Lou's Place in Cyberspace



Chapter IV


As morning broke on Wednesday, September l7th, the sound of musket fire grew more intense, rousing the sleeping men. As the sun dispersed the mists, the firing became more and more severe. While the men of the 13th Regiment went about their morning camp duties, the skirmishers of General Mead’s division, Hooker's lst Corps began their advance. They soon found the enemy in the morning light. Union artillery began thundering from the batteries of the western side of Antietam Creek. Hooker's Corps had been put into motion.

By 6 a.m. the men of the 13th were busy making fires to prepare coffee and the ration of fresh beef just issued that morning. Before the coffee could boil the call came to "fall in thirteenth". The battle they had long anticipated was now at hand. The sound of cannon now caused fear, though when heard on the march and when in the distance, it would cause the men to cheer and eagerly move towards it.

Near 7 a.m. General Gordon, the Brigade Commander, came in person to order the 13th Regiment to the front. The Regiment with the Brigade then moved southward, parallel with the Smoketown Road towards the sound of the fighting. General Gordon then deployed the veteran 2nd Massachusetts, 3rd Wisconsin, and the 27th Indiana westerly to his right, towards a group of farm buildings known as the D. R. Miller farm. (See Map 1.)

It was around the Miller farm buildings where Hooker first initiated the attack, coming out of the woods north of this farm, in the early morning. Hooker had begun pushing forces of "Stonewall" Jackson's command out from this area and out of the cornfields just south of the Miller farm buildings.

These 40-acre cornfields situated south of the Miller farm buildings and east of the Haggerstown Pike were the cornfields of D. R. Miller, which were made famous by this battle at Antietam. The enemy was being pushed back towards a group of woods on the westerly side of the Haggerstown Pike, a road that ran along the westerly edge of the cornfields. The Haggerstown Pike was a main road running north and south between the towns of Sharpsburg and Haggerstown.

In the woods, which skirted the western side of the Pike, called for reference the West woods, the Confederates held a strong position and was their staging area for units coming in from Harper's Ferry to aid in the battle.

After deploying the previously mentioned regiments, General Gordon then deployed the 107th N. Y. into a patch of woods on his left as reserves. As the 13th N. J. approached, General Gordon, as ordered by General Alpheus Williams, directed the regiment into the edge of the woods north of Miller's farm. In the rear of his line and almost opposite the 107th N. Y., the 13th N. J. and the 107th N. Y. were now held as reserves.

Mansfield's 12th Corps, of which the 13th Regiment was a part, was now under the command of General A. S. Williams. General Mansfield had been mortally wounded near the edge of the East Woods while examining the ground prior to deploying his troops. The 13th remained in this position for almost an hour while Hooker's lst Corps and Mansfield's 12th Corps battled to take possession of the fields in front and group of woods on the eastern edge of the cornfields, known as the “East Woods”. While this action was taking place Hooker's troops were still trying to gain possession of the other group of woods, the “West Woods”, opposite the Pike. They were being repulsed and began moving in retreat towards the East woods, once again moving across the cornfields.

The tide of battle had reversed and both Hooker's and Mansfield's Corps (now under Williams) began to move back from their advanced positions near the Pike and the West Woods and into the Union held East Woods.

About this time General Sedgwick's 2nd division of General Sumner's 2nd Corps began moving through the East Woods and out onto the fields on the western edge of the woods.  General Sumner himself was leading Sedgwick's men. Once on the field they formed by division parallel with the Haggerstown Pike. Sedgwick was coming as support for Hooker's and Mansfield's Corps but did not know these Corps had been so completely routed and cut up.

Sumner moved across the fields in a grand display, almost as if on parade. They presented a gallant and inspiring sight as they marched across the cornfields. The shattered remains of Hooker's and Mansfield's Corps were now moving off the fields and into the East Woods behind Union artillery. (See Map 2)

About 9:30 a.m. Captain Wheaton came from General Gordon and ordered the 13th Regiment forward into the western edge of the East Woods facing the fields before them. Once in position they were ordered as a support for one of the batteries on the edge of the woods. This may have been Bruen's battery, which was known to have fought in this area.

The battery was engaged in an artillery duel with the enemy guns. Shot and shell were screeching through the trees tearing limbs and shearing off the treetops.

Exploding shells rained down fragments. As the Regiment formed in line in the woods they were ordered to lie down. This was the first time the Regiment came under artillery fire. Just after the order was given to lie down, a regiment of "Boston Men of the Irish Brigade”(7) came charging over them on the double quick. They then ran out onto the fields going in a southerly direction. These may have been men of Meagher's 29th Massachusetts going into position south of the East Woods. The 29th Massachusetts was a part of General Richardson's Division of Sumner's Corps. They were supposed to have been a support for Sedgwick's right when he made his advance from the East Woods earlier. For some reason, possibly due to his waiting for his reserves to come up, Richardson was late getting on the field.

Whatever the reason for his delay, the 29th Massachusetts was observed as they were moved through the East Woods by members of Company D of the 13th. Up to this point the 13th had not yet fired a shot.

At 10 a.m. General Gordon ordered the 13th out of the western edge of the woods and into line of battle in preparation for an advance. The veteran 2nd Massachusetts, which saw action earlier, was formed on the left of the 13th N. J. Regiment. The 3rd Wisconsin and the 27th Indiana, which had suffered severely earlier now lay about two hundred yards in front and were concealed from enemy view by a ridge on the field. The 2nd Massachusetts and the 13th New Jersey were then ordered forward, moving diagonally across a decimated cornfield. See Map 3) This was the first time the 13th had been moved onto a field of battle.

The sights the men witnessed shocked them as they moved past hundreds of dead and wounded. Captain Hard of Company A would long remember moving past "That poor fellow with both his legs shot off screaming in his agony for his mother as he lying besides a tree". (8) These were moments the men of the Regiment would never forget.

Moving out of the cornfields on the southern boundary they reached open ground where the Regiment was then called to a halt. Colonel Carman and Lieutenant Scott then perfected their ragged alignment. Being under fire for the first time caused the 13th to waver, drift, and close in the chaos of the battlefield.

At the moment their alignment was being corrected General Hooker, who was trying to rally and re-deploy his forces of the lst Corps, was shot through the left foot. In his pain and excitement Hooker shouted to his aide: "There is a regiment, order it forward. Mansfield's Corps is coming up, tell him to carry the woods and hold them and it is our fight" (9)  Hooker's aide relayed this urgent message to General Gordon.

Gordon then faced the 13th obliquely and moved them westerly towards the West Woods lying on their front, beyond the Haggerstown Pike.

As the Regiment approached the Pike they could see it was bordered on both sides by a stiff post and rail fence about five feet high. As the Regiment came up against the fence the men began to climb over it. They were now some five hundred yards north of the Dunker Church and on the Haggerstown Pike. (See Map 3)

The troops jumped onto the road and moved across it forming against the fence rails on the opposite side. The right wing of the 13th Regiment, including Captain Hugh C. Irish and his men of Company K, began to climb over the second fence. Suddenly, a tremendous fire poured out of the West Woods. The enemy was concealed among the trees and rock ledges beyond a field and farm lane on the westerly side of the Pike. Those men "fool enough" to cross the second fence had drawn the enemy's fire and had received the brunt of it.

Captain Irish was instantly killed with sword‑in‑hand while leading his men over the fence. Isaac Crawford of Company "F" was the first man to go down wounded. (See photos 1 & 2)

The 13th Regiment began to return the enemy's fire, while formed on the road. They were somewhat protected by the fence rails which were literally riddled and splintered from the fierce Confederate fire. Many of the enemy's bullets passed between the fence rails finding their targets. The 13th held its' position gallantly, considering many of these men were almost ignorant of how to load their rifles. These new recruits were now contending with veterans of Jackson's command.

In the heat of the action several line officers began shouting for a cease-fire, while others called for a continuation. It was total pandemonium. Several officers had thought the Regiment was firing on Union forces still in the West Woods. Just then, the enemy advanced out of the woods. Many of the enemy was wearing Union caps, jackets, and pants taken from the Harpers Ferry arsenal. There was soon no doubt, as they advanced out of the West Woods, as to their loyalties. In a moment the 13th's lines began to dissolve.

The men poured over the easterly fence in a panic, scrambling across the cornfields towards the shelter of the East Woods.

Company "D" was on the left‑end of the Regiment's line as they began moving back from the Haggerstown Pike. As the Company crossed the cornfield, moving towards the East Woods, Colonel Colgrove of the 27th Indiana who shouted, “Come this way you Jersey Blue Hen’s Chickens”, rallied them. The 27th had been on the field since their advance earlier and were now fighting from behind a swell or ridge in the roll of land. Company D rallied and began fighting with the 27th Indiana. After a short time, Captain Beardsley withdrew the Company and joined the remainder of the regiment, now posted in the East Woods. This movement of the 13th Regiment to the rear occurred near 10:30 AM.

This had been the Regiments baptism by fire and the men were dazed, shocked, scattered and confused. George and Henry Harrison located each other when in the East Woods and both were greatly relieved to have survived this first brutal encounter. They thought the worst was over.

Soon the enemy lines were advancing across the fields, skirmishers to the front, and the main body of troops in the rear. It was now a Confederate advance to try and push the Union troops from their position held in the East Woods. As the enemy moved into range Union artillery opened with canister. The southern men fell in ranks cut down by the carefully aimed cannon. The effect was devastating.

Doctor J. H. Love, Surgeon to the 13th Regiment, recalled how  "our batteries opened with canister at short range. When the smoke lifted not a single soldier was to be seen. Apparently the whole brigade had been annihilated. Some must have escaped but the ground was absolutely covered with a ghastly line of rebel dead. It was a remembrance no time or change can dim." (11)

Orders were then given for the 13th Regiment to form once again as a support for a battery on the western edge of the woods.

The 107th N. Y. was sent as support for Cothran's battery. They were in an advanced position on the left front, in the direction of the Dunker Church.

Just after deploying the 107th, General Gordon received an urgent call for reinforcements from General Green. Green had gained a salient position on the extreme left front, on the rise of ground around the Dunker Church and in the West Woods just north of the church. The fighting in this area was very severe as Sedgwick's men were attempting to take control of the West Woods. Green was determined to hold his position near the church, even though Sedgwick's men were now retreating from this position.

The Federals had made their furthest advance into the West Woods and out near its western edge but they were severely battered and could not hold their position. Sumner had marched Sedgwick's men into what has often been described as an ambush. They had no choice but to retreat.

The only troops immediately available for Gordon to send to Green's aid were the 13th N. J. but Gordon was somewhat hesitant to send this new Regiment into battle a second time. Gordon galloped over to the 13th Regiment, which was closest to him being on his right rear. As Gordon approached the Regiment he could see the demoralized appearance of the new troops. Their first encounter had shocked them and their dejection was obvious.

When Gordon approached Colonel Carman he suggested the Colonel tell his boys "the enemy was licked" and to have them give three cheers. Colonel Carman then took off his hat and waved it in the air testing the Generals´┐Ż advice. The men responded with three rousing cheers "which ran like an electric spark through the whole command".  The Regiment was then ordered towards General Green's support with General Green leading them personally. The Regiment moved southwesterly across the fields, crossing the Pike and moving into the West Woods just north of the Dunker Church. The 13th Regiment was to meet the enemy for a second time, but now as veterans.

The 27th Indiana was sent a short time later into this same area. As the 13th Regiment moved into the West Woods, Company D was posted on the extreme right of the Regiment. As they moved into position they saw the terrible cost of the earlier attempt by Sumner and Sedgwick's divisions to carry that same position. The Regiment then came under a severe fire, at which point they were ordered to fire at will. Almost an hour passed in this position. The air was thick with lead and smoke. The smoke lingered in the woods making it nearly impossible for the men to see what they were shooting at. The 13th then formed into a huge semi-circle and began pushing down into a ravine near the western edge of the woods. They seemed to be driving the enemy out of the woods. (See photo 4)

Suddenly, the enemy fire let up, and then ceased altogether. Union officers then called a cease-fire to determine what had happened. The men of the Regiment lowered their arms awaiting further orders.

As the smoke lifted a large body of Confederate troops began moving up the ravine directly in front of Company D. As the enemy approached they "acted" as if they were going to surrender. They appeared unarmed having their rifles at a trail. The Confederates further indicated surrender by "marching up the ravine and grounding arms as if in a token of surrender". (13)

Adjutant Hopkins and Captain Beardsley of Company D moved towards the enemy line to ascertain if they were indeed about to surrender.

As these events were taking place the men in Company D noticed some of the enemy moving around to their right under the cover of the woods.

By this time those enemy troops on the right side moving past Company D's right, had formed across the flank of the command. It seemed to some members of the Company that the enemy was attempting to get at their rear. It was all happening very quickly. When officers Beardsley and Hopkins were about halfway to the Confederate line, the Confederates stooped and grabbed up their weapons. Instantly a murderous fire tore through the ranks.

The "surrender" had been a trick. Before the Regiment could raise their rifles many were struck down. It seemed a miracle Beardsley and Hopkins escaped unhurt.

Meanwhile, the enemy on the right had carried their point and now flanked Company D, catching‑them in a terrific crossfire. Company D was swung around to face the enemy but it was too late. Concealed artillery then opened up with canister raking the Regiment. Shots missing their lower targets hit those trying to move to the rear and up the ravine. It was another "ambush" similar to what Sumner's men had experienced just prior to this advance and almost in the same location.

The firing was so intense at this point many of the Unions weapons fouled and jammed. Some men were ramming their rifles against tree trunks to force the charge down the barrel. It soon became a matter of saving themselves. Near 11:30 a.m. the Regiment began its retreat out of the West Woods and across the fields skirting the Haggerstown Pike. As the men approached what remained of the post and rail fence they had to quickly decide whether to scale the fence, offering a tempting target, or to make a dash for the gaps where the fence had been blown away by earlier fighting. Losing the race to the gaps could mean death or capture, as the enemy was close in pursuit.

As Private James Smith of Company D approached the Pike he decided to risk going over the top of the fence rather than try for a gap. As he came up to the fence he threw his musket over onto the road and started to follow it. As he slid over the top his haversack engaged on a large splinter of wood. Smith quickly wiggled his head out of the straps and dropped down onto the road unhurt. His haversack with his morning ration of fresh beef remained impaled on the top of the fence. After the second retreat the men of the 13th Regiment were scattered all over the fields. It took quite a while to rally them after this second fierce encounter with the enemy. The battle seemed too terrible an event to be happening on such a perfect day.

When Henry Harrison reached the safety of the East Woods he began looking for his cousin George. Henry had been wounded slightly in the arm but remained with his Company. Henry soon realized George was not with the Regiment in the woods. Henry hoped George would straggle in later on, hoping he was lost in the confusion of the battle.

As Henry waited in the woods he heard the early casualty reports for the Regiment. There were seven known dead, seventy wounded, and twenty-five missing. George Harrison was listed among the missing. Official reports after the battles were revised to nine killed, sixty wounded, and twenty-one missing.

Later in the afternoon the 13th was ordered again as a support for a battery on the edge of the East Woods and by mid‑afternoon the fighting all but ceased on that sector of the battlefield. During the remainder of the battle the 13th was repositioned twice more but saw no further action.

Near midnight the Regiment was posted in the immediate front in the fields within firing distance of the enemy. As Henry Harrison settled down to sleep he wondered about George Harrison's fate. With a sad admission he accepted the fact George was either captured, wounded and still out on the field, or dead. Henry fell asleep considering the prospects of the morrows expected battle.