Harper's Weekly 10/04/1862
THE BATTLE OF ANTIETAM.
Onpages 632 and 633 we publish illustrations
of the great Battle of Antietam, which was
fought on 17th September. We subjoin, by way
of explanation to the pictures, the following ex-
tracts from the graphic letter of the Tribune cor-
The battle began with the dawn. Morning found both
armies just as they had slept, almost close enough to look
into each other's eyes. The left of Meade's reserves and
the right of Ricketts'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 for-
ward 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
every where 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
M`Dowell, 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
fire, 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
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 heavi-
ly 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, nor in panic, any further. Closing up their shat-
tered 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 weight of fire, and till their ammunition
In ten minutes the fortune of the day seemed to have
changed—it was the rebels now who were advancing, pour-
ing 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 streaming 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 crowned the hill and stood out darkly
against the sky, but lighted and shrouded ever in flame
and smoke. There were the Twelfth and Thirteenth Mas-
sachusetts, and another regiment which I can not remem-
ber—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 quailed. 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 ammuni-
tion was nearly gone; they were there to win that field,
and they won it. The rebel line for the second time fled
through 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 no more gallant, determined,
heroic fighting in all this desperate day. General Hart-
suff is very severely wounded, but I do not believe he
counts his success too dearly purchased.
After describing the progress of the fight, the
wounding of Hooker, the command devolving upon
Sumner, the advance of Sedgwick, and finally the
abandonment of the corn-field after a terrible strug-
gle, he thus describes the
SUCCESSFUL ATTACK BY FRANKLIN.
At 1 o'clock affairs on the right has a gloomy look.
Hooker's troops were greatly exhausted, and their General
away from the field. Mansfield's were no better. Sum-
ner's command had lost heavily, but two of his divisions
were still comparatively fresh. Artillery was yet playing
vigorously in front, though the ammunition of many of
the batteries was entirely exhausted, and they had been
compelled to retire.
Doubleday held the right inflexibly. Sumner's head-
quarters were now in the narrow field where, the night
before, Hooker had begun the fight. All that had been
gained in front had been lost! The enemy's batteries,
which, if advanced and served vigorously, might have
made sad work with the closely-massed troops, were for-
tunately either partially disabled or short of ammunition.
Sumner was confident that he could hold his own, but an-
other advance was out of the question. The enemy, on
the other hand, seemed to be too much exhausted to at-
At this crisis Franklin came up with fresh croops 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 rest 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 its 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 you 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.
Our main picture represents
BURNSIDE HOLDING THE HILL.
This the Tribune correspondent thus describes:
At 4 o'clock, M`Clellan sent simultaneous orders to Burn-
side and Franklin; to the former to advance and carry the
batteries in his front 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, how-
ever, 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 M`Clellan's
position, and as Franklin on the other side sent his bat-
teries 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 bat-
teries which Porter supported were firing with new vigor,
Franklin was blazing away on the right, and every hill-
top, 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 furthest
the lowest. The rebels have batteries on both. Burnside
is ordered to carry the nearest to him, which is the fur-
thest 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 dark 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 de-
scending 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 dis-
charges 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 ad-
vances. 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
There is a halt; the rebel left gives way and scatters
over the field; the rest stand fast and fire. More infan-
try comes up; Burnside is outnumbered, flanked, com-
pelled to yield the hill he took so bravely. His position is
no longer one of attack; he defends himself with unfalter-
ing firmness, but he sends to M`Clellan for help. M`Clel-
lan'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 the army; they can not
M`CLELLAN TO THE RESCUE.
M`Clellan remounts his horse, and with Porter and a
dozen officers of his staff rides away to the left in Burn-
side's direction. Sykes meets them on the road—a good
soldier, whose opinion is worth taking. The three Gener-
als talk briefly together. It is easy to see that the mo-
ment has come when every thing may turn on one order
given or withheld, when the history of the battle is only
to be written in thoughts and purposes and words of the
Burnside's messenger rides up. His message is, “I
want troops and guns. If you do not send them I can not
hold my position for half an hour.” M`Clellan's only an-
swer for the moment is a glance at the western sky. Then
he turns and speaks very slowly: “Tell General Burn-
side 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 the messenger was riding away, he called him
back, “Tell him if he can not hold 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 could not be finished to-day.
None suspected how near was the peril of defeat, of sud-
den attack on exhausted forces—how vital to the safety of
the army and the nation were those fifteen thousand wait-
ing troops of Fitz John Porter in the hollow. But the
rebels halted instead of pushing on; their vindictive can-
nonade died away as the light faded. Before it was quite
dark the battle was over. Only a solitary gun of Burn-
side's shuddered against the enemy, and presently this
also ceased, and the field was still.