of 130,000 men upon the ground, 21,000 had been killed or wounded, more than sixteen per cent.; and 25,000 of the Federals can hardly be said to have been engaged.
The losses of the Confederate left have already been enumerated. Those of the centre and the right, although A. P. Hill reported only 350 casualties, had hardly been less severe. In all 9,500 officers and men, one-fourth of the total strength, had fallen, and many of the regiments had almost disappeared.2 The 17th Virginia, for
Palfrey. The Antietam and Fredericksburg.
2 “One does not look for humour in a stern story like this, but the Charleston Courier account of the battle contains the following statement: ‘They [the Confederates] fought until they were cut to pieces, and then retreated only because they had fired their last round!’ ” General Palfrey, The Antietam and Fredericksburg.
instance, of Longstreet’s command, took into battle 9 officers and 46 men; of these 7 officers and 24 men were killed or wounded, and 10 taken prisoners, leaving 2 officers and 12 men to represent a regiment which was over 1,000 strong at Bull Run. Yet as the men sank down to rest on the line of battle, so exhausted that they could not be awakened to eat their rations; as the blood cooled and the tension on the nerves relaxed, and even the officers, faint with hunger and sickened with the awful slaughter, looked forward with apprehension to the morrow, from one indomitable heart the hope of victory had not yet vanished. In the deep silence of the night, more oppressive than the stunning roar of battle, Lee, still mounted, stood on the highroad to the Potomac, and as general after general rode in wearily from the front, he asked quietly of each, “How is it on your part of the line?” Each told the same tale: their men were worn out; the enemy’s numbers were overwhelming; there was nothing left but to retreat across the Potomac before daylight. Even Jackson had no other counsel to offer. His report was not the less impressive for his quiet and respectful tone. He had had to contend, he said, against the heaviest odds he had ever met. Many of his divisional and brigade commanders were dead or wounded, and his loss had been severe. Hood, who came next, was quite unmanned. He exclaimed that he had no men left. “Great God!” cried Lee, with an excitement he had not yet displayed, “where is the splendid division you had this morning?” “They are lying on the field, where you sent them,” was the reply, “for few have straggled. My division has been almost wiped out.”
After all had given their opinion, there was an appalling silence, which seemed to last for several minutes, and then General Lee, rising erect in his stirrups, said, “Gentlemen, we will not cross the Potomac to-night. You will go to your respective commands, strengthen your lines; send
two officers from each brigade towards the ford to collect your stragglers and get them up. Many have come in. I have had the proper steps taken to collect all the men who are in the rear. If McClellan wants to fight in the morning, I will give him battle again. Go!” Without a word of remonstrance the group broke up, leaving their great commander alone with his responsibility, and, says an eyewitness, “if I read their faces aright, there was not one but considered that General Lee was taking a fearful risk.”1 So the soldiers’ sleep was undisturbed. Through the September night they lay beside their arms, and from the dark spaces beyond came the groans of the wounded and the nameless odours of the battle-field. Not often has the night looked down upon a scene more terrible. The moon, rising above the mountains, revealed the long lines of men and guns, stretching far across hill and valley, waiting for the dawn to shoot each other down, and between the armies their dead lay in such numbers as civilised war has seldom seen. So fearful had been the carnage, and comprised within such narrow limits, that a Federal patrol, it is related, passing into the corn-field, where the fighting had been fiercest, believed that they had surprised a whole Confederate brigade. There, in the shadow of the woods, lay the skirmishers, their muskets beside them, and there, in regular ranks, lay the line of battle, sleeping, as it seemed, the profound sleep of utter exhaustion. But the first man that was touched was cold and lifeless, and the next, and the next; it was the bivouac of the dead.
Sept. 18 When the day dawned the Confederate divisions, reinforced by some 5,000 or 6,000 stragglers, held the same position as the previous evening, and over against them, seen dimly through the mist, lay the Federal lines. The skirmishers, crouching behind the shattered fences, confronted each other at short range; the guns of both armies were unlimbered, and the masses of infantry, further to the rear, lay ready for instant conflict. But not a shot was fired. The sun rose higher in the
1 Communicated by General Stephen P. Lee, who was present at the conference.
heavens; the warm breath of the autumn morning rustled in the woods, but still the same strange silence prevailed. The men spoke in undertones, watching intently the movements of staff officers and orderlies; but the ranks lay as still as the inanimate forms, half hidden by the trodden corn, which lay so thickly between the lines; and as the hours passed on without stir or shot, the Southern generals acknowledged that Lee’s daring in offering battle was fully justified. The enemy’s aggressive strength was evidently exhausted; and then arose the question, Could the Confederates attack? It would seem that the possibility of a great counterstroke had already been the subject of debate, and that Lee, despite the failure of the previous evening, and Jackson’s adverse report, believed that the Federal right might be outflanked and overwhelmed. “During the morning,” writes General Stephen D. Lee, “a courier from headquarters came to my battalion of artillery with a message that the Commander-in-Chief wished to see me. I followed the courier, and on meeting General Lee, he said, ‘Colonel Lee, I wish you to go with this courier to General Jackson, and say that I sent you to report to him.’ I replied, ‘General, shall I take my batteries with me?’ He said, ‘No, just say that I told you to report to him, and he will tell you what he wants.’ I soon reached General Jackson. He was dismounted, with but few persons round him. He said to me, ‘Colonel Lee, I wish you to take a ride with me,’ and we rode to the left of our lines with but one courier, I think. We soon reached a considerable hill and dismounted. General Jackson then said, ‘Let us go up this hill, and be careful not to expose yourself, for the Federal sharpshooters are not far off.’ The hill bore evidence of fierce fight the day before.1 A battery of artillery had been on it, and there were wrecked caissons, broken wheels, dead bodies, and dead horses around. General Jackson said: ‘Colonel, I wish you to take your glasses and carefully examine the Federal line of battle.’ I did so, and saw a remarkably strong line of battle, with more troops than I knew General Lee had. After locating the
1 Evidently the ridge which had been held by Stuart on the 17th.
different batteries, unlimbered and ready for action, and noting the strong skirmish line, in front of the dense masses of infantry, I said to him, ‘General, that is a very strong position, and there is a large force there.’ He said, ‘Yes. I wish you to take fifty pieces of artillery and crush that force, which is the Federal right. Can you do it?’ I can scarcely describe my feelings as I again took my glasses, and made an even more careful examination. I at once saw such an attempt must fail. More than fifty guns were unlimbered and ready for action, strongly supported by dense lines of infantry and strong skirmish lines, advantageously posted. The ground was unfavourable for the location of artillery on the Confederate side, for, to be effective, the guns would have to move up close to the Federal lines, and that, too, under fire of both infantry and artillery. I could not bring myself to say all that I felt and knew. I said, ‘Yes, General; where will I get the fifty guns?’ He said, ‘How many have you?’ I replied, ‘About twelve out of the thirty I carried into the action the day before.’ (My losses had been very great in men, horses, and carriages.) He said, ‘I can furnish you some, and General Lee says he can furnish some.’ I replied, ‘Shall I go for the guns?’ ‘No, not yet,’ he replied. ‘Colonel Lee, can you crush the Federal right with fifty guns?’ I said, ‘General, I can try. I can do it if anyone can.’ He replied, ‘That is not what I asked you, sir. If I give you fifty guns, can you crush the Federal right?’ I evaded the question again and again, but he pressed it home. Finally I said, ‘General, you seem to be more intent upon my giving you my technical opinion as an artillery officer, than upon my going after the guns and making the attempt.’ ‘Yes, sir,’ he replied, ‘and I want your positive opinion, yes or no.’ I felt that a great crisis was upon me, and I could not evade it. I again took my glasses and made another examination. I waited a good while, with Jackson watching me intently.
“I said, ‘General, it cannot be done with fifty guns and the troops you have near here.’ In an instant he said, ‘Let us ride back, Colonel.’ I felt that I had
positively shown a lack of nerve, and with considerable emotion begged that I might be allowed to make the attempt, saying, ‘General, you forced me to say what I did unwillingly. If you give the fifty guns to any other artillery officer, I am ruined for life. I promise you I will fight the guns to the last extremity, if you will only let me command them.’ Jackson was quiet, seemed sorry for me, and said, ‘It is all right, Colonel. Everybody knows you are a brave officer and would fight the guns well,’ or words to that effect. We soon reached the spot from which we started. He said, ‘Colonel, go to General Lee, and tell him what has occurred since you reported to me. Describe our ride to the hill, your examination of the Federal position, and my conversation about your crushing the Federal right with fifty guns, and my forcing you to give your opinion.’
“With feelings such as I never had before, nor ever expect to have again, I returned to General Lee, and gave a detailed account of my visit to General Jackson, closing with the account of my being forced to give my opinion as to the possibility of success. I saw a shade come over General Lee’s face, and he said, ‘Colonel, go and join your command.’
“For many years I never fully understood my mission that day, or why I was sent to General Jackson. When Jackson’s report was published of the battle, I saw that he stated, that on the afternoon of September 17, General Lee had ordered him to move to the left with a view of turning the Federal right, but that he found the enemy’s numerous artillery so judiciously posted in their front, and so near the river, as to render such an attempt too hazardous to undertake. I afterwards saw General J. E. B. Stuart’s report, in which he says that it was determined, the enemy not attacking, to turn the enemy’s right on the 18th. It appears General Lee ordered General Jackson, on the evening of the 17th, to turn the enemy’s right, and Jackson said that it could not be done. It also appears from Stuart’s report, and from the incident I relate, that General Lee reiterated the order on the 18th,
and told Jackson to take fifty guns, and crush the Federal right. Jackson having reported against such attempt on the 17th, no doubt said that if an artillerist, in whom General Lee had confidence, would say the Federal right could be crushed with fifty guns, he would make the attempt.
“I now have the satisfaction of knowing that the opinion which I was forced to give on September 18 had already been given by Jackson on the evening of September 17, and that the same opinion was reiterated by him on September 18, and confirmed by General J. E. B. Stuart on the same day. I still believe that Jackson, Stuart, and myself were right, and that the attempt to turn the Federal right either on the 17th or on the 18th would have been unwise.
“The incident shows General Lee’s decision and boldness in battle, and General Jackson’s delicate loyalty to his commanding general, in convincing him of the inadvisability of a proposed movement, which he felt it would be hazardous to undertake.”1
The Federal left, protected by the Antietam, was practically inaccessible; and on receiving from the artillery officers’ lips the confirmation of Jackson’s report, Lee was fain to relinquish all hope of breaking McClellan’s line. The troops, however, remained in line of battle; but during the day information came in which made retreat imperative. The Federals were being reinforced. Humphrey’s division, hitherto held back at Frederick by orders from Washington, had marched over South Mountain; Couch’s division, which McClellan had left to observe Harper’s Ferry, had been called in; and a large force of militia was assembling on the Pennsylvania border. Before evening, therefore, Lee determined to evacuate his position, and during the night the Army of Northern Virginia, with all its trains and artillery, recrossed the Potomac at Boteler’s Ford.
1 Communicated to the author. The difficulties in the way of the attack, of which Jackson was aware on the night of the 17th, probably led to his advising retreat when Lee asked his opinion at the conference (ante, pp. 259, 260).
Such was the respect which the hard fighting of the Confederates had imposed upon the enemy, that although the rumbling of heavy vehicles, and the tramp of the long columns, were so distinctly audible in the Federal lines that they seemed to wakeful ears like the steady flow of a river, not the slightest attempt was made to interfere. It was not till the morning of the 19th that a Federal battalion, reconnoitring towards Sharpsburg, found the ridge and the town deserted; and although Jackson, who was one of the last, except the cavalry scouts, to cross the river, did not reach the Virginia shore till eight o’clock, not a shot was fired at him.
Nor were the trophies gathered by the Federals considerable. Several hundred badly wounded men were found in Sharpsburg, and a number of stragglers were picked up, but neither gun nor waggon had been left upon the field. The retreat, despite many obstacles, was as successfully as skilfully executed. The night was very dark, and a fine rain, which had set in towards evening, soon turned the heavy soil into tenacious mud; the ford was wide and beset with boulders, and the only approach was a narrow lane. But the energetic quartermaster of the Valley army, Major Harman, made light of all difficulties, and under the immediate supervision of Lee and Jackson, the crossing was effected without loss or misadventure.
Sept. 19 Just before nightfall, however, under cover of a heavy artillery fire, the Federals pushed a force of infantry across the ford, drove back the two brigades, which, with thirty pieces of artillery, formed the Confederate rear-guard, and captured four guns. Emboldened by this partial success, McClellan ordered Porter to put three brigades of the Fifth Army Corps across the river the next morning, and reconnoitre towards Winchester.
The news of the disaster to his rear-guard was long in reaching Lee’s headquarters. His army had not yet recovered from the confusion and fatigue of the retreat. The bivouacs of the divisions were several miles from the river, and were widely scattered. The generals were ignorant of each other’s dispositions. No arrangements had been
made to support the rear-guard in case of emergency. The greater part of the cavalry had been sent off to Williamsport, fifteen miles up stream, with instructions to cross the Potomac and delay the enemy’s advance by demonstration. The brigadiers had no orders; many of the superior generals had not told their subordinates where they would be found; and the commander of the rear-guard, General Pendleton, had not been informed of the strength of the infantry placed at his disposal. On the part of the staff, worn out by the toils and anxieties of the past few days, there appears to have been a general failure; and had McClellan, calculating on the chances invariably offered by an enforced retreat, pushed resolutely forward in strong force, success might possibly have followed.
Sept. 20 Lee, on receiving Pendleton’s report, long after midnight, sent off orders for Jackson to drive the enemy back. When the messenger arrived, Jackson had already ridden to the front. He, too, had received news of the capture of the guns; and ordering A. P. Hill and Early,1 who were in camp near Martinsburg, to march at once to Shepherdstown, he had gone forward to reconnoitre the enemy’s movements. When Lee’s courier found him he was on the Shepherdstown road, awaiting the arrival of his divisions, and watching, unattended by a single aide-de-camp, the advance of Porter’s infantry. He had at once grasped the situation. The Confederates were in no condition to resist an attack in force. The army was not concentrated. The cavalry was absent. No reconnaissance had been made either of lines of march or of positions. The roads were still blocked by the trains. The men were exhausted by their late exertions, and depressed by their retreat, and the straggling was terrible. The only chance of safety lay in driving back the enemy’s advanced guard across the river before it could be reinforced; and the chance was seized without an instant’s hesitation.
The Federals advanced leisurely, for the cavalry which
1 Commanding Ewell’s division, vice Lawton, wounded at Sharpsburg.
should have led the way had received its orders too late to reach the rendezvous at the appointed hour, and the infantry, compelled to reconnoitre for itself, made slow progress. Porter’s leading brigade was consequently not more than a mile and a half from the river when the Light Division reported to Jackson. Hill was ordered to form his troops in two lines, and with Early in close support to move at once to the attack. The Federals, confronted by a large force, and with no further object than to ascertain the whereabouts of the Confederate army, made no attempt to hold their ground. Their left and centre, composed mainly of regulars, withdrew in good order. The right, hampered by broken country, was slow to move; and Hill’s soldiers, who had done much at Sharpsburg with but little loss, were confident of victory. The Federal artillery beyond the river included many of their heavy batteries, and when the long lines of the Southerners appeared in the open, they were met by a storm of shells. But without a check, even to close the gaps in the ranks, or to give time to the batteries to reply to the enemy’s fire, the Light Division pressed forward to the charge. The conflict was short. The Northern regulars had already passed the ford, and only a brigade of volunteers was left on the southern bank. Bringing up his reserve regiment, the Federal general made a vain effort to prolong his front. Hill answered by calling up a brigade from his second line; and then, outnumbered and outflanked, the enemy was driven down the bluffs and across the river. The losses in this affair were comparatively small. The Federals reported 340 killed and wounded, and of these a raw regiment, armed with condemned Enfield rifles, accounted for no less than 240. Hill’s casualties were 271. Yet the engagement was not without importance. Jackson’s quick action and resolute advance convinced the enemy that the Confederates were still dangerous; and McClellan, disturbed by Stuart’s threat against his rear, abandoned all idea of crossing the Potomac in pursuit of Lee.
The losses at Sharpsburg may be here recorded.
The Stonewall Brigade, 250 strong
EWELL’S (LAWTON) DIVISION—8,600
Lawton’s Brigade, 1,150 strong
THE LIGHT DIVISION—3,000
D. H. HILL’S DIVISION—3,500
1 Semmes’ four regiments, engaged in Jackson’s counterstroke, reported the following percentage of loss. 53rd Georgia, 30 p.c.; 32nd Virginia, 45 p.c.; 10th Georgia, 57 p.c.; 15th Virginia, 58 p.c.
D. R. JONES’ DIVISION—3,500
Toombs’ Brigade (estimated)
Evans’ Brigade, 260 strong
R. H. ANDERSON’S DIVISION—3,500
Colonel S. D. Lee’s Battalion
1 For the losses in various great battles, see Note at end of volume.
With Porter’s repulse the summer campaign of 1862 was closed. Begun on the Chickahominy, within thirty miles of Richmond, it ended on the Potomac, within seventy miles of Washington; and six months of continuous fighting had brought both belligerents to the last stage of exhaustion. Falling apart like two great battleships of the older wars,
The smoke of battle drifting slow a-lee.
hulls rent by roundshot, and scuppers awash with blood, but with the colours still flying over shattered spars and tangled shrouds, the armies drew off from the tremendous struggle. Neither Confederates nor Federals were capable of further effort. Lee, gathering in his stragglers, left Stuart to cover his front, and fell back towards Winchester. McClellan was content with seizing the Maryland Heights at Harper’s Ferry, and except the cavalry patrols, not a single Federal soldier was sent across the river.
The organisation was absolutely imperative. The Army of the Potomac was in no condition to undertake the invasion of Virginia. Not only had the losses in battle been very large, but the supply train, hurriedly got together after Pope’s defeat, had broken down; in every arm there was great deficiency of horses; the troops, especially those who had been engaged in the Peninsula, were half-clad and badly shod; and, above all, the army was very far from sharing McClellan’s conviction that Sharpsburg was a brilliant victory. The men in the ranks were not so easily deceived as their commander. McClellan, relying on a return drawn up by General Banks, now in command at Washington, estimated the Confederate army at 97,000 men, and his official reports made frequent mention of Lee’s overwhelming strength.1
1 Mr. Lincoln had long before this recognised the tendency of McClellan and others to exaggerate the enemy’s strength. As a deputation from New England was one day leaving the White House, a delegate turned round and said: “Mr. President, I should much like to know what you reckon to be the number the rebels have in arms against us.” Without a moment’s hesitation Mr. Lincoln replied: “Sir, I have the best possible reason for knowing the number to be one million of men, for whenever one of our generals engages a rebel army he reports that he has encountered a force twice his strength. Now I know we have half a million soldiers, so I am bound to believe that the rebels have twice that number.”
The soldiers knew better. They had been close enough to the enemy’s lines to learn for themselves how thin was the force which manned them. They were perfectly well aware that they had been held in check by inferior numbers, and that the battle on the Antietam, tactically speaking, was no more of a victory for the North than Malvern Hill had been for the South. From dawn to dark on September 18 they had seen the tattered colours and bright bayonets of the Confederates still covering the Sharpsburg ridge; they had seen the grey line, immovable and defiant, in undisputed possession of the battle-ground, while their own guns were silent and their own generals reluctant to renew the fight. Both the Government and the people expected McClellan to complete his success by attacking Lee in Virginia. The Confederates, it was said—and men based their opinions on McClellan’s reports—had been heavily defeated, not only at Antietam, but also at South Mountain; and although the Army of the Potomac might be unfit for protracted operations, the condition of the enemy must necessarily be far worse.
Such arguments, however, were entirely inapplicable to the situation. The Confederates had not been defeated at all, either at South Mountain or Sharpsburg; and although they had eventually abandoned their positions they had suffered less than their opponents. The retreat, however, across the Potomac had undoubtedly shaken their moral. “In a military point of view,” wrote Lee to Davis on September 25, “the best move, in my opinion, the army could make would be to advance upon Hagerstown and endeavour to defeat the enemy at that point. I would not hesitate to make it even with our diminished numbers did the army exhibit its former temper and condition, but, as far as I am able to judge, the hazard would be great and reverse disastrous.”1 But McClellan was not more cheerful. “The army,” he said on the 27th, “is not now in a
1 O.R., vol. xix, part ii, p. 627.
condition to undertake another campaign nor to bring on another battle, unless great advantages are offered by some mistake of the enemy, or pressing military exigencies render it necessary.” So far from thinking of pursuit, he thought only of the defence of the Potomac, apprehending a renewed attempt to enter Maryland, and by no means over-confident that the two army corps which he had at last sent to Harper’s Ferry would be able to maintain their position if attacked.1 Nor were the soldiers more eager than their commander to cross swords with their formidable enemy. “It would be useless,” says General G. H. Gordon, who now commanded a Federal division, “to deny that at this period there was a despondent feeling in the army,” and the Special Correspondents of the New York newspapers, the “World” and “Tribune,” confirm the truth of this statement. But the clearest evidence as to the condition of the troops is furnished in the numerous reports which deal with straggling. The vice had reached a pitch which is almost inconceivable. Thousands and tens of thousands, Federals as well as Confederates, were absent from their commands.
”The States of the North,” wrote McClellan, “are flooded with deserters and absentees. One corps of this army has 13,000 men present and 15,000 absent; of this 15,000, 8,000 probably are at work at home.”2 On September 28, General Meade, who had succeeded to the command of Hooker’s corps, reported that over 8,000 men, including 250 officers, had quitted the ranks either before or during the battle of Antietam; adding that “this terrible and serious evil seems to pervade the whole body.”3 The Confederates, although the privations of the troops during the forced marches, their indifferent equipment, and the deficiencies of the commissariat were contributory causes, had almost as much reason to complain. It is said that in the vicinity of Leesburg alone over 10,000 men were living on the citizens. Jackson’s own division, which took into action 1,600 effectives on September 17 and lost 700, had 3,900 present for duty on September 30; Lawton’s
1 O.R., vol. xix, part i, p. 70.
2 Ibid., part ii, p. 365.
3 Ibid., p. 348.
division rose from 2,500 to 4,450 during the same period; and the returns show that the strength of Longstreet’s and Jackson’s corps was only 37,992 on September 22, but 52,019 on October 1.1 It is thus evident that in eight days the army was increased by more than 14,000 men, yet only a few conscripts had been enrolled. Lee’s official reports and correspondence allude in the strongest terms to the indiscipline of his army. “The absent,” he wrote on September 23, “are scattered broadcast over the land;” and in the dispatches of his subordinates are to be found many references to the vagrant tendencies of their commands.2 A strong provost guard was established at Winchester for the purpose of collecting stragglers. Parties of cavalry were sent out to protect the farms from pillage, and to bring in the marauders as prisoners. The most stringent regulations were issued as to the preservation of order on the march, the security of private property, and the proper performance of their duties by regimental and commissariat officers. On September 23, General Jones reported from Winchester that the country was full of stragglers, that be had already sent back 5,000 or 6,000, and that the numbers of officers amongst them was astonishing.3 The most earnest representations were made to the President, suggesting trial of the offenders by drumhead court-martial, and ordinary police duties became the engrossing occupation of every general officer.
It can hardly be said, then, that the Confederates had drawn much profit from the invasion of Maryland. The capture of Harper’s Ferry made but small amends for
1 O.R., vol. xix, part ii, pp. 621, 639.
2 General orders, Sept. 4; Lee to Davis, Sept. 7; Lee to Davis, Sept. 13; special orders, Sept. 21; circular order, Sept. 22; Lee to Davis, Sept. 23; Lee to Secretary of War, Sept. 23; Lee to Pendleton, Sept. 24; Lee to Davis, Sept. 24; Lee to Davis, Sept. 28; Lee to Davis, Oct. 2; O.R., vol. xix, part ii. See also Report of D. H. Hill, O.R., vol. xix, part i, p. l026. Stuart to Secretary of War, Oct. 13. On Sept. 21, Jackson’s adjutant-general wrote, “We should have gained a victory and routed them, had it not been for the straggling. We were twenty-five thousand short by this cause.” Memoirs of W. N. Pendleton, D.D., p. 217. It is but fair to say that on September 13 there was a camp of 900 barefooted men at Winchester, and “a great many more with the army.” Lee to Quarter-Master-General, O.R., vol. xix, part ii, p. 614.
3 O.R., vol. xix, part ii, p. 629.
the retreat into Virginia; and the stubborn endurance of Sharpsburg, however remarkable in the annals of war, had served no useful purpose beyond crippling for the time being the Federal army. The battle must be classed with Aspern and Talavera; Lee’s soldiers saved their honour, but no more. The facts were not to be disguised. The Confederates had missed their mark. Only a few hundred recruits had been raised in Maryland, and there had been no popular outbreak against the Union Government. The Union army had escaped defeat; Lincoln had been able to announce to the Northern people that Lee’s victorious career had at length been checked; and 12,000 veteran soldiers, the flower of the Southern army, had fallen in battle. Had General Longstreet’s advice been taken, and the troops withdrawn across the Potomac after the fall of Harper’s Ferry, this enormous loss, which the Confederacy could so ill afford, would certainly have been avoided. Yet Lee was not ill-satisfied with the results of the campaign, nor did Jackson doubt the wisdom of accepting battle on the Antietam.
The hazard was great, but the stake was greater. To achieve decisive success in war some risk must be run. “It is impossible,” says Moltke, “to forecast the result of a pitched battle;” but this is no reason that pitched battles, if there is a fair prospect of success, should be shirked. And in the Sharpsburg campaign the Confederates had undoubtedly fair prospects of success. If the lost order had not fallen into McClellan’s hands, Lee in all probability would have had ample time to select his battlefield and concentrate his army; there would have been no need of forced marches, and consequently much less straggling. Both Lee and Jackson counted on the caution of their opponent. Both were surprised by the unwonted vigour be displayed, especially at South Mountain and in the march to Sharpsburg. Such resolution in action, they were aware, was foreign to his nature. “I cannot understand this move of McClellan’s,” was Jackson’s remark, when it was reported that the Federal general had boldly advanced against the strong position on South Mountain. But neither Lee
nor Jackson was aware that McClellan had exact information of their dispositions, and that the carelessness of a Confederate staff officer had done more for the Union than all the Northern scouts and spies in Maryland. Jackson had been disposed to leave a larger margin for accidents than his commander. He would have left Harper’s Ferry alone, and have fought the Federals in the mountains;1 and he was probably right, for in the Gettysburg campaign of the following year, when Lee again crossed the Potomac, Harper’s Ferry was ignored, although occupied by a strong garrison, and neither in advance nor retreat were the Confederate communications troubled. But as to the wisdom of giving battle on the Antietam, after the fall of Harper’s Ferry, there was no divergence of opinion between Lee and his lieutenant. They had no reason to respect the Union army as a weapon of offence, and very great reason to believe that McClellan was incapable of wielding it. Their anticipations were well founded. The Federal attack was badly designed and badly executed. If it be compared with the German attack at Worth, the defects of McClellan, the defects of his subordinates, the want of sound training throughout the whole army, become at once apparent. On August 6, 1870, there was certainly, early in the day, much disjointed fighting, due in great part to the difficulties of the country, the absence of the Crown Prince, and the anxiety of the generals to render each other loyal support. But when once the Commander-in-Chief appeared upon the field, and, assuming direction of the battle, infused harmony into the operations, the strength and unity of the attack could hardly have been surpassed. Almost at the same moment 30,000 men were launched against McMahon’s front, 25,000 against his right, and 10,000 against his left. Every battalion within sound of the cannon participated in the forward movement; and numerous batteries, crossing the stream which corresponds with the Antietam, supported the infantry at the closest range. No general hesitated to act on his own responsibility. Everywhere there was
1 Dabney, vol. ii, p. 302.
co-operation, between infantry and artillery, between division and division, between army corps and army corps; and such co-operation, due to a sound system of command, is the characteristic mark of a well-trained army and a wise leader. At Sharpsburg, on the other hand, there was no combination whatever, and even the army corps commanders dared not act without specific orders. There was nothing like the close concert and the aggressive energy which had carried the Southerners to victory at Gaines’ Mill and the Second Manassas. The principle of mutual support was utterly ignored. The army corps attacked in succession and not simultaneously, and in succession they were defeated. McClellan fought three separate battles, from dawn to 10 a.m. against Lee’s left; from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. against his centre; from 1 to 4 p.m. against his right. The subordinate generals, although, with a few exceptions, they handled their commands skilfully, showed no initiative, and waited for orders instead of improving the opportunity. Only two-thirds of the army was engaged; 25,000 men hardly fired a shot, and from first to last there was not the slightest attempt at co-operation. McClellan was made aware by his signallers on the Red Hill of every movement that took place in his opponent’s lines, and yet he was unable to take advantage of Lee’s weakness. He had still to grasp the elementary rule that the combination of superior numbers and of all arms against a single point is necessary to win battles.
The Northern infantry, indeed, had not fought like troops who own their opponents as the better men. Rather had they displayed an elasticity of spirit unsuspected by their enemies; and the Confederate soldiers, who knew with what fierce courage the attack had been sustained, looked on the battle of Sharpsburg as the most splendid of their achievements. No small share of the glory fell to Jackson. Since the victory of Cedar Run, his fame, somewhat obscured by Frayser’s Farm and Malvern Hill, had increased by leaps and bounds, and the defence of the West Wood was classed with the march to Manassas Junction, the three days’ battle about Groveton,
and the swift seizure of Harper’s Ferry. On October 2, Lee proposed to the President that the Army of Northern Virginia should be organised in two army corps, for the command of which he recommended Longstreet and Jackson. “My opinion,” wrote Lee, “of General Jackson has been greatly enhanced during this expedition. He is true, honest, and brave; has a single eye to the good of the service, and spares no exertion to accomplish his object.”1 On October 11, Jackson received his promotion as Lieutenant-General, and was appointed to the Second Army Corps, consisting at that date of his own division, the Light Division, Ewell’s, and D. H. Hill’s, together with Colonel Brown’s battalion of artillery; a force of 1,917 officers, 25,000 men, and 126 guns.
Jackson does not appear to have been unduly elated by his promotion, for two days after his appointment he wrote to his wife that there was no position in the world equal to that of a minister of the Gospel, and his letter was principally concerned with the lessons he had learned from the sermon of the previous Sunday.2 The soldiers of
O.R., vol. xix, part ii, p. 643.
2 About this time he made a successful appearance in a new role. In September, General Bradley T. Johnson was told off to accompany Colonel Garnet Wolseley, the Hon. Francis Lawley, Special Correspondent to the Times, and Mr. Vizetelly, Special Correspondent of the Illustrated London News, round the Confederate camps. By order of General Lee,” he says, “I introduced the party to General Jackson. We were all seated in front of General Jackson’s tent, and he took up the conversation. He had been to England, and had been greatly impressed with the architecture of Durham Cathedral and with the history of the bishopric. The Bishops had been Palatines from the date of the Conquest, and exercised semi-royal authority over their bishopric.
”There is a fair history of the Palatinate of Durham in Blackstone and Coke, but I can hardly think that General Jackson derived his information from those two fountains of the law. Anyhow, he cross-examined the Englishmen in detail about the cathedral and the close and the rights of the bishops, etc. etc. He gave them no chance to talk, and kept them busy answering questions, for he knew more about Durham than they did.
”As we rode away, I said: ‘Gentlemen, you have disclosed Jackson in a new character to me, and I’ve been carefully observing him for a year and a half. You have made him exhibit finesse, for he did all the talking to keep you from asking too curious or embarrassing questions. I never saw anything like it in him before.’ We all laughed, and agreed that the General had been too much for the interviewers.” Memoirs, pp. 53–1.
the Second Army Corps, however, did not allow him to forget his greatness. In their bivouacs by the clear waters of the Opequon, with abundance of supplies and with ample leisure for recuperation, the troops rapidly regained their strength and spirit. The reaction found vent in the most extravagant gaiety. No circumstance that promised entertainment was permitted to pass without attention, and the jest started at the expense of some unfortunate wight, conspicuous for peculiarity of dress or demeanour, was taken up by a hundred voices. None were spared. A trim staff officer was horrified at the irreverent reception of his nicely twisted moustache, as he heard from behind innumerable trees: “Take them mice out o’ your mouth! take ’em out—no use to say they ain’t there, see their tails hanging out! Another, sporting immense whiskers, was urged “to come out o’ that bunch of hair! I know you’re in there! I see your ears a-working!” So the soldiers chaffed the dandies, and the camp rang with laughter; fun and frolic were always in the air, and the fierce fighters of Sharpsburg behaved like schoolboys on a holiday. But when the general rode by the men remembered the victories they had won and to whom they owed them, the hardships they had endured, and who had shared them; and the appearance of “Little Sorrel” was the sure precursor of a scene of the wildest enthusiasm. The horse soon learned what the cheers implied, and directly they began he would break into a gallop, as if to carry his rider as quickly as possible through the embarrassing ordeal. But the soldiers were not to be deterred by their commander’s modesty, and whenever he was compelled to pass through the bivouacs the same tribute was so invariably offered that the sound of a distant cheer, rolling down the lines of the Second Army Corps, always evoked the exclamation: “Boys, look out! here comes old Stonewall or an old hare!” “These being the only individuals,” writes one of Jackson’s soldiers, “who never failed to bring down the whole house.”
Nothing could express more clearly the loyalty of the soldiers to their general than this quaint estimate of his
popularity. The Anglo-Saxon is averse to the unrestrained display of personal affection; and when his natural reluctance is overborne by irrepressible emotion, he attempts to hide it by a jest. So Jackson’s veterans laughed at his peculiarities, at his dingy uniform, his battered cap, his respect for clergymen, his punctilious courtesy, and his blushes. They delighted in the phrase, when a distant yell was heard, “Here’s ‘Old Jack’ or a rabbit!” They delighted more in his confusion when he galloped through the shouting camp. “Here he comes,” they said, “we’ll make him take his hat off.” They invented strange fables of which he was the hero. “Stonewall died,” ran one of the most popular, “and two angels came down from heaven to take him back with them. They went to his tent. He was not there. They went to the hospital. He was not there. They went to the outposts. He was not there. They went to the prayer-meeting. He was not there. So they had to return without him; but when they reported that he had disappeared, they found that he had made a flank march and reached heaven before them.” Another was to the effect that whereas Moses took forty years to get the children of Israel through the wilderness, “ ‘Old Jack’ would have double-quicked them through in three days on half rations!”
But, nevertheless, beneath this affectation of hilarity lay a deep and passionate devotion; and two incidents which occurred at this time show the extent of this feeling, and at least one reason for its existence. “On October 8th,” writes Major Heros von Borcke, adjutant-general of the cavalry division, “I was honoured with the pleasing mission of presenting to Stonewall, as a slight token of Stuart’s high regard, a new uniform coat, which had just arrived from the hands of a Richmond tailor. Starting at once, I reached the simple tent of our great general just in time for dinner. I found him in his old weather-stained coat, from which all the buttons had been clipped by the fair hands of patriotic ladies, and which, from exposure to sun, rain, and powder-smoke, and by reason of many rents and patches, was in a very unseemly
condition. When I had dispatched more important matters, I produced General Stuart’s present in all its magnificence of gilt buttons and sheeny facings and gold lace, and I was heartily amused at the modest confusion with which the hero of many battles regarded the fine uniform, scarcely daring to touch it, and at the quiet way in which at last he folded it up carefully and deposited it in his portmanteau, saying to me, “Give Stuart my best thanks, Major; the coat is much too handsome for me, but I shall take the best care of it, and shall prize it highly as a souvenir. And now let us have some dinner.” But I protested emphatically against the summary disposition of the matter of the coat, deeming my mission indeed but half executed, and remarked that Stuart would certainly ask how the coat fitted, and that I should take it as a personal favour if he would put it on. To this with a smile he readily assented, and having donned the garment, he escorted me outside the tent to the table where dinner had been served in the open air. The whole of the staff were in a perfect ecstasy at their chief’s brilliant appearance, and the old negro servant, who was bearing the roast turkey to the board, stopped in mid career with a most bewildered expression, and gazed in such wonderment at his master as if he had been transfigured before him. Meanwhile, the rumour of the change ran like electricity through the neighbouring camps, the soldiers came running by hundreds to the spot, desirous of seeing their beloved Stonewall in his new attire; and the first wearing of a new robe by Louis XIV, at whose morning toilette all the world was accustomed to assemble, never created half the excitement at Versailles that was roused in the woods of Virginia by the investment of Jackson in the new regulation uniform.”1
The second incident is less amusing, but was not less appreciated by the rank and file. Riding one morning near Front Royal, accompanied by his staff, Jackson was stopped by a countrywoman, with a chubby child on either side, who inquired anxiously for her son Johnnie, serving, she said, “in Captain Jackson’s company.” The
1 Memoirs of the Confederate War, vol. i
general, with the deferential courtesy he never laid aside, introduced himself as her son’s commanding officer, but begged for further information as to his regiment. The good dame, however, whose interest in the war centred on one individual, appeared astonished that Captain Jackson “did not know her particular Johnnie,” and repeated her inquiries with such tearful emphasis that the young staff officers began to smile. Unfortunately for themselves, Jackson heard a titter, and turning on them with a scathing rebuke for their want of manners, he sent them off in different directions to discover Johnnie, giving them no rest until mother and son were brought together.
But if the soldiers loved Jackson for his simplicity, and respected him for his honesty, beyond and above was the sense of his strength and power, of his indomitable will, of the inflexibility of his justice, and of the unmeasured resources of his vigorous intellect. It is curious even after the long lapse of years to hear his veterans speak of their commander. Laughter mingles with tears; each has some droll anecdote to relate, each some instance of thoughtful sympathy or kindly deed; but it is still plain to be seen how they feared his displeasure, how hard they found his discipline, how conscious they were of their own mental inferiority. The mighty phantom of their lost leader still dominates their thoughts; just as in the battles of the Confederacy his earthly presentment dominated the will of the Second Army Corps. In the campaign which had driven the invaders from Virginia, and carried the Confederate colours to within sight of Washington, his men had found their master. They had forgotten how to criticise. His generals had learned to trust him. Success and adulation had not indeed made him more expansive. He was as reticent as ever, and his troops—the foot-cavalry as they were now called—were still marched to and fro without knowing why or whither. But men and officers, instead of grumbling when they were roused at untimely hours, or when their marches were prolonged, without apparent necessity, obeyed with
alacrity, and amused themselves by wondering what new surprise the general was preparing. “Where are you going?” they were asked as they were turned out for an unexpected march: “We don’t know, but Old Jack does,” was the laughing reply. And they had learned something of his methods. They had discovered the value of time, of activity, of mystery, of resolution. They discussed his stratagems, gradually evolving, for they were by no means apparent at the time, the object and aim of his manœuvres; and the stirring verses, sung round every camp-fire, show that the soldiers not only grasped his principles of warfare, but that they knew right well to whom their victories were to be attributed.
Come, stack arms, men, pile on the rails;
Stir up the camp-fires bright;
No matter if the canteen fails,
We’ll make a roaring night.
Here Shenandoah brawls along,
There lofty Blue Ridge echoes strong,
To swell the Brigade’s roaring song
Of Stonewall Jackson’s way.
We see him now—the old slouched hat,
Cocked o’er his eye askew;
The shrewd dry smile—the speech so pat,
So calm, so blunt, so true.
The “Blue-Light Elder” knows them well:
Says he, “That’s Banks—he’s fond of shell;
Lord save his soul! we’ll give him——” well,
That’s Stonewall Jackson’s way.
Silence! ground arms! kneel all! caps off!
Old Blue-Light’s going to pray;
Strangle the fool that dares to scoff!
Attention! it’s his way!
Appealing from his native sod,
In formá pauperis to God,
“Lay bare thine arm—stretch forth thy rod,
Amen!” That’s Stonewall’s way.
He’s in the saddle now! Fall in,
Steady, the whole Brigade!
Hill’s at the Ford, cut off!—we’ll win
His way out, ball and blade.
What matter if our shoes are worn?
What matter if our feet are torn?
Quick step! we’re with him before morn!
That’s Stonewall Jackson’s way.
The sun’s bright lances rout the mists
Of morning—and, by George!
There’s Longstreet struggling in the lists,
Hemmed in an ugly gorge.
Pope and his columns whipped before—
“Bayonets and grape!” hear Stonewall roar,
“Charge, Stuart! pay off Ashby’s score!”
That’s Stonewall Jackson’s way.
Ah! maiden, wait and watch and yearn
For news of Stonewall’s band;
Ah! widow, read with eyes that burn
The ring upon thy hand.
Ah! wife, sew on, pray on, hope on
Thy life shall not be all forlorn;
The foe had better ne’er been born
That gets in Stonewall’s way.
Strength at Cedar Run, August 9:
Losses at Cedar Run:
Losses on the Rappahannock, August 20–24
Losses at Groveton, August 28:
Stragglers and sick (estimate)
Loss at Chantilly, September 1
1 Report of July 31, O.R., vol. xii, part iii, p. 965.
2 Report of August 20, O.R., vol. xii, part iii, p. 966. (Not engaged at Cedar Run.)
3 Report of July 20, O.R., vol. xi, part iii, p. 645. (3½ regiments had been added.)
4 Four regiments.
Strength at Sharpsburg:
Loss at Harper’s Ferry
Strength on September 19
The Report of September 22, O.R., vol. xiv, part ii, p. 621, gives:
Jackson’s own Division
1 3,866 sick and straggling since August 28 = 21 p.c.
2 Over 1,300 stragglers had rejoined.
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