«MAJ. GEN. CHARLES S. HAMILTON HISTORY of THE THIRD REGIMENT of WISCONSIN VETERAN VOLUNTEER INFANTRY 1861 — 1865. BY EDWIN E. BRYANT Late Adjutant. ...»
-101almost double-quick moved down the mountain side. Suddenly McClellan appeared, passing with his staff to the front. As he pushed through the column he was cheered lustily by the men; when he came to the Second Massachusetts and Third Wisconsin there was no cheering or throwing of hats. The men closed up in ranks, marched in step, at carry arms, in true military style, and in that way paid him honors like bred soldiers. The column corps after corps, poured down the mountain road into the Antietam valley.
The occasional booming of cannon in front quickened the pace; and in the late afternoon the brigade was near Keedysville, where it camped. Next morning (Tuesday) at 10 o’clock, the brigade, under Gen. Mansfield, took position on a range of low hills near Antietam creek. “We are going directly into battle,” said Gen. Mansfield, as he passed Col. Ruger. But he was mistaken as to the time. The troops were merely taking their places in the line. The enemy’s batteries from the hills opposite were shelling our lines.
The troops on our side were pouring down from the pass at Turner’s Gap, and taking position. By night, as it was reported, the whole army was up, except Franklin, who was supposed to have marched to the relief of Harper’s Ferry.
The story also came, and there was more truth in it than in camp rumors generally, that Harper’s Ferry had disgracefully surrendered without a struggle.
At about 9 o’clock at night, orders in undertone were given to be ready to move. Soon Gen. Mansfield — the old veteran was full of energy — came to the Third brigade and asked. [sic] “When will you be ready?” “Ready now, sir,” was the reply of the commander. “That’s right,” said he, “but you are the only brigade ready.” Soon the corps was in motion, moved to the northwest, in the darkness and through a field, across Antietam creek, and lay down in a low piece of ground, on the borders of the field of Antietam.
The position taken was near Hoffman’s house, which is about three and one-half miles northeast of Sharpsburg. It was a little less than a mile in rear of Hooker’s corps, which was then well up against the enemy. The rebel line was at this point about one mile from the bivouac of the Twelfth corps.
The men had hardly lain down when a sharp musketry in the front startled them. It proved later to be two parties of rebels who, in moving in the dark, had mistaken each other for Federals.
The tired soldiers slept. Neither the light showers which drenched the bivouac nor the sure prospect of the morrow’s fight disturbed the slumbers that exhausted nature claimed.
At daybreak the fire of skirmishers was the reveille that wakened so many thousands to their last day on earth. Soon the artillery joined its roar.
Gen. Hooker had opened the fight. Soon the crash of his muskets and those of the enemy told that the lines were engaged.
Gordon’s brigade, in fact the corps, formed in close column of
-102companies, moved forward a short distance to the right, and sat down under orders to await events. Then came an order to move. Forward toward the battle the corps went, bearing a little to the right. Then it was halted and some of the hungry men began preparations for coffee. Presently orders came.
Hooker had pushed the enemy back, but he was meeting stronger opposition.
His corps was thinning. Gibbons’ brigade had been in and suffered terribly, [sic] Others has been decimated on our side. The wounded streamed back — some but slightly wounded, others limping along using their guns for crutches. They stopped to tell the men of Gordon how they were driving the “Johnnies” in front. Stretcher-bearers were carrying the severely wounded to the field hospitals at the rear, down in a valley behind the line. Ammunition wagons dashed to the rear. Then a dismounted cannon was dragged back for repairs. Then a lull in the musketry, a renewed roar of cannon, loud cheers from Hooker’s men; and this told that our side had the best of the opening. Presently a new uproar. The enemy had been reinforced on their left and were strengthening the line that Hooker had forced back in his spirited attack.
And here let us glance briefly at the positions, ground, and general features of the battlefield. While nothing like a general or full description of this great battle can here be given, enough must be explained to show the part borne by our command, which is all that can here be told.
The little village of Sharpsburg, Maryland, lies 15 miles north of Harper’s Ferry, and about one mile east of the Potomac. Two and a half miles north of the village, the Potomac makes a large bend to the east for a mile, then turning sharply flows to the west and then south in a zigzag course until it has passed a mile south of Sharpsburg. Then it bears to the east. The Antietam creek, a deep, sluggish stream, flows south, passing Sharpsburg on the east side about half a mile and empties into the Potomac about three miles south of Sharpsburg. The depth of this stream, the nature of its banks, and the high grounds which commanded it on the Sharpsburg side, made the passage of the stream on the east and southern sides of the village very difficult. In fact, fording was not practicable. The position was an excellent one for defense.
Lee, finding that he must take battle on Maryland soil, selected this position to receive the assault. He rested his right on the high grounds south of Sharpsburg, facing to the east. His left extended up the western bank of the Antietam, thence northerly on the west side along the Hagerstown turnpike, which runs due north from Sharpsburg, and his extreme left rested on the Potomac at the eastern bend north of the village. Thus he was protected from direct assault on his right and center. His left center, running north, found good defensive positions in a sunken road and in outcropping ledges of rock, behind which his men could stand unexposed while sweeping their front with a deadly fire. He had placed his troops, Longstreet on the right with his
-103artillery planted so as to command the bridges which crossed the Antietam on the roads leading in from the east and southeast, Hill in the center, and Jackson on his left. In approaching the enemy McClellan had been obliged to attack on the left. Hooker had crossed the Antietam at one of the northern bridges, which had been left undefended, and formed his line in front of Jackson, and Mansfield had followed, as has been told above.
About a mile and a half north of Sharpsburg on the west side of the Hagerstown pike is the Dunker (or Dunkard) church. To the west and a few rods107 behind it is a piece of open woods which extend north to the westward of the turnpike and out-cropping ledges of rock in these woods form most excellent breastworks. North of the Dunker church was a large open field, east of the turnpike about 200 roads [sic] north and south, and 150 rods wide, though oval shaped. `In this clearing, a part of which was a large cornfield, the battle was to rage most fiercely. On the east of this field were other woods, called in most descriptions of this battle “the East Woods.” The Confederates in their first position had run their line through the East woods, taking advantage of a zigzag sunken road to shelter a part of their lines from fire. They were eastward and southeast of the Dunker church.
Returning now to Hooker on the right of our line: He had forced the enemy on their left out of the north end of the east woods and back into the west woods northward of the Dunker church. He followed up his success too closely. Jackson threw in Lawton’s division to resist him; and from their safe position behind the ledges they poured in a murderous fire. Hooker’s advance already much weakened by its terrible losses began to waver. Lawton, seeing this, advanced his division and that of Starke, and assuming the offensive, pushed his men out into the cornfield to retake the places from which they had been crowded by Hooker’s onset. The Federals began to give away.
“Tell Mansfield to send up a division,” was Hooker’s order to an aid. The old hero hastened to obey. Williams’ division immediately moved forward at double-quick. The old man rode from regiment to regiment cheering the men by his brave words and example. “Boys,” said he, “we are going to lick them to-day.” The nearing sounds of musketry told that the Confederates were advancing. Crawford’s brigade was put in on the right, Williams’ division reached high ground and deployed. Gordon’s brigade was thrown into line, after passing through the northerly part of the east woods. The Third Wisconsin deployed as calmly as in battalion drill at the edge of the field, and
to the northeast of the Dunker Church. The formation of the brigade line was:
on the right the Second Massachusetts, in the center the Third Wisconsin, on ED. NOTE: A rod is a linear measurement equal to 5.5 yards, 16.5 feet, or 5.03 meters.
200 rods is 3,300 feet or five-eighths of a mile; 150 rods is 2,475 feet or just under one-half mile.
The original text has an error of using “roads” when “rods” was meant, hence the [sic} following.
-104the left the Twenty-seventh Indiana, down towards some burned buildings.
The One Hundred and Seventh New York Gordon put in reserve at the edge of the woods on the left, which Hooker said must be held at all hazards. The Thirteenth New Jersey were at first held in reserve a little in rear of the front line.
As the Third Wisconsin formed its line the field of battle was opened before it. Far to the left our lines could be seen. The right view was obstructed by the buildings of Miller’s house and the orchard trees. In front, about one hundred yards and on the right of the regiment, was Battery B, Fourth United States artillery, with twelve-pounder brass guns, which had evidently been in action for some time. Their horses were killed or crippled and many of their men had been killed or wounded; and the Confederate sharpshooters were making serious havoc with them. In front of the Third on the left of the battery were the remnants of a brigade, still stubbornly contesting the advance of Lawton’s and Starke’s Confederate divisions. As soon as Gordon’s brigade completed its deployment it moved forward as far as the battery. The gunners, thus supported, opened with a will upon the advancing Confederates.
While this deployment was going on the brave old Mansfield, as full of ardor as any young man, rode forward to reconnoiter the position, and fair mark as he sat his horse in open view, he fell mortally wounded.108 General Williams at once assumed command of the corps. The Third Wisconsin had to wait a minute or two before it could open fire to let the front be cleared.of the little parties that still fought the rebel advance through the cornfield. When they had fallen back and passed to Gordon’s left, the fire opened with a will.
The enemy were moving diagonally across the front and the fire of Gordon’s brigade told terribly. The rebel line broke and fled to the west woods; but before they broke another line advanced squarely to the front of Gordon.109 And now the battle raged. The Third Wisconsin was in a very exposed position and its lines thinned rapidly. It stood on higher ground than the Confederate, “the sky behind it,” in good musket range and close line — a good target. But its fire was delivered rapidly and with good effect. A winrow [sic?] of cartridge papers for months afterwards indicated plainly its position and the steadiness with which it stood in line. It drew the fire of the enemy from its conspicuous position more completely than did the Second ED. NOTE: Hit in the stomach by rifle fire, Mansfield was taken to a field hospital, where he died 18 September 1862. He was promoted posthumously to Major General on 12 March 1863, with a date of rank of 18 July 1862.
These were the troops of Hood’s division. Lee, perceiving that his left was hard pressed, and that if that ground was lost all was lost, had stripped his center to reinforce this part of the line.
Hood came in against Williams and Hill was sent against part of Green’s division on Williams’ left.
-105Massachusetts. About seventy-five yards in front was a rail fence, and beyond that the memorable cornfield, that day harvested with bullets and canister, and drenched with blood. On the Confederates came, their line overlapping Gordon’s brigade on its left. The batteries poured in canister, infantry rained bullets upon them, and their line melted rapidly, but was determined not to flinch. A part of this line reached the fence, and began firing. From the higher ground where the Third stood could be seen a steady stream of their wounded, limping, crawling or being helped to the rear. But the Third was suffering severely too; and the other regiments of our brigade -the whole division and corps as well — were hotly engaged. Here, as Gen.
Hood says in his report, was “a most terribly clash of arms.” The regiments of Confederates in front of the Third and Twenty-seventh Indiana were now lying down and pouring a destructive fire into them. Colonel Ruger suggested to Col. Andrews, of the Second Massachusetts, that he enfilade them. The Second had moved forward into an orchard about seventy-five yards in advance of the other regiments, and formed his line so that his left was perpendicular and his right was parallel to our regiment. The left of his regiment, by a slight change of position, was enabled to give a cross fire across the front of the Third and Twenty-Seventh. These volleys, added to the front fire, were so deadly that the enemy broke and fled to the “west woods,” north of the Dunker church.
As they disappeared110 in the woods Gen. Hooker rode up, the blood dripping from his foot, and ordered the regiments of our brigade to fix bayonets and pursue. With a hurrah the remnants that were left of the Third Wisconsin and the Twenty-seventh Indiana started on this charge.