Military Reminiscences of the Civil War V1
Jacob Dolson Cox

Part 6 out of 9

by which the copy of his plan had fallen into our hands at Frederick

During the 16th we confidently expected a battle, and I kept with my
division. In the afternoon I saw General Burnside, and learned from
him that McClellan had determined to let Hooker make a movement on
our extreme right to turn Lee's position. Burnside's manner in
speaking of this implied that he thought it was done at Hooker's
solicitation, and through his desire, openly evinced, to be
independent in command. I urged Burnside to assume the immediate
command of the corps and allow me to lead my own division. He
objected that as he had been announced as commander of the right
wing of the army, composed of the two corps, he was unwilling to
waive his precedence or to assume that Hooker was detached for
anything more than a temporary purpose. I pointed out that Reno's
staff had been granted leave of absence to take the body of their
chief to Washington, and that my division staff was too small for
corps duty; but he met this by saying that he would use his staff
for this purpose, and help me in every way he could till the crisis
of the campaign should be over. Sympathizing with his very natural
feeling, I ceased objecting, and accepted with as good grace as I
could the unsatisfactory position of nominal commander of the corps
to which I was a comparative stranger, and which, under the
circumstances, naturally looked to him as its accustomed and real
commander. Burnside's intentions in respect to myself were
thoroughly friendly, as he afterward proved, and I had no ground for
complaint on this score; but the position of second in command is
always an awkward and anomalous one, and such I felt it.

The 16th passed without serious fighting, though we had desultory
cannonading and picket firing. It was hard to restrain our men from
showing themselves on the crest of the long ridge in front of us,
and whenever they did so they drew the fire from some of the enemy's
batteries, to which ours would respond. McClellan reconnoitred the
line of the Antietam near us, and the country immediately on our
left, down the valley. As the result of this we were ordered to
change our positions at nightfall, staff officers being sent to
guide each division to its new camp. The selected positions were
marked by McClellan's engineers, who then took members of Burnside's
staff to identify the locations, and these in turn conducted our
divisions. There was far more routine of this sort in that army than
I ever saw elsewhere. Corps and division commanders should have the
responsibility of protecting their own flanks and in choosing
ordinary camps. To depend upon the general staff for this is to take
away the vigor and spontaneity of the subordinate and make him
perform his duty in a mechanical way. He should be told what is
known of the enemy and his movements so as to be put upon his guard,
and should then have freedom of judgment as to details. The changes
made were as follows: Rodman's division went half a mile further to
the left, where a country road led to the Antietam ford, half a mile
below the Burnside bridge. Sturgis's division was placed on the
sides of the road leading to the stone bridge just mentioned.
Willcox's was put in reserve in rear of Sturgis. My own was divided,
Scammon's brigade going with Rodman, and Crook's going with Sturgis.
Crook was ordered to take the advance in crossing the bridge in case
we should be ordered to attack. This selection was made by Burnside
himself as a compliment to the division for the vigor of its assault
at South Mountain. While we were moving we heard Hooker's guns far
off on the right and front, and the cannonade continued an hour or
more after it became dark.

What, then, was the plan of battle of which the first step was this
movement of Hooker's? McClellan's dispositions on the 15th were made
whilst Franklin's corps was still absent, and, under the orders he
received, was likely to be so for a day at least. [Footnote:
Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 29.] Sumner's two corps had
been treated as the centre of the army in hand, Burnside's had been
divided by putting Hooker on the extreme right and the Ninth Corps
on the extreme left, and Porter's corps was in reserve. This looked
as if a general attack in front with this organization of the army
were intended. But the more McClellan examined the enemy's position
the less inclined he was to attack the centre. He could cross the
bridge there and on the right, and deploy; but the gentle slopes
rising toward Sharpsburg were swept by formidable batteries and
offered no cover to advancing troops. The enemy's infantry was
behind stone fences and in sunken roads, whilst ours must advance
over the open. Lee's right rested upon the wooded bluffs above the
Burnside bridge, where it could only be approached by a small head
of column charging along the narrow roadway under a concentrated
fire of cannon and small arms. No point of attack on the whole field
was so unpromising as this. Then, as Jackson was still at Harper's
Ferry, there was the contingency of an attack in rear if anything
less than the mass of our army were pushed beyond Lee's right.

On our right, in front of Hooker, it was easy to turn the
Confederate line. The road from Keedysville through Smoketown to the
Hagerstown turnpike crossed the Antietam in a hollow, out of the
line of fire, and a march around Lee's left flank could be made
almost wholly under cover. The topography of the field therefore
suggested a flank attack from our right, if the National commander
rejected the better strategy of interposing his army between Lee and
Jackson as too daring a movement. This flank attack McClellan
determined to make, and some time after noon of the 16th issued his
orders accordingly. In his preliminary report of the battle, made
before he was relieved from command, McClellan says:--

"The design was to make the main attack upon the enemy's left,--at
least to create a diversion in favor of the main attack, with the
hope of something more, by assailing the enemy's right,--and as soon
as one or both of the flank movements were fully successful, to
attack their centre with any reserve I might then have in hand."
[Footnote: O R., vol. xix. pt. i. p. 30.]

His report covering his whole career in the war, dated August 4,
1863 (and published February, 1864, after warm controversies had
arisen, and he had become a political character), modifies the above
statement in some important particulars. It says:--

"My plan for the impending general engagement was to attack the
enemy's left with the corps of Hooker and Mansfield supported by
Sumner's and if necessary by Franklin's, and as soon as matters
looked favorably there, to move the corps of Burnside against the
enemy's extreme right upon the ridge running to the south and rear
of Sharpsburg, and having carried their position to press along the
crest toward our right, and whenever either of these flank movements
should be successful, to advance our centre with all the forces then
disposable." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix, pt. i, p. 55.]

The opinion I got from Burnside at the time, as to the part the
Ninth Corps was to take, was fairly consistent with the design first
quoted, namely, that when the attack by Sumner, Hooker, and Franklin
should be progressing favorably, we were "to create a diversion in
favor of the main attack, with the hope of something more." It is
also probable that Hooker's movement was at first intended to be
made by his corps alone, the attack to be taken up by Sumner's two
corps as soon as Hooker began, and to be shared in by Franklin if he
reached the field in time, thus making a simultaneous oblique attack
from our right by the whole army except Porter's corps, which was in
reserve, and the Ninth Corps, which was to create the "diversion" on
our left and prevent the enemy from stripping his right to reinforce
his left. It is hardly disputable that this would have been a better
plan than the one actually carried out. Certainly the assumption
that the Ninth Corps could cross the Antietam alone at the only
place on the field where the Confederates had their line immediately
upon the stream which must be crossed under fire by two narrow heads
of column, and could then turn to the right along the high ground
occupied by the hostile army before that army had been broken or
seriously shaken elsewhere, is one which would hardly be made till
time had dimmed the remembrance of the actual position of Lee's
divisions upon the field. It is also noticeable that the plan as
given in the final report leaves no "centre" with which to "advance"
when either of the flank movements should be successful, Porter's
corps in reserve being the only one not included in the movement as

Further evidence that the plan did not originally include the wide
separation of two corps to the right to make the extended turning
movement is found in Hooker's incomplete report, and in the wide
interval in time between the marching of his corps and that of
Mansfield. Hooker was ordered to cross the Antietam at about two
o'clock in the afternoon of the 16th by the bridge in front of
Keedysville and the ford below it. He says that after his troops
were over and in march, he rode back to McClellan, who told him that
he might call for reinforcements, and that when they came they
should be under his command. Somewhat later McClellan rode forward
with his staff to observe the progress making, and Hooker again
urged the necessity of reinforcements. [Footnote: Official Records,
vol. xix. pt. i. p. 217.] Yet Sumner did not receive orders to send
Mansfield's corps to his support till evening, and it marched only
half an hour before midnight, [Footnote: _Id_., p. 275.] reaching
its bivouac, about a mile and a half in rear of that of Hooker, at 2
A.M. of the 17th. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 475.]

After crossing the Antietam, Hooker had shaped his course to the
westward, aiming to reach the ridge on which the Hagerstown turnpike
runs, and which is the dominant feature in the landscape. This ridge
is about two miles distant from the Antietam, and for the first mile
of the way no resistance was met. However, his progress had been
observed by the enemy, and Hood's two brigades were taken from the
centre and passed to the left of D. H. Hill. Here they occupied an
open wood (since known as the East Wood) northeast of the Dunker
Church. Hooker was now trying to approach the Confederate positions,
Meade's division of the Pennsylvania Reserves being in the advance.
A sharp skirmishing combat ensued, and artillery was brought into
action on both sides. I have mentioned our hearing the noise of this
engagement from the other extremity of the field in the fading light
of evening. On our side Seymour's brigade had been chiefly engaged,
and had felt the enemy so vigorously that Hood supposed he had
repulsed a serious effort to take the wood. Hooker was, however,
aiming to pass quite beyond the flank, and kept his other divisions
north of the hollow beyond the wood, and upon the ridge which
reaches the turnpike near the largest re-entrant bend of the
Potomac, which is only half a mile distant. Here he bivouacked upon
the slopes of the ridge, Doubleday's division resting with its right
upon the turnpike, Ricketts's division upon the left of Doubleday,
and Meade covering the front of both with the skirmishers of
Seymour's brigade. Between Meade's skirmishers and the ridge were
the farmhouse and barn of J. Poffenberger, on the east side of the
road, where Hooker made his own quarters for the night. Half a mile
further in front was the farm of D. R. Miller, the dwelling on the
east, and the barn surrounded by stacks on the west of the road.
[Footnote: Hooker's unfinished report says he slept in the barn of
D. R. Miller, but he places it on the east of the road, and the spot
is fully identified as Poffenberger's by General Gibbon, who
commanded the right brigade, and by Lieutenant-Colonel Rufus R.
Dawes, Sixth Wisconsin (afterward Brevet Brigadier-General), both of
whom subsequently visited the field and determined the positions.]
Mansfield's corps (the Twelfth), marching as it did late in the
night, kept further to the right than Hooker's, but moved on a
nearly parallel course, and bivouacked on the farm of another J.
Poffenberger, [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. pp. 275,
475.] near the road which, branching from the Hagerstown turnpike at
the Dunker Church, intersects the one running from Keedysville
through Smoketown to the same turnpike about a mile north of
Hooker's position. [Footnote: See map, p. 299.]

On the Confederate side, Hood's division had been so roughly handled
that it was replaced by two brigades of Ewell's division (commanded
by Lawton), which with Jackson's own (commanded by J. R. Jones) had
been led to the field from Harper's Ferry by Jackson, reaching
Sharpsburg in the afternoon of the 16th. These divisions were formed
on the left of D. H. Hill, and in continuation of his line along the
turnpike, but with a brigade advanced to the East Wood, which was
held as a salient. Hood's division, on being relieved, was placed in
reserve near the Dunker Church, and spent part of the night in
cooking rations, of which its supply had been short for a day or
two. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 923.] The
combatants on both sides slept upon their arms, well knowing that
the dawn would bring bloody work.

During the evening McClellan issued orders looking toward the
joining of a general engagement at daybreak. McLaws's Confederate
division, which had been opposing Franklin, crossed the Potomac at
Maryland Heights, and marched by way of Shepherdstown, reaching
Sharpsburg on the morning of the 17th. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 855,
856.] Walker's division, which had come from Harper's Ferry on the
16th, extended Lee's right down the Antietam, covering the ford at
which Rodman, on our side, was expected to cross. [Footnote: _Id_.,
p. 914.] A. P. Hill's division was the only force of the enemy
completing the work at Harper's Ferry, and Franklin was ordered to
leave Couch's division to observe Hill's movements from our side of
the Potomac, and to bring the remainder of his corps on the field
early in the morning. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 376.] In the respite
given him since Sunday, Lee had therefore concentrated all his army
but one division, and was better ready for the battle than
McClellan, for Franklin's corps could come upon the field only after
a considerable march, and he did not, in fact, reach it till ten
o'clock or later. Sumner was ordered to have the Second Corps ready
to march an hour before day, but he had no authority to move till
explicit orders to that effect should reach him. I have said that
Hooker claims in his report that the promise was made him that
Mansfield's corps, when it came to reinforce him, should be under
his orders. If this were so, it would unite all the troops now
present which had fought in Pope's Army of Virginia. I find no
trace, however, in the reports of the battle, that Hooker exercised
any such command. He seems to have confined his work to the
independent action of his own corps until Mansfield's death, and was
himself disabled almost immediately afterward. As there were
commanders of wings of the army duly designated, and two corps were
now separated by a long interval from the rest in an independent
turning movement, it can hardly be debated that that was the place
of all others where one of them should have been, unless McClellan
were there in person. Had Burnside's two corps been kept together as
the right wing, the right attack could have been made a unit. If
Sumner had then been directed to keep in communication with
Burnside, and to advance when the latter did, nobody will doubt that
Sumner would have been prompt in sustaining his comrades. But both
Sumner and Burnside were made to feel that they were reduced from
their proper rank, and however conscientious they might be in
carrying out such orders as reached them, it was not in human nature
that they should volunteer suggestions or anticipate commands.
McClellan had thus thrown away the advantages, if there were any, in
holding only two or three men directly responsible for the
co-ordination of his movements, and had assumed the full personal
responsibility of watching each phase of the battle and suiting the
proper orders to each conjuncture as it should arise.



Hooker astir early--The field near the Dunker Church--Artillery
combat--Positions of Hooker's divisions--Rocky ledges in the
woods--Advance of Doubleday through Miller's orchard and
garden--Enemy's fire from West Wood--They rush for Gibbon's
battery--Repulse--Advance of Patrick's brigade--Fierce fighting
along the turnpike--Ricketts's division in the East Wood--Fresh
effort of Meade's division in the centre--A lull in the
battle--Mansfield's corps reaches the field--Conflicting opinions as
to the hour--Mansfield killed--Command devolves on Williams--Advance
through East Wood--Hooker wounded--Meade in command of the corps--It
withdraws--Greene's division reaches the Dunker Church--Crawford's
in the East Wood--Terrible effects on the Confederates--Sumner's
corps coming up--Its formation--It moves on the Dunker Church from
the east--Divergence of the divisions--Sedgwick's passes to right of
Greene--Attacked in flank and broken--Rallying at the Poffenberger
hill--Twelfth Corps hanging on near the church--Advance of French's
division--Richardson follows later--Bloody Lane reached--The Piper
house--Franklin's corps arrives--Charge of Irwin's brigade.

Before the break of day on Wednesday the 17th, it was discovered
that Doubleday's division of Hooker's corps lay exposed to artillery
fire from batteries of the enemy supposed to be in position on their
front and right. In rousing the men and changing their place, the
stillness of the night was so far broken that the Confederates
believed they were advancing to attack, and a lively cannonade and
picket firing anticipated the dawn. [Footnote: R. R. Dawes, Service
with the Sixth Wisconsin, p. 87.] The chance for getting their
breakfast was thus destroyed, and Hooker prepared his whole command
for action as soon as it should be light enough to move. Looking
south from the Poffenberger farm along the turnpike, he then saw a
gently rolling landscape of which the commanding point was the
Dunker Church, whose white brick walls appeared on the right of the
road, backed by the foliage of the West Wood, which came toward him
filling a hollow that ran parallel to the turnpike, with a single
row of fields between. On the east side of the turnpike was the
Miller house, with its barn and stack-yard across the road to the
right, and beyond these the ground dipped into a little depression.
Still further on was seen a large cornfield between the East Wood
and the turnpike, rising again to the higher level, and Hooker
noticed the glint from a long line of bayonets beyond the corn,
struck by the first rays of the rising sun. There was, however,
another little hollow at the further side of the cornfield, which
could not be seen from Hooker's position; and on the farthest ridge,
near the church and extending across the turnpike toward the East
Wood, were the Confederate lines, partly sheltered by piles of rails
taken from the fences. They looked to Hooker as if they were
deployed along the edge of the corn, but an open sloping field lay
between the corn and them, after passing the second hollow. It was
plain that the high ground about the little white church was the key
of the enemy's position, and if that could be carried, Hooker's task
would be well done.

The enemy's artillery had opened early from a high hill nearly east
of the Miller house in a position to strike our forces in flank and
rear as they should go forward, and Hooker placed batteries on the
equally commanding height above Poffenberger's and detached
Hofmann's brigade from Doubleday's division to support it and to
prevent the enemy from turning our extreme right. [Footnote:
Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 224.] This force maintained
its position during the day, and was the nucleus about which both
Hooker's and Sedgwick's men rallied after their fight. The enemy's
artillery referred to were several batteries under Stuart's command
supported by his cavalry and by Early's brigade of infantry which
Jackson detached for that purpose. [Footnote: Official Records vol.
xix. pt. i. p. 819.]

Doubleday's division (except Hofmann), was in two lines, Gibbon's
and Phelps's in front, supported by Patrick's. Of Meade's division
Seymour's brigade, which had sustained the combat of the evening
before, had continued to cover the front with skirmishers during the
night, and remained on the northeast side of the East Wood. The
other brigades (Anderson and Magilton) were placed in reserve behind
Doubleday. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 269.] The Tenth Regiment
Pennsylvania Reserves was sent from Anderson's to a strong position
west of the turnpike near the extremity of the strip of wood
northwest of the Miller house. It was among ledges of rock looking
into the ravine beyond which were Stuart and Early. The ravine was
the continuation northward to the Potomac of a little watercourse
which headed near the Dunker Church and along one side of which the
West Wood lay, the outcrop of rock making broken ledges along its
whole length. Indeed, all the pieces of wood in the neighborhood
seemed to be full of such rocks, and for that reason had been
allowed to remain in forest. The regiment was ordered to cover its
front with skirmishers and to hold its position at all hazards.
Ricketts's division had bivouacked in a wood east of Doubleday's.
Its three brigades (Duryea's, Hartsuff's, and Christian's) were
deployed on the left of Doubleday, and were to march toward the
Dunker Church through the East Wood, passing the line of Seymour's
brigade, which was then to become its support.

The Confederates opened a rapid artillery fire from the open ground
in front of the Dunker Church as well as from Stuart's position, and
Hooker answered the challenge by an immediate order for his line to
advance. Doubleday directed Gibbon, who was on the right, to guide
upon the turnpike. Patrick remained for a time in the wood north of
the Miller house, till he should be needed at the front. [Footnote:
Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 224.] Doubleday and his
brigade commanders seem to have supposed that Meade's men occupied
part at least of the West Wood, and that they would cover Gibbon's
flank as he advanced. This belief was based on the stationing of the
Tenth Pennsylvania Reserves; but that regiment was fifteen or twenty
rods north of the northern end of the West Wood, and Gibbon's right
flank, as he advanced, was soon exposed to attack from Ewell's
division (Lawton in command), which held the wood, hidden from view
and perfectly protected by the slope of the ground and the forest,
as they looked over the rim into the undulating open fields in
front. Part of Battery B, Fourth United States Artillery (Gibbon's
own battery), was run forward to Miller's barn and stack-yard on the
right of the road, and fired over the heads of the advancing
regiments. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 229, 248.] Other batteries were
similarly placed, more to the left, and our cannon roared from all
the hill crests encircling the field. The line moved swiftly forward
through Miller's orchard and kitchen garden, breaking through a
stout picket fence on the near side, down into the moist ground of
the hollow, and up through the corn which was higher than their
heads and shut out everything from view. [Footnote: Dawes, Sixth
Wisconsin, p. 88.] At the southern side of the field they came to a
low fence, beyond which was the open field already mentioned, and
the enemy's line at the further side of it. But the cornfield only
covered part of the line, and Gibbon's right had outmarched the
left, which had been exposed to a terrible fire. The direction taken
had been a little oblique, so that the right wing of the Sixth
Wisconsin (the flanking regiment) had crossed the turnpike and was
suddenly assailed by a sharp fire from the West Wood on its flank.
They swung back into the road, lying down along the high, stout
post-and-rail fence, keeping up their fire by shooting between the
rails. [Footnote: Dawes, Sixth Wisconsin, p. 89.]

Leaving this little band to protect their right, the main line,
which had come up on the left, leaped the fence at the south edge of
the cornfield, and charged up hill across the open at the enemy in
front. But the concentrated fire of artillery and musketry was more
than they could bear. Men fell by scores and hundreds, and the
thinned lines gave way and ran for the shelter of the corn. They
were rallied in the hollow on the north side of the field. The enemy
had rapidly extended his left under cover of the West Wood, and now
made a dash at the right flank and at Gibbon's exposed guns. His men
on the right faced by that flank and followed him bravely, though
with little order, in a dash at the Confederates who were swarming
out of the wood. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 91.] The gunners
double-charged the cannon with canister, and under a terrible fire
of artillery and rifles Lawton's division broke and sought shelter.
[Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 248.]

Patrick's brigade had now come up in support of Gibbon, and was sent
across the turnpike into the West Wood to cover that flank, two
regiments of Gibbon's going with him. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 243.] His
men pushed forward, the enemy retiring, until they were in advance
of the principal line in the cornfield upon which the Confederates
of Jackson's division were now marching to attack. Patrick faced his
brigade to the left, parallel to the edge of the wood and to the
turnpike, and poured his fire into the flank of the enemy, following
it by a charge through the field and up to the fence along the road.
Again the Confederates were driven back, but their left came forward
in the wood again, attacking Patrick's right, forcing him to resume
his original direction of front and to retire to the cover of a
rocky ledge in the open at right angles to the turnpike not far from
the northern end of the timber. Phelps's brigade had gone forward
with Gibbon's, pushing nearly to the Confederate lines, and being
driven back with great loss when they charged over open ground
against the enemy.

Ricketts's division advanced from the wood in which it had spent the
night, passed through Seymour's skirmishers and entered the East
Wood, swinging his left forward as he went. This grove was open, but
the rocks made perfect cover for Jackson's men, and every stone and
tree blazed with deadly fire. Hartsuff endeavored to reconnoitre the
ground, but was wounded and disabled immediately. Ricketts pushed
on, suffering fearfully from an enemy which in open order could fall
back from rock to rock and from tree to tree with little comparative
loss. He succeeded at last in reaching the west edge of this wood,
forming along the road and fences that were just within its margin.
Here he kept up a rapid fire till his ammunition was exhausted.
[Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 258.]

When Doubleday's men had been finally repulsed, our line on the
right curved from the ledge where Patrick took refuge, forward in
front of Miller's orchard and garden, part of Gibbon's men lying
down along the turnpike fence facing to the west. Meade's two
brigades in reserve were sent forward, but when they reached Gibbon
and Phelps, Ricketts was calling for assistance in the East Wood and
Magilton's brigade was sent to him, leaving a gap on the left of
Anderson. Another gallant effort was now made, Seymour's depleted
brigade striving to cover the opening, but the enemy dashed at it as
Anderson came up the slope, and the left being taken in flank, the
whole broke again to the rear. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 269, 270.]
Ricketts's right was also imperilled, and he withdrew his exhausted
lines to reorganize and to fill their empty cartridge-boxes. There
was a lull in the battle, and the combatants on both sides were
making desperate efforts to reform their broken regiments.

Mansfield had called the Twelfth Corps to arms at the first sound of
Hooker's battle and marched to his aid. [Footnote: Official Records,
vol. xix. pt. i. p. 475.] It consisted of two divisions, Williams's
and Greene's, the first of two and the other of three brigades.
There were a number of new and undrilled regiments in the command,
and in hastening to the front in columns of battalions in mass,
proper intervals for deployment had not been preserved, and time was
necessarily lost before the troops could be put in line. Indeed,
some of them were not regularly deployed at all. They had left their
bivouac at sunrise which, as it was about the equinox, was not far
from six o'clock. They had marched across the country without
reference to roads, always a very slow mode of advancing, and doubly
so with undrilled men. The untrained regiments must, in the nature
of things, have been very much like a mob when their so-called
columns-in-mass approached the field of battle. It is impossible to
reconcile the statements of the reports as to the time they became
engaged. General Williams says they were engaged before seven
o'clock. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 476.] General Meade says they relieved
his men not earlier than ten or eleven. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 270.]
It seems to be guesswork in both cases, and we are forced to judge
from circumstantial evidence. Ricketts thinks he had been fighting
four hours when he retired for lack of ammunition, and the Twelfth
Corps men had not yet reached him. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 259.]
Patrick, on the extreme right, says that his men had made their
coffee in the lull after his retreat to the sheltering ledge of
rocks, and had completed their breakfast before the first of
Mansfield's men joined him there. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 244.] The
circumstantial details given by several officers make the interval
between the attack by the Twelfth Corps and the arrival of Sumner a
very short one. It may be regarded as probable, therefore, that
Hooker's battle covered the larger part of the time between six
o'clock and the arrival of Sumner at about ten.

On reaching the field, Mansfield had a brief consultation with
Hooker, resulting in his ordering Williams to form his division
nearly as Doubleday's had been, and to advance with his right upon
the turnpike. He himself led forward the left of Crawford's brigade,
which was the first to arrive, and pushed toward the East Wood. The
regiments were still in columns of companies, and though Williams
had ordered them deployed, the corps commander himself, as Crawford
says, countermanded this order and led them under fire in column.
[Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 484.] He evidently
believed Ricketts's men to be still holding the East Wood, and tried
to keep his own from opening fire upon the troops that were seen
there. At this moment he was mortally wounded, before the deployment
was made.

General Alpheus S. Williams, on whom the command devolved, was a
cool and experienced officer. He hastened the deployment of
Crawford's and Gordon's brigades of his own division, sending one of
the new and large regiments to assist the Pennsylvania regiment in
holding the important position covering the right beyond the
turnpike. As Greene's division came up, he ordered him to form
beyond Gordon's left, and when deployed to move on the Dunker Church
through the East Wood, guiding his left by the cloud of smoke from
the Mumma house, which had been set on fire by D. H. Hill's men.
[Footnote: _Id_., pp. 475, 1033.] At Doubleday's request, he
detached Goodrich's brigade from Greene, and sent it to Patrick on
the right with orders to advance into the West Wood from its
northern extremity. Patrick says the regiments came separately and
at considerable intervals, [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix.
pt. i. p. 244.] and it is not unlikely that the older regiments were
sent in to relieve Hooker's men as fast as they were ready, and the
more disorganized ones were obliged to delay till they could be got
into some sort of shape. Williams made his first disposition of his
troops according to Hooker's suggestion, but the latter received a
serious wound in the foot, as it would seem, before the attack by
the Twelfth Corps had begun. Hooker turned over the command to
Meade, and a formal order confirming this was issued from
McClellan's head-quarters later in the day. [Footnote: _Id_., pt.
ii. p. 315.]

So many of the regiments were carried under fire while still in
column that not only was the formation of the line an irregular one,
but the deployment when made was more diagonal to the turnpike than
Hooker's had been, and the whole line faced more to the westward.
But they advanced with a courage equal to the heroism already shown
on that field. The Confederates who now held the open space at the
Dunker Church were Hood's two brigades, and the rest of Jackson's
corps extended into the West Wood. Stuart had found his artillery
position on the hill too far from Jackson's line, and the fighting
was so near the church that he could not fire upon our men without
hurting his own. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. i. p. 820.] He therefore
moved further to the south and west, and Early carried his brigade
(except the Thirteenth Virginia) back toward Ewell's division, which
now came under his command by the disabling of General Lawton in the
fight. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 968, 969.]

Williams's first line was a good deal shortened, and the divisions,
guiding as well as they could upon Greene, crowded so far to the
south that even Crawford's brigade, which was on the right of all,
went partly through the East Wood advancing on a line nearly at
right angles to the turnpike. The enemy had followed Ricketts's
retiring battalions and were again in occupation of the East Wood.
His work was to be done over again, though the stubborn courage of
Hood's depleted brigades could not make up for the numbers which the
National officers now led against him. But the rocks, the ledges,
and the trees still gave him such cover that it was at a fearful
cost that the Twelfth Corps men pushed him steadily back and then by
a final rush drove him from the roads which skirted the grove on
west and south. What was left of Jackson's corps except Early's
brigade had come out of the West Wood to meet Crawford's division,
and the stout high fences along the turnpike were the scene of
frightful slaughter. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i.
pp. 485, 487.] The Confederates tried to climb them, but the level
fire of our troops swept over the field so that the top of the fence
seemed in the most deadly line of the leaden storm, and the men in
gray fell in windrows along its panels. Our own men were checked by
the same obstacle, and lay along the ground shooting between the
rails and over the fallen bodies of the Confederate soldiers which
made a sort of rampart.

In obedience to his original orders, Greene took ground a little
more to his left, occupying a line along a fence from the burning
Mumma house to the road leading from the East Wood directly to the
Dunker Church. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 505.] The two brigades with
thinned ranks barely filled this space, and Crawford's division
connected with them as well as it could. Batteries came forward on
Greene's left and right, and helped to sweep the grove around the
church. Hill attempted to hold him back, and a bold dash was made at
Greene, probably by Hill's left brigades which were ordered forward
to support Hood. Greene's men lay on the ground just under the ridge
above the burning house till the enemy were within a few rods of
them, then rose and delivered a volley which an eyewitness (Major
Crane, Seventh Ohio) says cut them down "like grass before the
mower." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 506.] Those
who escaped sought refuge in the wood behind the church, where the
crowning ridge is some distance back from the road. Greene now
dashed forward and gained the grove immediately about the church,
where he held on for an hour or two. Crawford's division, after
several ebbs and flows in the tide of battle, was holding the
western skirt of the East wood with one or two of its regiments
still close to the turnpike fence on his right.

Meanwhile Goodrich had been trying to advance from the north end of
the West Wood to attack the flank of the enemy there; but Early with
his own brigade held the ledges along the ravine so stubbornly that
he was making little progress.

Greene was calling for support about the Dunker Church, for he was
close under the ridge on which Hill and Jackson were forming such
line as they could, and he was considerably in advance of our other
troops. Williams withdrew one regiment from Goodrich's brigade and
sent it to Greene, and directed Crawford to send also to him the
Thirteenth New Jersey, a new and strong regiment which had been left
in reserve, as we have seen, in a bit of wood northeast of the field
of battle. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 476, 505.] Gordon's brigade was
withdrawn by Crawford to enable it to reorganize in rear of the East
Wood, and Crawford's own brigade held the further margin of it. It
will thus be seen that the Twelfth Corps was now divided into three
portions,--Greene's division at the church, Crawford's in the East
Wood, and Goodrich's brigade near the north end of the West Wood.

Meade had withdrawn the First Corps to the ridge at Poffenberger's,
where it had bivouacked the night before, except that Patrick's
brigade remained in support of Goodrich. The corps had suffered
severely, having lost 2470 in killed and wounded, but it was still
further depleted by straggling, so that Meade reported less than
7000 men with the colors that evening. [Footnote: Official Records,
vol. xix. pt. ii. p. 349.] Its organization had been preserved,
however, and the story that it was utterly dispersed was a mistake.
The Twelfth Corps also had its large list of casualties, increased a
little later by its efforts to support Sumner, and aggregating,
before the day was over, 1746.

But the fighting of Hooker's and Mansfield's men, though lacking
unity of force and of purpose, had also cost the enemy dear. J. R.
Jones, who commanded Jackson's division, had been wounded; Starke,
who succeeded Jones, was killed; Lawton, who commanded Ewell's
division, was wounded. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. i. p. 956.] Lawton's
and Trimble's brigades had been fearfully crippled in the first
fight against Hooker on the plateau between the Dunker Church and
the East Wood, and Hood was sent back to relieve them. [Footnote:
_Id_., p. 923.] He, in turn, had been reinforced by the brigades of
Ripley, Colquitt, and McRae (Garland's) from D. H. Hill's division.
[Footnote: _Id_., p. 1022.] When Greene reached the Dunker Church,
therefore, the Confederates on that wing were more nearly
disorganized than our own troops. Nearly half their numbers were
killed and wounded, and Jackson's famous "Stonewall" division was so
completely broken up that only a handful of men under Colonels
Grigsby and Stafford remained, and attached themselves to Early's
command. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 969.] Of the division now under Early,
his own brigade was all that retained much strength, and this,
posted among the rocks in the West Wood and vigorously supported by
Stuart and the artillery on that flank, was all that covered the
left of Lee's army. Could Hooker and Mansfield have attacked
together, or, still better, could Sumner's Second Corps have marched
before day and united with the first onset, Lee's left must
inevitably have been crushed long before the Confederate divisions
of McLaws, Walker, and A. P. Hill could have reached the field. It
is this failure to carry out any intelligible plan which the
historian must regard as the unpardonable military fault on the
National side. To account for the hours between daybreak and eight
o'clock on that morning, is the most serious responsibility of the
National commander. [Footnote: A distinguished officer (understood
to be Gen. R. R. Dawes) who visited the field in 1866 has published
the statement that at the Pry house, where McClellan had his
headquarters, he was informed that on the morning of the 17th the
general rose at about seven o'clock and breakfasted leisurely after
that hour. (Marietta, Ohio, Sentinel.)]

Sumner's Second Corps was now approaching the scene of action, or
rather two divisions of it, Sedgwick's and French's, for
Richardson's was still delayed till his place could be filled by
Porter's troops. Although ordered to be ready to move at daybreak,
Sumner emphasizes in his report the fact that whilst his command was
prepared to move at the time ordered, he "did not receive from
headquarters the order to march till 7.20 A. M." [Footnote: Official
Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 275.] By the time he could reach the
field, Hooker had fought his battle and had been repulsed. The same
strange tardiness in sending orders is noticeable in regard to every
part of the army, and Richardson was not relieved so that he could
follow French till an hour or two later. [Footnote: _Ibid_.]

Sumner advanced, after crossing the Antietam, in a triple column,
Sedgwick's division in front, the three brigades marching by the
right flank and parallel to each other. French followed in the same
formation. They crossed the Antietam by Hooker's route, but did not
march so far to the northwest as Hooker had done. On the way Sumner
met Hooker, who was being carried from the field, and the few words
he could exchange with the wounded general were enough to make him
feel the need of haste, but not enough to give him any clear idea of
the situation. When the centre of the corps was opposite the Dunker
Church, and nearly east of it, the change of direction was given;
the troops faced to their proper front, and advanced in line of
battle in three lines, fully deployed and sixty or seventy yards
apart, Sumner himself being in rear of Sedgwick's first line and
near its left. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p.
305.] As they approached the position held by Greene's division at
the church, French kept on so as to form on Greene's left,
[Footnote: _Id_., p. 323.] but Sedgwick, under Sumner's immediate
leading, diverged somewhat to the right, passing through the East
Wood, crossing the turnpike on the right of Greene and of the Dunker
Church, and plunged into the West Wood. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 305.]
The fences there had been destroyed by the Confederates before the
battle began, for the purpose of making room for their own
manoeuvres as well as to make barricades in front of the cornfield.
Sedgwick's right did not extend far enough north to be obstructed by
the fences where the Twelfth Corps men had lain along them in
repulsing Jackson. When he entered the wood, there were absolutely
no Confederate troops in front of him. The remnants of Jackson's
men, except Early's brigade, were clustered at the top of the ridge
immediately in front of Greene, and Early was further to the right,
opposing Goodrich and Patrick; Early, however, made haste under
cover of the woods to pass around Sedgwick's right and to get in
front of him to oppose his progress. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 970.] This
led to a lively skirmishing fight in which Early was making as great
a demonstration as possible, but with no chance of solid success.
Sedgwick pushed him back, and his left was coming obliquely into the
open at the bottom of the hollow beyond the wood, when, at the very
moment, McLaws's and Walker's Confederate divisions came upon the
field. The former had only just arrived by rapid marching from
Shepherdstown beyond the Potomac; the latter had been hastily called
away by Lee from his position on the lower Antietam opposite the
left wing of Burnside's Ninth Corps. [Footnote: Official Records,
vol. xix. pt. i. pp. 857, 914.]

Walker charged headlong upon the left flank of Sedgwick's lines, and
McLaws, passing by Walker's left, also threw his division diagonally
upon the already broken and retreating brigades. Taken at such a
disadvantage, these had never a chance; and in spite of the heroic
bravery of Sumner and Sedgwick with most of their officers (Sedgwick
being severely wounded), the division was driven off to the north
with terrible losses, carrying along in their rout Goodrich's
brigade of the Twelfth Corps which had been holding Early at bay.
Goodrich was killed, and his brigade suffered hardly less than the
others. Patrick's brigade of Hooker's corps was in good order at the
rocky ledges north of the West Wood which are at right angles to the
turnpike, and he held on stubbornly till the disorganized troops
drifted past his left, and then made an orderly retreat in line
toward the Poffenberger hill. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 245.] Meade was
already there with the remnants of Hooker's men. Here some thirty
cannon of both corps were quickly concentrated, and, supported by
everything which retained organization, easily checked the pursuers
and repulsed all efforts of Jackson and Stuart to resume the
offensive or to pass between them and the Potomac. [Footnote: _Id_.,
p. 306.]

Sumner did not accompany the routed troops to this position, but as
soon as it was plain that the division could not be rallied, he
galloped off to put himself in communication with French and with
headquarters of the army and to try to retrieve the situation. From
the flag station east of the East Wood he signalled to McClellan,
"Reinforcements are badly wanted; our troops are giving way."
[Footnote: _Id_., p. 134.] Williams was in that part of the field,
and Sumner sent a staff officer to him ordering that he should push
forward to Sedgwick's support anything he could. [Footnote: Official
Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 477.] Williams in person ordered
Gordon's brigade to advance, for this, as we have seen, had been
reorganized behind the East Wood. He sent the same order to Crawford
for the rest of that division. Crawford had withdrawn his men in the
East Wood to let Sedgwick pass diagonally along his front, and now
advanced again to the west margin of the grove. [Footnote: _Id_., p.
485.] Gordon was ahead of him in time and further to the right, and
again charged up to the turnpike fences. But the routed troops were
already swarming from the wood across his front, and their pursuers
were charging after them. Again the turnpike was made the scene of a
bloody conflict, and the bodies of many more of the slain of both
armies were added to those which already lined those fences.
Gordon's men were overpowered and fell back in the direction they
had come. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 495.] The enemy's attack spread out
toward Greene and toward Crawford, who was now at the edge of the
East Wood again; but both of these held firm, and a couple of
batteries on the rise of ground in front poured canister into the
enemy till he took refuge again in the wood beyond the church. It
was between nine and ten o'clock, probably about ten, [Footnote: The
reports on the Confederate side fix ten o'clock as the time McLaws
and Walker reached the field, and corroborate the conclusion I draw
from all other available evidence.] when Sumner entered the West
Wood, and in fifteen minutes or a little more the one-sided combat
was over.

Sumner's principal attack was made, as I have already indicated, at
right angles to that of Hooker. He had thus crossed the line of
Hooker's movement in both the advance and the retreat of the latter.
This led to some misconceptions on Sumner's part. Crawford's
division had retired to the right and rear to make way for Sedgwick
as he came up. It thus happened that Greene's division was the only
part of the Twelfth Corps troops Sumner saw, and he led Sedgwick's
men to the right of these. Ignorant as he necessarily was of what
had occurred before, he assumed that he formed on the extreme right
of the Twelfth Corps, and that he fronted in the same direction as
Hooker had done. This misconception of the situation led him into
another error. He had seen only stragglers and wounded men on the
line of his own advance, and hence concluded that Hooker's Corps was
completely dispersed and its division and brigade organizations
broken up. He not only gave this report to McClellan at the time,
but reiterated it later in his statement before the Committee on the
Conduct of the War. [Footnote: C. W., vol. i. p. 368.] The truth was
that he had marched westward more than a mile south of the
Poffenberger hill where Meade was with the sadly diminished but
still organized First Corps, and half that distance south of the
Miller farm buildings, near which Goodrich's brigade had entered the
north end of the West Wood, and in front of which part of Williams's
men had held the ground along the turnpike till they were relieved
by Sedgwick's advance. Sedgwick had gone in, therefore, between
Greene and Crawford, and the four divisions of the two corps
alternated in their order from left to right, thus: French, Greene,
Sedgwick, Crawford, the last being Williams's, of which Crawford was
in command.

It was not Sumner's fault that he was so ill-informed of the actual
situation on our right; but it is plain that in the absence of
McClellan from that part of the field he should have left the
personal leadership of the men to the division commanders, and
should himself have found out by rapid examination the positions of
all the troops operating there. It was his part to combine and give
intelligent direction to the whole, instead of charging forward at
haphazard with Sedgwick's division. Both Meade and Williams had men
enough in hand to have joined in a concerted movement with him; and
had he found either of those officers before plunging into the West
Wood, he would not have taken a direction which left his flank
wholly exposed, with the terrible but natural results which
followed. The original cause of the mischief, however, was
McClellan's failure to send Sumner to his position before daybreak,
so that the three corps could have acted together from the beginning
of Hooker's attack.

But we must return to Sumner's divisions, which were advancing
nearer the centre. The battle on the extreme right was ended by ten
o'clock in the morning, and there was no more serious fighting north
of the Dunker Church. The batteries on the Poffenberger hill and
those about the East Wood swept the open ground and the cornfield
over which Hooker and Mansfield had fought, and for some time Greene
was able to make good his position at the church. The Confederates
were content to hold the line of the West Wood and the high ground
back of the church, and French's attack upon D. H. Hill was now
attracting their attention. French advanced toward Greene's left,
over the open farm lands, and after a fierce combat about the
Rullett and Clipp farm buildings, drove Hill's division from them.
[Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 323.] At what time
the Confederates made a rush at Greene and drove him back to the
edge of the East Wood is uncertain; but it must have been soon after
the disaster to Sedgwick. It seems to have been an incident of the
aggressive movement against Sedgwick, though not coincident with it.
It must certainly have been before French's advance reached the
Rullett and Clipp houses, for the enemy's men holding them would
have been far in rear of Greene at the church, and he must by that
time have been back near the burnt house of Mumma and the angle of
the East Wood. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 505.
Greene says that he held the ground at the church for two hours, and
that his men were in action from 6.30 A. M. to 1.30 P. M. The length
of time and hours of the day are so irreconcilable as given in
different reports that we are forced to trust more to the general
current of events than to the time stated.]

Richardson's division followed French after an hour or two,
[Footnote: Hancock says the division crossed the Antietam about
9.30. Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 277.] and then, foot by
foot, field by field, from fence to fence, and from hill to hill,
the enemy was pressed back, till the sunken road, since known as
"Bloody Lane," was in our hands, piled full of the Confederate dead
who had defended it with their lives. Richardson had been mortally
wounded, and Hancock had been sent from Franklin's corps to command
the division. Colonel Barlow had been conspicuous in the thickest of
the fight, and after a series of brilliant actions had been carried
off desperately wounded. On the Confederate side equal courage and a
magnificent tenacity had been exhibited. Men who had fought
heroically in one position no sooner found themselves free from the
struggle of an assault than they were hurried away to repeat their
exertions, without even a breathing-spell, on another part of the
field. They exhausted their ammunition, and still grimly held
crests, as Longstreet tells us, with their bayonets, but without a
single cartridge in their boxes. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 840.] The
story of the fight at this part of the field is simpler than that of
the early morning, for there was no such variety in the character of
the ground or in the tactics of the opposing forces. It was a
sustained advance with continuous struggle, sometimes ebbing a
moment, then gaining, but with the organization pretty well
preserved and the lines kept fairly continuous on both sides. Our
men fought their way up to the Piper house, near the turnpike, and
that position marks the advance made by our centre. [Footnote:
Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 279.] The crest of the ridge
on which the Hagerstown turnpike runs had been secured from Piper's
north to Miller's, and it was held until the Confederate retreat on
the 19th.

The head of Franklin's Corps (the Sixth) had arrived about ten
o'clock, and had taken the position near the Sharpsburg bridge,
which Sumner had occupied in the night. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 376.]
Before noon Smith's and Slocum's divisions were both ordered to
Sumner's assistance. As they passed by the farm buildings in front
of the East Wood, the enemy made a dash at Greene and French. Smith
ordered forward Irwin's brigade to their support, and Irwin charged
gallantly, driving the assailants back to the cover of the woods
about the church. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 402, 409.] Franklin's men
then formed under the crest already mentioned, from "Bloody Lane" by
the Clipp, Rullett, and Mumma houses to the East Wood and the ridge
in front. The aggressive energy of both sides seemed exhausted.
French and Richardson's battle may be considered as ended at one or
two o'clock. There was no fighting later but that on the extreme
left, where Burnside's Ninth Corps was engaged, and we must turn our
attention to that part of the field.



Ninth Corps positions near Antietam Creek--Rodman's division at
lower ford--Sturgis's at the bridge--Burnside's headquarters on the
field--View from his place of the battle on the right--French's
fight--An exploding caisson--Our orders to attack--The hour--Crisis
of the battle--Discussion of the sequence of events--The Burnside
bridge--Exposed approach--Enfiladed by enemy's
artillery--Disposition of enemy's troops--His position very
strong--Importance of Rodman's movement by the ford--The fight at
the bridge--Repulse--Fresh efforts--Tactics of the
assault--Success--Formation on further bank--Bringing up
ammunition--Willcox relieves Sturgis--The latter now in
support--Advance against Sharpsburg--Fierce combat--Edge of the town
reached--Rodman's advance on the left--A. P. Hill's Confederate
division arrives from Harper's Ferry--Attacks Rodman's flank--A raw
regiment breaks--The line retires--Sturgis comes into the
gap--Defensive position taken and held--Enemy's assaults
repulsed--Troops sleeping on their arms--McClellan's reserve--Other
troops not used--McClellan's idea of Lee's force and plans--Lee's
retreat--The terrible casualty lists.

We have seen that the divisions of the Ninth Corps were conducted by
staff officers of Burnside's staff to positions that had been
indicated by McClellan and marked by members of his staff. The
morning of Wednesday the 17th broke fresh and fair. The men were
astir at dawn, getting breakfast and preparing for a day of battle.
The artillery fire which opened Hooker's battle on the right spread
along the whole line, and the positions which had been assigned us
in the dusk of evening were found to be exposed, in some places, to
the direct fire of the Confederate guns. Rodman's division suffered
more than the others, Fairchild's brigade alone reporting thirty-six
casualties before they could find cover. [Footnote: Official
Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 451.] My own tents had been pitched at
the edge of a little grove of forest trees, and the headquarters
mess was at breakfast at sunrise when the cannonade began. The rapid
explosion of shrapnel about us hastened our morning meal; the tents
were struck and loaded upon the wagons, horses were saddled, and
everything made ready for the contingencies of the day. It was not
till seven o'clock that orders came to advance toward the creek as
far as could be done without exposing the men to unnecessary loss.
[Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 424.] Rodman was
directed to acquaint himself with the situation of the ford in front
of him, and Sturgis to seek the best means of approach to the stone
bridge. All were then to remain in readiness to obey further orders.

When these arrangements had been made, I rode to the position
Burnside had selected for himself, which was upon a high knoll
northeast of the Burnside bridge, near a haystack which was a
prominent landmark. Near by was Benjamin's battery of twenty-pounder
Parrotts, and a little further still to the right, on the same
ridge, General Sturgis had sent in Durell's battery. [Footnote:
_Ibid_.] These were exchanging shots with the enemy's guns opposite,
and had the advantage in range and weight of metal. At this point I
remained until the order for our attack came, later in the day. We
anxiously watched what we could see at the right, and noted the
effect of the fire of the heavy guns of Benjamin's battery. We could
see nothing distinctly that occurred beyond the Dunker Church, for
the East and West Woods with farm-houses and orchards between made
an impenetrable screen. A column of smoke stood over the burning
Mumma house, marking plainly its situation.

As the morning wore on, we saw lines of troops advancing from our
right upon the other side of the Antietam, and engaging the enemy
between us and the East Wood. The Confederate lines facing them now
also rose into view. From our position we looked, as it were, down
between the opposing lines as if they had been the sides of a
street, and as the fire opened we saw wounded men carried to the
rear and stragglers making off. Our lines halted, and we were
tortured with anxiety as we speculated whether our men would charge
or retreat. The enemy occupied lines of fences and stone walls, and
their batteries made gaps in the National ranks. Our long-range guns
were immediately turned in that direction, and we cheered every
well-aimed shot. One of our shells blew up a caisson close to the
Confederate line. This contest was going on, and it was yet
uncertain which would succeed, when one of McClellan's staff rode up
with an order to Burnside. The latter turned to me, saying we were
ordered to make our attack. I left the hill-top at once to give
personal supervision to the movement ordered, and did not return to
it. My knowledge by actual vision of what occurred on the right

The question at what hour Burnside received this order, has been
warmly disputed. The manner in which we had waited, the free
discussion of what was occurring under our eyes and of our relation
to it, the public receipt of the order by Burnside in the usual and
business-like form, all forbid the supposition that this was any
reiteration of a former order.
[Footnote: I leave this as originally written, although the order
itself has since come to light; for the discussion of the
circumstantial evidence may be useful in determining the value of
McClellan's report of 1863 where it differs in other respects from
his original report of 1862 and from other contemporaneous

September 17, 1862,--9.10 A. M.

GENERAL,--General Franklin's command is within one mile and a half
of here. General McClellan desires you to open your attack. As soon
as you shall have uncovered the upper stone bridge you will be
supported, and, if necessary, on your own line of attack. So far all
is going well.

Respectfully, GEO. D. RUGGLES, Colonel, etc."

This order appears in the supplementary volume of the Official
Records, vol. li. pt. i. p. 844. From Pry's house, where McClellan's
headquarters were that day, to Burnside's, was over two miles as the
crow flies. This establishes the accuracy of the original reports of
both, which stated the hour of receipt at ten o'clock. It
corroborates also the time of Franklin's arrival on the field, and
the connection of this with Burnside's advance.]
If then we can determine whose troops we saw engaged, we shall know
something of the time of day; for there has been a general agreement
reached as to the hours of movement of Sumner's divisions during the
forenoon on the right and right centre. The official map settles
this. No lines of our troops were engaged in the direction of Bloody
Lane and the Rullett farm-house, and between the latter and our
station on the hill, till French's division made its attack. We saw
them distinctly on the hither side of the farm buildings, upon the
open ground, considerably nearer to us than the Dunker Church or the
East Wood. In number we took them to be a corps. The place, the
circumstances, all fix it beyond controversy that they were French's
men or French's and Richardson's. No others fought on that part of
the field until Franklin went to their assistance at noon or later.
The incident of their advance and the explosion of the caisson was
illustrated by the pencil of Mr. Forbes on the spot, and was placed
by him at the time Franklin's head of column was approaching from
the direction of Rohrersville, which was about ten o'clock.
[Footnote: Forbes's sketch is reproduced in "Battles and Leaders of
the Civil War," vol. ii. p. 647, and is of historical importance in
connection with the facts stated above.]

It seems now very clear that about ten o'clock in the morning was
the great crisis in this battle. The sudden and complete rout of
Sedgwick's division was not easily accounted for, and, with
McClellan's theory of the enormous superiority of Lee's numbers, it
looked as if the Confederate general had massed overwhelming forces
on our right. Sumner's notion that Hooker's corps was utterly
dispersed was naturally accepted, and McClellan limited his hopes to
holding on at the East Wood and the Poffenberger hill, where
Hooker's batteries were massed and supported by the troops that had
been rallied there. Franklin's corps, as it came on the field, was
detained to support the threatened right centre, and McClellan
determined to help it further by a demonstration upon the extreme
left by the Ninth Corps. At this time, therefore, he gave his order
to Burnside to cross the Antietam and attack the enemy, thus
creating a diversion in favor of our hard-pressed right. His
preliminary report of the battle (dated October 16, 1862) explicitly
states that the order to Burnside to attack was "communicated to him
at ten o'clock A.M." This exactly agrees with the time stated by
Burnside in his official report, and would ordinarily be quite
conclusive. [Footnote: See note, p. 334, _ante_. C. W., pt. i. p.
41; Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. pp. 31, 416.]

In the book published in 1864 as his official report of his whole
military career, McClellan says he ordered Burnside to make this
attack at eight o'clock. The circumstances under which his final
published statements were made take away from them the character of
a calm and judicial correction of his first report. He was then a
general set aside from active service and a political aspirant to
the Presidency. His book was a controversial one, issued as an
argument to the public, and the earlier report must be regarded in a
military point of view as the more authoritative unless good grounds
are given for the changes. When he wrote his preliminary report he
certainly knew the hour and the condition of affairs on the field
when he gave the order to Burnside. To do so at eight o'clock would
not accord with his plan of battle. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 30, 55.]
His purpose had been to move the Ninth Corps against the enemy "when
matters looked favorably" on our right, after an attack by Hooker,
Mansfield, and Sumner, supported, if necessary, by Franklin. But
Sumner's attack was not made till after nine, and Franklin's head of
column did not reach the field till ten. McClellan's book, indeed,
erroneously postpones Franklin's arrival till past noon, which, if
true, would tend to explain why the day wore away without any
further activity on the right; but the preliminary report better
agrees with Franklin's when it says that officer reached the field
about an hour after Sedgwick's disaster. [Footnote: Official
Records, vol. xix. pt. i. pp. 30, 61, 376.]

Still further, matters had at no time "looked favorably" on the
right up to ten o'clock. The condition, therefore, which was assumed
as precedent to Burnside's movement, never existed; and this was
better known to McClellan than to any one else, for he received the
first discouraging reports after Mansfield fell, and the subsequent
alarming ones when Sedgwick was routed. Burnside's report was dated
on the 30th of September, within two weeks of the battle, and at a
time when public discussion of the incomplete results of the battle
was animated. It was made after he had in his hands my own report as
his immediate subordinate, in which I had given about nine o'clock
as my remembrance of the time. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 424.] As I
directed the details of the action at the bridge in obedience to
this order, it would have been easy for him to have accepted the
hour named by me, for I should have been answerable for any delay in
execution after that time. But he then had in his possession the
order which came to him upon the hill-top overlooking the field, and
no officer in the whole army has a better established reputation for
candor and freedom from any wish to avoid full personal
responsibility for his acts. It was not till his report was
published in the Official Records (1887) [Footnote: _Id_., p. 416.]
that I saw it or learned its contents, although I enjoyed his
personal friendship down to his death. He was content to have stated
the fact as he knew it, and did not feel the need of debating it.
The circumstances have satisfied me that his accuracy in giving the
hour was greater than my own. [Footnote: Upon reflection, I think it
probable that the order from McClellan was read to me, and that I
thus got the hour of its date connected in my mind with the
beginning of our attack.]

It will not be wondered at, therefore, if to my mind the story of
the eight o'clock order is an instance of the way in which an
erroneous recollection is based upon the desire to make the facts
accord with a theory. The actual time must have been as much later
than nine o'clock as the period during which, with absorbed
attention, we had been watching the battle on the right,--a period,
it is safe to say, much longer than it seemed to us. The judgment of
the hour which I gave in my report was merely my impression from
passing events, for I hastened at once to my own duties without
thinking to look at my watch; whilst the cumulative evidence seems
to prove, conclusively, that the time stated by Burnside, and by
McClellan himself in his original report, is correct. The order,
then, to Burnside to attack was not sent at eight o'clock, but
reached him at ten; it was not sent to follow up an advantage gained
by Hooker and Sumner, but to create, if possible, a strong diversion
in favor of the imperilled right wing when the general outlook was
far from reassuring.

McClellan truly said, in his original report, that the task of
carrying the bridge in front of Burnside was a difficult one.
[Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 31.] The hill on
which I have placed the station of General Burnside was the bolder
and more prominent crest of the line of hills which skirted the
Antietam on the east, and was broken by depressions here and there,
through which the country roads ran down to the stream. Such a
hollow was just at the south of Burnside's position at the haystack
on the Rohrback farm. In rear of him and a little lower down were
the farm buildings, and from these a road ran down the winding
hollow to the Antietam, but reached the stream several hundred yards
below the bridge. Following the road, therefore, it was necessary to
turn up stream upon the narrow space between the hills and the
water, without any cover from the fire of the enemy on the opposite
side. The bluffs on that side were wooded to the water's edge, and
were so steep that the road from the bridge could not go up at right
angles to the bank, but forked both ways and sought the upper land
by a more gradual ascent to right and left. The fork to the right
ran around a shoulder of the hill into a ravine which there reaches
the Antietam, and thence ascends by an easy grade toward Sharpsburg.
The left branch of the road rises by a similar but less marked

These roads were faced by stone fences, and the depth of the valley
and its course made it impossible to reach the enemy's position at
the bridge by artillery fire from the hill-tops on our side. Not so
from the enemy's position, for the curve of the valley was such that
it was perfectly enfiladed near the bridge by the Confederate
batteries at the position now occupied by the National Cemetery. The
bridge itself was a stone structure of three arches with stone
parapets on the sides. These curved outward at the end of the bridge
to allow for the turn of the roadway. On the enemy's side, the stone
fences came down close to the bridge.

The Confederate defence of the passage was intrusted to D. R.
Jones's division of six brigades, [Footnote: Official Records, vol.
xix. pt. i. p. 804.] which was the one Longstreet himself had
disciplined and led till he was assigned to a larger command.
Toombs's brigade was placed in advance, occupying the defences of
the bridge itself and the wooded slopes above, while the other
brigades supported him, covered by the ridges which looked down upon
the valley. The division batteries were supplemented by others from
the enemy's reserve, and the valley, the bridge, and the ford below
were under the direct and powerful fire of shot and shell from the
Confederate cannon. Toombs's force, thus strongly supported, was as
large as could be disposed of at the head of the bridge, and
abundantly large for resistance to any that could be brought against
it. Our advance upon the bridge could only be made by a narrow
column, showing a front of eight men at most; but the front which
Toombs deployed behind his defences was three or four hundred yards
both above and below the bridge. He himself says in his report:
[Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 890.] "From the
nature of the ground on the other side, the enemy were compelled to
approach mainly by the road which led up the river near three
hundred paces parallel with my line of battle and distant therefrom
from fifty to a hundred and fifty feet, thus exposing his flank to a
destructive fire the most of that distance." Under such
circumstances the Confederate position was nearly impregnable
against a direct attack over the bridge; for the column approaching
it was not only exposed at almost pistol-range to the perfectly
covered infantry of the enemy and to two batteries which were
assigned to the special duty of supporting Toombs, having the exact
range of the little valley with their shrapnel; but, if it should
succeed in reaching the bridge, its charge across it must be made
under a fire ploughing through its length, the head of the column
melting away as it advanced, so that, as every soldier knows, it
could show no front strong enough to make an impression upon the
enemy's breastworks, even if it should reach the other side. As a
desperate sort of diversion in favor of the right wing, it might be
justifiable; but I believe that no officer or man who knew the
actual situation at that bridge thinks that a serious attack upon it
was any part of McClellan's original plan. Yet, in his detailed
report of 1863, instead of speaking of it as the difficult task the
original report had called it, he treats it as little different from
a parade or march across which might have been done in half an hour.

Burnside's view of the matter was that the front attack at the
bridge was so difficult that the passage by the ford below must be
an important factor in the task; for if Rodman's division should
succeed in getting across there, at the bend of the Antietam, he
would come up in rear of Toombs, and either the whole of D. R.
Jones's division would have to advance to meet Rodman, or Toombs
must abandon the bridge. In this I certainly concurred, and Rodman
was ordered to push rapidly for the ford. It is important to
remember, however, that Walker's Confederate division had been
posted during the earlier morning to hold that part of the Antietam
line, supporting Toombs as well, [Footnote: Official Records, vol.
xix. pt. i. p. 914.] and it was probably from him that Rodman
suffered the first casualties that occurred in his ranks. But, as we
have seen, Walker had been called away by Lee only an hour before,
and had made the hasty march by the rear of Sharpsburg to fall upon
Sedgwick. If therefore Rodman had been sent to cross at eight
o'clock, it is safe to say that his column, fording the stream in
the face of Walker's deployed division, would never have reached the
further bank,--a contingency that McClellan did not consider when
arguing, long afterward, the favorable results that might have
followed an earlier attack. As Rodman died upon the field, no full
report for his division was made, and we only know that he met with
some resistance from both infantry and artillery; that the winding
of the stream made his march longer than he anticipated, and that,
in fact, he only approached the rear of Toombs's position from that
direction about the time when our last and successful charge upon
the bridge was made, between noon and one o'clock.

The attacks at the Burnside bridge were made under my own eye.
Sturgis's division occupied the centre of our line, with Crook's
brigade of the Kanawha division on his right front, and Willcox's
division in reserve, as I have already stated. Crook's position was
somewhat above the bridge, but it was thought that by advancing part
of Sturgis's men to the brow of the hill, they could cover the
advance of Crook, and that the latter could make a straight dash
down the hill to our end of the bridge. The orders were accordingly
given, and Crook advanced, covered by the Eleventh Connecticut (of
Rodman's) under Colonel Kingsbury, deployed as skirmishers.
[Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. pp. 419, 424.] In
passing over the spurs of the hills, Crook came out on the bank of
the stream above the bridge and found himself under a heavy fire at
short range. He faced the enemy and returned the fire, getting such
cover for his men as he could and trying to drive off or silence his
opponents. The engagement was one in which the Antietam prevented
the combatants from coming to close quarters, but it was none the
less vigorously continued with musketry fire. Crook reported that
his hands were full and that he could not approach closer to the
bridge. Later in the contest, his men, lining the stream, made
experiments in trying to get over, and found a fordable place a
little way above, by which he got over five companies of the
Twenty-eighth Ohio at about the same time as the final and
successful charge. But on the failure of Crook's first effort,
Sturgis ordered forward an attacking column from Nagle's brigade,
supported and covered by Ferrero's brigade, which took position in a
field of corn on one of the lower slopes of the hill opposite the
head of the bridge. The whole front was carefully covered with
skirmishers, and our batteries on the heights overhead were ordered
to keep down the fire of the enemy's artillery. Nagle's effort was
gallantly made, but it failed, and his men were forced to seek cover
behind the spur of the hill from which they had advanced. [Footnote:
Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 444.] We were constantly
hoping to hear something from Rodman's advance by the ford, and
would gladly have waited for some more certain knowledge of his
progress, but at this time McClellan's sense of the necessity of
relieving the right was such that he was sending reiterated orders
to push the assault. Not only were these forwarded to me, but to
give added weight to my instructions, Burnside sent direct to
Sturgis urgent messages to carry the bridge at all hazards.

I directed Sturgis to take two regiments from Ferrero's brigade,
which had not been engaged, and make a column by moving them
together by the flank, the one left in front and the other right in
front, side by side, so that when they passed the bridge they could
turn to left and right, forming line as they advanced on the run. He
chose the Fifty-first New York, Colonel Robert B. Potter, and the
Fifty-first Pennsylvania, Colonel John F. Hartranft (both names
afterward greatly distinguished), and both officers and men were
made to feel the necessity of success. [Footnote: _Ibid_.] At the
same time Crook succeeded in bringing a light howitzer of Simmonds's
mixed battery down from the hill-tops, and placed it where it had a
point-blank fire on the further end of the bridge. The howitzer was
one we had captured in West Virginia, and had been added to the
battery, which was partly made up of heavy rifled Parrott guns. When
everything was ready, a heavy skirmishing fire was opened all along
the bank, the howitzer threw in double charges of canister, and in
scarcely more time than it takes to tell it, the bridge was passed
and Toombs's brigade fled through the woods and over the top of the
hill. The charging regiments were advanced in line to the crest
above the bridge as soon as they were deployed, and the rest of
Sturgis's division, with Crook's brigade, were immediately brought
over to strengthen the line. These were soon joined by Rodman's
division, with Scammon's brigade, which had crossed at the ford, and
whose presence on that side of the stream had no doubt made the
final struggle of Toombs's men less obstinate than it would
otherwise have been, the fear of being taken in rear having always a
strong moral effect upon even the best of troops.

It was now about one o'clock, and nearly three hours had been spent
in a bitter and bloody contest across the narrow stream. The
successive efforts to carry the bridge had been as closely following
each other as possible. Each had been a fierce combat, in which the
men with wonderful courage had not easily accepted defeat, and even,
when not able to cross the bridge, had made use of the walls at the
end, the fences, and every tree and stone as cover, while they
strove to reach with their fire their well-protected and nearly
concealed opponents. The lulls in the fighting had been short, and
only to prepare new efforts. The severity of the work was attested
by our losses, which, before the crossing was won, exceeded 500 men,
and included some of our best officers, such as Colonel Kingsbury of
the Eleventh Connecticut, Lieutenant-Colonel Bell of the Fifty-first
Pennsylvania, and Lieutenant-Colonel Coleman of the Eleventh Ohio,
two of them commanding regiments. [Footnote: Official Records, vol.
xix. pt. i. p. 427.] The proportion of casualties to the number
engaged was much greater than common; for the nature of the combat
required that comparatively few troops should be exposed at once,
the others remaining under cover.

Our next task was to prepare to hold the heights we had gained
against the return assault of the enemy which we expected, and to
reply to the destructive fire from the enemy's abundant artillery.
Light batteries were brought over and distributed in the line. The
men were made to lie down behind the crest to save them from the
concentrated cannonade which the enemy opened upon us as soon as
Toombs's regiments succeeded in reaching their main line. But
McClellan's anticipation of an overwhelming attack upon his right
was so strong that he determined still to press our advance, and
sent orders accordingly. The ammunition of Sturgis's and Crook's men
had been nearly exhausted, and it was imperative that they should be
freshly supplied before entering into another engagement. Sturgis
also reported his men so exhausted by their efforts as to be unfit
for an immediate advance. On this I sent to Burnside the request
that Willcox's division be sent over, with an ammunition train, and
that Sturgis's division be replaced by the fresh troops, remaining,
however, on the west side of the stream as support to the others.
This was done as rapidly as was practicable, where everything had to
pass down the steep hill-road and through so narrow a defile as the
bridge. [Footnote: As a mode of ready reckoning, it is usual to
assume that a division requires an hour to march past a given point
by the flank. With the crossing of an ammunition train, the interval
of time is more than accounted for.] Still, it was three o'clock
before these changes and preparations could be made. Burnside had
personally striven to hasten them, and had come over to the west
bank to consult and to hurry matters, and took his share of personal
peril, for he came at a time when the ammunition wagons were
delivering cartridges, and the road at the end of the bridge where
they were was in the range of the enemy's constant and accurate
fire. It is proper to mention this because it has been said that he
did not cross the stream. The criticisms made by McClellan as to the
time occupied in these changes and movements will not seem forcible
if one will compare them with any similar movements on the field;
such as Mansfield's to support Hooker, or Sumner's or Franklin's to
reach the scene of action. About this, however, there is fair room
for difference of opinion: what I personally know is that it would
have been folly to advance again before Willcox had relieved
Sturgis, and that as soon as the fresh troops reported and could be
put in line, the order to advance was given. McClellan is in accord
with all other witnesses in declaring that when the movement began,
the conduct of the troops was gallant beyond criticism.

Willcox's division formed the right, Christ's brigade being north,
and Welsh's brigade south of the road leading from the bridge to
Sharpsburg. Crook's brigade of the Kanawha division supported
Willcox. Rodman's division formed on the left, Harland's brigade
having the position on the flank, and Fairchild's uniting with
Willcox at the centre. Scammon's brigade was the reserve for Rodman
at the extreme left. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i.
pp. 425, 430.] Sturgis's division remained and held the crest of the
hill above the bridge. About half of the batteries of the divisions
accompanied the movement, the rest being in position on the
hill-tops east of the Antietam. The advance necessarily followed the
high ground toward Sharpsburg, and as the enemy made strongest
resistance toward our right, the movement curved in that direction,
the six brigades of Jones's Confederate division being deployed
diagonally across our front, holding the stone fences and crests of
the cross-ridges and aided by abundant artillery, in which arm the
enemy was particularly strong.

The battle was a fierce one from the moment Willcox's men showed
themselves on the open ground. Christ's brigade, taking advantage of
all the cover the trees and inequalities of surface gave them,
pushed on along the depression in which the road ran, a section of
artillery keeping pace with them in the road. The direction of
movement brought all the brigades of the first line in echelon, but
Welsh soon fought his way up beside Christ, and they together drove
the enemy successively from the fields and farm-yards till they
reached the edge of the village. Upon the elevation on the right of
the road was an orchard in which the shattered and diminished force
of Jones made a final stand, but Willcox concentrated his artillery
fire upon it, and his infantry was able to push forward and occupy
it. They now partly occupied the town of Sharpsburg, and held the
high ground commanding it on the southeast, where the National
Cemetery now is. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p.
431.] The struggle had been long and bloody. It was half-past four
in the afternoon, and ammunition had again run low, for the wagons
had not been able to accompany the movement. Willcox paused for his
men to take breath again and to fetch up some cartridges; but
meanwhile affairs were taking a serious turn on the left.

As Rodman's division went forward, he found the enemy before him
seemingly detached from Willcox's opponents, and occupying ridges on
his left front, so that he was not able to keep his own connection
with Willcox in the swinging movement to the right. Still, he made
good progress in the face of stubborn resistance, though finding the
enemy constantly developing more to his left, and the interval
between him and Willcox widening. The view of the field to the south
was now obstructed by fields of tall Indian corn, and under this
cover Confederate troops approached the flank in line of battle.
Scammon's officers in the reserve saw them as soon as Rodman's
brigades echeloned, as these were toward the front and right. This
hostile force proved to be A. P. Hill's division of six brigades,
the last of Jackson's force to leave Harper's Ferry, and which had
reached Sharpsburg since noon. Those first seen by Scammon's men
were dressed in the National blue uniforms which they had captured
at Harper's Ferry, and it was assumed that they were part of our own
forces till they began to fire. [Footnote: Official Records, vol.
xix. pt. i. p. 468.] Scammon quickly changed front to the left,
drove back the enemy before him, and occupied a line of stone
fences, which he held until he was afterward withdrawn from it.
[Footnote: _Id._, p. 466.] Harland's brigade was partly moving in
the corn-fields. One of his regiments was new, having been organized
only three weeks, and the brigade had somewhat lost its order and
connection when the sudden attack came. Rodman directed Colonel
Harland to lead the right of the brigade, while he himself attempted
to bring the left into position. In performing this duty he fell,
mortally wounded. Harland's horse was shot under him, and the
brigade broke in confusion after a brief effort of its right wing to
hold on. Fairchild also now received the fire on his left, and was
forced to fall back and change front. [Footnote: _Id._, pp. 451,

Being at the centre when this break occurred on the left, I saw that
it would be impossible to continue the movement to the right, and
sent instant orders to Willcox and Crook to retire the left of their
line, and to Sturgis to come forward into the gap made in Rodman's.
The troops on the right swung back in perfect order; Scammon's
brigade hung on at its stone wall at the extreme left with
unflinching tenacity till Sturgis had formed on the curving hill in
rear of them, and Rodman's had found refuge behind. Willcox's left
then united with Sturgis, and Scammon was withdrawn to a new
position on the left flank of the whole line. That these manoeuvres
on the field were really performed in good order is demonstrated by
the fact that although the break in Rodman's line was a bad one, the
enemy was not able to capture many prisoners, the whole number of
missing, out of the 2349 casualties which the Ninth Corps suffered
in the battle, being 115, which includes wounded men unable to leave
the field. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. pp. 200,

The enemy were not lacking in bold efforts to take advantage of the
check we had received, but were repulsed with severe punishment, and
as the day declined were content to entrench themselves along the
line of the road leading from Sharpsburg to the Potomac at the mouth
of the Antietam, half a mile in our front. The men of the Ninth
Corps lay that night upon their arms, the line being one which
rested with both flanks near the Antietam and curved outward upon
the rolling hill-tops which covered the bridge and commanded the
plateau between us and the enemy. With my staff, I lay upon the
ground behind the troops, holding our horses by the bridles as we
rested, for our orderlies were so exhausted that we could not deny
them the same chance for a little broken slumber.

The Ninth Corps occupied its position on the heights west of the
Antietam without further molestation, except an irritating picket
firing, till the Confederate army retreated on the 19th of
September. But the position was one in which no shelter from the
weather could be had, nor could any cooking be done; and the troops
were short of rations. My division wagon-train, which I had brought
from the West, here stood us in good stead, for the corps as a whole
was very short of transportation. The energy of Captain Fitch, my
quartermaster, forced the train back and forth between us and the
nearest depot of supplies, and for several days the whole corps had
the benefit of the provisions thus brought forward. Late in the
afternoon of Thursday the 18th, Morell's division of Porter's corps
was ordered to report to Burnside to relieve the picket line and
some of the regiments in the most exposed position. One brigade was
sent over the Antietam for this purpose, and a few of the Ninth
Corps regiments were enabled to withdraw far enough to cook some
rations, of which they had been in need for twenty-four hours.
[Footnote: General Porter in his report says Morell took the place
of the whole Ninth Corps. In this he is entirely mistaken, as the
reports from Morell's division, as well as those of the Ninth Corps,
show.] Harland's brigade of Rodman's division had been taken to the
east side of the stream to be reorganized, on the evening of
Wednesday the 17th. The sounds heard within the enemy's lines by our
pickets gave an inkling of their retrograde movement in the night of
Thursday, and at break of day on Friday morning the retreat of Lee's
whole army was discovered by advancing the picket line.
Reconnoissances sent to the front discovered that the whole
Confederate army had crossed the Potomac.

The conduct of the battle on the left has given rise to several
criticisms, among which the most prominent has been that Porter's
corps, which lay in reserve, was not put in at the same time with
the Ninth Corps. It has been said that some of them were engaged or
in support of the cavalry and artillery at the centre. This does not
appear to have been so to any important extent, for no active
fighting was going on elsewhere after Franklin's corps relieved
Sumner's about noon. McClellan's reports do not urge this. He
answered the criticism by saying that he did not think it prudent to
divest the centre of all reserve troops. No doubt a single strong
division, marching beyond the left flank of the Ninth Corps, would
have so occupied A. P. Hill's division that our movement into
Sharpsburg could not have been checked, and, assisted by the advance
of Sumner and Franklin on the right, would apparently have made
certain the complete rout of Lee. As troops are put in reserve, not
to diminish the army, but to be used in a pinch, I am convinced that
McClellan's refusal to use them on the left was the result of his
rooted belief, through all the day after Sedgwick's defeat, that Lee
was overwhelmingly superior in force, and was preparing to return a
crushing blow upon our right flank. He was keeping something in hand
to fill a gap or cover a retreat, if that wing should be driven
back. Except in this way, also, I am at a loss to account for the
inaction of the right during the whole of our engagement on the
left. Looking at our part of the battle as only a strong diversion
to prevent or delay Lee's following up his success against Hooker
and the rest, it is intelligible. I certainly so understood it at
the time, as my report witnesses, and McClellan's original report
sustains this view. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i.
pp. 31, 426.] If he had been impatient to have our attack delivered
earlier, he had reason for double impatience that Franklin's fresh
troops should assail Lee's left simultaneously with our assault of
his other wing, unless he regarded action there as hopeless, and
looked upon our movement as a sort of forlorn hope to keep Lee from
following up his advantages.

But even these are not all the troublesome questions requiring an
answer. It will be remembered that Franklin's corps, after forcing
Crampton's Gap, had remained in Pleasant Valley between Rohrersville
and Boonsboro until Tuesday night (16th September). McClellan then
ordered Couch's division to be sent to occupy Maryland Heights and
observe the enemy in Harper's Ferry, whilst Franklin with Smith's
and Slocum's divisions should march to the battle-field at daybreak
of Wednesday. Why could not Couch be called up and come on our left
as well as A. P. Hill's division, which was the last of the
Confederate troops to leave the ferry, there being nothing to
observe after it was gone? Couch's division, coming with equal pace
with Hill's on the other side of the river would have answered our
needs as well as one from Porter's corps. Hill came, but Couch did
not. Yet even then, a regiment of horse, watching that flank and
scouring the country as we swung forward, would have developed
Hill's presence and enabled the commanding general either to stop
our movement or to take the available means to support it. The
cavalry was put to no such use. It occupied the centre of the whole
line, only its artillery being engaged during the day. It would have
been invaluable to Hooker in the morning, as it would have been to
us in the afternoon.

McClellan had marched from Frederick City with the information that
Lee's army was divided, Jackson being detached with a large force to
take Harper's Ferry. He had put Lee's strength at 120,000 men.
Assuming that there was still danger that Jackson might come upon
our left with his large force, and that Lee had proven strong enough
without Jackson to repulse three corps on our right and right
centre, McClellan might have regarded his own army as divided also
for the purpose of meeting both opponents, and his cavalry would
have been upon the flank of the part with which he was attacking
Lee; Porter would have been in position to help either part in an
extremity or to cover a retreat; and Burnside would have been the
only subordinate available to check Lee's apparent success. Will any
other hypothesis intelligibly account for McClellan's dispositions
and orders? The error in the above assumption would be that
McClellan estimated Lee's troops at nearly double their actual
numbers, and that what was taken for proof of Lee's superiority in
force on the field was a series of partial reverses which resulted
directly from the piecemeal and disjointed way in which McClellan's
morning attacks had been made.

The same explanation is the most satisfactory one that I can give
for the inaction of Thursday, the 18th of September. Could McClellan
have known the desperate condition of most of Lee's brigades, he
would also have known that his own were in much better case, badly
as they had suffered. I do not doubt that most of his subordinates
discouraged the resumption of the attack, for the belief in Lee's
great preponderance in numbers had been chronic in the army during
the whole year. That belief was based upon the inconceivably
mistaken reports of the secret-service organization, accepted at
headquarters, given to the War Department at Washington as a reason
for incessant demands of reinforcements, and permeating downward
through the whole organization till the error was accepted as truth
by officers and men, and became a factor in their morale which can
hardly be overestimated. The result was that Lee retreated
unmolested on the night of the 18th of September, and that what
might have been a real and decisive success was a drawn battle in
which our chief claim to victory was the possession of the field.

The numbers engaged and the losses on each side have been the
subject of unending dispute. If we take the returns of Lee at the
beginning of his campaign against Pope, and deduct his acknowledged
losses, he crossed the Potomac with over 72,000 men. [Footnote: See
my review of Henderson's Stonewall Jackson, "The Nation," Nov. 24,
1898, p.396.] If we take his returns of September 22, and add the
acknowledged losses of the month, he had over 57,000. [Footnote: See
my review of Allan's Army of Northern Virginia, "The Nation," Feb.
2, 1893, p.86. Also reply to General Fitzhugh Lee, _Id_., Dec. 20,
1894, p.462; Confederate Statistics, _Id_., Jan. 24, 1895, p.71;
Review of Ropes's Story of the Civil War, _Id_., March 9, 1899,
p.185.] McClellan's 87,000 present for duty is accepted by all,
though various causes considerably reduced the number he brought
into action. The best collation of reports of casualties at Antietam
gives 12,410 as those on the National side, and 11,172 on the
Confederate. [Footnote: Century War Book, vol. ii. p.603.]
Longstreet, comparing the fighting in the fiercest battles of the
war, says "on no single day in any one of them was there such
carnage as in this fierce struggle." [Footnote: From Manassas to
Appomattox, p.239.]



Meeting Colonel Key--His changes of opinion--His relations to
McClellan--Governor Dennison's influence--McClellan's attitude
toward Lincoln--Burnside's position--The Harrison Landing
letter--Compared with Lincoln's views--Probable intent of the
letter--Incident at McClellan's headquarters--John W.
Garrett--Emancipation Proclamation--An after-dinner discussion of
it--Contrary influences--Frank advice--Burnside and John
Cochrane--General Order 163--Lincoln's visit to camp--Riding the
field--A review--Lincoln's desire for continuing the
campaign--McClellan's hesitation--His tactics of discussion--His
exaggeration of difficulties--Effect on his army--Disillusion a slow
process--Lee's army not better than Johnston's--Work done by our
Western army--Difference in morale--An army rarely bolder than its
leader--Correspondence between Halleck and McClellan--Lincoln's
remarkable letter on the campaign--The army moves on November 2--Lee
regains the line covering Richmond--McClellan relieved--Burnside in

When I rode up with Burnside on the afternoon of the 15th September,
in the group around McClellan I met Judge Key, whom I had not seen
since we parted in the Ohio Senate in April of the preceding year.
He was now aide-de-camp on the headquarters staff with the rank of
colonel, and doing duty also as judge-advocate. When McClellan
directed us to leave the ridge because the display of numbers
attracted the enemy's fire, Colonel Key took my arm and we walked a
little way down the slope till we found a fallen tree, on which we
sat down, whilst he plunged eagerly into the history of his own
opinions since we had discussed the causes of the war in the
legislature of our State. He told me with earnestness that he had
greatly modified his views on the subject of slavery, and he was now
satisfied that the war must end in its abolition. The system was so
plainly the soul of the rebellion and the tie which bound the
seceded States together, that its existence must necessarily depend
upon the success of the revolutionary movement, and it would be a
fair object of attack, if doing so would help our cause. I was
struck by the zeal with which he dashed into the discussion,
forgetful of his actual surroundings in his wish to make me quickly
understand the change that had come over his views since we parted
at Columbus. He was so absorbed that even when a shell burst near
us, he only half gave it attention, saying in a parenthetical way
that he would change his position, as he would "rather not be hit in
the back by one of those confounded things." We had been so sitting
that in facing me his back was toward the front and the line of

Colonel Key has been regarded by many as McClellan's evil genius,
whose influence had been dominant in the general's political conduct
and who was therefore the cause of his downfall. His influence on
McClellan was unquestionably great,--and what he said to me is an
important help in understanding the general's conduct and opinions.
It accords with other statements of his which have been made public
by Judge William M. Dickson of Cincinnati, who at one time was
Colonel Key's partner in the practice of the law. [Footnote: I have
failed in my efforts to find a communication on the subject in a
newspaper, written by Judge Dickson, which he showed to me,
reiterating his statements in it.]

General McClellan urged me to come to his headquarters without
ceremony, and after the battle of Antietam I had several
opportunities of unrestrained discussion of affairs in which he
seemed entirely frank in giving me his opinions. It was plainly
evident that he was subjected to a good deal of pressure by
opponents of the administration to make him commit himself to them.
On the other hand, Governor Dennison of Ohio, who was his sincere
friend, took every opportunity to counteract such influences and to
promote a good understanding between him and Mr. Lincoln. McClellan
perfectly knew my own position as an outspoken Republican who from
the first had regarded the system of slavery as the stake ventured
by the Secessionists on their success in the war, and who held to
John Quincy Adams's doctrine that the war powers were adequate to
destroy the institution which we could not constitutionally abolish
otherwise. With me, the only question was when the ripe time had
come for action, and I had looked forward to Mr. Lincoln's
proclamation with some impatience at the delay.

The total impression left upon me by the general's conversation was
that he agreed with Colonel Key in believing that the war ought to
end in abolition of slavery; but he feared the effects of haste, and
thought the steps toward the end should be conservatively careful
and not brusquely radical. I thought, and still think, that he
regarded the President as nearly right in his general views and
political purposes, but overcrowded by more radical men around him
into steps which as yet were imprudent and extreme. Such an attitude
on his part made Governor Dennison and myself feel that there was no
need of any political quarrel between him and the administration,
and that if he would only rebuff all political intriguers and put
more aggressive energy into his military operations, his career
might be a success for the country as well as for himself. The
portions of his correspondence with Burnside which have become
public show that the latter also had, as a true friend, constantly
urged him to keep out of political controversy. Burnside himself,
like Grant and Sherman, began with a dislike of the antislavery
movement; but, also like them, his patriotism being the dominant
quality, the natural effect of fighting the Secessionists was to
beget in him a hearty acceptance of the policy of emancipation to
which Mr. Lincoln had been led by the same educational process.

At the time I am speaking of, I knew nothing of McClellan's famous
letter to the President from Harrison's Landing, of July 7, but
since it has come to light, I have interpreted it much less harshly
than many have done. Reading it in the light of his talk during
those Antietam days, I think it fair to regard it as an effort to
show Mr. Lincoln that they were not far apart in opinion, and to
influence the President to take the more conservative course to
which he thought him inclined when taking counsel only of his own
judgment. McClellan knew that his "change of base" to the James
River in June was not accepted as the successful strategy he
declared it to be, and that strong influences were at work to remove
him. Under the guise of giving advice to the President, he was in
fact assuring him that he did not look to the acknowledgment of the
Confederacy as a conceivable outcome of the war; that the
"contraband" doctrine applied to slaves was consistent with
compensated emancipation; that he favored the application of the
principle to the border States so as to make them free States; that
concentration of military force as opposed to dispersion of effort
was the true policy; that he opposed the rules of warfare which he
assumed were announced in General Pope's much criticised orders; and
lastly, that he would cordially serve under such general-in-chief as
Mr. Lincoln should select.

Compare all this with Mr. Lincoln's known views. It was notorious
that he was thought to be too conservative by many of his own party.
He had urged a system of compensated emancipation for the border
States. He had said that he held the slavery question to be only a
part, and an absolutely subordinate part, of the greater question of
saving the Union. He had disapproved of a portion of Pope's order
regarding the treatment of non-combatants. However ill-advised
McClellan's letter was, it may be read between the lines as an
attempt to strengthen himself with the President as against Stanton
and others, and to make his military seat firmer in the saddle by
showing that he was not in political antagonism to Mr. Lincoln, but
held, in substance, the conservative views that were supposed to be
his. Its purpose seems to me to have been of this personal sort. He
did not publish it at the time, and it was not till he was removed
from his command that it became a kind of political manifesto. This
view is supported by what occurred after the publication of the
Emancipation Proclamation, which I shall tell presently; but, to
preserve the proper sequence, I must first give another incident.

A few days after the battle of Antietam a prominent clergyman of
Hagerstown spent the Sunday in camp, and McClellan invited a number
of officers to attend religious services in the parlors of the house
where headquarters were. The rooms were well filled, several
civilians being also present. I was standing by myself as we were
waiting for the clergyman to appear, when a stout man in civilian's
dress entered into conversation with me. He stood at my side as we
faced the upper part of the suite of rooms, and taking it to be a
casual talk merely to pass the time, I paid rather languid attention
to it and to him as he began with some complimentary remarks about
the army and its recent work. He spoke quite enthusiastically of
McClellan, and my loyalty to my commander as well as my personal
attachment to him made me assent cordially to what he said. He then
spoke of the politicians in Washington as wickedly trying to
sacrifice the general, and added, whispering the words emphatically
in my ear, "But you military men have that matter in your own hands,
you have but to tell the administration what they must do, and they
will not dare to disregard it!" This roused me, and I turned upon
him with a sharp "What do you mean, sir!" As I faced him, I saw at
once by his look that he had mistaken me for another; he mumbled
something about having taken me for an acquaintance of his, and
moved away among the company.

I was a good deal agitated, for though there was more or less of
current talk about disloyal influences at work, I had been sceptical
as to the fact, and to be brought face to face with that sort of
thing was a surprise. I was a stranger to most of those who were
there, and walked a little aside, watching the man who had left me.
I soon saw him talking with General Fitz-John Porter, on the
opposite side of the room, evidently calling attention to me as if
asking who I was. I made inquiries as to who the civilian was, and
later came to know him by sight very well. He was John W. Garrett,
President of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company.

Mr. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was published on the 24th of
September, and within a very few days I was invited to meet General
Burnside and General John Cochrane of New York at a camp dinner in
McClellan's tent. General Cochrane was a "War Democrat" in politics,
and had been active as a politician in his State. He was also the
son-in-law of Gerrit Smith, the well-known abolitionist, and had
advocated arming the slaves as early as November, 1861. McClellan
told us frankly that he had brought us there for the purpose of
asking our opinions and advice with regard to the course he should
pursue respecting the Proclamation. He said that he was urged to put
himself in open opposition to it by politicians not only, but by
army officers who were near to him. He named no names, but intimated
that they were of rank and influence which gave weight to their
advice. He knew that we were all friends of the administration, and
his object seemed to be to learn whether we thought he should say
anything or should maintain silence on the subject; for he assumed
that we would oppose any hostile demonstration on his part.

This naturally led to inquiries as to his actual attitude to the
slavery question, and he expressed himself in substance as I have
before indicated; repeating with even stronger emphasis his belief
that the war would work out the manumission of the slaves gradually
and ultimately, and that as to those who came within our lines as we
advanced the liberation would be complete and immediate. He thought,
however, that the Proclamation was premature, and that it indicated
a change in the President's attitude which he attributed to radical
influences at Washington.

There had been no previous understanding between us who were his
guests. For my part, I then met General Cochrane for the first time,
and had conversed with McClellan himself more freely on political
subjects than I had with Burnside. We found ourselves, however, in
entire accord in advising him that any declaration on his part
against the Proclamation would be a fatal error. We could easily
understand that he should differ from us in his way of viewing the
question of public policy, but we pointed out very clearly that any
public utterance by him in his official character criticising the
civil policy of the administration would be properly regarded as a
usurpation. He intimated that this was his own opinion, but, by way
of showing how the matter was thrust at him by others, said that
people had assured him that the army was so devoted to him that they
would as one man enforce any decision he should make as to any part
of the war policy.

I had so recently gone through the little experience on this subject
which I have narrated above, that I here spoke out with some
emphasis. I said that those who made such assurances were his worst
enemies, and in my judgment knew much less of the army than they
pretended; that our volunteer soldiers were citizens as well as
soldiers, and were citizens more than soldiers; and that greatly as
I knew them to be attached to him, I believed not a corporal's guard
would stand by his side if he were to depart from the strict
subordination of the military to the civil authority. Burnside and
Cochrane both emphatically assented to this, and McClellan added
that he heartily believed both that it was true and that it ought to
be so. But this still left the question open whether the very fact
that there was an agitation in camp on the subject, and intrigues of
the sort I have mentioned, did not make it wise for him to say
something which would show, at least, that he gave no countenance to
any would-be revolutionists. We debated this at some length, with
the general conclusion that it might be well for him to remind the
army in general orders that whatever might be their rights as
citizens, they must as soldiers beware of any organized effort to
meddle with the functions of the civil government.

I left the Army of the Potomac before McClellan's general order on
this subject, dated October 7, was published, but when I read it in
the light of the conference in his tent, I regarded it as an honest
effort on his part to break through the toils which intriguers had
spread for him, and regretted that what seemed to me one of his most
laudable actions should have been one of the most misrepresented and

[Footnote: The order is found in Official Records, vol. xix. pt. ii.
p. 395, and is as follows:--

General Orders. No. 163.
October 7, 1862.

The attention of the officers and soldiers of the army of the
Potomac is called to General Orders No, 139, War Department,
September 24, 1862, publishing to the army the President's
proclamation of September 22.

A proclamation of such grave moment to the nation, officially
communicated to the army, affords to the general commanding an
opportunity of defining specifically to the officers and soldiers
under his command the relation borne by all persons in the military
service of the United States toward the civil authorities of the
Government. The Constitution confides to the civil
authorities--legislative, judicial, and executive--the power and
duty of making, expounding, and executing the Federal laws. Armed
forces are raised and supported simply to sustain the civil
authorities, and are to be held in strict subordination thereto in
all respects. This fundamental rule of our political system is
essential to the security of our republican institutions, and should
be thoroughly understood and observed by every soldier. The
principle upon which and the object for which armies shall be
employed in suppressing rebellion, must be determined and declared
by the civil authorities, and the Chief Executive, who is charged
with the administration of the national affairs, is the proper and
only source through which the needs and orders of the Government can
be made known to the armies of the nation.

Discussions by officers and soldiers concerning public measures
determined upon and declared by the Government, when carried at all
beyond temperate and respectful expressions of opinion, tend greatly
to impair and destroy the discipline and efficiency of troops, by
substituting the spirit of political faction for that firm, steady,
and earnest support of the authorities of the Government, which is
the highest duty of the American soldier. The remedy for political
errors, if any are committed, is to be found only in the action of
the people at the polls.

In thus calling the attention of this army to the true relation
between the soldier and the government, the general commanding
merely adverts to an evil against which it has been thought
advisable during our whole history to guard the armies of the
Republic, and in so doing he will not be considered by any
right-minded person as casting any reflection upon that loyalty and
good conduct which has been so fully illustrated upon so many

In carrying out all measures of public policy, this army will of
course be guided by the same rules of mercy and Christianity that
have ever controlled its conduct toward the defenceless.

By Command of Major-General McClellan,
Lieutenant-Colonel, Aide-de-camp, and Act'g Ass't Adj't Gen'l."]

I have always understood that the order was drafted by Colonel Key,
who afterward expressed in very strong terms his confidence in the
high motives and progressive tendencies of McClellan at the time he
issued it.

General Cochrane, some time after the close of the war, in a
pamphlet outlining his own military history, made reference to the
visit to McClellan which I have narrated, and states that he was so
greatly impressed by the anti-slavery sentiments avowed by the
general, that he made use of them in a subsequent effort to bring
him and Secretary Chase into more cordial relations. [Footnote: The
War for the Union, Memoir by General John Cochrane, pp. 29-31.] It
is possible that, in a friendly comparison of views in which we were
trying to find how nearly we could come together, the general may
have put his opinions with a liberality which outran his ordinary
statements of belief; but I am very sure that he gave every evidence
of sincerity, and that none of us entertained a doubt of his being
entirely transparent with us. He has since, in his "Own Story,"
referred to his taking counsel of Mr. Aspinwall of New York at about
the same time, and there is evidence that General W. F. Smith also
threw his influence against any opposition by McClellan to the
Emancipation Proclamation. [Footnote: Nicolay and Hay's Lincoln,
vol. vi. p. 180.] McClellan's letters show that his first impulse
was to antagonism; but there is no fair reason to doubt that his
action at last was prompted by the reasons which he avowed in our
conversation, and by the honorable motives he professed. He
immediately sent a copy of his order to Mr. Lincoln personally, and
this indicates that he believed the President would be pleased with

The reference which he made to suggestions that the army would
follow him in a _coup d'e'tat_ is supported by what he formally
declared in his memoirs. He there tells us that in 1861 he was often
approached in regard to a "dictatorship," and that when he was
finally removed many in the army were in favor of his marching upon
Washington to take possession of the government. [Footnote: Own
Story, pp. 85, 652.] It would seem that treasonable notions were
rife about him to an extent that was never suspected, unless he was
made the dupe of pretenders who saw some profit in what might be
regarded as a gross form of adulation. He must be condemned for the
weakness which made such approaches to him possible; but we are
obliged to take the fact as he gives it, and to accept as one of the
strange elements of the situation a constant stream of treasonable
suggestions from professed friends in the army and out of it. An
anecdote which came to me in a way to make it more than ordinarily
trustworthy was that in the summer of 1861 McClellan was riding with
an older officer of the regular army, [Footnote: General McCall.]
and said to him, "I understand there is a good deal of talk of
making a dictatorship." "Ah!" said the other, "Mr. Lincoln, I
suppose." "Oh, no," replied McClellan, "it's me they're talking of."
Bits of evidence from many sources prove that there had been from
the first too much such talk about Washington, and whilst McClellan
cannot be held responsible for it, there is no proof that he rebuked
it as he should have done. It was part of the fermenting political
and military intrigue which is found at the seat of government in
such a time, if anywhere, and I take satisfaction in testifying that
away from that neighborhood I never even heard the thing mentioned
or referred to, that I can recollect. Washington would be spoken of
in a general way as a place of intrigues, but I never knew this to
have a wider meaning given to it than the ordinary one of political
schemes within lawful limits and personal ambitions of no criminal

Mr. Lincoln visited our camp on the 1st of October, and remained two
or three days. I was with the party of officers invited by McClellan
to accompany the President in a ride over the route which Sumner had


Back to Full Books