Tuesday, September 3, 2019

As Circumstances Permitted: Capt. James Duane and his Reconnaissance of Antietam Creek's Crossings on September 16

     Antietam Creek provided a question that George B. McClellan needed to answer. In order to fight the Army of Northern Virginia at Sharpsburg, his army had to navigate across that stream. Doing so presented an issue for the Federals, as straddling a stream in the face of the enemy was a less than ideal situation, something the Union commander experienced in the Seven Days' Campaign. Few officers in the Army of the Potomac were better suited to finding reasonable places to cross the Antietam than Capt. James Duane.
Capt. James Chatham Duane (courtesy
of the United States Lighthouse Society)
     Since his graduation from West Point in 1848, Duane had served in the Corps of Engineers, both in the classroom and in the field. At Antietam, he commanded the Army of the Potomac's Regular Engineer Battalion and served on McClellan's staff.(1)
     The situation on the northern end of the Federal line did not present as much of an issue as the state of affairs in the sector of the Ninth Corps when it came to crossing the Antietam. There, Confederate forces positioned themselves overlooking the creek and a major bridge crossing (the Lower, or Burnside, Bridge). In fact, some of the Confederate skirmishers held a foothold on the creek's eastern bank, making any Federal reconnaissance surveying the approaches to the bridge or additional crossing points incredibly difficult. Despite those circumstances, McClellan looked to Duane and his engineers to survey the creek on the battlefield's southern end.