The First Maryland Campaign
Chapter X, The Life and Campaigns of Major-General J.E.B. Stuart
Following the march of the main army, Stuart's cavalry crossed the Potomac at Leesburg on the afternoon of the 5th of September, and extending itself from the river to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad covered the front toward Washington. Fitz Lee occupied the left at New Market, Hampton the centre at Hyattstown, while Munford covered the signal station on Sugar Loaf Mountain, and extended his pickets as far as Poolesville. Stuart's headquarters were in rear of the centre of this line at Urbana. This position was maintained until the 11th, Hampton being engaged in some unimportant skirmishes near Hyattstown, and Munford in more serious fighting near Poolesville. Upon leaving Virginia the 6th regiment had been detached from Munford's brigade to collect arms and guard the captured property on the battle-field at Manassas; and the 17th battalion had also been assigned to detached service. Three regiments only remained to Munford, and upon these the casualties of the campaign had fallen heavily. The 12th regiment had been reduced to seventy-five men, and the 2d regiment numbered less than two hundred.
On the 7th of September Pleasonton's cavalry drove in Munford's pickets at Poolesville, and on the following day the 8th Illinois and the 3d Indiana Cavalry, with two pieces of artillery, advanced to occupy that place and establish pickets beyond. As the Federal cavalry entered the town Munford approached it from the north with the 7th and 12th regiments and two guns. He had hardly taken position outside of the town when he was charged by the enemy. The 7th regiment under Captain Myers met and repulsed that charge which was directed against Munford's advance gun; but despite the example of gallantry set by Colonel Harman, a part of the 12th regiment behaved badly, and the other gun was with difficulty extricated from an exposed position. Munford retired on the road toward Barnesville, near which place the advance of the enemy was checked by the sharpshooters of the 2d regiment. His total loss in this affair was ten men, eight of whom were from the 12th regiment. On the following day, the 9th of September, the 12th regiment was again somewhat roughly handled, in an affair near Monocacy Church, in which General Pleasonton claims to have captured the regimental flag. On the 10th, Pleasonton attempted to dislodge Munford from his position guarding Sugar Loaf Mountain, but although now reinforced by the 6th U.S. Cavalry he found the position too strong to be assailed. On this day Munford's force was still further weakened by the detachment of the 7th Virginia Cavalry, which was sent to aid Jackson's movement on Harper's Ferry. On the 11th, Franklin's corps advanced upon Munford, causing him to uncover Sugar Loaf Mountain and retire to a point about three miles from Frederick, on the Buckeystown road.
Until the 10th of September General Lee's army had been concentrated in the vicinity of Frederick. He had anticipated that his advance into Maryland would lead to the evacuation of Harper's Ferry; but as this result did not follow, it became necessary to dislodge the large Federal army which occupied that place and Martinsburg, before his own could with safety be concentrated west of the mountains. On the morning of the 10th of September Jackson's corps left the vicinity of Frederick to accomplish this object. Marching by way of Boonsboro' Jackson recrossed the Potomac at Williamsport, and occupied the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad northwest of Martinsburg on the evening of the next day. The Federal garrison at Martinsburg was made aware of his approach, and evacuating the town on the night of the 11th, retreated to Harper's Ferry, thus postponing their surrender for a short time. On the 12th Jackson passed through Martinsburg, and by noon on the 13th had placed his corps in front of the position occupied by the enemy on Bolivar Heights. In the mean time McLaws' division, reinforced by six brigades under Major-General Anderson, had been sent to drive the enemy from Maryland Heights, north of the Potomac; while Walker's division recrossed the river to the Virginia side, and was ordered to gain possession of Loudon Heights east of the Shenandoah. General Lee's order for these movements anticipated that McLaws and Walker would be in position to cooperate with Jackson on Friday the 12th, and that Jackson himself would complete the investment of Harper's Ferry west of the Shenandoah on the morning of the 13th. The advance division of Jackson's corps was in position before Bolivar Heights at the time specified; but McLaws had encountered many obstacles and strong resistance, and was only able to gain possession of Maryland Heights on the afternoon of the l3th; while Walker's division, which had been engaged in incessant duty for two days and nights, reached the summit of Loudon Heights at about the same time. The investment of Harper's Ferry was now complete; but some time was consumed in establishing communications and securing cooperation between the Confederate forces, which were separated by the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. This was not accomplished until the afternoon of the 14th; for before his artillery could be placed in position to command Harper's Ferry and Bolivar Heights, it was necessary for McLaws to cut a road along the top of the ridge to the bluff which overhangs the river. This work occupied the morning of the 14th. At dawn on the 15th Jackson attacked the garrison from the Virginia side, and within two hours received the surrender of an army of eleven thousand men, seventy-three pieces of artillery, thirteen thousand stand of small arms, and large stores and munitions of war.
Until the 13th of September the utmost uncertainty in regard to Lee's movements and intentions had existed in the Federal army and at Washington. The fact that Jackson had recrossed the Potomac at Williamsport was telegraphed by Governor Curtain to President Lincoln on the 12th; but so far from divining the real object of this movement, the Federal authorities were only able to see in it an indication of the retreat of Lee's army, or of a possible attack upon Washington from the south side of the Potomac. General McClellan's movements were much embarrassed by this uncertainty, and by the timidity of those in Washington who so largely controlled him. His right wing under Burnside rested on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, while his left under Franklin extended to the Potomac. On the 11th of September the left wing was thrown forward, and, as we have already seen, drove away Munford's party from Sugar Loaf Mountain. On the 12th a general advance along his whole line compelled Stuart to withdraw from his position at Urbana and Hyattstown. Fitz Lee crossed the Monocacy above Frederick, while Hampton retired through that place toward Middletown. Munford was at the same time drawn back to the gap in the Catoctin range at Jefferson. As Hampton was withdrawing through the streets of Frederick, the enemy pressed so closely upon his rear with infantry and artillery that he found it necessary to check their pursuit in order to insure the orderly withdrawal of his brigade. The enemy had planted a gun in the suburbs of the city, and were firing along the street through which Hampton must pass. This gun was supported by the 30th Ohio Infantry and by two companies of cavalry. Colonel M. C. Butler, of the 2d South Carolina Cavalry, was directed to attack. Lieutenant Meighan's squadron made the charge, supported by the brigade provost guard of forty men, under Captain J. F. Waring. Lieutenant Meighan rode over the gun, dispersed its support, and captured the officer in command, Colonel Moore of the 30th Ohio, and seven other prisoners. He might have brought off the gun had not five of its horses been killed in the fight. This sharp action protected Hampton's rear, and his brigade was slowly withdrawn to Middletown, leaving the Jeff Davis Legion and two guns, under Lieutenant-Colonel W. T. Martin, to hold the gap in the Catoctin Mountain.
Early on the 13th Stuart returned with Hampton's brigade to the position occupied by Colonel Martin at the gap. He had not yet been able to determine . whether he was opposing a reconnaissance, or whether the army of McClellan was advancing. The orders which he, in common with the other subordinate commanders, had received contemplated the reduction of Harper's Ferry on the 12th or 13th; and after that event no importance would attach to the mountain gaps. But no intelligence had been received from Harper's Ferry; and in order to gain time and to develop the enemy, Stuart determined to hold the gap beyond Middletown; while Fitz Lee, from his position on the left, was sent to gain the enemy's rear, and endeavor to ascertain his real force. Although attacked by Pleasonton's cavalry, Hampton held the gap until about two o'clock in the afternoon, when the advance of Rodman's division of infantry compelled him to withdraw toward Middletown, near which place he made a second and a third stand, checking each time the progress of the enemy.
Having assured himself that Turner's Gap, where the Boonsboro' road crosses the South Mountain, was held in force by the infantry of D. H. Hill's division, and having posted Rosser with the 5th Virginia Cavalry and the horse artillery at Braddock's Gap, on the right of Hill's position, Stuart withdrew Hampton from contact with the enemy and sent him to reinforce Munford at Crampton's Gap, which he now considered the weakest portion of the line. The Jeff Davis Legion was detached from Hampton for service at the Boonsboro' Gap.
Munford's two regiments had not been allowed to remain idle on this day. The enemy pressed upon his position at Jefferson by three roads, and followed him closely with cavalry as he retired toward Burkittsville, or Crampton's Gap. Colonel Harman with the 12th regiment was sent hurriedly to gain position at Burkittsville and to secure the wagons of the brigade, while Munford with the sharpshooters of the 2d regiment, under Captain Holland, disputed the enemy's advance. Finding himself heavily pressed, Captain Holland made a dash at his pursuers with a mere handful of mounted men, and checked them until an advantageous position had been secured for the artillery on the mountain side. At this opportune moment Hampton was approaching from the north, but all unaware of the pressure under which Munford was laboring. Observing a regiment of the enemy's cavalry on a road parallel to the one on which he was moving, Hampton took the Cobb Georgia Legion across to charge it. Lieutenant-Colonel P.M. B. Young led the charge, dispersed the party, and captured prisoners from the 3d Indiana and 8th Illinois Cavalry. Hampton states that the published accounts of the enemy acknowledged the loss of thirty men killed and wounded in this fight. His own loss was four killed and nine wounded. Among the latter was Lieutenant-Colonel Young. This attack upon the enemy's rear brought the much needed relief to Munford, although he was at the time unaware of the real cause. Menaced by this new danger the enemy retired from Munford's front, giving the road to Hampton, who, approaching from the direction from which Munford anticipated attack, was not recognized by him. Waiting until the head of Hampton's column was within easy range, Munford's guns were shotted and the lanyards applied; when fortunately Hampton perceived the intention, and raising a white flag made himself known as a friend.
The situation of the Confederate army on the morning of the 14th of September was critical in the extreme. Jackson's corps and three divisions of Longstreet's were concentrated at Harper's Ferry, and were separated from the rest of the army by the Potomac River. This was practically the case even with Mc-Laws' command on Maryland Heights; for he was eventually compelled to cross the river into Virginia and recross at Shepherdstown before he could rejoin the army at Sharpsburg. Four divisions of infantry and a part of the cavalry alone remained with General Lee. The mountain passes at Turner's and Crampton's gaps were held by mere rear-guards: D. H. Hill's division, of less than five thousand men, occupying the important point at Turner's Gap, while Hampton and Munford, with their cavalry, held Crampton's Gap. In his advance on the 13th the enemy had not exposed much of his force, and Stuart was still uncertain as to the character of the movement he had been opposing, especially as Fitz Lee had been unable to gain the enemy's rear. Naturally anxious not to overestimate the force he had encountered, Stuart reported to D. H. Hill and to McLaws only what he had seen, and this was not enough to cause serious apprehensions. Nevertheless Harper's Ferry had not yet surrendered, and until this did take place and give opportunity for the concentration of the Confederate army, the gravest peril existed that McLaws might be overpowered at Maryland Heights, and that the four divisions with General Lee might be called upon to face the greater part of the Federal army. It was therefore imperative that the mountain passes should be held for at least a day longer; and to effect this Longstreet was recalled from Hagerstown to Boonsboro' by a forced march, and Cobb's brigade was sent by McLaws to reinforce the two brigades he had left near Crampton's Gap. But so great was the uncertainty produced by the inactivity of the enemy on the 13th that D. H. Hill did not move to the front two of his brigades, Ripley's and Rodes's, until he was actually attacked; and McLaws did not send Cobb's brigade to reinforce the gap in his rear until noon on the same day.
Stuart left the vicinity of Boonsboro' early on the morning of the 14th and rode rapidly to Crampton's Gap. The enemy had as yet made no demonstration at this point, and Stuart deemed it necessary to send Hampton to guard the road next to the river at the end of the mountain ridge, lest an attempt should be made to relieve Harper's Ferry from that direction. Leaving Munford at Crampton's, with his own two regiments of cavalry and two fragments of infantry regiments from Mahone's brigade, and having instructed Munford to hold the gap at any cost, Stuart himself proceeded to McLaws' position to procure additional force, and to acquaint himself with the state of affairs.
Leading westward from Burkittsville two practicable roads cross the mountain at points about a mile distant from each other. The southern passage is known as the Browersville Gap, the northern, as Crampton's. General McLaws had advanced on Maryland Heights through the Browersville Gap, and it was here that he had left General Semmes with his own and Mahone's brigade. Semmes' position was four miles distant from Maryland Heights, and Crampton's Gap was five miles. The roads east of the mountain leading to both these gaps were within sight of each other, and a force advancing upon either was exposed to artillery fire from both.
The inactivity of the Federal army on the 13th and the early part of the 14th of September will, perhaps, be excused by the historian on account of the demoralized condition in which that army was left by the disastrous campaign under General Pope. It possessed, however, at this time every incentive for active exertion. On the 13th General McClellan was authoritatively informed of General Lee's plans and movements; and the exposed condition of his army was as well known to him as to us at the present day. Through the fatal carelessness of some one, that copy of the order of march issued by General Lee on the 9th of September and addressed to General D. H. Hill, which revealed the movement of every part of Lee's army, was left at Frederick and fell into General McClellan's hands. No general could hope for a greater advantage over his adversary; and yet the mountain gaps were not forced until the evening of the 14th. In calculating the results which might have ensued had the Federal army moved with greater celerity, it must not be forgotten that both Hill and McLaws had abundant time to make more effective dispositions for the defence of the gaps, and that these dispositions were not made, simply because the small force developed by the enemy on the 13th did not seem to require them. For the same reason Hampton's brigade of cavalry was moved on the morning of the 14th from Crampton's Gap, where its services would have been of inestimable value, to a point which the sequel showed to be of but little importance.
The battle at Turner's Pass began at about seven o'clock on the morning of the 14th. As the record does not show that the cavalry was actively engaged in this battle, it is only necessary for this narrative to state the general result. General D. H. Hill maintained his position unsupported and without sustaining any serious reverse until four o'clock in the afternoon, although assailed by the two corps which constituted the right wing of the Federal army. At four o'clock Longstreet arrived at the gap, which was held until darkness put an end to the conflict. But both the right and left of the Confederate line had been turned by the superior numbers of the enemy, and the position was no longer tenable. Longstreet and Hill were therefore withdrawn during the night, and on the next morning were placed in position beyond the Antietam at Sharpsburg. The withdrawal of these troops was covered by Fitz Lee's cavalry brigade, which, on the morning of the 15th, was hotly engaged in a manner which will hereafter be described.
The gallant defence made by Colonel Munford at Crampton's Gap demands a more extended notice. Munford had selected a strong position for his men behind a stone fence near the. eastern base of the mountain. In his rear was a body of woods, and in his front a large open field over which the enemy must advance to the attack. Every available cavalryman was dismounted and placed in line of battle to strengthen the two regiments of infantry under his command. Chew's battery of horse artillery and a section of navy howitzers from the Portsmouth battery were placed in position near this line, but were subsequently removed to a more commanding point higher up the mountain. Not until skirmishing had actually begun was Munford reinforced by the two remaining regiments of Mahone's brigade under Colonel Parham. These regiments hardly numbered three hundred men, and the whole force under Munford's control could not have amounted to as many as eight hundred. At noon his pickets at Burkittsville were driven in, and the enemy soon after appeared in force at the base of the mountain. The first demonstration was directed toward the lower gap, the one held by General Semmes; but being met by the artillery fire from both gaps, the assault concentrated on Munford. At three o'clock in the afternoon a column of attack was organized consisting of the three brigades of Slocum's division strengthened by two brigades of Smith's division. Although assailed by such superior numbers Munford held his position for three hours. The action was in full view of General Semmes, but from him he received no further assistance. The infantry under Colonel Parham and the dismounted cavalry vied with each other in the steadiness of their fire, and there was no break in their ranks until after the arrival of Cobb's brigade. Munford's report says:
After much delay, and some four couriers had been sent, General Cobb, with two regiments of his brigade, came up to my support. When the general himself came up, I explained the position of the troops, and of course turned over the command to him. At his request I posted the two regiments. The first troops, having exhausted all their ammunition, began to fall back as soon as their support came up, Colonel Parham having already partially supplied them with ammunition. When the two other regiments of General Cobb's brigade came up, he again requested me to put them in position, but they behaved badly and did not get in position before the wildest confusion commenced, the wounded coming to the rear in numbers, and more well men coming with them. General Cobb attempted to rally the men, but without the least effect, and it would have been as useless as to attempt to rally a flock of frightened sheep. Had General Cobb's brigade given the support to the first troops engaged which they deserved, the gap would have been held. The cavalry horses were on the road leading to Boonsboro', and having previously retired the artillery on the Harper's Ferry road (every round of ammunition having been fired for some time before), I formed my command and moved down the mountain, the infantry still running in great disorder on the Harper's Ferry road, followed at a short distance by the enemy, who were then between them and the cavalry, who had to go for their horses. The enemy was at the forks of these roads before many of the cavalry, who were the last to give up their position. Had General Cobb come up in time the result might have been otherwise. There were two stone walls at the base of the mountain parallel to each other, and one commanding the other, which could have been held against great odds had the troops been in position.
It affords me great pleasure to commend Colonel Parham as a gallant and efficient officer, who did everything in his power to hold his position. His little command fought splendidly. Colonel Parham's loss must have been heavy, as he was a long time engaged and the firing was as heavy as I ever heard.
General Slocum acknowledges a loss of 511 in his division. He claims to have captured over 300 prisoners, 700 stand of arms, and one piece of abandoned artillery.
Having regained his horses, Munford retired towards Boonsboro', and on the next day took position covering the approaches to Keedysville. As the enemy closed down upon the line of the Antietam, Munford retired to Sharpsburg, and was assigned to the right of Lee's line of battle, guarding the lower crossings, where he was engaged in active skirmishing on the 17th and 18th.
Munford's gallant fight had transpired while Stuart was on Maryland Heights. The knowledge which he had gained of the country during the John Brown raid led him to believe that he could render valuable assistance at that point; and with this object in view, as well as to gain the information necessary for the proper direction of his own command, he had joined General McLaws while the enemy appeared inactive at Crampton's Gap. He urged that the road leading from Harper's Ferry, by the Kennedy Farm, toward Sharpsburg, be occupied, lest any of the enemy should escape thereby. The neglect of this precaution was followed by serious results. On the night of the 14th, Colonel B. F. Davis, of the 8th New York Cavalry, marched out from Harper's Ferry by this very road, at the head of fifteen hundred horsemen; and, meeting with no opposition, he not only delivered the cavalry from the surrender of the following morning, but inflicted serious loss on the Confederates by capturing a portion of Longstreet's ordnance train near Sharpsburg.
General Lee acknowledges the loss of 45 wagons.
Colonel Voss, of the 12th Illinois Cavalry, claims the capture of 60 wagons and 675 prisoners.
As soon as Stuart was informed of the fight at Cramp-ton's Gap he returned thither, but only in time to meet the disorganized fugitives of Cobb's brigade as they were streaming down Pleasant Valley. They reported that the enemy was immediately in their rear and in overwhelming force. Aided by the presence of General McLaws, some portions of the brigade were rallied and a line was formed across the road. Reconnoitering parties were sent back toward the gap, but found no enemy within a mile. The approach of night had prevented the enemy from following up the signal advantage which he had gained, and gave time for dispositions to dispute his progress. All of McLaws' command except one regiment and two guns was withdrawn from Maryland Heights, and was moved back toward the mountain passes, in anticipation of a battle on the following morning, but the early surrender of Harper's Ferry relieved McLaws of his most serious embarrassment, and the excellent position of his line of battle in Pleasant Valley caused the enemy to pause. McLaws withdrew his command to Harper's Ferry at two o'clock r. M., and marching by way of Shepherdstown, reached Sharpsburg at sunrise on the 17th, in time to participate in the battle of that day. During this movement his rear was covered by the cavalry under Hampton, which on the 17th occupied position on the right of the Confederate line on the Antietam.
Stuart was on McLaws' line of battle in Pleasant Valley when Harper's Ferry surrendered. The news was at once communicated to the troops, and produced wild demonstrations of joy. Stuart reported in person to General Jackson, and was by him requested to convey the information to the commanding general at Sharpsburg. Leaving his staff to follow at a more moderate pace, he took with him one courier, and proceeded at full speed upon this mission. He reached the town soon after the arrival of Longstreet and D. H. Hill, whose troops were greatly strengthened and encouraged by Jackson's success.
On the night of the 14th, after the battle at Turner's Pass, Fitz Lee was ordered to cover the withdrawal of the infantry from the mountain, and to resist and retard as much as possible the advance which it was anticipated the enemy would make on the following morning. He took position east of Boonsboro', where he could command the road as it descended from the mountain. A good position was secured for his artillery, and dismounted skirmishers were thrown out well to the front. A mounted force on either side of the road supported the guns.
Soon after daylight a column of the enemy's infantry debouched from the gap. Fitz Lee's skirmishers were soon engaged, and fell back slowly until the position occupied by his guns was uncovered. He withheld their fire until the head of the enemy's column was within easy range, when shells were exploded in it so rapidly and accurately as to cause a halt. A second attempt to advance was attended with a like result. Lines of battle were now formed extending beyond both of Fitz Lee's flanks, and he was compelled to retire toward the town. His guns had been sent back to a new position, and his mounted men were in the act of withdrawing, when the lines of the enemy's infantry opened and let out a force of cavalry, which came charging down the road.
The 3d Virginia Cavalry was called on to meet this charge, and responded so handsomely that the Federal cavalry was driven back to their infantry. But the pressure upon Lee's rear was soon renewed, and became so heavy as he was passing through Boonsboro' that it was necessary to make a stand with one of his regiments to insure the orderly withdrawal of the remainder. This difficult duty devolved upon Colonel W. H. F. Lee and the 9th Virginia Cavalry. The street through which he necessarily passed was so narrow that his regiment could only be operated in column of fours. A sufficient interval was, however, preserved between his squadrons, which were employed successively in charging the head of the enemy's advancing column. As one squadron retired from the charge, to form again in rear of the regiment, the one next in front took up the battle. By a rapid series of well executed attacks the 9th regiment thus covered the retreat of the remainder of the brigade and gave it time to take position west of Boonsboro'.
The contest in the streets of the town was fierce and protracted. The Union sentiment here was strong, and Colonel Lee's squadrons were assailed not only by an open enemy, but concealed foes shot at his men from the windows of the houses. The 9th regiment was of course pushed back steadily through the town. In retiring from a charge, one squadron was compelled to cross a narrow bridge. The enemy was pressing close behind. At the entrance to the bridge Colonel Lee's horse fell in the road. The press of men and horses permitted no attempt at recovery. In an instant he was overridden by his own men and by a portion of the enemy. Captain Haynes, who commanded the squadron next in position, charged and recovered the bridge, and raising Colonel Lee's horse from the ground, called upon him to mount and escape. He was, however, so stunned and bruised as to be incapable of moving hand or foot; and before others of his men could come to his rescue Captain Haynes was driven back across the bridge by a fresh charge of the enemy, and was compelled to leave his colonel to his fate. For some time he lay on the roadside, dazed and helpless, as the enemy's cavalry, infantry, and artillery passed by within a few feet of him. No one, however, noticed him. At length the thought entered his mind that escape was not impossible. By slow and painful movements he crawled to a copse of woods which skirted the field adjacent to the road. Here he was so fortunate as to meet two or three Confederate soldiers, who had become separated from their commands. By them he was raised to his feet and supported to a farm-house, where a horse was procured. Avoiding the roads and pressing westward, he succeeded in crossing the Antietam before night, and was soon afterwards in the hands of his friends, who welcomed him as one restored from the dead.
Having brought his command through Boonsboro', Fitz Lee made another stand at the intersection of the Keedysville road, where he was again successful in delaying the enemy for a considerable time. In withdrawing from this position he retired on the road leading directly west, hoping to draw the enemy after him on this, which was, for them, the wrong road. He thus occupied their attention during the greater part of the day, and finding, at length, that he was no longer pursued, he moved his command to Sharpsburg, and placed it on the left of the Confederate line, guarding the upper fords of the Antietam.
It was not until late in the afternoon of the 16th that the Federal army was so far concentrated west of the Antietam as to warrant the beginning of an attack. The Confederate line of battle rested its right upon Antietam Creek, covering the two bridges by which alone Sharpsburg could be approached in that direction, and extended thence northward for a distance of about two and a half miles, nearly parallel with the course of the Antietam. The right was held by Longstreet, the centre by D. H. Hill, and the left by two small divisions of Jackson's corps, commanded by General Lawton. The Confederate left was prolonged by the cavalry under Stuart, and was somewhat retired, in a westerly direction, toward the Potomac River. Any attack upon the Confederate right or centre must of necessity be preceded by a severe struggle for the possession of the narrow stone bridges which there spanned the Antietam; but on the Confederate left there were bridges and practicable fords across which an undisputed passage could be made. This consideration determined McClellan's plan of battle, which was to cross the Antietam at the points above Sharpsburg where it was undefended, and attempt to crush the Confederate left wing, which being accomplished would make easy the attacks which should be subsequently directed against the centre and right. The effort against the Confederate left was made by three corps, those of Hooker, Mansfield, and Sumner. Hooker crossed the Antietam on the afternoon of the 16th, and pressed southward and eastward. Timely notice of this movement was given by Stuart, and two brigades of Hood's division were sent forward to meet it. They encountered Hooker's troops in the woods east of the Hagerstown turnpike, and opposite the Dunkard Church, around which the battle must rage so fiercely the following day. Night had now fallen. The sharp contest between Hooker's troops and Hood's brigades had lasted but a short time, and had resulted in no advantage to either side. Both parties lay down upon their arms, ready to resume the battle at the dawn of day. During the night Hood was replaced by Lawton's and Trimble's brigades from Jackson's command. On the other side Mansfield's corps had crossed the Antietam and lay within supporting distance of Hooker, while Sumner was close to the Antietam, ready to cross at daybreak.
I borrow the following description of this part of the field of battle from Swinton's "Decisive Battles of the War": --
If leaving the town of Sharpsburg the pedestrian walks northward by the Hagerstown road, he will, at the distance of a mile, reach a small edifice, known as the Dunker Church, situate on the road, hard by a body of woods. This wood, which has a depth of about a quarter of a mile, runs along the Hagerstown road for several hundred yards, entirely on the left hand side as you proceed from Sharpsburg. Then there is a field, the edge of which runs at right angles to the road for about two hundred yards, thus making an elbow in the woods. The field then turns to the right, and runs along the woods parallel to the Hagerstown road for a quarter of a mile, when the wood again turns square to the left and extends back about half a mile, making at this point again an elbow with the strip of woods running along the road from the church. The timber ground is full of ledges of limestone and small ridges, affording excellent cover for troops. It was here that Jackson's troops were posted. The field from the timber to the Hagerstown road forms a plateau, nearly level, and in higher ground than the woods, which slope clown abruptly from the edges of the plateau. The field, however, extends not only to the Hagerstown road, but for a considerable distance to the east side of it, when it is again circumscribed by another body of timber, which we may call the "east woods." The woods around the Dunker Church, the "east woods," and the open field between them formed the arena whereon the terrible wrestle between the Union right and Confederate left took place,-- a fierce flame of battle, which, beginning in the "east woods," swept back and forth across the field, burst forth for a time in the woods around the Dunker Church, and which left its marks everywhere, but in most visible horror on the open plain.
The advance of Hooker's corps, which had been interrupted by nightfall, was resumed at the dawn of day. His first onset fell upon the three brigades of Ewell's division, Lawton's, Trimble's, and Hays', under the command of General Lawton, which numbered only twenty-four hundred men. Early's brigade had been sent to support the artillery with which Stuart, on the left, maintained a severe enfilading fire upon the enemy's right. After sustaining the unequal contest for an hour, this little band of heroes was forced back across the open field east of the turnpike, and into the woods in which is situated the Dunkard Church. Here, still fighting, they were reinforced by Jackson's other division, commanded by General Starke, and the battle was renewed with almost unparalleled ferocity. Before seven o'clock A.M. Jackson had lost one half of his men in killed and wounded, and Hooker's corps had been so completely shattered that General Sumner stated that when he came upon the field he saw nothing of it at all.
As the Confederate line retired, Stuart's position became too much exposed, and the direction of his fire now endangered his friend. He therefore withdrew more to the rear of the Confederate left, where he was better able to participate in the contest, which still raged around the Dunkard Church. At the same time Early was recalled to assume the command of Ewell's division, after General Lawton was wounded; and leaving one regiment, the 13th Virginia, to support Stuart's artillery, he returned toward the position he had first occupied that morning. At half past seven o'clock Mansfield's corps reinforced Hooker's shattered line, but he was met and disastrously repulsed by Hood's division, which pursued the retreating enemy east of the turnpike, until the ground was recovered on which the battle had begun at daybreak. But here again the tide of battle turned, for Sumner's corps had now advanced to the front, and attacking with fresh strength troops already exhausted, Hood's division was forced back across the open field, now ghastly with the dead and dying, and into, and even beyond, the woods surrounding the Dunkard Church. While this last attack was transpiring Early was moving his brigade into position in this body of woods, which he had just regained after leaving Stuart. The advance of Sumner was pursued so far that Early was entirely separated on his right from the rest of Jackson's command, and was at the same time threatened with attack by a force which was advancing across the open field toward Iris left. At the moment when the success of Sumner's attack was such as seemingly to threaten the destruction of the Confederate left, McLaws' division arrived in place, and, joining with Early in a sweeping charge, drove Sumner back through the woods and across the open field east of the turnpike, and into the woods in which the battle first began.
In such a battle there was no opportunity to use the little body of cavalry which followed Stuart to support his guns. But Stuart himself was ceaselessly active. The positions which he occupied were indeed of the greatest importance. Between the left of Jackson's line and the sharp elbow which the Potomac makes just beyond was an open space, through which, if left unguarded, the enemy might easily have penetrated to Jackson's rear. The rising ground gave admirable positions for artillery, and had these hills fallen into the possession of the Federals, Jackson's divisions must have been driven back upon the Confederate centre. The historian Swinton blames Hooker because, after his first success in driving back Lawton's three brigades to the Dunkard Church, he did not at once order up Mansfield's corps, and occupy this ground. He says: --
There is a commanding eminence to the right of where Hooker's flank rested, which would thus have been occupied; and as it is the key of the field, taking en fevers the woods with the outcropping ledges of limestone where Jackson's reserves lay, its possession would, in all likelihood, have been decisive of the field. Hooker failed to perceive this; but he advanced his line to reap the fruit of his first advantage, thrusting forward his centre and left over the open fields toward the woods west of the Hagerstown road.
This very position which Swinton thinks might have been occupied by Mansfield was the one which Stuart guarded. Behind his guns at the time of Hooker's first success lay Early's brigade of infantry and Fitz Lee's brigade of cavalry. Mansfield might have gained these heights, but certainly not without a struggle; for not only was the horse artillery brought into action by Stuart, but other guns from Jackson's command served with him under Pelham. Poague, Pegram, and Carrington, with others, were there. The last assault made by Sumner's corps brought it under the musketry fire of the 13th Virginia Infantry, which supported these guns. In speaking of the final repulse of this corps General Early says:-
Major-General Stuart, with the pieces of artillery under his charge, contributed largely to the repulse of the enemy, and pursued them for some distance with his artillery and the 13th Virginia regiment under the command of Captain F. V. Winston.
General Jackson says, in reference to a proposed movement against the enemy's right, on the afternoon of the 17th:--
In this movement Major-General Stuart had the advance, and acted well his part. This officer rendered valuable service throughout the day. His bold use of artillery secured for us an important position, which, had the enemy possessed, might have commanded our left.
The repulse of Sumner's corps closed the serious fighting on that flank. Attempts were made to force the right and centre of the Confederate line, but they were repulsed; and night closed down upon this hard-fought field. With four thousand men Jackson had sustained the attack of Hooker's powerful corps, and had reduced it to the condition described in General Sumner's words. When Hooker was reinforced by Mansfield's corps, Hood's division came to Jackson's assistance. Then followed McLaw's charge and the final repulse of Sumner's corps. Two divisions of Jackson's corps, aided by two divisions from Longstreet's, in all less than ten thousand men, had met and shattered three corps of the Federal army, which outnumbered them four to one.
On the 18th the two armies confronted each other in sullen silence. The scene can never be forgotten by those who rode along Jackson's attenuated line. There appeared to be hardly one man to a rod of ground, and it seemed that a compact regiment must pierce such a line at any point, should the attempt be made. But a bold front and an over-cautious enemy saved the Confederates from such an unequal contest; and during the night General Lee safely transferred his forces to the south bank of the Potomac. Fitz Lee's brigade again covered the withdrawal of the infantry. Munford, who had been skirmishing with the enemy on the extreme right, along the bank of the canal, made a somewhat narrow escape. The messenger sent by Fitz Lee to notify him to withdraw had failed to find him; and it was not until he rode in person to Sharpsburg, and there met General Fitz Lee, that he was made aware of the isolated situation of his command. However, a rapid ride brought his brigade to Shepherdstown in time to cross the river in the presence of the enemy, and under the cover of the friendly guns on the southern bank. General Munford relates an incident which occurred at the ford, and which is worth preservation. As he reached the river bank he found there General Maxey Gregg with about one hundred men, the rear of the infantry. At the edge of the river, and in the water, stood an ambulance filled with wounded men. The cowardly driver had unhitched his horses, crossed the river, and had left his suffering comrades to the mercy of the foe. The poor fellows begged piteously to be carried to the other side. General Gregg lifted his hat, and said to his soldiers, --
"My men, it is a shame to leave these poor fellows here in the water! Can't you take them over the river ?"
In an instant a dozen or more strong men laid hold on the ambulance and pulled it through the water, in most places waist deep, amid the shouts of the rest, who sang, --
"Carry me back to Old Virginia."
General Munford also states that Lieutenant W. O. English, of company K, 2d Virginia Cavalry, was the last Confederate who crossed the ford at Shepherdstown. He blew up two abandoned caissons with a slow match, and then crossed under fire.
Munford's brigade now took position on the right of the Confederate line, near Boteler's Ford. On the evening of the 19th four regiments of the 5th corps crossed the river at this ford, and attacked the reserve artillery, which was supported by Lawton's and Armistead' s brigades. These two brigades did not number more than 600 men. They gave way before the attack of the enemy, and permitted the capture of four pieces of artillery. The retreat of the infantry and artillery was covered by Munford's brigade, and greater loss was prevented by the efficiency with which the cavalry was handled. The enemy retired to the Maryland side during the night, but renewed the attempt to harass the Confederate rear on the following morning. Two brigades of Sykes' division and one from Morell's, in all thirteen regiments, numbering about 3,500 men, crossed the river at an early hour, and advanced toward Shepherdstown. They were met by A. P. Hill's division, and were driven back across tile river with a loss of 331 men. In this action only three brigades of Hill's division were engaged. His total loss was 261.
While these events were transpiring on the right of the Confederate army, Stuart, with Hampton's brigade and some small detachments from several infantry regiments, had ascended the Potomac on the afternoon of the 18th to Williamsport, for the purpose of making a demonstration which might give aid to the army in retiring across the river on the 19th. Two sections of artillery accompanied this movement. Stuart maintained a threatening position on the Maryland side during the 19th and 20th. On the latter day he was engaged in skirmishing with Couch's division, which had been sent to dislodge him. At night on the 20th he withdrew to the Virginia side without loss.
General Lee's army now moved back beyond Martinsburg, and for about six weeks enjoyed much-needed rest. The cavalry covered the front of the army, and protected it from annoyance. On the 1st of October, General Pleasonton, with seven hundred cavalry and a battery of artillery, made a reconnaissance as far as Martinsburg, retiring within his lines on the same day. This affair was attended with but little result on either side.
This page last updated 12/17/03
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