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of The Middle
Chapter VII. 1861 - 1865 (Part 7)
General D. R. Jones was in command of the division composed of the brigades mentioned, together with General Toombs' brigade of four small Georgia regiments and a Georgia battalion, numbering in all, about 600 men, which together with the other brigades could not have given General Jones an aggregate of over 2,000 men to defend a line fully a mile in extent, and threatened with a column of quite 15,000 of the enemy. General Toombs had been sent to defend a bridge over the Antietam, and to prevent the enemy's crossing at that point. He had with him two small Georgia regiments and some artillery with which he held the bridge for several hours on the 17th, and only withdrew after inflicting heavy loss upon his assailants, and they had found a ford which enabled them to flank his position.
Before daylight on the morning of Wednesday the 17th, the artillery opened rapidly on the Confederate left, and very soon thereafter the crash of small arms began, and the battle on that part of the field raged with intense fury for hours, and rapidly extended towards the Confederate center and right. Near or a little past noon, the 24th Virginia regiment was detached and sent some eight hundred or a thousand yards to and beyond the Confederate right, to keep watch in the direction of some of the fords of the Antietam. A short while after this regiment was detached, the 7th Virginia under Captain Philip Ashby was sent to a point from five hundred to six hundred yards to the right of the position it had been occupying in brigade line, leaving General Kemper with three small regiments, 1st, 11th, and 17th Virginia numbering not exceeding two hundred men. Skirmishers from the brigade had been thrown forward a few hundred yards, and had taken shelter behind a stone fence in part and behind a board fence, at the base of the hill occupied by the brigade. Upon the retirement of the regiments of General Toombs from the bridge, the enemy under the command of General Burnside pushed over the creek, and after some delay deployed in line of battle. The creek was not large and contained but little water, and might have been crossed at any point the enemy might have chosen, except at the bridge defended by General Toombs. They seemed anxious to secure the bridge and they did after several hours bloody battle, and the loss of more than 300 men killed and wounded, and this only after they had flanked the position. About three o'clock, P. M., the columns of General Burnside's 9th Federal army corps, covering its front with a cloud of skirmishers, advanced to the attack. The skirmishers were quickly repelled by those of the Confederates lying behind the fences described. The Federal brigade that first came to the relief of their skirmish line, came near sharing a like fate; and this too from the Confederate skirmish line alone supported by a few pieces of artillery. There quickly came however other battle lines to the help of their friends, which by their very momentum, if nothing else, enabled them to bodily rush over the Confederate skirmish line, but few escaping, and crowning the heights. Their seeming victory was short lived, and was soon turned into a signal repulse and defeat. General Burnside's long sweeping lines advancing up the hill overlapped the right of Kemper's three little regiments by several hundred yards, brushing them away and capturing McIntosh's South Carolina battery before it had fired a shot. Just then General Toombs with his small brigade that moment arrived from the bridge, threw his men on the Federal flank, and together with Kemper's handful, Brayton's, Garnett's and Jenkins' brigade renewed the fight with vigor with the Federal corps. Doubtless overpowering numbers would have soon won but for the good fortune of the Confederates in this unequal contest; General A. P. Hill's division, which had left Harper's Ferry that morning, having marched 17 miles, reached the field of contention at the opportune moment. General Hill took in the situation at a glance, and threw upon the flank of the enemy's column of attack three of his brigades, Archre's, Branch's and Gregg's, and in less than thirty minutes, Burnside's whole corps was in full retreat towards the Antietam.
The 24th Virginia regiment was not engaged, but suffered some loss, however , from the severe shelling to which it was subjected, while the 7th regiment was but slightly engaged, losing some men in killed and wounded. The three small regiments, viz: 1st, 11th and 17th regiments, especially the latter suffered severely in killed and wounded. Company D of the 7th regiment had but 15 men in the action, and lost Isaac Hare, slightly wounded, and John S. Dudley captured on the skirmish line.
General Jones reports the strength of his division in this battle at 2430 men, far too high, and General A. P. Hill reports that he carried into action 2,000 men; making 4430 men, against whom came Burnside's Federal corps of eight brigades of infantry numbering near 15,000 men, with seven batteries of field artillery, besides three companies of cavalry. The loss in Jones' division was 178 killed, 979 wounded, and 272 missing; total 1435. Hill's loss was 63 killed, 283 wounded; total 246. Aggregate loss of Jones' and Hill's divisions 1781; Burnside's loss was 2349. Brigadier General Branch, of Hill's command, was killed and General Gregg wounded. In Jones' division General Toombs was wounded.
In front of Kemper's brigade, and on and over the ground over which it fought, lay 35 men of the 8th Connecticut regiment dead and mortally wounded. The loss in Kemper's brigade was 144. At the close of the contest, the 7th and 24th regiments returned to the brigade, which occupied that night and the next day the same position it had occupied at the beginning of the battle that morning.
The 18th was spent in gathering up and caring for the wounded, burying the dead, Confederate and Federal. That night the Confederates quietly marched away, and crossed to the south side of the Potomac. Kemper's brigade going into bivouac about four miles from the river; a few days thereafter removing to a large spring near Bunker's Hill. Here quite a number of additions were made, not only to the brigade, but to the whole army from the lame, sick, and shoeless men left at Leesburg. The battle of Sharpsburg may be said to have been gratuitous on the part of the Confederates, for they had ample time and opportunity after the fall of Harper's Ferry on Monday morning to have retired to the Virginia side, and there the better prepared to fight a successful battle. During the 15th day of September, General Lee did not have with him art Sharpsburg more than 12,000 men, though by his maneuvering and shifting his men from place to place, he convinced the Federal General that he had a vast army ready for the fight.
The Federal General McClellen in his official report states that he put 87,500 men into the battle of Wednesday; and it is more than doubtful if the Confederate army in this battle exceeded more than 33,000 men. It has been truly said that this was the bloodiest one day's battle of the war; and in none did Southern individuality and self reliance, noted characteristics of the Confederate soldier, shine more brilliantly, or perform a more important part.
After the close of the battle, and on the night of the 18th, the cries of distress of a wounded Connecticut soldier lying in the forty-acre cornfield, were heard by J. M. Norton, a Georgia soldier belonging to Tooms' brigade and he determined to reach and relieve the sufferer, if possible. Taking his canteen filled with water, he crept and crawled to the spot from whence came the cries, and found Mr. B. L. Burr, a badly wounded Federal soldier famishing--dying for water He supplied him with a canteen of water, and then made his way safely back to his regiment. Subsequently, the following poem written by A. W. Burkhardt, which is here inserted, was suggested by the reading of this incident.
"From The Same Canteen."
On Maryland's soil, by Antietam's clear stream,
Two vast armies met there, in stern battle array,
In far-away homes many loved one shall weep,
The wife, so devoted, so loyal and true,
The fair maiden betrothed, and dreaming of bliss,
The bright morning sun will rise in the sky,
Earth quenches it's thirst with the blood of the
Oh, bloody Antietam! Oh, death dealing day!
As line after line, with a firm, steady tread,
The "Bridge" is now taken--though
fearful the loss,
As the smoke of the conflict lifts over the scene
'Twas here, lying helpless, at ebb of the tide,
The day's work was done, and the din of the fight
But alas for the wounded! deserted, alone,
All bleeding he lay, 'mid the dying and dead,
He thought of his home, of his friends far away,
Thus forty long hours, all helpless he lay;
The thirst of the wounded -- not pencil nor pen
For "Water!" -- Oh Water!" -- for
Water the cry --
What a glorious vision his eyes now behold! --
But a picket, a "Johnnie in Gray," it is
But to give the relief, he must creep 'mong the
Soon the Blue and the Gray, whilom enemies, met;
And the angel of mercy looked down from above
Of all the brave deeds, on that battlefield done,
General McClellan's army began crossing the Potomac east of the Blue Ridge and at Harper's Ferry in the last days of October, which impelled General Lee to move to Culpeper, where he concentrated the major part of his army about the first day of November.
While at Culpeper in the early days of November, Pickett's division was organized, and composed of the following Virginia regiments, viz:
And Jenkins' South Carolina brigade. To the division was attached Major James Dearing's battalion of artillery, and Caskey's Stribling's and Latham's batteries.
In the last days of November the division marched from Culpeper over the Orange Plank road to the hills overlooking Fredericksburg, where on the 11th of December it was called to arms to resist the enemy reported as crossing or threatening to cross the Rappahannock. The division stood to arms until early on the morning of the 13th, when it was marched to a position in the Confederate battle line on the right center of Longstreet's corps, where it remained until about 1 o'clock, P. M., when Kemper's and Jenkins' brigades were marched rapidly to the relief of the Confederates holding Mayre's Hill, and who were being sorely pressed. The brigade of Kemper moved forward into the line about dark, taking the place of Cobb's Georgians and Cook's North Carolinians; remaining during the night of the 13th, the day and night of the 14th, engaged for most of the time in brisk skirmishing with the enemy, who decamped and crossed the river on the night of the 14th. The loss in the brigade was 46, of which there were four in the 7th regiment, and seven in the 24th regiment. Lewis N. Wiley of company D, of the 7th was wounded. Another "on to Richmond" movement had been scotched.
The enemy gone and the present danger having passed, the troops retired to their respective camping places on the hills, south of Fredericksburg. The winter was severe, the men were without tents, but few blankets and numbers still without shoes, and not one in a dozen with an overcoat, therefore poorly prepared for the winter blasts. Necessity, however, compels man to resort to almost any expedient to make himself comfortable, and the men erected rude wooden shanties out of timber, placing one end in the ground, and slanting the other forward resting on poles held up by forks or against trees, and the top of the timber or slabs covered with earth to the depth of several inches. In front they built their fires; some rolling away the logs that had been burning during the day, made their bed on the warm ground. Rawhide moccasins were substituted for shoes. The regiments by detachments did picket duty off the river beyond Hamilton's Crossing, while the cavalry watched the fords of the upper Rappahannock.
During that long, dreary, cold winter while in the bivouac amid privation and suffering, not exceeded by that of Washington's army at Valley Forge, the men freely discussed the question touching the war, its conduct, prospects for peace, etc. An ever abiding confidence in the justice of our cause, and the belief in its final triumph, coupled with and backed by invincible, unconquerable spirits ever ready to brave the storm of battle, caused the sufferings and hardships to be treated as trival as compared with the great issue at stake.
On January 20th the men were called from their quarters and marched up the Rappahannock in the direction of Bank's Ford, where it was reported that a portion of the Federal army was threatening to cross. Remaining out one night in the rain, snow and mud, returned to their camps, seeming to have marched up that hill for no other purpose than to march down again.
At an early hour on the morning of Monday, February 16th, in the midst of snow, sleet and storm, Pickett's division took up its line of march heading towards Richmond. The march continued to within about eight miles of that city, when a halt was made and the men rested for a few days, when they again marched, moving through the city to Chester station, on the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad. Here the command remained until about the 1st of March, when it removed to a point about two miles south east of Petersburg, where it remained until March 25th, then was placed aboard a train of cars and proceeded to Weldon, then to Goldsboro, and from thence to Kinston North Carolina. Here the command did some scouting and picketing on the roads leading to Newberne. Leaving Kinston on April 9th it moved by rail by way of Goldsboro to Weldon, and from thence marched to Suffolk, Virginia, reaching there on April 12th, and joining the Confederate forces of General Longstreet, then investing that place. It was from a train of cars on this journey that Manley Reece, of the Mercer company of the 24th Virginia regiment was knocked from the top of the train by an overhead bridge and killed.