G.F. R. Henderson.

Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War online

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almost straight, and no part of the front was open to enfilade.
Stuart and his artillery, withdrawn to a more favourable position,
secured the left. D.H. Hill on the right, though part of his force
had given way, still held the Roulette House and the sunken road, and
the troops in the West Wood were well protected from the Northern
batteries. The one weak point was the gap occupied by Greene's
Federals, which lay between Grigsby's regiments in the northern angle
of the West Wood and Hood's division at the Dunkard Church. The
enemy, however, showed no signs of making good his opportunity;
Early's brigade was close at hand, and Lee had promised further
reinforcements.

A glance southward showed that there was no reason for despair. Over
all the field lay the heavy smoke of a great artillery battle. From
near the Dunkard Church to the bluff overhanging the Antietam, a
distance of two miles, battery on battery was in line. Here were
Longstreet's artillery under Stephen Lee, together with the
six-and-twenty guns of Cutts' reserve battalion, forty-eight guns in
all; the divisional batteries of D.H. Hill, and the Washington
artillery of New Orleans,* (* Both D.H. Hill and the Washington
artillery had sixteen guns each.) and in addition to these eighty
guns others were in action above the Burnside Bridge. An array even
more formidable crowned the opposite crest; but although the
Confederate batteries, opposed by larger numbers and heavier metal,
had suffered terribly, both in men and in materiel, yet the infantry,
the main strength of the defence, was still intact.* (* "Our
artillery," says General D.H. Hill, "could not cope with the superior
weight, calibre, range, and number of the Yankee guns; hence it ought
only to have been used against masses of infantry. On the contrary,
our guns were made to reply to the Yankee guns, and were smashed up
or withdrawn before they could be effectually turned against massive
columns of attack." After Sharpsburg Lee gave orders that there were
to be no more 'artillery duels' so long as the Confederates fought
defensive battles.) The cliffs of the Red Hill, replying to the
rolling thunder of near 800 guns, gave back no echo to the sharper
crack of musketry. Save a few skirmishers, who had crossed the
Sharpsburg Bridge, not one company of McClellan's infantry had been
sent into action south of the Dunkard Church. Beyond the Antietam,
covering the whole space between the river and the hills, the blue
masses were plainly to be seen through the drifting smoke; some so
far in the distance that only the flash of steel in the bright
sunshine distinguished them from the surrounding woods; others moving
in dense columns towards the battle:

Standards on standards, men on men;
In slow succession still.

But neither by the Sharpsburg nor yet by the Burnside Bridge had a
single Federal regiment crossed the stream; Lee's centre and right
were not even threatened, and it was evident his reserves might be
concentrated without risk at whatever point he pleased.

Walker's division was therefore withdrawn from the right, and McLaws,
who had reached Sharpsburg shortly after sunrise, was ordered to the
front. G. T. Anderson's brigade was detached from D.H. Hill; and the
whole force was placed at Jackson's disposal. These fresh troops,
together with Early's regiments, not yet engaged, gave 10,000 muskets
for the counterstroke, and had Hooker and Mansfield been alone upon
the field the Federal right wing would have been annihilated. But as
the Confederate reserves approached the Dunkard Church, Sumner, whom
McClellan had ordered to cross Pry's Bridge with the Second Army
Corps, threw three divisions against the West Wood and the Roulette
House. In three lines, up the slope from the Antietam, at sixty yards
distance and covering a wide front, came Sedgwick on the right,
French on the left, and Richardson to the left rear. So orderly was
the advance of those 18,000 Northerners, and so imposing their array,
that even the Confederate officers watched their march with
admiration, and terrible was the shock with which they renewed the
conflict.

Sedgwick, emerging from the East Wood, moved directly over the
corn-field, crossed the turnpike, and entering the West Wood to
northward of the point still held by Greene, swept through the
timber, and with a portion of his advanced brigade reached the
further edge. Greene, at the same moment, moved upon the Dunkard
Church, and Early, who with the fragments of Jones' division was
alone within the wood, marched rapidly in the same direction.
Attacked suddenly in flank from behind a ridge of rock Greene's
regiments were driven back; and then Early, observing Sedgwick's
third line pushing across the turnpike, reformed his troops for
further action. Greene, for the moment, had been disposed of, but a
more formidable attack was threatening. Sedgwick's 6000 muskets,
confronted only by some 600* (* Letter of Jackson's Adjutant-General.
Memoirs of W.N. Pendleton D.D. page 216.) of the Valley soldiers
under Grigsby, were thronging through the wood, and a change of front
southward would have sent them sweeping down the Confederate line.
Early could hardly have withstood their onset; Hood was incapable of
further effort, and D.H. Hill was heavily pressed by French. But
Jackson's hand still held the reins of battle. During the fierce
struggle of the morning he had remained on the edge of the West Wood,
leaving, as was his wont, the conduct of the divisions to his
subordinates, but watching his enemy with a glance that saw beyond
the numbers arrayed against him. He had already demanded
reinforcements from General Lee; and in anticipation of their speedy
arrival their orders had been already framed. They had not been
called for to sustain his front, or to occupy a new position. Despite
the thronging masses of the Federals, despite the fact that his line
was already broken, attack, and attack only, was in Jackson's mind,
and the reserves and the opportunity arrived together. A staff
officer was dispatched to direct Walker, on the left, to sustain the
Texans, to clear the West Wood, and to place a detachment in the gap
between the Dunkard Church and the batteries of Colonel Lee;* (*
Sharpsburg. By Major-General J.G. Walker, C.S.A. Battles and Leaders
volume 2 pages 677 and 678.) while Jackson himself, riding to meet
McLaws, ordered him "to drive the enemy back and turn his right."
Anderson's brigade was sent to support McLaws, and Semmes' brigade of
McLaws' division was detached to strengthen Stuart.

Forming into line as they advanced, McLaws and Walker, leaving the
Dunkard Church on their right, and moving swiftly through the wood,
fell suddenly on Sedgwick's flank. Early joined in the mêlée, and
"the result," says Palfrey, a Northern general who was present on the
field, "was not long doubtful. Sedgwick's fine division was at the
mercy of their enemy. Change of front was impossible. In less time
than it takes to tell it the ground was strewn with the bodies of the
dead and wounded, while the unwounded were moving off rapidly to the
north. Nearly 2000 men were disabled in a moment."* (* Memoirs page
572. The Antietam and Fredericksburg page 87.) And the impetus of the
counterstroke was not yet spent. Gordon's brigade of the Twelfth
Corps had been dispatched to Sedgwick's help, but McLaws had reformed
his troops, and after a short struggle the Confederates drove all
before them.

Confusion reigned supreme in the Federal ranks. In vain their
powerful artillery, firing case and canister with desperate energy,
strove to arrest the rush of the pursuing infantry. Out from the West
Wood and across the cornfield the grey lines of battle, preceded by
clouds of skirmishers, pressed forward without a check, and the light
batteries, plying whip and spur, galloped to the front in close
support. Hope rose high. The Southern yell, pealing from ten thousand
throats, rang with a wild note of anticipated triumph, and Jackson,
riding with McLaws, followed with kindling gaze the progress of his
counterstroke attack. "God," he said to his companion, as the shells
fell round them and the masses of the enemy melted away like the
morning mist, "has been very kind to us this day."

But the end was not yet. Sedgwick's brigades, flying to the
north-east, rallied under the fire of their batteries, and as the
Confederates advanced upon the East Wood, they found it already
occupied by a fresh brigade. Smith's division of the Sixth Corps had
been sent forward by McClellan to sustain the battle, and its arrival
saved his army from defeat. Once more the corn-field became the scene
of a furious struggle, the Southerners fighting for decisive victory,
the Federals for existence. So impetuous was McLaws' attack that the
regiments on his left, although checked by the fences, drove in a
battery and dashed back the enemy's first line; but the weight of the
artillery in front of the North Wood, supported by a portion of
Smith's division, prevented further advance, and a Federal brigade,
handled with rare judgment, rushed forward to meet the assailants in
the open. Sharp was the conflict, for McLaws, a fine soldier, as
daring as he was skilful, strove fiercely to complete the victory;
but the fight within the woods and the swift pursuit had broken the
order of his division. Brigade had mingled with brigade, regiment
with regiment. There were no supports; and the broken ranks, scourged
by the terrible cross-fire of many batteries, were unable to
withstand the solid impact of the Federal reserve. Slowly and
sullenly the troops fell back from the deadly strife. The enemy, no
less exhausted, halted and lay down beyond the turnpike; and while
the musketry once more died away to northward of the Dunkard Church,
Jackson, rallying his brigades, re-established his line along the
edge of the West Wood.

Near the church was a portion of Walker's division. Further north
were two of McLaws' brigades; then Armistead, who had been sent
forward from Sharpsburg, and then Early. A brigade of McLaws'
division formed the second line, and Anderson was sent back to D.H.
Hill. Hood also was withdrawn, and the survivors of Jones' division,
many of whom had shared in the counterattack, were permitted to leave
the front.

10.30 A.M.

Their rifles were no longer needed, for from half-past ten onwards,
so far as the defence of the Confederate left was concerned, the work
was done. For many hours the West Wood was exposed to the
concentrated fire of the Federal artillery; but this fire, although
the range was close, varying from six to fifteen hundred yards, had
little effect. The shattered branches fell incessantly among the
recumbent ranks, and the shells, exploding in the foliage, sent their
hissing fragments far and wide; yet the losses, so more than one
general reported, were surprisingly small.

But although the enemy's infantry had been repulsed, no immediate
endeavour was made by the Confederates to initiate a fresh
counterstroke. When Lee sent McLaws and Walker to Jackson's aid, he
sent in his last reserve, for A.P. Hill had not yet reached the
field, and R. H. Anderson's division had already been taken to
support the centre. Thus no fresh troops were available, and the
Federal right was strong. At least fifteen batteries of artillery
were in position along the edge of the North Wood, and they were
powerfully supported by the heavy guns beyond the stream.

Yet the infantry so effectively protected was only formidable by
reason of its numbers. The First Corps and the Twelfth no longer
existed as organised bodies.* (* It was not until two o'clock that
even Meade's Pennsylvanians were reformed.) Sedgwick's division of
the Second Corps was still more shattered. Only Smith's division was
effective, and General McClellan, acting on the advice of Sumner,
forbade all further attack. Slocum's division of the Sixth Corps,
which reached the East Wood at twelve o'clock, was ordered to remain
in rear as support to Smith. The Confederate left wing, then, had
offered such strenuous resistance that eight divisions of infantry,
more than half of McClellan's army, lay paralysed before them for the
remainder of the day. 30,500 infantry, at the lowest calculation,(1)
and probably 100 guns, besides those across the Antietam, had been
massed by the Federals in this quarter of the field.

(1) Hooker 11,000
Mansfield 8,500
Sedgwick 6,000
Smith 5,000
- - -
30,500

Jackson's numbers, even after he had been reinforced by McLaws and
Walker, at no time approached those arrayed against him, and 19,400
men, including Stuart and three brigades of Hill, and 40 guns, is a
liberal estimate of his strength.(2)

(2) Lawton 3,600
Jones 1,800
Hood 2,000
Stuart 1,500
G.T. Anderson 1,000
Walker 3,500
McLaws 4,500
D.H. Hill (3 brigades) 1,500
- - -
19,400

The losses on both sides had been exceedingly heavy. Nearly 13,000
men, 3 including no less than fifteen generals and brigadiers, had
fallen within six hours.

(3) The Federals engaged against Jackson lost in five and a half
hours 7000 officers and men. During the seven hours they were engaged
at Gravelotte the Prussian Guard and the Saxon Army Corps lost
10,349; but 50,000 infantry were in action. The percentage of loss
(20) was about the same in both cases. The Confederate losses up to
10.30 A.M. were as follows:
Jones 700
Lawton 1,334
Hood 1,002
McLaws 1,119
Walker 1,012
Anderson 87
D.H. Hill (estimate) 500
- - -
5,754 (29 p.c.)

But although the Confederate casualties were not greatly exceeded by
those of the enemy, and were much larger in proportion to their
strength, the Federals had lost more than mere numbers. The morale of
the troops had suffered, and still more the morale of the leaders.
Even Sumner, bravest of men, had been staggered by the fierce assault
which had driven Sedgwick's troops like sheep across the corn-field,
nor was McClellan disposed to push matters to extremity.

Over in the West Wood, on the other hand, discouragement had no
place. Jackson had not yet abandoned hope of sweeping the enemy from
the field. He was disappointed with the partial success of McLaws'
counterstroke. It had come too late. The fortuitous advance of
Smith's division, at the very crisis of the struggle, had, in all
human probability, rescued the Federal right from a terrible defeat.
Had McLaws been able to reach the East Wood he would have compelled
the hostile batteries to retreat; the Federal infantry, already
shattered and disorganised, could hardly have held on, and the line
would have been broken through. But although one opportunity had been
lost, and he was once more thrown on the defensive, Jackson's
determination to make the battle decisive of the war was still
unshaken. His judgment was never clearer. Shortly before eleven
o'clock his medical director, appalled by the number of wounded men
sent back from the front, and assured that the day was going badly,
rode to the West Wood in order to discuss the advisability of
transferring the field hospitals across the Potomac. Dr. McGuire
found Jackson sitting quietly on 'Little Sorrel' behind the line of
battle, and some peaches he had brought with him were gratefully
accepted. He then made his report, and his apprehensions were not
made less by the weakness of the line which held the wood. The men,
in many places, were lying at intervals of several yards; for support
there was but one small brigade, and over in the corn-fields the
overwhelming strength of the Federal masses was terribly apparent.
Yet his imperturbable commander, apparently paying more attention to
the peaches than to his subordinate's suggestions, replied by
pointing to the enemy and saying quietly, "Dr. McGuire, they have
done their worst."

Meanwhile, the tide of battle, leaving Jackson's front and setting
strongly southwards, threatened to submerge the Confederate centre.
French's division of Sumner's corps, two brigades of Franklin's, and
afterwards Richardson's division, made repeated efforts to seize the
Dunkard Church, the Roulette Farm, and the Piper House.

1 P.M.

From before ten until one o'clock the battle raged fiercely about the
sunken road which was held by D.H. Hill, and which witnessed on this
day such pre-eminence of slaughter that it has since been known by
the name of the "Bloody Lane." Here, inspired by the unyielding
courage of their leaders, fought the five brigades of D.H. Hill, with
B. H. Anderson's division and two of Walker's regiments; and here
Longstreet, confident as always, controlled the battle with his
accustomed skill. The Confederate artillery was by this time
overpowered, for on each battery in turn the enemy's heavy ordnance
had concentrated an overwhelming fire, and the infantry were
supported by no more than a dozen guns. The attack was strong, but
the sunken road, fortified by piles of fence-rails, remained
inviolable. Still the Confederate losses were enormous, and defeat
appeared a mere question of time; at one moment, the enemy under
French had actually seized the wood near the Dunkard Church, and was
only dispossessed by a desperate counterstroke. Richardson, who
advanced on French's right, and at an appreciable interval of time,
was even more successful than his colleague. The 'Bloody Lane,'
already piled with dead, and enfiladed from a height to the
north-west, was carried by a brilliant charge; and when the Roulette
Farm, a strong defensive post, was stormed, Longstreet fell back to
the turnpike through the wreck of the artillery. But at this critical
juncture the Federals halted. They had not been supported by their
batteries. Richardson had received a mortal wound, and a succession
of rough counterstrokes had thinned their ranks. Here, too, the
musketry dwindled to a spattering fire, and the opposing forces, both
reduced to the defensive, lay watching each other through the long
hours of the afternoon. A threat of a Federal advance from the
Sharpsburg Bridge came to nothing. Four batteries of regulars,
preceded by a force of infantry, pushed across the stream and came
into action on either side of the Boonsboro' road; but on the slopes
above, strongly protected by the walls, Evans' brigade stood fast;
Lee sent up a small support, and the enemy confined his movements to
a demonstration.

Still further to the south, however, the battle blazed out at one
o'clock with unexpected fury. The Federal attack, recoiling first
from Jackson and then from Longstreet, swung round to the Confederate
right; and it seemed as if McClellan's plan was to attempt each
section of Lee's line in succession. Burnside had been ordered to
force the passage of the bridge at nine o'clock, but either the
difficulty of the task, or his inexperience in handling troops on the
offensive, delayed his movements; and when the attack was made, it
was fiercely met by four Confederate brigades. At length, well on in
the afternoon, three Federal divisions crowned the spur, and, driving
Longstreet's right before them, made good their footing on the ridge.
Sharpsburg was below them; the Southern infantry, outflanked and
roughly handled, was falling back in confusion upon the town; and
although Lee had assembled a group of batteries in the centre, and
regiments were hurrying from the left, disaster seemed imminent. But
strong assistance was at hand. A.P. Hill, who had forded the Potomac
and crossed the Antietam by the lower bridge, after a forced march of
seventeen miles in eight hours from Harper's Ferry,* (* Hill received
his orders at 6.30 A.M. and marched an hour later, reaching the
battle-field about 3.30 P.M.) attacked without waiting for orders,
and struck the Federals in flank with 3000 bayonets. By this
brilliant counterstroke Burnside was repulsed and the position saved.

Northern writers have laid much stress on this attack. Had Burnside
displayed more, or A.P. Hill less, energy, the Confederates, they
assert, could hardly have escaped defeat. It is certainly true that
Longstreet's four brigades had been left to bear the brunt of
Burnside's assault without further support than could be rendered by
the artillery. They were not so left, however, because it was
impossible to aid them. Jackson's and Longstreet's troops, despite
the fiery ordeal through which they had passed, were not yet
powerless, and the Confederate leaders were prepared for offensive
tactics. A sufficient force to sustain the right might have been
withdrawn from the left and centre; but Hill's approach was known,
and it was considered inadvisable to abandon all hold of the means
for a decisive counterstroke on the opposite flank. Early in the
afternoon Longstreet had given orders for an advance. Hood's
division, with full cartridge-boxes, had reappeared upon the field.
Jones' and Lawton's divisions were close behind; the batteries had
replenished their ammunition, and if Longstreet was hardly warranted
in arranging a general counter-attack on his own responsibility, he
had at least full confidence in the ability of the troops to execute
it. "It seemed probable," he says, "that by concealing our movements
under cover of the (West) wood, we could draw our columns so near to
the enemy to the front that we would have but a few rods to march to
mingle our ranks with his; that our columns, massed in goodly
numbers, and pressing heavily upon a single point, would give the
enemy much trouble and might cut him in two, breaking up his battle
arrangements at Burnside Bridge."* (* From Manassas to Appomattox
pages 256, 257.)

The stroke against the centre was not, however, to be tried. Lee had
other views, and Jackson had been already ordered to turn the Federal
right. Stuart, reinforced by a regiment of infantry and several light
batteries, was instructed to reconnoitre the enemy's position, and if
favourable ground were found, he was to be supported by all the
infantry available. "About half-past twelve," says General Walker, "I
sought Jackson to report that from the front of my position in the
wood I thought I had observed a movement of the enemy, as if to pass
through the gap where I had posted Colonel Cooke's two regiments. I
found Jackson in rear of Barksdale's brigade, under an apple tree,
sitting on his horse, with one leg thrown carelessly over the pommel
of his saddle, plucking and eating the fruit. Without making any
reply to my report, he asked me abruptly: "Can you spare me a
regiment and a battery?"...Adding that he wished to make up, from the
different commands on our left, a force of four or five thousand men,
and give them to Stuart, with orders to turn the enemy's right and
attack him in the rear; that I must give orders to my division to
advance to the front, and attack the enemy as soon as I should hear
Stuart's guns, and that our whole left wing would move to the attack
at the same time. Then, replacing his foot in the stirrup, he said
with great emphasis, "We'll drive McClellan into the Potomac."

"Returning to my command, I repeated General Jackson's order to my
brigade commanders and directed them to listen to the sound of
Stuart's guns. We all confidently expected to hear the welcome sound
by two o'clock at least, and as that hour approached every ear was on
the alert. Napoleon at Waterloo did not listen more intently for the
sound of Grouchy's fire than did we for Stuart's. Two o'clock came,
but nothing was heard of Stuart. Half-past two, and then three, and
still Stuart made no sign.

"About half-past three a staff officer of General Longstreet's
brought me an order to advance and attack the enemy in my front. As
the execution of this order would have materially interfered with
Jackson's plans, I thought it my duty before beginning the movement
to communicate with General Longstreet personally. I found him in
rear of the position in which I had posted Cooke in the morning, and
upon informing him of Jackson's intentions, he withdrew his order.

"While we were discussing this subject, Jackson himself joined us
with the information of Stuart's failure to turn the Federal right,
for the reason that he found it securely posted on the Potomac. Upon



Online LibraryG.F. R. HendersonStonewall Jackson and the American Civil War → online text (page 62 of 85)