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Col James D Nance's Official Reports

Reports of September 22, 1862 on Harpers Ferry and Sharpsburg

[author biography]


[Maryland Heights, Harpers Ferry]



CAMP ON OPEQUON CREEK, VA.,
September 22, 1862.

Captain C. R. HOLMES,
Assistant Adjutant-General.

SIR: Under command of General Kershaw, my regiment, with the others of his brigade, ascended Elk Ridge, opposite Brownsville, on the 12th instant, and marched the whole day on the ridge of the mountain, to attack the enemy posted on Maryland Heights. Late in the evening, having come up with the enemy, in obedience to orders I formed my regiment on the right of a line composed of Colonel Kennedy's regiment (the Second South Carolina) and my own, and in rear of a line composed of Colonel Henagan's (the Eighth South Carolina) and Colonel Aiken's (the Seventh South Carolina) regiments. In this position we slept the whole night.

Early the next morning, the front line was advanced to the attack, while the second line, to which I belonged, was held in reserve. The enemy was soon drive from his first position behind an abatis, when I was ordered forward and thrown in front of Colonel Kennedy's regiment, the nature of the ground and the position, and the position of the enemy, admitting of not requiring a shortening of the second line. After a short rest, the attack was renewed by the Seventh and Eighth Regiments upon the enemy, who had fallen back to a stronger position. After they were engaged for some time, I was ordered by General Kershaw to advance, pass over Colonel Aiken's regiment, and try to carry the works behind which the enemy were posted. I immediately advanced, and, as I reached the nearer edge of the abatis, received a deadly volley from behind the breastworks of the enemy. My command never faltered, but opened in reply as soon as they had cleared Colonel Aiken's regiment. The ground was such that the two companies on the right (B and F) were not very actively engaged, and another (E) had been detached early in the day on picket duty, so only seven companies were in the thickest of the fight. The enemy had made the approach to their well and heavily constructed breastworks (made of chestnut logs) very difficult by the felling of timber for the distance of about 40 yards to their front. I thought it unadvisable to attempt to carry the work at the point of the bayonet until I had engaged them by fire for a time, while I could discover more of their position and force. After observing for a time, I sent Lieutenant Pope to General Kershaw to suggest a flank movement on the enemy's left by Colonel Henagan's regiment, then on my right. Just before Lieutenant Pope returned, the fire of the enemy slackened, and a yell arose from my ranks, indicating the yielding or perhaps the repulse of the enemy. Almost simultaneously with the happening of this event, Lieutenant Pope returned and reported that General Kershaw ordered me to cease firing, as General ------'s brigade had arrived in a position to make a demonstration on their right flank, and my fire might interfere with this movement. I accordingly ceased firing, and discovered that the works in front were entirely deserted. Very soon afterward I moved forward and held the works, capturing 5 prisoners, several blankets, canteens, guns, &c. I then reported, through Lieutenant Pope, acting adjutant, my position to General Kershaw, who ordered the Second Regiment, Colonel Kennedy, forward and my regiment to the rear to rest and refresh themselves.

The conduct of my command was gallant and entirely satisfactory to me. After going to the rear I made details to bury the dead, and, in conjunction with Colonel Aiken, sent out and gathered the arms and accouterments that were to be found on the field. The parties assigned to these duties performed them with creditable dispatch.

I herewith submit a list of casualties in the regiment resulting from this engagement.

Very respectfully, yours, &c.,

JAMES D. NANCE,
Colonel, Commanding Third South Carolina Regiment.


[Sharpsburg]



CAMP ON OPEQUON CREEK, VA.,
September 22, 1862.

Captain C. R. HOLMES,
Assistant Adjutant-General.

SIR: Early on the morning of the 17th instant, my regiment was placed in its position in line of battle, near Sharpsburg, Md., and to the east of the turnpike running from Sherpherdstown, W. Va., to that place. The position was nearly parallel to a line of woods in which the enemy were posted-southeast of the stone church, in the vicinity of Sharpsburg. After holding this position for a few minutes my command was put into action by General Kershaw immediately after a regiment of General Barksdale's brigade. The command advanced steadily, with spirit, under a heavy fire drawn by the troops in front, until we passed through the woods and to the farther skirt, where, for the first time, we were sufficiently increased to open fire. In advancing through the woods, I found it advisable to change my direction slightly to the left, and it was in this direction that my line ran when I engaged the enemy at a halt on the outer skirt of the woods. I now closed the line to greater compactness, and pushed clear of the woods and out into the open field beyond, where the enemy gave way with considerable disorder. His line to my right, supported by strong batteries, was more steadfast, and I found, after advancing some distance in the open field, that I was leaving his forces on my right to my rear, which, together with the fire then opened on me from his batteries on their right and which enfiladed my line, rendered my position hazardous. No enemy was then visible to the in my front; so I effected a change of front on my first company, which threw my line in a slight hollow that afforded me protection from the artillery fire then raging, and left me in a position to co-operate on the enemy's flank and in any movement against his force in that direction. I directed my men to lie down under cover of the hill in front, while I kept a strict watch for any demonstration of our forces in his front. It was not long before our line advanced most beautifully through the woods up the open slope beyond. The enemy's line broke, and immediately I advanced up the hill across a small road, climbed a fence, and passed to the summit of a hill in a freshly plowed field, where I opened fire upon the enemy. Soon he was re-enforced, and, under the heavy fire of artillery and the press of fresh troops, our line on my right, that just before advanced in such admirable style, fell back so far that I retired to the road a had just crossed. There I halted and fired for a time, until a farther retirement required me to fall back to the hollow in which I had before changed my front. There I remained until the movements of the enemy and the absence of proper supports determined me to retire to the woods. I send officers out to ascertain the position of our forces. They could find no force, and I retired into the open field near where our line was first formed. There Lieutenant W. D. Farley, aide-de-camp, informed me that I was without proper support, and advised (from his knowledge of the condition of our forces) me to take up my position there behind a rail fence, running about parallel to the woods. I then acquainted both Brigadier-General Kershaw and Major-General McLaws with my position, and requested orders. I was directed to remain in my position, and, at my request, General McLaws assisted in replenishing my cartridge-boxes. I remained here for over an hour, when the cross-artillery fire of the enemy became so severe that Brigadier-General Kershaw moved that part of his brigade at that point farther to the left and in a southerly direction, and about a quarter of a mile from the first position occupied by us that day. The line then formed was where the woods joined a corn-field, and its direction made an obtuse angle with the direction of the first line. My command remained on this line until we began our retrograde movement on the night of the 18th.

The conduct of my command was highly gratifying to me. They were even unusually manageable, and preserved such order as I never before saw on a battle-field. They came out of the action in almost as good order as that in which they entered. Where nearly every one did so well it is difficult, if not individous, to distinguish particular persons.

Appended is a list of casualties resulting from the action.

Very respectfully, yours, &c.,

JAMES D. NANCE,
Colonel, Commanding Third South Carolina Regiment.

P. S.-The difference in the number of men carried into action on the 17th and 13th is to be explained by stating that a large detail was left at Harper's Ferry to bring up rations.

N. B.-It is proper to state that during all the maneuvers I have attempted to describe, my command was under fire of artillery or small-arms, or both.

Source: OFFICIAL RECORDS: Series 1, Vol 19, Part 1 (Antietam - Serial 27) , Pages 867 - 869

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