The American Civil War, day by day - Page 48 - Politics | PoFo

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September 9, Tuesday

It has been in the back of Lee’s mind that, if all goes well, he might be able to drive as far north as Pennsylvania. From Frederick, he can move his army northwest across Catoctin Mountain and South Mountain to Hagerstown. Then, shielded on his right flank by these mountains, he can follow the path of the Cumberland Valley Railroad curving 70 miles northeast to Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania. Destruction of a key bridge across the Susquehanna River just west of Harrisburg would sever a vital Federal supply route between East and West. Then, he can turn his attention “to Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Washington, as may seem best for our interests.”

To implement such a plan, Lee will have to safeguard his lines of communication and supply against Federal cavalry raids. This can best be done by shifting those lines westward into the Shenandoah Valley behind the protection of the Blue Ridge. But first Lee will have to deal with two Federal outposts that stand virtually astride his intended supply route in the Valley. At the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers is Harpers Ferry, manned by nearly 12,000 Federals. Northwest of that town is a 2,500-man garrison at Martinsburg. Both sites have been isolated by Lee’s move into Maryland, and he had assumed that they would be evacuated. But the Federal high command, over McClellan’s protests, has stubbornly ordered both garrisons to stay. To handle this unforeseen circumstance, Lee devises a plan that calls for a temporary four-way split of his army. Longstreet, with three divisions, the reserve artillery, and the supply trains, will begin the first leg of the movement into Pennsylvania, crossing South Mountain. Meanwhile, the bulk of the army—six divisions—will eliminate the Federal outposts that threaten the relocation of the Confederate supply lines. In three separate commands, this force will converge upon Harpers Ferry from the Maryland side of the Potomac, the Virginia side, and the west. After reducing the Federal stronghold, all three forces will march north to reunite with Longstreet, ready for further operations.

The entire plan is spelled out in Special Orders No. 191, issued today. One copy is sent to each of the commanders involved. Since the orders pinpoint Confederate movements over the following few days, several of the recipients take special care to prevent their copies from falling into enemy hands. Longstreet, for example, mentally digests his copy then chews it to a pulp. Jackson, noting that the order detaches D.H. Hill’s division from his command to follow Longstreet, wants to make sure that Hill understands that he, Jackson, is aware of the transfer. So Jackson, always careful to maintain security, personally copies the order and sends it to Hill, who reads it and puts it away for safekeeping. Jackson is unaware that an official copy of Lee’s orders has been prepared for Hill. As it happens, that copy never reaches its destination. It somehow comes into the hands of an unidentified Confederate staff officer, who wraps the document around three fresh cigars and puts the package in his pocket.

There are skirmishes at Monocacy Church and Barnesville, Maryland. On the Peninsula a small-scale Confederate attack fails at Williamsburg.

Federal Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman is put in command of the defenses of Washington south of the Potomac.

Other action is at Big Creek, Missouri; on the Franklin and Scottsville roads, Kentucky; Columbia, Tennessee; and Cockrum Cross Roads and Rienzi, Mississippi.
Doug64 wrote:September 9, Tuesday

The entire plan is spelled out in Special Orders No. 191, issued today. One copy is sent to each of the commanders involved. Since the orders pinpoint Confederate movements over the following few days, several of the recipients take special care to prevent their copies from falling into enemy hands. Longstreet, for example, mentally digests his copy then chews it to a pulp. Jackson, noting that the order detaches D.H. Hill’s division from his command to follow Longstreet, wants to make sure that Hill understands that he, Jackson, is aware of the transfer. So Jackson, always careful to maintain security, personally copies the order and sends it to Hill, who reads it and puts it away for safekeeping. Jackson is unaware that an official copy of Lee’s orders has been prepared for Hill. As it happens, that copy never reaches its destination. It somehow comes into the hands of an unidentified Confederate staff officer, who wraps the document around three fresh cigars and puts the package in his pocket.

Unbelievable.... :roll:
September 10, Wednesday

Early in the morning, General Lee’s divided army begins to leave Frederick. The soldiers, refreshed after four days of rest, are in a happy mood. They sing along as the regimental bands play “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” and flirt with young women who come out to watch and wave flags—Union as well as Confederate. Jackson, concealing his real objectives, marches his divisions northwestward on the National Road as if heading for Pennsylvania. Jackson even has his officers inquire among the citizens of Frederick for a map of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. These officers themselves don’t know that they are now embarked upon Lee’s greatest gamble yet. Lee has defied the maxims of military science before by dividing his army during the Seven Days’ Battles and prior to Second Bull Run. But this time he is dividing it into four wings that will be separated by as much as 25 miles for several days. Longstreet has flatly opposed the plan, insisting that the army is “in no condition to divide in the enemy’s country.”

Lee knows from Jeb Stuart’s intelligence reports that the Army of the Potomac is moving out from Washington toward Frederick. But he also is aware from the Northern newspapers that McClellan is back in command, and he is counting on his knowledge of McClellan’s temperament. “He is an able general but a very cautious one,” Lee says. “His army is in a very demoralized and chaotic condition, and will not be prepared for offensive operations—or he will not think it so—for three or four weeks. Before that time I hope to be on the Susquehanna.” Lee’s assessment is only partially accurate. The Federal army, revitalized under McClellan, is in better condition than Lee’s. But McClellan is indeed moving cautiously.

However, Lee does hear that Federals from Pennsylvania are marching south toward Hagerstown. Since Hagerstown is to be the springboard for his invasion of Pennsylvania, he and Longstreet hurry toward the city with 10,000 men, leaving only D.H. Hill’s division of 5,000 men at Boonsboro to guard the rear. Thus, Lee’s 50,000 troops are actually deployed in five separate forces instead of four, spread out over 25 miles, providing McClellan with an even greater opportunity ... if he can take advantage of it.

There are skirmishes near Boonsborough, Frederick, and Sugarloaf Mountain, Maryland.

Other action includes an engagement at Fayetteville, western Virginia, a Federal defeat; on the Kilkenny River, South Carolina; Rogers’ and Big Creek gaps and Columbia, Tennessee; Fort Mitchel near Covington, Woodburn, and Log Church, Kentucky.

Tension rides high in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and along the Ohio. A thousand “squirrel hunters” from the Ohio Valley volunteer their services in Cincinnati as home guards. No one is quite sure how far the Confederate invasions east or west will go.
September 11, Thursday

Advance elements of the Army of the Potomac are still fifteen miles southeast of Frederick. And the army is advancing at an average rate of only six miles a day. McClellan has good reasons for this deliberate pace. He is uncertain about Lee’s intentions; in fact, Jeb Stuart’s Confederate horsemen have done such an effective job of holding off McClellan’s cavalry probes that only now that Lee has left Frederick is the Union commander certain the Confederate army has been there. McClellan’s caution is reinforced by the entreaties of his superior, General in Chief Henry Halleck. Fretting at his desk in Washington, Halleck fears that Lee’s advance into Maryland is only a feint. McClellan is also slowed down by the complex reshuffling of his army undertaken on the march. He has apportioned his fifteen divisions into three wings that proceed toward Frederick on parallel roads, with the cavalry, under Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton, in advance. This enables the army to advance on a 25-mile-wide front that covers the approaches to both Washington and Baltimore. It also provides the necessary concentration in case the Federals have to swing north to meet an invasion of Pennsylvania.

As in his Peninsular Campaign, however, McClellan is hampered by a lack of accurate intelligence about enemy strength. General Pleasonton—misled by exaggerated reports from civilians and prisoners, and by false stories planted by Stuart’s troopers—asserts that the Confederates have crossed the Potomac “over 100,000 strong.” Other estimates from Allan Pinkerton, McClellan’s chief of intelligence, range up to 200,000. By now McClellan, who is always ready to believe the worst about enemy numbers, has concluded that the invaders amount to “not less than 120,000 men”—more than twice Lee’s actual strength—and he is asking Washington for reinforcements.

McClellan’s leisurely pace toward Frederick suits his soldiers just fine. They are glad to be back on friendly soil after months of campaigning in hostile Virginia. The weather is warm and dry, and the landscape is lovely. The young women who bring the troops bread, fruit, and washtubs of lemonade are an added blessing. Less eager to impress the citizenry than are the Confederates, the Federals tend to be freer about living off the land, though higher commanders adhere more closely to orders McClellan has issued against pillaging.

2,500 Federal troops fall back from Martinsburg to Harpers Ferry, fifteen miles to the northwest, in the face of the approach of Stonewall Jackson’s three divisions. These Federal troops bring the garrison at Harpers Ferry to 14,000 men, many of them inexperienced, under the command of Colonel Dixon S. Miles with orders to defend Harpers Ferry to “the latest moment.” Miles, a gray-bearded veteran of 38 years in the US Army, is a native Marylander who fought with distinction during the Mexican War and against Amerinds on the frontier. On the eve of the War, he ranked among the top thirty officers in the Army. But his fondness for alcohol has since taken its toll. Given command of a division at the 1st Battle of Bull Run, he rode about in excited confusion and was later determined by a military court of inquiry to be drunk —under the influence, it was said, of brandy prescribed by his doctor for an illness. He swore off liquor and was shipped to Harpers Ferry.

The converging Confederate forces are, in the main, veterans—and they outnumber the Harpers Ferry garrison by more than 7,000 men. Furthermore, Harpers Ferry is hemmed in by high ground, terrain that vastly favors the attackers. The Federals have to hold Bolivar Heights to the west; Loudoun Heights to the south just across the Shenandoah; and especially Maryland Heights to the north across the Potomac, the southernmost extremity of twelve-mile-long Elk Ridge. Yet Colonel Miles assumes that since the western approach to Harpers Ferry is comparatively level, the Confederates will attack from that direction. He ignores Loudoun Heights altogether, and puts a force of only 2,000 men on the most important position of all, Maryland Heights. This night, about 8,000 Confederates under General Lafayette McLaws arrives at Brownsville, six miles northeast of Harpers Ferry in Pleasant Valley, bounded on the east by Southern Mountain and on the west by Elk Ridge.

Lee with Longstreet and his 10,000 men enter Hagerstown, Maryland, and the turmoil at the North increases. There are more skirmishes between the two armies as the Federals move north from Washington. Governor Andrew G. Curtin of Pennsylvania calls for fifty thousand men. Militia are gathering.

Other action is from Clarendon to Lawrenceville and St. Charles, Arkansas; at St. John’s Bluff, Florida; Bloomfield, Missouri; Smith’s, Kentucky; and in western Virginia’s Kanawha Valley at Gauley.

Maysville, Kentucky, is occupied by forces under E. Kirby Smith. Confederate units push to within about seven miles of Cincinnati with considerable skirmishing.
September 12, Friday

As the Army of the Potomac nears Frederick, McClellan receives reliable reports that Lee has withdrawn from the city. He decides it is time to step up the pace and pushes the vanguard of Burnside’s right wing rapidly toward Frederick. But Lee has not, in fact, completely abandoned the area, he has left a rearguard of cavalry to slow the Federals. This afternoon the Kanawha Division runs into part of the rearguard at the Monocacy River, half a mile east of Frederick. The Confederates are quickly driven back, but one of the Federal brigade commanders, Colonel Augustus Moore, proves to be too impetuous in pursuit. He takes a cavalry troop and a single artillery piece and charges headlong into town. Waiting for Moore are the Confederate troopers. While excited citizens peer out from behind their shuttered windows, the Confederates mount a countercharge. The Federal cannon manages to get off only one round before the charging Confederates knock it into a ditch. As suddenly as it begins, the little skirmish ends. While the Federal infantry rush at the double-quick into one end of the town, the Confederates trot out the other end with a dozen prisoners, including the overeager Colonel Moore. The citizens of Frederick have hardly suffered under the brief Confederate occupation, but they loyally welcome the Federals as liberators: “Whilst the carbine smoke and the smell of powder still lingered, the closed window-shutters of the houses flew open, the sashes went up, the windows were filled with ladies waving their handkerchiefs and national flags, whilst the men came to the column with fruits and refreshments.”

Northeast of Harpers Ferry, General McLaws deploys his troops methodically. He leaves 3,000 men near Brownsville Gap in South Mountain to protect his rear. He moves 3,000 others toward the Potomac to seal off the eastern escape route from Harpers Ferry. Finally, he assigns the crucial task of seizing Maryland Heights to the veteran brigades of Brigadier Generals Joseph Kershaw and William Barksdale. They are to mount Elk Ridge at a pass called Solomon’s Gap, then turn south, march four miles along the ridge, and drive the Federal defenders off the crest overlooking Harpers Ferry. Early in the day, with Kershaw’s South Carolinians in the lead, the Confederates ascend Solomon’s Gap with little opposition, brushing aside a detachment of about forty Federals. The terrain they encounter along the crest of the ridge proves a tougher obstacle. As they move south, the Confederates follow a path so narrow that they have to grab at bushes and trees to keep from tumbling down the slope. At 6 pm, after moving less than four miles, they run into a Federal abatis, and a volley of musketry from behind the felled trees stops them for the night.

There is skirmishing at Hurricane Bridge, western Virginia. Near Leesburg in Loudoun County, Virginia, there is scattered fighting September 12-17.

About 50 miles east of Union General Buell, Confederate General Bragg’s leading wing, under Major General Leonidas Polk, has emerged from the Cumberland Mountains at Sparta, Tennessee, and headed north. Bragg has ordered Polk to march to Glasgow, Kentucky, seize the Louisville & Nashville Railroad line there, and then wait for the arrival of the army’s other wing under Major General William J. Hardee.

There is skirmishing at Brandenburg and near Woodburn, Kentucky. A mild fight breaks out at Coldwater Railroad Bridge, Mississippi.

The First, Second, and Third Corps of the Army of Virginia are designated the Eleventh, Twelfth, and First Army Corps of the Army of the Potomac. The Federal Army of Virginia is no more.

In the North the archives, bonds, and treasure of the state of Pennsylvania at Harrisburg and Philadelphia are sent to New York. The mayor of Philadelphia is given full power to defend the city. The Confederate Congress debates the propriety of the invasion of the North. A worried President Lincoln wires McClellan, “How does it look now?” and is told by the general that he is concerned that Lee will recross the Potomac before he can get to him.

Turning to the threat in Kentucky, Lincoln asks military authorities in Louisville, “Where is the enemy which you dread in Louisville? How near to you?” E. Kirby Smith’s main body is less than fifty miles away, while Bragg’s command is about a hundred miles to the south.

President Davis writes to the governors of Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, and Arkansas, attempting to reassure them that he is not neglecting the Trans-Mississippi area.

Colonel Sibley has been exchanging messages with Little Crow exploring peace in Minnesota, but no agreement has been reached. Unknown to Little Crow, today the half-breed intermediary between the two also gives to Sibley a letter from two other chiefs, Wabasha and Taopi, who have consistently opposed the war. Revealing dissension within the Amerind camp, they offer to take possession of the captives and deliver them to Sibley if he will name a place where they can meet. Sibley replies that he will soon begin a march north and will look for them and the prisoners on the prairie, assembled under a white flag. The danger now, Sibley realizes, is that any sudden move against Little Crow might compromise the safety of the captives. He writes to his wife: “I must use what craft I possess to get these poor creatures out of the possession of the red devils, and then pursue the latter with fire and sword.”
September 13, Saturday

General McClellan arrives in Frederick with the main body of the army about 9 am, and is mobbed. Crying and laughing, women thrust out their babies to the general and hug his horse. They kiss his uniform and cover both McClellan and his mount with wreaths and flowers. Someone in the crowd inserts in his mount’s bridle a little US flag, which the general will later send to his wife.

Much as McClellan loves all the attention, it pales beside the gift bestowed upon him later this morning by a pair of soldiers from the 27th Indiana. Shortly before 10 am, the 27th stops at a meadow on the outskirts of Frederick for a rest break. Two of the soldiers lounging in the grass look idly around, observing the evidence that the meadow was used by the Confederates as a campground a few days before. One of the soldiers notices something in the tall grass nearby, that turns out to be a kind of package—three cigars wrapped in a sheet of paper. Free cigars are a happy discovery, but the wrapper is also intriguing. It is addressed to Confederate General D.H. Hill and bears the heading, “Special Orders No. 191, Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia.” They have found the extra copy of the Confederate plan of operation. They take their discovery to their company commander, who quickly sends it up the chain of command to McClellan’s headquarters at the edge of Frederick where he is conferring with a delegation of Frederick businessmen. As McClellan reads the paper, all those conflicting pieces of intelligence he has been receiving fall into place—Lee has divided his army. He throws up his arms and exclaims, “Now I know what to do!” McClellan has on his desk a telegram, one of the latest in a series of anxious queries from President Lincoln: “How does it look now?” At noon, McClellan telegraphs his elated reply: “I have the whole rebel force in front of me, but I am confident, and no time shall be lost. I think Lee has made a gross mistake, and that he shall be severely punished for it. I have all the plans of the rebels, and will catch them in their own trap if my men are equal to the emergency. Will send you trophies.” In the afternoon, waving the orders, McClellan exults to one of his brigadiers, “Here is a paper with which if I cannot whip Bobbie Lee, I will be willing to go home.”

At Harpers Ferry, General Kershaw’s men drive back the Federals from the abatis encountered the previous afternoon. They advance about 400 yards before running into a second, larger abatis guarding Maryland Heights. Just beyond this barrier, and only about a mile from the ridge overlooking Harpers Ferry, stands a crude breastwork of stones and logs that the Federals have hastily erected across the crest. Behind the breastwork are massed 1,700 troops, a force nearly equal to the two attacking Confederate brigades. But the Federals are ill-prepared. In the center of the defense line is the green 126th New York, a regiment that was raised only three weeks before. In addition, the Federals’ seven artillery pieces are sited to cover the southern and western approaches to Harpers Ferry and so are useless against an attack from the north.

Kershaw begins his attack at about 6:30 am. His plan is to push his own brigade directly against the abatis while Barksdale’s Mississippians flank the Federal right farther down the slope where the going is easier. Twice Kershaw’s Confederates charge into the abatis, and twice they are driven back with heavy losses. The inexperienced New Yorkers are holding their own. They are heartened by the courageous example of their commander in the field, Colonel Sherrill, a former US Congressman. Sherrill’s only military experience has been in the peace-time militia, but now he is striding back and forth recklessly, waving his revolver and exhorting his young soldiers. When the Confederates charge again, he jumps up on the breastwork for a better look and a Minié ball tears through his cheek, mangling his tongue. After Sherrill is carried off the field, the New Yorkers grow panicky. To their right, on the eastern slope of the ridge, Barksdale’s brigade of Mississippians have scrambled along the lower of the ridge, flanking the abatis and breastwork. Rumors of an order to retreat circulate through the ranks of the New Yorkers, and the green troops break and flee rearward, stampeding down the south slope toward Harpers Ferry and trying desperately to take cover behind rocks and bushes. The remaining units are ordered to withdraw from the breastwork and re-form farther along the ridge. Up from Harpers Ferry to stem the retreat comes Colonel Miles. At length, he and other officers manage to stop the flight of the 126th but are unable to calm the troops and rally them. For some reason, no one thinks to send forward the 900 men of the 115th New York, who are waiting in reserve midway up the south slope. At 3:30 pm, outnumbered and threatened from front and flank, a total withdrawal is ordered from Maryland Heights. The big guns are spiked, and several are shoved off the ridge. By 4:30 pm, all the troops have retreated down the mountain and across the pontoon bridge over the Potomac into Harpers Ferry, leaving Maryland Heights to the enemy.

Earlier in the day, the two other Confederate wings arrive and move into position. John Walker’s 3,400-man division reaches the base of Loudoun Heights at about 10:am. To their astonishment, the Confederates find not a single Federal soldier there. An hour after Walker’s arrival, Stonewell Jackson approaches Harpers Ferry from the west with three divisions and deploy his 11,500 men a couple of miles from Bolivar Heights, where the Federals have their main defenses. The arrival of Walker and Jackson complete the Confederate encirclement.

In Harpers Ferry, Federal officers are fully aware of their predicament. Come nightfall, Mile’s subordinates beg him to attempt to recapture Maryland Heights. Miles refuses, insisting that his forces remain along Bolivar Heights to defend the town from the west. He exclaims stubbornly, “I am ordered to hold this place and God damn my soul to hell if I don’t.” The fact that Miles takes such a literal view of his orders—to hold Harpers Ferry and the nearby Bolivar Heights but not the crucial high ground to the north and south—is only one of the things that puzzle and frustrate his subordinates. Though no one can say for sure that Miles has taken to the bottle again, his officers sense in their commander an alarming mental confusion. During the night, Miles summons Captain Charles Russell of the 1st Maryland Cavalry and orders him to take nine horsemen and break through the enemy encirclement. Russell is to ride through enemy lines to McClellan’s headquarters, 20 miles northeast of Harpers Ferry, and inform the general that the besieged town can hold out for 48 hours. After that, Miles says, he will have to surrender.

McClellan already knows that Harpers Ferry is under siege, his signal stations on hills to the south of Frederick report hearing the sounds of battle in the afternoon. McClellan has spent the afternoon developing his plan of attack. He intends to relieve Harpers Ferry and to pounce upon the scattered pieces of the Confederate army where they are pinpointed in Lee’s order. At 6:20 pm, six hours after coming into possession of Lee’s order, McClellan begins issuing his own orders for tomorrow’s march. Most of the Army of the Potomac—79,000 men encamped near Frederick and at Middletown farther west—will follow the National Road toward Turner’s Gap, one of two principal passes over South Mountain, a ridge extending roughly fifty miles from the Potomac north into Pennsylvania. The target of the march is the Confederate force at Boonsboro—which McClellan mistakenly believes from Lee’s order to be the bulk of the Confederate army. The remainder of the Army of the Potomac consists of about 12,000 men at Buckeystown, six miles south of Frederick, and a 7,200-man division five miles further south at Licksville. Together, they are to cross at Crampton’s Gap, the other principal pass over South Mountain, cut off the Confederates besieging Harpers Ferry, and relieve the garrison. Nothing has happened to change McClellan’s misconceptions about the strength of Lee’s scattered forces. He still thinks they total 120,000 men. And he still believes that Longstreet and D.H. Hill are together at Boonsboro, not separated by thirteen miles.

Up at Hagerstown this night, General Lee receives two alarming dispatches. Jeb Stuart at Turner’s Gap reports that a Southern sympathizer from Frederick has slipped through the Federal lines to tell a disturbing story. The man was among the delegation of Frederick citizens present when the lost order was brought to McClellan. Seeing McClellan’s excited reaction, he surmised that a major piece of intelligence must have fallen into Federal hands. In another message, D.H. Hill reports from Boonsboro that an enormous number of Federal campfires are ablaze around Middletown, four miles east of Turner’s Gap. Lee quickly takes precautions to meet the threat. He fires off messages to McLaws and Jackson urging them to hurry up with their siege of Harpers Ferry and warning that McClellan might attempt to relieve the Federal garrison there. Then, to gain time for the completion of the Harpers Ferry operation, he orders a full-scale defense of Turner’s Gap. D.H. Hill is to support Stuart’s cavalry there. and to provide additional manpower, Lee orders Longstreet to march from Hagerstown to Turner’s Gap at daybreak with eight of his nine brigades.

Battle is looming. Already there have been skirmishes at Catoctin Mountain, Middletown, Jefferson, and South Mountain.

Down in western Virginia Federals evacuate Charleston in the Kanawha Valley, after some fighting, in the face of the Confederate offensive under W.W. Loring. In Missouri skirmishing breaks out anew at Newtonia, at Bragg’s Farm near Whaley’s Mill, and at Strother Fork of Black River in Iron County. Other fighting is at Iuka, Mississippi; and there are operations at Flour Bluffs, Texas; and a Union expedition to Pass Manchac and Ponchatoula, Louisiana.

In New Orleans General Butler orders all foreigners to register with his Federal occupation authorities.
September 14, Sunday

In Maryland the day dawns bright and hot as long columns of Federals converge on South Mountain. In the forefront of the Federal advance against Turner’s Gap is a IX Corps division of 3,000 Ohioans and West Virginians led by Brigadier General Jacob Cox. When Cox breaks camp at 6 am, he understands that the mission of his two brigades is merely to support a cavalry reconnaissance by Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton. Soon, however, he learns that trouble lies ahead when he encounters Colonel Augustus Moor, his impetuous brigade commander that was captured in the little skirmish at Frederick two days before and has now been paroled and is making his way back to Federal lines. The terms of Moor’s parole forbid supplying intelligence, but when finding where Cox is headed his exclamation of “My God! Be careful.” is not reassuring.

At Bolivar, a crossroads at the eastern base of South Mountain, Cox and Pleasonton decide not to attack through Turner’s Gap but to flank whatever Confederates defend the summit there. They turn onto the Old Sharpsburg Road, which crosses the mountain at Fox’s Gap, south of Turner’s Gap. Cox’s men make the two-mile climb up the steep slope, and just short of the crest reach an open field. At the far edge is a Confederate cavalry detachment of 200 men and a 1,000-man brigade. The infantry hold a strong position behind portions of a stone wall bordering a road that runs along the mountain crest from Turner’s Gap to Fox’s Gap.

About 9 am both sides open up with artillery and musketry, and soon the fighting rages all along the line. The Federals attempt to flank the southern end of the Confederate defenses, through dense woods with the 23rd Ohio. The 23rd’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Rutherford B. Hays, leads his men through the woods and then up the slope. Near the crest, as Hayes is urging his men on, a musket ball fractures his left arm. As he is being carried to safety, his Ohioans gain the summit and turn the Confederate right. The Confederates now have to face assaults from the right and the front, but they are still full of fight. When two guns from the 1st Ohio Battery are ordered up into the open field within forty yards of the Confederate line, the defenders begin picking off the gunners one by one. But the men who fall are replaced, and the Federals continue to rake the Confederates with cannister. In the center of the line, the 12th Ohio storms over the stone wall and the foes go at it hand to hand. The Confederate commander, General Garland, gallops to the left of his line where the 13th North Carolina, under Colonel Thomas Ruffin, is hotly engaged. No sooner has Garland conferred with Ruffin about the dangerous situation than Ruffin takes a hit in the hip and goes down. Seconds later Garland is mortally wounded. Demoralized by the loss of their commander, hard-pressed in the center, and flanked on their right, the North Carolinians fall back in disarray down the west slope of the mountain, losing 200 prisoners to the onrushing Ohioans. By 11 am Cox commands Fox’s Gap. His division, weary after two hours of bitter combat, pushes north on the road running along the ridge toward the National Road at Turner’s Gap.

At Turner’s Gap, D.H. Hill, the Confederate division commander, feels the world closing in. Early in the day, he climbs a lookout station near the Mountain House, an old inn at the crest of the gap, and gasps at the awesome panorama of McClellan’s seemingly endless columns marching west from Middletown. Then comes the devastating news of Garland’s death and the decimation of his North Carolina brigade. Hill only has one other brigade on the mountain, and it is needed to guard the immediate vicinity of Turner’s Gap. His three other brigades are still on the three-mile march from Boonsboro; Longstreet’s eight brigades are on the way from Hagerstown but still hours away. So Hill stages a desperate ruse. He runs two guns south along the ridge road and musters what he will later describe as “a line of dismounted staff-officers, couriers, teamsters and cooks to give the appearance of battery supports.” Near a farm, the guns open on the Federals with canister, plowing up furrows in the fields. This fearsome display stalls the Federals, and soon the timely arrival of one of Hill’s brigades from Boonsboro stops the advance altogether. Toward noon, pressed by the Confederates, Cox pulls his tired troops back to Fox’s Gap and waits for reinforcements.

McClellan, who doesn’t expect the Confederates to give battle until his vanguard crosses the mountains to Boonsboro, spends the morning at his Frederick headquarters. When he is alerted that a major battle is underway around Turner’s Gap, he hurries forward to the headquarters of Major General Ambrose Burnside, commander of the right wing, on a knoll near the foot of South Mountain. His presence galvanizes his troops. He sits on his horse at the roadside, and the passing columns of men cheer him as they march toward the battle. The progress of the Federal troops massed in the valley is painfully slow. The lull in the fighting has lasted nearly three hours when the first reinforcing division reach Fox’s Gap and go into action against Hill’s men just to the north sometime after 2 pm. D.H. Hill still has only a pair of brigades to face the Federal reinforcements. These outnumbered Confederates can see yet additional columns of Federals tramping up the Old Sharpsburg Road—two divisions of Reno’s corps. By 3 pm, Hill’s exhausted men teeter on the brink of collapse. Some of them have been in line for nearly six hours. Then, at the last moment, help arrives in the form of Longstreet’s vanguard, which comes into view about 3:30. The men are dusty and tired after a thirteen-mile march over rough terrain that has taken them nineteen hours, but as they approach the western base of the mountain they are cheered at the sight of General Lee. He is astride Traveller again, though his hands are still bandaged and an aide has to hold the reins. Filing by Lee, the soldiers begin to shout for their commander, John Bell Hood, still under arrest in the dispute with General Evans over ownership of the Federal wagons captured at the battle at Bull Run. Lee announces that they shall have him, and sends for Hood. He offers to restore Hood to command if he will express regret over the incident. When Hood refuses and starts to argue his case again Lee interrupts, stating that he will suspend the arrest until the battle is over. With his men shouting their approval, Hood leads the division toward Fox’s Gap. He arrives there just in time to plug a big hole in the Confederate line. Thus bolstered, the defenders are able to stave off Federal attempts to crack through on the ridge. Trying to break the stalemate, General Reno rides forward at sundown for a personal reconnaissance. He is astride his horse in one of farmer Wise’s fields, not far from where Confederate General Garland had fallen this morning, when the woods erupts with gunfire and a bullet tears into him. He dies as he is being carried to the rear.

Thus far the Federals have made no serious effort to force Turner’s Gap or flank it on the north. At 4 pm, McClellan finally moves up General Hooker’s I Corps, which as marched all day from their bivouac on the far side of Frederick. McClellan orders Hooker’s entire corps except one brigade to make a wide flanking movement around to the north. The unit he holds back is the so-called Black Hat Brigade of Brigadier General John Gibbon, which had fought with distinction at Bull Run. Gibbon is ordered to march his men straight up the National Road and deliver a head-on attack at Turner’s Gap. Gibbon starts up the gorge, and quickly comes under fire from enemy skirmishers. Confederate artillery opens up from the summit but the Federals don’t falter, winning praise from McClellan, who is watching through field glasses a mile or so to the rear. About dusk, Gibbon’s brigade approaches the main body of Confederates near the crest and swings into line of battle. The defenders—five regiments of mostly Georgia men under Brigadier General Alfred Colquitt that have seen little action all day—are deployed several hundred yards below the summit where the pass narrows, behind a stone wall and in a ditch on the north side of the wall and on a wooded hillside south of it. They hold their fire until the Federals are only forty yards from the stone wall then let loose a volley and the battle is joined. Soon it grows so dark that the soldiers have to take aim by the flashes of the enemy’s guns. At length, the 6th Wisconsin works their way up the hillside to the right of the Confederate-held wall. But Colquitt’s men meet them there, repulsing charge after charge. By 9 pm, Colquitt has lost 100 men and Gibbon 318—one fourth of his brigade. both sides are low on ammunition, and the deadly spits of flame that have lit the gorge subside.

Meanwhile, as the Georgians keep a tenacious grip on Turner’s Gap, Confederates to the north face overwhelming odds. Brigadier General Robert Rodes with his brigade of 1,200 Alabamians has to cover a difficult spur of the mountain that extends north from the National Road, dipping into a ravine and then rising to a commanding peak nearly a mile away. Early in the day, he deploys four regiments on the peak and the fifth one on the lower ground closer to the road. Between the contingents he leaves a gap, to be filled by three small brigades of Longstreet’s troops when they arrive later. Coming at Rodes’s brigade are two divisions from Hooker’s I Corps. As the Federals begin their advance up the steep slope sometime after 4 pm, they cover such a wide front that Rodes reports he is flanked by half a mile on either side. To slow the Federals, he pushes his skirmishers down into the woods near the base of the mountain. On Rodes’s right, the advancing Federals quickly clear away the skirmishers and advance along the Old Hagerstown Road, which runs through the ravine separating Rodes’s Confederates. Near the ridge, the Federals engage in a fierce contest before a fence at the edge of a cornfield. On Rodes’s left the Federal threat is even greater. The Pennsylvania Reserve Division of Brigadier General George Meade, swinging to the north, press the Confederate flank vigorously. The twin Federal assaults cost Rodes a third of his brigade—422 men dead, wounded, or captured—and he grudgingly yields the high peak. By dark, he has given up perhaps a half mile of his original line and is being squeezed back upon Colquitt’s position in Turner’s Gap. As the victorious Federals pursue Rodes’s battered regiments, they encounter Longstreet’s three small brigades coming up to fill the gap in the Confederate line. After a sharp fight, these Confederates also give way. But darkness puts an end to the struggle.

Down at Crampton’s Gap, six miles to the south, a second crucial battle is waged on this bloody Sunday. William Franklin’s VI Corps, with its vital mission of breaking through to the besieged garrison at Harpers Ferry, approaches the gap about noon. Franklin is late and has only two divisions; en route from camp at Buckeyestown, he has wasted time waiting in vain for a third division that will unaccountably fail to show up until 10 pm. Entering Burkittsville, a mile or so southeast of the gap his men come under fire from Confederate artillery even as women wave their handkerchiefs and flags to welcome the troops. At the eastern base of the mountain, below Crampton’s Gap, a handful of Confederate infantry and three dismounted cavalry regiments lie behind a line of stone walls and rail fences along a farm lane jutting north from the Burkittsville Road with two batteries of artillery posted on the slope, all commanded by Colonel Thomas T. Munford. Altogether, the Confederates have no more than 1,000 men. They watch awestruck while Franklin’s force approaches from Burkittsville and with extraordinary caution prepare to attack. Even without the missing division, the Federals outnumber them by better than twelve to one. The main Federal assault begins a little after 3 pm on a front more than a mile wide. Sheets of Federal fire rip through the ranks of the outmanned defenders, and soon the fence row is lined with dead and wounded Confederates. After a while, sparks from the muzzles of Federal rifles ignite dry leaves and the fire spreads to the wooden fence rails. Then the New Jersey Brigade charges, capturing a number of men and forcing the remainder of the Confederates up the mountainside. During the pursuit up the slope, there are dozens of confused skirmishes—and at least one instance of high pragmatism. A Vermont soldier, trying to climb a ledge, slips and tumbles into a crevasse only to find a Confederate rifleman has preceded him there. After a few tense moments, the two agree to sit out the battle and whichever is on the losing side will be the prisoner of the other.

Even as this bargain is struck, the outcome is being decided at the crest of Crampton’s Gap. The Confederates on the summit can make only a brief stand; then they break and flee down the western slope. Confederate reinforcements—two lead regiments of Brigadier General Howell Cobb’s 1,300-man brigade—ascends the western slope only to be swept up in the rush to the rear. There, a mile or so from the crest, in Pleasant Valley, waits General McLaws, who has hurried north from Maryland Heights with seven regiments. McLaws patches together a new line from these reinforcements and the remnants left over from the battle in the gap. It is about 6 pm. In three hours of hard fighting, the Federals have seized Crampton’s Gap, taking 500 casualties against 750 for the Confederates. Harpers Ferry lies only six miles away. Franklin might well push on. In his orders, McClellan has asked him to use all the “intellect and the utmost activity that a general can exercise” in order to relieve Harpers Ferry. But instead, Franklin probes cautiously at McLaws’ improvised line in Pleasant Valley. Then he decides that his men have had enough and orders them to bed down for the night on the mountain.

Pondering the dismal events of the day, Lee decides to withdraw from Turner’s Gap. With the Federals holding the high ground and with thousands of reinforcements waiting to attack, the pass will be impossible to defend come daylight. In the night, the remaining troops of Longstreet and Hill begin their retreat down the western slope. They are under orders to march toward Sharpsburg, six miles to the west. The defense of South Mountain has proved costly to the Confederates; of the roughly 18,000 men engaged, they have lost 2,700, including 800 missing. The Federals threw in more than 28,000 troops and have lost 1,800. “The day has gone against us,” Lee writes in a dispatch to McLaws at 8 pm. Then he adds a startling notation: He has decided not to stop at Sharpsburg, but to cross the river back into Virginia and put an end to his invasion plans. Lee orders McLaws to abandon the siege of Harpers Ferry, march northwest along the Potomac, and find his way back into Virginia as best he can. When Lee decides all this, he has not yet heard from Stonewall Jackson. Later this night, Lee reconsiders his plans to retreat, after receiving some encouraging news—a message from Jackson that tells him the day has not been such a disaster after all. By delaying the Federal advance over South Mountain, Lee’s troops have given Jackson time to tighten his grip on Harpers Ferry.

While the battles are raging on South Mountain, Jackson has slowly and methodically positioned his artillery around the Federal garrison. Two batteries have had to hack a narrow road out of the brush up Maryland Heights to get four Parrott rifles to the summit—a task that requires 200 men wrestling the ropes of each gun. Jackson wants all the guns to open fire simultaneously. But up on Loudoun Heights, General Walker grows impatient and begins the bombardment with his own five pieces shortly after 1 pm. The first shell falls harmlessly on the outskirts of town near where a chaplain is conducting a Sunday service for the 125th New York. Soon the other Confederate batteries join in. Federal guns boom in response, but the Confederates on the heights are out of range. Late in the afternoon, Jackson moves a portion of his troops to a position better suited for fighting the Federals on Bolivar Heights. He has restored A.P. Hill to command after disciplining him for being lax. And Jackson now instructs that fiery soldier to maneuver his infantry and artillery down the west bank of the Shenandoah River in preparation for a flank attack on the Federal left at Bolivar Heights in the morning. By nightfall, Hill controls a knoll on the southern part of the heights and has two brigades along the Shenandoah to the Federal rear.

The besieged Federals doubt that they can hold out for another 24 hours, as General Miles predicted in his message to McClellan the night before. McClellan received that message this morning and has replied with an order to Miles to “hold out to the last extremity If it is possible, reoccupy the Maryland Heights with your whole force. If you can do that, I will certainly be able to relieve you.” But the order never gets through, though McClellan sends it by three different couriers by three different routes. Maryland Heights is, in fact, ripe for recapture. Only a single Confederate regiment now occupies the crest, McLaws having taken the remainder north to face the Federals attacking through Crampton’s Gap. But Miles doesn’t know this, so nothing is done to retake Maryland Heights. Indeed, Miles appears so paralyzed that one regimental commander even suggests the unthinkable to his fellow officers: mutiny to remove Miles from command.

Another regimental commander, Colonel Benjamin Davis of the 8th New York Cavalry, seeks to salvage something from the debacle. He proposes to Miles that the Federal troopers—his own regiment, the 12th Illinois Cavalry, and smaller units of Maryland and Rhode Island cavalry—attempt to break out of the Confederate encirclement. At first Miles won’t hear of it. But Davis—a rare Southerner who has remained loyal to the Union—is determined, and when it becomes clear to Miles that Davis intends to break out, with or without permission, he relents. About 9 pm, after darkness has fallen, the column sets off, Davis at the head along with two guides who know the country. Davis fully expects to find Confederate pickets blocking the road at the base of Maryland Heights, but to his astonishment not a single enemy is in sight. Even so, the breakout is nearly aborted in the first hour by a wrong turn. One company turns right instead of left and blunders upon a post of Confederate pickets at the hamlet of Sandy Hook. A hail of bullets sends the errant Federals galloping back to the column. The moonless night is so dark that the riders maintain the proper interval in the killing pace only by listening to the rattle of their neighbor’s saber and by watching for the sparks of horses’ shoes striking the rocky road. Near Sharpsburg, the column narrowly avoids a collision with Confederates who have retreated from Turner’s Gap. Davis quickly backtracks and detours westward off the road into woods and fields, where the riders thread their way between sleeping camps of the enemy. The Federals are so exhausted that many nod off in the saddle.

There is also a skirmish near Petersville, Maryland.

Out West, once again General Bragg demonstrates his ability to move an army smartly—although as he marches, he has not yet exactly decided where he is going. But he knows he must prevent General Buell from getting between him and Kirby Smith. So while Buell withdraws in confusion—having received word of the Confederate advance he pushes his troops through Nashville, Tennessee, and on to Bowling Green, Kentucky—the Army of the Mississippi drives northward, today reaching Glasgow thirty miles to the west of Buell’s army. Buoyed by the news of General Smith’s victory at Lexington, the morale of Bragg’s Confederates is running high—in no small measure because of the warm reception they get from Kentuckians.

Bragg’s movement has forced the Army of the Ohio out of Alabama and central Tennessee without a battle. But by the time Bragg reaches Glasgow, he has changed his mind again, deciding against joining General Kirby Smith at Lexington. Instead, he now determines to involve Smith in a joint movement against Louisville—a rich prize. That city is the Federal supply center for Kentucky and Tennessee, and its loss would cripple Buell’s operations. Bragg also hopes the fall of such a major city on the Ohio River will stimulate the Confederate recruitment he has been awaiting in vain. Almost immediately, the new plan runs into a snag. While his troops are still marching into Glasgow, Bragg sends Brigadier General James R. Chalmers with his Mississippi brigade ten miles to the north to cut the Louisville & Nashville Railroad line at Cave City. Chalmers accomplishes the mission with ease, but he then makes the mistake of embarking on an additional, unauthorized attack on Munfordville, farther up the railroad. Misinformed as to the size of the 4,000-man Federal garrison there, Chalmers is repulsed with a loss of 35 killed and 253 wounded.

To the south in Mississippi the third prong of the Confederate offensive is in operation, with Sterling Price moving from Tupelo, Mississippi, to occupy Iuka with his 17,000 men and awaiting the arrival of Earl Van Dorn’s 10,000 men coming from Holly Springs. Iuka, a pretty little resort town set in the rolling hills of northern Mississippi east of Corinth, is being used as a supply depot by the Federals and Price’s move—curiously unopposed by the commander of the Wisconsin regiment stationed there—brings the Confederates a trove of hardtack and salt pork.

There is fighting at Henderson, Kentucky.
September 15, Monday

Just before dawn, Colonel Davis’s cavalry column escaping from Stonewall Jackson’s siege of Harpers Ferry emerges onto a road leading to Hagerstown nearby. Soon after, they hear the rumbling of wheels of a wagon train approaching from Hagerstown with Longstreet’s reserve supply of ammunition. Davis conceals his troopers in the woods and boldly rides forward to halt the lead wagon. The predawn darkness blurs the color of his uniform, and his thick Southern accent suggests to the sleepy drivers that he is a Confederate officer. In his deepest drawl, he warns of Federal cavalry ahead, and orders the drivers to turn right at the next fork. With Federal cavalry leading the way, the unsuspecting drivers obediently turns their wagons onto the road to Greencastle, Pennsylvania, eight miles north of Hagerstown. But there is also an escort of cavalry in the rear—real Confederates. When they ride up to demand why the column is heading north, Davis orders the 12th Illinois to charge, and the Confederates are driven away. Daylight comes and the wagon drivers realize that their new escorts are wearing blue, not gray, but it’s too late. A little after 9 am, the Federals reach Greencastle. Davis brings with him more than forty enemy ordnance wagons, and he has lost not a man in combat. He and his men have pulled off the first great cavalry exploit of the war for the Army of the Potomac.

The cavalry breakout could not have been more timely. During the night, Stonewall Jackson has sent ten guns across the Shenandoah to support A.P. Hill’s artillery, positioning them near the base of Loudoun Heights so that they can enfilade the rear of the Federal line on Bolivar Heights. Altogether, nearly fifty Confederate guns are ready, and when the mist lifts early this morning they open up on Harpers Ferry. About 8 am, as Jackson prepares to launch a full-scale infantry assault, General Miles meets with his top officers. Miles points out that his batteries are almost out of ammunition and that relief from McClellan no longer appears imminent. Miles concludes, and his officers reluctantly agree, that further resistance is useless. The order to surrender flashes along Bolivar Heights. A cook from the 115th New York cuts a piece of canvas from a white tent and ties it to a tree. Other white flags pop up, and the Confederate guns gradually fall silent as Federal Brigadier General Julius White rides forward to negotiate terms of surrender. At least one gun keeps firing, however, sending a shell that explodes directly behind Miles and nearly severs his left leg. He will die of his wounds tomorrow. The Federals surrender 73 artillery pieces, 13,000 small arms, and 12,500 men. The prisoners will later be paroled upon their oath not to take up arms until a comparable number of enemy prisoners are released.

The Confederates have little time to savor their victory. There are urgent new marching orders from General Lee. All the wings of the army are to reunite as soon as possible at Sharpsburg. All the night, Jackson’s grimy columns will move out along the Charleston Turnpike toward Sharpsburg.

The Army of Northern Virginia is already waiting for them. The same morning that Jackson is capturing Harpers Ferry, the Confederates retreating from South Mountain is crossing a meandering watercourse called Antietam Creek and approaching the little Maryland town of Sharpsburg. As the weary, footsore columns climb a gradual slope leading from the creek, General Lee gestures to an undulating ridge beyond which lies the town and announces: “We will make our stand on those hills.” Come noon, further news from Harpers Ferry strengthens Lee’s resolve to fight the Federals at Sharpsburg. a courier from Jackson comes galloping up to report the surrender of the Federal garrison. Yet until Jackson arrives from Harpers Ferry, twelve miles to the south, Lee will have to make do with a dangerously weak force: Longstreet’s two divisions and D.H. Hill’s battle-depleted division. These total no more than 18,000 men, less than one third the number of pursuing Federals. When one of Lee’s artillery officers expresses concern about the prospect of facing the Federals, Lee confidently reassures him that McClellan will not attack today, or even tomorrow.

The ground Lee has chosen for battle promises strong defensive positions, though hardly impregnable ones. Its most prominent feature is the tree-lined Antietam, but the creek itself constitutes only a minor barrier. Ranging from 60 to 100 feet in width, it is fordable in places and crossed in the immediate vicinity by three stone bridges, each a mile or so apart. West of the creek, the terrain is more formidable. North of Sharpsburg, the ridge that Lee has pointed out to his troops runs roughly parallel to the course of the Antietam a mile or so away. And the ground up the slope is mostly open, consisting of neatly fenced cornfields and pastures; only an occasional patch of woods interrupts a clear field of fire. South of Sharpsburg, steep bluffs command the lower crossings of the Antietam. The terrain provides excellent cover for Lee’s infantrymen: rail and stone fences, waist-high outcroppings of limestone, little hollows and swales. Northeast of town there is even an old sunken road, so deeply worn down by wagon wheels that it offers a kind of natural trench. Although the Confederate line will be stretched thin even after Jackson’s arrival, there is another feature that will help the defenders—just west of the ridge runs a major north-south road, that promises to be a perfect route for shifting troops rapidly. The terrain has one troubling feature for the defenders, however. They will have to fight with their backs to the Potomac. The narrow strip of land between Sharpsburg and the river leaves little room for maneuver if they are forced to fall back. And in this looping length of the Potomac, there is only one crossing place: Boteler’s Ford, near the village of Shepherdstown, where Jackson is expected tomorrow. This risk alone would have caused virtually any general but Lee to retreat.

As Lee has predicted, the cautious McClellan pursues slowly. The Union Army of the Potomac pushes through South Mountain passes to Keedysville, with a small skirmish ensuing, and another at Boonsborough. The first two Federal divisions appear east of the Antietam in the afternoon, but it is dark before the bulk of the Army of the Potomac reaches the vicinity. McClellan, riding up late in the afternoon, is in high spirits. He has failed to save Harpers Ferry, but at South Mountain he won what he describes in a letter to his wife as a “glorious victory.” And if the day’s telegram from Washington is any indication, he is back in the good graces of President Lincoln, who wires: “God bless you and all with you. Destroy the rebel army if possible.” Now, with the Confederates vastly outnumbered and pushed up against the Potomac, McClellan has a splendid opportunity to make good his vow to “whip Bobbie Lee.” McClellan personally reconnoiters the Confederate line from the hills east of the Antietam, coming under the fire of an enemy battery. He also tends to the details of getting up his supply trains and putting every division in position. The Federals, however, are deploying at a snail’s pace.

In the West E. Kirby Smith appears before Covington, Kentucky, on the Ohio across from Cincinnati, but retires rapidly. Bragg is besieging Munfordville, Kentucky, to the south.

September 15-20 there is a Union scout in Ralls County, Missouri.
A heads up that tomorrow’s post is going to be huge—three separate posts, one for each part of the battlefield!

September 16, Tuesday

Except for the occasional artillery exchanges, the most exciting event at Antietam this morning is a bit of Federal tomfoolery. A pair of young daredevils from the staff of the Irish Brigade challenge each other to a cross-country horserace. Racing from field to field, jumping fences and ditches as if competing in a peacetime steeplechase, all to the cheers of their comrades, they dash out beyond the Federal skirmish line and ride within easy rifle range of the enemy. But instead of shooting, the Confederate pickets shout their approval and toss their hats into the air.

As the Federals while away the day, three of Stonewall Jackson’s divisions begin arriving in Sharpsburg after marching all night from Harpers Ferry. The arrival of these troops reduce the numerical odds against the Confederates to about 2 to 1. Reporting to General Lee, John Walker is surprised to find his chief looking “calm, dignified, and even cheerful.”

Once again, McClellan’s caution and insistence on attending to every detail has cost him the opportunity to strike at the enemy when he is most vulnerable. It is not until 2 pm—nearly 24 hours after McClellan reached Antietam—that he completes his plan of battle and begins issuing orders for an attack at dawn on Wednesday. “The design,” he will report later, “is to make the main attack on the enemy’s left.” This intention is dictated largely by the Confederate defenses at the three bridges spanning the Antietam. The lower bridge, a mile southeast of Sharpsburg, is directly beneath strong Confederate positions on the bluffs overlooking Antietam. The middle bridge, on the road from Boonsboro, is subject to Confederate artillery fire from the heights near Sharpsburg. The upper bridge, however, lies two miles east of the Confederate guns and thus safely out of range. Here, on the northern flank, McClellan plans to commit more than half of his army. Two corps will initiate the assault, supported by a third and, if necessary, a fourth. Along with this major effort against the enemy left, McClellan intends to launch a diversionary attack against the Confederate right to the south with a separate corps. If either attack succeeds, McClellan plans to strike the center with any available reserves.

In deploying his troops to fit this design, McClellan dismantles his command structure. Each corps, instead of being subordinated to one of three semi-autonomous wings of the army, will now constitute a separate command responsible to McClellan himself. The new command structure places a heavy burden on McClellan. Once the attack begins, he will have to coordinate the actions of six separate corps—the five corps at Antietam with one more corps only six or seven miles away at Pleasant Valley, sitting idle after having allowed McClaws’ Confederates to withdraw unmolested. Unless he maintains a tight grip, his battle plan could easily degenerate into a series of disconnected engagements. McClellan does little to help himself. In informing subordinates of his plans for the battle, he issues to each commander only orders for his own corps, not general orders that would spell out the role of each corps in the overall scheme. The terrain will make coordination even more difficult. The rugged terrain, laced with small ravines and hollows, will blind men to what is happening only a few hundred yards to the left or right.

To spearhead the attack, McClellan selects Joseph Hooker’s I Corps. About 4 pm, Hooker sets his three divisions in motion. They cross the Antietam at the upper bridge and at nearby fords and march west toward the Confederate left flank. Their goal is merely to get in position for the morning’s attack, but some of the columns pass close to a large grove of trees on the left. There, hidden in what military maps will later label as the East Woods, are enemy skirmishers from John B. Hood’s division. As the sun sets, a sharp firefight erupts. Artillery from both sides unlimber and the woods and fields resound with the shriek of shells. Meanwhile, most of I Corps reaches its destination near the Hagerstown Turnpike and bivouacs behind a ridge on a farm owned by one Joseph Poffenberger.

About 9 pm it begins to rain. But neither drizzle nor darkness puts an end to the preparations. Sensing that Hooker’s move has signaled the main Federal thrust, General Lee, from his headquarters tent on a knoll west of Sharpsburg, orders his left flank to pivot north to meet it. Lee also sends off urgent pleas to two commanders who have yet to arrive from the south: Lafayette McLaws with two divisions and A.P. Hill with one division. Three miles east of Lee’s headquarters, McClellan is also making last-minute adjustments. Shortly before midnight he orders XII Corps to move across the upper bridge to support Hooker. II Corps, also in support, is to be ready to cross the Antietam before dawn.

Having moved their pieces around the board, McClellan and Lee await the morrow. McClellan has more than 70,000 fighting men at hand. With the arrival of McLaws and A.P. Hill, Lee will have about 40,000—only a third of the total that McClellan imagines he has. The Federals have superiority in artillery as well: approximately 300 guns to the Confederates’ 200, though the Confederate batteries hold the more favorable ground. Local residents make hasty preparations to protect themselves. Many of Sharpsburg’s 1,300 inhabitants take refuge in their cellars, but at least 200 seek shelter in a large cave near the Potomac. Before leaving, the farmers over whose ground the battle will rage try to safeguard their livestock. Near the East Woods, Samuel Poffenberger hides his prize horses in the cellar and muffles their hooves in feed sacks so that the solders won’t hear them stomping about. Not many men sleep well. The rain soaks and chills them. Nerves grow taut with every noise. Jumpy pickets on both sides punctuate the night with bursts of gunfire. Even the animals seem to feel the tension. Behind the Confederate line, a group of cavalry horses stir uneasily, then break their picket ropes and stampede, nearly trampling the cavalrymen trying to sleep nearby.

Down in Virginia there is a Federal reconnaissance toward Thoroughfare Gap and Aldie, and from this day to the nineteenth a Union reconnaissance from Upton’s Hill to Leesburg.

West in Kentucky General Bragg, doubly furious with General Chalmers—first for disregarding orders by attacking Munfordville two days ago, and for then being defeated—sends Hardee’s troops to Munfordville and Polk’s circling to the Federal rear. The Federal garrison is surrounded by this midafternoon. Bragg expects a quick surrender, but he has brought to bay the wrong man. Colonel John T. Wilder is a wily and stubborn officer. Told that is he surrounded by 20,000 men, he demands evidence. Bragg replies that he will provide proof when he attacks. Wilder asks to talk things over and Bragg agrees, allowing Wilder to tour the Confederate lines. After counting 46 cannon trained on his defenses, Wilder decides it will not be dishonorable to surrender. But there are questions of procedure to discuss.

E. Kirby Smith’s Confederates continue their withdrawal from the Ohio River near Cincinnati back toward Lexington.

There is skirmishing near Oakland Station, Kentucky; another fight in Monroe County, Missouri; and there are minor operations around Iuka, Mississippi.

The still-worried President Lincoln wires Governor Andrew Curtin of Pennsylvania, “What do you hear from General McClellan’s army?” Later in the day he hears from his general.

Having hurried west by rail, Major General John Pope arrives at St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Confederate Congress legalizes the creation of army corps, and directs that lieutenant generals command them. General Lee will be pleased to learn of this, it will allow him to legitimize his two de facto corps that he has been calling Wings.
September 17, Wednesday, part 1
The Northern Flanks

At Antietam an hour before sunrise, General Hooker peers south down the Hagerstown pike. The rain has stopped, but ground fog hugs the hollows; through the mist Hooker can make out his morning’s objective. About a mile away, near the point where a country lane called the Smoketown Road joins the pike, the ground rises on a slight plateau. Hooker wants this little patch of high ground. Though Hooker can’t see his enemy through the mist, the southern half of the rectangle of ground immediately ahead of his troops teems with Stonewall Jackson’s three divisions. Jackson has 7,700 men—1,000 or so fewer than Hooker. This numerical disparity is easily offset by the Confederates’ strong defensive position behind ridges, trees, limestone ledges, and piles of fence rails.

Hooker launches his advance about 5:30 am. His three divisions push south, covering a front a half mile wide. As the columns of Doubleday’s division on the Federal right emerge from the North Woods near the Hagerstown pike and the sun appears over South Mountain, Confederate guns open fire, their aim so accurate that the second shell bursts in the Federal ranks, signaling the opening of a cannon duel. That shell was fired from a knoll about a half mile west of the pike. There Jeb Stuart has assembled eight cannon from his own horse artillery along with a dozen of Jackson’s guns. Almost immediately, these guns are joined in firing by four batteries from Colonel Stephen D. Lee’s artillery battalion deploys on the high ground across the pike from the Dunker Church. Hooker’s nine batteries roar back, from the ridge on Joseph Poffenberger’s farm behind the North Woods. Then the Federals’ big guns, four batteries of 20-pounder Parrott rifles, begin to blaze away from the hills two miles east of Antietam Creek.

Advancing on the Federal left under this canopy of arching shells, five Pennsylvania regiments drive all the way to the southern edge of the East Woods at the Smoketown Road. There they run into the far right of the Confederate line, which puts up such a fight that the Pennsylvanians have to pull back through the woods. All across the bow-shaped front, the Federals are facing stiff resistance. To direct the advance, Hooker rides forward just east of the Hagerstown pike. From there he catches a glimpse of the sun glinting off the bayonets of Confederates hiding in a cornfield up ahead. Hooker halts his infantry and brings up four batteries of artillery. These cannon, firing over the heads of the Federal infantry, smother the Cornfield with shell and canister. The barrage is instantly and brutally effective. Hooker then looks around for an aide to dispatch for reinforcements. He spots a reporter for the New York Tribune (who will have two horse shot from under him today) and presses him into service as a courier—though the colonel receiving the orders is initially reluctant to accept the authority of a civilian. With this the entire Federal line moves forward. On the Federal left, Ricketts’ 1st Brigade comes out of the East Woods and advances through the Cornfield. Stepping over the bodies of Confederates killed by the artillery barrage, they emerge from the stalks into the face of a blistering volley from a brigade of Georgians. Scarcely 200 yards apart, the opposing lines begin to hammer at each other. Presently the two opposing brigades get help. Three regiments from Walker’s brigade on the Confederate right moves west across the Smoketown Road to reinforce the Georgians. One of Meade’s brigades in the East Woods comes to the aid of the Federals. Then the two reinforced lines go at it for thirty minutes or so. More fresh units come up. Then, about 6:45 am, Walker’s brigade pulls back, having lost 228 of its 700 men. The Georgians stay put despite a fifty percent casualty rate. Five out of six regimental commanders are shot down, as is their commander, Colonel Douglass, who dies on the field. At the last possible moment, the Georgians are reinforced by the Louisiana Brigade, nicknamed the Tigers. The Tigers charge, driving the Federals back through the Cornfield toward the East Woods. To counter the Tigers’ thrust, the Federals bring up a battery and roll the guns directly into the Cornfield. The range is point-blank, and the Tigers go down in droves. By 7 am, the charge and countercharge on the Federal left has taken a terrible toll on both sides. In and about the East Woods and the eastern acres of the Cornfield, the struggle is locked in stalemate. But a couple of hundred yards to the west, the Federal attack has made impressive progress.

The advance of Doubleday’s division along the Hagerstown pike earlier in the morning has been spearheaded by Brigadier General John Gibbon’s Black Hat Brigade, which goes into battle with a new nickname. Three days ago, after the attack on Turner’s Gap, General Hooker likened the Black Hats’ strength and tenacity to iron, and now men are calling them the Iron Brigade. moving south with the pike on their right, the lead elements of the Iron Brigade flush enemy skirmishers from the orchard around Miller’s farmhouse. Then, at 6 am, about the same time the Federals plow into the corn over on the left, Gibbons’ men push south through a pasture to the northwestern corner of the Cornfield. There they encounter bullets not only from their front, where the Georgians have moved forward among the corn rows, but also from across the pike, where two small brigades occupy the open field north of the elbow in the West Woods. To protect his left flank, Gibbon sends in two regiments from Wisconsin and Indiana. They are backed by two cannon in Miller’s barnyard then, when Confederate sharpshooters kill or wound half the gun crews, another four guns. Under cover of the barrage of case shot and reinforced by a brigade sent by Doubleday, the two regiments gain a foothold in the West Woods. It is now 6:30 am, and in the western portion of the Cornfield, Gibbon’s other two regiments along with sharpshooters on their left, are also pushing ahead. A Wisconsin regiment reaches a rail fence separating the Cornfield from the pasture to the south when a regiment of Georgians lying waiting in the grass rise up and the hostile battle lines simultaneously open fire on each other, men knocked out of the ranks by the dozens. The Wisconsin men jump over the fence and push on. A New York Chasseur regiment in red pantaloons moves up to plug the gaps in the ragged Federal line and they drive south into the pasture. By 6:45 am they have covered a few hundred yards of open ground, about a third of the distance from the Cornfield to the plateau across from the Dunker Church. Suddenly a new threat materializes on their right—out of the West Woods and through the pasture west of the pike rush two fresh Confederate regiments, taking up a line along a rail fence lining the west side of the pike and pouring fire into the Federals from only thirty yards away across the road, only to take fire themselves from multiple sides as the Wisconsin regiment and the sharpshooters wheel to face west, the Wisconsin and Indianan regiments in the West Woods fire into their flank and rear, and the artillery in Miller’s barnyard to the north shower them with case and canister. The Confederates quickly withdraw to the woods. The Federals surge toward Dunker Church, only 200 yards away—as is the cannon-girded high ground that is the Federal goal. Jackson’s Confederates, with a great gap torn in their defenses, teeters near collapse. One third of the division west of the pike has been shot down, and it is now commanded by a colonel. The three brigades east of the pike are in even worse shape.

At this critical moment, a long gray line files through a gap in the fence in front of the church, raising the yip-yip-yip of the Rebel yell. It is Jackson’s last reserve, the 2,300-man division of John Bell Hood. Hood has been held in reserve this morning in the woods behind the church because his men are hungry and exhausted. Last night, after the skirmish with the Pennsylvanians in the East Woods, Hood asked permission to withdraw his men so they could rest and cook their first real meal in days. Jackson agreed, but only if the division would stand ready to help at a moment’s notice. That call comes a few minutes before 7 am, while the soldiers are still cooking up their hoecakes. Hungry and angry as bears, Hood’s troops storm out of the woods and into the wide gap opened up by Gibbon’s Iron Brigade. Taken by surprise, the Federals fall back through the Cornfield, some stopping and firing as they retreat but most racing headlong. As Hood’s division attacks they fan out to the northeast, from the western part of the Cornfield to its eastern reaches and the East Woods. Hood’s men are joined by three of D.H. Hill’s brigades on the right, and on the left another brigade that has been supporting Stuart’s horse artillery is pushing through the West Woods; and a dozen or so Confederate guns are being shifted south to Hauser’s Ridge, just behind the West Woods, to get closer to the action. But Hood’s men carry the brunt of the attack. On the right, they drive the Federals still remaining in the Cornfield back into the East Woods. Two fresh brigades of Federals from Meade’s division counterattack, reaching the stalks, but are met and pushed back north of the Cornfield. Near the pike, the Texas Brigade bears down on the western edge of the Cornfield under intense fire from the retreating Federals, only to stagger from fire on their front from one of Meade’s brigades that has regrouped, and at the same time from the flank from Federals across the pike.

Along the pike near Miller’s barnyard, Gibbon’s intrepid gunners fight desperately to save their guns, supported by remnants of Gibbon’s brigade. The gunsmoke is so heavy that the gunners can scarcely see their targets, though the Confederates charge to within fifteen yards of the barrels. As the crewmen fall—forty of the battery’s 100 men are killed or wounded this morning—others rush in to keep the guns working. The six guns switch to double loads of canister and beat back three full-scale charges, but after fifteen to twenty minutes of frenzied firing the Federals’ ammunition is almost expended. Despite the 26 horses lying dead around the beleaguered battery, during a lull in the action Gibbon manages to muster enough animals to limber up the guns and the battery gallops up the turnpike toward Poffenger’s farm, soon followed by the remnants of the Iron Brigade.

It is only 7:30 am, yet the carnage has been monumental. Of Hooker’s 9,000-man I Corps, nearly 2,600 have been killed or wounded. As many more have straggled to the rear or become hopelessly separated from their units. Hood’s counterattack has saved the morning for the Confederates. He has broken Hooker’s attack and effectively taken I Corps out of the action. Hood will be promoted to major general because of this, his arrest forgotten. But Hood’s exhausted men can advance no farther, for an entire corps of fresh Federals are coming onto the field. The carnage begins anew, and in a matter of minutes Hood’s outnumbered division loses 1,380 men. The survivors, practically down to their last cartridges, are forced to withdraw to the shelter of the West Woods.

The Federal reinforcements are the 7,200 troops of Joseph Mansfield’s XII Corps. Half of the troops moving forward are raw recruits unused to drill and discipline. Worried that his recruits might break, Mansfield marches his regiments to the front in an unwieldy formation where each regiment is arrayed ten ranks deep instead of two ranks deep as in the conventional line of battle. Vulnerable to enemy fire, the ponderous formation rolls into the East Woods, where the men are confronted with enemy fire. Mansfield is struggling frantically to deploy his men in line of battle, when he takes a bullet to the chest. The old general will die later this day. Command of the corps falls to a onetime judge and postmaster of Detroit, Brigadier General Alpheus S. Williams. Williams has proven himself to be an effective commander, popular with his men and steady under fire. With an unlit stub of a cigar clenched in his teeth, he gets the corps moving forward.

The situation on the field is very nearly the same as when Hooker’s I Corp launched the initial attack two hours ago, the ground gained by the Federals lost. The lines held by the two opposing armies have reverted to the original; only the units are different. Three of D.H. Hill’s brigades have come across from the Mumma farm on the Confederate right to support Hood’s division. Soon the din of battle rises again to a mind-numbing pitch as the battle for control of the Cornfield resumes. It will later be estimated that the opposing lines surge back and forth across this miniscule patch of ground, no more than 250 yards deep and 400 yards wide, no fewer than fifteen times in the course of the day.

Then disaster strikes the Confederates when a regiment with the North Carolina Brigade in the East Woods notices that they are being flanked. They are still shaken from the death of their commander and the mauling they took at Fox’s Gap three days ago, and now a brigade famous for its previous (and future) conduct panics, the line vanishes, and the entire brigade flees from the field. The Federals take full advantage of the sudden yawning gap in the Confederate line, as two brigades commanded by Brigadier General George Greene—a descendant of Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene—charge through. One brigade smashes into the Confederate flank at the northeast corner of the Cornfield, forcing the Confederates back through the corn. The other brigade swings on a wide arc to the left and emerges from the East Woods onto the Smoketown Road beyond the Confederate right flank. Encountering only scattered survivors of Hood’s division, they flood past the Dunker Church and drive the four Confederate batteries from the high ground that has been the Federal objective all morning.

The Federals now control the battlefield east of the pike and have scattered lodgments west of it. Elsewhere, however, the West Woods is full of Confederates. Hooker, attempting to gather the remnants of I Corps for a full-scale assault, catches the eye of a Confederate sharpshooter, who sends a bullet through his right foot. The wounded general is carried to the rear, faint from the pain and loss of blood but thoroughly convinced that his Federals are ready to finish the job. He is wrong—I Corps is thoroughly scattered; XII Corps, confused and suffering nearly 25 percent casualties, has spent its drive. With Hooker out of action, there is no Federal general on the field with authority and energy enough to bring together the dispersed units. The firing subsides, and a lull descends on the field where more than 8,000 Americans—Federals and Confederates—have met death or injury since sunrise. It is 9 am.

In the early fighting, Lee has stayed near the front, close enough to the combat to intercept stragglers. (He sends one that has killed a pig and is scurrying to the rear to cook it to Stonewall Jackson to be shot. Jackson instead sends the soldier into the heaviest fighting where he redeems himself, thus “losing his pig but saving his bacon.”) Attuned to the battle, Lee decides to gamble, weakening the right of his defensive line in order to bolster Jackson in the West Woods by sending a division and brigade from the south and committing his last reserves, another two divisions that have arrived from Harpers Ferry shortly after dawn. All of Lee’s reinforcements are reaching the front as the firing dies down around 9 am.

McClellan, in contrast, has remained at his headquarters more than a mile east of the fighting. From the yard of Philip Pry’s two-story brick house, built on a knoll, he has a view stretching from the West Woods and the Cornfield on the north to the hills south of Sharpsburg and with his close friend Major General Fitz-John Porter—commander of V Corps, held in reserve to the east—has been smoking and watching the battle through telescopes. But the telescopes afford little firsthand information of the Federals’ progress. To make sense of the smoke-shrouded drama unfolding below, he has to rely on signal flags and courier. Because of his detachment and his innate caution, McClellan responds belatedly to events rather than initiating them. His battle plan is already a shambles. General Burnside hasn’t yet launched his diversionary assault on the Confederate right, and McClellan’s design for the main attack on the enemy left has degenerated into a series of disjointed assaults.

His handling of General Sumner’s II Corps—assigned to support the Federal right—is questionable as well. Sumner has been ready to cross the Antietam since an hour before daylight, but he has had to wait at headquarters, unable to see McClellan, for more than ninety minutes. Finally, at 7:20 am, after Hood’s counterattack from the West Woods comes into view, McClellan orders Sumner to advance, though he holds back one of Sumner’s three divisions until it can be replaced in reserve. In spite of Sumner’s hurry, it will take his two divisions about ninety minutes to reach and cross the Antietam at a waist-deep ford about 2,000 yards east of the Dunker Church and hurry toward the battleground. Near the East Woods he pauses to deploy the three brigades of Major General John Sedgwick’s division, intending to smash through the West Woods, turn the enemy’s left flank, and then wheel south and roll down upon the town of Sharpsburg. Sumner has developed this simple plan with no knowledge of the tactical situation. He has crossed paths with General Hooker, but the wounded commander of I Corps was being carried to the rear, weak from loss of blood, and they didn’t confer. General Williams of XII Corps has attempted to brief Sumner, but the old man was in too much of a hurry and so didn’t learn that units of I and XII Corps were available to take part in the assault. He was in such a hurry that he didn’t wait for his second division, commanded by Brigadier General William French and trailing to the left, to catch up. When French arrives twenty minutes later Sumner and Sedgwick’s division are nowhere in sight. French looks off to the south, sees Federal troops lying at the edge of the plateau across the Hagerstown pike from the church, and veers south to their left. Without French, Sumner’s assault force is reduced to about 5,400 men.

At first things go well for Sumner’s men. Crossing the open field west of the pike and 300 yards north of the Dunker Church shortly after 9 am, moving at the double-quick, the lines of three brigades plunge through the northern neck of the West Woods one after another (only about 200 yards deep there). They come under fire as soon as they emerge on the other side and a lively skirmish ensues, but the Confederates only have Stuart’s guns and a few hundred members of Jackson’s old division that have survived the earlier fighting and are concealed behind the buildings of Alfred Poffenberger’s farm 100 yards ahead. Then with no warning a murderous torrent of fire erupts against the exposed Federal left, so furious, overwhelming, and uncannily timed, that the Federals who survive will swear that they marched into an ambush. In fact, Sumner has unwittingly been on a collision course with Lee’s reinforcements. Those reinforcements, combined with other units they have encountered, slightly outnumber the Federals now in the West Woods. Their first blow from the west and south slams into two regiments from New York and Pennsylvania near Dunker Church, sending hundreds of Federals fleeing out of the woods and across the pike. General Sumner, on his mount behind the front line, gallops to the rear to wheel the Philadelphia Brigade there to the left to face the attack. But in the sixty seconds it takes Sumner to reach the brigade the Confederates get there first, the Philadelphians’ left flank crumbles, and in minutes 545 men have fallen and the rest take “the back track.” The commanders of the other two Federal brigades try desperately to swing to the left. But with their lines now less than thirty yards apart, the maneuver is impossible. One Massachusetts regiment takes fire from both the enemy to their front and from other Federals behind them, suffering 344 casualties—the greatest number of any regiment in either army this day. General Sumner proves to be supremely steady under fire. General Sedgwick sticks by his division despite two painful wounds, leaving the field only when a third bullet strikes him in the shoulder. But the position is hopeless, and those regiments that don’t break and run withdraw in good order back through the West Woods. Among those left behind is Captain Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the future justice of the US Supreme Court shot through the neck and left for dead. Casualties among the attacking Confederates are slight—until they chase the retreating Federals into the open fields east of the woods. There they run into a wall of hub-to-hub cannon spewing canister and lose more than a third of their division before withdrawing into the woods. It is 9:45 am.

Shortly before 10 am, Sumner calls for reinforcements from a brigade resting over in the East Woods. Two regiments respond, advancing through the Cornfield, but are stopped by Confederates firing from the West Woods. While this fight is taking place, two Federal brigades again come into action a half mile to the south. Out of ammunition and unable to help, they had lain at the edge of the high ground east of Dunker Church during Sumner’s ill-fated foray into the West Woods. Now, issued a fresh supply of cartridges and backed by a six-gun battery, they rise up and repulse two enemy assaults launched from the vicinity of the church. The Federals not only drive the enemy back into the woods but race after them, pushing 200 yards into the woods behind Dunker Church before stopping and calling for reinforcements. None will come. For now, at least, McClellan has no intention of continuing the attack against the Confederate left. In nearly five hours of fighting, six Federal divisions have been committed to the assault, and Stonewall Jackson’s defenders still hold the line. Jackson is satisfied, commenting to his chief surgeon shortly before 11 am that the Federals have done their worst.
September 17, Wednesday, part 2
The Center

Though sporadic clashes will continue on the northern flank, McClellan’s attention—and the focus of the battle—has already shifted. Furious fighting now rages in the center of the Confederate defenses, about a half mile southeast of Dunker Church. The action on this new front has not been sparked by any design of McClellan’s. Instead, it has developed by accident when Sumner’s trailing division, under General French, veered off to the south about 9 am as Sumner’s lead division was entering the West Woods. French’s course carried him south past the burning Mumma farmhouse and southeast onto the farm of William Roulette. Here, inadvertently approaching the center of the Confederate defenses, he encountered a line of enemy skirmishers. French is hardly a tactical genius, but he is a fighter. Pleased to find the enemy, he orders his division forward. Though only three of his ten regiments have seen combat, they advance zealously. One regiment chases a group of skirmishers into the farmhouse cellar where the family has taken refuge, and locks them in. Another regiment has to contend with hundreds of thousands of irate honey bees stirred up when a shell destroyed their hives in the Roulette apiary. Shortly after 9:30 am, Sumner’s son and aide gallops up and tells French of the debacle in the West Woods, and relays an order from General Sumner to draw off the Confederates by attacking the enemy center. French is happy to oblige, deploying his three brigades in line of battle and marching south roughly parallel to the Hagerstown pike.

South of the Roulette buildings, the ground rises gradually for about 400 yards. Beyond the crest of this ridge, about 100 yards down the hill, waits the main body of the Confederate center. The center, commanded by General Longstreet, is weakly defended at the moment it is manned by D.H. Hill’s division of five brigades, three of which were battered in the fighting on the left earlier this morning. Altogether, Hill can count on perhaps 2,500 men, less than half the number advancing against him. By D.H. Hill, who has already had two horses shot from under him this morning, is absolutely fearless. More important, Hill’s two strongest brigades, ably commanded, occupy a superb defensive position. At the base of the hill lies an old country lane, which separates the Roulette farm from the Henry Piper farm to the south. The segment of the lane occupied by Hill’s men—a part beginning near the Hagerstown pike and extending for about a half mile to the east—is known locally as the Sunken Road. It has been worn down over the years by erosion and by the weight of wagons so that it lies several feet below the bordering fields. This Sunken Road makes a perfect rifle trench.

Lying partially hidden in the Sunken Road behind a low breastwork of fence rails, Hill’s men wait while French’s division climbs the ridge, patiently watching the lead brigade mount the crest 100 yards away, pause to dress their lines, then start down the slope. The Confederates wait until the approaching enemy is within twenty yards before firing their first volley, and the effect is appalling—the entire front line, with a few exceptions, goes down in the consuming blast. Before the rear lines can recover from the terrific shock, the exultant Confederates are on their feet firing successive volleys. For five minutes the Federals stand bravely, then they fall back and take cover behind the crest. A second Federal brigade starts over the crest. Consisting of three green regiments scarcely a month in service, they also falter. French has to commit his last brigade—three veteran regiments and one novice regiment. Even the veterans are astonished at the sheets of fire coming from the Sunken Road. The green regiment is the Pennsylvanians that were driven out of formation by the swarm of angry bees, and they are now facing the enemy for the first time. As the regiment marches up the hill, Confederate artillery begins firing and some of the Pennsylvanians break to the rear, afflicted with what veterans call “cannon quickstep.” The rest sweep up some of their predecessors in their advance. It is no use. Line after line of Federals founder on the long slope. In less than an hour, nearly one third of French’s division falls trying to penetrate the enemy defenses in the Sunken Road.

Meanwhile, the Confederates are preparing to mount assaults of their own. Hill’s two brigades have been reinforced by Richard Anderson’s division of 3,400 men, who have come up through Henry Piper’s orchard and 25-acre cornfield southwest of the Sunken Road. Many of these fresh Confederates halt in the dubious shelter of the corn and orchard; others crowd into the road, extending Hill’s line to the right—these Confederates make ready to charge out of the road and up the slope in an attempt to flank French’s left. Yet at this moment—at 10:30 am—the Federals are reinforced by Sumner’s last division. These 4,000 badly needed troops commanded by Israel Richardson are the force that McClellan delayed east of the Antietam until another division replaced them in reserve about 9 am. Richardson leads his troops onto French’s threatened left.

To spearhead the charge, Richardson selects one of the Union’s best-known units, the Irish Brigade. most of this colorful outfit had been recruited in New York early in the War by the unit’s commander, Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher, a flamboyant Irish revolutionary that escaped from British internment on the Pacific Island of Tasmania. Meagher has recruited Irish immigrants who, like himself, envision service in the Federal army as training for a war to free their homeland from English rule. The Irishmen advance up the slope to the crest in front of the Sunken Road with their emerald flags, embroidered in gold and decorated with shamrocks and Irish harps, snapping in the breeze. Back and forth across their front rides one of the regimental chaplains, shouting the words of conditional absolution prescribed by the Roman Catholic Church for those who are about to die. At the crest, the Irishmen are greeted by a thunderous volley. They move on over the crest and toward the Sunken Road into another lethal volley. Meagher tumbles off his horse and is badly stunned and helped to the rear. (He will report later that his horse was shot, but rumor will circulate that he was drunk and fell off.) His men drop by the score and the charge collapses, the survivors huddling on the slope and returning fire until, with 540 men dead or wounded and ammunition almost gone, they are ordered to the rear. They are relieved by another of Richardson’s brigades that pushes down the slope to within thirty yards of the road.

It is now about noon, and the Federal pressure along the half-mile Confederate front is beginning to tell on the defenders. Hill’s men have been fighting for roughly two hours against French and then Richardson. They have received little help from Richard Anderson’s division of reinforcements. Anderson has gone down severely wounded early in the fighting and without him and his successor, mortally wounded soon after, his command disintegrates and ceases to function as a unit. In the Sunken Road, other key Confederate officers fall. Every single officer of one unfortunate North Carolina regiment is put out of action. On the left Colonel John Gordon, perhaps the best regimental commander in the entire Confederate army, proves to be a magnet for enemy bullets—two balls in the right leg, another in the left arm, a fourth in the shoulder, and a final ball in the face. Miraculously he will survive his wounds, but is out of action. With many of their leaders gone and the dead and wounded piling up on the hard clay of the Sunken Road, the Confederate line begins to crack.

The decisive break comes in the center through a combination of Confederate error and skillful Federal maneuvering. Here, where the road bends sharply, the lane is not so deep and so the defenders more vulnerable. Francis C. Barlow—a New York attorney that has risen in the past year from private to colonel commanding two understrength New York regiments—sees this and leads his men to a little knoll overlooking the bend. From there, they pour fire down into the Sunken Road. With the Alabama regiment just west of the bend so enfiladed, Gordon’s successor, Lieutenant Colonel James N. Lightfoot, is ordered to wheel part of the regiment to meet the threat. Lightfoot gets it wrong. Instead of pulling back his right so that it faces the threatened flank, he orders the entire regiment to “about face; forward march.” Then Lightfoot compounds his error. Major Edwin Hobson, commanding the adjoining Alabama regiment and overhearing the order, asks if the order is intended for the entire brigade. “Yes,” replies Lightfoot. His unit and then the others—all five regiments—turn about, climb out of the Sunken Road, and head for the rear. Their stunned brigade commander, Robert Rodes, had been preoccupied with a wounded aide and then an ugly wound of his own in the thigh, but he catches up with them near the Hagerstown pike. But the damage is done. Barlow’s New Yorkers storm down into the center of the Sunken Road. Presently the remaining Confederates give way, and Federals fill the road to fire at the enemy retreating through Piper’s cornfield. While the Federals are regrouping in the Sunken Road, their right flank is briefly threatened by two understrength regiments from North Carolina and Arkansas led by a short Arkansas fiddler playing the old mountain square-dance tune, “Granny, Will Your Dog Bite? Hellfire, No!” But the Confederate attack is doomed from the start, overwhelmed by the Federal reserves brought around from behind the Sunken Road and forced to retreat west of the Hagerstown pike. They leave behind more than half of their men, among the dead the little Arkansas fiddler.

At Piper’s farm, meanwhile, Longstreet and his lieutenants are trying to patch together a new line of defense to contain the Federal breakthrough at the Sunken Road. It is shortly after noon, and Richardson’s Federals—leaving French’s men to hold the Sunken Road—are sweeping toward the Hagerstown pike. Longstreet, clenching a cigar and still wearing a carpet slipper on his sore heel, summons every cannon in sight. He finds a pair of 12-pounder Napoleons and pushes them up into the middle of Piper’s apple orchard. From there, 300 yards or so southwest of the Sunken Road, they open up with canister, cutting through the ranks of the Federals coming through the corn. When the artillerymen begin to fall, Longstreet sends his own staff officers to man the guns. The general sits on his mount nearby, holding the horses of his officers, calmly directing the fire and taking an occasional nip from his flask.

At the same time, D.H. Hill is attempting to rally the remnants of his infantry. Having lost his third horse to a Federal shell, he grabs a musket and scrapes together 200 men willing to follow him. Hill leads them on foot through Piper’s orchard, some of the men so hungry they grab apples and devour them on the run. Hill leads his troops to the right in hopes of catching the Federal advance in flank. His men move rapidly through the corn and come around the Federal left flank near the Sunken Road. Here the Confederates run headlong into a New Hampshire regiment. The Federals face left and a single volley repulses Hill’s little band. He falls back, then discovers that several of his officers have managed to muster another force of 200 men. The Confederates come on again through the corn. The New Hampshiremen kneel on the dead in the Sunken Road and blaze away, then along with a Pennsylvania regiment break the enemy attack with a countercharge.

The Confederate flank attack and Hill’s own personal charge fail to dent the Federal advance, but these tactics buy time for Longstreet to get twenty cannon in place along the high ground just west of the Hagerstown pike. The guns unleash such a mighty barrage that the advancing Federal lines waver, then stop. By this time, shortly after 12:30 pm, some of Richardson’s Federals have managed to get as far as Piper’s farmhouse, 600 yards south of the Sunken Road and little more than a half mile short of Sharpsburg. but no farther. Richardson’s division has lost more than 1,000 men. The gallant Colonel Barlow has gone down, severely wounded by a piece of canister. Reluctantly, Richardson orders his entire division to fall back behind the ridge north of the Sunken Road. He wants to regroup there and sort out his and French’s regiments before renewing the assault. Above all, he wants to bring up artillery to counter Longstreet’s batteries. But only a handful of guns are readily available. Of the nearly 300 pieces on the battlefield, he receives just eight cannon that in the following artillery duel quickly neutralize a couple of the Confederate smoothbores, but can’t reach the longer-ranged Confederate rifled artillery pounding them. Then about 1 pm spherical case shot explodes nearby, and a fragment slices into Richardson’s side. He is carried back to McClellan’s headquarters at the Pry House, where six weeks later he will die of his injuries. Richardson’s place as division commander will be taken within the hour by another superb leader, Brigadier General Winfield Scott Hancock. But Richardson’s removal from the field—like the wounding of Hooker four hours earlier—serves to sap the Federal momentum.

Another major thrust against the Confederate center would almost certainly split Lee’s army and probably doom it. To prevent a breakthrough, Longstreet has his cannon and little else. The struggle around the Sunken Road has cost him nearly 2,600 men against Federal casualties of almost 3,000. His jumbled infantry commands, clinging to the ridges near the Hagerstown pike, contain no organized group larger than a few hundred men. Behind the pike a North Carolina regiment has not a single cartridge, reduced to flaunting their flags to create the illusion of strength. This is the moment for McClellan to seize control of the battle. To crack the center, he has immediately available a powerful reserve of 3,500 cavalry and the 10,300 infantrymen of General Porter’s V Corps, who are waiting near the middle bridge, just a mile from the Sunken Road. To the north, McClellan has the 12,000 fresh troops of Franklin’s VI Corps, just arrived before noon from Pleasant Valley and sent to bolster General Sumner’s defensive lines on the north flank before the West Woods. Instead, sometime after 1 pm he crosses the Antietam to confer with Sumner on the possibility of renewing the fight there, and defers to Sumner’s insistence that it would be unwise to risk anything on the right. He orders Franklin and Sumner to hold their positions, and sends similar orders to Hancock, now in command of Richardson’s division at the Sunken Road—to be known in the future as Bloody Lane. Porter’s corps and the cavalry will remain in reserve.

There will be no new attack on the right. There will be no new attack on the center. At a time when Lee is gambling everything to win, McClellan is so fearful of losing that he will risk nothing.
September 17, Wednesday, part 3
The Southern Flank

As the fighting subsides around the Sunken Road, the focus of the battle shifts south to a graceful stone bridge on the Federal left flank. This 125-foot structure, supported by arches, is the southernmost of three bridges that span the Antietam. Because it is so near Sharpsburg, it is the only crossing that Lee chooses to dispute. According to McClellan’s original battle plan, Burnside’s IX Corps was supposed to cross the bridge as a diversion while Hooker launched the main attack on the northern flank. Last evening, McClellan directed Burnside “to form his troops and hold them in readiness to assault the bridge in his front.” By early this morning, Burnside had moved his four divisions, numbering 11,000 infantrymen and fifty cannon, to the hills overlooking the eastern approaches to the bridge. Then he obeyed the remainder of McClellan’s directive, settling down at his headquarters on a knoll a half mile east of the creek to await further orders.

Burnside is in no mood to exercise initiative. Normally a jovial man, he is troubled over his relationship with McClellan. Ever since West Point, they have been intimates. In prewar days, after Burnside resigned from the Army and went broke trying to manufacture a breech-loading rifle of his own invention, McClellan bailed him out by giving him a job with the Illinois Central Railroad. But in the past two days their friendship has soured. Twice McClellan has rebuked his old friend for moving too slowly. Worse, McClellan has abolished the temporary system of wing commands under which Burnside had charge of both Hooker’s I Corps and his own IX Corps. Burnside has taken the loss of Hooker’s corps as a personal affront. He professes to consider the change only temporary, and has refused to take direct command of IX Corps, preferring merely to relay McClellan’s orders to Brigadier General Jacob Cox. Such sulkiness is uncharacteristic of a general modest enough to have twice turned down President Lincoln’s offers to command the Army of the Potomac. Thus, in effect, IX Corps has two commanders.

Both Cox and Burnside know that marching IX Corps across the 12-foot-wide bridge in the face of an enemy entrenched on the far bank will be a daunting task. Yet neither general makes any attempt to reconnoiter the approaches to the bridge. Though the creek is scarcely fifty feet wide and only waist-deep in places, they make no effort to check out a ford located the previous day by McClellan’s engineers. While their troops wait, Cox and Burnside watch the battles in progress elsewhere on the field. From their hilltop headquarters, they have a good view of the successive Federal advances on the northern flank. A little after 9 am, the two general s glance across the creek to their front and see long lines of enemy soldiers marching northward. These Confederates, Walker’s division, will soon collide with Sumner’s troops in the West Woods. Lee is stripping his right flank to reinforce Jackson on the left.

The massive Confederate shift north leaves only a skeletal force on the southern flank. To defend this front, which extends for more than a mile from Sharpsburg to below the bridge, Lee now has only five thin brigades numbering no more than 2,000 men—less than one fifth the strength of IX Corps. Four of the brigades occupy the highest of the ridges just east and south of Sharpsburg. The other brigade guards the west bank of Antietam Creek at the bridge, the line stretching downstream for 600 yards or so to cover places where the Federals might attempt to ford the creek. Though the three Georgia regiments making up this last brigade are few in number—550 men facing 11,000 Federals—they possess an enormous advantage. Rising just west of the bridge is a steep, wooded bluff nearly 100 feet high. On this slope boulders from an old quarry and a stone wall running parallel with the creek provide excellent cover. In addition, a little farther downstream the Georgians command the Federals’ most likely approach to the bridge, the road from Rohrersville. This little road, lined by rail fences on both sides, runs parallel with the creek for a quarter mile only a few yards from the water—within easy musket range of the Georgians on the west bank. There are also twelve artillery pieces on the heights behind them, and other Confederate batteries can bear on the bridge from the high ground just east of Sharpsburg.

These batteries are blazing away a few minutes before 10 am when an aide from General McClellan gallops up to Burnside with the long-awaited orders to attack. The orders were drafted fifty minutes ago—after the repulse of Hooker’s I Corps and Manfield’s XII Corps on the northern flank, and while Sumner is leading a division to disaster in the West Woods. Before authorizing the orders, the cautious McClellan has waited until he received word that General Franklin’s VI Corps is approaching the field from Pleasant Valley, thus providing reserves against the big Confederate counterattack McClellan expects at any moment. The order promises support for Burnside once the bridge is captured. Neither McClellan nor Burnside fully realize the extent to which Lee has stripped his southern flank. Burnside is still under the impression that his role is diversionary, that he is to attempt something less than a full-scale advance. He passes the orders on to Cox, who hurries off to execute the plan he and Burnside agreed to earlier.

Their idea is to hit the defenders by sending a brigade under General Rodman downstream to look for the ford McClellan’s engineers selected yesterday, while having a brigade of three Ohio regiments commanded by Brigadier General George Crook assault the bridge. The stickiest job falls to the 11th Connecticut, assigned as skirmishers leading the bridge assault—these men have to gain a foothold on that narrow span so the rest can cross over. The regiment comes under fire as soon as their lines emerge from the trees on the crest of a hill about 200 yards from the bridge. The Connecticut right is quickly pinned down, but two companies on the left reach the road alongside the creek and inch toward the bridge. On his own initiative Captain John D. Griswold leads his men down into the creek. But the water is four feet deep, and the current swift and roiled by enemy bullets. Most of the men hold back, but Griswold, hit at midstream, struggles on to the far bank then slumps over, mortally wounded. Other members of the regiment charge for the bridge. But the Confederate fire is too heavy, and slowly the Connecticut men fall back. In less than fifteen minutes, the regiment has lost a third of its strength. Among the casualties is the regimental commander, Colonel Kingsbury, shot four times—the last a mortal wound in his stomach.

The main assault by Crook’s brigade goes awry from the start. Crook has failed to examine the terrain that his brigade has occupied for nearly two days. Consequently, Crook blunders into a strip of woods. When his men finally reach the creek, they are a quarter mile upstream from the bridge. There, they lie on the east bank and exchange volleys with the Confederate skirmishers across the Antietam. Downstream, General Rodman’s force is also having problems. The ford McClellan’s engineers selected yesterday has such steep banks that it turns out to be unusable. Rodman sends a couple of companies downstream in search of a crossing known as Snavely’s Ford, which some local farmers have mentioned. While waiting to hear news of Rodman’s progress, Burnside and Cox prepare a second attack on the bridge. This time there will be less danger of the men getting lost, for the lead two regiments—from Maryland and New Hampshire—are lined up in column of fours and pointed down the road that runs along the creek to the bridge. Here, however, they present easy targets for sharpshooters on the other side. Before the Federal column can even get near the bridge, the attack falls apart.

It is now noon, and McClellan is growing exasperated. From his headquarters two miles away, he sends a succession of couriers to light a fire under Burnside. McClellan orders one aide, “Tell him if it costs 10,000 men he must go now.”

For the third attempt to take the bridge, Burnside calls on a brigade commanded by Colonel Edward Ferrero, a dapper former dancing master at West Point that finessed his way to high rank through his connections at Tammany Hall (a powerful New York City political and social club). Ferrero lacks most of the attributes of good military leadership, but he has among his four regiments a pair of especially good ones from New York and Pennsylvania, both with good commanders. He also has two batteries that have moved closer to the creek at a point upstream where they can enfilade the enemy defenders and are pumping double charges of canister across the creek. With the backing of this strong artillery support and, on the part of the Pennsylvania regiment, inspired by a promise of all the whiskey they want (Ferrero has recently denied them their daily shot of whiskey), at about 12:30 the two regiments mount the crest with bayonets fixed and start down the slope at the double-quick. Enemy fire rises to such intensity that the neat Federal columns are quickly broken up; the troops race to seek cover near the bridge, the New Yorkers to the left just downstream of the bridge where they suffer heavy losses trying to take shelter behind a rail fence, the Pennsylvanians to the north of the bridge where some of them tear down and pile up a section of fence for cover and others duck behind a stone wall that runs along the creek. The Federals are now scarcely 25 yards from the enemy, and firing from behind wall and fence. A few minutes after 1 pm, as the Confederate fire slackens, a captain of the Pennsylvania regiment dashes onto the bridge, followed by his first sergeant, two color-bearers, and the color guard. Then, in a sudden rush, men from both regiments jam onto the narrow span. When the regimental colors are halfway across the bridge, the Confederates seem to break, deserting their works and scampering over the hills.

In reality, the Confederate withdrawal from the west bank is carried out with remarkable order. Even before the Federals get onto the bridge, Brigadier General Robert Toombs, commanding the defenders, knows the game is up. His men have only a few cartridges remaining, and reports from downstream indicate that the large Federal force under General Rodman has found Snavely’s Ford and in a matter of minutes could sweep down on Toombs’s right flank and rear. Toombs waits until the Federals in his front start across the field, then instructs his Georgians to pull back to a previously designated position about a half mile to the rear. The Georgians’ perseverance has cost the Federals more than 500 casualties while their own losses number less than 160. The Pennsylvanians have definitely earned their keg of whiskey.

As soon as the Pennsylvania and New York regiments have secured the crest overlooking the bridge, the rest of the brigade files across. They link up on the left with Rodman’s force coming north from Snavely’s Ford and on the right with Crook’s brigade, which has found a crossing 250 yards above the bridge. It is now a little after 1 pm. At last the way is open for a full-scale assault on Lee’s thin line south of Sharpsburg. Indeed, such an advance appears to be McClellan’s last chance for victory. McClellan has abandoned hope of breaking the Confederate northern flank, and the Federal drive in the center, around the Sunken Road, is bogging down. The advance on the south now has to be much more than a mere diversion, and McClellan sends yet another messenger to spur Burnside on. But a new hitch develops. In the haste to carry the bridge, no one bothered to arrange for a resupply of ammunition. Now the cartridge boxes are almost empty and the men too worn out to continue the advance. A new division, held in reserve all morning, is ordered forward. But it is three quarters of a mile behind the Antietam, and will take at least an hour to march across the hilly terrain to the creek. Then the troops will have to funnel across the bridge, a bottleneck that is already clogged with artillery caissons and ammunition wagons and under fire from enemy cannon. No one thinks to use the ford discovered by Crook.

The lull that ensues on the southern flank coincides with the end of the fighting in the center. Lee has long since put in his last reserves, but he does take advantage of the early-afternoon respite to try to mount a counterstroke. The idea is to relieve the Federal pressure in the center and prevent an all-out attack in the south by creating a diversion on the northern flank. Far from the massive counterattack envisioned by McClellan, this will involve merely a column of cavalry led by Jeb Stuart and whatever guns and infantry Stonewall Jackson can spare from his depleted divisions. The force will try to swing wide to the northeast and outflank the Federal right. Jackson finds himself facing twenty fresh Federal regiments but, undaunted, vows to “drive McClellan into the Potomac.” But as Stuart’s column of cavalry starts off toward the north it comes up against a wall of Federal artillery. Reluctantly, Jackson calls off the attack.

Lee, meanwhile, alerted to Burnside’s build-up along the Antietam, orders up every available cannon. In bolstering his right, Lee makes no effort to strengthen General D.R. Jones’s badly outnumbered division. To stop Burnside, Lee is counting on the arrival of a powerful column of reinforcements from Harpers Ferry: A.P. Hill’s Light Division, so called for its mobility on the march and in battle. Lee’s summons to hasten to Sharpsburg reached Hill at Harpers Ferry at 6:30 in the morning. Hill put on the red flannel shirt he always wears into battle and, an hour later, hurries out of town with five brigades, leaving one behind to gather up the captured booty. Hill drives his men almost without a break in the heat and dust, his soldiers—after two days of harvesting the fruits of the big Federal commissary at Harpers Ferry—better fed than anyone else in the Army of Northern Virginia. Many are also better dressed, having replaced their gray rags with brand-new blue uniforms. At 2 pm, the head of Hill’s column reaches Boteler’s Ford and starts across the Potomac. In six and a half hours, the troops have covered fifteen miles with two miles yet to go. Hill gallops on ahead to report to Lee. Lee is so relieved to see him that he drops his customary reserve and embraces his impetuous subordinate. It is now 2:30 pm.

Down at the bridge, Burnside is finally ready to advance. To make sure that he does, McClellan sends a high-ranking courier with orders to relieve Burnside of his command if he fails to push ahead at once. McClellan cannot bear to deliver such a rebuke to his old friend in person. As it turns out the orders are not invoked as Burnside is clearly doing what he can, personally directing traffic on the blood-slickened bridge. By about 3 pm—two hours after the capture of the bridge—the entire IX Corps is across the Antietam and ready for the advance. The plan is to converge on Sharpsburg, then block Lee’s line of retreat west of the village. The men who carried the bridge are to be held in reserve on the west bank. But even without them, the Federals have more than 8,000 troops, most of them fresh, and 22 cannon for close support.

On the Federal right, two brigades start off astride the road that leads from the bridge up toward Sharpsburg. The terrain they are covering is fairly steep and relatively open farmland ascending in a series of crests and hollows to the high ground around Sharpsburg. The attackers soon discover that almost every haystack and fence conceals enemy skirmishers and that the heights above, and to the right, bristle with Confederate artillery. They encounter strong resistance from skirmishers behind the stone walls of Joseph Sherrick’s farm. They flush the skirmishers but as they push on to higher ground 200 yards beyond they run into their first substantial body of enemy infantry from Cemetery Hill, South Carolinians in an apple orchard. Massachusetts artillery helps blast them out, the Federal infantry following with the bayonet. The South Carolinians pull back behind a stone wall at the southeastern edge of Sharpsburg. Now the Confederate guns on Cemetery Hill are in jeopardy and, along with the little brigade of Virginians supporting them, leave the hill and retreat back into town. At this juncture, with skirmishers less than 200 yards from Sharpsburg, the Federals halt. Ammunition is running low, and they wait for the supply wagons to catch up.

Meanwhile, in the rolling hills farther south, Rodman’s division launches its westward advance toward the Harpers Ferry Road. From the start they face a fury of shellfire from a dozen enemy guns mounted on a ridge a half mile or so ahead. When the lead elements reach the last slope leading up to the gun-infested ridge, the two Confederate batteries limber up and withdraw to avoid being captured. But two small brigades of infantry remain behind. The waiting Confederates wait until the Federal bayonets flash above the crest fifty feet away before opening fire. The Federal lines stagger, recover, and return volley after volley before surging forward to break through the thin Confederate defensive line. With the Federals in pursuit, the surviving Confederates run down the hill into Sharpsburg.

Sharpsburg now seethes with a sense of impending disaster. Confederate stragglers choke the streets as ambulances clatter past, leaking blood through the floorboards. Civilians huddle in their cellars while Federal shells smash brick and glass, and in the smoke-shrouded sky flocks of frightened pigeons fly in circles. A few impatient Federal skirmishers even prowl the streets on the outskirts of town. Lee’s right is in shreds. Of the five brigades in D.R. Jones’s division, only Toombs’s unit is still intact. His brigade is now backed up against the Harpers Ferry Road a half mile south of Sharpsburg, facing the Federal far left. With roughly 700 men, he doesn’t have a prayer of stemming the Federal tide. And Longstreet, commanding the Confederate center and right, can shift no reinforcements from the battered center. The only hope is A.P. Hill’s Light Division. From his headquarters just west of Sharpsburg, Lee keeps looking to his right for some sign. The only troops he can see there are the long blue lines of Burnside’s advancing Federals. Then, about 3:30 pm, he sees approaching troops flying the Virginia and Confederate flags—Hill has arrived.

Hill has 3,000 men, hundreds more having fallen by the wayside from exhaustion on the furious march that has brought the division seventeen miles in eight hours. Now the column turns onto the road just south of Toombs’s position. Hill divides his troops, sending two brigades off to the southeast to protect his right flank while the other 2,000 men file in on the right of Toombs’s regiments and prepare to attack. Hill cannot have chosen a better spot. Here, on their extreme left, the Federals are most vulnerable. The southernmost brigade in Rodman’s division has failed to keep pace with the regiments to the north. Only one of that brigade’s regiments, from Connecticut, has heard their brigade commander give the order to advance. While they are pushing pest against Toombs’s infantry, the rest of the brigade—another Connecticut regiment along with one from Rhode Island—lag behind. The resulting gap is a perfect opening for Hill’s attack. Just a few minutes before Hill strikes, Rodman sees the Confederates coming and sends an aide ahead to warn the Rhode Island and Connecticut regiments, just now moving west into farmer John Otto’s cornfield. Then Rodman gallops forward to warn his next brigade in line. Crossing a meadow he is mortally wounded in the chest by a Confederate sharpshooter. Rodman is the ninth Union general to fall today.

At 3:40 pm, Hill’s troops strike the Otto cornfield. The Connecticut boys have never been under fire before. In service only three weeks, they don’t know the first thing about maneuvering on a battlefield. Until yesterday evening, many of them had never even loaded their muskets. Now from front and left flank, they are hammered by volley after volley. They gamely return fire, but they are outmatched. Within a few minutes 185 of them go down and their line disintegrates. A Rhode Island regiment comes up on the right, but by now the battle lines are so close—thirty to forty yards apart—that the Rhode Islanders hardly know where to fire. In the high corn it is hard to distinguish between friend and foe. The fact that some of the Confederates are wearing Federal uniforms picked up at Harpers Ferry only adds to the confusion. The Rhode Islanders quickly follow their Connecticut compatriots. This leaves the first Connecticut regiment far out in advance and isolated. Attacked on its front and flank by another of Hill’s brigades and some of Toombs’s men, they are driven down the hills toward Antietam Creek. General Cox, trying to mend this major break in his left, sends up some Ohio regiments. They get as far as a stone wall near Otto’s cornfield before they collide with all three of Hill’s attacking brigades and, outflanked, quickly fall back.

There is a pause in the action, and Hill summons his brigade commanders to a conference. The four generals and their staffs soon attract the fire of enemy sharpshooters, and as Hill’s senior brigadier is lifting his binoculars to his eyes he is shot through the head. General Lawrence O’Bryan Branch is the ninth Confederate general to fall.

Hill’s attack has broken the Federal far left. Cox, fearing that Hill might now turn on the exposed flank of his forward brigades, orders their withdrawal. About 5 pm the orders reach the Federal troops waiting for ammunition on the outskirts of Sharpsburg, and they reluctantly fall back. Burnside’s IX Corps has suffered casualties of about 20 percent, but he still fields more than 8,500 men—twice the number of enemy troops facing him. Yet Burnside and Cox pull the corps all they way back to the west bank of the Antietam, to the heights overlooking the bridge. Then, beset by doubts that he can hold even the bridge, Burnside dispatches a message to McClellan asking for more men and guns. McClellan, who has reneged on his morning vow to support his old friend’s advance, promises him just one battery. “I can do nothing more,” McClellan says. “I have no infantry.” In fact, McClellan nearly has the battle won—but he doesn’t realize it. He still has V Corps and VI Corps in reserve, and if he but dares fling them against Lee’s exhausted, thin line, victory would be his. But he is so stunned by his staggering losses and worried about the possibility of a massive counterattack that he refuses to commit them.

So there it rests. Burnside holds onto his bridge. A.P. Hill, outnumbered, is in no position to press the issue—he has saved Lee’s army, but can do no more. By 5:30 pm, the hard fighting has ended on the heights overlooking the Burnside Bridge. After twelve hours the battle of Antietam is over, although random firing continues for another hour or so while men pray for darkness to put an end to the slaughter. Night does come, and with it a mournful chorus of agony rising from the lantern-lit barns and houses where surgeons saw at mangled limbs, and from the pitch-black hollows, woods, and fields where wounded men lie beyond reach of help.

Never before have so many Americans fallen in combat in a single day. By the best available counts, casualties number 22,726. Federal losses account for somewhat more than half: 2,108 killed, 9,549 wounded, and 753 missing, for a total of 12,410. The Confederates have lost 1,546 killed, 7,752 wounded, and 1,018 missing, for a total of 10,316. Appalling as these statistics are, they underestimate the actual cost, for vast numbers of the wounded will later die of their injuries, and many of the missing are dead.


At Munfordville, Kentucky, Colonel Wilder finally agrees to march his 4,000-man garrison to surrender to General Bragg’s Confederates at 6 am. Bragg’s move to Louisville has been delayed by two full days, yet he feels no sense of urgency. Assuming that Buell’s army will remain in Bowling Green and apparently quite unconcerned about word that a strong Federal force is digging in at Louisville, Bragg gives his army a day off to celebrate its first victory of the campaign.

Also in Kentucky there is skirmishing near Falmouth and on Bowling Green Road and at Merry Oaks. There is an engagement at St. John’s Bluff, Florida, and operations around Shiloh, North Carolina.

Major General Ormsby M. Mitchel, US Army, assumes command of the Department of the South stationed along the southeast coast.

Pro-Unionists in the Tennessee mountains suffer a setback when Brigadier General George W. Morgan is forced to evacuate Cumberland Gap due to the Confederate invasion of Kentucky.
September 18, Thursday

Come the morning, the men of the opposing armies at Antietam stare warily at one another across the littered field. Here and there a few pickets trade shots, but neither side makes a serious attempt to resume the fighting. Federal and Confederate units work out informal truces and begin to gather up the wounded and the dead. The corpses are already beginning to blacken and bloat in the hot September sun. Smashed caissons, broken wheels, dismounted cannon, muskets, blankets, haversacks, canteens are everywhere. Around the surgeons’ tables in the barn of the Roulette farm, amputated arms and legs are piled several feet deep. Vultures and crows circle overhead, waiting for an opportunity to descend to earth.

Lee briefly entertains the notion of trying again to turn the Federal right. But he soon gives it up. His staggering losses make any further operations risky at best. And, he needs time to evacuate his wounded, feed and rest his men, collect stragglers, and remove the captured guns and supplies down at Harpers Ferry. McClellan refuses to attack because he’s McClellan. Despite the arrival of a division from Pleasant Valley and another from Frederick—14,000 fresh men, which again brings his numerical advantage to almost 2 to 1—McClellan decides that “the success of an attack was not certain.” Once again, his fear of losing prevents him from reaching for near-certain victory. “One battle lost, and almost all would have been lost,” he will write. “Lee’s army might then have marched as it pleased on Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, or New York.”

Lee does march this night, but to the rear. Nothing can be gained by remaining in Maryland, the general realizes, and his scouts have reported the arrival of the fresh Federal divisions. The Confederates move out on the road to Shepherdstown. They have to leave their dead and most severely wounded for the Federals to cope with; it is anguishing, but there is no alternative. The supply wagons are the first to roll, followed by ambulances carrying those wounded who can be transported. Then come the infantry, plodding the three miles southwestward to the Potomac in a fine rain that turns the dust into mire. At Boteler’s Ford, a mile or so downstream from Shepherdstown, cavalry sentinels stand with flaming torches to light the crossing into Virginia. It is a melancholy scene, in sharp contrast to those sunny days two weeks ago when Lee’s invading army splashed across the river almost fifty miles downstream. Lee anxiously remains near the ford through most of the night. The narrow country lane leading down to the river is clogged with wagons and horses, and he knows the havoc the Federal artillery can wreak upon this bottleneck if McClellan chooses to give pursuit.

At Glasgow, Kentucky, Bragg proclaims that his Confederate army has come to Kentucky to free the people from tyranny and not as conquerors and despoilers. There are compelling reasons now for both Bragg and Buell to fight. Bragg has gained Buell’s rear, has cut the Federal line of communications, has won a small but bracing victory, and now occupies a strong defensive position on the Green River’s banks. Buell, on the other hand, enjoys numerical superiority and has a chance to deal with Bragg before Kirby Smith can reinforce him. But neither general has the nerve to press the issue. Buell makes a tentative move toward the recently Confederate-occupied Munfordville. When Bragg learns that Buell is on the move, he will suffer agonies of sleepless indecision for two days; then order his army to march northeast to Bardstown while sending orders to Kirby Smith to send supplies and join him there. Somewhat lamely, Bragg declares that “this campaign must be won by marching, not fighting.” Buell seems to agree, because when he find the road to the north abandoned by Bragg’s forces, he marches north with unaccustomed speed.

Elsewhere across the active battle fronts, there is fighting at Glasgow, Florence, Owensborough, and Cave City, Kentucky; a skirmish at Rienzi, Mississippi; and operations about Forts Henry and Donelson, Tennessee, which will continue until the twenty-third.

In a Federal command change Brigadier General James H. Carleton takes over for Brigadier General E.R.S. Canby in command of the Department of New Mexico.

Out in the Atlantic the Confederate cruiser Alabama is marauding—capturing and burning the New Bedford, Massachusetts, whaler Elisha Dunbar.
September 19, Friday

Near dawn, General Lee is still astride his horse in the waist-deep water of Boteler’s Ford when he sees General John Walker ride down to the river. Walker’s division is bringing up the rear, and Lee asks what part of the army remains behind. He is very relieved to learn that everything has crossed except a battery of artillery and some wagons.

Lee need not have worried. Though the Federal pickets in front of Sharpsburg heard the unmistakable sounds of retreat—the cadence of marching feet, the rumble of caissons—McClellan has made no attempt to disrupt the withdrawal. Now this morning McClellan finds the field in front of him empty of all but the dead and dying. He sends forward his cavalry, followed by Fitz John Porter’s V Corps, to seek out Lee. The cavalry reach Boteler’s Ford about 8 am, just in time to glimpse the grayclad columns vanishing in the distance on the Virginia side of the river.

But the Confederate rearguard is closer at hand. Deployed on the steep bluffs overlooking the Potomac from the south bank, and in the rolling fields beyond, are 44 pieces of artillery supported by two brigades of infantry. Lee has left them there to guard the ford at least until sundown while his army moves toward Martinsburg, eight miles to the west. The Federal cavalrymen bring up eighteen guns from their horse artillery, and for two hours the opposing batteries engage in a spirited duel. Then Porter approaches with his V Corps and about noon deploys the 1st US Sharpshooters. From the cover of the dry bed of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, which parallels the north bank of the river, the Federal marksmen start picking off the Confederate cannoneers on the far bluff. The Confederate rearguard is commanded by Lee’s chief of artillery, Brigadier General William Nelson Pendleton. He has never commanded infantry before, and he soon loses control. Not having bothered to count his troops, he keeps ordering forward numbers that don’t exist. Toward dusk, as the Confederates begin to fall back, taking their guns with them, a Federal raiding party of 500 volunteers cross the ford and capture four of the cannon.

Pendleton, alone in the dark at his command post, fears that his losses are much worse. Panic-stricken, he rides back a few miles to the rear and, sometime after midnight, finds Lee asleep under an apple tree. He wakes the commanding general and blurts out a fearsome but absurd story of how the Federals have stormed the heights and seized all of his 44 guns. Lee receives the news with his customary composure. Nothing can be done until daylight, and he advises his rattled chief of artillery to get some sleep. But Stonewall Jackson, disgusted with Pendleton, decides to take matters into his own hands. He alerts A.P. Hill to be ready to march to the river at dawn with his division.

There is skirmishing at Sharpsburg, Shepherdstown, and near Williamsport, Maryland.

In Mississippi, Confederates have been attempting to prevent the Federals under Grant from reinforcing Buell, who is opposing Bragg in Kentucky. General Grant, learning of General Price’s occupation of the Federal supply depot at Iuka, Mississippi, has reacted swiftly, ordering both Generals Rosecrans and Ord to march on Iuka; if they can trap Price there they might destroy his force of 17,000 men before it can link up with General Earl Van Dorn’s 10,000 Confederates advancing from Holly Springs. Three roads lead into Iuka; as Ord advances along the one in the north, Rosecrans is to cover the two in the south. Grant has joined Ord’s men on the march. The difficult tactical maneuver Grant is trying to execute—moving two separate forces against an enemy from opposite directions—requires careful timing and good communications. Ord arrives first. Grant commands him to delay his attack from the north until he can hear the sound of Rosecrans attacking from the south. But, apparently because of some freak atmospheric condition, when Rosecrans’ troops engage the Confederates neither Grant nor Ord hear a thing.

At 2:30 in the afternoon, Rosecrans’ vanguard runs into Price’s cavalry pickets one and a half miles south of Iuka. The Confederate troopers gallop back to warn Price, who is at his headquarters in town. Just as Grant had hoped, Price is anticipating the arrival of Ord and has concentrated all of his infantry north of town. But Price reacts so quickly and aggressively to this unexpected new threat from the south that it is the Federals who are surprised. Straight away, he orders Brigadier General Henry Little, his best divisional commander, to rush two brigades to the threatened point and accompanies Little to the front to see what they are up against.

Rosecrans’ column is spread out over a great distance, and slow to deploy in line of battle. The wooded terrain particularly hampers the movement of the artillery. Little’s men charge straight at an Ohio battery. The Federal infantry brigade supporting the battery give way, but the artillerymen stick to their guns, firing canister point-blank at the onrushing Confederates. Before long, though, two Texas regiments overwhelm the 80 Ohioans, killing 19 and wounding 35—the greatest loss to be suffered by any battery in the War.

While the fighting rages, Price and Little confer on horseback near the front lines. Realizing that the Federals are in far greater strength than he had first thought, Price orders Little to send forward the rest of his division. No sooner are the words out of Price’s mouth than a Minié ball strikes Little flush in the forehead, killing him instantly. In the confusion following Little’s death, the Confederate attack lets up long enough for the bulk of Rosecrans’ troops to deploy. The reinforcements solidify his line, and the Federals recapture the guns of the Ohio battery only to be driven off again. By the time darkness puts an end to the seesaw fighting, the Federals have lost about 141 killed, 613 wounded, and 36 missing for a total of 790 out of about 17,000 in the area; Confederates lose 263 killed, 692 wounded, 561 captured for 1,516 out of a total of 14,000. However, indications are that about 4,500 Federals opposed about 3,200 Confederates in the actual fighting.

Rosecrans is making plans to renew the fighting in the morning when he discovers that Price has quietly slipped away. Rosecrans has unaccountably failed to guard one of the two southbound roads out of Iuka. The Federal forces will not follow the retreating Confederates, and in a few days Price with unite his forces with Van Dorn. During the next week or so it will become apparent to the Federals that the real Confederate target is Corinth and both sides will build up their forces in anticipation of a new collision. Corinth, one of the principle rail junctions in the western Confederacy, is a valuable prize. Its loss after Shiloh has cost the Confederates one of their main East-West rail connections and has compelled them to give up Fort Pillow. Reclaiming Corinth would be a major achievement for the Confederacy, and might weaken the Federal hold on the Mississippi.

Elsewhere in Mississippi there is fighting at Barnett’s Corners, Peyton’s Mill, and Prentiss, and there is an attack on the Federal gunboat Queen of the West near Bolivar. In Missouri there is skirmishing at Hickory Grove and an affair at Mount Vernon; in Kentucky skirmishing is at Horse Cave, Southerland’s Farm, and Bear Wallow. There is action near Helena, Arkansas, and Brentwood, Tennessee.

The Federal Department of the Missouri is reestablished and the Department of Kansas discontinued.

Colonel Sibley starts north from Fort Ridgely, Minnesota, with a considerably reinforced army, now totaling 1,619 men.
September 20, Saturday

Just south of the Potomac, Stonewall’s middle-of-the-night decision to have A.P. Hill reinforce the rearguard at Boteler’s Ford at dawn is timely. Though the Federal raiding force that panicked General Pendleton and captured four guns withdrew to Maryland during the night, McClellan has decided to dispatch a much larger reconnaissance force, three brigades. The lead Federal brigade under Brigadier General George Sykes crosses Boteler’s Ford at 7 am and heads southwest along the Charlestown Road. A mile or so beyond the river, Sykes’ skirmishers collide with A.P. Hill’s advancing Confederates. Outnumbered, Sykes pulls the brigade back to the bluffs by the river and then, on orders, withdraws across the Potomac with his brigade and another that has just been sent over.

Earlier, the third brigade in the Federal reconnaissance—under Colonel James Barnes—had crossed the ford into Virginia. Unaware of Sykes’s situation, Barnes turned right along the river, passed an abandoned cement mill and dam a few hundred yards west of the ford, and sent his most inexperienced regiment—from Pennsylvania—up a ravine to the top of a sheer 80-foot-high-cliff. The Pennsylvanians, who saw no action at Antietam, are forming their line of battle across the top of the cliff when less than a mile to their south appears A.P. Hill’s division, 5,000 men strong. The Confederates are advancing on a front three brigades wide, easily outflanking the Pennsylvanians on both sides. The regiment has time to withdraw, but its commander—Colonel Charles E. Provost—refuses to do without a formal order from Colonel Barnes. The Confederates bear down on Prevost’s untried troops, alone on the cliff. A well-placed barrage from Federal guns on the Maryland shore slows Hill’s veterans, but they continue to advance across the open ground, firing on the Pennsylvanians. The Federals gamely return fire—or try to. Their weapons are British Enfields, ordinarily dependable. Yet half of the men discover to their horror that their rifles won’t shoot, the mainspring is too weak to explode the percussion cap. In their excitement, a number of men fail to notice this defect and keep ramming new cartridges down the barrel on top of the unexploded ones. Some men snatch up weapons from their fallen comrades until they find one that works. Others pick up stones and pound frantically on the rifle hammer until the bullet fires.

Enemy troops are now only fifty yards away. One Confederate regiment works its way over to the Federal right flank. When the Pennsylvanians there change front to meet this threat, their comrades in the center mistake the maneuver for a withdrawal and start to break. Colonel Prevost manages to restore his line by grabbing the regimental flag and waving it wildly, but a bullet smashes into his shoulder and puts him out of action. Lieutenant Colonel James Gwyn assumes command, and for thirty minutes or more the Pennsylvanians hold. But when an aide finally reaches Gwyn with the order from Colonel Barnes to withdraw, all thoughts of gallantry give way as the men that have till now held against frightful odds break in wild confusion for the river. Some Federals are killed or maimed in the tumbling descent from the cliff. Most of the regiment funnels into the ravine, while the Confederates pour down fire from the heights. A fallen tree blocks the Federals’ path. Attempting to climb over it, several Pennsylvanians become hopelessly entangled and are shot, their bodies dangling over the branches. When the survivors reach the foot of the cliff near the river, they find the escape route to the ford downstream cut off by Confederate marksmen who are firing from an old cement mill. A small group of Federal seek shelter in the archways of some old lime-burning kilns dug into the base of the cliff, but there they soon come under fire from a friendly battery across the river whose crew have set their shell fuses too short. Some men jump into the river and begin swimming. The Confederates take aim at them, and lifeless bodies are soon bobbing in the current. Other Federals try to scramble across an old mill dam, a partially submerged rock structure covered with rotting wood planks. By 2 pm, most of the Federal survivors have reached the Maryland shore, and Porter’s sharpshooters force the Confederates to withdraw.

With his rearguard safe, Lee pulls back from the Potomac this night. Heartened by the outcome, he considers collecting his stragglers and renewing the invasion by crossing back into Maryland upstream at Williamsport. But he quickly realizes that, as he will write to President Davis in a few days, his weary army has lost “its former temper and condition.” Concluding that if he tries to invade Maryland again, “the hazard would be great and a reverse disastrous,” Lee will slowly withdraw to Winchester, in the Shenandoah Valley about thirty miles southwest of Sharpsburg.

The active part of the campaign has ended with fighting near Shepherdstown, Hagerstown, Williamsport, and Ashby’s Gap.

In the West there is skirmishing on Fulton Road south of Iuka, Mississippi; at Munfordville, Kentucky; and Shirley’s Ford on Spring River near Carthage, Missouri. From this day to the twenty-second there is a Union expedition from Bolivar to Grand Junction and La Grange, Tennessee.

In the White House Lincoln prepares the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, long discussed by Cabinet and President.
September 21, Sunday

General McClellan lets General Lee go. He sends a large force across the Potomac to reoccupy Harpers Ferry, but the bulk of the army remains in Maryland. Any bold thoughts of pursuit have dissolved with the setback at Boteler’s Ford. It reminds McClellan of a similar disaster at Ball’s Bluff eleven months ago. There, as well, his men were driven off a cliff and into the Potomac. Now, as then, the dramatic Confederate counterattack serves to reinforce McClellan’s innate caution. Before pursuing Lee south, he must have time to reorganize and resupply. Apart from the Boteler’s Ford fiasco, to be known thereafter as the Battle of Shepherdstown, McClellan takes pride in his recent accomplishments. McClellan’s incredible good fortune in coming upon Lee’s lost orders for the Maryland Campaign has helped, of course. And even now he has missed chance after chance to destroy the Confederate army. Nonetheless, in a period of less than three weeks after taking control, the Federal commander has pulled together and transformed a defeated and dispirited army into an instrument powerful enough to repulse Lee’s invasion of the North—the first time that the Army of Northern Virginia has ever been compelled to retreat. At South Mountain and Antietam, McClellan’s Army of the Potomac has captured no fewer than 39 Confederate battle flags, more than have been claimed by Federal forces in any previous campaign.

In Kentucky Bragg’s Confederate army arrives in Bardstown, to find that Kirby Smith has neither sent supplies nor even left Lexington. Seemingly uninterested in any campaign not of his own making, Smith has simply decided that Bragg can take Louisville on his own, and has stayed where he is. But Bragg left Munfordville with only three days’ provisions and now has to scatter his men across the parched countryside to find food. This move leaves the road open for Buell to beat the Confederates to Louisville. Federal troops reoccupy Munsfordville, Kentucky.

There is skirmishing at Cassville, Missouri; Van Buren, Tennessee; and a Union expedition from Carrollton to Donaldson, Louisiana, which lasts until the twenty-fifth.

Citizens of San Francisco contribute $100,000 ($2,573,445 in 2020 $) for relief of Federal sick and wounded.
September 22, Monday

Back in July President Lincoln prepared a first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, decreeing freedom for the Confederacy’s three and a half million slaves. But the Federal armies were in retreat, and so the timing awkward. Secretary of State William H. Seward urged Lincoln to put the proclamation aside, lest it be interpreted by the world as a sign of desperation—as Seward put it, “our last shriek of defeat.” The President agreed to wait for an improvement in military fortunes. Now, Lincoln summons his Cabinet to the White House and reminds them of the proclamation draft he read them in July. Before the Battle of Antietam, he goes on, he made a promise “to myself, and to my Maker,” to issue the proclamation if the Confederates were driven out of Maryland. “I think the time has come now. I wish that we were in a better condition. But the rebel army is now driven out, and I am going to fulfill that promise.”

Though he personally opposes slavery, Lincoln’s motives for the proclamation are more pragmatic than humanitarian. He wants to sap a source of the Confederacy’s economic strength by providing an incentive for slaves to escape. He wants to repair the political schisms in the Republican Party, where a majority of Congressmen and Senators are in favor of abolition. And he wants to forestall foreign intervention by appealing to world opinion. Thus Lincoln sees emancipation as a means of achieving his overriding goal of wining the war and preserving the Union. Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation on grounds of “military necessity” under his powers as Commander in Chief. It pertains only to the slaves in the enemy homeland. The status of the slaves in the loyal border states of Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, and Missouri remain unchanged.

Colonel Sibley’s small army sets up camp on the eastern shore of Wood Lake, a small lake just below the Upper Agency, Minnesota. By now most of the Sioux are camped with their captives a few miles farther north near the mouth of the Chippewa River. Despite the dissension in the ranks of the Sioux, Little Crow manages to persuade 700 or more warriors to make another attack on the White troops. Leaving camp at dusk, Little Crow and his followers steal southward during the night and set up an ambush in tall grass and in a ravine along the road the troops will take in the morning.

Federal troops reoccupy Harper’s Ferry, which has been evacuated by the Confederates. There is also a skirmish at Ashby’s Gap, Virginia.
September 23, Tuesday

Little Crow’s plan to ambush Colonel Sibley’s small army miscarries, this time because his trap is accidentally discovered before it can be sprung. With dawn having broken, several wagonloads of troops from the 3rd Minnesota start out, without permission, to dig potatoes in the abandoned gardens of the Upper Agency. Their wagons come straight on, Chief Big Eagle will say, and “would have driven right over our men as they lay in the grass. At last they came so close that our men had to rise up and fire.”

As the soldiers jump down from the wagons to fight back, other members of the regiment hurry forward. In a few moments a vicious little fight—later to be called the Battle of Wood Lake—is in full cry. Initially the Amerinds deploy in a wide semicircle whose wings seem to threaten Sibley’s flanks; then they attack the 3rd Minnesota in the center. The 3rd withdraws in confusion, but reinforced by Galbraith’s Renville Rangers, the Minnesotans make a stand on a plateau. At the same time, some Amerinds start toward the camp through a ravine. They are thrown back by canister from a six-pounder gun and by a charge by members of two other regiments. Another Amerind attack is halted near a lake. Finally, simultaneous charges by the 3rd in the center and parts of the other two regiments on the right drive the Amerinds through the grass and out of the ravine, ending the two-hour conflict. The Sioux flee, having lost more than 25 killed and many wounded. Some of the dead Amerinds are later scalped by the victorious troops, an action that draws a contemptuous rebuke from Sibley. The army’s casualties are seven killed and 34 wounded. Lacking sufficient cavalry, and still concerned for the safety of the captives, Sibley doesn’t pursue the Amerinds.

Amerind trouble breaks out again at Fort Abercrombie, Dakota Territory.

There are skirmishes at McGuire’s Ferry, Arkansas; Wolf Creek Bridge, near Memphis, Tennessee; and a Federal expedition to Eureka, Boone County, Missouri.

On the Ohio River Confederate guerrillas plunder the steamer Emma at Foster’s Landing. On the Mississippi Eugene is attacked near Randolph, Tennessee, but she gets away. Federal troops take revenge by burning the town of Randolph.

Word of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation is spreading over the North and soon will penetrate the South as well.
September 24, Wednesday

President Lincoln’s preliminary Emancipation Proclamation is made public. It sparks outrage in the South, anger among conservative Democrats in the North, and rejoicing among abolitionists like Ralph Waldo Emerson, who writes: “It makes a victory of our defeats. Our hurts are healed; the health of the nation is repaired.” Fourteen Northern governors meet at Altoona, Pennsylvania, and approve emancipation, although the conference had been called earlier by those deploring the Administration’s policy on slavery and the unsatisfactory progress of the war. But such predictable responses will have less of an effect on the course of the war than will reactions from abroad. News of Antietam and Lee’s failure to sustain his invasion will be sufficient to discourage the British government from extending formal recognition to the Confederacy. Prime Minister Henry Palmerston will write to his Foreign Minister: “We must continue merely to be lookers-on till the war shall have taken a more decided turn.” But, in the long run, it is the moral impact of emancipation that proves decisive in England and France. Abhorring slavery, the majority of the people in both countries shift the weight of their opinion to the side of the Union, ensuring that their governments will remain neutral. Because of Antietam and the resulting Emancipation Proclamation, the Confederacy will have to continue fighting alone, with no foreign help and little hope of it.

But while things are looking up in the East, Lincoln is not so pleased with General Buell’s failure to contest the Confederate advance to the Ohio River. At the President’s insistence, General-in-Chief Halleck dispatches an aide with orders for Buell to turn over his command to one of his senior divisional commanders, Major General George H. Thomas.

The Secretary of War creates the office of Provost Marshal General.

Fighting is on Skull Creek, South Carolina; at Granby, Missouri; and Sabine Pass, Texas.

Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard supersedes Major General John C. Pemberton in command of the Department of South Carolina and Georgia. Major General Samuel R. Curtis assumes command of the Federal Department of Missouri.

The Confederate Senate adopts a seal for the Confederacy.
September 25, Thursday

Buell’s Federal army arrives at Louisville, beating Bragg’s advancing Confederates to the vital city on the Ohio thanks to the lack of coordination between Confederate Generals Bragg and Smith. But Buell is unable to take advantage of the Confederate disarray; his arrival in Louisville has plunged him into a series of complications. For one thing, he now finds himself in yet another military district—that of General H.G. Wright. And so while the citizens of Louisville near a state of panic and one Buell’s favorite officers, Brigadier General William “Bull” Nelson, labors to bring raw recruits into some semblance of effectiveness, Buell has to contend with Wright over who is in charge in the area.

There is fighting at Snow’s Pond and Ashbysburg, Kentucky, and at Davis’ Bridge on the Hatchie River, Tennessee. In the east there is a Federal reconnaissance from Shepherdstown, western Virginia, and a Federal expedition from Centreville to Bristoe Station and Warrenton, Virginia.
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