Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Thoughts on Sesquicentennial of the Battle of Antietam

I realize that I am a day late with this post but must say that after recovering from what proved to be a great weekend at Harpers Ferry and Antietam, I am truly glad to say that I was a part of it all!  When I first became interested in the Civil War in the spring of 2002, never did I imagine that I would participate in the events commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, a battle that changed the course of the war and changed the nation forever.

Briefly, I took part in the living history programs at Harpers Ferry all weekend, including a very touching moment at the site of the pontoon bridge over the Potomac River where 1,500 Union cavalrymen escaped Jackson's Confederates at Harpers Ferry 150 years to the minute as the escape was getting underway (more on that in an upcoming post).  During the 150th Anniversary of the bloodiest single day in American history, I participated in the all day battlefield hike, which nearly 600 people attended (again, more on that in a later post).  Great job and thank you to everyone at both parks for making the weekend one of the most memorable of my life.

However, beyond all of the events and pageantry of the weekend, please never forget the sacrifice that Americans have made across the world to fight for our freedom, and in some cases give "the last full measure of devotion" for that freedom.  As Dr. James McPherson said to conclude his remarks during the ceremony on September 17 (borrowing the words from Abraham Lincoln): "The world will little note nor longer remember what we say here, but we can never forget what they did here."  The organizers of the events to commemorate the climax of the Maryland Campaign never forgot what the soldiers of the blue and the gray did and we never must.

Again, the rest of my experiences will be posted shortly but please never forget the 23,110 Americans who became casualties on September 17, 1862 and the sacrifices they made to fight for what they believed in.
My first trip to Gettysburg in the spring of 2002

Me reading the names of the only a few of the soldiers who fell  on September 17 during the "Remembrance of the Fallen" ceremony at Antietam National Cemetery

Sunrise over the Cornfield, September 17, 2012
   

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Alexander Lawton's Brigade (CS)


Alexander Lawton’s Brigade

Commanded by Col. Marcellus Douglass (13th Georgia Infantry)



Ewell’s Division, Jackson’s Command



13th Georgia Infantry

361 men commanded by Capt. D.A. Kidd



26th Georgia Infantry

188 men commanded by Col. Edmund N. Atkinson



31st Georgia Infantry

145 men commanded by Lieut. Col. John Terrell Crowder



38th Georgia Infantry

123 men commanded by Capt. William Henry Battey



60th Georgia Infantry

154 men commanded by Maj. Waters Burras Jones



61st Georgia Infantry

242 men commanded by Col. John Hill Lamar

Lawton's Brigade War Department Tablet located on the south side of Cornfield Ave.


            During the entirety of the Maryland Campaign, Col. Marcellus Douglass of the 13th Georgia Infantry commanded Lawton’s Brigade due to the wounding of division commander Richard Ewell at Second Manassas and Alexander Lawton’s subsequent promotion to division command.  Prior to the Maryland Campaign, the Georgians that comprised Lawton’s Brigade were hardened veterans of the Seven Days’ Battles (June 25-July 1), Cedar Mountain (August 9), and Second Manassas (August 28-30).  Lawton’s Brigade was part of Ewell’s Division of Jackson’s Command in the Army of Northern Virginia at the outset of the Maryland Campaign.  Robert E. Lee’s movement into Maryland brought Douglass’ Georgians to Frederick, MD, where they were then dispatched to clear the Shenandoah Valley of any Federal presence as outlined in Article III of Special Orders No. 191.  This Valley Expedition brought Lawton’s Division to the outskirts of Harpers Ferry, VA, where a garrison of approximately 14,000 Federal soldiers held out.  Harpers Ferry and its garrison became completely surrounded at about 11 a.m. on September 13 when Jackson’s forces, including Lawton’s Brigade, reached Halltown a few miles west of Harpers Ferry.  John Walker had forces on Loudon Heights and the divisions of Lafayette McLaws and Richard Anderson sealed Harpers Ferry from the north and northeast by occupying Maryland Heights and Pleasant Valley.  Since the show of force by the Confederate forces did not persuade the Union garrison to surrender, Jackson tried to determine if an infantry assault against the strong position of the Federals on Bolivar Heights was necessary.  But after learning of the close proximity of George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac to Lee’s divided army, Jackson decided that a speedy resolution was needed to end the stalemate at Harpers Ferry.  Jackson devised a plan to do that: he would demonstrate in front of the Federals on Bolivar Heights with the Stonewall Division, commanded by John R. Jones, near the Potomac River (the Federal right flank) and with Ewell’s Division near the left of the Federal line astride the Charles Town Road (modern US 340).  While these two divisions feinted towards the enemy position, Jackson would send A.P. Hill’s Division around the Federal left and force it to capitulate early on the morning of September 15.  Lawton’s Brigade sat just south of the Charles Town Road on School House Ridge and held the Federals on Bolivar Heights in a position where they could be easily flanked.  This flanking movement, one of the most impressive during the war, forced Harpers Ferry and its garrison of more than 12,000 men to surrender early on the morning of September 15.  

            Shortly following the capture of Harpers Ferry, Robert E. Lee called “Stonewall” Jackson and the rest of his command to reunite with the rest of the army at Sharpsburg.  Lawton’s Brigade received captured Federal rations from Harpers Ferry and began marching immediately. The brigade crossed the Potomac River at Boteler’s Ford and reached Sharpsburg around midday on September 16, where it was placed in reserve on Lee’s left around the Dunker Church.  After the sharp skirmish in the East Woods on the evening of September 16 in which John Bell Hood’s Division was involved, Lawton’s Brigade was placed in line on the east side of the Hagerstown Pike and south of D.R. Miller’s cornfield to replace the famished men of Hood’s Division.  Marcellus Douglass, commanding the brigade, sent two companies of skirmishers under Lieutenant William Henry Harrison of the 31st Georgia into the southern portion of the cornfield.  The other eight companies of the 31st Georgia, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John T. Crowder, “a man destitute of fear,” supported the skirmishers and were positioned about 100 yards south of the cornfield.  Crowder was ordered to hold his position “as long as he had a man alive to defend it.”  The rest of Lawton’s Brigade was positioned 135 yards south of Crowder’s men.  The left of Lawton’s Brigade consisted of the 61st, 38th, and 26th Georgia facing north while the 60th and 13th Georgia, forming the right of the line, were refused slightly and generally faced northeast.  The brigade “was stretched out in a very thin line, with wide intervals between the regiments, so as to occupy as much space as possible.”  Lawton’s Brigade waited in these positions while lying on their arms, piling fence rails and rocks for cover for the battle that they knew would come the next morning.
Lawton's Brigade stood in line about where this modern treeline sits south of Cornfield Ave.
Approximate position of Lt. Col. Crowder's 31st Georgia.  This view is taken from Cornfield Ave. looking northeast towards the East Woods
Pvt. William Barkley, Co. D 31st GA.  Wounded at Antietam (civilwardata.com)

Position of Lawton's Brigade at Daybreak, September 17
            The action started early for Douglass’ Georgians on the morning of September 17.  Harrison’s skirmishers in the cornfield ran into a line of Union pickets before daybreak and Harrison was captured while the two companies of skirmishers were forced to withdraw out of the cornfield.  Exchanges between pickets had been going on all morning but the Battle of Antietam began in earnest at daybreak of September 17, with Lawton’s Brigade bearing most of the first Federal assault against the Confederate left.  A brigade of Pennsylvanians under Truman Seymour advanced out of the East Woods and drove back the eight companies of the 31st Georgia by striking the front and right of the Georgians.  Lieutenant Colonel Crowder was wounded in the first action on September 17.  Then, Isaac Bradwell, a private in the 31st Georgia, wrote what happened after the 31st reformed on the right of the brigade and as the Federals of Duryee’s Brigade began to advance towards them:



Then a grand sight met their eyes.  The number of regimental standards floating in the morning air indicated the immense numbers of the advancing enemy. It was a wonderful sight. . . . Colonel Douglass, fearing the result of an attack by so large a force on his weak brigade, ran from regiment to regiment exhorting the men not to fire until the enemy reached the fence and began to get over it--to shoot low and make every bullet count. 



Duryee’s Brigade of Ricketts’ Division was advancing due south through Miller’s cornfield and heading straight at the rifles of Douglass’ Georgians.  The colonel told his men to fire down their “own corn row” and as Duryee’s New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians came to the southern edge of the cornfield, Douglass’ men opened fire.  For the first few minutes of action between Duryee and Douglass, which started at approximately 6 a.m., neither side sought cover and each stood in open fields, simply hammering away at each other.  Ezra Carman described this slugfest in his 1,800 page manuscript on the battle: “at first no attention was paid by either line to the rail fence in their respective fronts, but each stood and fired on the other, neither party endeavoring to advance, soon, however, the severity of the fire dictated more caution and most of the men, on both sides, laid down and sought cover.”  The left side of Duryee’s line, the 104th and 105th New York, tried to break the stalemate that had developed south of the cornfield and advanced towards the right of Douglass’ line.  The 60th, 13th, and 31st Georgia regiments, from left to right respectively, waited until the enemy was within 100 yards before they opened fire.  Isaac Bradwell of the 31st Georgia noted its effects when he wrote that the volley tore “wide gaps… in the blue lines” and “the volley made them [the Federals] stagger and hesitate.”  This volley had checked the Federal advance on the right side of Douglass’ Brigade for the time being.

This view is similar to the one that Douglass' Georgians would have seen early on September 17 just before Duryee's Brigade stepped out of the corn at approximately 6 a.m.
Lawton's Brigade at 6 a.m., September 17
           

            Meanwhile, on the left of Douglass’ line, the Confederates were maneuvering to break the stalemate.  The 61st Georgia, on the extreme left of the brigade, moved closer to the Hagerstown Pike in order to pour a flanking fire into the right of Duryee’s men.  After suffering heavily from a stand-up brawl with Duryee, the 38th Georgia, to the 61st’s right, advanced to utilize the cover of a rock ledge that lay in their front but were bloodily repulsed by the fire of the 97th New York and 107th Pennsylvania.  Shortly after these maneuvers by the Georgians on the left of Douglass’ line, the firefight ended as Duryee’s men began to retreat north for fear of their left flank being uncovered (this was actually a false report).  Skirmishers from Douglass’ Brigade began to follow the retreating New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians into the cornfield. 



Duryee’s Brigade had lost approximately 1/3 of its men in the firefight with Douglass’ Georgians but  Lawton’s Brigade had also paid a fearful price during this action.  Its commander, Colonel Marcellus Douglass, was wounded several times by this point and his line was “very much weakened.”  Alexander Lawton, commanding the division, saw this and ordered his reserve brigade under Harry Hays to support Douglass’ left.  As it was moving to do this, Douglass directed the brigade to support his right flank.  Hays’ Louisianans moved as directed by Douglass and then began to drive north in a counterattack into the cornfield.

Counterattack of Hays' and Lawton's Brigades, 6:45 a.m., September 17


As Douglass’ skirmishers and the reinforcements under Hays began to push north towards the cornfield, the rest of Douglass’ Brigade joined in the attack.  As the Georgians advanced north, two fresh Federal brigades met them.  Gibbon’s Brigade, which had just earned the sobriquet the Iron Brigade only a few days before, advanced towards Douglass’ left and Hartsuff’s Brigade towards their right.  Douglass’ men advanced under the fire of these two brigades and suffered heavily, losing most of the field officers in this charge, including every regimental commander falling either killed or wounded.  The left end of Douglass’ line was quickly driven back by Gibbon’s men near the Hagerstown Pike while the right side of the line fared slightly better; their advance was checked but the 60th, 13th, and 31st Georgia regiments held on while trading deadly blow for deadly blow with the men of Hartsuff’s Brigade.  A soldier of the 12th Massachusetts wrote of this fight that it was “the most deadly fire of the war.”  Eventually, he would prove correct as Douglass’ men could no longer hold on to their position and were forced to retreat south towards the Dunker Church at about 7:00 a.m.  During this final withdrawal, the brigade’s beloved commander, Colonel Marcellus Douglass, was struck for the eighth and final time.  Isaac Bradwell wrote of the colonel’s last moments: “He [Douglass] begs them to let him die on the battle field with his men, declaring he would rather die there than in the arms of his wife at home.”  The remnants of the brigade withdrew back to the Dunker Church and as they did, they were passed by the next two brigades to be sent into the whirlwind of death that centered around the cornfield.  These two brigades were those of William Wofford and Evander Law of John Bell Hood’s Division.  Unlike the time when Hays’ Louisianans reinforced them, the men of Lawton’s Brigade could not muster enough energy to join in the counterattack.  Indeed, by this point, the Georgians were so beat up that they could only muster “a man every ten feet or more” to stem any more Federal attacks.  Lucky for them, the Georgians would not have to fight any more on that bloody Wednesday, September 17, 1862; they remained in a reserve position just north of Sharpsburg for the rest of the day.  At sundown of September 17, Lawton’s Brigade could muster only 48 men of the 1,213 men it had carried into the battle.  However, Robert E. Lee was not done with Lawton’s Brigade yet. 

Approximate position of Lawton's Brigade after it withdrew from its position south of the Cornfield at approximately 7:00 a.m.


As Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia retreated from their positions east of Sharpsburg on the night of September 18 into the morning of the 19th, the men of Lawton’s Brigade, now numbering a few hundred with stragglers and those not seriously wounded rejoining the ranks, along with the Virginians of Lewis Armistead’s Brigade and 33 guns of William Pendleton’s Reserve Artillery, were ordered to guard the ford on the Potomac River that the army would use to retreat, commonly called Boteler’s or Shepherdstown Ford.  This force, numbering about 600 men total, was under the overall command of Pendleton.  He had 200 men of Lawton’s and Armistead’s Brigades spread thinly on the Virginia (now West Virginia) side of the Potomac River to protect his guns from Federal infantry while the other 400 were in a reserve position behind the artillery on the bluffs above the river.  Shortly after noon on September 19, Federal forces of Fitz John Porter’s V Corps arrived on the Maryland side of the river and began exchanging small arms and long-range artillery fire with Lee’s rearguard under Pendleton.  Running low on ammunition and suffering from increased Federal pressure, Pendleton gave orders for his command to pull back.  Just as these orders were being carried out, the 4th Michigan and the 1st United States Sharpshooters dashed across the Potomac at about dusk on the 19th towards the Confederate positions.  The Confederate infantrymen of Lawton’s Brigade, now commanded by Colonel John Lamar of the 61st Georgia, and Armistead’s Brigade did not put up much of a resistance to the crossing and were already retreating as the Federals began their assault.  As a result, only four Union soldiers were hit while crossing the river.  The rout of Pendleton’s force a few miles downstream of Shepherdstown prompted Lee to send A.P. Hill’s Division back to the Potomac early on the morning of September 20.  This action, that lasted two days and added 677 more names to the casualty lists of the Maryland Campaign, ended the campaign for not only Lawton’s Brigade but for both the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac.

Boteler's Ford on the Potomac River.  This view is from the Maryland side of the river looking across the river at the positions of Lawton's and Armistead's Brigade


Lawton’s Brigade was a part of some of the heaviest fighting that took place that September in western Maryland and it paid heavily for it.  Of the 1,213 men that it carried into battle on September 17, 565 (46.6%) were reported as casualties.  Of those 565 casualties, 42 of them were officers, the greatest loss being Marcellus Douglass, the brigade commander.  Douglass was viewed as a rising star in the Army of Northern Virginia and all felt his loss.  He was greatly loved by his men, mainly for his willingness to stay with them in battle despite his own hardships.  After already being wounded several times during the morning’s fight on the 17th, one soldier of the brigade wrote that “though wounded in several places and feeble from the loss of blood, he [Douglass] still rushes from regiment to regiment exhorting the men to hold their position, to shoot low, and make every cartridge count….”  Jubal Early, who took command of the division that Lawton’s Brigade served in during the battle, wrote simply, “in the death of Colonel Douglass the country sustained a serious loss.  He was talented, courageous, and devoted to his duty.”  A Georgia newspaper correspondent perhaps put it best by saying that “Col. Douglass was gaining an enviable position in the army, and had for some time been accounted a superior military man.  In his death Georgia has lost one of her bright military representatives.  He is properly called our ‘second Bartow.’”  Indeed, all of the Georgians who lost their lives during the Maryland Campaign could be seen as “second Bartow[s],” as men who sacrificed everything that they had to fight for what they believed in.

Unit
Men Present for Duty
Officers Killed
Enlisted Men Killed
Officers Wounded
Enlisted Men Wounded
Officers Missing
Enlisted Men Missing
Total
13th GA
361
5
43
9
157
-
2
216 (59.8%)
26th GA
188
1
5
2
47
-
6
61 (32.4%)
31st GA
145
-
6
3
39
1
4
53 (36.6%)
38th GA
123
1
17
6
46
-
1
71 (57.8%)
60th GA
154
-
12
3
45
-
-
60 (39%)
61st GA
242
2
14
8
73
1
6
104 (43%)
Total
1,213
9
97
31
407
2
19
565 (46.6%)



Georgia Monument south of Cornfield Ave.
          

Sources

Carman, Ezra.  The Maryland Campaign of 1862.

Gottfried, Bradley.  The Maps of Antietam: An Atlas of the Antietam (Sharpsburg) Campaign, including the Battle of South Mountain, September 2 - 20, 1862.

Harsh, Joseph.  Taken at the Flood.

Harsh, Joseph.  Sounding the Shallows.

Johnson, Pharris.  Under the Southern Cross: Soldier Life with Gordon Bradwell and the Army of Northern Virginia.

Official Records Volume IX

Styple, William.  Writing & Fighting From the Army of Northern Virginia: A Collection of Confederate Soldier Correspondence.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Truman Seymour's Brigade (US): Part 2 (September 17, 1862)


“… The men slept on their arms, ready at a moment’s notice to repel an attack.  The gray dawn at last appeared, and every man nerved himself for the conflict.  The death-like stillness was at length broken, … and the sharp report of musketry soon marked the commencement of this fierce battle.”  That is how Samuel P. Bates, author of History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865 described the opening of the Battle of Antietam on the morning of September 17, 1862.  The troops that “marked the commencement” of the battle were the Pennsylvanians of Truman Seymour’s Brigade, who were bivouacked in the East Woods after their fight with Confederate forces on the previous evening (see http://antietambrigades.blogspot.com/2012/06/truman-seymours-brigade-us-part-1.html).
        The men of Seymour’s Brigade had slept on their arms that tense night within close proximity of the Confederate line and sporadic firefights broke out during the night.  However, the Battle of Antietam began in earnest while “the stars were still shining.”  Soldiers on both sides reported that firing became constant at 2 a.m., nearly four hours before sunrise.  Then, “as soon as it became light enough to see” the enemy, the men of Seymour’s Brigade made the first move in what proved to be one of the greatest battles ever fought on this continent.  Colonel Joseph Fisher of the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves wrote that at about sunrise, “I charged across the piece of woodland in my front….”  The Fifth, advancing east of the Smoketown Road, was joined by the Pennsylvania Bucktails, advancing to the Fifth’s right.  The Buctkails were particularly ready for a fight as they were still bitter over the loss of their beloved colonel the night before.  Moving south through the East Woods, the Pennsylvanians ran into eight companies of the 31st Georgia, who were positioned just south of Miller’s Cornfield and just west of the East Woods.  The Georgians were quickly driven back and the Pennsylvanians continued their drive south towards the southern edge of the East Woods.  The Bucktails moved to the southern edge of the woods, with its left resting on the Smoketown Road, and began to fire on the right of Lawton’s Brigade, commanded by Colonel Marcellus Douglas, and the left of Trimble’s Brigade, which was posted near the Mumma Cemetery.  The Fifth soon came up in support of the Bucktails and began firing into Trimble’s men.  This firefight between the Pennsylvanians and the Confederates of Lawton’s and Trimble’s Brigades “raged with unabated fury” and the fast firing Bucktails, armed with their Sharps rifles, soon began to run low on ammunition and were forced to withdraw.  The 2nd Pennsylvania Reserves moved up to relieve them “and opened a heavy fire upon the enemy.” 

Movements of Seymour's Brigade, Daybreak, September 17



5th Pennsylvania Reserves charged across this field, which was part of the East Woods at the time of the battle, at about sunrise on the morning of September 17

View looking north from the southern tip of the East Woods.  The open ground in the foreground was part of the East Woods during the battle.  Seymour's Brigade advanced south from the woods in the distance
Seymour's Brigade, 6:00 a.m.

View from the position of the Pennsylvania Bucktails at 6:00 a.m. The Mumma barn and Cemetery can be seen in the center of the photograph


By the time that the Second had come up to relieve the Bucktails, the battle had been seriously raging for about 30 minutes, with both sides engaged in a hot firefight.  As a result, the battlefield, especially in the East Woods, began to fill with smoke and visibility began to become an issue.  Mix the confusion and smoke of battle with a sky not very bright (sunrise on September 17 had only been at 5:53 a.m.) and you would be in the position of Joseph Fisher and his 5th Pennsylvania Reserves, whose line was to the left of the 13th Pennsylvania Reserve’s position.  The Bucktails withdrew early enough into the battle where Fisher could see them withdraw but when the Second moved to Fisher’s left, his view would have been greatly obscured by smoke and most likely would have only seen the Bucktails leaving the field. Seeing the Thirteenth leave made Fisher understandably worried about his exposed right flank and he ordered his regiment to march by the left flank and fall back to the Samuel Poffenberger woods on either side of the Smoketown Road. According to Fisher, his men executed this maneuver in “excellent order” but Fisher’s withdrawal left the 2ndPennsylvania Reserves virtually alone in the southern sector of the East Woods. They began to receive heavy fire from Trimble’s men and an advance by the 21st Georgia and 21stNorth Carolina of Trimble’s Brigade began to push the Second, as well as elements of the First and Sixth Pennsylvania Reserves, out of the East Woods at approximately 6:45 a.m. However, this was not the end of the day for Seymour’s Brigade. 
Withdrawal of Seymour's Brigade, 6:45 a.m.
        Most of what was left of Seymour’s Brigade after two hard fights in about twelve hours reformed a few hundred yards north of the East Woods and supported the subsequent attacks of the rest of the First Corps as well as the later attacks of Joseph Mansfield’s Twelfth Corps.  The Pennsylvanians remained at this post until about noon when they were moved north of the Joseph Poffenberger farm, where they remained the rest of the day in support of artillery batteries massed on the farm itself.  By this time, the men of Seymour’s Brigade must have been exhausted as they had been on the frontline for 14 continuous hours and “every round had been fired” according to Captain Dennis McGee, who commanded the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves after Colonel McNeil’s death in the skirmish on September 16.  These men were also under artillery fire in their new position and this must have only added to the stress of the past few days.  At the end of the day, Seymour’s Brigade remained in line of battle and once again slept on their arms on the night of September 17 after a hard fought campaign in which the brigade had suffered 326 casualties. 
Seymour's Brigade, noon
Final position of Seymour's Brigade, 1:00 p.m.
        Truman Seymour’s Brigade was quite possibly engaged longer than any other brigade that fought at Antietam.  It had gone into action at approximately 6 p.m. on September 16 and was not removed from the action until about noon on the 17th.  The men of Seymour’s Brigade must have been completely exhausted after engaging in three fierce fights in four days.  Most of all, the night that they spent on September 16 in the East Woods must have been a tense and stressful night for those soldiers and it must have seemed to them that their worlds had been torn apart on the banks of Antietam Creek.      

Casualties of Truman Seymour’s Brigade

Killed
Killed
Wounded
Wounded
Captured or Missing
Captured or Missing
Aggregate

Officers
Enlisted Men
Officers
Enlisted Men
Officers
Enlisted Men

1st PAR
0
5
1
21
0
0
27
2nd  PAR
2
1
1
20
0
0
24
5th PAR
1
2
0
7
0
0
10
6th PAR
0
8
4
57
0
0
69
13th PAR
2
3
2
18
0
0
25
Total
5
19
8
123
0
0
155