A very bloody day: Sharpsburg, MY.
On the 17th September 1862 Lee’s Army of North Virginia faced a day long series of assaults to its left, centre and right. It’s assailant was the doubly stronger numerically Union Army of the Potomac, led by Major General George B McClellan.
The battle should have been a Union victory and could have resulted in the Southern army being destroyed with its back to the strong Potomac river. That this did not happen was testament to both the resilient defence put up by Lee’s men and also inferior generalship by McClellan. Luck also played its part, as often happens.
The first assault was by the I Corps and on Lee’s left, commanded by the great Major General Thomas "Stonewall"Jackson. Just when it seemed that his weak line was about to be breached( bear in mind his small Corps had been fighting hard since August 9th), two small Brigades rushed the attackers stopping them dead. The commander of these 2000 Deep South men was a giant of a man and former US Cavalry Lieutenant and West Pointer, Brigadier John Bell Hood. They had been called to arms just as they were about to eat breakfast and were not happy.
The second assault was by the XII Corps, who fumbled its way forward. Its situation was worsened when, early on in the assault, its elderly commander and career soldier for 40 years, Major General Joseph Mansfield, was mortally wounded. Coordination was lost as cohesion and command failure set in.
It was now the turn of the Union II Corps to pick up where the XII Corps had failed. It’s commander was nicknamed “Bull” and was also a long serving Regular and aggressive one. His two Divisions marched in perfect precision, only to be stopped by the Southern Centre, as Lee used his Reserves brilliantly once again. This time a Demi Division led by Brigadier John Walker was sen from the extreme right and arrived just in time.
The balance of the II Corps marched on the much depleted Division of North Carolinian Major General DH Hill. He was defending a sunken farm lane, that earned the name: Bloody Lane. Fighting went on for 3 1/2 hours at this position. DH Hill was reinforced by the Division of South Carolinian Major General RH Anderson, but still lost the Lane. He Union forces were spent though.
All that remained for McClellan do do was send his IX Corps over the Antietam Creek Bridge and flank the whole of Lee’s exhausted army. The side burned commander of IX Corps, a Rhode Island Industrialist and ex West Pointer, Ambrose’s Everett Burnside, only faced minimal opposition now that Lee had weakened his right to save his army on other parts of the field. The Northerners crossed under fire, then needed time to regroup to move on Lee’s centre.
It was then Lee’s last Division fortuitously arrived on the field. The 6 Brigades of Virginian Major General AP Hill’s Division arrived much depleted after a forced march of 17 miles. But they were enough to put paid to any idea of destroying Lee today.
Thinking Lee had more reserves to hand, McClellan held back his largest Corps, the VI.
Lee’s army was allowed to cross into Virginia and safety.
Nearly 25000 men were casualties today, the bloodiest single day in the Civil War.
Thank you. Did spend 5-10 mins going over the details beforehand to ensure I did not make a mistake. Has been a while since I read about it.
Enjoyed writing it.