Tuesday, October 27, 2020

After-Action Report of Maj. Hilary Herbert, 8th Alabama Infantry

Richard H. Anderson (courtesy of
National Park Service)
While the actions of Richard H. Anderson’s division on September 17, 1862 are generally known, pinning down specifics has always been difficult. Mostly, that is due to the fact that only one after-action report from the entire division (and it is not from Anderson himself) was reproduced in the Official Records. Robert K. Krick, in his essay about Confederates in the Sunken Road in Gary Gallagher’s The Antietam Campaign anthology illustrates the issue of determining the movements of Anderson’s division and its various brigades:

The disintegration of R. H. Anderson’s division can be seen distinctly from the official reports of its brigades: there are none. Not only did no official report for the division find its way into the published Official Records; there is also none for any of its six brigades, and only a report for one of the twenty-six regiments that made up those brigades. The report of Capt. Abram M. “Dode” Feltus, senior officer present with the 16th Mississippi, is the only one in that standard source out of a potential thirty-three documents. The lacuna frustrates historians; it also illustrates the paucity of command in the division on September 17 (and the haphazard way in which R. H. Anderson administered his division when he returned to its command).[1]

Volume Three of the Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, published in 1994, contains a brief (and useless when it comes to Antietam) paragraph written by Col. William A. Parham, commanding Mahone’s brigade, and a report for Ambrose Wright’s brigade written by Col. William Gibson, third in charge of the brigade and its commander at the close of battle on September 17. These two sources bring the number of documents from Anderson’s division up to three out of the 33 Krick counted. Now, here is the fourth (Krick cites Herbert's report but since it was written in 1864 likely does not count it as an after-action report). It has been cited before in other works but has been used sparingly in studies of the Maryland Campaign.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Bombarding the Burnside Bridge

The 51st Pennsylvania's Lt. Col. Thomas Bell
fell mortally wounded from a Confederate artillery
round within 50 feet of the Burnside Bridge

Standing at the Burnside Bridge makes one feel cut off from the rest of the Antietam battlefield. Antietam presents great vistas that allow visitors to examine large swaths of the battlefield at once. Not so at the Burnside Bridge. There, after a long drive from the Bloody Lane on the auto tour, visitors stand and look into two hillsides, their visibility limited to just a few hundred yards. At the bridge, you are down in a deep swale that you can hardly see out of when you are in it and you can barely see into it unless you are standing on top of the hillsides that surround it.

Then how, in this secluded low point on the battlefield, do numerous Union accounts at the bridge mention coming under Confederate artillery fire? No Confederate guns were perched alongside Henry Benning’s Georgians overlooking the bridge and Antietam Creek. What is to account for these Federal tales of being struck by enemy artillery shells?

At least two mentions of this made their way into Ezra Carman’s chapter on the fighting at the Burnside Bridge. First, when relating the attack of Crook’s brigade, Carman mentions the left-wing of the 11th Ohio Infantry being exposed to a “severe fire of infantry and artillery.”[1] Later, after the 51st Pennsylvania and 51st New York carried the bridge, “Confederate guns on Cemetery hill threw their shell and shrapnel into the ranks of the [Federals] lying in the road near the bridge, killing and wounding many…”[2]