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MoCLELLAN ADVANCES TO THE ANTIETAM. 203
that the Rebel army had crossed into Maryland, is one of those puzzles so frequently exhibited in the strategy of that Generalissimo, which must find their solution in some higher, subtler, and more leisurely existence.
Gen. McClellan, at 3 A. M. of the 15th, was aware—for he telegraphed to Ilalleck—that he had been fighting the forces of D. H. Hill and Longstreet; that they had disappeared from his front; and that Franklin had likewise been completely successful at Crampton's Gap, on his left. He says in this dispatch: "The enemy disappeared during the night; our troops are now advancing in pursuit." At 8 A. M., he telegraphed again—still from Bolivar, at the foot of Turner's Gap:
"I have just learned from Gen. Hooker, in the advance—who states that the information is perfectly reliable—that the enemy is making for the river in a perfect panic; and Gen. Lee last night stated publicly that he must admit they had been shockingly whipped. I am hurrying every thing forward to endeavor to press their retreat to the utmost."
Had even the last sentence of this dispatch been literally true, Lee's destruction was imminent and certain.
It was now too late to save Harper's Ferry—for it had this moment fallen—but not too late to superbly avenge it. With Lee's order in his hand, McClellan must have known that the forces from which he and Franklin had just wrested the passes of the South Mountain were all that Lee had to depend upon, save those which lie had detached and sent— mainlv by long circuits—to reduce Harper's Ferry, and which must now be mainly on the other side of the
Potomac. Precious hours had been lost by massing on his right instead of his left, and fighting for Turner's Gap, when he should only by a feint have kept as many Rebels there as possible, while he poured the great body of his army, in overwhelming strength and with the utmost celerity, through Crampton's Gap, crushing McLaws and relieving Harper's Ferry. But there was still time, if not to retrieve the error, at leas^t to amend it. Our soldiers, flushed with unwonted victory, and full in the faith that they had just wrested two strong mountain-passes from the entire Rebel army, were ready for any effort, any peril. To press forward with the utmost rapidity, and so relieve Harper's Ferry, if that might still be, but at all events to crush that portion of the Rebel army still north of the Potomac, if it should stand at bay, and rout and shatter it should it attempt to ford the river; at the very worst, to interpose between it and the other half, under Jackson and Walker, should it attempt to escape westward by Hagerstown and Williamsport, and thus be in position to assail and overwhelm either half before it could unite with the other, was the course which seems to have been as obvious to McClellan as it must be to every one else.
The advance was again led by Gen. Pleasanton's cavalry, who overtook at Boonsborough the Rebel cavalry rear-guard, charged it with spirit, and routed it, capturing 250 prisoners and 2 guns. Richardson's division, of Sumner's corps, followed; pressing eagerly on that afternoon;" and, after a march of 10 or 12 miles, descried the Rebels posted in force across Anttetam Ceeek, in front of the little village of Shaepsuukq. Richardson halted and deployed on the right of the road from Kecdysvillc to Sharpsburg; Sykes, with his division of regulars, following closely after, came up and deployed on the left of that road. Gen. McClellan himself, with three corps in all, came up during the evening.
* Sept. 15.
1^3 had of course chosen a strong position; but delay could only 6ervc to strengthen it, while giving opportunity for the arrival of Jackson, Walker, and McLaws, from Harper's Ferry; which McClellan now knew had fallen that morning: Franklin having apprised him of the hour when the sound of guns from that quarter ceased. Had McClellan then resolved to attack at daylight next morning,11 he might before noon have hurled (10,000 gallant troops against not more than half their number of Rebels; for, though Jackson arrived with his ovcrmarehed men that morning, he left A. P. Hill behind at the Ferry, while McLaws, still confronting Franklin in Pleasant Valley, was obliged to crosi the Potomac at Harper's Ferry, and recross it at Bhepherdstown, in order to come up at all; and did not arrive until the morning of the 17th. Walker, clearing Loudon Heights and crossing the Shenandoah on the loth, had followed Jackson during the night, and
a McClellan, in hu report, says:
,;It had boon hoped tn engage tho enemy during tho I.">th j" but, "after a rapid examination of tho position. I found that it was too lato to attack that day, and at once directed the placing of the butteries iu position in tho center, and indicated the bivouacs for the different corps, masking ihcm near and on both sides of tho Sharpsburg turnpike. Tho corps woro not
arrived at Shepherdstown early on the morning of the 16th; crossing and reporting to Lee at Sharpsburg by noon."
Lee, aware that every hour's delay was an inestimable advantage to him, made as great a display of force as possible throughout the 15th and 16th, though he thereby exposed his infantry—it seemed wantonly.—to the fire of our artillery. But, on the morning of the 17th, when our columns advanced to the attack, and the battle began in earnest, his whole army, save A. P. Hill's division, being on hand, the regiments and brigades hitherto 60 ostentatiously paraded seemed to have sunk into the earth; and nothing but grim and frowning batteries were seen covering each hill-crest and trained on every stretch of open ground whereby our soldiers might attempt to scale those rugged steeps.
The struggle was inaugurated on the afternoon of the 16th, by our old familiar maneuver: Hooker, on our right, being directed to flank and heat the enemy's left, backed by Sumner, Franklin, and Mansfield, who were to come into action successively, somewhat nearer the enemy's center. It would have been a serious objection, ten hours before, to this strategy, that it tended, even if successful, to concentrate the enemy, by driving him back on his divisions arriving cr expected from Ilar
nll in their positions until tho next morning after sunrise."
Georgo TV*. Smalley, correspondent of The Tribune, writes from tlio battle-lield on the 17 th as follows:
"After tho brilliant victory near Middletown, Gen. McClellan pushed forward his army rapidly, and reached Keedysville with three corps cn Monday night On tho day following, the two armies faced each other idly until night."
ter. By this time, it was dark, and the firing soon ceased; the hostile infantry lying down for the night at points within half musket-shot of each, other.
At daylight next morning," the Dattle was commenced in earnest: the left of Meade's and the right of Ricketts's line becoming engaged at nearly the same moment, the former with artillery, the latter with infantry; while a battery was pushed forward beyond the woods directly in Hooker's front, across a plowed field, to the edge of a corn-field beyond it, destined before night to be soaked with blood.
: Hood's thin division, which had confronted us at evening, had been withdrawn during the night, and replaced by La wton's and Trimble's brigades of Ewell's division, under Lawton, with Jackson's own division, under D, R. Jones, on its left, supported by the remaining brigades of Ewell. Jackson was in chief command on this wing, and here was substantially his old corps around him. Against these iron soldiers, Hooker's corps hurled itself, and, being superior in numbers, compelled them to give ground; but not until Jones and Lawton had been wounded, with many more field officers, and Starke, who succeeded Jones in command, killed. Early, who succeeded Lawton, was ordered by Jackson to replace Jackson's own division, which had suffered so severely and was so nearly out of ammunition that it had to be temporarily withdrawn from the combat. By this time, Ricketts and Meade had pushed the Rebel line back across the cornfield and the road, into the woods
beyond, and was following witli eager, exulting cheers.
But Hood's division, somewhat refreshed, had by this time returned to the front, backed by the brigades of Ripley, Colquitt, Garland (now under Col. McRae), and D. R. Jones, by whom the equilibrium of the fight was restored; our men being hurled back by terrible volleys from the woods, followed by a charge across the corn-field in heavy force. Hooker called up his nearest brigade; but it was not strong enough, and he sent at once to Doubleday: "Give me your best brigade instantly I" That brigade came down the hill on our right at double-quick, and was led by Hartsuff into the corn-field, and steadily up the slope beyond it, forming on the crest of the ridge, under a hurricane of shot and shell, and firing steadily and rapidly at the Rebel masses just before them. They held their position half an hour, unsupported, though many fell; among them their leader, Hartsuff, wounded severely; until for a second time the enemy was driven out of the cornfield into the woods.
Meantime, both sides were strengthening this wing. Ricketts's division, having attempted to advance and failed, had fallen back. Part of Mansfield's corps had gone in to their aid, and been driven back likewise, with their General mortally wounded. Doubleday's guns were still busy on our extreme right, and had silenced a Rebel battery which for half an hour had enfiladed Hooker's center. Ricketts sent word that he could not advance, but could hold his ground. Hooker, with Crawford's and Gordon's fresh brigades of THK FIGHT ON OUR
RIGHT AND CENTER. 207
Mansfield's corps, came up to his support, determined again to advance and carry the woods to the right of and beyond the corn-field. Going forward to reconnoiter on foot, Hooker satisfied himself as to the nature of the ground, returned and remounted amid a shower of Rebel bullets, which he had all the morning disregarded; but the next moment a musket-ball went through his foot, inflicting a severe and intensely painful wound; which compelled him, after giving his orders fully and deliberately, to leave the field at 9 A. M. Sumner, arriving at this moment, assumed command, sending forward Sedgwick's division of his own corps to support Crawford and Gordon; while Richardson and French, with his two remaining divisions, went forward farther to the left; Sedgwick again advancing in line through the corn-field already won and lost.
But by this time McLaws—who, bj marching all night, had reached Shepherdstown from Harper's Ferry that morning, and instantly crossed —had been sent forward by Lee to the aid of Jackson; while Walker's division had been hurried across from their as yet unassailed right. Again Hood's brigade was withdrawn from the front, while the fresh forces under Walker and McLaws advanced with desperate energy, seconded by Early on their left. Sedgwick was thrice badly wounded, and compelled to retire; Gens. Dana and Crawford were likewise wounded. The 34th New York —which had broken at a critical moment, while attempting a maneuver under a terrible fire—was nearly cut to pieces; and the loth Massachusetts, which went into action 600 strong, was speedily reduced to
134. Gen. Howard, who took command of Sedgwick's division, was unable to restore its formation, and Sumner himself had no better success. Again the center of our right gave back, and the corn-field was retaken by the enemy.
But the attempt of the Rebels to advance beyond it, under the fire of our batteries, was repelled with heavy loss on their part; Col. Manning, who led Walker's own brigade, being severely wounded, and his brigade driven back. Doubleday, on our farther right, held firmly; and it seemed settled that, while either party could repel a charge on this part of the line, neither could afford to make one.
But now Franklin had come up with his fresh corps, and formed on the left; Slocum, commanding one of his divisions, was sent forward toward the center; while Smith, with the other, was ordered to retake the ground that had been so long and so hotly contested.
It was no sooner said than done. Smith's regiments, cheering, went forward on a run, swept through the corn-field and the woods, cleared them in ten minutes, and held them. Their rush was so sudden and unexpected that their loss was comparatively small; and the ground thus retaken was not again lost.
Nearer the center, French's division of Sumner's corps had attempted to carry the line of heights whereon the Rebels were posted, and had made some progress, repulsing a countercharge and capturing a number of prisoners, with some flags. Attempts successively to turn his right and then his left were foiled; but, after a bloody combat of four