網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

Harper's Ferry, were for a time interpreted as evidences of the enemy's disorganization and demoralization. As soon as it was definitely known that the enemy had abandoned the mountains, the cavalry and the corps of Sumner, Hooker, and Mansfield were ordered to pursue them, via the turnpike and Boonsborough, as promptly as possible. The corps of Burnside and Porter (the latter having but one weak division present) were ordered to move by the old Sharpsburg road, and Franklin to advance into Pleasant Valley, occupy Rohrersville, and to endeavor to relieve Harper's Ferry. Burnside and Porter, upon reaching the road from Boonsborough to Rohrersville, were to re-enforce Franklin or to move on Sharpsburg, according to circumstances. Franklin moved toward Brownsville and found there a force, largely superior in numbers to his own, drawn up in a strong position to receive him. Here the total cessation of firing in the direction of Harper's Ferry indicated but too clearly the shameful and premature surrender of that post. The cavalry advance overtook a body of the enemy's cavalry in Boonsborough, which it dispersed after a brief skirmish, killing and wounding many, taking some 250 prisoners and 2 guns. Richardson's division, of Sumner's corps, passing Boonsborough to Centreville or Keedysville, found a few miles beyond the town the enemy's forces displayed in line of battle, strong both in respect to numbers and position, and awaiting attack. Upon receiving reports of the disposition of the enemy, I directed all the corps, except that of Franklin, upon Sharpsburg, leaving Franklin to observe and check the enemy in his front and avail himself of any chance that might offer. I had hoped to come up with the enemy during the 15th in sufficient force to beat them again and drive them into the river. My instructions were that if the enemy were on the march they were to be at once attacked; if they were found in force and in position, the corps were to be placed in position for attack, but no attack was to be made until I reached the front. On arriving at the front in the afternoon I found but two divisions— Richardson's and Sykes'—in position. The rest were halted in the road, the head of the column some distance in rear of Richardson. After a rapid examination of the position, I found that it was too late to attack that day, and at once directed locations to be selected for our batteries of position, and indicated the bivouacs for the different corps, massing them near and on both sides of the Sharpsburg pike. The corps were not all in their places until the next morning some time after sunrise. On the 16th the enemy had slightly, changed their line, and were posted upon the heights in rear of the Antietam Creek, their left and center being upon and in front of the road from Sharpsburg to Hagerstown, and protected by woods and irregularities of the ground. Their extreme left rested upon a wooded eminence near the cross-roads, to the north of J. Miller's farm, the distance at this point between the road and the Potomac, which makes here a great bend to the east, being about three-fourths of a mile. Their right rested on the hills to the right of Sharpsburg, near Snavely's farm, covering the crossing of the Antietam and the approaches to the town from the southeast. The ground between their immediate front and the Antietam is undulating. Bills intervene, whose crests in general are commanded by the crests of others in their rear. On all favorable points their artillery was posted. It became evident from the force of the enemy and the strength of their position that desperate fighting alone could drive them from the field, and all felt that a great and terrible battle was at hand. In proceeding to the narrative of the events of this and the succeed. ing day, I must here repeat what I have observed in reporting upon the other subjects of this communication—that I attempt in this preliminary report nothing more than a sketch of the main features of this great engagement, reserving for my official report, based upon the reports of the corps commanders, that full description of details which shall place upon record the achievements of individuals and of particular bodies of troops. The design was to make the main attack upon the enemy's left—at least to create a diversion in favor of the main attack, with the hope of something more by assailing the enemy's right—and, as soon as one or both of the flank movements were fully successful, to attack their center with any reserve I might then have on hand. The morning of the 16th (during which there was considerable artillery firing) was spent in obtaining information as to the ground, recti* position of the troops, and perfecting the arrangements for the attack. On the afternoon of the 16th, Hooker's corps, consisting of Ricketts' and Doubleday's divisions, and the Pennsylvania Reserves, under Meade, was sent across the Antietam Creek, by a ford and bridge to the right of Keedysville, with orders to attack, and, if possible, turn the enemy's left. Mansfield, with his corps, was sent in the evening to support Hooker. Arrived in position, Meade's division of the Pennsylvania Reserves, which was at the head of Hooker's corps; became engaged in a sharp contest with the enemy, which lasted until after dark, when it had succeeded in driving in a portion of the opposing line and held the ground. At daylight the contest was renewed between Hooker and the enemy in his front. Hooker's attack was successful for a time, but masses of the enemy, thrown upon his corps, checked it. Mansfield brought up his corps to Hooker's support, when the two corps drove the enemy back, the gallant and distinguished veteran Mansfield losing his life in the effort. General Hooker was, unhappily, about this time wounded and compelled to leave the field, where his services had been conspicuous and important. About an hour after this time, Sumner's corps, consisting of Sedgwick's, Richardson's, and French's divisions, arrived on the field—Richardson's some time after the other two, as he was unable to start as soon as they. Sedgwick, on the right, penetrated the woods in front of Hooker's and Mansfield's troops. French and Richardson were placed to the left of Sedgwick, thus attacking the enemy toward their left center. Crawford's and Sedgwick's lines, however, yielded to a destructive fire of masses of the enemy in the woods, and, suffering greatly (Generals Sedgwick and Crawford being among the wounded), their troops fell back in disorder; they nevertheless rallied in the woods. The enemy's advance was, however, entirely checked by the destructive fire of our artillery. Franklin, who had been directed the day before to join the main army with two divisions, arrived on the field from Brownsville about an hour after, and Smith's division replaced Sedgwick's and Crawford's line. Advancing steadily, it swept over the ground just lost but now permanently retaken. The divisions of French and Richardson maintained with considerable loss the exposed positions which they had so gallantly gained, among the wounded being General Richardson. The condition of things on the right toward the middle of the after. noon, notwithstanding the success wrested from the enemy by the stub born bravery of the troops, was at this time unpromising. Sumner's, Hooker's, and Mansfield's corps had lost heavily, several general offi. cers having been carried from the field. I was at one time compelled to draw two brigades from Porter's corps (the reserve) to strengthen the right. This left for the reserve the small division of Regulars, who had been engaged in supporting during the day the batteries in the center, and a single brigade of Morell's division. Before I left the right to return to the center, I became satisfied that the line would be held without these two brigades, and countermanded the order, which was in course of execution. The effect of Burnside's movement on the en. emy's right was to prevent the further massing of their troops on their left, and we held what we had gained. Burnside's corps, consisting of Willcox's, Sturgis', and Rodman's divisions, and Cox's Kanawha division, was intrusted with the difficult task of carrying the bridge across the Antietam, near Rohrback's farm and assaulting the enemy's right, the order having been communicated to him at 10 o'clock a.m. The valley of the Antietam at and near this bridge is narrow, with high banks. On the right of the stream the bank is wooded, and com. Imands the approaches both to the bridge and the ford. The steep slopes of the bank were lined with rifle-pits and breastworks of rails and stones. These, together with the woods, were filled with the enemy's infantry, while their batterles completely commanded and enfiladed the bridge and ford and their approaches. The advance of the troops brought on an obstinate and sanguinary contest, and, from the great natural advantages of the position, it was nearly 1 o'clock before the heights on the right bank were carried. At about 3 o'clock p.m. the corps again advanced, and with success, the right driving the enemy before it and pushing on nearly to Sharpsburg, while the left, after a hard encounter, also compelled the enemy to retire before it. The enemy here, however, were speedily re-enforced, and with overwhelming masses. New batteries of their artillery also were brought up and opened. It became evident that our force was not sufficient to enable the advance to reach the town, and the order was given to retire to the cover of the hill which was taken from the enemy earlier in the afternoon. This movement was effected withont confusion and the position maintained until the enemy retreated. General Burnside had sent to me for re-enforcements late in the afternoon, but the condition of things on the right was not such as to enable me to afford them. During the whole day our artillery was everywhere bravely and ably handled. Indeed, I cannot speak too highly of the efficiency of our batteries and of the great service they rendered. On more than one occasion when our infantry was broken they covered its reformation and drove back the enemy. The cavalry had little field for operations during the engagement, but was employed in supporting the horse-artillery batteries in the center, and in driving up stragglers, while awaiting opportunity for other service. The Signal Corps, under Major Myer, rendered, during the operations at Antietam as well as at South Mountain and during the whole movements of the army, efficient and valuable service. Indeed, by its service here, as on other fields elsewhere, this corps has gallantly earned its title * an independent and permanent organization.

The duties devolving upon my staff during the action were most important, and the performance of them able and untiring. At a later day I propose to bring to the notice of the Department their individual Services. With the day closed this memorable battle, in which, perhaps, nearly 200,000 men were for fourteen hours engaged in combat. we hai attacked the enemy in position, driven them from their line on one flank and secured a footing within it on the other. Under the depression of previous reverses we had achieved a victory over an adversary invested with the prestige of former successes and inflated with a recent triumph. Our forces slept that night conquerors on a field won by their valor and covered with the dead and wounded of the enemy. The night, however, presented serious questions; morning brought with it grave responsibilities. To renew the attack again on the 18th or to defer it, with the chance of the enemy's retirement after a day of suspense, were the questions before me. A careful and anxious survey of the condition of my command, and my knowledge of the enemy's force and position, failed to impress me with any reasonable certainty of success if I renewed the attack without re-enforcing columns. A view of the shattered state of some of the corps sufficed to deter me from pressing them into immediate action, and I felt that my duty to the army and the country forbade the risks involved in a hasty movement, which might result in the loss of what had been gained the previous day. Impelled by this consideration, I awaited the arrival of my re-enforcements, taking advantage of the occasion to collect together the dispersed, give rest to the fatigued, and remove the wounded. Of the re-enforcements, Couch's division, although marching with commendable rapidity, was not in position until a late hour in the morning; and Humphreys' division of new troops, fatigued with forced marches, were arriving throughout the day, but were not available until near its close.” Large re-enforcements from Pennsylvania, which were expected during the day, did not arrive at all. During the 18th, orders were given for a renewal of the attack at daylight on the 19th. On the night of the 18th the enemy, after having been passing troops in the latter part of the day from the Virginia, shore to their position behind Sharpsburg, as seen by our officers, suddenly formed the design of abandoning their line. This movement they executed before daylight. Being but a short distance from the river, the evacuation presented but little difficulty. It was, however, rapidly followed up. A reconnaissance was made across the river on the evening of the 19th, which resulted in ascertaining the near presence of the enemy in some force and in our capturing six guns. A second reconnaissance, the next morning, which, with the first, was made by a small detachment from Porter's corps, resulted in observing a heavy force of the enemy there. The detachment withdrew with slight loss. I submit here with a list of the killed, wounded, and missing in the engagements of the 14th and of the 16th and 17th. The enemy's loss is believed from the best sources of information to be nearly 30,000. Their dead were mostly left upon the field, and a large number of wounded were left behind. While it gives me pleasure to speak of the gallantry and devotion of officers and men generally, displayed throughout this conflict, I feel it

[ocr errors]

necessary to mention that some officers and men skulked from their places in the ranks until after the battle was over. Death on the spot ldust be hereafter the fate of all such cowards, and the hands of the military commanders must be strengthened with all the power of the Government to inflict it summarily. The early and disgraceful surrender of Harper's Ferry deprived my operations of results which would have formed a brilliant sequence to the substantial and gratifying successes already related. Had the garrison held out twenty-four hours longer, I should in all probability have captured that part of the enemy's force engaged in the attack on the Maryland Heights, while the whole garrison, some 12,000 strong, could have been drawn to re-enforce me on the day of the decisive battle— certainly on the morning of the 18th. I would thus have been in a position to have destroyed the rebel army. Under the same circumstances, had the besieging force on the Virginia side at Harper's Ferry not been withdrawn, I would have had 35,000 or 40,000 less men to encounter at the Antietam, and must have captured or destroyed all opposed to me. As it was, I had to engage an army fresh from a recent and to them a great victory, and to reap the disadvantages of their being freshly and plentifully supplied with ammunition and supplies. f #. object and results of this brief campaign may be summed up as 0llows: In the beginning of the month of September the safety of the National Capital was seriously endangered by the presence of a victorious enemy, who soon after crossed into Maryland and then directly threatened Washington and Baltimore, while they occupied the soil of a loyal State and threatened an invasion of Pennsylvania. The army of the Union, inferior in numbers, wearied by long marches, deficient in various supplies, worn out by numerous battles, the last of which had not been successful, first covered by its movements the important cities of Washington and Baltimore, then boldly attacked the victorious enemy in their chosen strong position and drove them back, with all their superiority of numbers, into the State of Virginia, thus saving the loyal States from invasion and rudely dispelling the rebel dreams of carrying the war into our country and subsisting upon our resources. Thirteen guns and thirty-nine colors, more than 15,000 stand of small-arms, and more than 6,000 prisoners were the trophies which attest the success of Our arms. Rendering thanks to Divine Providence for its blessing upon our exertions, I close this brief report. I beg only to add the hope that the army's efforts for the cause in which we are engaged will be deemed worthy to receive the commendation of the Government and the country. I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant, GEO. B. McCLELLAN, Major-General, U. S. Army. Brig. Gen. LoRENzo THOMAs, Adjutant-General, U. S. Army.

[ocr errors]
« 上一頁繼續 »