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Capt John C. Tidball's Report

Report of September 21, 1862 on the Campaign

J.C. Tidball

[author biography]

CAMP NEAR SHEPHERDSTOWN,
September 21, l862.

First Lieutenant [Edward Raynsford] Warner,
Assistant to Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac.

SIR : On the evening of September 14, I received orders to report with my battery at daylight the next morning to Brigadier-General Pleasonton at the village of Bolivar, Maryland, near which the battle of South Mountain was fought. Reporting as directed, I was at once started with the Ninth Regiment Illinois Cavalry in pursuit of the enemy, who were flying in the direction of Boonsborough and Sharpsburg.

Taking the turnpike road to the former place, I came up with the enemy about a mile beyond it, and a few minutes after our cavalry had a severe skirmish with a greatly superior number of those of the enemy. Bringing several of my pieces into battery a few shells soon caused the enemy to break from their momentary halt, and after a short pursuit of them our column turned to the left in order, if possible, to intercept some who had taken other roads in that direction.

A circuitous march of several miles brought us upon the turnpike road leading from Boonsborough to Sharpsburg and a few miles from the latter place. Hastening on I soon came up with Richardsonís Division, which had halted near the bridge over the Antietam Creek, beyond which and near to the town of Sharpsburg the enemy were posted in great force. In a few minutes they opened a fire of artillery; upon which I brought my pieces into position on the crest of a hill to the right of the road and fired in reply. This drew fire from four different points of their line, which was all concentrated on my battery, the only one then there. From this time (about 12m.) until dark, at intervals this firing was kept up, in which practice I always had the last shot.

Early on the morning of the next day I withdrew my guns behind the crest of the hill and their pleas were occupied by some of the heavy batteries of the reserve artillery. I remained in this position until the afternoon, when I withdrew entirely out of range.

The next morning, September 17, the general engagement commenced. About 10 a.m., I was ordered to cross the turnpike bridge over the Antietam, where I took a position on the right side of the road. In front, the enemyís sharpshooters were posted, and there being no infantry at hand to drive them back, I opened fire upon them with canister and gradually worked my guns by hand up a steep ploughed field to the crest of the hill, where I placed them in a commanding position, not only for the enemy directly in front, but for an enfilading fire in front of Sumnerís Corps on the right and that of Burnside on the left of me.

The enemyís battery all the while were very active, but with some exception his practice was bad. This exception was upon a section which, for a short time, I placed in the road. Taking advantage of every appearance of the enemy, I continued firing tip about 1 oíclock, when, my ammunition being well-spent, I was directed by the General to withdraw and replenish, which I accordingly did and resumed my former position in about two hours.

A short time before sundown I advanced a section to the crest of a hill several hundred yards further to the front and in front of the infantry of Hancockís Brigade. This was a most favorable position for operating on a battery then in full play upon the center of Sumnerís line, and I think that my fire contributed in no small degree toward the silencing of this battery.

Soon after nightfall I withdrew, by order of the general, from the field, leaving my position in possession of our infantry.

On the morning of September 19, I was again ordered in pursuit of the enemy, who had fled across the Potomac. Arriving near where the turnpike crosses the river just below Shepherdstown, the head of our column came under fire of the enemyís batteries posted inn the opposite side of the river. I moved my battery well forward and in a few minutes brought my pieces into battery on the left of the road, where I had an excellent fire upon those of the enemy. After a duel of about an hourís duration the enemy were driven from their guns, when I withdrew.

The next morning I was again ordered to the front for the purpose of accompanying other troops in the passage of the river. The force and arrangement for this purpose being entirely inadequate, those who crossed were soon driven back and the only part taken by my battery in this unfortunate affair was to gain a position as quickly as possible on the heights to the left of the road and from there assist in the recrossing of our troops.

Notwithstanding the severe fire to which my battery has, upon the occasions mentioned, been exposed to, [it] has been exceedingly fortunate in receiving but little damage. On September 17 I had one private - Hitz, killed, and one severely and two slightly wounded, and ten horses killed. I fired, in all, about 1,200 rounds.

My officers were Lieutenants [Alexander Cummings] Pennington, [Jr.], [William Neil] Dennison, and [Robert] Clarke, all of whom performed their duties with their usual skill and zeal [photo]. My non-commissioned officers and privates likewise performed their duty in a most commendable manner.

By way of appendix to the above report (which his a copy of the one made to General Pleasonton) I beg leave to add that the use of horse batteries being a new thing in our service, does not appear to be very well comprehended by those in whose command they most frequently [are assigned].

The duties assigned to these batteries at the battle of Antietam could have been performed as well by any other batteries, several of which were close by, unemployed. This would have left the horse batteries free for rapid movement to any parts of the extended field where a concentration of artillery fire was hastily required. If, when the crisis arrived and batteries were so much required on the eft, the whole twenty-four guns of the horse batteries had been thrown upon that flank, a complete instead of Cadmean victory would probably have been the result.

The employment of these batteries alone with cavalry is a dangerous experiment and will most probably lead sooner or later or later to the loss of guns, but cavalry is not armed properly for th support of batteries, which without support are of themselves helpless. Cavalry, for operating with horse artillery, should be armed with muskets or rifles of long range and should dismount and fight as infantry, their horse being used only for locomotion. As it is, and particularly in the instances mentioned in the foregoing report, as soon as the enemy opens fire the cavalry finds themselves of no service naturally and very properly retire. This, when there is no infantry at hand, leaves the batteries at the mercy of any uprising [enterprising?] party of the enemy.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

JOHN C. TIDBALL,
Captain, Second United States Artillery
Commanding Horse Battery A.

Source: Janet Hewett, ed., The Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 100 Volumes in 3 Parts, Wilmington (NC): Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1994-2001; Part 1, Vol. 3, pp. 515 - 519. From the Henry Jackson Hunt Papers, Library of Congress.

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