Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

1862.

reserves and the right of Ricketts' line became engaged at nearly the same moment, one with artillery, the other with infantry. A battery was almost immediately pushed forward beyond the central woods, over a ploughed field, near the top of the slope where the cornfield began. On this open field, in the corn beyond, and in the woods which stretched forward into the broad fields, like a promontory into the ocean, were the hardest and deadliest struggles of the day.

For half an hour after the battle had grown to its full strength, the line of fire extended neither way. Hooker's men were fully up to their work. They saw their general everywhere in front, never away from the fire; and all the troops believed in their commander, and fought with a will. Two-thirds of them were the same men who, under McDowell, had broken at Manassas.

The half-hour passed; the rebels began to give way a little, only a little; but at the first indication of a receding fire, "Forward!" was the word, and on went the line with a rush. Back across the cornfield, leaving dead and wounded behind them, over the fence, and across the wood, and then back again into the dark woods, which closed around them, went the retreating rebels.

But out of those gloomy woods came suddenly and heavily terrible volleys — volleys which smote, and bent, and broke, in a moment, that eager front, and hurled them swiftly back for half the distance they had won. Not swiftly nor in panic, any further. Closing up their shattered lines, they came slowly away; a regiment where a brigade had been; hardly a brigade where a whole division had been victorious. They had met at the woods the first volleys of musketry from fresh troops had met them and returned them till their line had yielded and gone down before this weight of fire, and till their ammunition was exhausted.

In ten minutes the fortunes of the day seemed to have changed; it was the rebels who were now advancing, pouring out of the woods in endless lines, sweeping through the cornfield from which their comrades had just fled. Hooker sent in his nearest brigade to meet them, but it could not do the work. He called for another. There was nothing close enough, unless he took it from his right. His right might be in danger if it was weakened; but his centre was already threatened with annihilation. Not hesitating one moment, he sent to Doubleday, "Give me your best brigade instantly."

[ocr errors]

The best brigade came down the hill to the right on the run, went through the timber in front, through a storm of shot and bursting shell, and crashing limbs, over the open field beyond, and straight into the cornfield, passing, as they went, the fragment of those brigades shattered by the rebel fire, and streaming to the rear. They passed by Hooker, whose eyes lighted as he saw these veteran troops led by a soldier whom he knew he could trust. "I think they will hold it,” he said. General Hartsuff took his troops very steadily, but, now that they were under fire, not hurriedly, up the hill from which the cornfield begins to descend, and formed them on the crest. Not a man who was not in full view not one who bent before the storm. Firing at first in volleys, they fired then at will with won

[ocr errors]

1862.

[ocr errors]

derful rapidity and effect. The whole line crowned the hill, and stood out darkly against the sky, but lighted and shrouded ever in

flame and smoke.

They were the Twelfth and Thirteenth Massachusetts, the Ninth New York, and the Eleventh Pennsylvania-old troops, all of them.

Then for half an hour they held the ridge, unyielding in purpose, exhaustless in courage. There were gaps in the line, but it nowhere bent. Their general was severely wounded early in the fight, but they fought on. Their supports did not come they determined without them. They began to go down the hill and into the corn; they did not stop to think that their ammunition was nearly gone; they were there to win that field, and they won it. The rebel line for the second time fled through the corn and into the woods. I cannot tell how few of Hartsuff's brigade were left when the work was done. There was no more gallant, determined, heroic fighting in all this desperate day. General Hartsuff is severely wounded; but I do not believe he counts his success dearly purchased.

There has been some doubt thrown upon this story because Hartsuff's brigade was not in Doubleday's division.

A soldier, when actively engaged in battle, has so little appreciation of how his actions may appear to a looker-on, that when we read the "best brigade" story, we felt that, notwithstanding the facts were all there, they had received a rhetorical coloring which made them seem different from what they really were.

Alfred C. Munroe, of the Twelfth Massachusetts, who was that time attached to General Hooker's headquarters, says he heard the order given as Smalley relates it. That part of the story, however, is of little consequence beside the important one of removing any doubt as to whether Hartsuff's brigade really did such a service on that memorable day. The following letter by General Doubleday, published in the "National Tribune" of March 24, 1892, seems to settle the question so completely that we give it publication:

Editor National Tribune, - A very interesting article appeared in your paper a few weeks ago in reference to the battle of Antietam. It is in the main accurate, but contains one error which I desire to correct, and which would seem to have originated in the correspondent of the New York "Times." After three hours' fighting, at a crisis in the battle when it became doubtful if we could hold the bloody cornfield between the lines, Hooker, it is alleged, sent word to Doubleday, "Send me your best brigade." It stated that this "best brigade" went forward and held the field, which, however, was lost later in the day.

1862.

Now, as my division began the battle in the morning, and was the first to charge the enemy, I had no brigade to spare, for three of mine, under Gibbon, Patrick, and Phelps, were already closely engaged at the front. They had lost heavily, had captured six battle-flags, were out of ammunition, and in obedience of an order from General Hooker were holding the position with the bayonet. I had another brigade, it is true, under the gallant Hoffman, but it was kept in rear by a special order from General Hooker, in consequence of a slight demonstration made by Stuart's cavalry on that flank. It was Hartsuff's brigade, of Ricketts' division, that held the cornfield so handsomely, and not one of mine. Ricketts was entitled, I thought, to a good deal of credit for the way in which he handled his men; but through some misrepresentations or misunderstanding he was relieved from command at the close of the day by General McClellan, and his division was turned over to General Gibbon. ABNER DOUBLEDAY,

Brevet Major-General, U.S.A.

MENDHAM, N. J.

The following official announcement of the battle of Antietam was sent to Washington on the 19th of September, it being reasonably certain, by that time, that the rebel army had recrossed the river into Virginia:

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
SHARPSBURG, September 19, 1862.

MAJ.-GEN. H. W. HALLECK, Commanding U.S. Army:

I have the honor to report that Maryland is entirely freed from the presence of the enemy, who have been driven across the Potomac. No fears need now be entertained for the safety of Pennsylvania. I shall at once occupy Harper's Ferry.

GEO. B. MCCLELLAN,
Major-General Commanding.

The rebel army having voluntarily returned to the "sacred soil" of Virginia, without let or hindrance from our forces, it would seem that the word "driven" which appears in the dispatch was not an exact statement of fact, while General McClellan omitted to say that the opportunity for destroying Lee's army was lost.

The following statement by General McClellan, concerning the battle of Antietam, we quote from his book:

The spectacle yesterday was the grandest I could conceive of; nothing could be more sublime. Those in whose judgment I rely, tell me that I fought the battle splendidly, and that it was a masterpiece of art.

1862.

"But what good came of it at last?'
Quoth little Peterkin.

'Why, that I cannot tell,' said he;
'But 'twas a famous victory."'

With respect to the condition of the rebel army, it is interesting to read what General Lee says about it in a report he made to President Davis, dated Sept. 21, 1862:

The army is resting to-day on the Opequan, below Martinsburg. Its present efficiency is greatly paralyzed by the loss to its ranks of the numerous stragglers. I have taken every means in my power from the beginning to correct this evil, which has increased instead of diminished. A great many men belonging to the army never entered Maryland at all; many returned after getting there, while others who crossed the river kept aloof.

There is much more in this letter that goes to show how badly off the enemy felt themselves to be; but this extract is sufficient to show that they were glad enough to have the fighting postponed until they could recuperate.

It is also interesting to read what an Englishman thinks about the battle of Antietam. In Mr. Archibald Forbes' article on Abraham Lincoln as a strategist, published in the "North American Review," July and August, 1892, is the following:

Though he [McClellan] still held to him the Army of the Potomac, he had lost with the nation the mesmerism of his prestige. But fortune favored him. Pope's regiments turned out so much less demoralized than had been supposed, that McClellan's work of organization was easier and shorter than could have been anticipated. He was as assiduous in that work as ever; as ever, he was slow when the march with an enemy at the end of it came to be undertaken. Rarely, indeed, has it been the good fortune of a general, at the beginning of a campaign, to find himself placed in full knowledge of his adversaries' disposition; yet the possession of that enormous advantage could not stir McClellan into prompt alacrity. His sluggishness cost the loss of the garrison of Harper's Ferry. He threw away invaluable time before taking the offensive at South Mountain; and he could have done Lee no better service than in wasting a whole autumn day in deliberately putting his army into position for the unscientific, unpurposeful, and butcherly fighting of the morrow. Not until the 26th of October did McClellan begin to cross the Potomac. During the interval of more than five weeks he had practically been immobile, while Lee quietly watched him from Winchester. During

1862.

that interval he continuously clamored for reënforcements, for reequipment of all kinds, for supplies on supplies.

With respect to renewing the attack on the 18th, General McClellan makes the following statement :

After a night of anxious deliberation and a full and careful survey of our army, the strength and position of the enemy, I conclude that the success of an attack on the 18th was not certain. I am aware of the fact that, under ordinary circumstances, a general is expected to risk a battle if he has a reasonable prospect of success; but at this critical juncture I should have had a narrow view of the condition of the country had I been willing to hazard another battle with less than an absolute assurance of success.

In testimony of his own abilities, he further says:

Since the war I have met many of my late antagonists, and have found none who entertained any personal enmity against me. While acknowledging with Lee and other of their generals that they feared me more than any of the Northern generals and that I had struck them harder blows when in the full prime of their strength, they have all said that I fought them like a gentleman and in an honorable way, and that they felt nothing but respect for me.

I remember very well, when riding over the field of South Mountain, that passing by a severely wounded Confederate officer, I dismounted and spoke with him, asking whether I could do anything to relieve him. He was a lieutenantcolonel of a North Carolina regiment, and asked me if I was General McClellan; and when I said that I was General McClellan, he grasped my hand and told me that he was perfectly willing to be wounded and a prisoner for the sake of taking by the hand one whom all the Confederates so honored and admired. Such things happened to me not infrequently, and I confess that it gave me no little pleasure to find that my antagonists shared the feelings of my own men for me.

In the Gospel according to Saint Luke occurs the following paragraph: "Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets."

As a contrast to General McClellan's methods of conducting a battle, it is interesting to read what Stonewall Jackson would have done had he been in McClellan's position. General Imboden writes. that Jackson often said to him:

There were two things never to be lost sight of by a military commander: Always mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy, if possible; and when you strike

« VorigeDoorgaan »