Clement Anselm Evans.

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more disturbing was the news that reached him on the
evening of that day. This was of the rapid approach of
McClellan in force on the National road toward Hill's
position on the South mountain, and toward that of Mc-
Laws on the Potomac north of Harper's Ferry and Mary-
land heights. He knew McClellan's military character-
istics, not only from his personal knowledge of him
before the existing war, but especially from his doings in
leading the great army of the Potomac, in the "on to
Richmond" and in the "back to Washington," and there-
fore could not account for his unusual diligence in pursu-
ing him westward from the Monocacy, to reach which
from Washington he had been marching with great cau-
tion. McClellan's report, published by the Federal gov-
ernment the following winter, furnished the explanation.
On the morning of this same Saturday, the 13th of Sep-
tember, after McClellan had occupied Frederick on
the 1 2th, there was handed him an official copy of
Lee's order No. 191, which revealed, in detail, the entire
plan of the pending campaign, and showed him, at a
glance, how Lee's knights and castles on the military
chess-board were disposed, and that a rare opportunity
was offered for falling upon his greatly weakened left rear
and crushing that before he could gather his scattered
forces to his aid, as McClellan had the great advantage of
the far shorter line of approach over one of the best roads.
More than this ; it showed that the dreaded Jackson was
too far away to participate in an early combat. Ardent
to retrieve his military reputation, and, above all things,
anxious to do something that would warrant his unauthor-
ized assumption of command, McClellan at once hastened
his main body in pursuit of Lee, and urged Franklin for-
ward with his corps, to harass the rear of McLaws and
hold him away from the battle he proposed to make with

It is now known that two copies of Lee's order were
sent to D. H. Hill, who had been made subject to Jack-
son's command previous to the encampment at Frederick.
Jackson, always cautious and himself never giving writ-
ten orders that would furnish information as to his move-
ments, had, on the receipt of Lee's order, made, with his


own hand, a copy of that and sent it by safe hands to
General Hill, supposing he would in no other way re-
ceive this order. But it so happened that a copy was
also sent to Hill from Lee's headquarters, and this latter,
carelessly left on the ground in Hill's camp, was discov-
ered by a Federal soldier, wrapped about some Confed-
erate cigars, and he, recognizing its importance, promptly
sent it to McClellan, who at once vigorously set about
availing himself of the opportunities that the knowledge
contained in that lost order put in his way. It was not
the first time that events of great magnitude in the tide
of history have been controlled by the demands of that
miserable weed.

The close of this eventful Saturday found Lee con-
fronted with serious conditions. D. H. Hill was ordered
to retrace his march, recross the South mountain, and
hold its eastern slope against the great host that could
be seen rapidly approaching from the direction of Fred-
erick. McLaws was urged to finish his work on Mary-
land heights and move to Boonsboro, by way of Sharps-
burg, and Longstreet was ordered to return from Hagers-
town, to Hill's aid, on the morning of the 14th.

As Lee rode forward to the South Mountain battlefield
on Sunday morning, September 14th, followed by Long-
street's command, he could both see and hear that the
mighty conflict for the possession of the passes of that
mountain, now looming up before him, had already
begun. The roar of cannon and musketry from Hill's
5,000 men rang in his ears, and the smoke of battle
showed, by its length along the mountain top, how thin
must be Hill's stretched-out line and how large must be
the force pressing against it. Hill held the "old road,"
passing through Fox's gap, against Pleasanton's cavalry
and Reno's corps, in one of the most desperate of all
recorded contests, until the middle of the afternoon, when
Hooker's corps, in furious onset, fell on his left near Tur-
ner's gap, where the Boonsboro and Frederick road crosses,
and added to the fury of the contention. Lee then sent
in 4,000 of Longstreet's men, in eight brigades, to sus-
tain the brave Hill and his unyielding North Carolinians,
and so the fight went on, at and between each of the
road crossings, until night put an end to the conflict,
with the 9, 000 Confederates still holding the crest of the
mountain against the 28,000 Federals who had been con-
tending for its possession.




At Crampton's gap of the South mountain, six miles to
the southward from Turner's gap and Hill's field of
action, another battle raged on that same Sunday after-
noon. McLaws had left 1,200 men to hold that pass, in
guarding his rear, while he occupied Maryland heights.
Against these Franklin threw 8,000 from his advance.
The resistance lasted until dark, when the Confederates
gave way and Franklin took possession of the gap, and
thus interposed the head of a strong Federal column
between Lee at Boonsboro and McLaws in Pleasant val-
ley and on Maryland heights.

Lee might have said to himself, in the words of Long-
street at Groveton, as he reflected on the positions of his
army at the close of the 14th, that the prospect "was not
inviting. " The two divisions in his immediate presence
were not compacted; Longstreet was advising that
something else than fighting be done. The other three
of his divisions were a dozen miles away, separated from
each other by great rivers, and could only reach him by
circuitous marches and after the fall of Harper's Ferry,
an event which had not yet taken place. His stout heart
was doubtless throbbing with intense emotion, which
none but a heroic and God- trusting spirit could control,
when, at 8 of the evening, nearly two hours after sun-
set, he wrote to McLaws: "The day has gone against
us, and the army will go by Sharpsburg and cross the
river. It is necessary for you to abandon your position
to-night ; . . your troops you must have in hand to unite
with this command, which will retire by Sharpsburg. "

The outlook to McLaws was a brighter one. The in-
vestment of Harper's Ferry was completed, and neither
officer nor soldier doubted but that, with Jackson in com-
mand, the early morning of the 15 th would find him in
possession of that town, of the 11,000 Federals there
b)eleaguered and of the large munitions of war there gath-
â– ered. So McLaws promptly added to his line in Pleas-
ant valley, to which his men had fallen back from Cramp-
ton's gap, and prepared to hold his rear against Frank-
lin's advance until Harper's Ferry was captured and the
way opened for him to cross the Potomac on the Federal
pontoon, and in that way, through Virginia, reach Lee
at Sharpsburg, as he was ordered to do. Lee's vigorous
defense of the South mountain passes near Boonsboro
had won a day from McClellan and given Jackson time
to complete the investment of Harper's Ferry.


During the night of the 14th, Lee withdrew the divi-
sions of Longstreet and D. H. Hill from the vicinity of
Boonsboro, and fell back across Antietam river in the
direction of Sharpsburg, and formed his line of battle
on the commanding ridge between that town and that
river. Fitz Lee, with his cavalry, bravely kept back
McClellan's advance, and General Lee's change of posi-
tion was not only skillfully made but without any serious
loss. McClellan was again placed at a disadvantage by
Lee's prompt and bold strategic movement.

The position occupied by Lee and destined to become
famous as the battlefield of Sharpsburg, or Antietam,
was such that he could calmly await an attack by many
times his own numbers, should McClellan venture to
make one. He was ready for the dawn of the isth, and
only awaited the gathering together of his army to try
the issue by combat, notwithstanding the disparity of his
numbers when compared with those of McClellan. While
watching the gathering of the mighty Federal army in
the valleys and on the ridges across the Antietam, and
defiantly replying to its artillery as that came into posi-
tion, he received, at midday, a note from Jackson, writ-
ten during the forenoon, saying: "Through God's bless-
ing Harper's Ferry and its garrison are to be surren-
dered." This stimulating news, which not only meant
that Harper's Ferry was captured, but that Stonewall
Jackson, without further orders, would soon be with him,
with his "foot cavalry," and thatMcLaws would not be
far behind, fired Lee's courage, and he determined that he
would not recross the Potomac until after trial of battle
with McClellan on the field that he had chosen, and that
he could hold until his reinforcements came up.

Fitzhugh Lee so well held back the Federal cavalry
advance that it did not reach the front of the Antietam
until 2 in the afternoon of the 15 th, and it was not
until late in the day that the Federal infantry and artil-
lery appeared upon the field of coming combat ; so Lee
had ample time, with the aid of his capable lieutenants,
Longstreet and D. H. Hill, to place the 12,000 men he
had in hand, in front of Sharpsburg and extending north-
ward toward Hagerstown, so as to cover the roads by
which McClellan must advance ; and then, with sublime
courage and unfaltering trust in Providence, await what
the morrow had in store for him and his army. By night-


fall, McClellan had concentrated some 60, 000 of his men
in front of Lee; and, from the vicinity of Boonsboro,
was telegraphing to Washington about his "flying foe, "
and the "routed rebels" he had driven, in a "perfect
panic," from South mountain; while his corps command-
ers were slowly and cautiously finding their way along
the excellent stone roads that converged toward Sharps-

The investment of Harper's Ferry was completed dur-
ing the night of the 14th, and batteries were in position
on Maryland and Loudoun heights, and in front of
Bolivar heights, ready to enforce Jackson's demand
for a surrender on the morning of the isth. The assault-
ing column, under A. P. Hill, that brave and fearless
leader, was ready to spring forward at the word of com-
mand to join in enforcing, if need be, the demand for a
surrender. A few shots convinced the Federal com-
mander that his position was untenable, and after a brief
parley he gave up the place wjth its 11,000 men, their
arms and equipments, 73 pieces of artillery, and numer-
ous stores. The Federal cavalry at Harper's Ferry es-
caped during the night of the 14th, by crossing the pon-
toon and finding their way along the tow path of the
canal, up the river and across to McClellan, meeting and
damaging Longstreet's train on the way.

Leaving A. P. Hill in charge of the details of the sur-
render, and with orders to parole the captured Federals
and send them adrift toward Frederick City, to tangle and
impede the advance of any of McClellan 's forces from that
direction, Jackson hastened, without delay, to join Lee,
marching his men to the fords of the Potomac near Shep-
herdstown, and not far from Sharpsburg, before he
allowed them to go into bivouac, but leaving many of his
best men along the way, overcome by sheer exhaustion.
J. G. Walker's 3,200 came across the Shenandoah from
Loudoun heights and followed close behind Jackson.
Near the dawn of the morning of the i6th, Jackson
saluted Lee, in the road opposite where the Federal ceme-
tery now is, in front of Sharpsburg, and reported that
his men were just behind, crossing the Potomac, and
would soon arrive ready to be placed in position. After
congratulating Jackson and Walker upon the success of
their operations at Harper's Ferry, Lee expressed his
confidence that he could now hold his ground until the


arrival of A. P. Hill, R. H. Anderson and McLaws.
Later in the day, in a letter to President Davis, he wrote :
"This victory of the indomitable Jackson and his troops
gives us renewed occasion for gratitude to Almighty God
for His guidance and protection. ' '

The great military engineer who commanded the Con-
federate forces now gathering at Sharpsburg, had had
ample time to examine the position he had chosen and to
reach conclusions, from its topographic conditions and
those in front of it, as to the direction from which his
adversary would probably make his attack ; and he was
doubtless well satisfied that these conditions would bring
the attack upon his left, which, by military rule, would
be held by the "indomitable Jackson. " He at once gave
orders for that victory-compelling leader to niove toward
Hagerstown and take position guarding the left of his
army. With his usual caution, Jackson had brought his
troops to the vicinity of Sharpsburg by a concealed way,
and he now, in like manner, marched them into position,
at and beyond the Dunker church, and gave his men
opportunity to rest and prepare for the coming conflict.

McClellan, in person, came to the front on the morning
of the 1 6th, and when the fog lifted from the valley of
the Antietam, he carefully examined, from the hill-crown-
ing Try house, the long and bold stretch of commanding
ridge which Lee occupied, and hastened to report to
Washington that he was confronted not only by a "strong
position, " but by a "strong force.',' He spent the day
putting his formidable army in position and extending
both its flanks beyond those of the opposing one. As
Lee had anticipated, late in the afternoon of this day, Mc-
Clellan sent Hooker's corps, followed by Mansfield's,
across the Antietam, by way of the stone bridge at Try's
mill, some distance beyond Lee's left, where they went
into bivouac. The ever-watchful Stuart quickly informed
Lee of this movement, and confirmed his views as to the
direction from which he would be attacked.

There were three bridges across the Antietam by which
an attack could be made. The one on Lee's right,
now known as the "Burnside bridge," was about
a mile to the southeast of Sharpsburg. About a
mile below that the river was fordable. On the road
leading north of east from Sharpsburg to Boons-
boro was another bridge, opposite the center of


McClellan's army, and about three miles to the east of
north from Sharpsburg was the stone bridge, on the Wil-
liamsport road, by which Hooker crossed his two ad-
vanced corps.

Lee, before the coming of Jackson, posted his men
with Longstreet on the right and D. H. Hill on the left,
in order to cover the approaches from the Bumside
and the Boonsboro bridges, having excellent positions
for his artillery to cover these. Hood's two brigades
were transferred to the woods near the Dunker church,
to defend the approaches from Hagerstown, while
D. H. Hill's five brigades extended Hood's right to the
vicinity of the Boonsboro turnpike, and Longstreet's men
prolonged the line to the right to the front of the Burnside
bridge. On Jackson's arrival his command was posted
to extend Hood's line farther to the left, to the vicinity
of the old toll-gate, while Stuart occupied the command-
ing Nicodemus ridge, north of Nicodemus run, from
which his artillery swept the roads by which Hooker and
Mansfield must advance.

Lee, Longstreet and Jackson were in conference, with
a map spread before them, in a house in Sharpsburg,
when Stuart reported McClellan's advance, by the Wil-
liamsport road, late in the afternoon of the i6th. Jack-
son was promptly sent to take charge of the left wing
and meet the threatened engagement. The turnpike road
from Sharpsburg to Hagerstown runs nearly north and
south, and, for at least a mile, between somewhat par-
allel and rather bold limestone ridges. At the Dunker
church, a little more than a mile north of Sharpsburg,
the Smoketown road enters this turnpike at an acute
angle. By this latter road the Federal army advanced,
having turned to the left, soon after crossing the Antie-
tam. About half a mile above the junction of these
roads there were patches and fringes of rocky woods on
each side of the Smoketown road. These are known as
the "Eastwoods;" and to the northern edge of these, the
Federal skirmishers came late in the evening of the i6th,
while the Confederate skirmishers held the southern
edges of the same. Quite a body of open oak forest
surrounded the Dunker church and extended northward
for some little distance along the west side of the Hagers-
town turnpike ; thence a narrow field extended, for a half
mile or more, lietween that road and the skirt of forest


in the vicinity of the Miller house, making what is known
as the "West woods." The triangular space between
the converging Hagerstown and Smoketown roads was
first occupied by grass fields and then by a 30-acre field
of standing corn that for yards reached across from one
road to the other, but skirted on the east by the narrow
East woods, while farther on, patches of forest bounded
the cornfield and extended beyond to the Poffenberger
land, thus concealing the commanding position beyond
that land taken by the Federal troops.

By 5 o'clock of the afternoon of September i6th,
Jackson had faced his men northward, some 700 yards
beyond the Dunker church, and across the northern edge
of the big cornfield, covering both the Hagerstown and
the Smoketown roads. Hood and Law held the right, the
latter advanced into the East woods, the two having 1,700
men in line. The "Stonewall" division, under J. R.
Jones, with 1,600 men, extended this line across the
Hagerstown road and into the northern end of the West
woods, toward the commanding ridge occupied by
Stuart with his artillery and covering the road leading to
a ford of the Potomac on his left. Lawton and Trimble
were resting in the woods at the Dunker church.

Just at sunset of this lovely September day, the golden
autumn of the famous Appalachian valley. Hooker ad-
vanced southward, along the watershed ridge between
the Antietam and the Potomac, and pushing forward a
battery, opened on Jackson's left. Poague silenced this
in about twenty minutes and it retired. About the same
time his skirmishers advanced on Law, in the East woods,
but were soon driven back to its northern edge. Then
the two armies lay on their arms, within speaking dis-
tance of each other, through the long autumn night, dur-
ing which Lawton and Trimble took the place of Hood
and Law, whose men had had no cooked rations, except
a half ration of beef, for three days, subsisting in the
meantime on green com gathered from the fields.

McClellan proposed to join issue with Lee by strik-
ing the latter's left with the 40,000 men in the three corps
of Hooker, Mansfield and Sumner, which were already in
position for attack on the morning of September 17 th.
If these should be successful, he intended that Burnside
should cross at the bridge now known by his name, and
with his 13,000 men fall on Lee's right, under the com-


mand of Longstreet, and then follow up the delivery of
these right-handed and left-handed blows with an attack
on the center of Lee's lines, on the Boonsboro road, by
the 25,000 veterans under Porter and Franklin, that were
massed in his front and ready to attack when ordered.
Numerous batteries of artillery lined the bluffs all along
the eastern bank of the Antietam, many of them with
long range guns that could fire into and even beyond the
Confederate lines. McClellan had revealed his plans to
Lee by placing his troops in the positions indicated, or
very near them, in the afternoon of the i6th.

It may be well to repeat the disposition of Lee's forces
to meet these three threatened attacks. Stuart, with his
cavalry, held the extreme left, where the great bend of
the Potomac to the eastward approaches to within a mile
of the Hagerstown turnpike. On Stuart's right was
Jackson's command, with its left pivoted amid the giant
oaks and the great outcroppings of limestone strata, ver-
tically disposed, where he had placed Early; thence his
lines stretched eastwardly, covering the roads converg-
ing at the Dunker church. Nearly at right angles to
Jackson's line were the troops of D. H. Hill and Long-
street, prolonged to the southward to opposite the Burn-
side bridge. Toombs' brigade, of 600 Georgians, ad-
vanced to the front, held the rocky, wooded bluff that
overlooked and commanded the Burnside bridge. On
the ridge behind Toombs, at early dawn of the 1 7th, Lee
placed J. G. Walker's 3,200 men, with batteries on his
right and on the higher hill in his rear; while still far-
ther to the right, covering a ford below the Burnside
bridge, was placed another battery and a portion of cav-
alry. Lee's entire force, of all arms, at the close of the
i6th, was about 25,000 men, with which to oppose
McClellan's 87,000. Orders of urgency called McLaws
and A. P. Hill to promptly bring forward from Harper's
Ferry their 10,000 fighting men.

As early as 3 o'clock on the morning of the 17th,
two hours and a half before the rising of the sun. Hooker
sent forward his skirmishers in the East woods, and as
the sun looked over the lovely Cumberland valley from
the crest of the South mountain, he boldly and impetu-
ously urged forward his lines of 12,500 muskets against
Jackson's front of but 3,500. Six Confederate batteries,
well disposed in front of Jackson's line, wrought havoc


with this advancing host, but its lines closed up and swept
forward, their right extending across the Hagerstown
turnpike, their thirty guns answering those of the Con-
federates, from the high Poffenberger ridge, while
twenty long range guns roared in enfilade from across the
Antietam. Stuart's cannon made reply from the Nico-
demus ridge, as did Jackson's from the center and S. D.
Lee's twenty-six from the swell in the open fields in front
of the Dunker church. Lawton's ever-brave Georgians
fiercely contended with and held back Hooker's left, in
the East woods and in the 30-acre cornfield, but the
advantages of position enabled the Federals to force back
Jackson's division into the woods, but still hanging to
and pivoting on Early's. There, rallying behind the
trees and projecting rocks and facing eastward, it repulsed
the attack led by Doubleday. Hays, with his 550 Louisi-
anians, moved to the support of Lawton, in the cornfield,
and one of the most stubborn and hotly contested of
recorded engagements there took place. The Confeder-
ates were forced back, by weight of numbers, but contest-
ing every inch of ground and leaving the big cornfield
fairly covered with their dead and wounded and those of
the enemy. Hood's courageous Texans, at the moment
of peril, rushed forward from the Dunker church, with a
wild yell, leaving their breakfast beside their camp-fires,
to sustain Lawton and Hays in the unequal contest, while
three of D. H. Hill's brigades were hastened by Lee
from his center to extend Hood's right and fall upon the
flank of Hooker's oncoming left. These well-put, right-
handed blows forced Hooker's battle-broken ranks from
the field of combat with great slaughter; nearly one-
fourth of his men having fallen under the withering fire
of the impetuous Confederates. His routed men found
refuge behind their guns and Mansfield's corps, which
was advancing, in echelon, on his left. Nearly half of
Jackson's men had fallen in their line of battle, in the
open and across the cornfield, while hundreds of them,
stifE in death, still stood in silent skirmish line along the
rail fence on the north front of the big cornfield; but the
other half of his war-worn but unconquerable veterans
closed up and grimly awaited the second Federal attack,
which they saw approaching.

Banks' old corps, that Jackson's men had so often met,
now under Mansfield, had bivouacked, late in the night of


the i6th, about a mile in Hooker's rear; and now, at
about half -past seven of the morning of the 17th, it
became the turn of that corps to take up the battle, from
which, after a three hours' contest, Hooker had recoiled
in complete defeat. Forming his line near where Hooker
had first formed his, with his right resting on the Hagers-
town road and his left extending eastward through the
East woods, Mansfield advanced his two divisions, and the

Online LibraryClement Anselm EvansConfederate military history; a library of Confederate States history → online text (page 34 of 153)