Bloodiest Single Day of the
WarComparison of CasualtiesHooker opens the Fight against Jackson's
CentreMany Officers among the Fallen early in the DayMcLaws and
Walker in time to meet Sumner's Advance under SedgwickAround Dunker
ChapelRichardson's splendid Advance against the Confederate Centre the
Signal of the bursting of another StormLongstreet's and D. H. Hill's
Troops stood before itFall of General G. B. AndersonGeneral
Richardson mortally woundedAggressive Spirit of his Command
brokenWonderful Cannon-shotGeneral D. H. Hill's Third Horse killed
THE field that I have describedthe field lying along
the Antietam and including in its scope the little town of Sharpsburgwas
destined to pass into history as the scene of the bloodiest single day of
fighting of the war, and that 17th of September was to become memorable as the
day of greatest carnage in the campaigns between the North and South.
Gettysburg was the greatest battle of the war, but it was
for three days, and its total of casualties on either side, terrible as it was,
should be one-third larger to make the average per diem equal to the losses at
Sharpsburg. Viewed by the measure of losses, Antietam was the fourth battle of
the war, Spottsylvania and the Wilderness, as well as Gettysburg, exceeding it
in number of killed and wounded, but each of these dragged its tragedy through
Taking Confederate losses in killed and wounded as the
criterion of magnitude in battles, the Seven Days' Battle (following
McClellan's retreat), Gettysburg, and Chickamauga exceeded Sharpsburg, but each
of these occupied several days, and on no single day in any one of them was
there such carnage as in this fierce struggle.
The Confederates lost in killed and wounded in the Seven
Days, Battle 19,739,more, it will be observed, than at Gettysburg
(15,298), though the total loss, including 5150 captured or missing, at the
latter, brought the figures up to those of the former (20,448), in which the
captured or missing were only 875. Our killed and wounded at Chickamauga were
16,986, but that was in two days, battle, while at Chancellorsville in three
days the killed and wounded were 10,746. It is impossible to make the
comparison with absolute exactness for the Confederate side, for the reason
that our losses are given for the entire campaign in Maryland, instead of
separately for the single great battle and several minor engagements. Thus
computed they were 12,187. But nearly all of these are known to have been
losses at Sharpsburg, and, making proper deductions for the casualties in other
actions of the campaign, the Confederate loss in this single day's fighting was
still in excess of that at the three days, fight at Chancellorsville (10,746),
and for the single day far larger proportionally than in the two days at
Chickamauga, three days at Gettysburg, or seven days on the bloody
But the sanguinary character of this battle is most
strikingly exhibited by a comparison of the accurate figures of the Federal
losses, returned specifically for the day. These show a total killed and
wounded of 11,657 (or, including the captured and missing, 12,410), as
contrasted with 20,567 killed and wounded in three days at Gettysburg, 16,141
in eight days at Spottsylvania, and 14,283 in the three days at the Wilderness,
while the three and two days, fighting respectively at Chancellorsville and
Chickamauga were actually productive of less loss than this battle of one day.
The exceeding losses of this battle are further shown by the fact that of the
11,657 Federals stricken on the field, the great number of 2108 were actually
slain,more than two-thirds of the number killed in three days at
Gettysburg (3070). And this tremendous tumult of carnage was entirely compassed
in the brief hours from dawn to four o'clock in the afternoon.
At three o'clock in the morning of the 17th firing along the
picket lines of the confronting and expectant armies became quite frequent, and
before daylight the batteries began to plough the fields in front of them,
feeling, as it were, for the ranks of men whose destruction was better suited
to their ugly purpose.
As the dawn came, the fire spread along both lines from left
to right, across the Antietam and back again, and the thunder of the big guns
became continuous and increased to mighty volume. To this was presently added
the sharper rattling of musketry, and the surge of mingling sound sweeping up
and down the field was multiplied and confused by the reverberations from the
rocks and hills. And in this great tumult of sound, which shook the air and
seemed to shatter the cliffs and ledges above the Antietam, bodies of the
facing foes were pushed forward to closer work, and soon added the clash of
steel to the thunderous crash of cannon-shots.
The first impact came from Hooker's right division under
Doubleday, led by the choice brigade under Gibbon. It was deployed across the
turnpike and struck the centre of Jackson's division, when close engagement was
strengthened by the brigades of Patrick, Phelps, and part of Hofmann's,
Ricketts's division, engaged in close connection along Lawton's front. Hooker
supported his battle by his division under Meade, which called into action
three of D. H. Hill's brigades,Ripley's, Colquitt's, and McRae's.
Hartsuff, the leading spirit of Ricketts's division, was the first general
officer to fall severely hurt, and later fell the commander of the corps,
wounded also. General Starke, commanding Jackson's division, was killed. At six
o'clock the Twelfth Corps came in, when General Lawton called for Hood's
brigades, " and all the help he could bring." Hood's and G. T. Anderson's
brigades were put in, and the brigades from my right, under J. G. Walker,
marched promptly in response to this call.
The weight of Mansfield's fight forced Jackson back into the
middle wood at the Dunker chapel, and D. H. Hill's brigades to closer lines.
Hood was in season to brace them, and hold the line as he found it. In this
fight the corps commander, General Mansfield, fell, mortally wounded, which
took from that corps some of its aggressive power.
Jackson, worn down and exhausted of ammunition, withdrew his
divisions at seven A.M., except Early's
brigade, that was with the cavalry. This he called back to vacant ground on
Hood's left. Two detachments, one under Colonel Grigsby, of Virginia, the other
under Colonel Stafford, of Louisiana, remained on the wooded ground off from
the left of Jackson's position. One of the regiments of Early's brigade was
left with the cavalry. Stuart retired to position corresponding to the line of
Jackson's broken front. The brigade under G. T. Anderson joined on Hood's
right, and the brigades under J. G. Walker coming up took place on Hood's left,
Walker leaving two regiments to fill a vacant place between Anderson's brigade
and Hood's right. Walker, Hood, and D. H. Hill attacked against the Twelfth
Corps; worn by its fight against Jackson, it was driven back as far as the
post-and-rail fence in the east open, where they were decked. They were outside
of the line, their left in the air and exposed to the fire of a thirty-gun
battery posted at long range on the Hagerstown road by General Doubleday. Their
left was withdrawn, and the line rectified, when Greene's brigade of the
Twelfth resumed position in the northeast angle of the wood, which it held
until Sedgwick's division came in hold march.
In these fights offensive and defensive the artillery
battalions under Lieutenant-Colonel S. D. Lee and Major Frobel were in active
combat, the former from the first shot made before daylight. They had been
severely worked, and were nearly exhausted of ammunition. The Washington
Artillery was called on for a battery to assist them, and some of the guns of
the battalions were sent for ammunition. Miller's battery of four Napoleon guns
As Jackson withdrew, General Hooker's corps retired to a
point on the Hagerstown road about three-quarters of a mile north of the
battle-ground, where General Doubleday established his thirty-gun battery.
Jackson's and Hooker's men had fought to exhaustion, and the battle of the
Twelfth Corps, taken up and continued by Mansfield, had taken defensive
relations, its chief mortally wounded.
Generals Lawton, Ripley, and J. R. Jones were severely
wounded, and Colonel Douglas, commanding Lawton's brigade, killed. A third of
the men of Lawton's, Hays's, and Trimble's brigades were reported killed or
wounded. Four of the field officers of Colquitt's brigade were killed, five
were wounded, the tenth and last contused by a shell. All of Jackson's and D.
H. Hill's troops engaged suffered proportionally. Hood's, Walker's, and G. T.
Anderson's, though longer engaged, did not lose so severely.
General Hooker's aggregate of loss was 2590; General
The Federal batteries, of position, on the east side were
more or less busy during the engagement, having occasional opportunities for a
raking fire on the troops along Jackson's line and my left. The horse artillery
under Stuart was strengthening to the Confederate left, and had occasional
opportunities for destructive fire across the Union right when coming into
Although the battle along the line of contention had become
defensive, there were threatening movements on the Boonsborough pike by Sykes's
division and the horse artillery under Pleasonton, and Burnside was busy at his
bridge, working to find his way across.
At the close of the Walker-Hood-Hill affair, Hood found his
line making a large angle with the line of the latter, which was rectified,
drawing in the angle. Early's regiments were in the wood between Walker and the
cavalry, and the detachments under Colonels Grigsby and Stafford in the wood
some distance in advance of Early's left.
The line thus organized was thin and worn by severe
attrition. The men were losing strength and the ammunition getting low. Some
gathered cartridges from their fallen comrades and distributed them as far as
they would go, others went for fresh supplies.
McLaws's column came up at nine o'clock. He reported at
General Lee's head-quarters, where he was ordered at rest, and afterwards
reported to me, with General Lee's orders for his own division, and asked the
disposition to be made of R. H. Anderson's. He was ordered to send the latter
to report to General D. H. Hill.
Coincident with these arrivals, heavy columns of Federal
infantry and artillery were seen crossing the Antietam. Morell's division of
the Fifth Corps was up and relieved Richardson's of the Second, which had been
in our front since its arrival on the 15th. Richardson's following the march of
the troops by the upper crossing advised us that the next engagement would be
by the Second Corps, under General Sumner; Sedgwick's division was in the lead
as they marched. Our left centre was almost exhausted of men and ammunition.
The divisions of French and Richardson followed in left echelon to Sedgwick.
Hood's brigades had retired for fresh supply of ammunition, leaving the guard
to Walker's two brigades, G. T. Anderson's brigade on Walker's right, part of
Early's brigade on Walker's left, and the regiments under Colonels Grigsby and
Stafford off the left front. McLaws's division was called for, and on the march
under conduct of Major Taylor of general head-quarters staff.
At sight of Sumner's march, General Early rode from the
field in search, as he reported, of reinforcements. His regiments naturally
waited on the directions of the leader.
General Sumner rode with his leading division under General
Sedgwick, to find the battle. Sedgwick marched in column of brigades, Gorman,
Dana, and Howard. There was no officer on the Union side in charge of the
field, the other corps commanders having been killed or wounded. General Sumner
" On going upon the field I found that general Hooker's
corps had been dispersed and routed. I passed him some distance in the rear,
where he had been carried wounded, but I saw nothing of his corps at all, as I
was advancing with my command on the field. There were some troops lying down
on the left which I took to belong to Mansfield's command. In the mean time
general Mansfield had been killed, and a portion of his corps (formerly
Banks's) had also been thrown into confusion."
He passed Greene's brigade of the Twelfth, and marched
through the wood, leaving the Dunker chapel on his left.
As McLaws approached, General Hood was sent to give him
careful instructions of the posture, of the grounds, and the impending crisis.
He marched with his brigades, Cobb's, Kershaw's, Semmes's, and
Barksdale's. The leading brigade filed to the right, before the approaching
march. Kershaw's leading regiment filed into line as Sedgwick's column
approached the south side of the Dunker chapel wood,the latter on a
diagonal march, while Kershaw's brigade was in fair front against it. The
regiment opened prompt fire, and the other regiments came into line in double
time, opening fire by company as they came to the front. The other brigades
came into line by companies, and forward into line by regiments. Armistead's
brigade had been drawn from R. H. Anderson's column to reinforce McLaws.