Robert E. Lee and the Southern Confederacy
By Henry Alexander White



GENERAL LEE determined to carry the war at once beyond the Potomac River. To President Davis he made the suggestion, September 3, 1862, that this was “the most propitious time since the commencement of the war for the Confederate army to enter Maryland.” Concerning the difficulties of the movement, he said in the same despatch:

The army is not properly equipped for an invasion of an enemy’s territory. It lacks much of the material of war, is feeble in transportation, the animals being much reduced, and the men are poorly provided with clothes, and in thousands of instances are destitute of shoes. Still we cannot afford to be idle, and though weaker than our opponents in men and military equipments, must endeavour to harass if we cannot destroy them. I am aware that the movement is attended with much risk, yet I do not consider success impossible, and shall endeavour to guard it from loss.

On September 4, without awaiting the reply of Davis, Lee turned the head of his column from Leesburg toward Frederick, Maryland. “The only two subjects that give me any uneasiness,” he wrote, “are my supplies of ammunition and subsistence.”

The two divisions of D. H. Hill and McLaws with Hampton’s cavalry had marched the entire distance from Richmond, and were once again under Lee’s banner. This forced journey on foot had left by the way many wearied men. The fare of green apples and green corn, and the continuous bivouac and battle engaged in by the two corps of Jackson and Longstreet left thousands of other stragglers behind. Clad in fluttering rags and with feet either bare or only half-shod, the depleted Confederate army moved forward in high spirit, with shout and song. They looked like a band of scarecrpws. Ministers of the Gospel, college professors, lawyers, merchants, physicians, planters, and farm labourers composed the incomparable battalions who followed Lee. They were without tents, and their torn garments were discoloured with battle-stains. But a word from their great leader could change their noisy, irregular column into a steady line of battle in whose valour and skill an equal number of the choicest veterans of the European armies would find metal more than worthy of their steel. Both shores were made to ring with the melody “Maryland, My Maryland” as they waded the Potomac. The groves and green fields of Maryland were made
vocal with laughter as the gray-jackets marched toward Frederick. Within six months they had defeated Banks, Milroy, Shields, McClellan, and Pope, and now they were eager for battle in front of Washington.

Lee forbade all depredations upon private property, and ordered his quartermasters to purchase all supplies needed by the army. A general order issued from headquarters announced a Confederate victory in the West, and encouraged the soldiers in the following terms:

Soldiers, press onward! Let each man feel the responsibility now resting on him to pursue vigorously the success vouchsafed to us by Heaven. Let the armies of the East and the West vie with each other in discipline, bravery and activity, and our brethren of our sister States will soon be released from tyranny, and our independence be established upon a sure and abiding basis.

On September 8, Lee and his brigades were in camp at Frederick, Maryland. Jackson, Longstreet, and Stuart pitched their tents near General Lee in Best’s Grove. Lee wrote to President Davis, September 8, suggesting that the Confederate Government should propose to the Federal Government “the recognition of our independence.” Concerning this proposal, he added, “The rejection of this offer would prove to the country that the responsibility of the continuance of the war does not rest upon us but that the party in power in the United States elect to prosecute it for purposes of their own.” On the same day Lee issued this proclamation:

To the people of Maryland: It is right that you should know the purpose that 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 faithful and manly protest against this outrage made by the venerable and illustrious Mary lander [Taney], to whom in better days no citizen appealed for right in vain, was treated with scorn and contempt: 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 the press and of speech has been suppressed; words have been declared offences by an arbitrary decree of the Federal Executive, and citizens ordered to be tried by a military commission for what they may dare to speak. Believing that the people of Maryland possessed 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 independence and sovereignty to 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 despoiled.

This, citizens of Maryland, is our mission, so far as you are concerned. No constraint upon your free will is intended; no intimidation will be allowed within the limits of this army, at least. Marylanders shall once more enjoy their ancient freedom of thought and speech. We know no enemies among you, and will protect all, of 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 only welcome you when you come of your own free will.

R. E. Lee, General Commanding.

The section of Maryland near Frederick was hostile to the Confederacy, and time was not given for the men of eastern Maryland to array themselves under Lee’s banner. From Washington with a host of nearly ninety thousand men, composed of new and old soldiers, the restored commander McClellan was approaching. In the fortifications about Washington, Banks commanded a garrison of seventy-two thousand five hundred. McClellan rested his left on the Potomac and his right on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, as he slowly pushed forward his line, in convex form, in search of Lee’s army. In order to draw McClellan away from his base of supplies, Lee began to withdraw his forces toward Hagerstown, there to offer battle or to threaten Harrisburg and Baltimore. But the Federal troops had not been altogether removed from the Valley of Virginia. At Martinsburg and at Harper’s Ferry, a Federal force of over twelve thousand stood on guard over the stores and munitions of war. Lee had already ordered Loring to clear the Kanawha valley and then to advance upon Martinsburg. Winchester he had designated as a depot for Confederate supplies and as a rendezvous for the great army of stragglers yet south of the Potomac. The Confederate chieftain’s plans were now laid for the immediate capture of the forces in and near Harper’s Ferry, as preliminary to the massing of his entire army at Hagerstown. Order 191 was issued from the Frederick headquarters, on September 9, giving direction for the movement of the Confederate brigades the following day. The leading position was assigned to Jackson. Across the South Mountain and through Sharpsburg he was ordered to lead his command of fourteen brigades. Beyond the Potomac he was directed to seize the Baltimore and Ohio railway, capture the force in Martinsburg, and cut of the way of escape from Harper’s Ferry. This movement was to be completed by the morning of Friday, September 12. Behind Jackson, Lee sent McLaws, reinforced by R. H. Anderson. Ten brigades were combined in this band, which was to move from Middletown toward the left and by Friday morning plant heavy guns on Maryland Heights overlooking Harper’s Ferry. J. G. Walker, with two brigades, was sent with orders to establish his guns on the Loudoun Heights. Beleaguered thus on every side, it was expected that Harper’s Ferry would yield at once to the Confederate guns, and that Friday, September 12, would see these three detachments in motion again toward the main body of the army at Boonsborough or Hagerstown. This main body was made up, in part, of nine brigades under Longstreet, who was moved across South Mountain toward Boonsborough, there to hold watch over the supply trains; the other part was composed of D. H. Hill’s five brigades as a rearguard. Cavalry was assigned to each of the marching divisions; the main body of the horsemen under Stuart made ready to deliver battle against the heads of McClellan’s columns.

The dawning of September 10 marked the beginning of the great game of war. Lee’s horse, by a sudden spring, had caused painful injury to his hands, and he rode in an ambulance. The reported advance of a Federal force from Chambersburg induced Lee to move Longstreet as far as Hagerstown. The evening of September 11 found him in bivouac there, while D. H. Hill at Boonsborough guarded the upper end of Pleasant Valley. Stuart was as yet east of the South Mountain, holding in check the advance of McClellan. The same evening marked Jackson’s bivouac beyond the Potomac; his infantry held the railroad, and the cavalry had drawn the toils about Martinsburg. The morning of September 12, the hour appointed by Lee, saw Jackson in position at Martinsburg with all the Federal troops corralled at Harper’s Ferry. Pleasant Valley was the camping-place of McLaws on the night of September 11. He had marched behind Longstreet and the ordnance trains as far as Middletown, hence his progress was retarded. Daybreak of September 12 saw McLaws advancing to attack the Maryland Heights, but the ledges of rock and dense undergrowth prevented a vigorous assault. Walker’s brigades were across the river at Point of Rocks on the morning of the 11th. That entire day, they remained in camp to rest; the morning of the 13th brought them only to the foot of the Blue Ridge, and the morning of the 14th saw Walker’s guns in position on the Loudoun Heights.

Lee was engaged in a difficult game on the military chessboard. At Hagerstown on the 12th he awaited reports concerning Harper’s Ferry. In a letter to President Davis, on that day, he expressed anxiety concerning food and clothing for his men. September 13 found him still waiting for news from Walker and McLaws. To the latter he wrote, “Jackson will be at Harper’s Ferry by noon today.” The depletion of the army by straggling now began to oppress Lee, and he sent this message to the President: “Our ranks are very much diminished—I fear from a third to one half of the original numbers.”

Robert E. Lee and the Southern Confederacy By Henry Alexander White CHAPTER IX.


The afternoon of Saturday, September 13, brought news of McClellan’s rapid approach toward the Boonsborough mountain-pass. The morning of that day had given to McClellan, in Frederick, a copy of Lee’s order (No. 191) outlining the campaign. Two copies had been sent to D. H. Hill, since Hill had been previously made subject to Jackson’s commands. The copy of the order received by Hill at Frederick and displayed by him after the close of the war was in Jackson’s handwriting. The copy sent to Hill directly from Lee’s headquarters was left in the camp by a careless subordinate; a Federal soldier discovered it wrapped about some Confederate cigars. McClellan saw at a glance Lee’s entire plan. At once he hastened his main body toward Boonsborough in pursuit of Lee. Franklin’s corps was urged toward Crampton’s gap to harass McLaws and bring relief to Harper’s Ferry. At the close of this day, therefore, Lee was pushing D. H. Hill back again to the defence of his rear, while McLaws was urged to expedite his operations and to join Lee with speed via Sharpsburg.

Sunday morning, September 14, as Lee was moving Longstreet’s brigades from Hagerstown to Boonsborough, he was greeted with the roaring of heavy guns from the entire eastern and southern horizon. Upon the mountain’s crest near Boonsborough, Hill’s five thousand men were wrapped in the smoke of battle; until the middle of the afternoon they held Fox’s Gap against the onset of Reno’s corps. At three o’clock the corps of Hooker fell upon Hill’s left near Turner’s Gap, north of the National road. Eight of Longstreet’s brigades, four thousand men, now gave aid to Hill. The battle raged in both gaps until the coming of the darkness, and the nine thousand Confederates continued to hold the mountain-top in the face of twenty-eight thousand Federal soldiers.

Six miles to the southward from Turner’s Gap, another battle raged that afternoon, in Crampton’s Gap. Franklin sent his advance column of eight thousand to drive McLaws’s rearguard of twelve hundred men from the summit. The hour of darkness brought complete success to the Federal force. Franklin planted his banner on the mountain’s crest, and McLaws now seemed to be imprisoned in Pleasant Valley. The Sunday afternoon had likewise borne to Lee’s ears the sound of guns from the direction of Harper’s Ferry, giving indication that this fortress had not yet fallen. So steep and rocky were the sides of the Maryland Heights, that mid-day of the 14th came and passed ere the guns of McLaws were ready to respond to Jackson’s signals to begin the battle.

The outlook was not cheerful as Lee stood on South Mountain in the gathering darkness of September 14. Over half his army, in three separate divisions; was more than a dozen miles away. The two divisions under his own direction were not all in line together, and his position was assailed in front and on both flanks by McClellan’s main body. At 8 o’clock in the evening, September 14, Lee wrote this order 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.” But McLaws bravely held his post and began to array his troops in line across the Pleasant Valley to withstand the advance of Franklin. His guns were ready to open on Harper’s Ferry with the dawning of the following morning. Lee’s forces in the South Mountain passes had won a day’s time from McClellan, and had thus secured the sucess of the movement against Harper’s Ferry, although Lee, as yet, knew it not.

At daybreak on the morning of the 15th, Lee stood in the roadway on the crest of the ridge at Sharpsburg, directing his forces to positions on the right and left of the turnpike as they retired from Boonsborough. Noonday brought him a note from Jackson, written at an early morning hour: “Through God’s blessing, Harper’s Ferry and its garrison are to be surrendered.” Not until the receipt of this news, with the additional knowledge that “Stonewall” was making all speed to join him, did Lee determine to stand and give battle at Sharpsburg. At 2 P.M. of the 15th, the advanced troopers of McClellan’s great host were watering their horses in the Antietam Creek, and Lee was posting his twelve thousand with their batteries on the Sharpsburg hills. In deciding to stand and deliver battle, with his divisions still widely separated, Lee was passing almost beyond precedent in the matter of courageous daring.

With cautious step and slow, McClellan came across the South Mountain into the Antietam valley. Signal flags were waving throughout the day from remote summits; the Federal cavalry snuffed at Lee’s banners from afar, and McClellan’s longrange guns began to creep into position on the bluffs east of the Antietam, and there exchanged greetings with the Confederate cannon. McClellan was bringing forward in his main column about sixty thousand men. Franklin and Couch, with twenty thousand men, he had left in Pleasant Valley confronting McLaws’s line of battle. Franklin spent this beautiful Monday in reconnoitring the position of McLaws and in sending despatches to McClellan to the effect that the Confederate force there, only six thousand in fact, outnumbered his own Federal troops “two to one”! McClellan passed away the morning hours in his rearguard bivouac, sending telegrams to Washington made up of such alliterative phrases as “routed rebels,” “perfect panic,” and “flying foe!” McClellan’s foeman stood defiant all that day at Sharpsburg with his meagre line of troops, only about twelve thousand men of every arm.

Robert E. Lee and the Southern Confederacy By Henry Alexander White CHAPTER IX.


Lee well knew that his other divisions were soon to reach him. Already Jackson was in full march from Harper’s Ferry. “Stonewall” had not paused to feast his eyes on the captive garrison and the seventy-three heavy guns and other spoil of war left in charge of A. P. Hill. His footsore veterans were on the march before the surrender was completed. A brief respite on the way gave time to cook and eat, and then a forced march during a part of the night brought Jackson with six thousand men to Lee’s bivouac at an early hour on September 16. J. G. Walker’s thirty-two hundred men came just behind “Stonewall.“ Lee stood in the Boonsborough roadway, on the hill-top at Sharpsburg as Jackson and Walker approached. There was joy in the face of the Confederate chieftain as he gave cordial greeting and congratulation to his lieutenants. Complete confidence now marked Lee’s words and actions when Jackson stood with him once again. Walker thus refers to Lee at this hour:

Anxious enough no doubt, he was; but there was nothing in his look or manner to indicate it. On the contrary, he was calm, dignified and even cheerful. If he had had a well-equipped army of a hundred thousand veterans at his back, he could not have appeared more composed and confident. On shaking hands with us, he simply expressed his satisfaction with the result of our operations at Harper’s Ferry, and with our timely arrival at Sharpsburg; adding that with our reinforcement, he felt confident of being able to hold his ground until the arrival of the divisions of R. H. Anderson, McLaws and A. P. Hill.

To President Davis on the same day, Lee referred in the following terms to the result of the campaign: “This victory of the indomitable Jackson and his troops gives us renewed occasion for gratitude to Almighty God for His guidance and protection.”

September 16 brought McClellan to the front at Keedysville. As he peered through the heavy fog and saw the men in gray jackets on the Sharpsburg ridges, the tone of his despatches was changed from that of the day before, and he sent messages concerning Lee’s “strong force,” and “strong position.” Most of the day he spent in arranging his troops for the attack. The afternoon marked the advance of Hooker’s corps across the upper Antietam against the left flank of the Confederate line of battle. The corps of Mansfield also moved across the creek to give support to Hooker.

Lee’s army now stood on the defensive along the ridges between Sharpsburg and the Antietam Creek. During the battle, the Confederate chieftain took his station for the most part upon a ledge of rock near the right-hand side of the Boonsborough road. This rock, recently demolished by the Federal Government, was within the limits of the present Federal cemetery on the summit of the hill. At first he placed his men to defend the direct approaches from the Boonsborough bridge in front and from the Burnside bridge to the right. The entire right wing of his line of battle under Longstreet extended from the turnpike about one mile to the southward where a cluster of heavy guns faced the Antietam on a bold spur below the Burnside crossing. The left wing of the Confederate line, extending northward from this turnpike, consisted of D. H. Hill’s five brigades and Hood’s two brigades, on Hill’s left. Hood was posted in the woods west of the Dunkard Church to defend the approach offered by the Hagerstown turnpike. The advance of Hooker across the Williamsport bridge, far up the Antietam, was reported by the cavalry to Lee in Sharpsburg. He was in council over a map in an old house with Jackson and Longstreet. At once Jackson was sent forward late in the afternoon of the i6th, to rule the entire battle of the left wing.

When Jackson stood in the roadway at the Dunkard Church, he was in the central field of the approaching conflict. A broad plateau with rolling surface was spread out for some distance on every side. Behind Jackson to the southward ran the Hagerstown turnpike along the summit of the ridge; and just one mile from the Church this road reached Sharpsburg. To the northward from the Church, through the midst of the rolling plateau, ran this same Hagerstown road. On the western side of the roadway stood a forest of oaks, known in this battle as the West Wood. At the Church this forest skirted the turnpike, but two hundred yards northward the woods fell away to leave room for a grass-field at the roadway’s edge. On the eastern side of the turnpike, and north of the Church, the central space was held by a large field of ripening corn, skirted by broad grass-plots. These fields had as a common eastern boundary an irregular forest, known as the East Wood. The two tracts of forest, the West Wood and the East Wood, with the corn and grass lands lying between them, were to witness the most formidable blows of McClellan in his vain attempt to drive Lee from the hills of Sharpsburg.

At 5 P.M., on September 16, Jackson arrayed his line of muskets facing northward, across the turnpike, seven hundred yards beyond the Dunkard Church. In the cornfield on the eastern side of the turnpike were the brigades of Hood and Law, seventeen hundred muskets. Howitzers were posted in the open ground, and Law’s right was advanced to the East Wood. Across the open field, behind a group of stacks on the western side of the turnpike, with its left in the West Wood, stood the Stonewall division under J. R. Jones. These sixteen hundred muskets were arrayed in two lines of battle, with Poague’s battery on a knoll in front. Early’s brigade in the West Wood gave strength to the left flank, while the brigade of Hays stood behind Early. The brigades of Lawton and Trimble went into bivouac in the woods around the Church. A commanding hill, beyond the West Wood to Jackson’s left, was crowned by Stuart’s artillery, while the horsemen hovered about the flank.

The sunset rays were gleaming upon Hooker’s muskets as his corps advanced along the ridge southward against Jackson. A Federal battery ran forward and at the distance of five hundred yards opened fire on Jackson’s left; but Poague silenced the guns in twenty minutes. Hooker’s skirmishers advanced into the East Wood, where Law’s veterans grappled with them and drove them back to the edge of the forest. Darkness fell, and both contestants rested on the field to await the coming of the dawn. For three days the brigades of Hood and Law had not tasted bread; they had subsisted on green corn with only a “half ration of beef for one day.” Under cover of night they were withdrawn to the West Wood to prepare food; the brigades of Lawton and Trimble took their place.

Lee could now discern McClellan’s plan to overwhelm the Confederate left. Hooker’s advance was only the prelude to the assault of the three corps of Hooker, Mansfield, and Sumner, a combined force of forty thousand men. If an advantage should be gained by these against Jackson’s end of the line, McClellan proposed then to throw Burnside across the stream with thirteen thousand men against Longstreet’s wing; this blow was to be followed, later, by the attack of Porter and Franklin with twenty-five thousand muskets against the Confederate centre. Long-range guns were planted on the eastern bluffs of the Antietam to command the entire Confederate line of battle. McClellan revealed his plan to assault Lee’s right by making Burnside’s corps approach the lower bridge on the afternoon of the 16th. The steep, wooded bank at the western end of this bridge was occupied by Toombs with about six hundred Georgian muskets. Lee ordered J. G. Walker ta move his thirty-two hundred men at dawn of the 17th to the hill’s crest in the rear of Toombs. At the close of the 16th, Lee had nearly twenty-five thousand men of all arms to withstand McClellan’s eighty-seven thousand; he sent urgent messages to McLaws, Anderson, and A. P. Hill to hasten forward their ten thousand. With mutual confidence in each other and with grim determination, Lee and his hungry band made ready to hold the position.

As early as 3 o’clock on the morning of September 17, skirmishing began in the East Wood. Hooker pushed his corps of twelve thousand five hundred infantrymen against Jackson’s front line of thirty-five hundred, and at 5.30 A.M., Shumaker’s six Confederate batteries began the harvest of death. Meade commanded Hooker’s central division; on his right Doubleday swept down both sides of the Hagerstown turnpike, and Ricketts gave support to Meade’s left and rear. This force was supported by a battery of thirty guns posted on the hills near the turnpike in their rear and by the enfilading fire of twenty rifled guns beyond the Antietam. Fierce reply was roared by Jackson’s cannon in the centre, by Stuart from the Nicodemus hill, and by S. D. Lee’s twenty-six guns near the Church. In the East Wood and the contiguous cornfield, Lawton’s men fought long and well in opposition to Meade and Ricketts. West of the turnpike the Stonewall division was forced back into the woods; Jones was wounded, and Starke fell dead as the battle swayed to and fro, but Grigsby rallied the men forward and Doubleday was repulsed. The left of Jackson’s line thus remained firm. Against Lawton’s right flank came Ricketts through the East Wood facing westward. Into the awful storm of fire that made the eastern cornfield a place of blood, rushed the brigade of Hays, five hundred and fifty muskets. Stubbornly the Confederates fought for every inch of ground; slowly they fell back from the field heaped with dead. With a wild yell, Hood’s brigades rushed forward from the Church to stay the tide of Federal advance. Their breakfast was left uncooked by the campfires; in the midst of the corn their weight was thrown against Hooker. The wounded Lawton was borne out as Hood entered. On Hood’s right three of D. H. Hill’s brigades advanced from the Confederate centre and fell upon the flank of Ricketts near the Mumma house. Little resistance was made by Hooker’s broken corps to this fresh onset; his brigades had been torn into fragments, and nearly one fourth of his men lay prostrate on the field. Hooker’s shattered regiments found shelter with the Federal guns and with Mansfield’s corps in the rear. One-half of Jackson’s first line of battle lay in long rows upon the field, but he still stood defiantly awaiting the second Federal assault.

During the night Mansfield had led the old corps of Banks across the Keedysville bridge and encamped near J. Poffenberger’s, a mile in Hooker’s rear. At 7.30 A.M., three hours after the beginning of Hooker’s battle, Mansfield’s two divisions came upon the field, resting their right on the turnpike at Miller’s, while their left was extended through the East Wood. In the wood and in the cornfield again did carnage reign. Hood’s eighteen hundred and the eighteen hundred of Ripley, Colquitt, and Garland stood face to face with the fresh Federal force of seven thousand muskets. Mansfield fell in the beginning of the assault, and Williams took the baton. Hooker’s troops had nearly all vanished from the plateau; his captains could not assemble as many as three hundred men of the First corps. The Twelfth corps had to face alone the awful crash of musketry that met them from the Confederate line. Greene’s division began to swing around on the Federal left and advanced in a westward course past the Mumma house toward the Church; and from thence across the turnpike into the edge of the West Wood Greene forced his troops. The Stonewall division and Stuart’s guns paralysed the forward movement of the Federal right, and it did not cross the roadway. The Twelfth corps was held in check, for the Federal troops had been fought until they were finished. The corn in the eastern field was cut as with a knife, and the dead and wounded lay there in long heaps. Jackson’s corps had been forced back with the loss of half its numbers, but it was posted now in a strong fortress. The ledges of rock, the trees and fences of the West Wood offered shelter to his wearied heroes, and there they still presented an unshaken front. With seventy-six hundred muskets thus far in action, Jackson had met the successive onslaughts of nineteen thousand five hundred Federal infantry. He had cut in pieces the two corps of Hooker and Mansfield, and had driven the survivors as stragglers from the field with the exception of Greene’s division. Grigsby and Stafford with only three hundred men of the Stonewall division retired from rock to rock, and still held the northern end of the West Wood, near Miller’s house. Early’s brigade of one thousand faced eastward in the central portion of the wood. Stuart brought his guns to a hill-top nearer Jackson’s line.

From early dawn Lee had watched the battle around the Church. At the same time he kept an eye on Burnside at the lower bridge. Along the Sharpsburg ridge Lee had eighty heavy guns in action against McClellan’s batteries beyond the Antietam. The sky was obscured by the smoke of cannon and bursting shells. The shouting of the captains, the fierce yells of the Confederates, and the sharp rattle of musketry made a pandemonium of that Sharpsburg plateau. Lee stood alert on his rock of observation, and prepared a counterstroke against McClellan by hastening Walker, McLaws, and a part of R. H. Anderson’s division to the aid of Jackson. Since early morning McLaws and Anderson had been giving rest, near Sharpsburg, to their brigades, wearied by the night march from Maryland Heights.

The hour of 8.30 A.M. brought the head of Sumner’s corps of eighteen thousand men across the Antietam into the East Wood. Sedgwick’s division followed Sumner himself across the scene of the morning’s carnage. Sumner’s spirit was not cheered by the sight of many unwounded Federal soldiers assisting wounded comrades to the rear. This game of generosity was here played by Mansfield’s men in their desire to escape from the Confederate front. Complete silence reigned on Jackson’s field. Hooker’s corps had disappeared; Greene’s men in the edge of the West Wood were incapable of further effort; Jackson was forming his line for an advance. In three deployed brigades, Sumner’s division of six thousand soldiers stood in the East Wood facing the bloody cornfield. The three lines moved westward toward the Hagerstown road, and then directly across the turnpike into the open field north of the Church. As Sumner moved his brigades toward the West Wood, Stuart’s guns poured in a torrent of shells, and Jackson’s batteries raked his lines with canister. Immediately in Sumner’s front stood the gallant Grigsby and his three hundred. All honour to these noble sons of Virginia. With the courage of lions they fought behind the ledges of rock and kept back the progress of Sumner’s division until Lee and Jackson could set the battle in array for his annihilation. Hood’s division at the Church was wrecked, and Hood sent S. D. Lee to tell the chief-commander that unless reinforcements were sent at once, the day was lost. S. D. Lee met General Lee approaching on horseback with one orderly, half-way between Sharpsburg and the Dunkard Church. Lee’s wounded hand was in a sling, and the orderly was leading his horse, Traveller. Hood’s message was delivered. General Lee quietly replied: “Don’t be excited about it. Colonel; go tell General Hood to hold his ground; reinforcements are now rapidly approaching between Sharpsburg and the ford. Tell him that I am now coming to his support.” A moment later General Lee pointed to McLaws’s division then in sight and approaching at a double-quick.

Robert E. Lee and the Southern Confederacy By Henry Alexander White CHAPTER IX.


Jackson sent Early’s brigade through the West Wood south of the Church, and drove the greater part of Greene’s command across the turnpike. As Early turned toward the north at the Church, he found himself on Sumner’s left flank. Into the fight against Sumner rushed a new thunderbolt of war. Grigsby and Early were made strong by sixty-five hundred muskets under McLaws, G. T. Anderson, and Walker. A volcano of fire leaped from behind the rocks and oak-trees of the West Wood. Against Sumner’s front, left flank, and rear the fierce Confederates, eight thousand strong, poured their volleys. Sumner’s six thousand were in the field west of the turnpike. Nearly two thousand Federal soldiers fell where they stood. Sumner attempted to face his third line, the Philadelphia brigade, to meet the fire from the rear, “but the line,” says Sumner, “moved off in a body to the right in spite of all the efforts that could be made to stop it.” Sumner’s biographer declares that this officer became “panic-stricken,” and eagerly moved out along the turnpike to the northward with the fragments of his first and second lines to seek refuge with the Federal batteries. McLaws had come too late to swing around against the Federal right, and thus did Sumner escape destruction. The pillar of stone recently erected in this field to the Philadelphia brigade, marks the storm-centre of “Stonewall’s” whirlwind of fire that sent panic into the hearts of the brigade, and terrorised their corps-commander. As this division melted away from Jackson’s front, at 9.15 A.M., French’s division of Sumner’s corps, between five and six thousand strong, was advancing to assault the Confederate left centre. French came up the hill in Sedgwick’s rear, but at the East Wood he turned to the left and marched southward against D. H. Hill. The Bloody Lane leaves the Hagerstown road just south of the Dunkard Church, and pursues a zigzag course in six directions toward the Boonsborough road. From the field near Roulette’s house, D. H. Hill had sent the three brigades already mentioned against the left flank of Hooker and Mansfield. When Hill drew back from Sumner’s advance he posted Rodes and Colquitt in the lane between the Hagerstown road and the Clipp gateway; to the right of Rodes he arrayed G. B. Anderson in the sunken lane as far as the hill-top at the second turning. Fifteen hundred muskets and a park of artillery made up this defensive band; from Hill’s left to the West Wood stood fifteen hundred more from the commands of McLaws and Walker. Hill’s wings formed a right angle with each other at the junction of the lane and the turnpike. Into this triangular ambuscade, advancing between the houses of Mumma and Roulette, came French’s front brigade. Down upon the right flank of French rushed Hill’s left wing from the Hagerstown road; their “sudden and terrible fire” sent French’s men reeling backward in flight with heavy loss. French sent his next line to assail Anderson in the second portion of the lane, but the musketry of Rodes and Anderson hurled the entire division of French backward behind the crest of the hill. French’s brigades were shattered, and one-third of his men lay prostrate. Richardson’s division of Sumner’s corps, six thousand strong, approached Hill’s right, along the ridge’s crest, at the second angle of the lane; at the same hour, eleven o’clock, came thirty-five hundred men of R. H. Anderson’s division to Hill’s aid. Lee was keeping watch over his centre, and it was he who hastened this reinforcement through the fields near the Piper house. Richardson secured an enfilade fire upon the Confederate line in the sunken road near Clipp’s house. R. H. Anderson’s brigades failed to check Richardson and were put to flight. Rodes was flanked, and Hill’s entire line was forced back to the Piper house. The gallant Hill brought up batteries, rallied his broken line, and thrust Richardson back again toward the lane. While Richardson wrestled with Hill at the hour of noon, Franklin’s corps clambered to the plateau. Franklin thought to try his fortune in Jackson’s field, where an artillery battle was still in progress. He filled the woods about Miller’s house with Hancock’s men, and advanced Irwin’s brigade in a charge against the West Wood at the Dunkard Church. But the crash of Jackson’s musketry sent Irwin scampering back.

Lee from his post on the central summit still kept watch over the battle of his left and centre. As Richardson urged his men against Hill, Lee sent swift message to Jackson to make assault against the Federal right flank. Orders were also sent to Walker to charge upon the line in front of the Church. Jackson was ready to move upon the instant; Stuart’s guns were thrown out to test the Federal batteries, and Stuart attempted to lead his cavalry up the bank of the Potomac to turn the Federal line. McClellan’s guns commanded this entire region as far as the Potomac, and the movement could not be made. But the left wing and centre of Lee’s army at one o’clock stood with defiance ready to defend the line of the Hagerstown road. McClellan feared to assail again the grim gray-jackets, lest he should lose the entire field.

Since early morning at the lower bridge the six hundred Georgians under Toombs had inspired caution in Burnside’s corps. Longstreet’s guns spent their fire in support of Toombs. In a narrow wood above the margin of the Antietam these riflemen were stationed. The steep bluff was like a fortress, for it commanded the bridge and all its approaches. With great gallantry, Sturgis led his Federal division upon the bridge. A heavy cannonade lent aid to his bayonet charge. All in vain. The storm of bullets from the sheltered Georgians kept back the Federal advance during four hours of fierce battle. Cool and determined were the six hundred, as they drove back four separate storming parties. Rodman’s division sought a ford below the bridge; Toombs was assailed in flank, and at one o’clock Burnside’s corps crossed the bridge. Sturgis’s division had spent its strength at the bridge and dropped behind. An hour was consumed in arraying the corps for the advance against Lee’s right wing. In spite of the approach of this formidable force, Lee was then ordering Jackson to assault the Federal right. Couriers brought to Lee news of A. P. Hill’s rapid approach from Harper’s Ferry. Up the steep ascent Burnside continued to advance. A Confederate battery became his spoil, and D. R. Jones’s division was broken and driven back to Sharpsburg. Three o’clock marked the full tide of Burnside’s success against Longstreet, for Longstreet had only two thousand to set in array against twelve thousand. But that hour brought A. P. Hill from the Boteler ford against Burnside’s left flank. His thirty-four hundred men had marched seventeen miles in seven hours. Like a clap of thunder they now burst upon the Federal brigades. A circle of Confederate artillery fire crowned the crest of the hill and poured its storm upon the masses of the Federal troops; one-fifth of the latter were disabled. They could only break in flight to seek the shelter of their guns beyond the Antietam.

Against the actual assaults of about sixty thousand Federal soldiers, courageously and boldly delivered, Lee maintained his position in open, pitched battle with only thirty-five thousand men. This small band of Confederates was weary from long marches and their only food during the day was plucked from the apple-trees that stood in the field of battle. More than twenty-five thousand additional Federal soldiers by their presence on the field gave moral support to McClellan’s attacks. McClellan’s battle was a failure; he was defeated with heavy loss in every movement. The Confederate soldiers out-fought the Federal troops in fair conflict. Four of McClellan’s corps were shattered, and the fragments deserted the scene of strife; they could not be collected for a renewal of the fight. Both armies suffered vast losses. Eight thousand Confederates, one-fourth of Lee’s army, lay upon the field; many regiments, and even brigades, had well-nigh disappeared. McClellan’s loss was about twelve thousand five hundred. The survivors on both sides sank down to rest where they had fought, amid the after horrors of the bloodiest field of the entire war.

Lee still held the line of the Hagerstown turnpike, and even yet the unconquerable Confederate soldiers were ready for battle. An hour after nightfall, according to the statement of S. D. Lee, General Lee summoned his chief officers to meet him on the roadway leading toward the Potomac. In quiet tone he asked each one as he came up, “General, how is it on your part of the line?” “As bad as bad can be,” said Longstreet. “My division is cut to pieces,” replied D. H. Hill. “The greatest odds I have ever met . . . losses terrible,” was Jackson’s quiet response. Hood displayed great emotion, seemed completely unmanned, and declared that he had no division. General Lee with, unwonted excitement exclaimed, “Great God! General Hood, where is your splendid division you had this morning?”* Hood replied, “They are lying on the field where you sent them.” All of these
officers, says S. D. Lee, suggested that General Lee should cross the Potomac before daylight. After an awful silence, Lee rising more erect in his stirrups, said: “Gentlemen, we will not cross the Potomac to-night. You will go to your respective commands, strengthen your lines; send two officers from each brigade towards the ford to collect your stragglers and get them up. Many others have come up. I have had the proper steps taken to collect all the men who are in the rear. If McClellan wants to fight in the morning, I will give him battle again. Go!” S. D. Lee, watching the group disperse, thought that he read in their countenances, “This is a rash conclusion, and we fear the Army of Northern Virginia is taking a great risk.”

The moon came up over the mountains to cast her glow on the field where the dead, the dying, and the wearied were in bivouac in that place of unspeakable suffering. About five thousand Confederate stragglers came up during the night. The morning dawned upon the two lines face to face at short range with shotted guns in readiness. Both stood on the defensive. Silence reigned upon the long ridge. Not a gun was fired. Lee’s spirit of combativeness became more and more aroused. He determined to attack the passive McClellan by sending Jackson and Stuart around the Federal right. He ordered Jackson to establish fifty heavy guns under S. D. Lee and crush the Federal batteries north of the Dunkard Church. When Jackson, Stuart, and S. D. Lee reported McClellan’s right flank as impregnable, a shade of disappointment passed over General Lee’s face, and he gave up the plan of assault.

The afternoon of September 18 brought news to Lee that Humphreys and Couch were advancing to support McClellan, and that the Pennsylvania militia was ready to swarm into Maryland. Under cover of the dense darkness, in good order, Lee crossed the Potomac into Virginia, and left not a waggon nor a gun behind him. He sent Stuart to the northern bank of the Potomac at Williamsport to assail McClellan’s rear. McClellan raised not a hand to molest the march of the Confederates, for he did not discover their absence until the morning of September 19. Three Federal brigades crossed the Potomac in pursuit, and laid their hands on four Confederate guns. But they immediately suffered serious disaster from the division of A. P. Hill under the direction of Jackson. McClellan dared not attack Lee in Virginia, for the Federal army was despondent, and was daily growing weaker from traggling and desertion. The Potomac now held the two armies apart for a season of rest. McClellan began to demand more troops, and Lee began to besiege the authorities in Richmond for supplies of shoes for the army. To the anxious wife he sent this message soon after the battle:

I have not laid eyes on Rob since I saw him in the battle of Sharpsburg going in with a single gun of his battery for the second time after his company had been withdrawn, in consequence of three of its guns having been disabled. Custis has seen him, and says he is very well and apparently happy and content. My hands are improving slowly, and with my left hand I am able to dress and undress myself, which is a great comfort. My right is becoming of some assistance, too, though it is still swollen and sometimes painful. The bandages have been removed. I am now able to sign my name. It has been six weeks to-day since I was injured, and I have at last discarded the sling.

Upon the field of Sharpsburg, Lee had held his position until he forced McClellan to stand on the defensive. As to the campaign of invasion, Lee’s fears concerning the lack of equipments had been realised. The movement was not successful because Lee’s army was depleted by the failure of barefooted thousands to march with him into Maryland. From his headquarters near Winchester, October 2, 1862, Lee issued the following address to his soldiers:

In reviewing the achievements of the army during the present campaign, the commanding general cannot withhold the expression of his admiration of the indomitable courage it has displayed in battle and its cheerful endurance of privation and hardship on the march. Since your great victories around Richmond, you have defeated the enemy at Cedar Mountain, expelled him from the Rappahannock, and after a conflict of three days, utterly repulsed him on the plains of Manassas, and forced him to take shelter within the fortifications around his Capital. Without halting for repose you crossed the Potomac, stormed the heights of Harper’s Ferry, made prisoners of more than 11,000 men and captured upward of seventy-five pieces of artillery, all their small-arms, and other munitions of war. While one corps of the army was thus engaged, the other insured its success by arresting at Boonsborough the combined armies of the enemy, advancing under their favourite general to the relief of their beleaguered comrades. On the field of Sharpsburg, with less than one-third his numbers, you resisted from daylight until dark the whole army of the enemy, and repulsed every attack along his entire front of more than four miles in extent. The whole of the following day you stood prepared to resume the conflict on the same ground, and retired next morning without molestation across the Potomac. Two attempts subsequently made by the enemy to follow you across the river have resulted in his complete discomfiture and being driven back with loss. Achievements such as these demanded much valour and patriotism. History records few examples of greater fortitude and endurance than this army has exhibited, and I am commissioned by the President to thank you in the name of the Confederate States for the undying fame you have won for their arms. Much as you have done, much more remains to be accomplished. The enemy again threatens with invasion, and to your tried valour and patriotism the country looks with confidence for deliverance and safety. Your past exploits give assurance that this confidence is not misplaced.

On the same day, Lee wrote thus of himself in response to a communication from President Davis:

I wish I felt that I deserved the confidence you express in me. I am only conscious of an earnest desire to advance the interests of the country and of my inability to accomplish my wishes. The brave men of this army fully deserve your thanks, and I will take pleasure in communicating them.


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