Confederate Colonel Stephen Dill Lee had command of one of General Longstreet's two battalions of Corps Artillery, and was in the thick of the fighting both for the Cornfield and West Woods in the morning, in support of D. H. Hill's Sunken Road line at midday, and on the Confederate Right near Sharpsburg in the late afternoon. He later characterized the Battle of Antietam as "Artillery Hell" because of the frightful toll on his gunners and horses from Federal counterbattery and infantry fire.
By the early morning of September 17th, Col Lee had deployed his batteries on the high ground just south and east of the Dunker church (see Overview map) in anticipation of the Federal attack down the Hagerstown Pike toward the Confederate left flank. The following are his words from the official after-action report ...
Maj. G. MOXLEY SORREL,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Right Wing.
MAJOR: I have the honor to render the following report of the part taken by the battalion of artillery under my orders in the battle of Sharpsburg:
The battalion crossed the Antietam about 8 a.m. September 15, and, in obedience to orders from General Longstreet, with the exception of Eubank's battery, took position on the bluffs to the left of the pike, facing the Antietam. Eubank's battery, in compliance with a written order of General Longstreet, held by the adjutant-general of Toombs' brigade, was sent to report to General Toombs, at the lower bridge, and remained with his brigade until the army recrossed the Potomac. Nothing of interest occurred during the morning.
About 1 p.m. the infantry of the enemy made its appearance across the creek, and was fired on by my long-range guns, causing them to move back. The enemy soon brought up several long-range batteries, with which they opened on our guns whenever they fired on their infantry. Nothing resulted from this firing except to make their infantry change position. The guns engaged were two rifled pieces of Parker's battery, two of Rhett's battery, under Lieutenant [William] Elliott, and one of Jordan's battery, under Lieutenant [C. A.] Bower. They were exposed to a hot fire; several men slightly wounded and several horses disabled. During the night the battalion, excepting Moody's battery, shifted farther to the left of our line, taking a sheltered position on the Sharpsburg and Hagerstown pike, in front of a church.
Remained during the day, the enemy making no offensive demonstration until near sundown. Since early in the morning they appeared engaged in massing their troops opposite our left, and toward evening endeavored to get into position to turn our left, bringing on quite a severe skirmish. Two howitzers of Rhett's battery took part in the skirmish, but it soon became too dark to continue the firing. It was now evident that the enemy would attack us in force on our left at daylight, compelling us to change our hue and give him an opportunity to use his long-range batteries across the Antietam, enfilading our new position.
The action commenced about 3 a.m. on the morning of the 17th, between the skirmishers. Woolfolk's, Parker's, and Rhett's batteries were placed in position in front of the church, on the right of the Sharpsburg and Hagerstown pike, and opened on the enemy at daylight. These batteries were compelled to fire over our infantry, but fired with effect. A continuous fire was kept up until about 8.15 a.m., when the enemy gave way and our firing ceased as our infantry followed in pursuit. The batteries above mentioned while engaged were exposed to an enfilade fire of about twenty rifled guns from across the Antietam, two batteries in their front, and the fire of the infantry of the enemy, most of the time about 500 yards distant. They suffered very heavily and had exhausted most of their ammunition.
I should have mentioned that two guns of Jordan's battery, under Lieutenant Bower, were sent to an advance position under Capt. John S. Taylor, but had to retire, owing to their exposed position and the fire of several batteries against them.
About this time I ordered Rhett's battery to the rear for ammunition, and Parker's and Woolfolk's batteries to move slightly to the rear to refit, many horses and men being killed. They could only move the pieces by leaving portions of the caissons, so many of the horses had been disabled.
About this time, 9 a.m., Moody's battery, which had been engaged near the center of our line, arrived and reported, and I placed it in position on the ground previously occupied by Parker's battery. General Hood's division, which followed the enemy when he gave way, not being supported, was compelled to fall back before their overwhelming numbers. The enemy having gained his rear, and occupying a position almost between his retiring troops and Moody's battery, his troops fell back so sullenly, and were so near to the enemy, that it was impossible to use the battery. This being the case, I advanced two guns of Moody's battery some 300 yards into a plowed field, where I could use them. They remained in this position and did good service for about fifteen minutes, under Captain Moody and Lieutenant [John B.] Gorey. This section was exposed to a most galling infantry fire, and retained its position until the infantry on its right and left retired, when I ordered it to the rear. The gallant Lieutenant Gorey was killed, being shot in the head by a Minie-ball as he was sighting his piece for its last discharge. The section with which he was serving was not his own, but, seeing it was going to an exposed position, he asked permission to accompany it. A more gallant officer was not in our service.
Our troops having to fall back rapidly, my guns were, by direction of Maj. Gen. D. H. Hill, retired to the ridge of hills across the Sharpsburg and Hagerstown turnpike, and between the church and Sharpsburg, and fired for a short time.
General McLaws' division arriving at this time, and, going into action, I moved the battalion about a mile from the field, to refit. It was now about 10 a.m.
About 3 p.m., the batteries having refitted and replenished with ammunition, I again moved to the front with twelve guns, all that could be manned, and received orders from one of General Longstreet's aides to take position in front of the village of Sharpsburg, to the right and left of the turnpike, relieving Colonel Walton, of the Washington Artillery, of New Orleans. Four of Moody's guns were placed on the right of the village; two of Parker's and two of Jordan's were placed at the left; Rhett's two pieces were placed on a ridge to the left of the village, on the Sharpsburg and Hagerstown pike. These guns, in their respective positions, did good service. Those in front of the village were exposed to a heavy fire of artillery and infantry, the sharpshooters of the enemy being within 200 yards of them during the entire evening. The guns of Moody's battery, in connection with Squires' battery, of the Washington Artillery, of New Orleans, repelled some six or eight attempts of the infantry of the enemy to take our position. At one time their infantry was within 150 yards of our batteries, when, by a charge of our supporting infantry, they were driven back. Two guns of Moody's battery, with Garnett's brigade, drove the enemy from the ridge to the left of the village after they had taken the ridge from our troops. The guns retained their position in front of the village till our troops were driven into the village on the right, when, by direction of General Garnett, they withdrew.
The enemy were afterward repulsed from the village [by A. P. Hill's counterattack at about 4 PM], and the hill for a short time was re-occupied by Capt. Thomas [H.] Carter's battery. It was now near dark, and the hill was held but by a few infantry.
Captain Eubank's battery not being with me, I am not prepared to speak from personal observation of his action, but General Toombs informed me that he and his company did good and gallant service.
The officers and men of my battalion behaved with the utmost gallantry. During the entire time engaged they were exposed to a heavy fire from the enemy, as is shown by the list of casualties inclosed; but of about 300 men who went into action, 86 casualties occurred and 60 horses were disabled.
In the morning, the battalion was engaged during the severe fight before our re-enforcements came up on the left, and was the only artillery engaged with General Hood's division. In the evening, it was engaged in front of the village and on the right, where the fight was heaviest. I regret to state that Captain Woolfolk's battery lost a gun on the field. It was on the left in the morning, when our lines gave way before the overwhelming numbers of the enemy. The 4 horses, 2 drivers, and 4 cannoneers at the piece were disabled, and it was with difficulty that the battery could be moved. I do not attach any blame to the captain. The piece could not be recovered, owing to the proximity of the enemy, though several attempts were made.
Capt. John S. Taylor, Confederate States Artillery, temporarily attached to my staff, was killed in the morning while gallantly discharging his duties. He was entirely fearless, and always sought the post of danger, and his example did much toward inspiring his daring in all around him.
Though, generally, all behaved well, I will particularly mention the following as having attracted my attention by distinguished gallantry: Capts. George V. Moody, Parker, and [Pichegru] Woolfolk, jr.; Lieutenant Elliott, commanding Rhett's battery; Lieutenants Gilbert and Fickling, Rhett's battery; Lieutenant Parkinson, Parker's battery (severely wounded in the leg); Lieutenant [J.] Sillers, Moody's battery; Sergeants Conroy, Price, and Corporals Gaulin and Donoho, Moody's battery. I would also mention Lieutenant Maddox, of Colonel [A. S.] Cutts' battalion of artillery, who had two guns under my command, and behaved with great gallantry. My adjutant, Lieut. W. H. Kemper, Alexandria Artillery, was of great assistance to me, and exhibited gallantry and coolness in an eminent degree.
Inclosed is a list of casualties.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
[STEPHEN D. LEE],
Colonel Artillery, C. S. Army, Commanding Battalion.