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Maj Henry B McIlvaine's Official Report

Report of September 19, 1862 of Harpers Ferry

[author biography]

September 19, l862.

GENERAL : I have the honor to make the following report of the part taken by the artillery in the late engagements at Harper's Ferry, while under the command of Colonel Dixon S. Miles, Second U. S. Infantry:

August 27.-Reports reaching headquarters that the enemy threatened a crossing of the Potomac River into Maryland near Point of Rocks, by order of Colonel Miles, two 12-pounder guns, with detachments from Captain John H. Graham's command, Fifth New York Artillery, and sufficiency of ammunition, were sent to that point supported by infantry, under Colonel Banning, Eighty-seventh Ohio.

September 7.-The enemy make a demonstration on Point of Rocks in force. Colonel Banning falls back to Berlin in good order, after shelling the advanced guard of the enemy.

September 8.-The enemy known to be in strong force on our front and rear. Active preparations are accordingly made for an obstinate defense.

September 12.-Enemy made the attack on Maryland Heights with infantry and artillery. Captain McGrath, Fifth New York Artillery, commanding naval battery of three guns, with the two 12-pounder light howitzers, supported by a strong infantry force, under Colonel Ford, Thirty-second Ohio, open a destructive fire of shell and musketry on the enemy, holding them in check. By order of Colonel Miles, two 12-pounder guns were added to that battery, making seven in all. Captain Graham assisted in shelling the enemy from the battery on Camp Hill.

September 13.-Enemy are discovered placing batteries on Loudoun Heights, on our left flank. Lieutenants Leek and Cundell, of Graham's battery, are directed to open fire on them from 24-pounder howitzers, which is effectively done, causing the enemy to withdraw. Expecting a simultaneous attack on all sides the following day, two 20 pounder Parrott guns were added to Captain Rigby's battery, on the extreme left of Bolivar Heights, which, with three 24-pounder howitzers already there, proved a most effective and destructive battery. Captain Graham was ordered to the front, on the extreme right of bolivar Heights, with three heavy pieces of artillery, which also proved very effective; Captain Phillips' New York battery, of six rifled pieces, taking position next; Captain Von Sehlen, with a battery of six iron rifled 3-inch prices, in position about the center; Lieutenants Leek and Cundell, of Fifth New York Artillery, remaining in position on Camp Hill. Captain Potts' Ohio battery is in position on right side of road on Camp Hill, gallantly assisting our now closely pressed troops on Maryland Heights by their rapid and close fire. The enemy make an advance from Sandy Hook, throwing shell, causing the four prices of artillery under command of Colonel Maulsby to fall back to Harper's Ferry. One section takes position at pontoon bridge, the other on railroad bridge, Virginia side. The fire was promptly returned. The enemy opened a battery on our front, but is harmless. Captain Rigby is sent with a section of rifled pieces to engage the enemy on the road to Charlestown. Captains Graham, Von Sehlen, and Phillips open fire from their guns on the enemy's pickets, driving them back. Our troops on Maryland Heights are falling back from the overwhelming numbers of the enemy. Colonel Miles sends an order to hold the heights at any cost. Captain McGrath, Fifth New York Artillery, keeps up a continuous and rapid fire from the battery, but it is of no avail. The order is given by the officer in command of the heights to spike the guns, and all the troops to retire to Harper's Ferry, which was done. At sunset all firing ceased. Lieutenant Thompson, ordnance officer, removed all ammunition from the arsenal to Camp Hill, securing it in different places most convenient to the batteries.

September 14.-The enemy open fire from Maryland Heights with one and from Loudoun Heights with two batteries; from Charlestown road a battery of two guns, and one heavy gun from Shepherdstown road. Their fire was brisk and range good, rendering it almost impossible to work the guns on Camp Hill. Our batteries replied with great vigor. Lost two guns, disabled by the enemy's fire. Both officers and privates deserve great credit for their indomitable courage under such a sharp fire. Recaptured the four field pieces left on Maryland Heights. All firing has ceased. Brigadier-General White proposes to mass all the artillery on Bolivar Heights and fight it out there, but the plan was frustrated by the enemy erecting a battery across the Potomac, on a bluff, commanding the extreme right of Bolivar, consequently enfilading our works; and it became necessary to leave the guns on Camp Hill, that we in return might enfilade the enemy's works. Colonel Miles sent one gun down the railroad, on Shenandoah River, to our extreme left. A two-gun battery near Winchester Railroad was got ready for action, anticipating an advance of the enemy to turn our left flank. The attempt was made about midnight, but Brigadier General White with great skill foiled the enemy. Finding but 36 rounds of ammunition left for the most effective guns, it was equally divided.

September 15.-Daylight discovered the enemy's batteries moved up to close range, and multiplied; seven batteries now opened fire, enfilading the works on Bolivar Heights. Our batteries replied immediately, and the firing was constant and rapid. Brigadier-General White and staff, with Colonel Miles and staff, exposing themselves to the terrific fire of the enemy, gave great confidence to the troops on Bolivar, who stood like veteran until the surrender. Captain Phillips and Von Sehlen's batteries rendered useless for want of ammunition. Captain Graham soon exhausted the ammunition for the 20-pounder Parrotts. Captains Potts and Rigby keep up a destructive fire on the enemy. General White orders these last-mentioned to move to a position nearer the enemy and Shenandoah River, from which they opened a sharp and effective fire. Reported to the commanding, officers that the ammunition was nearly expended. After a consultation of officers, it was decided to surrender. The flag was struck about 9 a. m.; white flags were shown on the heights, but the enemy continued their fire twenty minutes. During this time, and some time after the white flags were shown, Colonel miles fell mortally wounded. He remarked, "I have done my best, and what I thought to be my duty. This is a fit end for a soldier."

I believe that after the evacuation of Maryland Heights Harper's Ferry became untenable.

Number of guns used in defense of Harper's Ferry, and turned over to the enemy.

24-pounder howitzers..................... 6

20-pounder Parrotts...................... 4

12-pounder guns.......................... 6

6-pounder smooth guns.................... 6

12-pounder light howitzers............... 2

3-inch rifled pieces..................... 10

3-inch rifled, James..................... 6

These guns are spiked:

10-inch Dahlgrens........................ 2

50-pounder Parrott....................... 1

12-pounder light howitzers............... 2

12-pounder guns........................... 2

[Total .................................] 47

Respectfully submitted.

Major and Chief of Artillery.

Source: OFFICIAL RECORDS; Series 1, Volume 19, Part I (Antietam - Serial 27), Pages 546 - 548


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