Camp Herndon, Va.
September 18, 2000
All Civil War Buffs:
It is now the early morning hours of September 17, 1862. Both armies are prepared for battle. Hooker had crossed the Antietam at the Upper Bridge on the afternoon of the 16th to face Jackson on the left of the Confederate line. Mansfield crossed during the evening and bivouacked about a mile and a half behind Hooker. The alignment of the armies at daybreak was, on the Confederate side, Jackson on the left and Longstreet on the right. Lee has chosen his ground well. Because of a bend in the river (Potomac) he had his left flank firmly anchored on the river and his right flank anchored on the Antietam. He was ready. On the Union side Hooker and Mansfield were on the right, Sumner in the middle, and Burnside on the left, with Porter in reserve. Mclellan was ready.
As soon as it was daylight, both sides opened with artillery. About 6 A.M. or so Hooker begins his 1st Corps attack but is soon bogged down by artillery manned, in part, by the "Gallant Pelham" on Nicodemus Hill, a high position on the far left of Jackson. However, because they were so exposed, they were driven off. Hooker's attack soon continues through the "Cornfield" and are repulsed by the confederates. Mansfield brings his corps up about 7 A.M. but he too is repulsed. Hooker now is wounded and Mansfield is killed. The command of the Union forces of this part of the field devolves to Meade. The fighting is fierce back and forth through the "Cornfield" with neither side gaining an advantage. When it started, the field, a full thirty acres, was filled with corn higher than a man's head. When it was over, it was stubble and filled with dead and wounded from both sides. It was said that a man could walk from one end to the other and never touch the ground.
As the battle continued, Sumner, commanding 2nd Corps, moved across the Antietam (using the same route that Hooker had taken) with the divisions of Sedgewick and French, with orders for Richardson to follow. Now's here's were it gets a little sticky. Sumner, instead of remaining in control of his corps is now leading Sedgewick's division himself toward the area of the West Woods near the Dunkard Church. While French, is holding his left and is veering South (his left) to a position that will ultimately put him in front of Confederates in the Sunken Road (about the center of Lee's line). As one can see, this is going to turn out to be one of the biggest blunders of the battle. Sumner now is approaching the West Woods with Sedgewicks division where unbeknownst to him McLaws (Confederate) has arrived on the field and is moving his division from South to North in the "swales" leading to the West Woods. As Sumner approaches, McClaws slams into his left flank and completely decimates Sumner. It is a terrific fight with the Confederates just overwhelming the Union forces. By 10 o'clock the major fighting on the extreme left of the Confederate line was over and there were two generals dead, Starke on the Confederate side and Mansfield on the Union side.
Now here is the strange part. French's division, who had been on Sedgewick's left somehow wound up in front of the Confederates in the Sunken Road. In the meantime Richardson's division had crossed the Antietam and hearing the fighting at the sunken road, thinking it much be Sedgewick, formed on the left of French. After several bloody attempts the Confederates were finally pushed out of the sunken road, but at the cost of two more generals lives. Anderson on the Confederate side and Richardson on the Because of the terrible cost in casualties during this action, this part of the battlefield will be forever known as the "Bloody Lane".
Almost at the same time as the "bloody lane" was occurring, the action started at the lower bridge. The lower bridge represented the far right of Lee's line. Burnside with the 9th Corps had received orders to "carry" the bridge. However this was not going to be an easy task as he would soon find out. Toombs' "Georgians" through only about 400 strong, were firmly entrenched in natural firing pits on the high ground on the other side of the bridge. While this action started about 10 o'clock, it would be 1 o'clock before
the "Georgians" were finally pushed back and the bridge "carried". Now here is another strange occurrence. Burnside, once the bridge was carried, halted his advance and took time to rearm and feed his troops. It was not to be until around 3 o'clock that he would begin his advance again. As the 9th Corps slowly fought the retreating Confederates and were about to turn their flank, A.P. Hill showed up from Harpers Ferry with his Light Division and slammed into the left flank of Burnside's line, and stopping the Union advance in its tracks. The fighting in this area would continue until dark, with the loss of two more generals. Branch on the Confederate side, and Rodman on the Union side.
As darkness fell across the battlefield, the fighting ceased. Though the lines had not significantly changed, there were over 23,000 casualties. The single bloodiest day of the war was over. Instead, of slipping out under cover of darkness, Lee elected to hold his position and await battle the next day. McClellan, instead of calling up his reserve corps (Porter) and crushing Lee's army on the 18th, he elected to sit out the day waiting on more reserves. When the battle was not resumed on the 18th, Lee began moving his army out that evening, and slipped back across the Potomac. The Maryland Campaign was over.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Dick (a.k.a. Shotgun)