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BGen Willis Gorman's Official Report

Report of September 20, 1862

W. Gorman

[author biography]

Battle-field near Sharpsburg, Md., September 20, 1862.

Assistant Adjutant-General

CAPTAIN: I have the honor to make the following report of the part taken by my brigade in the battle of the 17th instant:

On the morning of that day I received orders to march, and at about twenty minutes past 7 o'clock a. m. of that day we took up the line of march. After crossing the Antietam Creek and arriving at an open field about there-quarters of a mile from the enemy's position three lines of battle were formed, my brigade being in the advance and front. The First Minnesota Regiment, Colonel Sully, occupied the right of the brigade; the Eighty-second New York Volunteers, Colonel Hudson, on their left; the Fifteenth Massachusetts Volunteers, Lieutenant-Colonel Kimball, next, and the Thirty-fourth New York Volunteers, Colonel Suiter, on the extreme left. In my rear about 50 yards was the second line (General Dana's brigade), and about the same distance in their rear General Howard's, late General Burns' brigade.

In this order we began the advance upon the enemy at a rapid pace, the lines being at a distance of 50 yards apart. Before we had advanced 50 yards, the enemy opened a rapid and well-directed fire upon us from one or more batteries, but, moving directly on, they retired rapidly before our advancing columns. Passing through a strip of timber, we entered a large open field, which was strewn with the enemy's dead and wounded, and passed over it at a rapid charge into an open woods[West Woods], where the enemy's heavy lines of infantry first came into view, the front of which retired in considerable disorder before our advance. We pursued them until we passed the strip of woods and emerged into the edge of a field, where the Fifteenth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers, of my brigade, captured from the hands of the enemy a battle-flag, wrenching it from the grasp of its wounded bearer, which has been duly turned over to the corps commander. Instantly my whole brigade became hotly engaged, giving and receiving the most deadly fire it has ever been my lot to witness. Although the firing was not so rapid, it was most deadly, and at very close range. We also had to stand the most terrific fire of grape and canister, which told fearfully on the three right regiments of the brigade.

After we had expended from 40 to 50 rounds at the enemy, it became evident that he was moving in large force on our left, where his firing became terrific. On our left, in the woods, there was a force that told me they belonged to General Crawford's brigade, that were posted there when we first entered it. They fought handsomely until the heavy force of the enemy turned their left, when they retired rapidly, and by this movement in five minutes the enemy's fire came pouring hotly on our left flank and rear. Being in front, and without orders of any kind from any one, and finding that the two rear lines were changing position and had already moved from their original place, I gave an order, which reached no one but Colonel Sully, to move quietly by the right flank so as to unmask the second and third lines, to enable them to direct their fire to check the rapid advance of the enemy on my rear, and to enable them to fire without endangering my left regiment.

Shortly before this, I heard Major General Sumner directing the third line to face about, in order to repel the enemy, which had broken our left, supposing the design to be to take up a better position than the one just previously occupied, I having informed the General that my left must be supported or I could not hold the position. The attack of the enemy on the flank was so sudden and in such overwhelming force that I had no time to lose, for my command could have been completely enveloped and probably captured, as the enemy was moving not only upon my left flank but also forcing a column toward my right, the two rear lines having both moved from their position before either of my three right regiments changed theirs. Perceiving this, after moving a short distance, my command faced about again toward the enemy and gave him another fire, which to some extent checked his advance. After moving a short distance farther, his forces were perceived moving to our right, when the First Minnesota faced toward him and delivered another fire, which again checked his movement. I then ordered that my force be formed behind a stone wall at a distance of about 200 yards to the right and slightly to the rear of our first position. I was then ordered by General Sumner to hold the woods on the left and east of the turnpike, where I formed the entire brigade at a distance of about 400 yards from the original position. The Thirty-fourth New York, being upon the extreme left in the front line of battle, after having withstood a most terrible fire, and having lost nearly one half of the entire regiment in killed and wounded, was ordered by Major-General Sedgwick, as will be seen by Colonel Suiter's official report, to retire and take up a new position behind a battery to the right and rear. I immediately ordered them to reform on the left of the brigade, which they did.

In this terrible conflict three regiments of the brigade, to wit, the Fifteenth Massachusetts, Thirty-fourth and Eighty-second New York Volunteers, lost nearly one-half their entire force engaged. The position of the First Minnesota was more favorable, owing to the formation of the ground. The coolness and desperation with which the brigade fought could not be surpassed, and perhaps never was on this continent. Captain Saunders' company of sharpshooters, attached to the Fifteenth Massachusetts Volunteers, together with the left wing of that regiment, silenced one of the enemy's batteries and kept it so, driving the cannoneers from it every time they attempted to load, and for ten minutes fought the enemy in large numbers at a range of from 15 to 20 yards, each party sheltering themselves behind fences, large rocks, and strawstacks. The First Minnesota Regiment fired with so much coolness and accuracy that they brought down several times one of the enemy's flags, and finally cut the flag-staff in two. I have great satisfaction in saying that the three right regiments of the brigade kept their front clear and the enemy from advancing during the time they were engaged.

I do not deem it necessary to again commend the gallant conduct of the officers of this brigade, since many of them have now been under fire in nine of the hardest engagements of the war, and upon every occasion have acquitted themselves with honor. My personal staff in this battle bore my orders along the line and from point to point, constantly under fire and in great peril of life, with great promptness and courage.

The list of killed, wounded, and missing in action is herewith forwarded, showing the loss to be 758 out of 2,000 taken into the action.

I am, captain, your obedient servant,

Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Source: OFFICIAL RECORDS; Series 1, Volume 19, Part I (Antietam - Serial 27), Pages 310 - 312


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