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Chapter
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
R. E. Lee: A Biography

by Douglas Southall Freeman

published by Charles Scribner's Sons,
New York and London, 1934

The text, and illustrations except as noted, are in the public domain.


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Vol. II
p387
Chapter XXVII

The Bloodiest Day of the War

(SHARPSBURG)

It was still black night on September 17 when the sporadic fire of the skirmish lines far off on the Confederate left broke into the steady rattle of an approaching general engagement.1 At his headquarters, Lee must have heard the sound with some satisfaction, for it meant that McClellan was about to attack where the two best combat divisions of the army, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jackson's and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Hood's, had been placed. Still, with three divisions not yet reported from Harpers Ferry, the dangers of a prolonged battle begun at daylight were apparent, and the possibilities of an enforced retreat were not to be burked. Lee accordingly took the precaution, at 4:30 A.M., of warning General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pendleton, who had moved his batteries across the Potomac, to guard well the fords with part of the reserve artillery.2 The rest was ordered up.3 Fortunately, too General J. B. Kershaw rode up about daylight and reported that Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.McLaws and R. H. Anderson, after a slow and straggling march from Harpers Ferry, were approaching Sharpsburg.4

The heavy fire of the skirmishers was taken up by the artillery as soon as it was light enough for the guns to be sighted. Not only on the Confederate left but from the Federal positions across Antietam Creek, as well, the 20‑pounder Parrotts of the enemy answered quickly. Soon the volleys echoed down the Hagerstown road.

By 6 o'clock news began to filter back to headquarters. Soon thereafter, at the point where the Confederate left crossed the Hagerstown road, about a mile and a half north of Sharpsburg, a powerful Federal force, later identified as Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Hooker's corps, struck p388 furiously. Lawton's brigade was wrecked. Trimble and Hays, who had been moved to the east of the road, were hurled back. Jackson's old division, containing the survivors of the Valley campaign, was swept aside. A great gap was torn in the Confederate flank between Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Early's brigade, supporting the cavalry on the extreme left, and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.D. H. Hill's line on the centre. The enemy was reported to be streaming down the Hagerstown road and through p389 the West Wood, close to the dominating ground of the Dunker Church. Hood's division had already been called up and was advancing to meet the wave.5 The situation is shown on page 388.


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Situation on the Confederate left in the battle of Sharpsburg,
7:20 A.M., September 17, 1862.

This was a threat of immediate disaster. Still, if the line could be held until McLaws and Anderson were brought up and thrown into action, the day might be retrieved. But was it possible to maintain the left of the line against such concentrated fire and such heavy assaults as were being delivered in that direction by the Federals? Lee had justified faith in the gallant infantry of Hood, who were moving into the gap or standing stubbornly on either side of it, but with the odds so heavy and the stake so great they must have help, and speedily. Whence could it come? Only from the right, where thus far there had been nothing more serious than skirmishing and artillery exchanges. At any time the Federals might open an attack there. But in war, all risks are relative. It was far better to take the chance of having the right assailed than of having the left broken. So, before 7:30 Lee sent orders to Colonel G. T. Anderson, commanding a brigade on the Boonsboro road, east of Sharpsburg, to march at once to support Hood.6 About an hour later he directed General J. G. Walker to take the two brigades of his division to Jackson.7 This meant that he was to employ thirteen of his twenty-four brigades and most of his cavalry on about one mile of his four and a half miles of front. On the right flank he left only seven brigades to defend about one and a half miles, with one of these brigades, that of General Toombs, to defend the important crossing at the lower bridge over the Antietam. The centre of the line, held by D. H. Hill's 3000, was already engaged and "in the air" on its left. To state these facts is to measure the emergency.

Anderson and Walker moved promptly, but as their strength was small and the danger great, Lee promptly ordered McLaws, who was now resting his men near the town, to start to the sector through which the enemy had broken. R. H. Anderson, with his small division, was sent to strengthen D. H. Hill. In short, all the reserves that had come up were promptly moved into action, with no assurance that they would stem the tide.

p390 To see the situation for himself, Lee rode to the left, profoundly concerned for the safety of that flank. On the way he met his cousin, Captain T. H. Carter of the artillery. He directed him to move his battery and such other artillery as he could collect to defend the ridge about three-quarters of a mile northwest of Sharpsburg, in the hope that this would keep the enemy from turning the left even if the troops he was now moving up could not halt the Federals' advance.8 It probably was at this time, when his nerves were tense, that Lee met a straggler who, in some fashion, had found and killed a pig which he was carrying to his camp. Straggling, in Lee's mind, was largely responsible for the plight of the army, and at the sight of the man, his wrath rose. He completely lost grip of himself for a moment and sternly ordered that the soldier be sent to Jackson with orders to have him shot as a warning to the army.9

Almost as quickly as he lost his temper, Lee recovered it. As he rode on toward the firing, Colonel Stephen D. Lee, who had been fighting magnificently with his battalion of reserve artillery near the Dunker Church, reported from General Hood. The Texans and Law's brigade, he said, had plunged into the gap created by Hooker's attack. By the fiercest of fighting they had driven back the Federals almost to the point where the battle had opened. D. H. Hill had given gallant support by moving up his brigades from the right, and Early, with some fragments of Jackson's men, held the line on the left of the gap. At the moment of their farthest advance, a second Federal onslaught had been made with an overwhelming force of fresh troops.10 Hood's ammunition had been exhausted, and his weary men had been forced to give ground. The left of D. H. Hill's division had been heavily engaged. The gap had been opened a second time as far as the p391 Dunker Church. Walker had then gone in; G. T. Anderson had reinforced D. H. Hill; the line had been restored in part and the Federals had been driven back once more from the ground they had taken.11 Already, however, the Federals were preparing for a third assault with troops that had not been previously employed. The left of D. H. Hill's line was being slowly pushed back, and he was urgently calling for reinforcements.12


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THE DUNKER CHURCH FACING THE HAGERSTOWN ROAD, AROUND WHICH FOUGHT THE CONFEDERATE LEFT WING IN THE BATTLE OF SHARPSBURG, SEPT. 17, 1862.
In this contemporary photograph,a the marks of many projectiles are visible on the white-washed walls.

All this Stephen Lee reported and added that General Hood was afraid the day would be lost unless supports were sent in. The commanding general listened quietly and answered in an even voice, "Don't be excited about it, Colonel; go tell General Hood to hold his ground, reinforcements are now rapidly approaching between Sharpsburg and the ford." Soon McLaws's division, a long gray line, appeared over the hill.13 Then Lee rode on to post the artillery that Carter was to bring up.14

By this time Walker had shot his bolt. His command had swept forward into the open until it had reached a stout post-and‑rail fence, where it had been exposed to a devastating fire of infantry and artillery. Unable to cross the fence, the men had halted and then had fallen slowly back.15

It was now McLaws's turn. In the lull that came while that officer deployed his men for the third counterattack of the morning, Lee turned back from the left, and rode toward the centre in anticipation of an attack there. He found R. H. Anderson's division, less than 4000 men, arriving to support D. H. Hill. Soon Hill joined Lee. Together they rode down the line. Lee told the regimental officers that they must prepare themselves for an attack at any moment and he encouraged them as best he could. As he spoke to some of Rodes's brigade, which had fought so admirably and had suffered so much at South Mountain, the colonel of the 6th Alabama, John B. Gordon, answered him with words as cheering as his own: "These men are going to stay here, General," he said, "till the sun goes down or victory is won."16

Ere long "Old Pete" came up to Lee and D. H. Hill and went p392 with them to a little eminence, whence they could see an ominous concentration on their left. Lee dismounted, and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Longstreet, an unsmoked cigar in his mouth, did the same thing. Hill sat astride his horse. "If you insist on riding up there and drawing the fire," Longstreet banteringly said, "give us a little interval so that we may not be in the line of the fire when they open upon us." Hill did not get down, but, like the other two, studied the dispositions of the enemy to the left. Presently, as Longstreet changed the field of his glasses, he noted a puff of smoke. "There is a shot for you," he cried. A few seconds later the ball struck Hill's horse and carried off the forelegs of the animal. It was with some difficulty that Hill dismounted, as the horse stood shivering in anguish on his knees.17

Ere that shot, McLaws's troops had attacked with splendid élan. Cobb's brigade moved at too wide an angle to the right, lost contact with the rest of the division, and joined the left of Rodes's brigade. Semmes, on the left of McLaws, was obliqued to the left by Jackson's order to support Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Stuart's cavalry, whose artillery under Pelham was plastering the Federal right.18 The brigades of Kershaw and Barksdale, sweeping splendidly forward, drove back from the woods a strong Federal force that proved to be a part of Sumner's corps — the third corps that had been hurled against the Confederate left that day. The pursuit carried McLaws to the fence where Walker had been halted by the enemy's fire. There McLaws's men, too, had to stop, unable to throw down or to climb over the barrier. In a few minutes they had in turn to fall back to the edge of the West Wood. But this time they were not followed. Anything might happen where three assaults had been delivered with so much pertinacity, but for the moment it looked as if the worst were over on the left.19

But on the centre, the segmented centre, the intense bombardment and the massing of distant blue lines could mean only that the enemy was about to open the second battle of the day and was to assail the thin line of D. H. Hill. His left, which had held the right of the gap at the angle in the line, had already been roughly handled. Three of his five brigades had been demoralized. The p393 brunt of the attack would have to be borne by Rodes's and George B. Anderson's brigades, which stood in a sunken road, aptly styled thereafter "The Bloody Lane," that formed a minor salient in the line, approximately one mile northeast of the town. The suspense was not long. Soon the troops of Franklin's corps began to stream forward in heavy masses.20 They were met with resolution and were hurled back. Again they attacked and again met a repulse. A third assault had the same fate, thanks alike to the valor of the infantry and to the enfilading fire of some guns that Hill brought up.21

The attacks on the centre seemed about to die away when a lieutenant colonel of Rodes's brigade reported that a force of the enemy had worked around to a point of vantage whence it could enfilade a part of the sunken road. Rodes at once ordered one flank drawn in, but the officer understood that this was to involve the withdrawal of the whole brigade. Before Rodes looked up from caring for one of his aides, who had been wounded at that instant, the whole of his line retired. General G. B. Anderson held his brigade together for a short time, but he too was enfiladed and fell mortally wounded. His men broke and came across the road. Soon the enemy was in hot pursuit and was within a few hundred yards of the high ground on which stood the Dunker Church. R. H. Anderson's division by this time was fighting hard and incapable of giving D. H. Hill any support. A gap yawned in the centre as ominously as the one that had been made on the left earlier in the action. And there were no troops to fill it. Disaster seemed at hand, but D. H. Hill refused to admit that the day was lost. He found Boyce's battery near by and set it firing furiously with grape and canister. Personally, Hill gathered a few men together and led them against the enemy. About 200 other soldiers, collected by a few diligent officers, were launched against the right of the Federals who were pouring into the gap. There was wild confusion for a time and then, most mysteriously, the enemy halted, though his artillery continued to pour its fire against a line that had almost disappeared.22

p394

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Situation on the Confederate centre in the battle of Sharpsburg,
about 12:15 P.M., September 17, 1862.

Despite this pause, a renewal of the attack on the centre seemed so nearly certain of success that Lee had to undertake some movement to lessen the pressure on D. H. Hill. He had no reserves on the field, though A. P. Hill was supposed to be on a forced march from Harpers Ferry. The roar of guns from the right told of an impending attack that forbade the withdrawal of troops from that flank. He must create a diversion and the one point at which he could attack with any promise of success was on his left, where the assaults of the enemy had not been renewed. Orders were at p395 once sent to Jackson to attempt to turn the enemy's right near the Potomac, with the assistance of Stuart, while Walker brought his worn regiments together and renewed the offensive on the Hagerstown road, at the point where the line bent to the left.23

Before Jackson could deploy, the action on the Confederate right became so heavy that Lee had to ride in that direction to see what had befallen D. R. Jones's division. That command had been holding the whole of the line south of the Boonsboro-Sharpsburg road, for a distance of more than a mile, since Walker and G. T. Anderson had been ordered away. The right of D. R. Jones's position, which faced a bridge and two fords across the Antietam, had been defended by three regiments of the brigade of Robert Toombs, with the help of a few scattered companies. Toombs had placed his men close to the creek and had engaged early the Federal skirmishers and sharpshooters. After 10 o'clock four attacks had been delivered on him. Fortunately for Toombs, these were directed against the bridge, the approach to which was along a road that paralleled the creek for a few hundred yards and was exposed to the fire of the Southern batteries. Each time the Federals had been repulsed bloodily by the 2d and 20th Georgia regiments. Now, about 1 o'clock, the Federals massed opposite the fords below the bridge in such numbers that it was manifest Toombs's weary men could no longer prevent a crossing.24 The best that could be hoped was that they could retreat and hold the high ground west of the fords and south of Sharpsburg until A. P. Hill came up. If he arrived in time, the enemy might be pressed back to the creek. If he were delayed, nothing could prevent the Federals from pushing forward until they got in rear of Longstreet's left. They might even sweep on until they cut off the retreat of the army to the Potomac in the vicinity of Shepherdstown. Either advance would certainly mean ruin, unless Jackson meantime turned the Federal right flank.

As Lee waited in the streets of Sharpsburg, where every wall echoed the roar of the guns, Captain Thomas M. Garnett, of the 5th North Carolina, Garland's brigade, approached and asked for orders. His brigade, he said, had been driven from the centre, and his regiment was badly scattered. That sounded as if the centre p396 had been broken at the same time that the right was about to give ground, but as yet there was no sign of a general retreat on D. H. Hill's front, so far as Lee could observe. He ordered Garnett to support Evans, the nearest command, in the outskirts of the town, facing the Antietam.25 Then he rode to an eminence west of the town, where he watched Toombs's men form with the rest of p397 D. R. Jones's division for a last stand on the ridge to which they had by this time skillfully withdrawn.


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Situation on the Confederate right in the battle of Sharpsburg,
about 1 P.M., September 17, 1862.

Soon, from the Confederate left, there crept the shattered wreck of a battery — two disabled guns and one piece that seemed still serviceable. A handful of begrimed and staggering cannoneers followed the exhausted horses. The captain of the battery, with a few of his men, came up to Lee for instructions. The officer in command proved to be Captain W. T. Poague, in whose battery Bob Lee was serving. The boy himself was among the survivors. Lee listened to Poague and then ordered him to take the remaining gun and the best horses and return to Jackson's front, to share in the offensive that "Stonewall" was preparing.

"General," said Robert, as Poague turned to go, "are you going to send us in again?"

"Yes, my son," he answered, "you all must do what you can to help drive these people back."26

It was now nearly 2 o'clock. No new attack had been delivered against the Confederate left since McLaws had fallen back. On the centre, D. H. Hill's shattered line was making a grisly bluff to conceal the weakness of the front. Longstreet's staff, finding a battery whose gunners had been decimated, were serving two of the pieces themselves, while "Old Pete" looked after their horses.27 Colonel Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Chilton, who was sent forward to ascertain the state of affairs, brought back the astonishing report that Longstreet said he was holding a stretch of the line with two guns and one regiment, and the regiment did not have a cartridge. As a matter of fact, the survivors of Cobb's brigade and two stout-hearted regiments were still in position, the 27th North Carolina, Colonel John R. Cooke, and the 3d Arkansas, Captain John W. Reedy. When word was sent to Cooke that he must keep his position at any cost, he grimly told the staff officer that his command was "still ready to lick this whole damn outfit" — language that General Lee would not have approved, however much he would have applauded the sentiment.28 Cooke continued to wave his flag; Longstreet's amateur cannoneers kept their two guns hot; other nearby p398 artillery added its fire.29 Such a day of suspense and instant danger Lee had never known, and now, while the September sun seemed to stand still at the bidding of a Northern Joshua, crisis piled on crisis. Jackson reported that the enemy's guns so completely commanded the Confederate left that he could not turn the Federal right.30 Lee's immediate hope of a counterstroke vanished at the word. He had only one recourse — the concentration of all available artillery to hold the Federals in check. As he found batteries, he had them put in action on the right, firing over the heads of the Confederates and into the ranks of the enemy, who, by this time, had brought across the creek some guns that were supporting the Union left with vigor. Against such odds as now faced Longstreet's right, even the stubborn spirit of the Army of Northern Virginia could not stand much longer. The strongest were near collapse. Men walked like ghosts and fought like automatons. In many brigades ammunition was exhausted, and the soldier had to supply himself from the cartridge boxes of the fallen. Caissons were well-nigh empty. Regiments were commanded by captains, brigades by junior colonels. Divisions were confused. The smoke-filled streets of the little town were crowded with agonized wounded and with bewildered refugees. Still the concentration against the Confederate right grew; still the Federals hammered at the centre. An army that had never known defeat was perilously close to it.

Then, at 2:30, when the very seconds seemed to be ticking doom, from the south a group of officers rode up at the gallop on frothing horses. A. P. Hill had come at last! Starting from Harpers Ferry at 7:30, only an hour after he had received Lee's order to move to Sharpsburg with the utmost speed, Hill had covered seventeen miles in seven hours by pushing his troops to the utmost limit of their endurance.31 He had only 3000 men and they were an hour and more behind him, panting on the road. They would arrive — but would they be too late? The roar of the Federal guns seemed to give an ominous answer.

Half an hour passed. The situation grew tenser. Then, at 3 p400 o'clock, the threatened attack on the right broke in fury. Up the hill came the Federals, disdainful of losses. On to the confused ranks of D. R. Jones's division they fought their way. The Southern lines bent and shifted and almost broke as the weary men slowly gave ground. Everything now depended on the speed with which the four brigades of A. P. Hill32 could reach the field and go into action. Until they could form, D. R. Jones's men must fight as best they could, and the artillery must dispute the Federals' advance. A retreat would be fatal — but was it inevitable? Had the left thrice closed the gap at the angle in the line, at desperate cost, to have the right doubled up? Along the front of McLaws and down to D. H. Hill's position a new attack was sweeping, bitterly contested by the survivors of Hill's regiments with the support of R. H. Anderson and of Hood, who was called back into the line for the third time that day. The field was close to chaos; the enemy was perilously near a victory. In the thickest of the action Lee at one time thought the Federals had the whole of Sharpsburg.33 Steadily the Northerners advanced; stubbornly for an hour the Confederates resisted. The approximate situation along the front about 4 o'clock is shown on page 399.


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General situation on the Confederate front in the battle of Sharpsburg,
about 4 P.M., September 17, 1862.º

The concentration against the Confederate right was overwhelming. It could only be a matter of minutes before the line must break. As Lee watched the columns that were plunging toward D. R. Jones's little division under a pall of smoke, a section of the Rowan Artillery passed by on its way to the front. Noticing that its commander, Lieutenant John A. Ramsay, had a telescope, Lee pointed to a distant column and asked, "What troops are those?"

Ramsay offered him the glass.

"Can't use it," Lee said, holding up his still bandaged fingers.

The lieutenant focused the telescope: "They are flying the United States flag."

Lee pointed to the right, where another line was now visible. He repeated his question — a fateful question, for the troops at which he looked were where they could flank Jones quickly.

Ramsay looked, looked for an instant that must have seemed an aeon.

p401 "They are flying the Virginia and Confederate flags," he reported. Lee did not move a muscle, though the words spelled salvation.

"It is A. P. Hill from Harpers Ferry," he said quietly, and, with no other word of explanation, he hastened to tell Ramsay to open on the enemy he had first sighted.

"General Lee," said Ramsay, "as soon as we fire we will draw the enemy's fire."

"Never mind me," the General answered.

The first shot of the battery exploded in the Federal ranks. Soon the column halted and then got out of range.

"Well done," said Lee. "Elevate your guns and continue to fire until those troops" — and he pointed again to Hill's vanguard, which was almost at right angles to the Federals — "come near your line of fire. Then change your position to the ridge on the right of the line and fire on the troops beyond the creek."34

With that he rode off to witness Hill's advance.35 It came late, but it came with explosive power. Archer's brigade was on Hill's left as the division formed line of battle. Quickly his men were hurled against a Federal column that had overrun McIntosh's battery, sent to the field ahead of Hill's infantry. Raising a defiant rebel yell, Archer's troops swept forward without a halt, recovered McIntosh's guns, and continued to press the enemy. Gregg and Branch, on the right of Archer, awaited the Federal advance, repulsed it, and then followed steadily the swift retirement of the enemy. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pender was brought up from A. P. Hill's extreme right, but before he could engage, the bluecoats were surging back from the edge of the town and over the ridges to the shelter of the stream bank. Toombs and D. R. Jones joined in the pursuit, and Toombs was for pressing the advance beyond the creek.

The Federal artillery continued to challenge the hills; the heavy blue columns could still be glimpsed in overmastering strength across the creek and far around to the Federal right, where D. H. Hill and R. H. Anderson and McLaws and Walker and Jackson himself were counting the army of the dead. But the enemy had enough. The fine divisions of Burnside's corps — for he it was who made the attack on the Confederate right from across p402 the bridge that has since borne his name — were content to find such cover as they could away from the avenging rifles of A. P. Hill's infantry. Shining as red as if it reflected the blood on the Maryland hills,36 the September sun set at last, and the battle was abruptly over, within an hour and a half after A. P. Hill's division had gone into action. Three thousand men, only 2000 of whom had been engaged in the final counterstroke, had saved Lee's army from almost certain destruction.


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BURNSIDE'S BRIDGE ACROSS THE ANTIETAM, NEAR SHARPSBURG, MARYLAND
Looking from the Union left front of attack
toward the high ground held on Sept. 17, 1862, by the Confederate right wing.b

As quick darkness fell on the ghastly ridges, Lee found that he had fought three battles, one on each of the three segments into which the field was divided by nature. Hooker had attacked Lawton's and the Stonewall division on the Confederate left and had first opened the gap; Hood had closed it by had withdrawn before Mansfield's assault; Walker had arrived in time to drive Mansfield off, only to find himself hurled back to the Dunker Church by Sumner; then McLaws had charged and had ended the first battle. Sumner's attack, extending down the line of D. H. Hill, had opened the second battle of the day and had been followed by the repeated assaults of Franklin's corps. Before Franklin had worn himself out, Burnside had attacked on the Confederate right at the bridge and the third engagement had opened.

Each of the three battles had taken heavy toll. The dead were everywhere. The lanterns of the ambulance corps on both sides were soon flickering like the fireflies on a Southern river, but they did not reach all the corners of the fields or penetrate the shadows in the woods and under the rocks where the dead stiffened and the wounded cried in vain for water. Of the 36,000 infantry or thereabouts,37 that Lee had in action from sunrise to nightfall, more than 10,000 were casualties.38 Some units had been almost wiped out.39 The dead included two of Lee's general officers — p403 L. O'B. Branch and William E. Starke. A third, G. B. Anderson, was mortally wounded.40

Grievous as the losses had been, and desperately as the outcome had hinged, time after time, on the arrival of Lee's scant reinforcements, what could the morrow hold except disaster more nearly complete? Every division was in line; in all northern Virginia there were no troops except Thomas's brigade at Harpers Ferry that could possibly be called upon, even in the direct emergency. Another series of attacks like those that had been delivered all day would certainly drive the army into the Potomac.

So, at least, thought nearly all the officers who made their way during the evening to the headquarters Lee had established in an open field west of the town. Jackson came, and both the Hills, and Hood and Early and D. R. Jones. Lee walked among them and got their reports of losses and weakness, but he was calm and as nearly cheerful as a man could be with almost a third of his army dead on the field or tortured with wounds. Not one word did he say of the thing that was uppermost in the minds of most of his officers — a retreat that night across the Potomac.

"Where is Longstreet?" Lee asked anxiously, after he had conversed with each of the others.

"I saw him at sundown, all right," said Major Venable.

At that moment "Old Pete" rode up. He had stopped in Sharpsburg to render what help he could to a group of ladies whose home was on fire, and he still had his unsmoked cigar in his mouth. Lee walked over to him as Longstreet dismounted.

"Ah," he said grasping his hand, "here is Longstreet; here is my old war horse." And he began a conversation in a low tone.41

When the last of the reports had been received, Lee concluded that an offensive was out of the question the next day, but he was confident that the army could and would defend its position if McClellan again attacked.42 Artillery was to be placed to cover the bridge across which Burnside had attacked;43 rations were to be cooked and delivered to the men who slept on their arms almost where the battle had opened; guards were to be sent back p404 to collect stragglers between the lines and the Potomac. After all this had been arranged without a touch of the theatrical, the division commanders were allowed to return to their troops, some of them frankly amazed at Lee's daring. What manner of man was he who would elect after that doubtful battle against vast odds to stand for another day with his back to the river?44


The Author's Notes:

1 O. R., 19, part 1, pp845, 928.

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2 O. R., 19, part 1, p610.

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3 Ibid.

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4 O. R., 19, part 1, p865. The 8th S. C. Infantry of Kershaw's Brigade carried only forty-five men into action (O. R., 19, part 1, p866).

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5 O. R., 19, part 1, pp956, 975, 976, 1022, 1032; Alexander, 252; Hood, 42.

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6 O. R., 19, part 1, p909.

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7 O. R., 19, part 1, p914.

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8 O. R., 19, part 1, p1030.

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9 Long, 222. Jackson decided that it was better to let the enemy act as executioner, so he sent the straggler into the hottest of the battle. The man fought so well that his offense was forgiven him when he emerged unscathed from the fire. Long remarked that the straggler lost his pig but saved his bacon. At another time during the battle, Lee challenged a straggler who was going to the rear and demanded why he was leaving the field. "I have been stung by a bung," said the man, who probably was having his first acquaintance with shell, often called "bombs" by the illiterate recruits, "and I'm what they call demoralized." Lee let him go (Marginalia, 94). It is proper to add that the sequence of Lee's movements on September 17 is very difficult to establish. In this instance the time of the episode is hypothetical.

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10 Mansfield's corps.

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11 O. R., 19, part 1, pp149, 909‑10, 914‑15, 923, 938, 1022‑23.

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12 O. R., 19, part 1, p1023.

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13 S. D. Lee, quoted in White, 218.

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14 O. R., 19, part 1, p1030.

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15 Walker in 2 B. and L., 678; O. R., 19, part 1, pp915, 918, 920.

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16 John B. Gordon: Reminiscences of the Civil War (cited hereafter as Gordon), 84.

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17B. and L., 671.

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18 O. R., 19, part 1, p874.

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19 O. R., 19, part 1, pp858, 865, 871‑72, 874‑75, 883; History of Kershaw's Brigade, 155; McDaniel, 14‑16.

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20 O. R., 19, part 1, p1023.

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21 O. R., 19, part 1, p1023.º

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22 O. R., 19, part 1, pp1023‑24, 1037‑38, 1047‑48. General Sumner, it was subsequently learned, had met Franklin, whom he outranked, and had advised against a renewal of the attack.

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23 O. R., 19, part 1, pp151, 956; White, 221.

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24 O. R., 19, part 1, p890.

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25 O. R., 19, part 1, p1042.

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26 R. E. Lee, Jr., 78. This incident, here quoted almost in the language of the young man, appears in many versions.

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27B. and L., 669; Sorrel, 113; O. R., 19, part 1, pp849‑50.

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28 Sorrel, 114; 2 N. C. Regiments, 436 ff.

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29B. and L., 669‑70. The stand made by the 27th N. C. and the 3d Arkansas was believed by many to have saved the day (H. M. Wagstaff, ed.: The James A. Graham Papers, 1861‑1884, p132; 1 N. C. Regiments, 187‑88).

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30 O. R., 19, part 1, pp151, 956.

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31 O. R., 19, part 1, p981.

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32 Thomas's brigade had been left at Harpers Ferry to care for the captured property.

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33 16 S. H. S. P., 395.

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34 1 N. C. Regiments, 575.

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35 O. R., 19, part 1, p988.

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36B. and L., 684.

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37 Taylor's first estimate in his Four Years, p73, was 35,255. In 24 S. H. S. P., 272, he revised this to 36,175. Lee said (O. R., 19, part 1, p151) he had "less than 40,000 men."

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38 Lee's heavy casualties, as mentioned in note 89, p372, were not separately reported for the different battles of the Maryland campaign. The total, as computed by Alexander, op. cit., 274, was 13,609. Allowing 2900 for Boonsboro, Crampton's Gap, and the Harpers Ferry operations, the Southern casualties at Sharpsburg appear to have been around 10,700. Of the 87,176 that McClellan had at hand — though he had employed only a little more than half of them — his losses were 12,410 (O. R., 19, part 1, p200).

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39 The Texas brigade lost 560 of 854 (O. R., 19, part 1, p929). The 1st Texas lost 182 of 226 (ibid., 933). The 7th South Carolina lost 140 of 268 (ibid., 866).

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40 Two Federal corps commanders, Mansfield and Reno, and two divisional commanders, Richardson and Rodman, had also been slain.

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41 Owen, 156. General Sorrel (op. cit., 116), represented Lee as saying, "Here comes my old warhorse from the field he has done so much to save!"

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42B. and L., 671‑72.

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43 O. R., 19, part 1, p1031.

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44 From 1896, or thereabouts, General Stephen D. Lee was wont, when in reminiscent mood, to give a very dramatic picture of this meeting at Lee's headquarters on the night of the 17th. He said that the commanding general asked each subordinate in turn, "How is it on your part of the line?" Longstreet, according to General Stephen Lee, answered "As bad as bad can be." D. H. Hill said, "My division is cut to pieces." Jackson replied, "The greatest odds I have ever met — losses terrible." All advised a retreat, but Lee, rising more erect in his stirrups, said, "Gentlemen, we will not cross to Potomac tonight. You will go to your respective commands, strengthen your lines; send two officers from each brigade towards the ford to collect stragglers and get them up. Many others have come up. I have had the proper steps taken to collect all the men who are in the rear. If McClellan wants to fight in the morning, I will give him battle again. Go!" General Stephen D. Lee gave a written account of this incident to Hotchkiss, who quoted it in 3 C. M. H., 356‑57. White, op. cit., 223‑24, accepted it, as did David Knowles in his American Civil War, 107‑8. Hotchkiss's version is printed, also, in 1 N. C. Regiments, 626. Despite the splendid character and standing of General Stephen D. Lee, whom he much admired,º the writer has been unable to accept this account of the incident for these reasons: (1) Although there was a large company of officers present at headquarters, no one else mentioned any such conversation, as some at least would have been almost certain to do if it had been as dramatic as S. D. Lee represented it to have been; (2) neither Owen nor Sorrel, who saw Longstreet ride up, referred to any formal council of any sort; (3) Longstreet himself stated he reached headquarters after the others had reported, whereas Stephen D. Lee had him the first to answer Lee's question; (4) S. D. Lee said that General R. E. Lee was on his horse, which the other witnesses deny; (5) it was not Lee's custom to hold councils of this sort, nor to ask opinions of his generals as a group, in the presence of a large coterie of staff-officers. Major Hotchkiss, though he printed the story, took pains to attribute it to Stephen D. Lee and carefully eliminated Jackson's answer, which did not seem to him to have the ring of authenticity. Colonel Walter H. Taylor likewise believed that the story had been embellished with much telling, though he stated that he was unwilling to contradict what General Stephen D. Lee asserted as a fact. The writer believes that the version given in the text is substantially what happened.


Thayer's Notes:

a A number of good photos of the Dunker church, may be found online. Before Freeman wrote, however, in 1921, the church had been leveled by a storm: more recent photos show it as reconstructed in 1962.

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b Several dozen good photos of this bridge, from just about every angle, may be found online.


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Page updated: 5 Oct 13