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BGen Oliver O. Howard's Official Report

Report of September 20, 1862 on Sedgwick's Division

Oliver O. Howard


Near Sharpsburg, Md., September 20, 1862

COLONEL: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by General Sedgwick's division in the battle of the 17th instant:

The division, consisting of General Gorman's, General Dana's, and General Burns' brigades, commanded by myself, left camp near Keedysville about 7 a.m., and proceeded in three lines, moving by the right flank in a westerly direction, forded the Antietam, ascended a gentle slope, continuing in the same direction for about a quarter of a mile beyond. At this point the lines were fronted, and established from 60 to 70 paces apart, facing toward the south and Sharpsburg. General Gorman commanded the front line, General Dana the second, and I the rear line. The advance was ordered for the three lines simultaneously. The three moved forward with very little wavering, under a fire from the enemy's batteries, which at first were concealed from us by a skirting of woods. The left of the third line was slightly disordered by fences, woods, and our own batteries. We passed through a large corn-field, skirting of woods, then a plowed field, a second skirting of woods more extended than the first, where I was ordered by an aide from General Sumner to detach a regiment to the support of General Mansfield. I halted the Seventy first Pennsylvania, Colonel Wistar, in the place indicated, on the right of the third line.

At this point the musketry fire began to tell upon us, and I received an order from General Sedgwick to move up my entire line. I delayed the third line for the detached regiment to come up, and then moved on across the Sharpsburg turnpike. Just after passing the turnpike, I noticed confusion on the left, and quite a large body of men falling back. I judged them to be troops that our division was relieving. To what brigade they belonged I did not know. I pushed the third line on a little farther, and into the woods beyond the turnpike, preserving about the distance first indicated. In these woods the first line had passed to the south opening, and near a dirt road engaged the enemy, formed in line of battle not more than 60 yards distant. The second and third lines, so far as I could observe from my position near the center of the latter, were lying down as ordered.

Nearly the whole of the first line in good order stood and fired some 30 or 40 rounds per man, when word came that the left of our division had been completely turned by the enemy, and the order was given by General Sumner in person to change the position of the third line. He afterward indicated to me the point where the stand was to be made, where he wished to repel a force of the enemy already in our rear. The noise of musketry and artillery was so great that I judged more by the gestures of the general as to the disposition he wished me to make than by the orders that reached my ears.

The troops were hastily faced about, and moved toward the rear and right in considerable confusion, but at about 100 yards from the right of where the first line was engaged, and nearly perpendicular to the turnpike, a portion of General Gorman's brigade, with one regiment of Dana's brigade, was first halted in line, and by a sharp fire repulsed the enemy advancing at that point. On the left of the turnpike regiments of the second and third lines were rallied, facing in the same direction toward Sharpsburg, and here they fired.

General Gorman's brigade was a second time established on the right of the turnpike and behind a stone wall, where they remained until drawn in to the left, taking a new position, in conjunction with the rest of the division. In the mean time Kirby's battery, commanded by Lieutenant Woodruff, was placed in position by General Sedgwick himself, and the enemy, receiving the combined musketry and artillery fire, were not only checked but driven back with great slaughter.

At this time--about 11 a.m., I should judge--General Sedgwick having been severely wounded, and having remained on the field for upward of an hour afterward, until he was so weak he could scarcely stand, turned over the command of the division to me.

The next hour was spent by officers of every grade in this division in rallying and reorganizing their commands, all having suffered more or less confusion in the change of position. Meanwhile the batteries of the Pennsylvania Reserves, located on a high plat of ground near the house of Joseph Poffenberger, opened fire, and checked several attempts of the enemy to establish batteries in front of our right and turn our right flank. In accordance with General Sumner's instructions, I detached one regiment (Twentieth Massachusetts, Colonel Lee) to support a battery to our front and left. Afterward the remaining portion of General Dana's brigade was sent still farther to the left, to assist in supporting batteries of Smith's division. The rest of the division I posted as strongly as possible near the house of Joseph Poffenberger, with instructions to hold this point at all hazards. This portion of the general line of battle was now very quiet, except an occasional attempt of the enemy to locate a battery on a high point beyond the turnpike, near a corn-field.

About an hour before sundown the enemy succeeded in getting four guns in position, and opened fire upon us, somewhat enfilading my lines. General Sumner here ordered me to change front, placing the infantry in rear of the batteries, while the batteries, in a semicircular order, brought a concentrated fire from twenty-six pieces upon the enemy's guns just established, and in less than ten minutes the enemy was driven back, and did not appear again in this quarter. After sunset our front was thoroughly picketed, and the troops of this division slept upon their arms in order of battle at this point. The confusion of the morning, so far as I observed, was occasioned by the three lines being simultaneously turned on the left.

The promptness in rallying their commands is creditable to the officers. I did not see one officer belonging to this division in any way misbehaving during the day. I noticed General Gorman at his post near his command while it was retiring, and he remained with it during the rest of the day, inspiriting his men by his remarks, and calling upon them to sustain the reputation they already had. General Dana was severely wounded in the early part of the action at his perilous post, manfully doing his duty.

By the direction of General Dana, Colonel Hall, Seventh Michigan Regiment, was placed in command of the brigade. Colonel Baxter. Seventy-second Pennsylvania, with a portion of his regiment, had fallen back considerably to our left, and did not find me till afternoon. As Colonel Owen, Sixty-ninth Pennsylvania, was the ranking colonel in his absence, he commanded my brigade; Colonel Baxter took command on his return. These brigade commanders were prompt and efficient in the execution of my orders. The following officers were especially successful in drawing off their regiments without breaking: Colonel Sully, First Minnesota; Colonel Hinks, and, after he was wounded. Lieutenant Colonel Devereux, Nineteenth Massachusetts, and Colonel Hall, Seventh Michigan.

In my brigade, Colonel Morehead, One hundred and sixth Pennsylvania, assisted by Major Stover, first rallied and made a stand against the enemy, and was placed in the exact position indicated by General Sumner. The next, Colonel Owen, rallied his men near me, exerting himself strenuously to make every man do his duty. Colonel Wistar, Seventy-first Pennsylvania, with his right arm nearly useless from a former wound, had his left, disabled. He also was prompt and efficient I wish specially to mention Major Mallon, Forty-second New York, for his gallantry in rescuing in person his fallen flag under a sharp fire. I shall trust to brigade commanders to do justice to others who are equally deserving. I will not omit to mention the two batteries attached to this division. Captain Tompkins' Rhode Island battery, for a long time almost unsupported, did terrible execution ; and to the other, Kirby's battery, commanded by Lieutenant Woodruff, U.S. Army, I owe special thanks for the work it did, spoken of before.

What to me seemed a little remarkable is that my duplicate staff, consisting of General Burns' and my own, five in number, were neither of them injured, though all mounted and much exposed. Captain Hicks, assistant adjutant-general, had his horse shot under him. He and Lieutenant Blakeney, aide-de-camp, were actively engaged in bringing forward the left of my line during the advance. Captain Whittelsey, assistant adjutant-general, and Lieutenant Howard, aide-de-camp, were cool and brave, and afforded me every assistance in their power. Lieutenant Griffith had his horse wounded, and deserves high commendation for his good conduct,.

The aides of General Sedgwick, Captain Howe and Lieutenant Whittier, reported to me immediately after the general retired, and faithfully assisted me during the day. Lieutenant Steele, division ordnance officer, stood by the general also, and, after the general left the field, was sent for the ammunition, which he brought up for distribution.

Major Sedgwick, division assistant adjutant-general, was most seriously wounded while in the execution of his duties, and left suffering upon the field till afternoon. No one's conduct was as cool and brave, and no soldier, it is said by his comrades, deserves higher commendation.

The total loss of the division is as follows:

Command Killed Wounded Missing
General Gorman's Brigade 134 536 88
General Dana's Brigade 128 650 124
General Burn's (or Howard's) Brigade 89 370 109
Company A, 1st Rhode Island Artillery 4 15 ----
Company I, 1st United States Artillery ---- 6 ----
Total 355 1,577 321

The men of this division, already standing high as veteran soldiers, having endured hard marches, excessive fatigue and privation, receive from me my most hearty expressions of gratitude.

The above list stands for itself a record of almost unparalleled loss during a single battle. They have poured out their blood like water, and we must look to God and our country for a just reward.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Brigadier-General, Commanding Division.


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