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Col Walter Phelps, Jr's Official Reports

Reports of September 1862 on South Mountain and Antietam

W. Phelps, Jr.

[author biography]

[South Mountain]

In the Field, near Sharpsburg, Md., September 20, 1862.

Assistant Adjutant-General.

SIR: I herewith submit the following report of the part taken by this brigade in the late engagement on South Mountain, Sunday, September 14, 1862:

In compliance with orders from General Hatch, I assumed command of his brigade Sunday, September 14, at 10 a.m. The column of General Hooker's corps was then moving through Frederick toward Middletown on the pike. About 4 p.m. General Patrick's brigade and this command were ordered to move to the right on a road running at right angles with the pike, and apparently following the chain of mountains some half mile from their base. General Patrick had the advance. About 1 1/2 miles from the pike I received orders from General Hatch, then in command of the division, to move the brigade from the road to the base of the mountain, forming of battle of column by division at half distance, at deploying distances.

This order was complied with, and the command moved to the left, where the woods and the nature of the ground afforded protection from the enemy's batteries, which were playing upon us from the left. I was then ordered by General Hatch to move forward some 80 rods to a road running parallel with the mountains, and deploy masses to move forward steadily toward the summit. I was advised of General Patrick's brigade in front, deployed as skirmishers, and ordered to support them. I moved the brigade forward, and unconsciously passed in advance of the skirmishers, through an interval in their line, which had become disconnected. I halted the brigade, and dispatched one of my aides to inform General Hatch of my position. He immediately rode to the front, ordering the skirmishers to advance, and this brigade to advance with them, about 30 paces in their rear. The nature of the ground afforded me an excellent opportunity to advance unobserved by the enemy, whom I discovered, by riding to the front, were posted behind a line of fence on the summit. The line of skirmishers, steadily moving forward, at length drew a scattering fire from the enemy, and perceiving that the distance to their position was but about 80 paces, I ordered the brigade to advance in line of battle. Here General Hatch, riding through the lines, pressed the men forward, and with a cheer the brigade moved splendidly to the front, pouring in a deadly fire upon the enemy. Here General Hatch was wounded, and was obliged to leave the field, but the brigade, encouraged by his valor and inspiriting orders, moved forward with unbroken front, and the engagement became general through my entire line.

Too much praise cannot be awarded to the officers and men of this brigade for their noble conduct on this occasion. Although the enemy were strongly posted behind a fence, and apparently in larger force than our own troops, they could not withstand the terrific fire and steady veteran advance of my line. The conflict at the fence became desperate, many of the enemy at this time being less than 8 rods in our front, but the undaunted bravery of officers and men enabled me to drive them from their position and capture a number of prisoners. The loss of the brigade at this point was much heavier than at any other on the field.

Having succeeded in forcing the enemy from their position, I advanced my line about 5 rods, where I obtained partial shelter for my men from an abrupt rise of ground. Perceiving that the right of my line extended beyond the enemy's left, I ordered Fourteenth Brooklyn to advance their right, which being done enabled them to enfilade the enemy's ranks with a fire which did great execution. This brigade held its position until relieved by Doubleday's brigade, which was in turn relieved by General Ricketts, when I ordered this command to fall back slowly and in good order, when I formed the third line of battle, General Ricketts having the first and General Doubleday the second. These three lines occupied the battle-field at this point during the night of Sunday.

The regiments of this brigade engaged at this point were the Fourteenth New York State Militia, Twenty-second, Twenty-fourth, and Thirtieth New York Volunteers. The Second U. S. Sharpshooters, attached to this command, were ordered to the right of the general line by command of Major-General Hooker before I moved up the mountain, and were temporarily detached from the brigade.

I cannot allow the conduct of Lieutenant Cranford, Fourteenth New York State Militia, and Lieutenant Schenck, Twenty-second New York Volunteers, aides to myself, to pass unnoticed. I was often obliged to send them, through a galling fire, to different parts of the field with orders. Their conduct on this occasion was most gallant, and all that I could have desired. It was the more striking that their line of duty did not require their presence on the field at that time, the former being acting commissary of subsistence, and the latter regimental quartermaster. Captain Monroe, Battery D, First Rhode Island Artillery, attached to this brigade, now acting chief of division artillery, will forward, at the earliest possible moment, a consolidated report of the casualties in the batteries in the engagements of September 14, 16, and 17.

The loss in this brigade at South Mountain, Sunday, September 14 (see report of casualties already forwarded you), was as follows: Enlisted men killed, 20; commissioned officers wounded, 4; enlisted men wounded, 63; missing, 8. Total, 95. I went into this action with less than 400 officers and men, and our loss on that day is a fraction less than 25 percent.

Very respectfully, &c.,

Colonel Twenty-second New York Volunteers, Commanding Brigade.


Near Sharpsburg, Md., September 23, 1862.

Assistant Adjutant-General.

CAPTAIN: I herewith transmit a report of the action of this brigade in the engagement near Sharpsburg, Wednesday, September 17:

I took position with the other brigades of the division (Brigadier-General Doubleday commanding) Tuesday night, September 16, and the men slept on their arms. At 5.30 a.m. Wednesday the enemy's batteries opened upon our lines, and I was ordered by General Doubleday to move to the support of Gibbon's brigade, which had already advanced to attack the enemy's lines. Advancing through a belt of woods, in which Major-General Hooker and staff were stationed, and which was directly in rear of Campbell's (late Gibbon's) battery, I was ordered by General Hooker, who in person designated the position for this brigade to occupy, to move by flank through the open field in which this battery had taken position, and, passing into a corn-field, to form line of battle and support Gibbon's brigade, which I observed was steadily advancing to the attack. The direct and cross artillery fire from the enemy's batteries playing upon this field was very heavy, but my brigade was moved without loss to a position some 90 paces in advance of Campbell's battery, where I deployed column, and in line of battle moved steadily forward some 50 paces in rear of Gibbon's infantry, who at this time had not engaged the enemy, but were cautiously advancing through the corn-field. This command consisted of the Second U. S. Sharpshooters (which was temporarily detached from the brigade during the engagement of Sunday), the Fourteenth New York State Militia, the Twenty-second, Twenty-fourth, and Thirtieth New York Volunteers.

Gibbon's brigade having engaged the enemy, who were posted in the road behind a line of fence, and sheltered by woods, I moved this brigade forward, and halted about 25 paces in rear of his line, ordering the men to lie down, and was prepared to move to his support when necessary.

Having ascertained that the enemy's line was formed with their left advanced, making a crotchet, and that they were in position to partially enfilade our lines, I ordered the Second U. S. Sharpshooters, Colonel Post, to move to the right and front, advancing his left, and to engage the enemy at that point. I immediately advised General Doubleday (in command of the division) of the enemy's position in front, on my right, and of the disposition of the Second U. S. Sharpshooters. General Doubleday approved the movement, and ordered a brigade to their right while the Sharpshooters were engaging them. The remainder of this brigade still held its position in the rear of Gibbon's line.

The effect of the engagement between the Sharpshooters and the enemy was to draw a very heavy fire from their advanced line, and I ordered the brigade forward to the support of the line in front. The musketry fire at this point was very heavy, but the two brigades appeared to hold their position easily. The loss of the Second U. S. Sharpshooters at this point was severe. The entire brigade suffered heavily in wounded, the proportion of killed being very small (see report of casualties in that engagement, already forwarded you), but, with General Gibbon's regiments, held their position until relieved by General Sedgwick's division, when I fell back slowly and in good order some 80 paces in rear of the corn-field, and again formed line of battle.

In this engagement Colonel Post was wounded, Adjutant Parmelee and Lieutenant Thompson killed - all of the Second U. S. Sharpshooters; Lieutenant Cushing, Twenty-second New York, killed; Captain O'Brian, Twenty-fourth, lost a leg; Captain Myers, Fourteenth New York State Militia, lost a leg.

As I have already forwarded a list of killed and wounded, I will not enter into details here. The aggregate of killed, wounded, and missing is as follows: Commissioned officers killed and wounded, 10; enlisted men killed and wounded, 147; missing, 29. Total, 186.

The brigade went into the action of Wednesday, September 17, with about 425 officers and men, and their loss in killed, wounded, and missing (the missing being about 29) is a fraction over 43 per cent. of those engaged. Their loss on Sunday, September 14, at South Mountain (see report of killed, wounded, and missing) was a fraction less than 25 per cent. of those engaged.

The conduct of officers and men was all that I could have wished. Major De Bevoise, commanding Fourteenth New York State Militia, had his horse shot, and was considerably injured by his fall, but remained on the field to the end, acquitting himself with great credit. Lieutenant Becker, Thirtieth New York Volunteers; Lieutenant Cranford, Fourteenth New York State Militia, and Lieutenant Schenck, Twenty-second New York Volunteers, acting aides to myself, conducted themselves gallantly on the field, and afforded me great assistance.

The brigade remained in line of battle until ordered by General Doubleday to fall back slowly and in good order, and, having gained the other brigades of the division, I stacked arms and allowed the men to rest. This was about 1.30 p.m.

Very respectfully, &c.,

Colonel Twenty-second New York Volunteers, Commanding Brigade.

Source: OFFICIAL RECORDS: Series 1, Vol 19, Part 1 (Antietam - Serial 27) , Pages 231 - 234


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