Sharpsburg, Md., September 16, 1862
Mr. President: My letter to you of the 13th instant informed you of the positions of the different divisions of this army. Learning that night that Harper’s Ferry had not surrendered, and that the enemy was advancing more rapidly than was convenient from Fredericktown, I determined to return with Longstreet’s command to the Blue Ridge, to strengthen D. H. Hill’s and Stuart’s divisions, engaged in holding the passes of the mountains, lest the enemy should fall upon McLaw’s rear, drive him from the Maryland Heights, and thus relieve the garrison at Harper’s Ferry. On approaching Boonsborough, I received information from General D. H. Hill that the enemy in strong force was at the main pass on the Frederick and Hagerstown road, pressing him so heavily as to require immediate re-enforcements. Longstreet advanced rapidly to his support, and immediately placed his troops in position. By this time Hill’s right had been forced back, the gallant Garland having fallen in rallying his brigade. Under General Longstreet’s directions, our right was soon restored, and firmly resisted the attacks of the enemy to the last. His superior numbers enabled him to extend beyond both of our flanks, and his right was able to reach the summit of the mountain to our left, and press us heavily in that direction. The battle raged until after night; the enemy’s efforts to force a passage were resisted, but we had been unable to repulse him.
Learning later in the evening that Crampton’s Gap (on the direct road from Fredericktown to Sharpsburg) had been forced, and McLaws’ rear thus threatened, and believing from a report from General Jackson that Harper’s Ferry would fall next morning, I determined to withdraw Longstreet and D. H. Hill from their positions and retire to the vicinity of Sharpsburg, where the army could be more easily united. Before abandoning the position, indications led me to believe that the enemy was withdrawing, but learning from a prisoner that Sumner’s corps (which had not been engaged) was being put in position to relieve their wearied troops, while the most of ours were exhausted by a fatiguing march and a hard conflict, and I feared would be unable to renew the fight successfully in the morning, confirmed me in my determination. Accordingly, the troops were withdrawn, preceded by the trains, without molestation by the enemy, and about daybreak took position in front of this place. The enemy did not pass through the gap until about 8 o’clock of the morning after the battle, and their advance reached a position in front of us about 2 p.m. Before their arrival, I received intelligence from General Jackson that Harper’s Ferry had surrendered early in the morning. I inclose his report.
From a more detailed statement furnished by General Jackson’s adjutant-general, it appears that 49 pieces of artillery, 24 mountain howitzers, and 17 revolving guns, 11,000 men fit for duty (consisting of twelve regiments of infantry, three companies of cavalry, and six companies of artillery), together with 11,000 small-arms, were the fruits of this victory.
Part of General Jackson’s corps has reached us and the rest are approaching, except General A. P. Hill’s division, left at Harper’s Ferry to guard the place and take care of public property. The enemy have made no attack up to this afternoon, but are in force in our front.
This victory of the indomitable Jackson and his troops gives us renewed occasion for gratitude to Almighty God for His guidance and protection.
I am, with high respect, your obedient servant,
R E Lee
Source: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Vol. 19, Part 1, pp. 140-141
Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 September 14