HEADQUARTERS FIRST ARMY CORPS,
Washington City, D. C., November 7, 1862.
Lieutenant Colonel LEWIS RICHMOND,
Asst. Adjt. General, Wing, Army of the Potomac.
COLONEL: I have the honor to report that the First Corps commenced its march from the camp on the Monocacy at daylight on the morning of the 14th September, and continued it over the National turnpike to the vicinity of Middletown, which place it reached about 1 o'clock p.m. While here I was requested by the major-general commanding the Army of the Potomac to ride to the front and examine the country in the neighborhood of where it was proposed to pass the army over South Mountain. The enemy had taken possession of the turnpike and the crests of the mountain, prepared to dispute its passage. On my way I passed Cox's corps, withdrawing from the contest, and still farther on I came up with some of our batteries, exchanging shots at long distance with some of the rebel batteries posted near the turnpike, and apparently about half way up the slope of the mountain. Still farther on was Reno's corps, moving into position to the south of the turnpike, over what appeared to be a trail, his troops stretching from the summit to the base of the mountain. The general direction of this ridge is perpendicular to the line of the road.
From a point near to where our batteries were placed, I was enabled to make an excellent reconnaissance of the eastern slope, extending far to the north and south of the pike. While here, about 2 o'clock, Meade's division of my corps was ordered to make a diversion in favor of Reno, to the right of the turnpike, and soon after I received instructions from the major-general commanding the Army of the Potomac to hold my whole corps in readiness to support the First Division. Accordingly, they were all put en route, and marched to the base of the foot-hills, where the divisions were deployed for battle as rapidly as they arrived - Meade's division on the right, Hatch's on the left, that of Ricketts' being held in reserve.
The right of Meade's division rested nearly 1 1/2 miles from the turnpike. Williams' First Regiment Massachusetts Cavalry was dispatched higher up the valley, to observe the movements of the enemy, if any, in that direction.
In front of us was South Mountain, the crest of the spinal ridge of which was held by the enemy in considerable force. Its slopes are precipitous, rugged, and wooded, and difficult of ascent to an infantry force, even in absence of a foe in front. The National turnpike crosses the summit of this range of mountains through a gentle depression, and near this point a spur projects from the body of the ridge, and running nearly parallel with it about a mile, where it is abruptly cut by a rivulet from the main ridge, and rises again and extends far to the northward. At and to the north of the pike this spur is separated from the main ridge by a narrow valley, with cultivated fields, extending well up the gentle slope of the hill on each side. Here the enemy had a strong infantry force posted, and a few pieces of artillery. Through the break in the spur at the base of the principal ridge were other cleared fields, occupied by the enemy. Cooper's battery was brought into position on high ground, and opened on the enemy visible on this part of the field. While this battery was moving to its position, and while the infantry were deploying, the enemy threw a few shot from a battery on the side of the mountain, but at long range, producing little or no effect.
As soon as these dispositions were made, and, from my observation, anticipating no important sequence from the attack to the south of the turnpike, it was resolved to move to the assault at once, [which was] commenced with throwing forward a heavy body of skirmishers along my whole line, directions were given for Meade and Hatch to support them with their divisions. Meade moved forward with great vigor, and soon became engaged, driving everything before him. Every step of his advance was resisted stubbornly by a numerous enemy, and besides, he had great natural obstacles to overcome, which impeded his advance but did not check it.
From its great elevation and the dense smoke which rose over the stop of the forest, the progress of the battle on this part of the field was watched with anxious interest for miles around, and while it elicited the applause of the spectators, they could not fail to admire the steadiness, resolution, and courage of the brave officers and men engaged.
At this moment word was received that the enemy were attempting to turn Meade's right, when Duryea's brigade, Ricketts' division, was dispatched to thwart it, and reached there in good time to render substantial aid in this, and also in assisting their comrades in crowning the summit with our arms. This was taken possession of in fine style between sundown and dark, and from that moment the battle was won. From here we threatened the retreat of the rebels posted between the main ridge and the spur of the mountain, while it commanded the turnpike on both sides of the mountain. On reaching the summit, Meade was ordered to hold it until further orders.
Meantime Hatch had pressed into the forest on the left, and, after driving in their advanced pickets, encountered a heavy fire from the enemy massed in his front. The struggle became violent and protracted, his troops displaying the finest courage and determination. An excellent brigade had been withdrawn from this division by the major-general commanding the right wing without my knowledge, and ordered to advance to the turnpike, but as no report of their operations has been rendered me by General Gibbon, I can only call your attention to their list of casualties; it speaks for itself. Hatch being outnumbered, sorely pressed, and almost out of ammunition, Christian's brigade, Ricketts' division, was ordered forward to strengthen him, and in this rendered good service. On this part of the field the resistance of the enemy was continued until after dark, and only subsided on his being driven from his position. It being very dark, our troops were directed to remain in position, and Hartsuff's brigade was brought up and formed a line across the valley, connecting with Meade's left and Hatch's right, and all were directed to sleep on their arms.
At dawn Hartsuff's skirmishers were thrown forward, supported by his brigade, to the Mountain House, a mounted picket of the enemy retreating as they advanced. The enemy had been re-enforced by twenty regiments of Longstreet's corps during the early part of the night, but between 12 and 1 o'clock commenced a hurried and confused retreat, leaving his dead on our hands and his wounded uncared for.
Notwithstanding we had remained in the undisturbed possession of every foot of ground we had fought on, driven them from one end of our line to the other, and taken upward of a thousand prisoners, with shameful effrontery this field was heralded from the rebels' capital as a victory.
When, the advantages of the enemy's position are considered, and his preponderating numbers, the forcing of the passage of South Mountain will be classed among the most brilliant and satisfactory achievements of this army, and its principal glory will be awarded to the First Corps.
I have omitted to mention that Brigadier-General Richardson had reported to me at the head of his splendid division at daylight on the morning of the 15th, and, as it was well in hand, he was directed to pursue the enemy in their hurried retreat, which was promptly executed by that distinguished officer.
The especial attention of the major-general commanding is called to the reports of division, brigade, regimental, and battery commanders, herewith transmitted, as they uniformly bear testimony to the noble conduct of our troops in this battle. To theirs I must add the heartfelt and grateful testimony of their commander.
I must also respectfully refer you to these reports for the evidences of signal and distinguished services on the part of individuals and of corps.
I desire to make special mention of Brigadier-General Meade for the great intelligence and gallantry displayed by him. Also Brigadier-General Hatch, who was severely wounded, and Brigadier-General Ricketts and Brigadier-General Doubleday, who rendered me an enlightened and generous assistance.
The limits of a report only allow me to speak in general terms of my brigade, regimental, and battery commanders. Their services were eminently meritorious and satisfactory. I further desire to make my acknowledgments to Brigadier-General Marcy, chief of staff of the Army of the Potomac, for his valuable services. He remained with me throughout the greater part of the engagement. I am also under obligations to Major Hammerstein, aide-de-camp, at the same headquarters, for his assistance and support.
My staff, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Dickinson, assistant adjutant-general; Major William H. Lawrence, Capts. William L. Candler and Alexander Moore, aides-de-camp, assisted me with their accustomed intelligence and courage.
The list of killed and wounded is herewith respectfully forwarded, numbering 878.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Major-General, Commanding First Corps.
- Unfinished report, found in records of First Corps, Army of the Potomac.-
HEADQUARTERS FIRST CORPS, ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
Washington, D. C, November 8, 1862.
Brigadier General S. WILLIAMS,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Army of the Potomac.
GENERAL: At dawn the morning following the battle of South Mountain, September 15, Hartsuff's skirmishers, supported by his brigade, were thrown forward, when it was ascertained that the enemy had fallen back from our front, leaving his dead and wounded in our hands, toward Boonsborough, and from thence had taken the road to Sharpsburg.
Soon after Hartsuff's advance, General Richardson, with his brigade of Sumner's corps, was ordered to take the place of Hartsuff, and to proceed in vigorous pursuit, with no other instructions than not to engage the enemy if he overtook him, but await my arrival. Meantime my corps were ordered to make a little coffee and eat their breakfasts, which they had not been able to do since the beginning of their march from the Monocacy, the morning previous. Pleasonton's cavalry followed in the footsteps of Richardson's brigade, and soon after the First Corps resumed its march in pursuit of the enemy. About 10 o'clock a.m. word was received that he had made a stand a mile or more in front of Sharpsburg, and about that distance from Richardson's command. As General Richardson was without artillery, he had borrowed a section from Pleasonton, and had already opened on the enemy when I reached the field. The rebels appeared to be ostentatiously deployed in two lines, perpendicular to the road leading to Sharpsburg, with his batteries posted to resist the passage of our forces over the bridge which crosses that stream. All of his troops appeared exposed to view, and numbered, as nearly as I could estimate, about 30,000 men. Fully conscious of my weakness in number and morale, I did not feel strong enough to attack him in front, even after the arrival of the First Corps, and it was only after the left of the enemy was observed to break into column and march to the rear, behind a forest, on which appeared to be the Williamsport road, that Major D. C. Houston, of the Engineers, was dispatched up the river to find practicable fords, by the means of which my troops might be thrown across the Antietam River to attack the enemy, and perhaps cut off his artillery, as soon as his numbers were sufficiently reduced to justify the movement. A bridge was found, and also two fords, which with little labor on the banks were rendered practicable for the passage of infantry and artillery. At 5 o' clock p.m. about one-half of the enemy's infantry force had passed to the rear, when I deemed it too late to make the detour, in order to come up with the enemy, without a night march through a country of which we were profoundly ignorant.
Meanwhile the bulk of the army was arriving in the valley of Antietam, and all the enemy's artillery, with a considerable portion of his infantry, remained in the position in which we had found them in the morning.
Between 1 and 2 o'clock the day following, I received instructions from the major-general commanding the Army of the Potomac to cross the river with the First Corps, and attack the enemy on his left flank, Meade's and Ricketts' divisions crossing the ridge near Keedysville, and Doubleday's division at the ford just below it.
As soon as I saw my command under way, I rode to the headquarters of the commanding general for any further orders he might have to give me, when I was informed that I was at liberty to call for re-enforcements if I should need them, and that on their arrival they would be placed under my command, and I returned and joined my troops on their march. Our direction was nearly perpendicular to the river we had crossed, my object being to gain the high ground or divide between the Potomac and Antietam Rivers, and then incline to the left, following the elevation toward the left of the rebel army. Two regiments of Meade's division were thrown forward as skirmishers, followed by a squadron of Owen's cavalry, and all supported by Meade's division. We had not proceeded over a half a mile before the commanding general with his staff joined me, apparently to see how we were progressing. Among other subjects of conversation, I said to the general that he had ordered my small corps, now numbering between 12,000 and 13,000 (as I had just lost nearly 1,000 men in the battle of South Mountain), across the river to attack the whole rebel army, and that if re-enforcements were not forwarded promptly, or if another attack not made on the enemy's right, the rebels would eat me up. Pretty soon after this interview, my skirmishers became engaged with the enemy's advanced post, and the firing was continued incessantly until dark, we advancing slowly, and the enemy retiring before us. During the last part of the time the resistance became formidable, and we all slept on our arms that night. The cleared space between the forests necessitated a change in my front from a division to a brigade, and Seymour's command held the advance when night overtook us, and bivouacked in advance of my corps when operations were suspended.
The night becoming dark and drizzly, I sought shelter in Miller's barn, a few yards to the left of the Hagerstown pike (facing the south), and directly in the rear of Seymour's brigade. Desultory firing was kept up between the pickets almost throughout the night, and about 9 o'clock p.m. I visited them in order to satisfy myself concerning this firing, and found that the lines of pickets of the two armies were so near each other as to be able to hear each other walk, but were not visible to each other. I found Seymour's officers and men keenly alive to their proximity to our enemy, and seemed to realize the responsible character of their services for the night. Indeed, their conduct inspired me with the fullest confidence, and on returning to the barn I immediately dispatched a courier informing the commanding general of my surroundings, and assuring him that the battle would be renewed at the earliest dawn, and that re-enforcements should be ordered forward in season to reach me before that moment.
General Mansfield, with his corps, did cross the creek that night, and encamped his command about 1 mile in rear of my own, and in the morning participated actively in the battle. We were now 3 or 4 miles in advance of where we had crossed the Antietam Bridge. At daylight we were fully prepared to renew our march, which lay through orchards, corn-fields, and over plowed ground, skirted on either side by forests, the cleared space between which averaging not more than 400 or 500 yards in width, the field and the object in view narrowing my front to quite a limited degree. Doubleday's division was posted on the right, Ricketts' on the left, and Meade's in reserve. At daylight Gibbon's and Hartsuff's brigades were thrown forward, supported with the brigades of their respective divisions, while Meade followed them up in the center, instructed to spring to the assistance of either, as circumstances might require. Seymour continued to hold the advance, with the utmost firmness and resolution, until our troops had passed him. With these dispositions completed, the battle was soon renewed on the morning of the 17th. My object was to gain the high ground nearly three-quarters of a mile in advance of me, and which commanded the position taken by the enemy on his retreat from South Mountain; to prevent which he had been re-enforced by Jackson's corps during the night, and at the same time had planted field batteries on high ground on our right and rear, to enfilade our lines when exposed during the advance.
We had not proceeded far before I discovered that a heavy force of the enemy had taken possession of a corn-field (I have since learned about a thirty-acre field) in my immediate front, and from the sun's rays falling on their bayonets projecting above the corn could see that the field was filled with the enemy, with arms in their hands, standing apparently at "support arms." Instructions were immediately given for the assemblage of all of my spare batteries, near at hand, of which I think there were five or six, to spring into battery, on the right of his field, and to open with canister at once. In the time I am writing every stalk of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the slain lay in rows precisely as they stood in their ranks a few moments before. It was never my fortune to witness a more bloody, dismal battle-field. Those that escaped fled in the opposite direction from our advance, and sought refuge behind the trees, fences, and stone ledges nearly on a line with the Dunker Church, &c., as there was no resisting this torrent of death-dealing missives. I have since been informed by a division commander of Jackson's corps that the latter was waiting for some stragglers to arrive which had been left during his night march from Harper's Ferry, in anticipation of delivering an attack on my command.
The whole morning had been one of unusual animation to me and fraught with the grandest events. The conduct of my troops was sublime, and the occasion almost lifted me to the skies, and its memories will ever remain near me. My command followed the fugitives closely until we had passed the corn-field a quarter of a mile or more, when I was removed from my saddle in the act of falling out of it from loss of blood, having previously been struck without my knowledge. While my wound was being examined by the surgeons, Sumner's corps appeared upon the field on my immediate right, and I have an indistinct recollection of having seen Sedgwick's division pass to the front. I do not think that I examined my watch that morning, but feel confident as to the time - 10 o'clock a.m. I was carried to the rear at once, to the house of Mr. Pry, on the left bank of Antietam Creek.
Throughout the foregoing operations all of my officers and men of all arms, as well as the officers composing my staff, without a solitary exception, seemed to be emulous of each other in their eagerness to learn my wishes and execute my orders ... (unfinished, ends at this point)
Source: OFFICIAL RECORDS: Series 1, Vol 19, Part 1 (Antietam - Serial 27) , Pages 213 - 219