||A Sampler of Civil
|The Battle of Antietam
Harper's Weekly, October 4,
|On pages 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 extracts from
the graphic letter of the Tribune correspondent:
The battle began with the dawn. Morning found both armies just as
they had slept, almost close enough to look into each others eyes. The left of
Meades reserves and the right of Ricketts 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. Hookers 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 MDowell, 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
fastfollowed til they came within easy range of the woods, among which they saw
their beaten enemy disappearingfollowed still, with another cheer, and flung
themselves against the cover.
But out of those gloomy woods came suddenly and heavier
terrible volleysvolleys 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 a panic, any further. Closing up their shattered lines, they came slowly awaya
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
troopshad met them and returned them till their line had yielded and gone down
before the weight of fire, and till their ammunition was exhausted.
In ten minutes the fortune of the day seemed to have
changedit 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
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 viewnot 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
Massachusetts, and another regiment which I can not rememberold 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 in nowhere quailed.
Their General was wounded badly early in the fight, but they fought on. Their supports did
not comethey determine 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 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 Hartsuffs 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 Hartsuff 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 struggle, he thus describes the
SUCCESSFUL ATTACK BY FRANKLIN.
At 1 oclock affairs on the right had a gloomy look.
Hookers troops were greatly exhausted, and their General away from the field.
Mansfields were no better. Sumners command had lost heavily, but two of his
division 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. Sumners
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 enemys batteries, which,
if advanced and served vigorously, might have made sad work with the closely-massed
troops, were fortunately either partially disabled or short of ammunition. Sumner was
confident that he could hold 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
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
horses steps too carefully. Pale and bloody faces are every where upturned. They are
sad and terrible, but there is nothing which makes ones heart beat so quickly as the
imploring look of sorely wounded men who beckon wearily for help which you can not stay to
Our main picture represents
BURNSIDE HOLDING THE HILL
This is the Tribune correspondent
At 4 oclock, MClellan sent simultaneous riders
to Burnside 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, 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
* * * * * *
Burnside obeyed the order most gallantly. Getting his
troops well in hand, and sending a portion of his artillery to the front, he advance 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 MClellans 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 hourcould any one be insensible of
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 furthest from the road. His guns opening first from this new position in
front, soon entirely controlled and silenced the enemys 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 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 Burnsides guns and men. He had
formed his columns apparently in the near angles of two fields bordering the
roadhigh ground about them every where except in rear.
In another moment a rebel battle-line appears on the brow
of the ridge above the, 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 the 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 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 sends to
MClellan for help. MClellans glass for the last half-hour has seldom
been turned away from the left.
He sees clearly enough that Burnside is pressedneeds
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 Porters
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 be spared."
MCLELLAN TO THE RESCUE
MClelland remounts his horse, and with Porter and a
dozen officers of his staff rides away to the left in Burnsides direction. Sykes
meets them on the roada 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 to
be written in thoughts and purposes and words of the General.
Burnsides 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." MClellans only answer for the moment is a 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
Millers 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 Burnsides 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 sudden
attack on exhausted forceshow 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 Burnsides
hammered against the enemy, and presently this also ceased, and the field was still.
October 4, 1862
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