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Battle of Antietam
Harper's Weekly Articles

The following is transcribed from Harper's Weekly Journal of Civilization, dated October 4, 1862:

The Battle of Antietam

          The battle began with the dawn. Morning found both armies just as they had slept, almost enough to look into each other's eyes. The left of Meade's reserves and right of Rickett's 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 plowed field, near the top of the slope where the corn-field 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 swayed 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 file. Forward! was the word, and on went the line with a cheer and a rush. Back across the corn-field, leaving dead and wounded behind them, over the fence, and across the the road, and then back again into the dark woods which closed around them, went the retreating rebels.

          Meade and his Pennsylvanians followed hard and fast - followed till they came within easy range of the woods, among which they saw their beaten enemy disappearing - followed still, with another cheer, and flung themselves against the cover.

          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, not 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 from 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 the wight of fire, and till their ammunition was exhausted.

          In ten minutes the fortune of the day seemed to have changed - it was the rebels now who were advancing, pouring out of the woods in endless lines, sweeping through the corn-field 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."

          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 corn-field, passing as they went the fragments of three brigades shattered by the rebel fire, and steaming 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 corn-field 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 them at will with wonderful rapidity and effect. The whole line crown the hill and stood out darkly against the sky, but lighted and shrouded ever in flame and smoke. There were the Twelfth and Thirteenth Massachusetts, and another regiment which I can not remember - old troops all of them.

          There for half an hour they held the ridge, unyielding in purpose, exhaustless in courage. There were gaps in the line, but it nowhere qualified. Their General was wounded badly early in the fight, but they fought on. Their supports did not come - they determined to win 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 wee there to win that field, and they won it. The rebel line for the second time fled though the corn and into the woods. I can not tell how few of Hartsuff's brigade were left when the work was done, but it was done. There was not more gallant, determined, heroic fighting in all this desperate day. General Hartsuff is very severely wounded, but I no not believe he counts his success too dearly purchased.

          After describing the progress of the fight, the wound of Hooker, the command devolving upon Sumner, the advance of Sedgwick, and finally the abandonment of the corn-field after a terrible struggle, he thus describes the

Successful Attack by Franklin

          At 1 o'clock affairs on the right had a gloomy look. Hooker's troops were greatly exhausted, and the General away from the field. Mansfield's wee not better. Sumner's command had lost heavily, but two of his divisions were still comparatively fresh. Artillery was yet playing vigorously in front, thought the ammunition of many of the batteries was entirely exhausted, and they had been compelled to retire.

          Doubleday held the right inflexibly. Sumner's headquarters were not in the narrow field where the night before, Hooker had begun the fight. All that had been gained in from had been lost! The enemy's batteries, which, if advanced and served vigorously, might have made sad work with the closely-massed troops, were fortunately either partially disable or short of ammunition. Sumner was confident that he could hole his own, but another advance was out of the question. The enemy, on the other hand, seemed to be too much exhausted to attack.

          At this crisis Franklin came up with fresh troops and formed on the left. Slocum, commanding one division of the corps, was sent forward along the slopes lying under the first ranges of rebel hills, while Smith, commanding the other division, was ordered to retake the corn-fields and woods which all day had been so hotly contested. It was done in the handsomest style. His Maine and Vermont regiments and the test went forward on the run, and, cheering as they went, swept like an avalanche through the corn-fields, fell upon the woods, cleared them in ten minutes, and held them.They were not again retaken.

          The field and ghastly harvest which the reaper had gathered in those fatal hours remained finally with us. Four times it had been lost and won. The dead are strewn so thickly that as your ride over it you can not guide your horse's steps too carefully. Pale and bloody faces are every where upturned. They are sad and terrible, but there is nothing which makes one's heart beat so quickly as the imploring look of sorely wounded men who beckon wearily for help which you can not stay to give.

Burnside Holding the Hill

This the Tribune correspondent thus describes:

          At 4 o'clock, McClellan sent simultaneous orders to Burnside and Franklin; to the former to advance and carry the batteries in his from at all hazards and any cost; to the latter to carry the woods next in front of him to the right, which the rebels still held. The order to Franklin, however, was practically countermanded, in consequence of a message from General Sumner that if Franklin went on and was repulsed his own corps was not yet sufficiently reorganized to be depended on as a reserve.

          Burnside obeyed the order most gallantly. Getting his troops well in hand, and sending a portion of his artillery to the front, he advanced them with rapidity and the most determined vigor, straight up the hill in front, on top of which the rebels had maintained their most dangerous battery. The movement was in plain view of McClellan's position, and as Franklin on the other side sent his batteries into the field about the same time, the battle seemed to open in all directions with greater activity than ever.

          The fight in the ravine was in full progress, the batteries which Porter supported were firing with new vigor, Franklin was blazing away on the right, and every hilltop, ridge, and woods along the whole line was crested and veiled with white clouds of smoke. All day had been clear and bright since the early cloudy morning, and now this whole magnificent, unequaled scene shone with the splendor of an afternoon September sun. four miles of battle, its glory all visible, its horrors all veiled, the fate of the Republic hanging on the hour - could any one be insensible of its grandeur?

          There are two hills on the left of the road, the farthest the lowest. The rebels have batteries on both. Burnside is ordered to carry the nearest to him, which is the furthest from the road. His guns opening first from this new position in front, soon entirely controlled and silenced the enemy's artillery. The infantry came on at once, moving rapidly and steadily up, long lines, and broad dark masses, being plainly visible without a glass as they moved over the green hill-side.

          The next moment the road in which the rebel battery was planted was canopied with clouds of dust swiftly descending into the valley. Underneath was a tumult of wagons, guns, horses, and men flying at speed down the road. Blue flashes of smoke burst now and then among them, a horse or a man or half dozen went down, and then the whirlwind swept on.

          The hill was carried, but could it be held. The rebel columns, before seen moving to the left, increased their pace. The guns, on the hill above, sent an angry tempest of shell down among Burnside's guns and men. He had formed his columns apparently in the near angles of two fields bordering the road - high ground about them every where except in rear.

          In another moment a rebel battle-line appears on the brow of the ridge above them, moves swiftly down in the most perfect order, and though met by incessant discharges of musketry, of which we plainly see the flashes, does not fire a gun.  White spaces show where men are falling, but they close up instantly, and still the line advances. The brigades of Burnside are in heavy column; they will not give way before a bayonet charge in line. The rebels think twice before they dash into these hostile masses.

          There is a halt; the rebel left gives way and scatters over the field; the rest stand fast and fire. More infantry comes up; Burnside is outnumbered, flanked, compelled to yield the hill he took so bravely. His position is no longer one of attack; he defends himself with unfaltering firmness, but he send to McClellan for help. McClellan's glass for the last half hour has seldom been turned away from the left.

          He sees clearly enough that Burnside is pressed - needs no messenger to tell him that. His face grows darker with anxious thought. Looking down into the valley where 15,000 troops are lying, he turns a half-questioning look on Fitz John Porter, who stands by his side, gravely scanning the field. They are Porter's troops below, are fresh, and only impatient to share in this fight. But Porter slowly shakes his head, and one may believe that the same thought is passing through the minds of both generals: "They are the only reserves of he army; they can not be spared."

McClellan to the Rescue

          McClellan remounts his horse, and with Porter and a dozen officers of his staff rides away to the left in Burnside's direction. Sykes meets them on the road - a good soldier, whose opinion is worth taking. The three Generals talk briefly together. It is easy to see that the moment has come when every thing may turn on one order given or withheld, when the history of the battle is only be written in thoughts and purposes and words of the General.

          Burnside's messenger rides up. His messages is, "I want troops and guns. If you do not send them I can not hold my position for half an hour." McClellan's only answer for the moment is glance at the western sky. Then he turns and speaks very slowly: "Tell General Burnside that this is the battle of the war. He must hold his ground till dark at any cost. I will send him Miller's battery. I can do nothing more. I have no infantry." Then, as messenger was riding away, he called him back, "Tell him if he can no hot his ground, then the bridge, to the last man! - always the bridge! If the bridge is lost all is lost."

          The sun is already down; not half an hour of daylight is left. Till Burnside's message came it had seemed plain to every one that the battle cont be finished to-day. None suspected how near was the peril of defeat, of sudden attack on exhausted forces - how vital to the safety of the army and the nation were those fifteen thousand waiting troops of Fitz John Porter in the hollow. But the rebels halted instead of pushing on; their vindictive cannonade died away as the light faded. Before it was quite dark the battle was over. Only a solitary gun of Burnside's thundered against the enemy, and presently this also ceased, and the field was still.

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