September 17, 1862: Antietam-America’s Bloodiest Day

Antietam, the bloodiest day in American history.  On that single day more American casualties were sustained than in all of America’s prior wars, except for the American Revolution, combined.  As for the American Revolution, the 23,000 killed and wounded at Antietam on a single day were more than one-third of the total of 58,000 Americans killed and wounded in the eight years of the Revolution.

Antietam was the culmination of Lee’s Maryland campaign. Lee had decided to enter Maryland in early September 1862 to take the pressure off war-torn Virginia, to gain supplies in Maryland and possibly recruits from sympathetic Marylanders and to inflict, if he could, punishing defeats on Union forces and, with luck, help opponents of the Lincoln administration do well in the fall elections as a result of those defeats.  Go here to read a post detailing Lee’s motivation for the Maryland Campaign.

All went superbly for Lee initially in the Maryland Campaign.  Supplies were abundant in Maryland.  Recruits from Marylanders, while not as abundant as the Confederates would have wished, were first-rate as to quality.  The Northern papers, and General Lee gained much valuable intelligence throughout the War by reading carefully every Northern newspaper he could obtain, were largely hysterical about the Confederate offensive, more than a few predicting that the War was lost.  General Stonewall Jackson’s II corps was detailed by Lee to capture Harper’s Ferry, which he did on September 15, 1862 against pathetically weak Union opposition, and inflicting one of the worst defeats on the United States Army in its history, the 12,000 Union troops being the largest mass surrender of United States military personnel until the surrender on Bataan in 1942.  Go here to read a post on the sorry tale.

Lincoln, desperate to stop Lee, placed Major General George B. McClellan, in disgrace after his humiliating defeat in the Peninsula Campaign, back in command of the Army of the Potomac.  McClellan followed Lee in a lethargic pursuit, obviously fearful of being defeated by Lee again.  The situation altered dramatically when McClellan was the beneficiary of the biggest intelligence coup of the Civil War, obtaining a copy of Lee’s Special Order No, 191 on September 13, 1862, which revealed to McClellan that Lee had divided his force and the routes that the portions of Lee’s army were to follow.  Go here to read a post on the finding of the famous Lost Order.  With this order in hand McClellan boasted that he would whip Bobby Lee or go home.

On September 14, 1862 McClellan attacked three gaps at South Mountain to seize them, to allow him to march over the mountain and fall on Lee’s separated units.  Lee held two of the gaps after a hard day’s battle.  Go here to read a post on the battle of South Mountain.  With one of the gaps lost, Lee retreated and began to swiftly reassemble his Army of Northern Virginia to confront the Army of the Potomac.  McClellan, inexplicably, threw away his advantage by doing almost nothing on September 15, instead of immediately following Lee in hot pursuit.

At dawn on September 17, 1862, the Army of the Potomac confronted part of the Army of Northern Virginia along Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland.  Three of the divisions of the Army of Northern Virginia were still on the road from Harper’s Ferry, marching all night to reach Lee.  McClellan enjoyed more than a two to one advantage at the beginning of the battle, his 75,000 force confronting less than 30,000 Confederates.  McClellan, as he did throughout the War, assumed, against all evidence, that the Confederates outnumbered him.

MClellan issued attack orders for each corps.  He made no effort to coordinate attacks between the corps.  With the Union advantage in numbers McClellan could have annihilated Lee’s army if he had simply had each corps get into assault position and then attack simultaneously.  Instead, this very long day consisted of piecemeal attacks by individual Union corps which gave Lee the opportunity to shift his heavily outnumbered units to meet each threat in turn.

The battle opened at 5:30 AM with Hooker leading his I Corps to the attack in the North down the Hagerstown Turnpike.  His corps consisted of around 8600 men, and they faced 7700 Confederates under Stonewall Jackson in a superb defensive position.  Bloody fighting ensued for two and a half hours and at the end the I Corps, notwithstanding the valor of its men, was back where it had started.

After his futile effort, Hooker called for aid from Mansfield and his XII  Corps, immediately to his left.  About half of Mansfield’s men were raw recruits and had no business being on a battlefield.  Mansfield himself had only been placed in command of the Corps two days before.  Concerned about the state of his mens’ training, Mansfield marched them into the battle in dense columns with disastrous results.  Mansfield was shot in the stomach and would die the next day.   The columns made a unmissable target for Confederate artillery and musketry, and the XII Corps was bloodily repulsed after making no progress against Hood’s division.

Sumner’s II Corps to the left of the XII Corps was ordered to attack at 7:20 AM.  Sumner attacked at 9:00 AM with Sedgewick’s division and was quickly repulsed, with Sumner receiving a wound that would keep him out of action for many months.

To the left of Sedgewick, the II Corps divisions of French and Richardson launched midmorning attacks against the Confederate center that were bloodily repulsed with the fighting lasting until one PM.  The Union did make a breakthrough at the sunken road which, if quickly exploited, might have led to the collapse of Lee’s army, his units worn from the heavy fighting they had already experienced.  McClellan was holding two Corps in reserve,  the VI Corps under Franklin and the V Corps under Fitz-John Porter.  Although McClellan gave indications that he would send the reserve into the fight in the center, he did not, and the Confederate center stabilized after the withdrawal of Richardson’s division, Richardson having been mortally wounded.

Burnside in the South commanded the XI Corps with the usual military incompetence displayed by him throughout the War.  His 12,500 men confronted some 3000 Confederates, Lee having stripped the sector to send troops to fight on his left and center.  Burnside wasted several hours in slow preparation for his attack, and then several more hours battling for the bridge over Antietam Creek with a miniscule Confederate force, instead of having his troops wade across at several points the narrow and shallow creek.  After three assaults Burnside took the bridge.  Burnside then wasted another two hours for more ammunition to come up and for his men to work their way through the bottle neck of the bridge.  Burnside did not launch his attack from the bridge until 3:00 which allowed just enough time for A.P. Hill’s Light Division to bolster the Confederate left, Hill having led his men on an exhausting forced march of 17 miles to arrive at the battlefield in the proverbial nick of time.  Burnside had driven off the weak Confederate force confronting him.  Hill launched a strong counter-attack.  Although Burnside heavily outnumbered Hill, Burnside decided that discretion was the better part of cowardice and retreated behind Antietam creek, crying for reinforcements from McClellan.

Lee, ever the gambler in War, remained on the battlefield the next day and worked out a truce by which both sides could remove their wounded.  McClellan could have renewed the fight with his two fresh Corps, but I doubt if the thought even crossed his mind.  Lee began his retreat back to Virginia on the evening of the 18th.  Unbelievably, despite pleas and entreaties of Lincoln, McClellan refused to attack Lee’s weakened force, pleading the poor condition of his own troops after the battle, in spite of the fact that he had fresh troops that equaled in size Lee’s army.  On November 7th, Lincoln relieved McClellan for good.  Lincoln would meet McClellan again, this time on a political battlefield, in 1864.

Antietam demonstrated what a fearsome fighting force the Army of Northern Virginia was.  Superbly led, the Confederates in the ranks drove off the attacks of an army that outnumbered it two to one, the courage of the Confederates that day being almost unbelievable in their unequal contest.  Union troops also performed prodigies of valor, but all for naught, due to a complete failure of McClellan and his corps commanders to coordinate their attacks.  McClellan as a battlefield commander was worse than no commander at all.

One had to squint hard to perceive Antietam as a victory.  Lincoln believed that a golden opportunity to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia had been thrown away, and he was right.  Still, the Union troops had not been routed from the field, and it was Lee who retreated, ending the Maryland Campaign.  At best a negative victory, avoiding a humiliating beating for the Army of the Potomac. It was close enough for Lincoln, however, for the announcement of a Proclamation he had on his desk.  More on that in a subsequent post.

Here is the text of General Lee’s official report on the Maryland Campaign and the battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam) which he submitted on August 19, 1863:

HEADQUARTERS, August 19, 1863.

General S. COOPER, Adjutant and Inspector General, Richmond, Va.

       GENERAL: I have the honor to forward a report of the capture of Harper’s Ferry and the operations of the army in Maryland (1862). The official reports of Lieutenant-General Jackson and the officers of his corps have only been recently received, which prevented its earlier transmittal. This finishes the reports of the operations of the campaign of 1862. They were designed to form a continuous narrative, though, for reasons given, were written at intervals. May I ask you to cause the several reports to be united, and to append the tabular statements accompanying each? Should this be inconvenient, if you could return the reports to me, I would have them properly arranged.

With great respect, your obedient servant, R. E. LEE, General.


General S. COOPER, Adjutant and Inspector General, Richmond, Va.


       The enemy having retired to the protection of the fortifications around Washington and Alexandria, the army marched on September 3 toward Leesburg. The armies of Generals McClellan and Pope had now been brought back to the point from which they set out on the campaigns of the spring and summer. The objects of those campaigns had been frustrated and the designs of the enemy on the coast of North Carolina and in Western Virginia thwarted by the withdrawal of the main body of his forces from those regions. Northeastern Virginia was freed from the presence of Federal soldiers up to the intrenchments of Washington, and soon after the arrival of the army at Leesburg information was received that the troops which had occupied Winchester had retired to Harper’s Ferry and Martinsburg. The war was thus transferred from the interior to the frontier, and the supplies of rich and productive districts made accessible to our army. To prolong a state of affairs in every way desirable, and not to permit the season for active operations to pass without endeavoring to inflict further injury upon the enemy, the best course appeared to be the transfer of the army into Maryland. Although not properly equipped for invasion, lacking much of the material of war, and feeble in transportation, the troops poorly provided with clothing, and thousands of them destitute of shoes, it was yet believed to be strong enough to detain the enemy upon the northern frontier until the approach of winter should render his advance into Virginia difficult, if not impracticable. The condition of Maryland encouraged the belief that the presence of our army, however inferior to that of the enemy, would induce the Washington Government to retain all its available force to provide against contingencies, which its course toward the people of that State gave it reason to apprehend. At the same time it was hoped that military success might afford us an opportunity to aid the citizens of Maryland in any efforts they might be disposed to make to recover their liberties. The difficulties that surrounded them were fully appreciated, and we expected to derive more assistance in the attainment of our object from the just fears of the Washington. Government than from any active demonstration on the part of the people, unless success should en able us to give them assurance of continued protection.

         Influenced by these considerations, the army was put in motion, D. H. Hill’s division, which had joined us on the 2d, being in advance, and-between September 4 and 7 crossed the Potomac at the fords near Leesburg, and encamped in the vicinity of Fredericktown.

       It was decided to cross the Potomac east of the Blue Ridge, in order, by threatening Washington and Baltimore, to cause the enemy to withdraw from the south bank, where his presence endangered our communications and the safety of those engaged in the removal of our wounded and the captured property from the late battlefields. Having accomplished this result, it was proposed to move the army into Western Maryland, establish our communications with Richmond through the Valley of the Shenandoah, and, by threatening Pennsylvania, induce the enemy to follow, and thus draw him from his base of supplies.

       It had been supposed that the advance upon Fredericktown would lead to the evacuation of Martinsburg and Harper’s Ferry, thus opening the line of communication through the Valley. This not having occurred, it became necessary to dislodge the enemy from those positions before concentrating the army west of the mountains. To accomplish this with the least delay, General Jackson was directed to proceed with his command to Martinsburg, and, after driving the enemy from that place, to move down the south side of the Potomac upon Harper’s Ferry. General McLaws, with his own and R. H. Anderson’s division, was ordered to seize Maryland Heights, on the north side of the Potomac, opposite Harper’s Ferry, and Brigadier-General Walker to take possession of Loudoun Heights, on the east side of the Shenandoa, where it unites with the Potomac. These several commands were directed, after reducing Harper’s Ferry and clearing the Valley of the enemy, to join the rest of the army at Boonsborough or Hagerstown.

         The march of these troops began on the 10th, and at the same time the remainder of Longstreet’s command and the division of D. H. Hill crossed the South Mountain and moved toward Boonsborough. General Stuart, with the cavalry, remained east of the mountains, to observe the enemy and retard his advance.

       A report having been received that a Federal force was approaching Hagerstown from the direction of Chambersburg, Longstreet continued his march to the former place, in order to secure the road leading thence to Williamsport, and also to prevent the removal of stores which were said to be in Hagerstown. He arrived at that place on the 11th, General Hill halting near Boonsborough to prevent the enemy at Harper’s Ferry from escaping through Pleasant Valley, and at the same time to support the cavalry. The advance of the Federal Army was so slow at the time we left Fredericktown as to justify the belief that the reduction of Harper’s Ferry would be accomplished and our troops concentrated before they would be called upon to meet it. In that event, it had not been intended to oppose its passage through the South Mountains, as it was desired to engage it as far as possible from its base.        General Jackson marched very rapidly, and, crossing the Potomac near Williamsport on the 11th, sent A. P. Hill’s division directly to Martinsburg, and disposed the rest of his command to cut off the retreat of the enemy westward. On his approach, the Federal troops evacuated Martinsburg, retiring to Harper’s Ferry on the night of the 11th, and Jackson entered the former place on the 12th, capturing some prisoners and abandoned stores.

         In the forenoon of the following day his leading division, under General A. P. Hill, came in sight of the enemy strongly intrenched on Bolivar Heights, in rear of Harper’s Ferry. Before beginning the attack, General Jackson proceeded to put himself in communication with the cooperating forces under Generals McLaws and Walker, from the former of whom he was separated by the Potomac and from the latter by the Shenandoah. General Walker took possession of Loudoun Heights on the 13th, and the next day was in readiness to open upon Harper’s Ferry. General McLaws encountered more opposition. He entered Pleasant Valley on the 11th. On the 12th he directed General Kershaw, with his own and Barksdale’s brigade, to ascend the ridge, whose southern extremity is known as Maryland Heights, and attack the enemy, who occupied that position with infantry and artillery, protected by intrenchments. He disposed the rest of his command to hold the roads leading from Harper’s Ferry eastward through Weverton and northward from Sandy Hook, guarding the pass in his rear, through which he had entered Pleasant Valley, with the brigades of Semmes and Mahone. Owing to the rugged nature of the ground on which Kershaw had to operate and the want of roads, he was compelled to use infantry alone. Driving in the advance parties of the enemy on the summit of the ridge on the 12th, he assailed the works the next day. After a spirited contest they were carried, the troops engaged in their defense spiking their heavy guns and retreating to Harper’s Ferry. By 4.30 p.m. Kershaw was in possession of Maryland Heights.

       On the 14th a road for artillery was cut along the ridge, and at 2 p.m. four guns opened upon the enemy on the opposite side of the river, and the investment of Harper’s Ferry was complete.

       In the mean time events transpired in another quarter which threatened to interfere with the reduction of the place. A copy of the order directing the movement of the army from Fredericktown had fallen into the hands of General McClellan, and disclosed to him the disposition of our forces. He immediately began to push forward rapidly, and on the afternoon of the 13th was reported approaching the pass in South Mountain, on the Boonsborough and Fredericktown road. The cavalry under General Stuart fell back before him, materially impeding his progress by its gallant resistance, and gaining time for preparations to oppose his advance. By penetrating the mountain at this point, he would reach the rear of McLaws and be enabled to relieve the garrison at Harper’s Ferry. To prevent this, General D. H. Hill was directed to guard the Boonsborough Gap and Longstreet ordered to march from Hagerstown to his support.

       On the 13th General Hill sent back the brigades of Garland and Colquirt to hold the pass, but subsequently ascertaining that the enemy was near in heavy force, he ordered up the rest of his division.

         Early on the 14th a large body of the enemy attempted to force its way to the rear of the position held by Hill by a road south of the Boonsborough and Fredericktown turnpike. The attack was repulsed by Garland’s brigade, after a severe conflict, in which that brave and accomplished young officer was killed. The remainder of the division arriving shortly afterward, Colquitt’s brigade was disposed across the turnpike road; that of G. B. Anderson, supported by Ripley, was placed on the right, and Rodes’ occupied an important position on the left. Garland’s brigade, which had suffered heavily in the first attack, was withdrawn, and the defense of the road occupied by it intrusted to Colonel Rosser, of the Fifth Virginia Cavalry, who reported to General Hill with his regiment and some artillery. The small command of General Hill repelled the repeated assaults of the Federal Army and held it in check for five hours. Several attacks on the center were gallantly repulsed by Colquitt’s brigade, and Rodes maintained his position against heavy odds with the utmost tenacity. Longstreet, leaving one brigade at Hagerstown, had hurried to the assistance of Hill, and reached the scene of action between 3 and 4 p.m. His troops, much exhausted by a long, rapid march and the heat of the day, were disposed on both sides of the turnpike. General D. R. Jones, with three of his brigades-those of Pickett (under General Garnett), Kemper, and Jenkins (under Colonel Walker)–together with Evans’ brigade, was posted along the mountain on the left; General Hood, with his own and Whiting’s brigade (under Colonel Law), Drayton’s, and D. R. Jones’ (under Col. G. T. Anderson), on the right. Batteries had been placed by General Hill in such positions as could be found, but the ground was unfavorable for the use of artillery. The battle continued with great animation until night. On the south of the turnpike the enemy was driven back some distance, and his attack on the center repulsed with loss. His great superiority of numbers enabled him to extend beyond both of our flanks. By this means he succeeded in reaching the summit of the mountain beyond our left, and, pressing upon us heavily from that direction, gradually forced our troops back after an obstinate resistance. Darkness put an end to the contest.

       The effort to force the passage of the mountains had failed, but it was manifest that without re-enforcements we could not hazard a renewal of the engagement, as the enemy could easily turn either flank. Information was also received that another large body of Federal troops had during the afternoon forced their way through Crampton’s Gap, only 5 miles in rear of McLaws. Under these circumstances, it was determined to retire to Sharpsburg, where we would be upon the flank and rear of the enemy should he move against McLaws, and where we could more readily unite with the rest of the army. This movement was efficiently and skillfully covered by the cavalry brigade of General Fitzhugh Lee, and was accomplished without interruption by the enemy, who did not appear on the west side of the pass at Boonsborough until about 8 a.m. on the following morning. The resistance that had been offered to the enemy at Boonsborough secured sufficient time to enable General Jackson to complete the reduction of Harper’s Ferry.        On the afternoon of the 14th, when he found that the troops of Walker and McLaws were in position to co-operate in the attack, he ordered General A. P. Hill to turn the enemy’s left flank and enter Harper’s Ferry. Ewell’s division (under General Lawton)was ordered to support Hill, while Winder’s brigade, of Jackson’s division (under Colonel Grigsby),with a battery of artillery, made a demonstration on the enemy’s right near the Potomac. The rest of the division was held in reserve. The cavalry under Major Massie was placed on the extreme left, to prevent the escape of the enemy. Colonel Grigsby succeeded in getting possession of an eminence on the left, upon which two batteries were advantageously posted. General A. P. Hill, observing a hill on the enemy’s extreme left occupied by infantry without artillery, and protected only by an abatis of felled timber, directed General Pender, with his own brigade and those of [General] Archer and Colonel Brocken brough, to seize the crest, which was done with slight resistance. At the same time he ordered Generals Branch and Gregg to march along the Shenandoah, and, taking advantage of the ravines intersecting its steep banks, to establish themselves on the plain to the left and rear of the enemy’s works. This was accomplished during the night. Lieutenant-Colonel Walker, chief of artillery of A. P. Hill’s division, placed several batteries on the eminence taken by General Pender, and, under the directions of Colonel Crutchfield, General Jackson’s chief of artillery, ten guns belonging to Ewell’s division were posted on the east side of the Shenandoah, so as to enfilade the enemy’s intrenchments on Bolivar Heights, and take his nearest and most formidable works in reverse. General McLaws in the mean time made his preparations to prevent the force which had penetrated at Crampton’s Gap from coming to the relief of the garrison. This pass had been defended by the brigade of General Cobb, supported by those of Semmes and Mahone; but unable to oppose successfully the superior numbers brought against them, they had been compelled to retire with loss. The enemy halted at the gap, and during the night General McLaws formed his command in line of battle across Pleasant Valley, about 1 miles below Crampton’s [Gap], leaving one regiment to support the artillery on Maryland Heights, and two brigades on each of the roads from Harper’s Ferry.

         The attack on the garrison began at dawn. A rapid and vigorous fire was opened from the batteries of General Jackson and those on Maryland and Loudoun Heights. In about two hours the garrison, consisting of more than 11,000 men, surrendered. Seventy-three pieces of artillery, about 13,000 small-arms, and a large quantity of military stores, fell into our hands. Leaving General A. P. Hill to receive the surrender of the Federal troops and secure the captured property, General Jackson, with his two other divisions, set out at once for Sharps-burg, ordering Generals McLaws and Walker to follow without delay. Official information of the fall of Harper’s Ferry and the approach of General Jackson was received soon after the commands of Longstreet and D. H. Hill reached Sharpsburg, on the morning of the 15th, and reanimated the courage of the troops. General Jackson arrived early on the 16th and General Walker came up in the afternoon. The presence of the enemy at Crampton’s Gap embarrassed the movements of General McLaws. He retained the position taken during the night of the 14th to oppose an advance toward Harper’s Ferry until the capitulation of that place, when, finding the enemy indisposed to attack, he gradually withdrew his command toward the Potomac. Deeming the roads to Sharpsburg on the north side of the river impracticable, he resolved to cross at Harper’s Ferry and march by way of Shepherdstown. Owing to the condition of his troops and other circumstances, his progress was slow, and he did not reach the battlefield at Sharpsburg until some time after the engagement of the 17th began. The commands of Longstreet and D. H. Hill, on their arrival at Sharpsburg, were placed in position along the range of hills between the town and the Antietam, nearly parallel to the course of that stream, Longstreet on the right of the road to Boonsborough and Hill on the left. The advance of the enemy was delayed by the brave opposition he encountered from Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry, and he did not appear on the opposite side of the Antietam until about 2 p.m. During the afternoon the batteries on each side were slightly engaged.

       On the 16th the artillery fire became warmer, and continued throughout the day. The enemy crossed the Antietam beyond the reach of our batteries and menaced our left. In anticipation of this movement, Hood’s two brigades had been transferred from the right and posted between D. H. Hill and the Hagerstown road. General Jackson was now directed to take position on Hood’s left, and formed his line with his right resting upon the Hagerstown road and his left extending toward the Potomac, protected by General Stuart with the cavalry and horse artillery. General Walker, with his two brigades, was stationed on Longstreet’s right. As evening approached, the enemy opened more vigorously with his artillery, and bore down heavily with his infantry upon Hood, but the attack was gallantly repulsed. At 10 p.m. Hood’s troops were relieved by the brigades of Lawton and Trimble, of Ewell’s division, commanded by General Lawton. Jackson’s own division, under General J. R. Jones, was on Lawton’s left, supported by the remaining brigades of Ewell.

         At early dawn on the 17th the enemy’s artillery opened vigorously from both sides of the Antietam, the heaviest fire being directed against our left. Under cover of this fire a large force of infantry attacked General Jackson. They were met by his troops with the utmost resolution, and for several hours the conflict raged with great fury and alternate success. General J. R. Jones was compelled to leave the field, and the command of Jackson’s division devolved on General Starke. The troops advanced with great spirit, and the enemy’s lines were repeatedly broken and forced to retire. Fresh troops, however, soon replaced those that were beaten, and Jackson’s men were in turn compelled to fall back. The brave General Starke was killed, General Lawton was wounded, and nearly all the field officers, with a large proportion of the men, killed or disabled. Our troops slowly yielded to overwhelming numbers and fell back, obstinately disputing the progress of the enemy. Hood returned to the field, and relieved the brigades of Trimble, Lawton, and Hays, which had suffered severely. General Early, who succeeded General Lawton in the command of Ewell’s division, was ordered by General Jackson to move with his brigade to take the place of Jackson’s division, most of which was withdrawn, its ammunition being nearly exhausted and its numbers much reduced. A small part of the division, under Colonels Grigsby and Stafford, united with Early’s brigade, as did portions of the brigades of Trimble, Lawton, and Hays. The battle now raged with great violence, the small commands under Hood and Early holding their ground against many times their own numbers of the enemy, and under a tremendous fire of artillery. Hood was re-en-forced by the brigades of Ripley, Colquitt, and Garland (under Colonel McRae), of D. H. Hill’s division, and afterward by D. R. Jones’ brigade, under Col. G. T. Anderson. The enemy’s lines were broken and forced back, but fresh numbers advanced to their support, and they began to gain ground. The desperate resistance they encountered, however, delayed their progress until the troops of General McLaws arrived and those of General Walker could be brought from the right. Hood’s brigade, greatly diminished in numbers, withdrew to replenish their ammunition, their supply being entirely exhausted. They were relieved by Walker’s command, who immediately attacked the enemy vigorously, driving him back with great slaughter. Colonel Manning, commanding Walker’s brigade, pursued until he was stopped by a strong fence, behind which was posted a large force of infantry with several batteries. The gallant colonel was severely wounded, and his brigade retired to the line on which the rest of Walker’s command had halted.

         Upon the arrival of the re-enforcements under General McLaws, General Early attacked with great resolution the large force opposed to him. McLaws advanced at the same time, and the enemy were driven back in confusion, closely followed by our troops beyond the position occupied at the beginning of the engagement. The enemy renewed the assault on our left several times, but was repulsed with loss. He finally ceased to advance his infantry, and for several hours kept up a furious fire from his numerous batteries, under which our troops held their position with great coolness and courage. The attack on our left was speedily followed by one in heavy force on the center. This was met by part of Walker’s division and the brigades of G. B. Anderson and Rodes, of D. H. Hill’s command, assisted by a few pieces of artillery The enemy was repulsed, and retired behind the crest of a hill, from which they kept Up a desultory fire. General R. H. Anderson’s division came to Hill’s support and formed in rear of his line. At this time, by a mistake of orders, General Rodes’ brigade was withdrawn from its position during the temporary absence of that officer at another part of the field. The enemy immediately pressed through the gap thus created, and G. B. Anderson’s brigade was broken and retired, General Anderson himself being mortally wounded. Maj. Gen. R. H. Anderson and Brigadier-General Wright were also wounded and borne from the field.

         The heavy masses of the enemy again moved forward, being opposed only by four pieces of artillery, supported by a few hundred men belonging to different brigades, rallied by General D. H. Hill and other officers, and parts of Walker’s and R.H. Anderson’s commands, Colonel Cooke, with the Twenty-seventh North Carolina Regiment, of Walker’s brigade, standing boldly in line without a cartridge. The firm front presented by this small force and the well-directed fire of the artillery, under Captain Miller, of the Washington Artillery, and Captain Boyce’s South Carolina battery, checked the progress of the enemy, and in about an hour and a half he retired. Another attack was made soon afterward a little farther to the right, but was repulsed by Miller’s guns, which continued to hold the ground until the close of the engagement, supported by a part of R. H. Anderson’s troops.

         While the attack on the center and left was in progress, the enemy made repeated efforts to force the passage of the bridge over the Antietam, opposite the right wing of General Longstreet, commanded by Brig. Gen. D. R. Jones. This bridge was defended by General Toombs with two regiments of his brigade (the Second and Twentieth Georgia) and the batteries of General Jones. General Toombs’ small command repulsed five different assaults made by greatly superior force, and maintained its position with distinguished gallantry.

       In the afternoon the enemy began to extend his line as if to cross the Antietam below the bridge, and at 4 p.m. Toombs’ regiments retired from the position they had so bravely held. The enemy immediately crossed the bridge in large numbers and advanced against General Jones, who held the crest with less than 2,000 men. After a determined and brave resistance, he was forced to give way, and the enemy gained the summit.

       General A. P. Hill had arrived from Harper’s Ferry., having left that place at 7.30 a.m. He was now ordered to re-enforce General Jones, and moved to his support with the brigades of Archer. Branch, Gregg, and Pender, the last of whom was placed on the right of the line, and the other three advanced and attacked the enemy, now flushed with success. Hill’s batteries were thrown forward and united their fire with those of General Jones, and one of General D. H. Hill’s also opened with good effect from the left of the Boonsborough road. The progress of the enemy was immediately arrested and his lines began to waver. At this moment General Jones ordered Toombs to charge the flank, while Archer, supported by Branch and Gregg, moved upon the front of the Federal line. The enemy made a brief resistance, then broke and retreated in confusion toward the Antietam, pursued by the troops of Hill and Jones, until he reached the protection of his batteries on the opposite side of the river. In this attack the brave and lamented Brig. Gen. L. O’B. Branch was killed, gallantly leading his brigade.

       It was now nearly dark, and the enemy had massed a number of batteries to sweep the approaches to the Antietam, on the opposite side of which the corps of General Porter, which had not been engaged, now appeared to dispute our advance. Our troops were much exhausted and greatly reduced in numbers by fatigue and the casualties of battle. Under these circumstances it was deemed injudicious to push our advantage further in the face of fresh troops of the enemy, much exceeding the number of our own. They were accordingly recalled and formed on the line originally held by General Jones. While the attack on our center was progressing, General Jackson had been directed to endeavor to turn the enemy’s right, but found it extending nearly to the Potomac, and so strongly defended with artillery that the attempt had to be abandoned. The repulse on the right ended the engagement, and, after a protracted and sanguinary conflict, every effort of the enemy to dislodge us from our position had been defeated with severe loss.        The arduous service in which our troops had been engaged, their great privations of rest and food, and the long marches without shoes over mountain roads, had greatly reduced our ranks before the action began. These causes had compelled thousands of brave men to absent themselves, and many more had done so from unworthy motives. This great battle was fought by less than 40,000 men on our side, all of whom had undergone the greatest labors and hardships in the field and on the march. Nothing could surpass the determined valor with which they met the large army of the enemy, fully supplied and equipped, and the result reflects the highest credit on the officers and men engaged. Our artillery, though much inferior to that of the enemy in the number of guns and weight of metal, rendered most efficient and gallant service throughout the day, and contributed greatly to the repulse of the attacks on every part of the line. General Stuart, with the cavalry and horse artillery, performed the duty intrusted to him of guarding our left wing with great energy and courage, and rendered valuable assistance in defeating the attack on that part of our line.

       On the 18th we occupied the position of the preceding day, except in the center, where our line was drawn in about 200 yards. Our ranks were increased by the arrival of a number of troops, who had not been engaged the day before, and, though still too weak to assume the offensive, we awaited without apprehension the renewal of the attack. The day passed without any demonstration on the part of the enemy, who, from the reports received, was expecting the arrival of re-enforcements. As we could not look for a material increase in strength, and the enemy’s force could be largely and rapidly augmented, it was not thought prudent to wait until he should be ready again to offer battle. During the night of the 18th the army was accordingly withdrawn to the south side of the Potomac, crossing near Shepherdstown, without loss or molestation.

         The enemy advanced the next morning, but was held in check by General Fitzhugh Lee with his cavalry, who covered our movement with boldness and success. General Stuart, with the main body, crossed the Potomac above Shepherdstown and moved up the river. The next day he recrossed at Williamsport, and took position to operate upon the right and rear of the enemy should he attempt to follow us. After the army had safely reached the Virginia shore with such of the wounded as could be removed and all its trains, General Porter’s corps, with a number of batteries and some cavalry, appeared on the opposite side. General Pendleton was left to guard the ford with the reserve artillery and about 600 infantry. That night the enemy crossed the river above General Pendleton’s position, and his infantry support giving way, four of his guns were taken. A considerable force took position on the right bank, under cover of their artillery on the commanding hills on the opposite side. The next morning General A. P. Hill was ordered to return with his division and dislodge them. Advancing under a heavy fire of artillery, the three brigades of Gregg, Pender, and Archer attacked the enemy vigorously, and drove him over the river with heavy loss.

       The condition of our troops now demanded repose, and the army marched to the Opequon, near Martinsburg, where it remained several days, and then moved to the vicinity of Bunker Hill and Winchester. The enemy seemed to be concentrating in and near Harper’s Ferry, but made no forward movement. During this time the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was destroyed for several miles, and that from Winchester to Harper’s Ferry broken up to within a short distance of the latter place, in order to render the occupation of the Valley by the enemy after our withdrawal more difficult.

       On October 8 General Stuart was ordered to cross the Potomac above Williamsport with 1,200 or 1,500 cavalry, and endeavor to ascertain the position and designs of the enemy. He was directed, if practicable, to enter Pennsylvania, and do all in his power to impede and embarrass the military operations of the enemy. This order was executed with skill, address, and courage. General Stuart passed through Maryland, occupied Chambersburg, and destroyed a large amount of public property, making the entire circuit of General McClellan’s army. He recrossed the Potomac below Harper’s Ferry without loss.

       The enemy soon after crossed the Potomac east of the Blue Ridge, and advanced southward, seizing the passes of the mountains as he progressed. General Jackson’s corps was ordered to take position on the road between Berryville and Charlestown, to be prepared to oppose an advance from Harper’s Ferry or a movement into the Shenandoah Valley from the east side of the mountains, while at the same time he would threaten the flank of the enemy should he continue his march along the eastern base of the Blue Ridge. One division of Longstreet’s corps was sent to the vicinity of Upperville to observe the enemy’s movements in front.        About the last of October the Federal army began to incline eastwardly from the mountains, moving in the direction of Warrenton. As soon as this intention developed itself, Longstreet’s corps was moved across the Blue Ridge, and about November 3 took position at Culpeper Court-House, while Jackson advanced one of his divisions to the east side of the Blue Ridge. The enemy gradually concentrated about Warrenton, his cavalry being thrown forward beyond the Rappahannock in the direction of Culpeper Court-House, and occasionally skirmishing with our own, which was closely observing his movements. This situation of affairs continued without material change until about the middle of November, when the movements began which resulted in the winter campaign on the Lower Rappahannock.

       The accompanying return of the medical director will show the extent of our losses in the engagements mentioned. The reports of the different commanding officers must, of necessity, be referred to for the details of these operations.

       I desire to call the attention of the Department to the names of those brave officers and men who are particularly mentioned for courage and good conduct by their commanders. The limits of this report will not permit me to do more than renew the expression of my admiration for the valor that shrunk from no peril and the fortitude that endured every privation without a murmur. I must also refer to the report of General Stuart for the particulars of the services rendered by the cavalry besides those to which I have alluded. Its vigilance, activity, and courage were conspicuous, and to its assistance is due in a great measure, the success of some of the most important and delicate operations of the campaign.


Respectfully submitted.

R. E. LEE,



  1. standing on the high ground at Gettysburg is moving, but standing in Bloody Lane and looking over the cornfield at Antietam will break the heart of the most hardened veteran’s heart. What an awful day that was. The Union could ill afford more victories like Antietam/Sharpsburg. It is a goal to take my grandchildren to Gettysburg, Antietam and Arlington in the future.
    Thank you once again.

    • “to take my grandchildren to Gettysburg, Antietam and Arlington in the future.”

      Once I have grandchildren Dennis I will do the same, along with Lincoln’s Tomb in Springfield.

  2. To be fair, incompetence leading to frightful slogging matches and enormous losses was pretty much the order of the day. Antietam was not as bad as Solferino-San Martino three years earlier (, where three huge armies commanded by amateurs essentially rammed into each other with hardly any plan, not to mention the stupid butchery of the Crimea six years earlier. Forty years of peace meant that generalship had not kept up with the mechanical and organizational progress that could now pitchfork men to the battlefield by the tens of thousand by train, faster than Napoleon had ever been able to march them, and put deadly repetition rifles into their hands. There is a reason why “magenta” – the name of the battle that preceded Solferino-San Martino – has been used for a particularly bright tint of red.

    • A good point Fabio, but the incompetence shown by McClellan was not an isolated event. His battlefield command skills throughout his tenure were of a similar nature to what he displayed at Antietam. What a true master could do with a Civil War army was demonstrated by Lee at Chancellorsville, and then a year later at the Battle of the Wilderness. I would be more forgiving of McClellan if after Antietam he had pursued Lee, but he seemed to determined to toss away the opportunity presented by the weakening of Lee’s army brought about at a huge cost with the blood of his men. This was with McClellan still having two fresh corps at his disposal, and tens of thousands of Union reinforcements that McClellan could have called upon to block Lee’s retreat. Military incompetence of this magnitude is breathtaking.

  3. Reblogged this on Muunyayo .

  4. Thanks!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: