[Lieutenant MANN PAGE,
Actg. Asst. Adjt. General, First Division, Jackson's Corps.]
HEADQUARTERS STARKE'S BRIGADE,
Camp near Martinsburg, W. Va., October 20, 1862.
LIEUTENANT: In obedience to the order of Lieutenant-General Jackson, requiring of Brigade Commanders reports of the participation of their commands in the late engagements with the enemy, I have the honor to submit the following statement of the part taken by this brigade in the capture of Harper's Ferry and the immediately following battle of Sharpsburg, Md.:
Having marched from Martinsburg about dawn on the morning of September 13, we reached the vicinity of Bolivar Heights, where the enemy was strongly entrenched, shortly after noon on the same day, and bivouacked on the Charlestown Road just beyond the range of his guns until 2 o'clock the next day. At that hour we were ordered to move by an unfrequented road to our left and almost at right angles with the Charlestown road, to a position nearer the Potomac, supporting the Baltimore battery of light artillery, commanded by Captain Brockenbrough and attached to this brigade, which opened upon the enemy and continued its fire until dark, the enemy responding, but without damage to us.
At 8 p. m., when darkness entirely concealed the movement, we were ordered to move forward in closer proximity to the Potomac, and within close range of the enemy's artillery, in obedience to which order we silently occupied a wooded ridge overlooking the river, and along the crest of which a road leads directly to the enemy's fortified position.
The brigade being formed in line across, and at right angles with, the course of the ridge, we lay upon our arms till nearly daylight, the quietude of the night being unbroken, save by a sharp musketry fire of a few minute's duration in front of our right and few hundred yards distant, which ;proved to have occurred between two regiments of the enemy on picket duty, who had mutually mistaken each other for foes.
Shortly before dawn we resumed our position of the evening before, again supporting the Baltimore battery, which reopened its fire and delivered a few telling shots, some of them, I regret to say, after the besieged hoisted the white flag. It is but justice however, to add that from the position we occupied the flag was imperceptible, nor were we aware of the surrender until a message was received from the Major-General commanding, directing a cessation of the fire.
It gives me pleasure to be able to say that not a single casualty of any kind is to be reported in this brigade on that occasion, although the result was so glorious to our arms.
BATTLE OF SHARPSBURG.
Having previously cooked two days' rations, we left our bivouac near Bolivar Heights on Tuesday, September 16, at 2.30 a. m. and took up the line of march by way of Shepherdstown; again crossed the Potomac, and halted about noon in the vicinity and to the southwest of the town of Sharpsburg, Md., where we rested in line of battle till near sunset, at which time we resumed our line of march and moved forward about a mile to take the position assigned to us on the extreme left, preparatory to the anticipated combat of the next morning. In doing so we encountered the shells from three of the enemy's batteries, and had the misfortune about dark to lose several of our number, among whom was the gallant young Gordon, a Lieutenant in the Ninth Louisiana Regiment and acting assistant adjutant-general of the brigade, who was killed by a shell which cut off both his legs at the thigh. Under command of Brigadier-General Starke, who remained with us constantly, we lay upon our arms all night, throwing out a line of skirmishers in front and to the left. During the early part of the night we were much disturbed by several of the enemy's batteries, which, crossing their fire, cut the tree-tops over our heads, and our rest was broken at intervals during the whole night by occasional and spirited firing between the skirmishers.
At the break of day on the 17th the artillery reopened, and the rapidly increasing rattle of musketry notified us of the commencement of a general engagement with a foe vastly superior to us in numbers and confident of an easy victory. Our men, although much worn down with long and rapid marches, and but recently from the bloody fields of Manassas, were again ready to meet our boastful enemy, with undaunted front, and when, at 7 a. m., the order forward was given, it was heard with enthusiasm and obeyed with alacrity from one end brigade to the other.
We had scarcely emerged from the woods in which we had rested during the night, when we found ourselves face to face with the enemy, heavily massed and within close musket range. Still, we charged forward in the face of a murderous fire, which thinned our ranks at every step, until our progress was arrested by a lane, on either side of which was a high, staked fence stretching along our whole front, to pass which, under the circumstances, was an impossibility. The men, being formed along this fence, kept up an accurate and well-sustained fire, which visibly told upon the enemy's ranks; and, although we suffered greatly, as well from musketry in front as from a battery on our left, which enfiladed us with grape and canister, still, not a man was seen to flinch from to conflict. By some mistake or misapprehension, the troops which were intended, as I have since been informed, when the order to retire was given and obeyed, the men withdrawing in tolerable order, and fighting as they fell back.
It was in this early part of the engagement that our brave and chivalric leader, Brigadier General William E. Starke, loved and honored by every man under his command, fell pierced by three Minie-balls, and was carried from the field in a dying condition, surviving his wounds but an hour.
The enemy, flushed with their supposed success in the first onset, rent the air with shouts, and pressed upon us with redoubled energy. Their exultation was, however, but short-lived. The command of the brigade having devolved upon Colonel L. A. Stafford, of the Ninth Louisiana, he lost no time in reforming our somewhat disordered line, when, other troops coming to our support, we gathered our strength for a fresh charge upon the rapidly advancing and exulting foe, and, with a determination to win or die, hurled ourselves against his lines with an impetus which first staggered, then drove him, fleeing, from the field, and leaving behind him hundreds of his dead and wounded. The enemy being thus completely repulsed on his right, did not again offer to renew the combat on that portion of his lines during the day.
Later in the day the brigade was again called out to support a battery, when, in consequence of a severe contusion of the foot, received by Colonel Stafford early in the action, which prevented his taking the field, the command devolved upon the undersigned. Those who had passed unharmed thorough the severe conflict of the morning evinced again their readiness to meet the foe by promptly taking the field, though they were not again called upon to fire a gun.
I beg leave to speak in the highest terms of the gallantry and fearlessness displayed by Colonel L. A. Stafford, of the Ninth Louisiana Regiment, who commanded the brigade in the morning. Colonel J. M. Williams, commanding the Second Louisiana Regiment was severely wounded by a Minie-ball, which passed through his chest, while gallantly leading his regiment in the first charge.
Lieutenant Colonel M. Nolan, of the First Louisiana, though painfully wounded in the leg, remained at his post during the fight, commanding his regiment with coolness and bravery.
The Tenth Louisiana was commanded in the engagement by Captain Henry D. Monier, who faithfully discharged the duty devolved upon him.
It is a noteworthy fact that not a single field officer in the brigade who was on duty that day escaped untouched. I was so fortunate as to escape with only a slight contusion of the ankle from a spherical-case shot, which passed between my feet. When all did their duty so heroically it would seem almost invidious to mention particular names, but on some other occasion which shall seem opportune it will give me pleasure to mention the names of those officers who merit special notice. A list of the casualties in the different regiments composing this brigade has been heretofore furnished.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Colonel Fifteenth Louisiana Regiment, Commanding Brigade.