The Life and Campaigns of General Lee, by Edward Lee Childe, Chapter 9

The Life and Campaigns of General Lee, by Edward Lee Childe

CHAPTER IX.
SEPTEMBER 1862.—LEE’S ENTRY INTO MARYLAND.—CAPTURE OF HARPER’S FERRY.—BATTLE OF SHARPSBURG.

MACLELLAN’S defeat had saddened the Northern population, without at all making them relax their efforts, or discouraging them. Had they not on the Rappahannock another army more numerous, better organized, under commanders who inspired confidence and hope? But when this second army also had come, mutilated and in disarray, to seek refuge under the walls of Washington, the new disaster fell on the North with crushing force. All its efforts for fifteen months had gone for nothing; all had to be done over again. The future appeared gloomy, and the people expected to hear that the Federal capital was fallen into the hands of General Lee.

Nor was this the only advantage reaped by the Confederates after this victorious campaign; it opened for them the fertile Valley of Virginia, in which, hitherto, their enemy had lived on the fat of the land. The Federals had evacuated it, and henceforth the rich harvests and all the resources of the grand valley, and of all the districts round about, would pass to the Southern army, which had so much need of them. Further, MacClellan’s army having quitted the James River, all Lower Virginia was delivered from the enemy, and the Northern troops being recalled in great haste, in consequence of Lee’s successes, were already leaving the different points on the coast.

Everything, therefore, counselled the South to profit by the demoralization of the North and the disorganization of its armies, and strike further heavy blows before there was time for recovery from past disasters. The Confederate army was too ill provided with clothing, shoes, ammunition, and other necessary war-material to hope to be able, even in so favourable a moment, to conquer peace on Northern soil; but there was every reason to believe that it would succeed in enfeebling the Federals sufficiently to force them to remain north of the Potomac, and defend their own territory. Thus, perhaps, a new invasion would be spared to Virginia, till winter came, which would render all offensive evolutions on the part of the North difficult.

Pope’s defeat rendered possible some movements which probably Lee had not foreseen. In advancing from Richmond on Culpepper, his design was simply to arrest his adversary’s march on Gordonsville; now everything was changed, and it became important to draw the utmost profit possible from the new position of affairs.

The political situation of Maryland very naturally suggested the idea of penetrating into that state. A large part of its population were at one with the South, not only through its interests, traditions, and the ties of vicinity, but also through profound sympathy. It had been hindered from taking part and cause with the South only by strong pressure on the part of the Federal Government. All appearances were a sure indication that the people of Maryland simply awaited the arrival of the Confederate army to rise against the United States Government. In any case its rising must create a powerful diversion, and indirectly aid the South by obliging the Washington authorities to send numerous troops against the people who had revolted. There is no doubt that, in all this, General Lee reasoned soundly, that his hopes were justified by the general situation of affairs, and his conclusions based on weighty data. He was not, however, a prey to illusion. He was well aware how difficult it would be for the Maryland people, whom the anxiety of the Federal Government had disarmed, and whose state was occupied by a multitude of Northern troops, to hold their own against superior forces. He understood perfectly that as long as the Confederates could not effectually protect them, all rising on their part was little likely and little to be desired, since the effort could only succeed with the help of the South, and its non-success would expose the unfortunate Marylanders to the vengeance of an exasperated government. At the commencement, therefore, he reckoned much more on the well-grounded fears of the Washington Government than on the active co-operation of the Marylanders.

The army itself was by no means prepared to invade a hostile country. Exhausted by the extraordinary efforts of the campaign it had just finished, it numbered a large proportion of soldiers without shoes, who had literally traced out the way to the Potomac with blood. Their uniforms were in tatters. The service of victuals was made irregularly. Their means of transport were in no way proportioned to the army’s wants, and their stock of ammunition was altogether insufficient for an aggressive movement of this magnitude.

Nevertheless; as so many advantages seemed to be promised by a sudden and vigorous offensive movement, General Lee concluded that the considerations just enumerated ought not to stop him. He resolved, therefore, to cross the Potomac and enter Maryland. In order to compel the Unionists also to cross this river, he decided on fording it to the east of the Blue Ridge, so as to menace at once both Washington and Baltimore. The enemy being ousted from Virginia, Lee reckoned on taking up a position in Western Maryland, and, by establishing communications with Richmond, by the Valley of the Shenandoah, and threatening Pennsylvania, to draw the Federals after him, which would increase their distance from their base of operations. He followed the same plan in 1863, in the campaign which ended at Getteysburg.

On the 4th of September, D. H. Hill’s division, which formed the Confederate van-guard, crossed the Potomac opposite the spot where the Monocacy empties it waters into the Potomac. To oppose it there were only some Federal sentries, who took flight. The night and the days following were employed in destroying the sluices and dykes of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, by means of which Washington chiefly derived its supplies of wood and coal. On the 7th of September, all the Confederate army encamped on Northern territory. The crossing of the river had been accompanied by repeated hurrahs, to the sound of warlike strains, and with an enthusiasm unlimited. The soldiers considered themselves as the avengers of a people outraged in its dearest rights, and felt proud and joyful at the prospect of carrying war into the enemy’s country. They encamped between the Monocacy and Frederick City; very strict orders had been issued to treat the Marylanders as friends. Pillage and theft were severely punished. What was needed was to be paid for, in Confederate paper, it is true, but the sellers did not refuse to accept it. In proof that these orders were obeyed, it is an extraordinary fact, that during the whole sojourn of the Southern army there, not a single case of bad conduct occurred.

This regard for their enemies created astonishment in the North, where it had been expected to see the tattered rebels imitate, and even surpass, the scenes of pillage and disorder which covered Pope’s army with infamy. When one thinks that the Confederate soldiers had just seen the laughing fields of Virginia devastated, their friends and relatives pillaged, insulted, and often driven from their homes, by the Union troops, and that now they themselves were in the enemy’s country, still smarting under the remembrance of those outrages, and surrounded by so many things they needed, and were able, if they chose, to appropriate, then their chivalrous conduct can be duly estimated. What a proud time for Lee was that when he learnt his orders were so strictly obeyed! No doubt the affection of his soldiers for him had as much to do with it as the sentiment of right and justice. There was no wish to tarnish either their own or their general’s good fame.

The Marylanders’ welcome of the Southern troops was not such as had been imagined. In Western Maryland, which Lee entered, the majority of the people remained attached to the Union, and very few recruits rallied to the Southern standards. The Confederate General-in-chief, on touching the soil of Maryland, addressed the following proclamation to its inhabitants:—

Head-Quarters, Army of Northern Virginia,
Near Frederickstown, Sept. 8th, 1862.

To the people of Maryland.

It is right that you should know the purpose that has brought the army under my command within the limits of your state, so far as that purpose concerns yourselves.

The people of the Confederate States have long watched, with the deepest sympathy, the wrongs and outrages that have been inflicted upon the citizens of a Commonwealth allied to the States of the South by the strongest social, political, and commercial ties.

They have seen with profound indignation their sister state deprived of every right, and reduced to the condition of a conquered province. Under the pretence of supporting the Constitution, but in violation of its most valuable provisions, your citizens have been arrested and imprisoned upon no charge, and contrary to all forms of law. . . . The government of your chief city has been usurped by armed strangers; your legislature has been dissolved by the unlawful arrest of its members; freedom of speech and of the press has been suppressed; words have been declared offences by arbitrary decree of the Federal Executive, and citizens ordered to be tried by military commissions for what they may dare to speak.

Believing that the people of Maryland possess a spirit too lofty to submit to such a government, the people of the South have long wished to aid you in throwing off this foreign yoke, to enable you again to enjoy the inalienable rights of freemen, and restore the independence and sovereignty of your state. In obedience to this wish, our army has come among you, and is prepared to assist you with the power of its arms in regaining the rights of which you have been so unjustly despoiled. This, citizens of Maryland, is our mission, so far as you are concerned. No restraint on your freewill is intended; no intimidation will be allowed, within the limits of this army at least. . . . We know no enemies among you, and will protect all of you in every opinion. It is for you to decide your destiny, freely and without constraint. This army will respect your choice, whatever it may be; and while the Southern people will rejoice to welcome you to your natural position among them, they will welcome you when you come in of your own free will.

R. E. LEE, General-Commanding.

This proclamation was read with interest by the Marylanders, but it brought no recruits. Unhappily for the South, General Lee had had to penetrate into a part of Maryland having little love for the Confederate cause. In the east and south-east of the state it would have been different; the Southerners there had many partisans; but between these and Frederickstown a Federal army was master of all the roads by which they could have come to General Lee. Further, the Confederate invasion was a tentative one, which must become a success before the Marylanders would trust themselves to it. If Lee could reach Baltimore or Prince George County, undoubtedly many recruits would join him. The Confederate soldiers ignored all these details, and felt a lively disappointment at finding so few friends and so many enemies.

When he adopted this plan of campaign, Lee had reckoned on leading all his army with him. But, unfortunately, noshing of the kind happened. All along the road from Manassas to the Potomac, thousands of stragglers left the ranks, the greater part not having strength to proceed. The want of rest and food, continual marches and daily battles, added to all preceding fatigues under the walls of Richmond, had completely exhausted them. Many of these stragglers had no shoes, and their feet were bruised to such a degree by the stones that they could not stand upright. Many of them remained lame for months, others never recovered the efforts they made to follow the army. But a great number, it must unfortunately be granted, yielded to meaner motives in quitting the ranks. Want of severe discipline was keenly felt in the Confederate army.

Lee was much grieved on learning the extent of this evil, and perceived the danger to which his troops would be exposed if their number became sensibly diminished. But there was no time to indulge in this grief; the Potomac had been crossed, and it would have been a moral defeat to return without attempting anything.

Harper’s Ferry is a village situated at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac, on the Virginian bank of the latter river, and commanding the entry into the Valley of Virginia. It was occupied by a strong Federal garrison of 11,500 men under Colonel Miles, to hinder any hostile force emerging from the valley into Maryland. But as Lee had crossed the Potomac much lower down, placing himself between Harper’s Ferry and the rest of the Federal troops, all strategical rules required the post to be abandoned as useless, and as putting the garrison in danger of being surrounded and made prisoners. This at least General Lee expected. But General Halleck, who was at the head of the Federal staff, obstinately refused to retire the garrison from Harper’s Ferry, and, strange to say, that which was, from a military point of view, a blunder on the Federal side, became the first cause of the want of success to the Confederate invasion. For before penetrating into the enemy’s country, Lee had to await the taking of this place, and thus MacClellan had time to interpose between him and the United States capital, and then to strike a blow under circumstances very unfavourable to the Confederate army.

The Southern commander, seeing that Colonel Miles gave no sign of withdrawing, was necessarily obliged to compel him to move, in order to preserve his own relations with the valley, whence he reckoned in part to draw his supplies. This unforeseen obstacle disarranged his original plan, which was to push forwards without losing a moment. To take Harper’s Ferry, he was forced to detach a considerable body of troops, and by so much enfeeble his army, already diminished by the many stragglers spoken of previously.

On December 10th, Jackson’s corps recrossed the Potomac near Williamsport; the Federals likewise evacuated Martinsburg, and became concentrated at Harper’s Ferry. On the 12th Jackson took possession of Martinsburg, and on the 13th, at 11 o’clock, he arrived in view of the enemy’s position around Harper’s Ferry. Meanwhile, General Walker had recrossed the Potomac at the Point of Rocks, and at night, on the 13th, he occupied the heights of London at the point where the Shenandoah falls into the Potomac. These heights command Harper’s Ferry on the edge opposite the Shenandoah. On the morning of the 14th the town was bombarded.

General MacLaws was directed to take possession of the Maryland Heights, situated opposite Harper’s Ferry, on the north bank of the Potomac. By these the town was completely commanded, and they were fortified and occupied in force by the enemy. On the 12th, MacLaws, after becoming master of all the passes of South Mountain,* by which reinforcements would have been able to reach Harper’s Ferry, arrived at the Maryland Heights. Next day, after a desperate struggle among some brushwood, forests, and ravines, he succeeded at four o’clock, p.m., in planting his flag on the summit of the heights in question. Then his troops drew up so as to cut off the retreat of the garrison, should it attempt to descend the Potomac. The Federals had raised a series of formidable works, extending from this river to the Shenandoah. From the heights taken by MacLaws and Walker, the Confederate cannon scarce reached these advanced works. Jackson was to turn the enemy from this line into the town of Harper’s Ferry. Hill, defiling along the left bank of the Shenandoah, was to attack the Federal left wing on the rear, and bear down on the town. Ewell’s division was directed to support him. Meanwhile Jackson would make a demonstration against the Federal right, while the Southern cavalry watched the borders of the Potomac. On the evening of the 14th, Hill succeeded in taking a hostile position near the Potomac, on the extreme left of their line. Ewell’s division, under General Lawton’s command, had neared the Federal works; some guns also had been sent across from the other side of the Shenandoah, to rake the enemy’s line. At daybreak, on September 15th,a terrible cannonade burst forth from all the heights, most of the pieces being about a thousand yards from the Federals. In an hour the Federal artillery ceased to answer, and soon after, at the moment when the assault was going to begin, the appearance of a white flag announced the surrender of the place. The number of prisoners was upwards of 11,000, besides 73 cannon, 13,000 rifles and other arms, 200 waggons, and stores of ammunition: Jackson’s loss was insignificant. Hardly had he succeeded, when he received a pressing order from Lee to rejoin him in all haste. Leaving General Hill to complete the surrender, and enjoining Generals MacLaws and Walker to follow him as quickly as possible, he took the road immediately. After a forced night-march he joined the commander-in-chief at Sharpsburg on the morning of the 16th of September.

Let us note what had passed in the interval. Lee, on entering Maryland, had no direct intention of attacking Washington or Baltimore, but wished to attract MacClellan towards the Cumberland Valley, obliging him thus to leave those towns open, which would allow the Southern chief to throw himself suddenly on either of them, or force MacClellan to a battle at a distance from his base of operations. Consequently, on September 10th, crossing South Mountain, Lee marched on Boonsboro’, leaving General Stuart with his cavalry east of the mountains to watch the enemy. Longstreet bore down on Hagerstown at the news that some Federal forces were approaching on the Pennsylvanian side. General D. H. Hill halted at Boonsboro’, to prevent the Harper’s Ferry garrison from escaping by Pleasant Valley, and to be within reach of supporting Stuart’s cavalry. Harper’s Ferry was expected to fall on the 13th, and the Federal army was advancing so slowly that Lee hoped to take the place and reunite all his columns before MacClellan’s arrival. Then he reckoned on marching into Pennsylvania.

But all his projects miscarried in consequence of one of those accidents which reduce to nothing the best conceived plans. Since September 2nd, the Federals had lost no time. When the remains of Pope’s army took refuge within the Washington lines, it became absolutely necessary to find a general who would restore confidence to the soldiers, re-establish order in their ranks, and put them in a state to re-open the campaign. MacClellan alone appeared to offer the wished-for conditions. Since his return from the James River, his duties had been limited to organising the defence of the capital. On the President’s request, who offered him the command-in-chief of all the forces round Washington, MacClellan accepted, and determined to resume the offensive with vigour. The old army of the James and that of Pope were joined. General Burnside’s corps was recalled from Fredericksburg, and put under MacClellan’s orders. On the 5th of September, as soon as Lee’s entry into Maryland was announced, the Federal chief hastened from Washington to meet him at Frederick City, The army of the Potomac marched by five parallel roads, and was so disposed as to cover at one and the same time both Washington and Baltimore, the left wing under General Franklin being supported on the Potomac, the centre under General Sumner, and the right wing, extending to the railway from Baltimore to Ohio, obeyed Genera1 Burnside. The efficient force of this army was 87,164 fighting men. So urgent was the occasion, that the reorganisation had to be accomplished during the march. The Federal commander-in-chief showed, under these critical circumstances, an energy above all praise. It was no trifling matter to assume the command of troops demoralized and disaffected through a series of disastrous reverses, and, in ten days, to make of them a strong army, perfectly organised, and in a condition to hold their own against the enemy.

MacClellan knowing nothing of Lee’s plans, advanced with caution. On September 12th, he reached Frederick, the Confederate cavalry retiring on his approach. On the 13th, by an unhoped-for chance, there was brought him a confidential order of the day, addressed by Lee to General D. H. Hill, in which the plan of the Confederate campaign was clearly traced. Hill had lost this paper, and it had fallen into the hands of one of the pickets of the Federal troops. This prize, of the greatest importance, informed MacClellan of all Lee’s schemes, the forces at his disposal, the positions they occupied, and gave him such an advantage over the Northern Virginian army as ought to lead to his annihilation. In brief, this paper put the Southern army at his mercy.

To make the most of this unexpected good fortune, MacClellan advanced rapidly, in order to seize the South Mountain defiles, cross into Pleasant Valley, there attack the Confederate divisions in detail, and help the garrison of Harper’s Ferry, still in difficulties with Stonewall Jackson. On the evening of the 13th, while MacLaws and Walker were taking up a position around this town, MacClellan appeared before the South Mountain defiles, repulsing Stuart’s cavalry, which endeavoured to stop him, in order that Lee might have time to occupy the defiles and dispute the passage of the Federals. On leaving the Potomac to the north of the river, the Blue Ridge chain, extending into Pennsylvania, is called South Mountain. Two miles and a half further to the west rises a range of hills, the Maryland Heights, abutting opposite Harper’s Ferry, on the Potomac Between these two chains lies Pleasant Valley, about three miles wide; the country is naturally uneven Two roads lead from Frederick City to the western part of the State, the principal, or Hagerstown Road, crosses South Mountain through the defile of Turner’s Gap, near the village of Boonsboro’; another road passes through Crampton’s Gap defile, five or six miles further south. These defiles are well-adapted for defence, the nature of the ground contributing to it admirably. But they can be taken in the rear by means of footpaths leading over the heights on the mountain-sides, whence the defiles are commanded MacClellan, thanks to what the order of the day had taught him, no longer ignorant of he’s plans, resolved to hurl his centre and right against the defile leading to Boonsboro’, while the left, under Franklin, forced Crampton’s Gap, threw itself on MacLaws’s rear, defeated it, and then extended its assistance to Harper’s Ferry.

General Lee, on learning his enemy’s presence at South Mountain, on the evening of September 13th, was much surprised, and at once comprehended, without knowing the fate of his order of the day, that MacClellan had divined his plan of campaign. General D. H. Hill immediately received orders to defend Turner’s Gap at all hazards. No news had yet come from Harper’s Ferry, and Lee considered the place would fall that very day, the 13th. He had calculated that after this date he would be able to reunite his forces, and hinder MacClellan’s advance, and would have done so but for this unlucky paper. The South Mountain passes had been left unguarded on purpose to attract MacClellan towards the west of the State, and so to lure him from his resources; this was a part of Lee’s original plan. Thus it was to be, as provided for beforehand, on the 13th. But now all was changed. Harper’s Ferry, which should have been evacuated, still held out, and MacClellan, no longer compelled to grope his way, had hastened his march. It was, therefore, necessary to stick to the defiles till the capture of Harper’s Ferry, and retain MacClellan to the east of the mountains till the whole of the Confederate army had been reunited and was ready to receive him.

Hill marched, therefore, with all his division, only 5000 strong, to the entrance of the Gap. General Longstreet received orders to march to his aid without losing a moment. A desperate struggle followed for the possession of the defile. It lasted all day with alternations of success and defeat Night alone put an end to the combat. Longstreet, towards evening, had arrived to succour his colleague nearly crushed under the constantly increasing number of the Federals. The loss on both sides was very considerable. Lee perceiving the necessity of concentrating his army, and having received from Jackson a positive assurance that Harper’s Ferry would fall next day, resolved to retire from South Mountain, and take up a position at Sharpsburg, whence he would be able to throw himself on the flank of all the hostile corps marching against MacLaws on the Maryland Heights, and would also be in a condition to reunite the various columns of his army. At Sharpsburg, too, he would be master of the fords of the Potomac, which secured, in case of misfortune, a line of retreat into Virginia. Consequently, during the night, the Confederate forces retired towards Antietam Creek, Fitz Lee’s cavalry keeping the enemy at a distance.

On the whole, although MacClellan had greatly disarranged the Southern chiefs plan of campaign, the resistance at South Mountain, which lasted all day, had permitted General Jackson to effect the reduction of Harper’s Ferry. MacClellan, therefore, had not succeeded in saving that place. There remained to him the resource of risking a battle according to rule. He conducted his army, on the night of September 14th, through the defiles abandoned by the Confederates. During the 15th the Northern forces slowly pursued their way, Lee’s rear-guard from time to time turning round to retard their march. Towards night-fall MacClellan was suddenly in the presence of the whole Confederate army, drawn up in battle array, on the western side of Antietam Creek, a small tributary of the Potomac flowing in front of the village of Sharpsburg.

We have already indicated by what unfortunate series of events Lee had been obliged to change his original plan of campaign. The reduction of Harper’s Ferry had forced him to go out of his road, losing him much precious time. The finding of his order of campaign had given the Northern commander such an advantage as ought to have enabled him to annihilate the Southern army. Hill and Longstreet’s resistance before South Mountain had in part remedied matters, but every necessity existed to halt on the edge of Antietam in order to give Jackson and his lieutenants time to rejoin the army. For the rest, with the Federals at his heels, it was impossible to avoid a battle, whatever might be Lee’s design, whether he thought of returning to Virginia, or of directing his course into Pennsylvania. The most urgent step demanded was to stop the Federal army. All the chances appeared against Lee. His army was much reduced in number, and already somewhat discouraged by the commencement of an unpropitious campaign. At Sharpsburg he had with him only 33,000 combatants, of which number the troops of Jackson, MacLaws, and Walker, 14,000 in all, were not on the ground when the battle commenced. The Northern army amounted to 87,000 soldiers, abundantly supplied with everything, and having suffered incomparably less than the Confederates.

The battle of Sharpsburg was one of the most eagerly contested in all the war. Taking account of the immense disproportion between the two armies, one cannot but be filled with admiration at the gallant defence of Lee’s men. The Southern army occupied all the ground between the Potomac and Antietam, whose waters united, a little below Sharpsburg, at an angle of forty-five degrees, and covered the fords of the Potomac opposite Shepherdstown in Virginia. The troops were disposed on the western bank of the Antietam, with the village at their back. Longstreet was on the right, and his line extended to the Potomac, D. H. Hill commanded the centre on both sides of the road from Boonsboro ?, and more immediately resting on the village. Jackson, who arrived on the 16th took the left; the interval between him and Hill was filled up by Hood’s division. At first Jackson’s troops were held in reserve. The country between the extreme left and the Potomac was confided to the cavalry under Stuart. There are three bridges over the Antietam in the neighbourhood of Sharpsburg,—one opposite Longstreet’s position, the next opposite the Confederate centre, the third several thousand yards higher. Lee had not enough men to guard the last mentioned, and was forced to leave it open, not doubting that MacClellan would profit by it to take his left wing in the rear.

The Federal army arrived on the banks of the Antietam at mid-day, on the 15th of September. Lee’s arrangements had been so well planned, notwithstanding his numerical weakness, that MacClellan decided to await the arrival of all his troops before seeking to force the passage of the Creek. The rest of his army joined him during the close of the day and the night following. He confided his left wing to Burnside, the centre to Porter, and Hooker and Sumner had the command of all the troops which extended to the right. Hooker’s corps, supported by those of Sumner and Mansfield, was, as Lee had foreseen, to cross by the third, bridge, and turn the Confederate left. MacClellan passed the 16th in posting his artillery, and assigning a position to the different corps of infantry along the Creek, for he wished to force the hostile centre as soon as Hooker charged on the right. To distract attention from the movement of his right wing, in the afternoon he opened a continuous fire all along his centre and left. The Confederate batteries, with much less calibre, were speedily reduced to silence. At four o’clock, p.m., Hooker crossed the third bridge out of reach of the Confederate guns; Lee, foreseeing this movement, had placed Hood’s two brigades on his extreme left, covering his left flank, and disposed at very acute angles with reference to the rest of his army. Hooker made an attempt on them at the end of the day, but Hood had no difficulty in holding his own. Their soldiers passed the night within rifle-shot of each other. On the 17th, before daybreak, Mansfield’s entire corps had joined Hooker. Sumner received orders to follow him at dawn.

Lee, on the other hand, had advanced Jackson’s corps for the support of Hood, his right being posted on the Hagerstown road, his left extending to the Potomac, protected by Stuart’s cavalry and the horse artillery. Walker’s two brigades rejoined Long street, and on the 17th, at 10 o’clock, a.m., Hood’s soldiers were relieved by Lawton and Trimble’s brigades from Ewell’s division. The Confederate army thus formed a semi-circle, with its wings abutting on the Potomac.

The morning of the 17th was announced by a concentrated fire from all the Federal batteries on the two banks of the Antietam. Those on the left bank raked all Jackson’s line, and his men suffered cruelly. Supported by this terrible fire, Hooker precipitated on them his 18,000 men, and tried to gain the Hagerstown Road and some woods on the left of that road. To oppose him Jackson only had the two divisions of Jones and Ewell, the latter really commanded by Lawton; 4,000 bayonets in all, so much had desertion and the enemy’s fire played havoc with their ranks.

The Federal assault was vigorous, and a shower of grapeshot burst over the thinly-placed soldiers of Jackson. General Jones, being wounded, was replaced by General Starke. Jackson, advancing his line, drove the enemy back towards the left and centre. Three brigades on D. H. Hill’s extreme left joined him. Stuart, placed between Jackson’s left and the Potomac, drove back the Federal division at Hooker’s extreme right by means of the well-directed fire of his mounted artillery. But the enemy endured the attack so obstinately that Jackson’s soldiers began to tire and give way. His corps had suffered terribly. His division, properly so called, had lost successively its two generals (Jones wounded, Starke killed); General Lawton, temporary commander of Ewell’s division, had just been mortally wounded. Colonel Douglas, who had replaced Lawton at the head of his brigade, was slain; the brigade had lost 354, killed and wounded, out of 1150 men, including five colonels out of six. Hayes’s brigade, out of 550 men, had lost 323—and all its officers.—Colonel Walker was wounded, and out of 700 men in the brigade he temporarily commanded, 228 had fallen, and three colonels out of four.

In spite of these frightful losses, these heroes made a supreme effort, and succeeded in pressing Hooker’s columns so briskly that signs of disorder appeared among them. On Lee’s order, Hood’s two brigades, having hastened to the succour of Lawton and Trimble, nobly took their part in the charge, but the Confederates paid dearly for this success. Nevertheless their assault had been so vigorous that Hooker’s soldiers began to leave the ranks towards the rear. Hooker himself, struck at that moment, had to leave the battle-field, which still further increased the disorder of his men. Mansfield’s corps had joined Hooker’s at 7 o’clock, and charged likewise; it was repulsed at the same time, and General Mansfield mortally wounded.

It was 9 o’clock, and victory seemed to incline in favour of the South. Hooker and Mansfield’s corps—30,000 strong—had just been repulsed by Jackson’s divisions, and Hood’s two brigades—less than 6000—and the two Federal generals were out of the combat, one seriously, the other mortally, wounded. The attempt to turn the left wing had been unsuccessful, and the Federal right wing appeared demoralized. At this critical juncture, the arrival of General Sumner with fresh troops restored order in the Northern ranks. He re-formed the line, and hurled it at the Confederate left, embracing in his attack the hostile centre, where D. H. Hill commanded.

Jackson’s soldiers were tired out with the desperate struggle hey had endured all the morning. Thus, they could not resist the impetuosity of this new attack. Ammunition failed them, and they fell back in disorder. The Confederates, in their turn, appeared about to succumb, for if Sumner succeeded in turning Lee’s left, the latter would see his line of retreat towards the Potomac cut off. The vigorous, although ineffectual, resistance of Jackson’s corps at this critical moment, gave Lee time to send to him Walker’s two brigades, which he detached from Longstreet’s corps, and MacLaws’s division, which arrived from Harper’s Ferry. Instantly reforming his line, Jackson charged Sumner furiously, and penetrating an interval between his right and centre, pierced the Federal line, pursued it through the woods beyond Hagerstown Road, and regained the position he had occupied at the beginning of the battle. But Jackson had suffered too much, and his troops were too few, for him to drive Sumner beyond the Antietam. It was noon. The enemy had failed in all his efforts to turn Lee’s left.

Placed in the centre of his army, the Confederate commander had conducted the action so well, sending reinforcements at the opportune moment, and foreseeing each hostile movement, that he had maintained his position against all the assaults of his enemy. Jackson, with less than 12,000 men (including here the reinforcements received during the action), had held his own, and ended by repulsing the 40,000 of Hooker, Mansfield, and Sumner, wounding the first, and killing the second. Sumner’s soldiers were so tried in their last assault, that they did not stir for the remainder of the day. But in the centre the conflict continued. The Confederates were partly driven back to an old road, where Hill re-formed them and arrested the enemy’s progress. General arrived on the ground with 3,000 men. Hill placed him in reserve. At this moment an order, misunderstood, caused several regiments to think they must retire, which allowed the enemy to rush into intervals left vacant. Generals Anderson and Wright were seriously wounded while trying to repair this disaster. General Hill, who at that moment was assisting in moving one of his aides-de-camp, who had been wounded, under shelter, so strongly did he believe his line safe, threw himself in front of his soldiers, rallied some hundreds of them, and at their head charged the enemy. They were now supported by the Confederate artillery, which made great ravages in the Federal ranks. The latter had so often got so near the Confederate positions, that their own cannon ceased firing, fearful of slaying soldiers on its own side. At one time, General Longstreet, observing a gun with nearly all the artillerymen dead, dismounted, and he, with General Drayton, Adjutant-General Major Sorrel, and Major Fairfax, served the piece till the danger was past. At length Hill, by heroic efforts, succeeded in arresting the enemy, who, about two o’clock, retired, and no more renewed his attack that day. Lee ordered Jackson to drive the Federal right wing beyond the Antietam, by taking it in the rear, but Franklin’s corps having meanwhile joined Sumner, Jackson had to give up the attempt.

On the Federal left, General Burnside had massed 15,000 men, facing the stone bridge opposite Longstreet’s guarded position. He was, simultaneously with the attack on the Confederate left, to take the stone bridge, pursue the enemy from the Sharpsburg Heights, drive him into the road, and cut off Lee from the Potomac fords at Shepherdstown, which would have led to the destruction of the Southern army. In the morning he made various attempts, but without success. Lee was obliged successively to detach from the troops under Longstreet, the divisions of Hood, MacLaws, and Walker, to succour Jackson, while Longstreet remained with Jones’s division only, numbering 2500 fighting men. This handful of soldiers had to defend the Confederate right against Burnside’s entire corps. General Toombs, with only 400 men, was left in charge of the bridge. He succeeded in holding Burnside in check nearly all the day. At four o’clock, however, the latter, under the repeated orders of MacClellan, led his troops in a body against the bridge, took it, passed over the bodies of Toombs and his few men, and, arriving on the crest of the heights defended by General Jones, charged him, and, in spite of his resistance, compelled him to give ground. Burnside at this late hour seemed on the point of seizing the victory.

It was now that General A. P. Hill arrived from Harper’s Ferry. His division, only 2000 strong, had marched since morning. Lee ordered him immediately to the help of Jones. He joined him just when the latter, pressed by his foes, had left four pieces of cannon in their hands. Hill, uniting the two divisions, less than 5000 in all, rushed against Burnside’s centre with so much force, that he swept back the Federal corps, re-captured the battery, and likewise all the ground lost, obliging the enemy to take refuge under the protection of his guns ranged on the other side of the Antietam.

Thus terminated this important battle. At sunset the Confederates still occupied the positions they had held in the morning, all the efforts of the enemy to dislodge them having been in vain. Their losses amounted to 8790 killed and wounded. The Federals lost 12,469, including 13 generals.

It was nearly night when Burnside was repulsed. The enemy, waiting for Lee to profit by his success, and cross the river, placed their artillery on some heights commanding the bridges. But Lee was too wary to run fresh risks. His triumph was sufficiently great in that he was able, with so feeble a force, to resist victoriously one so superior in numbers.

During the night reinforcements arrived to him, chiefly of soldiers sick and wounded in the early months of the year, who came to rejoin their regiments, or stragglers, who were continually coming in. On the 18th MacClellan had the choice, either to renew the attack at once, or put it off till the morrow, in order to allow time for the arrival of reinforcements from Washington. He decided to wait, although it was very probable Lee would cross into Virginia in the night between the 18th and 19th. During all the 18th the Confederate army remained in the same positions they had so valiantly offensive the previous eve. Although too weak to take the offensive, the Confederate commander felt sure of being able to repulse any new assault. On the night of the 18th he determined to recross the Potomac. He had nothing to gain by remaining where he was, and the dangers of his situation in Maryland were augmented hourly. His adversary was incessantly receiving reinforcements, while he himself could hope for no addition to his forces. It was only with the greatest difficulty he was able to feed his soldiers, and renew their supplies of powder and ammunition. If he returned to Virginia he could, on the contrary, hope to see the number of his troops increased. Stragglers, and the sick and wounded of the Peninsular campaign in the springtime, would continually return to his standard, the Government also would assemble reinforcements, and it would be much easier for them to join him in Virginia than in Maryland. All the wants of the army would not be difficult to satisfy south of the Potomac. In the night of the 18th Longstreet, who was nearest the river, crossed it close to Shepherdstown; he was followed by the rest of the army, the cavalry bringing up the rear. At eleven o’clock, a.m., on the 19th of September, the entire army was in position on the Virginian bank, ready to receive the enemy in case of pursuit. Lee carried with him everything of value, victuals, provisions accumulated in Maryland, and the rich spoils of Harper’s Ferry.

As soon as MacClellan knew of Lee’s retreat, on the morning of the 19th, he dispatched Porter’s corps in pursuit, which had been held in reserve during the battle of the 17th. But the latter did not reach the Potomac till the Confederates had effected their crossing. Lee had left General Pendleton to watch the fords. Porter succeeded during the night in throwing on the southern bank a force sufficiently large to get possession of four Confederate cannon, to disperse Pendleton’s feeble corps, and to establish himself strongly under the protection of the batteries raised on the Maryland bank.

The Confederate army was already some distance from the river, but hardly had Lee heard what had happened, before he directed A. P. Hill to drive back Porter across the Potomac. On the morning of the 20th Hill took the position from the Federals, and inflicted on them a rough chastisement. He literally threw them into the river, where many were drowned. 200 prisoners were taken. The Federals confessed having lost more than 3000 men, slain and drowned. Hill’s loss amounted only to 261 men.

MacClellan persisted no further. His army had as much need of rest as that of his foe. He remained, therefore, north of the Potomac, while the Confederates established themselves in the vicinity of Winchester.

Lee’s troops, since the 25th of June, had marched more than 280 miles, living on half rations, with uniforms in rags, and feet naked. In twelve pitched battles and numerous conflicts, they had met and defeated three formidable armies, inflicting on the enemy a loss of 76,000 men, of whom 30,000 were prisoners, and taking 155 guns and nearly 70,000 rifles, while seizing or destroying also victuals and war-material representing a value of several million piastres.[*]

The battle of Sharpsburg was not a victory for MacClellan. He had attacked an army numbering scarce a third of his own, and been repulsed with a loss one third greater than that of his adversary. So rough had been the experience of his army that, had the 30,000 Confederate stragglers been present on the 17th of September, there is no doubt Lee would have driven the Federals before him to the east of the mountains. MacClellan, indeed, confessed the state to which his army had been reduced: “The next morning (i.e., after the Battle of Sharpsburg),” he says, “I found that our loss had been so great, and there was so much disorganization in some of the commands, that I did not consider it proper to renew the attack that day.”

With this battle the invasion of Maryland terminated, but it was not the battle alone which caused this termination. The unforeseen delay caused by the necessity of taking Harper’s Ferry, and especially the enormous gaps produced in the Southern army by the unusual number of stragglers, had so much deranged Lee’s projects, that he could no longer think of succeeding in a campaign in Maryland. The fate of the campaign, therefore, was really decided before the Battle of Sharpsburg, and Lee’s only wish in accepting battle, was to arrest MacClellan’s march, and reunite the scattered divisions of his own army.

In this Maryland campaign both adversaries had given proof of great military talent. After the Northern defeat at Manassas, MacClellan had assembled an army with marvellous rapidity, thanks chiefly to the influence of his own name, had conducted it against Lee and succeeded in stopping him, thus not only affording safety from invasion to the fertile province of Pennsylvania, but also disarranging, for the time, the plan which Lee had formed for the capture of the Federal capital. It is not, therefore, an exaggeration to say that he had saved the Northern cause, for to defend Washington there was only his own army, and if Lee had been able to get the better of it, Washington or Philadelphia would have been at his mercy, enabling him to dictate peace, and secure the acknowledgment of Southern independence. All hope of seeing this magnificent project realised, vanished before the rapid march and prompt attack of MacClellan. In a few hours, on an autumn day, the triumphant march of the Confederates was arrested on the borders of the Antietam. Let us, therefore, do justice to the Federal general’s skill.

But Lee’s merit was no less, and his want of success was due to circumstances over which he had no control. His plan now, as always, had been maturely considered and perfectly combined. But three causes, which he could not foresee, spoiled everything. The first, his great loss of men, caused partly by his rapid movements and an uninterrupted succession of conflicts; the second, the reluctance of the Marylanders to come to his ranks; and the third, and most important, the finding by MacClellan of that unlucky despatch, which revealed to him all Lee’s plan. From that moment the Northern commander advanced so rapidly, that he gave no time to the Southern stragglers to rejoin the army. The gaps in the Confederate ranks, therefore, could not be filled up, and Lee was obliged to retreat, in order not to be too far away from Jackson, who was retained by the unexpected resistance at Harper’s Ferry. Hence the impossibility of finding his way to Hagerstown, the forced concentration at Sharpsburg, and consequently the necessity of delivering battle in its neighbourhood.

The loss of Lee’s despatch to Hill was a true fatality which exercised a preponderating influence over following events. It cannot, therefore, be said that the Southern chief was responsible for the failure of the Maryland campaign: he had, as far as possible, provided for everything. He was right to hope for great reinforcements, whether in Maryland or in Virginia; thus his flanks would have been protected, and he would have been able without delay to invade Pennsylvania. Contrary to his expectations, he was obliged to retire and give battle at Sharpsburg. Here, again, he revealed talents of the first order. The enemy, at least twice as numerous as his own army, never displayed more energy and eagerness at any period of the war. If the Federals were repulsed, it must be attributed to Lee’s skill and his soldiers’ valour. He manœuvred his army with admirable rapidity and precision, multiplying his soldiers at the most exposed points. Indeed, at Sharpsburg, the precision of view and promptitude of action of which the Confederate commander gave proof, were most remarkable. An undecided or unforeseeing general would have experienced a complete defeat, for at the beginning of the action the Confederate left wing numbered but 4000 men, while the columns that rushed on it consisted of 18,000, and afterwards of 40,000 men. To resist such masses not only was there wanting to the soldiers courage to be relied on, but also great skill and extraordinary rapidity in the management of troops to the general.

[Notes]

* A name given to the prolongation of the Blue Ridge chain, on the other side of the Potomac, into Maryland.

* The value of a piastre varies in different countries. A Spanish piastre is worth about 3s. 1d.

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