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himself, his place, his staff, and his troops. An hour after he rode down the line, at Antietam, to take up the sword that had fallen from Richardson's dying hand, no one could have told—he himself hardly knew—that he had not commanded a division for years. So thoroughly had he prepared himself for promotion during his service with his brigade, so sure was he of his powers, that he stepped forward to the higher command upon the field of battle, amid its wreck and disaster, without a moment of hesitation or of doubt, and at once became the leader of the division, as fully and perfectly as Sumner in his time had been, as Richardson but just now had been. The staff knew it; the troops felt it. Every officer in his place, and every man in the ranks was aware, before the sun went down, that he belonged to Hancock's Division.
The body of troops to which Hancock had been sent was one worthy of any commander. It was the division which Sumner had organized and drilled during the winter of I86i-'62, and which still showed in its every part the impress of the powerful hand which had first shaped and molded it. When Sumner was appointed to the Second Corps, Richardson took his division and led it with great credit during the campaign on the Peninsula. It passed through its baptism of fire at Fair Oaks on Sunday morning, where it lost eight hundred and thirty-eight men in a close, fierce, but victorious contest. Two of its brigades—French's and Meagher's—crossed the Chickahominy to the support of Porter late in the afternoon of the 27th of June; and it was behind their undaunted line that Porter's badly shattered troops were re-formed. The division had been engaged at Allen's Farm on the morning of the 29th, and later in the day had taken an important part in the brief but sharp action at Savage Station. It had helped to hold the bridge with Franklin at White Oak Swamp on the 30th; and on the 1st of July, two of its brigades—Caldwell's and Meagher's —had gone to the support of Porter and Couch on the Heights of Malvern, and had contributed largely to the final repulse of the enemy on that ever-memorable day. At Antietam, it had been brought by Sumner across the creek, on the morning of which we write, and had been directed straight on Piper's house, where it became engaged in a sanguinary contest which resulted in driving the enemy out of the famous Sunken Road. It had lost eleven hundred and sixty-five men, of whom—although the fighting had been close, and charges and countercharges had been made—only sixteen were among the "missing." It; had lost, besides its gallant commander, many valuable officers, the casualties of the Irish Brigade of Meagher being especially heavy. The division had in this action captured four hundred prisoners and nine Confederate flags. Such had been the experience of the body of troops to the command of which Hancock was now assigned. That experience had been singularly fortunate if considered with reference to future efficiency. Partly by the chance of war, partly as the result of the courage and discipline of the troops and the exceptional capacity of the regimental commanders—notably Colonels Barlow, Brooke, McKeen, Nugent, Cross, and Zook—the division had never been borne backward in battle. It had never once had its line broken. It had been uniformly victorious; and, while it had sustained severe losses, it had never, except only in the case of the Irish Brigade at Antietam, lost blood to fainting, or sustained any of those shattering blows which take the life out of even the best troops. An equally fortunate initiation into the dreadful experiences of war had befallen few divisions. Nor was its future service, from Antietam forward, destined to be any less honorable, although its day of uniform good fortune was over and past. It was, indeed, to experience the very extremity of loss and disaster; and was to close its career, in 1865, with the proud, though melancholy, record of two thousand two hundred and thirty-seven men killed and eleven thousand seven hundred and twenty-four men wounded in battle; and was to go into history as the division of Sunday morning at Fair Oaks, of the Sunken Road at Antietam, of the Stone Wall at Fredericksburg, of the Wheat Field at Gettysburg, of the Salient at Spottsylvania, of the closing fight at Farmville; as the division which had been commanded by five such soldiers as Edwin V. Sumner, Israel B. Richardson, Winfield S. Hancock, Francis C. Barlow, and Nelson A. Miles.
When Hancock rode over the field in the early afternoon of the 17th of September, to take command of his new division, the battle on the right was over, although none outside general headquarters suspected it. The troops lay in momentary expectation of renewing the attack in which already ten thousand men had fallen. Every now and then the bustle of the staff presaged new combinations, or the movement of troops to fill gaps in the line of battle was taken to mean that hot work was at once to begin. At intervals the artillery broke out in furious cannonading all along the line, or here and there two ambitious battery commanders tested the range of their guns and the skill of their cannoniers in a duel across the crouching lines of infantry. It was not amid the pomp of the review, with bands playing and officers saluting, but on the trampled battlefield strewn with bloody stretchers and wreck of caissons and ambulances, the dead and dying thick around, the wounded still limping and crawling to the rear, with shells shrieking through the air, that Hancock first met and greeted the good regiments he was to lead in a score of battles. The lines were ragged from shot and shell; the uniforms were rent and soiled from hedge and ditch; the bands were engaged in carrying off the wounded or assisting the surgeons at their improvised hospitals. The remainder of the day passed uncertainly, uneasily. The crash and clamor of Burnside's longdelayed fight, away down on the left, aroused expectation to its height; but this again died down as the Ninth Corps fell back before the Confederate troops arriving from Harper's Ferry. Pleasanton's batteries pressing forward in the center, supported by a few battalions of regulars, seemed like a renewal of the combat, while a gallant dash of the Seventh Maine, made from the front of Slocum's division, startled both the Union and the Confederate lines. But the day wore slowly away without any order for the renewal of the battle on the right, and when darkness came on Antietam passed into history. All the next day the two armies lay confronting each other without a collision; and during the following night Lee, his army and his trains intact, recrossed the Potomac into Virginia.