October 25, 1862.
Brig. Gen. D R. JONES.
GENERAL: The day that the army,
commanded by General Lee, left Leesburg and marched toward Maryland, you notified me that
I was assigned to the command of a division, composed of my own brigade, General
Drayton's, and Col. G. T. Anderson's. When Major-General Longstreet's command arrived
within 4 or 5 miles of Hagerstown, I was ordered to send forward one of my brigades to
that point, take possession of Hagerstown, and to hold it until further orders. I asked
permission to accompany this brigade, which was granted by Major-General Longstreet. I
took with me, for the execution of this order, my own brigade, then under the command of
Colonel Benning, of the Seventeenth Georgia Volunteers, leaving Brigadier-General
Drayton's and Colonel Anderson's brigades with the main body of the army.
On Saturday night, September 13, while in command at Hagerstown, I received orders to hold my command in readiness to march at daylight the next morning. I received no further orders until about 10 o'clock on Sunday night, September 14. I then received orders to march immediately to Sharpsburg, which I did, and reached there before daylight on Monday morning. On that day I received orders from you to detail two regiments from my own brigade (the only one then with me), and to order them to Williamsport for the protection of the wagon-train, which left me with but two regiments only, and one of those (the Second Georgia) was very small, having less than 120 muskets present for duty. With these two regiments I was ordered by you to occupy the most eligible position I could find on the Antietam River, near the bridge on the road to Harper's Ferry, in order to prevent the enemy from crossing the river. From this position I was ordered to fall back when it should become necessary, by my right flank, and to hold a hill about 400 yards below the bridge and immediately on the river, as long as it might be practicable, and then to fall back and take position on your right in line of battle, with four other brigades of your command, about 600 or 800 yards in rear of the bridge. With these orders I took possession of the ground indicated in your orders on Monday, September 15, with the Twentieth Georgia Volunteers, commanded by Col. John B. Cumming, and the Second Georgia Volunteers, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Holmes (about 400 muskets strong), and both under the immediate command of Col. Henry L. Benning, commanding the brigade.
At this time, no notice having been given me of what disposition was intended to be made of the rest of the division which had been assigned to me, I subsequently understood from you that Anderson's brigade had been attached to Brigadier-General Hood's command, and Brigadier-General Drayton's brigade was retained by you in your line of battle on the heights in my rear, except one regiment (the Fiftieth Georgia Volunteers, Lieutenant-Colonel [F.] Kearse), hereafter referred to.
The Antietam River runs comparatively straight from a point about 100 paces above the bridge to a point about 300 paces below the bridge, and then curves suddenly around a hill to a ford on a neighborhood road. About 600 yards to my right and rear the road from Sharpsburg to Harper's Ferry from the foot of the bridge over the Antietam turns suddenly down the river, and runs nearly upon its margin for about 300 paces; then leaves the river nearly at right angles. Upon examining the position, I found a narrow wood upon the margin of the river just above the bridge (an important and commanding position) occupied by a company of Texans from Brigadier-General Hood's command. I then ordered the Twentieth to take position, with its left near the foot of the bridge, on the Sharpsburg side, extending down the river near its margin, and the Second Georgia on its right, prolonging the line down to the point where the road on the other side from the mountain approached the river. This required a more open order than was desirable, on account of the smallness of the regiments, both together numbering but a little over 400 muskets.
On Tuesday you placed under my command the Fiftieth Georgia (Lieutenant-Colonel Kearse), numbering, I should suppose, scarcely 100 muskets. I ordered this regiment on the right of the Second Georgia, extending it in open order, so as to guard a blind plantation road leading to a ford between the lower ford before referred to and the right of the Second Georgia Volunteers.
On Tuesday evening I received notice of the withdrawal of the company belonging to Brigadier General Hood's brigade from the position on Colonel Cumming's left, above the bridge, and was compelled to detail a company from the Twentieth to take its place.
On Wednesday morning I ordered a company from General Jenkins' brigade (whom you had placed under my command) to relieve this company from the Twentieth and occupy its position, that it might resume its position below the bridge. This order was not obeyed, and subsequently I placed the captain and one-half of this company between the Second Georgia and Fiftieth Georgia, and the other half, under a lieutenant, near the lower ford, to prevent or retard the passage of the enemy at this point. This command held its position with fidelity and firmness until withdrawn by my order. This position was important, and had been guarded by a cavalry regiment, with an infantry brigade in its rear, up to Tuesday evening, when both were removed to another position on the field of battle, and left the crossing unprotected, except by the small force I was thus enabled to place there. Finding that the battery belonging to my brigade (Captain Richardson) was placed too far in my rear to render me efficient service in defending the passage at the bridge, I applied to General Longstreet for another battery. He ordered Captain Eubank to report to me, who was placed in my rear, about half-way between the river and Captain Richardson's battery and rendered efficient service as long as he remained in that position.
The enemy opened on my position with his artillery on Tuesday evening, and continued it until dark. The damage was but slight. My own skirmishers and the company from General Hood's brigade crossed the river, and were actively engaged with the enemy's skirmishers the most of this day.
On Tuesday night the enemy advanced his artillery and infantry much nearer my position, and on Wednesday morning threw forward his skirmishers and light infantry in greatly increased numbers, and before 8 o'clock drove in my pickets and advanced with heavy columns to the attack of my position on the bridge. This position was not strong. The ground descended gently to the margin of the river, covered with a narrow strip of woods, affording slight protection to the troops. Its chief strength lay in the fact that, from the nature of the ground on the other side, the enemy were compelled to approach mainly by the road which led up the river for near 300 paces, parallel with my line of battle, and distant therefrom from 50 to 150 feet, thus exposing his flank to a destructive fire the most of that distance.
At between 9 and 10 o'clock the enemy made his first attempt to carry the bridge by a rapid assault, and was repulsed with great slaughter, and at irregular intervals, up to about 1 o'clock, made four other attempts of the same kind, all of which were gallantly met and successfully repulsed by the Twentieth and Second Georgia. The Fiftieth Georgia and the half company from General Jenkins' brigade, before referred to, were on the right of the Second Georgia, rather below the main point of attack, and rendered little or no service in this fierce and bloody struggle. After these repeated disastrous repulses, the enemy, despairing of wresting the bridge from the grasp of its heroic defenders, and thus forcing his passage across the river at this point, turned his attention to the fords before referred to, and commenced moving fresh troops in that direction by his left flank. The old road, by the upper of the two fords referred to, led over a hill on my right and in my rear, which completely commanded my position and all ingress and egress to and from it below the bridge. My communications with the rear above the bridge were beset with other, but scarcely less, difficulties. This approach could have been very successfully defended by a comparatively small force, and it was for this purpose that I so often and urgently asked the aid of a regiment on the day of the battle, not having another man available for that purpose. Not being able to get any re-enforcements for the defense of these two fords, and seeing that the enemy was moving upon them to cross, thus enabling him to attack my small force in front, right flank, and rear, and my two regiments having been constantly engaged from early in the morning up to 1 o'clock with a vastly superior force of the enemy, aided by three heavy batteries, the commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Holmes, of the Second, having been killed in the action, and the only remaining field officer, Major [Skidmore] Harris, being painfully wounded, and fully one half of this regiment being killed or wounded, and the Twentieth having also suffered severely in killed and wounded, and the ammunition of both regiments being nearly exhausted, and Eubank's battery having been withdrawn to the rear nearly two hours before, I deemed it my duty, in pursuance of your original order, to withdraw my command and place it in the position designated by you opposite the two lower fords, some half a mile to the right and front of your line of battle. In pursuance of this order, Colonel Benning, who had commanded the remnant of the brigade during the action with distinguished gallantry and skill, withdrew these gallant regiments to their new position, ready again to confront and battle with the enemy. The Fiftieth Georgia and the company from General Jenkins' brigade were at the same time ordered to the same position, and were led back by their respective officers. This change of position was made to my entire satisfaction, and with but small loss, in the face of greatly superior numbers. Before these troops had reached their new position, the Fifteenth Georgia Volunteers, under the command of Colonel Millican; the Seventeenth, under the command of Captain [John A.] McGregor, of my brigade, and Major Little, with five companies of the Eleventh Georgia (Colonel Anderson's brigade), all of whom had been detached several days before to guard ammunition and other trains, arrived on the field and were also placed in the new position before designated. The Twentieth end Second were then ordered to the ammunition train to replenish their cartridge-boxes.
Though the bridge and upper ford were thus left open to the enemy, he moved with such extreme caution and slowness that he lost nearly two hours in crossing and getting into action on our side of the river, about which time General A. P. Hill's division arrived from Harper's Ferry. I then received your order that, as soon as General Gregg (of General A. P. Hill's division)arrived and relieved me, to move my command and take position immediately on your right, on the heights then occupied by the rest of your command. Before I was relieved by General Gregg, I received from you another order to move up my command immediately to meet the enemy, who had already commenced his attack on your position. I immediately put my command in motion, then consisting of the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Georgia (lessened by one company from each, sent out as skirmishers), Major Little's battalion, of the Eleventh, a small number of Kearse's regiment, and on the way I found Colonel Cumming and a part of the Twentieth, who had returned from supplying themselves with ammunition and joined me, and hastened with all speed to your position. On my arrival, I found the enemy in possession of the ground I was ordered by you to occupy on your right. He had driven off our troops, captured McIntosh's battery (attached to General Drayton's brigade), and held possession of all the ground from the cornfield on your right down to the Antietam Bridge road, including the eastern suburbs of the town of Sharpsburg, all the troops defending it having been driven back and retired to the rear or through the town.
Under this state of facts, I had instantly to determine either to retreat or fight. A retreat would have left the town of Sharpsburg and General Longstreet's rear open to the enemy, and was inadmissible. I, therefore, with less than one-fifth of the enemy's numbers, determined to give him battle, and immediately and rapidly formed my line of battle in the road within 100 paces of the enemy's lines. While forming in the road, Captain Troup, my aide, on my extreme left rallied a portion of General Kemper's brigade, who were retiring from the field, attached it to my line of battle, and led them into action with conspicuous gallantry and skill.
As soon as possible, I opened fire upon the enemy's columns, who immediately advanced in good order upon me until he approached within 60 or 80 paces, when the effectiveness of the fire threw his column in considerable disorder, upon perceiving which I immediately ordered a charge, which, being brilliantly and energetically executed by my whole line, the enemy broke in confusion and fled. McIntosh's battery was recaptured and our position retaken within less than thirty minutes after the commencement of this attack upon him. The enemy fled in confusion toward the river and bridge, making two or three efforts to rally, which were soon defeated by the vigorous charges of our troops, aided by Captain Richardson's battery, which I ordered up immediately upon the recovery of the heights, and which, with its accustomed promptness and courage, was rapidly placed in position and action. The enemy, to cover his retreating columns, brought over the bridge a battery and placed it in position. I ordered Richardson's battery to open upon it, and at the same time ordered the Fifteenth and Twentieth Georgia forward, who pursued the enemy so close to his guns as to bring them within range of musketry, which compelled his battery, after a few shots, to join his fleeing infantry and retreat across the bridge. I desired to pursue the enemy across the river, but being deficient in artillery to meet his heavy batteries on the other side, I sent my aide, Captain Troup, to General Lee for the purpose of supplying myself, who ordered Captain Squires to report to me immediately, which he was unable to do, from not receiving the order in time, until nearly night, when it was too late to risk the movement, and, therefore, I ordered him to hold himself in readiness for the movement in the morning, if the action should be renewed. I then determined to move my troops upon and occupy the position held by me on the river at the beginning of the action, but before the execution of this purpose I received your order to change my position and to occupy the heights on the opposite side of the road leading to the bridge from Sharpsburg, on the left of your command, which order was immediately executed and the troops bivouacked for the night.
I am happy to report that our loss in this last attack was unexpectedly small. Such was the heroic vigor and rapidity of the assault upon the enemy, he was panic-stricken; his fire was wild and comparatively harmless. Having been compelled to leave my command before official returns could be brought in, I am unable to state it accurately. Colonel Benning has, doubtless, before this time furnished you with them.
Among the casualties of the day I have to deplore the loss of two commanders of regiments. Colonel Millican, of the Fifteenth Georgia, who greatly distinguished himself both at Manassas and in this action for personal gallantry and efficiency as a soldier and field officer, fell while gallantly leading his regiment in the final charge (and nearly its close), which swept the enemy from this part of the field of battle. Lieutenant Colonel Holmes, who commanded the Second Georgia Volunteer Regiment, fell near the close of his heroic defense of the passage of the Antietam, and it is due to him to say that, in my judgment, he has not left in the armies of the republic a truer or braver soldier, and I have never known a cooler, more efficient, or more skillful field officer.
The conduct of the officers and men generally under my command in the battle of Sharpsburg was so strongly marked with the noble virtues of the patriot soldier that a narrative of this day's deeds performed by them, however simple and unadorned, if truthful, would seem like the language of extravagant and unmerited eulogy.
The reports of the regimental commanders will bring to your attention the meritorious conduct of officers and men which it may not have been my good fortune to witness, and, as I have not the benefit of their reports before me, I shall have to content myself with bringing to your attention the most conspicuous cases of individual merit which fell under my personal observation. Every opportunity for conspicuous gallantry and valuable services which presented itself seemed to be eagerly embraced by those whose good fortune it was to fall in with it.
Colonel Benning stood by his brigade on the Antietam, guiding, directing, and animating his officers and men with distinguished coolness, courage, and skill; withdrew them from that perilous condition; again led them, with equal skill and courage, in the final conflict with the enemy. He deserves the special consideration of the Government.
Colonel Cumming, with marked gallantry and skill, led his regiment throughout the day, and, after the long and bloody conflict at the bridge, brought up one of its fragments to the last charge, and was among the foremost in it.
Major Harris, of the Second, after the fall of Colonel Holmes, though suffering from a painful wound, stood firmly and gallantly by his command during the whole day.
Colonel Benning being in command of the brigade, and Lieutenant-Colonel [Wesley C.] Hodges and Major [J. H.] Pickett both being absent, from severe wounds received by them in former battles, Captain McGregor led the Seventeenth Regiment with ability, courage, and skill.
Major Little led his battalion of the Eleventh Georgia with a dashing courage and success which won the admiration of his comrades. The officers and men of his battalion deserve especial mention for their gallantry and good conduct.
Captain [J. B.] Richardson and his officers and men, of the company of the Washington Artillery attached to my own brigade, were conspicuous throughout the day for courage and good conduct. Captain Richardson clung to the infantry amid every danger, and, being nobly seconded on every occasion by his officers and men, largely contributed to every success. During the whole connection of this battery with my command, its officers and men have so conducted themselves everywhere---on the march, in the camp, and in the battle-field--as to merit and receive my special approbation.
The duties of my staff, from the nature and extent of the operations of my command and its distance from the main body, were peculiarly arduous and dangerous, and I am much indebted to them for their extraordinary efforts on that occasion. Every difficulty was met by increased energy and exertion, and every increased danger with a higher courage and devotion to duty. During the combat on the river they were all constantly engaged in arduous and dangerous duties.
In the final conflict Captain Troup was on the left of my line ; Captain [D. M.] DuBose on my right Cadet [W. T.] Lamar accompanied me personally, and Captain [A. A. F.] Hill, of First Georgia Regulars, assigned to me for special duty, and Lieutenant Grant were actively executing my orders in carrying orders and bringing up troops.
It happened to my aide, Capt. J. R. Troup, on three occasions during the day, while in the performance of his ordinary duties, to pass troops which had broken and left their positions, on all of which occasions he rallied them with great skill and energy, succeeding on one occasion in leading them back into position, and on another inspired them with his own courage and enthusiasm, and led them successfully in the charge on the enemy's columns. Captain Troup's conduct throughout the day was conspicuous for ability and courage, and is entitled to marked and special approbation.
The conduct of one of my couriers, Mr. Thomas Paschal, of Cobb's Legion, deserves special mention for courage and fidelity to duty under circumstances of peculiar difficulties and dangers.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,