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BGen Winfield S. Hancock's Official Report

Report of September 29, 1862

Winfield S. Hancock

[biography]

HEADQUARTERS FIRST DIVISION, SECOND CORPS D'ARMEE,
Harper's Ferry, September 29, 1862

Lieut. Col. J. H. TAYLOR,
Chief of Staff, Assistant Adjutant-General,
Hdqrs. Second Corps d'Armee, Harper's Ferry, Va.


COLONEL: In obedience to instructions from the major-general commanding the corps, I have the honor to submit a narrative of the operations of this (Richardson's) division during the battle of Antietam, and the time subsequent thereto, until the enemy had retreated from the field, Major-General Richardson's wound being of such a nature as to render it impracticable for him to make the report as to the period during which he exercised the command.

About 9.30 o'clock a.m. on the 17th instant, the division, commanded by General Richardson, crossed the Antietam at the ford constructed by our engineers; then moved forward on a line nearly parallel to the creek, and formed line of battle by brigades in a ravine behind the high ground overlooking Roulette's house, the Second Brigade, commanded by Brigadier-General Meagher, on the right, his regiments being placed in the following order from right to left: The Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers, commanded by Lieut. Col. James Kelly; the Twenty-ninth Massachusetts Volunteers, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Barnes; the Sixty-third New York Volunteers, commanded by Colonel Burke, and the Eighty-eighth New York Volunteers, commanded by Lieut. Col. Patrick Kelly; the Third [First] Brigade, commanded by Brigadier-General Caldwell, on his left, and the brigade commanded by Colonel Brooke, of the Fifty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers, in the rear. Meagher's brigade immediately advanced, and soon became engaged with the enemy, posted to the left and in front of Roulette's house. This brigade continued its advance under a heavy fire nearly to the crest of the hill overlooking Piper's house, the enemy being posted in strong force in a sunken road directly in its front.

A severe and well-sustained musketry contest then ensued, which, after continuing until the ammunition was nearly expended, this brigade, having suffered severely, losing many valuable officers and men, was, by direction of General Richardson, relieved by the brigade of General Caldwell, which until this time had remained in support. Caldwell's brigade advanced to within a short distance of the rear of Meagher's brigade. The latter then broke by companies to the rear, and the former by companies to the front, and in this manner passed their respective lines. Caldwell's brigade immediately advanced to the crest overlooking the sunken road and about 30 yards distant from it, and at once became engaged in a most desperate contest, the enemy then occupying that position in great strength, supported by other troops in their rear toward Piper's house.

The regiments of this brigade were posted in the following order, from right to left: The Sixty-first New York and Sixty-fourth New York Volunteers, consolidated temporarily, under command of Colonel Barlow; the Seventh New York Volunteers, commanded by Captain Brestel; the Eighty-first Pennsylvania Volunteers, commanded by Major McKeen, and the Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers, commanded by Colonel Cross. At this time Colonel Brooke's brigade formed a second line in support of Caldwell's brigade, the regiments of General Meagher's brigade retiring to the rear to replenish their ammunition, having received an order to that effect from General Richardson.

The enemy having pierced the troops on the right of Roulette's house, belonging to some other division of our forces, Colonel Brooke, observing it, applied for orders to General Richardson to repair the accident, and immediately led three regiments in that direction, and formed line of battle on the crest in front of Roulette's house and inclosures, sending one regiment (the Fifty-third Pennsylvania, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel McMichael) to dislodge the enemy, who had then gained a foothold in the corn-field in rear of those buildings. The enemy was promptly driven out by this regiment, which held the ground until ordered subsequently to march to another part of the field. The enemy having retired on these demonstrations, the other two regiments (the Fifty-seventh New York Volunteers, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Parisen, and the Sixty-sixth New York Volunteers, commanded by Captain Wehle) were then led by Colonel Brooke to the support of General Caldwell's brigade, forming line on the same crest with it, that brigade being then hard pressed by the enemy, and a vacant space having been made in the line owing to the fact that the Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers had been moved to the left by Colonel Cross to prevent a flank movement by the enemy toward our left, which was handsomely frustrated by that officer. A spirited contest arose between his regiment and a force of the enemy, each endeavoring to be the first to gain the high ground to the left, and each force delivering its fire as they marched by the flank in parallel lines. Colonel Cross captured one regimental color in this contest.

The two regiments of Colonel Brooke's brigade last referred to immediately became engaged on the left of the remainder of General Caldwell's, the Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers being still farther to the left. The enemy was re-enforced by fresh troops during the contest, his first line having been driven off the field. Finally an advance was made from this position to Piper's house by the brigade of Caldwell and the two regiments under Colonel Brooke, under a heavy fire of musketry and artillery, the enemy having a section of brass pieces in the front firing grape and a battery to the right throwing shell. This advance drove the enemy from the field and gave us possession of the house and its surroundings--the citadel of the enemy at this position of the line, it being a defensible building several hundred yards to the rear of the sunken road first referred to. This having been accomplished, the musketry firing at this point ceased. At the time the enemy broke the line on our right previously referred to, when Colonel Brooke advanced toward Roulette's house, Colonel Frank, of the Fifty-second New York Volunteers, then in command of that regiment and the Second Delaware, also observing a movement to our right and rear, changed front obliquely to the right, and became engaged with the flank of the enemy's advance, and performed an active part in frustrating his intended movement. Colonel Barlow, commanding the Sixty-first and Sixty-fourth Regiments of New York Volunteers, of Caldwell's brigade, observing the same movement of the enemy to the right, changed front and delivered his fire, performing good service in checking the attempt to turn our flank, causing the surrender of 300 prisoners and capturing two colors. Having possession of Piper's house, by direction of General Richardson the line was withdrawn a short distance to take position on a crest, which formed a more advantageous line.

Up to this time the division was without artillery, and in taking up the new position it suffered severely from artillery fire, which could not be replied to. A section of Robertson's battery of horse artillery (brass pieces), commanded by Lieutenant Vincent, of the Second Artillery, then arrived on the ground and did excellent service. Subsequently a battery of brass guns of Porter's corps, commanded by Captain Graham, also arrived, and was posted on the same line. A heavy fire then ensued between the enemy's artillery and our own, ours finally retiring, being unable to reach the enemy, who used rifled guns, ours being smooth-bores.

General Richardson was severely wounded, about this time, while directing the movements of the troops, and while personally directing the fire of one of our batteries. General Meagher's brigade having refilled their cartridge boxes, returned at this time, and took its position in the center of the line. General Meagher had his horse shot under him in the action of his brigade, and, in falling, received bruises which prevented him from returning to the field until the next morning.

Early in the afternoon, after General Richardson had been removed from the field, I was directed to take command of his division by Major General McClellan in person. Having received his orders and those of Major-General Sumner, I proceeded to the ground, and found that the division occupied the right center of our lines My instructions were to hold that position against the enemy. I found the troops occupying one line of battle in close proximity to the enemy, who was then again in position behind Piper's house. The Fourteenth Connecticut Regiment and a detachment from the One hundred and eighth New York Volunteers, both under command of Col. Dwight Morris, were in reserve, the whole command numbering about 2,100 men, with no artillery. Finding a considerable interval at a dangerous point between Meagher's brigade, then commanded by Colonel Burke, of the Sixty-third Regiment New York Volunteers, and Caldwell's brigade, the Fourteenth Connecticut was placed there, and the detachment from the One hundred and eighth New York Volunteers on the extreme left. Application was made for two batteries of artillery to the different commanders within reach, and to the chief of artillery, but none could be spared at that time. I felt able, however, to hold the position as I had been instructed, notwithstanding this deficiency and the fact that the troops were already suffering severely from the shells of the enemy, relying upon the good qualities of the troops, but was too weak to make an attack, unless an advance was made on the right, as I had no reserves, and the line was already enfiladed from its forward position by the enemy's artillery in front of our right wing, which was screened from the fire of our artillery on the right by a belt of woods, which was yet in possession of the enemy.

Some time after arriving on the ground, a command of the enemy was seen in line of battle, preceded by skirmishers, advancing in a direction parallel to our front, and toward a command of ours situated to the front of my left, whose line was formed nearly at right angles with mine. I immediately sent a pressing message for a battery of artillery, and Captain Hexamer, of Slocum's division of General Franklin's corps, was sent to me. The enemy, after a short cannonading, was forced to retire. In a short time an advance was made by some of our troops on my right toward the rear of Piper's house, the enemy appearing to make preparations to meet them. I assisted these troops by the fire of this battery, and subsequently seeing our troops returning, prevented pursuit. This advance proved to have been made by a single regiment, the Seventh Maine, without concert of action with other troops.

During this time and previously the entire command suffered a severe cannonading from the enemy's artillery, and was also much annoyed by his sharpshooters. The battery above referred to, having no ammunition, retired, and was replaced by Kirby's battery, commanded by Lieu tenant Woodruff (12-pounder brass guns). Captain Tidball's battery had been in position a considerable distance from our extreme left, and toward evening that officer placed a section on the elevated ridge on the left of my line, which did material service by the precision of its fire in concealing the weakness of our position. This section was withdrawn about dark.

Affairs remained in this position during the night. Our pickets were thrown as far forward as practicable (a very short distance). The next morning a battery of light 12-pounders, commanded by Lieut. Evan Thomas, reported to me, and replaced the battery commanded by Lieu tenant Woodruff. Captain Pettit's battery of rifled guns also reported, and was placed in a commanding position on our extreme left. The day passed in this position, I having been directed in the morning, by orders from the commander-in-chief, not to precipitate hostilities, as he expected some re-enforcements to arrive before he desired to recommence movements to the front. Receiving no further instructions during the day, I continued to await the operations of the other portions of the line. The enemy's sharpshooters commenced at an early hour on the morning of the 18th firing upon our troops, and so continued during the day. Their fire was replied to by our pickets and by others detailed for this service.

In the afternoon, being informed that a flag of truce from the enemy was in our front, I dispatched an aide to receive the message, and, on learning that General Pryor appeared on the part of the enemy, directed General Meagher to communicate with him and to ascertain his wishes. It was then learned that no flag had been sent by the enemy, and that a misunderstanding had arisen on account of an unauthorized arrangement which had been made by the pickets of the opposing forces (our own particularly in fault), ostensibly for the purpose of collecting the wounded between our lines. General Pryor was notified that as nearly all the wounded between the lines belonged to the enemy, any communication having for its object their collection must proceed from them, expressing a desire, however, that the wounded, who had been lying on the ground for thirty hours, might be removed. General Pryor had previously stated that he had no doubt a communication from us to the commanding general of the enemy's forces would result in a satisfactory arrangement. General Pryor stating that he had no authority to send such communication as indicated, on my part the conference closed. Subsequently it was reported to me that another flag had appeared. Again General Meagher was sent to meet the bearer, who proved to be a lieutenant- colonel in the rebel service, who stated that the flag was intended to cover the operations of collecting the wounded and burying the dead, it being supposed that a truce existed by an arrangement which had been made on our night. The officer was notified that it was an error, and in a few minutes hostilities recommenced. Subsequently a number of the enemy appeared in the corn-field in our front, apparently for the purpose of collecting the dead, five of whom approached our picket line. At that moment several shots were delivered by their own sharpshooters, when these five men were arrested and sent to the rear as prisoners of war. A good deal of this uncertainty, no doubt, arose from similar operations on our right, rendering it doubtful on both sides whether or not a truce existed. The troops remained in their position until the following morning, when it was found that the enemy had retreated. We then advanced to their position and commenced the operation of collecting the remaining wounded, burying the dead of both forces, and piling the captured arms.

Nine regimental colors and battle-flags were taken on the field from the enemy by this division, claimed as follows, and explained by the subordinate reports: The Fifth New Hampshire, Colonel Cross, captured one color. Sixty first and Sixty-fourth New York Volunteers, Colonel Barlow, captured two colors. Fifty-seventh New York Volunteers, commanded by Colonel Parisen (killed), subsequently by Major Chapman, and the Sixty-sixth New York, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Bull, both at the time under command of Colonel Brooke, captured two colors. The Seventh New York, Captain Brestel, captured three colors. One other color was captured by the division, not now known by which regiment. About 400 prisoners were captured, and 4,000 muskets collected on the field in front of the division, and piled.

Our loss was as follows: 207 killed, 940 wounded, 16 missing; total, 1,163.

The loss of the enemy in killed and wounded was very heavy. Our troops behaved in the handsomest manner, and performed the part assigned to them successfully and with promptness, and in passing through the trying ordeal exhibited the soldier's noblest qualities. I regret that some of the most valuable officers of the division were killed and many wounded, some of them of those who had distinguished themselves on many previous fields. For their particular services and for details of the deeds of the different brigades, and for the special meritorious services of individuals, officers and men, I respectfully refer you to the interesting reports of General Meagher, General Caldwell, and Colonel Brooke, commanding brigades, and to the reports of regimental and battery commanders. I have, however, obtained the names of some of those who, by their position and the occasions presented, had opportunities of acquiring the highest distinction and availed themselves thereof. I cannot overlook their claim to especial mention in this report, and herewith submit their names:

First [Third] Brigade, Col. J. R. Brooke, Fifty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers, commanding brigade: Col. Paul Frank, commanding Fifty-second New York Volunteers; Lieut. Col. R. McMichael, commanding Fifty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers; Lieut. Col. P. J. Parisen, commanding Fifty-seventh New York Volunteers, who was killed while gallantly leading his men in the final charge; Maj. A. B. Chapman, who commanded the Fifty-seventh New York Volunteers after Lieutenant-Colonel Parisen had fallen; Capt. Julius Wehle, commanding Sixty-sixth New York Volunteers; Capt. D. L. Stricker, commanding Second Delaware Volunteers; First Lieut. Charles P. Hatch, acting assistant adjutant-general to Colonel Brooke; Second Lieut. John T. Potts, aide-de camp, wounded; First Lieut. J. M. Faville, adjutant, Fifty-seventh New York Volunteers; Rev. Mr. Dwight, chaplain, Sixty-sixth New York Volunteers.

Caldwell's brigade, commanded by Brig. Gen. J. C. Caldwell: Col. E. E. Cross, commanding Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers; Col. F. C. Barlow, wounded, commanding Sixty-first and Sixty-fourth New York Volunteers; Lieut. Col. N. A. Miles, Sixty-first New York Volunteers, commanding Sixty-first and Sixty-fourth New York Volunteers after Colonel Barlow was wounded; Maj. H. B. McKeen, commanding Eighty-first Pennsylvania Volunteers; Capt. Charles Brestel, commanding Seventh New York Volunteers; First Lieut. D. R. Cross, First Lieut. C. A. Alvord, and First Lieut. G. W. Scott, of General Caldwell's staff; Corpl. George Nettleton, Company G, Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers, for bringing the colors of the Fourth (rebel) Regiment North Carolina Volunteers off the field, being badly wounded at the time.

Meagher's brigade, Brig. Gen. T. F. Meagher commanding the brigade: Lieut. Col. James Kelly, commanding Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers, wounded; Lieut. Col. Joseph H. Barnes, commanding Twenty-ninth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers; Lieut. Col. Henry Fowler, commanding Sixty-third New York Volunteers, wounded; Lieut. Col. Patrick Kelly, commanding Eighty-eighth New York Volunteers; Maj. James Cavanagh, commanding Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers after Lieut. Col. James Kelly had been wounded; Maj. Charles Chipman, Twenty-ninth Massachusetts Volunteers; Maj. R. C. Bentley (wounded), commanding Sixty -third New York Volunteers after Lieutenant-Colonel Fowler had been wounded; Maj. James Quinlan, Eighty-eighth New York Volunteers; Capt. Joseph O'Neill, Sixty-third New York Volunteers, commanding that regiment after Lieutenant-Colonel Fowler and Major Bentley had been wounded; Capt. James E. McGee, Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers; Capt. Felix Duffy, Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers, killed; Capt. P. F. Clooney, Eighty eighth New York Volunteers, killed; Capt. John O'Connell Joyce, Eighty-eighth New York Volunteers, killed; Capt. Timothy L. Shanley, Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers, wounded; Capt. Jasper M. Whitty, Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers, wounded; First Lieut. John H. Gleason, Sixty-third New York Volunteers; Capt. G Miller, assistant adjutant-general to General Meagher; First Lieut. James E. Mackey (wounded), aide-de-camp; Second Lieut. John J. Gosson, aide-de camp; Surg. Francis Reynolds, Eighty-eighth New York Volunteers.

The staff officers of Major General Richardson, Maj. J. M. Norvell, assistant adjutant general; Capt. James P. McMahon, of the Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers; First Lieut. D. W. Miller, First Lieut. Wilber L. Hurlbut, First Lieut. C. S. Draper, badly wounded, acted with heroism. After General Richardson was wounded, Captain McMahon, Lieutenant Miller, and Lieutenant Hurlbut joined me, and were very efficient, and deserve the highest commendations for their good conduct.

My personal staff, First Lieut. W. G. Mitchell, aide-de-camp; First Lieut. I. B. Parker, aide-de-camp; Second Lieut. C. S. McEntee, acting assistant quartermaster, conducted themselves handsomely and with their usual gallantry.

Captain Hoyt, division quartermaster; Capt. C. S. Fuller, division commissary; First Lieutenant Rorty, division ordinance officer, and Surg. J. H. Taylor, medical director of the division, performed their respective duties with intelligence, bravery, and fidelity. Orderly bugler Private John Malone, Sixth Regiment Maine Volunteers, was with me during the day, and for his great gallantry deserves notice at my hands.



I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
WINF'D S. HANCOCK,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Division.

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