HDQRS. 1ST DIV., GEN. WILLIAMS' (LATE BANKS') CORPS,
Maryland Heights, September 24, 1862.
General ALPHEUS S. WILLIAMS,
Commanding Twelfth Corps.
SIR: In conformity with orders emanating from headquarters of the corps, I have the honor to report upon the part taken by my brigade, the Third of the First Division of your corps, in the recent battle of Antietam, near Sharpsburg, on the 17th instant:
The enemy, routed at passes of the South Mountain on the 14th, were rapidly pursued and brought to a stand near Sharpsburg, on the westerly side of Antietam Creek, on the 16th instant. Massed in rear of our forces, drawn up in line of battle under General McClellan this corps, remaining inactive during the day, was moved on the night of the 16th and morning of the 17th to the right of our line to strengthen General Hooker, who had at noon of the 16th crossed the creek and engaged the enemy's advance.
Just after the break of day we were aroused from a brief slumber by sharp firing of musketry in front of General Hooker's position. The corps, then commanded by the lamented General Mansfield, was by that officer immediately put in motion. My brigade, formed in columns of battalions closed in mass, I directed toward a battery which I was ordered to support, but before reaching the same I received a countermanding order to move forward with all possible dispatch to the support of General Hooker, then severely pressed. I moved accordingly my ployed masses by the flank at double-quick gaining deployment distance, thus throwing forward in line of battle on the right the Second Massachusetts Regiment, Colonel Andrews; in the center the Third Wisconsin, Colonel Ruger; on the left the Twenty-seventh Indiana, Colonel Colgrove. The One hundred and seventh New York Regiment, Colonel Van Valkenburgh, I held in reserve, throwing them into to edge of a piece of woods on the left, which I was informed by an aide of General Hooker, who met me advancing, was to be held at all hazards. The only remaining regiment of my brigade, the Thirteenth New Jersey, I had, by direction of General Mansfield, thrown into the edge of a piece of woods behind my first position as a reserve. This regiment remained as posted during the deployment of my line and the posting of the One hundred and seventh New York.
While moving forward the three regiments referred to, an aide of General Hooker's galloping rapidly toward my command, begged me to hurry forward. It was apparent, from the steady approach of the sound of musketry, that the enemy were advancing. Their shouts of exultation could be distinctly heard as the line of my deployed battalion, sustained on the right by Crawford's brigade and on the left by Greene's division, both of our own corps, advanced boldly to the front. Before the impetuous charge and the withering fire of our line, the enemy halted, wavered, fled in confusion, and sought shelter in the woods opposite from whence he had emerged. I immediately ordered the One hundred and seventh New York to support the movement of my advance line, at the same time sending my aide, Captain Wheaten, to bring up the Thirteenth New Jersey. We now held possession of the field, had driven the enemy into the concealment of the woods, and, by a partial change of front forward on our left, were advancing toward the center of the general line of battle.
General Mansfield had been mortally wounded at the commencement of the action while making a bold reconnaissance of the woods, through which we had just dashed. The command of the corps here devolved upon you.
My brigade was now drawn up in two lines. In the first, the Second Massachusetts and the One hundred and seventh New York Regiments; in the rear, the Third Wisconsin and Twenty-seventh Indiana. These latter regiments had suffered considerably. In the others the casualties had been unusually light. We were at this time re-enforced by General Summer's corps, who, coming with shouts to the field, pushed across into the woods containing the enemy, and engaged him with ardor.
By your direction, I formed my brigade in line of battle in the edge of the woods through which we had charged. General Summer's corps soon became warmly engaged. It was apparent that the rebels had received very strong re-enforcements. The tide of battle again turned. Our forces were compelled to fall slowly back behind batteries posted in front of the woods the enemy had tried vainly to enter. More than driving our forces from the woods the enemy did not essay, or if he did, was foiled. The next movement of my brigade I am called on to report was ordered by General Summer, through you. It was to move up toward the woods in front, to support the troops there. The order, most urgent and imperative, furnished the only information I possessed that our forces had again entered the woods in our front. I deemed it of the utmost importance that my command should move forward with the least possible delay. I therefore in person gave the order to the regiment nearest me, without the formation of my entire brigade, intending to bring up other regiments to support or continue the line, as circumstances might require.
The Second Massachusetts and the Thirteenth New Jersey Regiments were immediately put in motion. The Third Wisconsin and Twenty-seventh Indiana Regiments, which, as before stated, had suffered seriously in a previous encounter with the enemy, were lying about 200 yards in front, concealed from the view of the enemy by a slight ridge. The One hundred and seventh New York was posted some distance to the left. The Second Massachusetts and Thirteenth New Jersey pushed forward, with great alacrity, sufficiently far to find that the troops to be supported had retired, that a large force of the enemy lay concealed in the woods, while a not inconsiderable number showed themselves in the open field beyond. These regiments were received with a galling fire, which they sustained and returned for a brief period, then fell back upon their supports. So strong was the enemy, that an addition of any force I could command would only have caused further sacrifice, without gain. The loss in the Second Massachusetts was severe. Here fell, mortally wounded, Lieutenant Colonel Wilder Dwight, of this regiment, bravely fighting for his country. An official paper is not the place to express the sadness the death of this gallant officer brings to the regiment, in which his presence was so much felt, as well as to many friends serving in the army, to whom he was much endeared.
I halted my command to report to you, sir, the position of the enemy, and was ordered to form a supporting line behind batteries in position on the left. The rebel lines again advancing, I then forwarded a portion of my brigade to support those nearly in front while the One hundred and seventh New York Regiment was directed to support Captain Cothran's battery on the left. This fine regiment, but just organized and brought into the field, in this battle for the first time under fire, moved with steadiness to its perilous position, and maintained its ground until recalled, though exposed to a front fire from the enemy and a fire over its head from batteries in its rear.
About this time, in the order of events as narrated, I received an urgent call from General Greene, commanding the Second Division of our corps, to send him any re-enforcements I might have and could spare. General Greene at this time was gallantly holding a portion of the woods to the left, the right of which was held by the enemy in force. I directed the Thirteenth New Jersey, Colonel Carman, to support him. This regiment, also for the first time this day under fire, moved boldly and in an orderly manner toward General Greene's position, and I am much gratified to report that the general has spoken to me of their conduct in terms of high commendation. The services of my brigade during a portion of the remainder of the day were confined to forming a supporting line to fresher troops in our front.
Again however, late int he afternoon, was I called into action a direct order, addressed in person by General McClellan to my brigade, to support General Franklin in his intended movement to the front upon the disputed woods. In conformity with this order, I formed my brigade in line of battle directly in rear of General Newton's brigade, of General Franklin's corps, and enacted orders from that officer, to whom I had sent a staff officer to report my position.
Captain Wheaten, my aide, immediately brought me an order to move my brigade to the support of a battery on the contested field, somewhat to the left and about 300 yards to the front of the position I then occupied.
The absence of General Crawford from the field, by reason of a slight wound, placed me at this time in command of the First Division of the corps. Turning over the command of my brigade to Colonel Ruger of the Third Wisconsin, I conducted him to his assigned position, which he held during the night of the 17th instant. The First Brigade (Crawford's) of my division, commanded by Colonel Knipe, of the Forty-sixth Pennsylvania Regiment was drawn up in line of battle, also supporting General Franklin's line to the right of my original position.
Early in the morning the position of my division was again changed to the same direction, but somewhat in advance of the position of the evening before, supporting General Franklin. I held this line during the day and night of the 18th instant. The morning of the 19th revealed the fact the enemy had fled under cover of the night.
Thus terminated a bloody and obstinate contest. From sunrise to sunset the waves of battle ebbed and flowed. Men wrestled with each other in lines of regiment, brigade, and division while regiment, brigade, and division faded away under a terrible fire, leaving long lines of dead to mark where stood the living. Fields of corn were trampled into shreds, forests were battered and scathed, huge limbs sent crashing to the earth, rent by shell or round shot. Grape and canister mingled their hissing scream in this hellish carnival, yet within all this and through it all the patriots of the North wrestled with hearts strong and nerve unshaken - wrestled with the rebel hordes that thronged and pressed upon them as to destruction; never yielding, though sometimes halting to gather up their strength; then with one mighty bound throwing themselves upon their foes, to drive them into their protecting forest beyond. We slept upon the bloody field of our victory.
I cannot too highly praise the conduct of my brigade of regiments, old and new. The Second Massachusetts, Colonel Andrews; the Third Wisconsin, Colonel Ruger; the Twenty-seventh Indiana, Colonel Colgrove I had a right to expect much of. I was not disappointed. Veterans of Winchester and Cedar Mountain, they can add to their laurels the battle of Antietam Creek. In this battle, I believe unparalleled in this war in severity and duration, from sunrise to sunset ever under fire, at times very severely, never free from musketry or artillery, officers and men behaved with most praiseworthy intrepidity and coolness. The One hundred and seventh New York, Colonel van Valkenburgh and the Thirteenth New Jersey, Colonel Carman, being new troops, might well stand appalled at such exposure, but they did not flinch in the discharge of their duties. I have no words but those of praise for their conduct. They fought like veteran soldiers, and stood shoulder to shoulder with those who had borne the brunt of war on the Peninsula, in the Shenandoah Valley, and from Fort Royal to the Rapidan. They were led by those who inspired them with courage, and they followed with a determination to conquer or die. If I make special mention of the One hundred and seventh New York Volunteers, of my brigade, it is that I may speak of its colonel and lieutenant-colonel, Colonel Van Valkenburgh and Lieutenant-Colonel Diven, both of whom members of the present Congress, have left their Congressional duties to organize and bring into the field this fine regiment for their country's service. The example of these gentlemen, leading their men into the fight, cheering them onward, themselves thoughtless of exposure, prominent in the advance, bearing extraordinary fatigues without a murmur, shows a willingness to sacrifice their comfort and their lives for their country. Let others of our prominent men do as they have done, are doing, and the rank and file of our country will throng to follow such earnest leaders.
I owe especial thanks to the Hon. Charles R. Train, who volunteered his services on my staff at a time when fatiguing labor and most arduous service had deprived me of all my aides save one officer. This gentleman also has shown his willingness to lay down his life in his country's cause. the invasion of the loyal North called him from his Congressional duties and his home at a moment's notice. No fatigues, though excessive, no danger, though most perilous, deterred him from moving forward whenever he could render assistance in beating back the invading foe.
To Capt. Charles Wheaten, jr., my aide, I am again indebted for valuable services, ever exposed and ever ready to move cheerfully into dangers, at a time when I was deprived of the valuable services of my adjutant-general, Captain H. B. Scott, who was worn out by fatigue and exposure in the Army of the Potomac.
I cannot close this report without a recognition of the valor of the rank and file of my command. Every soldier, commissioned, non-commissioned, and private, deserves a nation's thanks. I carried into action, in officers and enlisted men, about 2210. My losses are as follows: 72 killed, 548 wounded, and 29 missing.
I inclose, with my own, detailed reports from colonels of regiments showing the services by them and their commands performed on this eventful day, as well as a list of killed, wounded, and missing, by name.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. H. GORDON,
Brig. Gen., Comdg. First Div., Twelfth (late Banks') Corps.
Source: OFFICIAL RECORDS: Series 1, Vol 19, Part 1 (Antietam - Serial 27) , Pages 494 - 498