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BIRD'S-EYE VIEW OF THE VALLEY. 187 Gen. McClellan followed with his entire army, save Couch's Division and Franklin's Command, which having been detached for the relief of Harper's Ferry, were several miles in the rear.
The valley in which the conflict occurred lies directly west of the spur of the Blue Ridge known as South Mountain, and comprises one of the most delightful portions of Maryland. Looking down from the Highlands, the eye fell upon little villages, crowning eminences or nestling in dells; farm houses standing out boldly on the hill-tops, or half-hidden down the woody slopes; yellow fields of grain, green pastures and sombre fallows; luxuriant orchards and groves of maple, interspersed with oak; the tortuous Antietam, forming in its serpentine windings numerous miniature Islands; lesser streams sparkling in the sunlight, leaping and babbling down the mountain side, or flowing noiselessly through the verdant meadows—the whole comprising a landscape of surpassing beauty and loveliness.
Down on this fair valley settled the “horrid cloud"called battle. Over this gorgeous patch-work of nature rolled the “hot elements of destruction.”
Monday afternoon and Tuesday were spent by Gen. McClellan in reconnoitring the enemy's position, and establishing his own. He likewise devoted considerable time to examining the topography of the region. “Two hostile armies," a recent writer observes, “on a battle-field, are two wrestlers-one tries to throw the other; they cling to everything; a thicket is a basis; for want of a village to support
TROOPS POURING DOWN THE MOUNTAIN.
it, a Regiment gives way; a fall in the plain, a transverse hedge in a good position, a wood, a ravine, may arrest the heel of that column which is called an army, and prevent its slipping. The one who leaves the field is beaten, and hence the necessity for the responsible Chief to examine the smallest clump of trees, and the slightest rise in the ground.” No General ever realized the truth of the above more than Gen. McClellan, and it was accordingly his wont to inspect minutely the ground chosen for battle. Before Tuesday noon he had familiarized himself with the plan of “Antietam,” examined the woods, fields, hills, dales and streams which it embraced, selected the commanding positions for his artillery, and marked out the level spots where infantry could be manœuvred to advantage.
As fast as the troops came streaming down from the mountain, they moved to the various points assigned them. It was an inspiring sight, those long shining lines, pouring down through the woods and fields, like “ living threads that went to weave themselves into the glorious tapestry of our nation's history."
There was the chivalric Burnside, leading the conquerors of Roanoke and Newbern—the Ninth Army Corps—which he loved so well. Further to the right came Porter, with his Regulars and well filled ranks of Volunteers. Still further on appeared the brave old Sumner, whose highest wish was to die with the harness on-followed by troops who adored the hero of Fair Oaks, if possible, more than their Chief.
ARRANGEMENT OF TROOPS.
In the rear rode the gallant Mansfield, who, tired of inactivity, had exchanged the ease of court duty at the capital for the command of Banks' Corps, fresh from the gory fields of Cedar Mountain and Bull Run. Hither was he come to uncover to the storm his head, now silvered o'er by the frosts of nearly sixty winters, and die while cheering forward his men on a charge. And there too was the courageous Hooker, deploying far away to the right his battle-scarred veterans.
During Tuesday there was heavy skirmishing between the infantry, and considerable artillery firing, but no general engagement took place. Meanwhile Lee was reinforced by Jackson’s Corps of thirty thousand men, who, after having taken possession of Harper's Ferry, moved rapidly back up the Virginia side of the Potomac and crossed over at the fords near Sharpsburg. Aware, as he now was, of his superiority in numbers and position, the rebel chief calmly awaited our attack.
The dawn of Wednesday found the Federal army arranged in much the same manner as the day previous, Hooker on the right, supported by Mansfield, then Sumner, then Porter on a commanding eminence, as a reserve, and lastly Burnside, on the extreme left.
The line extended between four and five miles. The rebel left was in the woods, directly in front of our right, and their forces were posted across the valley between us and Sharpsburg, and very nearly parallel with our own. Our artillery was planted behind 190
THE ENEMY BEATEN BACK.
the crests of the various hillocks, ready to be run up and fire at a moment's notice.
To Gen. Hooker had been assigned the honor of opening the great combat. During the night previous he had crossed the Antietam on the Hagerstown road, and gained a position on the right bank of that stream, which curved round in front of our forces.
He was in the saddle before daylight, and the rising sun shone upon his troops moving forward in battle array—the right of our lines sweeping round towards the Potomac. They proceeded but a short distance before encountering the enemy, drawn up to receive them, and soon the profound stillness which precedes a battle was broken, and Saxon was pitted against Saxon in the contest of death.
Steadily the brave fellows pressed forward over the wooded and uneven ground, regardless of the infantry and artillery fire which was concentrated upon them from several points, and sweeping through the cornfields and grove at the right of the Sharpsburg turnpike, bore down with irresistible fury upon the rebel lines.
They stood the shock but a moment, and then the swarthy foe fell back in disorder, closely followed by our victorious boys, who made the welkin ring with their shouts and cheers. But now come reinforcements for the enemy, and our troops are forced back from the ground which they have so gallantly won. For a moment it seems as if Hooker will be overpowered, so heavily has the enemy's left been reinforced, but the timely arrival of Mansfield