HEADQUARTERS THIRD (MEADE'S) DIVISION,
September 22, 1862.
Maj. JOSEPH DICKINSON,
MAJOR: I have the honor to submit herewith a report of the operations of the division under my command in the actions of the 16th and 17th instant, on the Antietam:
The division left the mountain gap on the morning of the 15th, and marched beyond Keedysville, bivouacking on the forks of the Big and Little Antietam. On the afternoon of the 16th, about 2 p.m., the division, constituting the advance of Hooker's corps, moved, by direction of the general commanding the corps, on the road to Williamsport, where, after crossing the bridge over the main Antietam, the head of the column was moved to the left across the country, advancing on what was understood to be the enemy's left flank. Soon after leaving the road, the cavalry advance reported having been fired upon, when, by direction of the general commanding the corps, the regiment of First Pennsylvania Rifles (Bucktails) was advanced as skirmishers to a piece of woods on our left, and four companies of the Third Regiment Pennsylvania Reserves were deployed as skirmishers and sent into a piece of woods on our right, the main column formed of battalions in mass, division front, with the artillery moving over the open ground for a high ridge in front.
The Bucktails' skirmishers finding the enemy, General Seymour, with the First Brigade, was directed to advance to their support. This was promptly done, and soon Seymour was closely engaged with the enemy's infantry and artillery, Cooper's battery being posted by Seymour to reply to the enemy's artillery. In the mean time I had gained the crest with the head of the column, and entered a piece of woods, which proved to be in its direction perpendicular to the line along which Seymour had advanced. On entering these woods, the enemy's battery could be plainly seen in a cornfield, playing on Seymour's column in their front. The masses of his Infantry deployed around the battery, and the fact that only one regiment--the head of my column--was deployed, deterred me from the endeavor to capture the battery by a charge. I, however, immediately ordered up Ransom's battery of light 12-pounders, who promptly came to the front and in battery at the edge of the woods, opening on the enemy's battery and infantry a destructive enfilading fire, which soon caused him to withdraw his guns to an eminence in the rear, from which he commenced shelling the woods we occupied, and the ridge immediately behind it.
In the mean time Magilton's and Anderson's (Second and Third) brigades came up, and were deployed in line of battle to support Ransom's battery. After driving the enemy from the woods, Seymour held his own, and, darkness intervening, the contest closed for the night, Seymour holding the woods immediately in front of the enemy, and Anderson and Magilton the woods on their flank. Ransom was withdrawn to the rear. Cooper remained in the position occupied in the commencement of the action, and Simpson's battery of howitzers, which had been posted on the ridge to the rear, replying to the enemy's battery in its second position, also remained there.
During the night the enemy made two attacks on Seymour's pickets, in both of which he was repulsed with, it is believed, severe loss.
At early daylight on the 17th the contest was warmly renewed by Seymour, the enemy attacking him with vigor. The general commanding the corps had sent Ricketts' division to Seymour's support, and had advanced Doubleday's division along the woods occupied by Magilton's and Anderson's brigades. These brigades were formed in column of battalions in mass, and were moved forward in rear of Doubleday. Seymour and Ricketts advancing through one piece of woods, and Doubleday, on their right, advancing along the Hagerstown pike, left an open space between, in which was a plowed field and an orchard; beyond this was a cornfield, the possession of which the enemy warmly disputed.
Ransom's battery was advanced into the open ground between the two advancing columns, and played with great effect on the enemy's infantry and batteries. The brigades of Anderson and Magilton on reaching the cornfield were massed in a ravine extending up to the pike. Soon after forming, I saw the enemy were driving our men from the cornfield. I immediately deployed both brigades, and formed line of battle along the fence bordering the corn-field, for the purpose of covering the withdrawal of our people and resisting the farther advance of the enemy. Just as this line of battle was formed, I received an order from the general commanding the corps to detach a brigade to re-enforce our troops in the woods on the left. I directed Magilton's brigade to move in that direction, which order was promptly executed, notwithstanding the brigade, moving by the flank, was subjected to a warm fire from the corn field.
Anderson's brigade held the fence on the right, but the gap made by the withdrawal of Magilton was soon filled by the enemy, whose infantry advanced boldly through the corn-field to the woods. Seeing this, I rode up to Ransom's battery and directed his guns on their advancing column, which fire, together with the arrival of Magilton's brigade, in connection with Seymour and Ricketts, drove the enemy back, who, as they retreated, were enfiladed by Anderson, who eventually regained the crest of the ridge in the corn-field. At this time, about 10 a.m., my division had been engaged for five hours, and their ammunition was being exhausted. I therefore welcomed the arrival of Banks' corps, the left column of which, commanded by the gallant Mansfield, moved up to our support in the woods on the left, and a column under General Williams moved up to the woods on the right by the turnpike.
I should have mentioned previously that the Tenth Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Warner, was detached across the pike to watch our right flank, and was eventually, I believe, put in action by General Gibbon, rendering good service in that part of the field; also that Cooper's battery of 3 inch guns and Simpson's howitzers were early in the morning posted on the crest of the ridge we occupied the evening previous, from whence they had a command of the enemy's left flank, and were in action at various times during the day, opening whenever they saw any of the enemy's artillery or infantry, and doing good service in protecting our hospital and trains in the rear. Between 11 and 12 a.m., Mansfield's corps having reached the scene of action, also Sumner's, the corps had the misfortune to lose the services of its skillful and brave commander, who was wounded in the foot, and who did me the honor to direct me to assume the command of the corps on his leaving the field. I directed the various divisions to be withdrawn as soon as they were relieved, and to be assembled and reorganized on the ridge in our rear. By 2 p.m. the division of the Pennsylvania Reserves, now commanded by General Seymour, were organized on this ridge, supplied with ammunition, and held in readiness to repel an attack if the enemy should attempt one on our right flank, and assist in any advance we might make.
I beg leave to refer to the reports of the several brigade and regimental commanders for the details of the operations. I desire particularly, however, to call your attention to the report of Brigadier-General Seymour, because, from the confidence I placed in the judgment and military skill of that officer, I left entirely to him the management and direction of his brigade, the first in action and the only one engaged with the infantry on the afternoon of the 16th, and the first to commence and the last to leave on the 17th. I desire to commend most particularly to your notice the gallantry and good conduct of this officer, which I have no doubt you observed yourself.
I feel it also due to the memory of a gallant soldier and accomplished gentleman to express here my sense of the loss to the public service in the fall of Col. Hugh McNeil, of the First Pennsylvania Rifles, who fell mortally wounded, while in the front rank, bravely leading on and encouraging his men, on the afternoon of the 16th. Many other brave and gallant soldiers were killed and wounded, for whose names I refer you to the accompanying list. The division went into action under 3,000 strong, and lost in killed and wounded over 570--20 per cent. The conduct throughout the action, both of officers and men, was such as to merit my warmest thanks, and to truly entitle them to the name of veterans.
To my personal staff, consisting of Capt. E. C. Baird, assistant adjutant-general, and Lieuts. William Riddle and A. G. Mason, aides, I am indebted, as heretofore, for the prompt execution of my orders, under the severest fire. Lieutenant Riddle received a painful wound in the hand just before the division was withdrawn from the field.
I cannot close this report without calling your attention to the skill and good judgment, combined with coolness, with which Captain Ransom, his officers (Lieutenants Weir and Gansevoort) and men, served his battery. In a previous part of this report I have described the advance of the enemy through the cornfield, and the check the column received from Captain Ransom's fire. I consider this one of the most critical periods of the morning, and that to Captain Ransom's battery is due the credit of repulsing the enemy. I also wish to mention particularly the efficiency and gallantry of Lieutenant-Colonel Warner, Tenth Pennsylvania Reserves, both in the actions at South Mountain and on the Antietam. He was detached with his regiment for special service, accomplished by him in the most creditable manner, and in the latter battle he was severely wounded. He is an officer whom I would be glad to see elevated to a higher position.
Surg. William King, the medical director of the division, was early on the field in both actions, and with his usual energy and promptitude brought up the ambulances and established the hospitals in such manner as to secure for our wounded the speediest assistance.
There are many other names that will be brought to your notice, through the reports of subordinate commanders, as I have confined myself in this report exclusively to those that came under my special notice.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. G. MEADE,