HEADQUARTERS CALDWELL'S BRIGADE,
Bolivar Heights, Harper's Ferry, September 24, 1862.
Lieutenant W. G. MITCHELL,
Aide-de-Camp and Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.
LIEUTENANT: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by my brigade in the battle of Sharpsburg, September 17, 1862:
After arriving on the field of action, about 9.45 a. m., I was ordered by General Richardson to form my brigade in line of battle on the left of General Meagher. This I executed, arranging my line in the following manner: On the right, the Sixty-first and Sixty-fourth New York Volunteers, consolidated, under the command of Colonel Barlow, of the Sixty-first New York Volunteers; on the left, the Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers. The Seventh New York Volunteers occupied the right center, and the Eighty-first Pennsylvania Volunteers the left center. After forming the line, and finding no enemy in our immediate front, I commenced to wheel the brigade cautiously to the right, when I received an order from General Richardson to relieve the line of General Meagher, which had fought the enemy gallantly and suffered severely.
The whole brigade then moved by right flank in the rear of General Meagher's line, and passed his line to the front in the most perfect order, under a severe fire of musketry. The brigade advanced steadily over the crest of a hill behind which the enemy were posted, receiving and returning a heavy fire. We broke the line of the enemy along our entire front, except on the extreme right. Here there was a deep road, forming a natural rifle-pit, in which the enemy had posted himself, and from which he fired on our advancing line.
After the enemy opposed to my left and center had broken and fled through the corn-field, Colonel Barlow, by a skillful change of front, partially enveloped the enemy on his [the enemy's] right, and after a destructive enfilading fire, compelled them to surrender. About 300 men and 8 commissioned officers, among them an aide to General Stuart, were here taken prisoners by Colonel Barlow, and conducted to the rear by my aide, Lieutenant Alvord. Two stand of colors also were captured by Colonel Barlow at this place.
Meanwhile the center and left of my brigade had advanced steadily in line into the corn-field, driving the enemy before them. Here the enemy opened upon us a terrific fire from a fresh line of infantry, and also poured upon us a fire of grape and canister from two batteries, one in the orchard just beyond the corn-field, the other farther one to the right. My regiments bore this fire with steadiness. The Seventh New York Volunteers wavered for a few minutes, but I rallied them and led them forward in person, and during the remainder of the battle they fought with the most determined bravery. The Eighty-first Pennsylvania Volunteers, ably led by Major McKeen, fought with the utmost steadiness. The Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers, commanded by Colonel Cross, formed the extreme left of my line, and behaved with the greatest gallantry. Colonel Cross, ever on the alert, detected a strong force of the enemy concealed behind a ridge in the corn-field, endeavoring to turn our left flank. Colonel Cross instantly changed front forward, and received the advancing enemy with a volley, which checked him and drove him back. He soon rallied, however, and, moving by the right flank, endeavored to turn our left. He was again confronted by Colonel Cross, who, with the assistance of the Eighty-first Pennsylvania Volunteers, which had moved to the left to his support, drove back the enemy with great loss. In this conflict the Fifth New Hampshire captured the State colors of the Fourth North Carolina Regiment.
By moving to the left, to avoid being flanked, an opening had been made in my line, which was filled by one of the regiments of Colonel Brooke. On the right, Colonel Barlow, finding no enemy in his immediate front, saw a considerable force moving around his right. Moving by the right-oblique to a hill about 300 yards distant, he opened a severe fire upon them, when they broke and fled. Thus both attempts to turn our flanks had been foiled by the skill and quickness of Colonels Barlow and Cross and the determined bravery of the men.
The enemy made one more effort to break my line, and this time the attack was made in the center. Colonel Barlow hearing firing to his left, on our old front, immediately moved to the left, and formed in line with the rest of the brigade. The whole brigade then moved forward in line, driving the enemy entirely out of the corn-field and through the orchard beyond, the enemy firing grape and canister from two brass pieces in the orchard to our front, and shell and spherical-case shot from a battery on our right. While leading his men forward under the fire, Colonel Barlow fell, dangerously wounded by a grape-shot in the groin. By command of General Richardson, I halted the brigade, and, drawing back the line, reformed it near the edge of the corn-field. It was now 1 o'clock p. m. Here we lay exposed to a heavy artillery fire, by which General Richardson was severely wounded. The fall of General Richardson (General Meagher having been previously borne from the field) left me in command of the division, which I formed in line, awaiting the enemy's attack. Not long after I was relieved from the command by General Hancock, who had been assigned to the command of the division by General McClellan.
I cannot contemplate the action of my brigade in this battle without emotions of pride and satisfaction. It drove the enemy in its first attack, foiled two successive efforts by a superior force to turn its flank - the one made on the right, and the other on the left - touted a third line of fresh troops brought against its center, captured six stand of colors, 300 prisoners, and 8 officers.
Both officers and men behaved in the most admirable manner. When the good conduct of all was so conspicuous, injustice may be done in the selection of individuals for especial commendation. I cannot forbear, however, to mention in terms of the highest praise the part taken by Colonel Barlow, of the Sixty-first New York Volunteers. Whatever praise is due to the most distinguished bravery, the utmost coolness and quickness of perception, the greatest promptitude and skill in handling troops under fire, is justly due to him. It is but simple justice to say that he has proved himself fully equal to every emergency, and I have no doubt that he would discharge the duties of a much higher command with honor to himself and benefit to the country. Colonel Cross, of the Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers, handled his regiment in the most admirable manner, and is entitled to the sole credit of detecting and frustrating the attempt of the enemy to turn our left flank. He displayed in a high degree all the qualities of a good commander - bravery, readiness, coolness, and skill. Of Lieutenant-Colonel Miles it is perhaps sufficient praise to say that he added to the laurels he has acquired on every battlefield where he has been present. After the fall of Colonel Barlow he managed his two regiments in a masterly manner. Major McKeen had command of the Eighty-first Pennsylvania Volunteers, Colonel Johnson being absent, sick. His bravery and coolness were conspicuous. Captain Brestel, commanding Seventh New York Volunteers, behaved bravely and well. All the company and line officers, with perhaps one exception, behaved admirably, and nobly seconded the efforts of their superior officers.
The members of my staff were indefatigable in their efforts, and did all I could wish in the transmission of orders. Lieutenants Cross, Alvord, and Scott were all particularly brave and active. Lieutenant Alvord captured several prisoners with his own hand, and conducted to the rear those taken by Colonel Barlow. By command of General Richardson he gave orders to the Irish Brigade, and assisted in forming them into a second line. During the entire day all the members of my staff were incessantly active, and did most valuable service.
The casualties in the brigade were 43 killed and 280 wounded. I furnished several days ago a nominal list of the killed and wounded.
JOHN C. CALDWELL,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Brigade.
Source: OFFICIAL RECORDS: Series 1, Vol 19, Part 1 (Antietam - Serial 27) , Pages 284 - 287