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Longstreet: From Manassas to Appomattox
Chapter 18b - Battle of Sharpsburg, or Antietam
Bloodiest Single Day of the War—Comparison of Casualties—Hooker opens the Fight against Jackson's Centre—Many Officers among the Fallen early in the Day—McLaws and Walker in time to meet Sumner's Advance under Sedgwick—Around Dunker Chapel—Richardson's splendid Advance against the Confederate Centre the Signal of the bursting of another Storm—Longstreet's and D. H. Hill's Troops stood before it—Fall of General G. B. Anderson—General Richardson mortally wounded—Aggressive Spirit of his Command broken—Wonderful Cannon-shot—General D. H. Hill's Third Horse killed under him.


Sedgwick's diagonal march exposed his left to a scattering fire from Walker's left brigade under M. Ransom, but he kept his steady march while Walker increased his fire. McLaws increasing his fire staggered the march of Sedgwick, and presently arrested it. The regiments under Colonels Stafford and Grigsby, coming from their lurking-places, opened fire on Sedgwick's right rear. At McLaws's opening Sedgwick essayed to form line of battle; the increasing fire on his right and left rear, with the terrible fire in front, was confusing, but the troops were eager to return the fire they found pouring into their lines from three-quarters of a circle. To counter the rear fire of Walker, General Sumner ordered the rear brigade to face about. The troops, taking this to mean a rearward march, proceeded to execute it without awaiting further orders, which was soon followed by the other brigades.

McLaws and Walker, pushing their success, were joined by G. T. Anderson's, the brigades of D. H. Hill's left, and those of R. H. Anderson's division, making strong battle through the woodland and open to the post-and-rail fence and to the Roulette House, where they encountered Sumner's division under French, and parts of the Twelfth Corps rallied on that part of the field. This contention was firm and wasting on both sides, but held with persevering courage until Richardson's reserve, under Brooke, was put against Hill's right and broke the Confederate line back to the woodlands south of the chapel, where Early's regiments had formed a rallying line.

When Hill's right was struck and pressed so severely, Rodes's brigade, the reserve of his division, was ordered out to support his right. The brigade advanced in good strong battle, but General Rodes reported that he could not move his Sixth Alabama Regiment in time, notwithstanding his personal efforts; that with the support of that regiment the battle line of the Confederates could have waited other supports.

General Sumner was eager in riding with his leading division. He was always anxious to get in in time to use all of his power, and thought others like himself. Had he formed the corps into lines of divisions, in close echelon, and moved as a corps, he would have marched through and opened the way for Porter's command at bridge No. 2, and Pleasonton's cavalry, and for Burnside at the third bridge, and forced the battle back to the river bank.

He was criticised for his opposition to Franklin's proposed attack, but the chances are even that he was right. The stir among Franklin's troops was observed from a dead angle of our lines, and preparations were made to meet it. General Jackson was marching back to us, and it is possible that the attack might have resulted in mingling our troops with Franklin's down on the banks of the Antietam.

After this fight the artillery battalions of S. D. Lee and Frobel, quite out of ammunition, retired to replenish. The battery of Napoleons was reduced to one section, that short of ammunition and working hands.

General Hill rallied the greater part of G. B. Anderson's and Rodes's brigades in the sunken road. Some of Ripley's men came together near Miller's guns at the Hagerstown pike. General R. H. Anderson and his next in rank, General Wright, were wounded. The next officer, General Pryor, not advised of his new authority, the brigades assembled at points most suited to their convenience, in rear of D. H. Hill's brigades.

But time was up. Confederate affairs were not encouraging. Our men were all leg-weary and heavy to handle, while McClellan, with his tens of thousands, whom he had marched in healthful exercise the past two weeks, was finding and pounding us from left to right under converging fire of his batteries east and west of the Antietam.

The signal of the approaching storm was the bursting of Richardson's command, augmented by parts of French's division, through the field of corn, hardly ruffled by the affair at the Roulette House, spreading its grand march against our centre. They came in brave style, in full appreciation of the work in hand, marched better than on drill, unfolded banners making gay their gallant step.

The Fifth Corps and Pleasonton's cavalry were in active preparation to cross at the second bridge and join on Richardson's left, and Burnside at the third bridge was pressing his claim for a passage against our right.

I had posted G. T. Anderson's brigade behind a stone fence near the Hagerstown pike, about the safest spot to be found on the field of Sharpsburg,—a dead angle, so to speak. The batteries on the field north and the long-range thirty-gun battery of General Doubleday were playing their fire down the pike, taking their aim by the direction of the road, where they stood. This brought their fire into the field about one hundred yards in rear of Anderson's line. As the fire came from an enfilade direction, the troops assumed that they were under enfilade fire, and General Anderson changed position without reporting. General D. H. Hill got hold of him and moved him to the Boonsborough pike to defend against Sykes's and Pleasonton's forces, advancing in that quarter. - Thus, when Richardson's march approached its objective, the Confederates had Boyce's battery, well out in the corn-field, facing the march; Miller's section of Napoleons in the centre, and a single battery at McLaws's rear, with fragments of scattered brigades along the pike, and the Twenty-seventh North Carolina Regiment to hold the left centre, besides the brigades in the sunken road, and the brigades of R. H. Anderson's division awaiting the bloody struggle. They received the severe attack in firm holding for a long half-hour, the enemy pressing closer at intervals, until an order of General Rodes's was misconstrued and part of his brigade under Lieutenant-Colonel Lightfoot, of the Sixth Alabama Regiment, was faced to the rear, and marched off, informing others that that was the order.

General G. B. Anderson fell mortally wounded. The enemy pressed in on his outer flank and called for surrender of the forces cut off and outflanked. Meagher's brigade was retired to replenish ammunition, and Barlow swung to his right and came against our fragments about Miller's guns, standing near his flank. Miller had two guns, the others off for a supply of ammunition. Cooke's Twenty-seventh North Carolina Regiment was well organized, but short of ammunition; fragments of Ripley's brigade and some others were on the turnpike; Miller was short of hands and ammunition, even for two guns; McLaws's division and the other part of Walker's were in front of threatenings of parts of French's division and of troops rallying on their front, and the Sixth Corps was up and coming against them, so that it seemed hazardous to call them off and leave an open way. Our line was throbbing at every point, so that I dared not call on General Lee for help. Sergeant Ellis thought that he could bring up ammunition if he was authorized to order it. He was authorized, and rode for and brought it. I held the horses of some of my staff who helped to man the guns as cannoneers.

As the attacking forces drew nearer, Colonel Cooke reported his ammunition exhausted. He was ordered to hold on with the bayonet, and sent in return that he would " hold till ice forms in regions where it was never known," or words to that effect. As Richardson advanced through the corn he cut off the battery under Boyce, so that it was obliged to retire to save itself, and as Barlow came upon our centre, the battery on our left was for a time thrown out of fire lest they might injure friend as much as foe. Barlow marched in steady good ranks, and the remnants before him rose to the emergency. They seemed to forget that they had known fatigue; the guns were played with life, and the brave spirits manning them claimed that they were there to hold or to go down with the guns.

As our shots rattled against the armored ranks, Colonel Fairfax clapped his hands and ran for other charges. The mood of the gunners to a man was one of quiet but unflinching resolve to stand to the last gun. Captain Miller charged and double-charged with spherical case and canister until his guns at the discharge leaped in the air from ten to twelve inches.

When the crest was reached, the rush that was expected to sweep us away paused,—the Confederates became hopeful. Soon the advancing ranks lay behind the crest, and presently drew nearer Richardson's part of the line, then mounting the crest over the Piper House. This latter point, once established, must cut and break the Confederate position as effectually as our centre just saved. He occupied the Piper House with two regiments under Colonel Brooke in advance of his line along the crest, and called up some of his batteries.

The Confederates meanwhile were collecting other batteries and infantry in defence, when a shot from one of our batteries brought Richardson down, mortally wounded. His taking-off broke the aggressive spirit of the division and reduced its fight to the defensive. The regiments at the Piper House found their position thus advanced too much exposed, and withdrew to the stronger line of the crest. General Meagher's brigade came up with ammunition replenished. General Hancock was despatched to take command of the division. In the midst of the tragedy, as Richardson approached the east crest, there was a moment of amusement when General Hill, with about fifty men and a battle-flag, ran to gain a vantagepoint for flank fire against Richardson's left. Colonel Ross, observing the move and appreciating the opportunity, charged with two regiments for the same and secured it. General Hill claimed (and rightly) that it had effect in giving the impression that there were other forces coming to support him.

Another regiment came to the relief of the Twenty-seventh, under Cooke. The movement of troops in that quarter was construed by the enemy as a threatened flank move against Richardson, which caused some little delay in his march. Though the Confederates had but fragments here and there, the enemy were kept busy and watchful lest they should come upon another surprise move.

The Confederates were surprised but much relieved when they found this affair reduced to the defensive, and assumed that every missile they sent must have found one or more victims. But accounts of the other side make clear that the result was due to accidental artillery shots that cut down Colonel Barlow, the aggressive spirit of Richardson's right column, and General Richardson himself at his culminating moment. Barlow fell from a case or canister-shot, as did Richardson. All the Union accounts refer to a battery on their right throwing shell, and the " two brass guns in front throwing case and canister," and this latter was the only artillery at work against them at the time of Barlow's fall. When Barlow's command drew nearer the division the brass guns were turned upon Richardson, but at the moment of his taking-off another battery was in action on his left. General D. H. Hill thought that Carter's battery was in time to divide the honor of the last shot with the section of Napoleons under Miller.

Orders were given General Pleasonton, at the second bridge, to be ready to enter the battle as soon as the attack by Richardson should open the way. To meet these orders skirmishers were advanced, and Tidball's battery, by piece, using canister, to drive back the Confederate sharp-shooters. The Fifth Corps (General Porter's) was ordered to be ready for like service.

When Richardson swung his line up along the crest at the Piper House, Pleasonton advanced troopers and batteries, crossed the bridge at a gallop by the Fifth Regular Cavalry, Farnsworth's brigade, Rush's brigade, two regiments of the Fifth Brigade under B. F. Davis, and the batteries of Tidball, Robertson, Hains, and Gibson. The batteries were put into action under the line of skirmishers, that were reinforced by Sykes's division of the Fifth and Tenth Infantry under Lieutenant Poland.

General Hill seized a musket and by example speedily collected a number of men, who joined him in reinforcing the line threatened by this heavy display. The parts of brigades under General Pryor, Colonels Cummings, Posey, and G. T. Anderson afterwards got up to help the brigade of Evans already there. By these, with the batteries of Squires, Gardner, and Richardson, this threatening demonstration was checked. Then it was reinforced by the batteries of Randol, Kusserow, and Van Reed, and the Fourth United States Infantry, Captain Dryer; the first battalion of the Twelfth, Captain Blount; second battalion of the Twelfth, Captain Anderson; first battalion of the Fourteenth, Captain Brown, and second battalion of the Fourteenth, Captain McKibbin, of Sykes's division; the batteries posted to command the field, right and left, to cover Sumner's and Burnside's fronts, as soon as they could rise to the plateau. S. D. Lee's batteries were back on the crest, replenished of ammunition, while the Union batteries were on low ground, near the river. A very clever well-organized advance was made, but their advantages of position and the tenacious hold of the Confederates, even after the attack reached the crest, enabled them to drive back the assaulting forces. The horse batteries went back to positions on the west side after replenishing with ammunition, except Gibson's, which was put in defensive attitude on the east. Pleasonton, with a comprehensive view of the opportunity, called for additional force, but two of Morell's brigades had been ordered by the upper crossing to Sumner's relief, and a detachment had been sent to assist Burnside, which reduced the Fifth Corps to the minimum of force necessary to the service to which it was assigned; not equal to the aggressive fight to which it was invited. But for the breaking up of Richardson's aggression, this last advance could have gained the field.

The Third Brigade of the Second Division, Sixth Corps, made an erratic march across part of the field, the Seventh Maine Regiment leading, and retired like a meteor that loses its own fire.

A little after one o'clock this and other parts of the line, except at the Burnside Bridge, settled down to defensive. Burnside was still hard at work in search of a practical line of advance, Toombs standing manfully against him.

During the lull, after the rencounter of Walker's, Hill's, and Hood's divisions against Mansfield's last fight, General Lee and myself, riding together under the crest of General D. H. Hill's part of the line, were joined by the latter. We were presently called to the crest to observe movements going on in the Union lines. The two former dismounted and walked to the crest; General Hill, a little out of strength and thinking a single horseman not likely to draw the enemy's fire, rode. As we reached the crest I asked him to ride a little apart, as he would likely draw fire upon the group. While viewing the field a puff of white smoke was seen to burst from a cannon's mouth about a mile off. I remarked, " There is a shot for General Hill," and, looking towards him, saw his horse drop on his knees. Both forelegs were cut off just below the knees. The dropping forward of the poor animal so elevated his croup that it was not an easy matter for one not an expert horseman to dismount à la militaire. To add to the dilemma, there was a rubber coat with other wraps strapped to the cantle of the saddle. Failing in his attempt to dismount, I suggested that he throw his leg forward over the pommel. This gave him easy and graceful dismount. This was the third horse shot under him during the day, and the shot was one of the best I ever witnessed. An equally good one was made by a Confederate at Yorktown. An officer of the Topographical Engineers walked into the open, in front of our lines, fixed his plane table and seated himself to make a map of the Confederate works. A non-commissioned officer, without orders, adjusted his gun, carefully aimed it, and fired. At the report of the gun all eyes were turned to see the occasion of it, and then to observe the object, when the shell was seen to explode as if in the hands of the officer. It had been dropped squarely upon the drawing-table, and Lieutenant Wagner was mortally wounded.* Of the first shot, Major Alfred A. Woodhull, under date of June 8, 1886, wrote,—

" On the 17th of September, 1862, I was standing in Weed's battery, whose position is correctly given in the map, when a man on, I think, a gray horse, appeared about a mile in front of us, and footmen were recognized near. Captain Weed, who was a remarkable artillerist, himself sighted and fired the gun at the horse, which was struck."

* Of this shot, Captain A. B. More, of Richmond, Virginia, wrote, under date of June 16,1886,— " The Howitzers have always been proud of that shot, and, thinking it would interest you, I write to say that it was fired by Corporal Holzburton, of the Second Company, Richmond Howitzers, from a ten-pound Parrott."

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