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BGen William Pendleton's Official Report

Report of September 24, 1862

W. N. Pendleton


September 24, 1862

General R. E. LEE,
Commanding Army of Northern Virginia.

I have the honor to report the part performed by my command and by myself in the recent operations of our army, and especially as to service rendered in defending the Potomac Ford at Shepherdstown, in connection with General Jackson's capture of Harper's Ferry and the battle of Sharpsburg:

In obedience to orders from the War Department on August 19, my immediate command moved from Richmond on the 20th to co-operate with the forces on the North Anna River, and, in compliance with your own direction, it marched forward with that entire force toward your front lines on the 26th.

By request of the President, my personal progress to join you was more rapid than that of the column. After bestowing a day upon requisite arrangements, I committed the General Reserve Artillery to Lieutenant-Colonel Cutts, under the senior general, D. H. Hill, and hastened on to your headquarters. Some uncertainty as to the route, amid the changing scenes of the occasion, and an enfeebling disease, in part retarded my progress, though, with medical aid, I ceaselessly pressed on; so that not until after midday Saturday, August 30, could I reach you, on the memorable battle-field of that day, near Manassas (second Manassas). Having reported and delivered messages from the President, I was kindly urged by you to seek some convenient place in the rear, where rest and medical treatment might relieve the disorder then prostrating me. This, after witnessing the battle for perhaps two hours with intense interest, I found myself compelled to do; and under the hospitable roof of Mr. Foote, robbed though he had been of almost everything by the unscrupulous enemy, received for a few days the kindest attention.

On Wednesday, September 3, my command had arrived at Sudley, and, though still unwell, I joined it and marched with the troops to Leesburg. There, besides other work, I had, preparatory to crossing into Maryland, to arrange for sifting out the reduced and strengthening the more efficient batteries in all the artillery battalions with this part of our army. Physical exhaustion rendered this task scarce less than severe.

Major Richardson was left in charge of the batteries, sections, feeble horses, &c., detained, with orders to take them to the neighborhood of Winchester, and there establish a depot for the recruiting of horses, &c., while the battalions of Lieutenant-Colonel Cutts and Major Nelson were prepared for advancing.

Sunday, September 7, with the portions of these two battalions not detailed on special duty, I proceeded to the neighborhood of Frederick, Md., and there reported on the morning of the 8th.

On Wednesday, 10th, the command, excluding Lieutenant-Colonel Cutts' battalion, which had been assigned to duty with General D. H. Hill's division, and including the battalions of Col. J. T. Brown, of Maj. William Nelson, and of Col. S. D. Lee, who had then reported to me, marched with the army toward Hagerstown.

Sunday morning, 14th, we were summoned to return toward Boons borough, the enemy having advanced upon General D. H. Hill. When I arrived and reported to you a short distance from the battle-field, you directed me to place in position on the heights of Beaver Creek the several batteries of my command. This was accordingly done, just before nightfall. At midnight I was again summoned to your headquarters, and directed to send Col. S. D. Lee, with his battalion, on the road to Centreville [Keedysville], and to take the residue of my command by the shortest route to Williamsport and across the Potomac, and then to enter upon the duty of guarding the fords of that river.

By sunrise, Monday, 15th, we had reached the intersection of the Hagerstown, Sharpsburg, Boonsborough, and Williamsport roads, and there received reliable intelligence of a large cavalry force of the enemy not far ahead of us. I immediately posted guns to the front and on the flank, sent messengers to General Toombs, understood to be at Sharps-burg, for a regiment or two of infantry, set to work collecting a band of armed stragglers, and sent scouts to the front. These latter soon returned and reported the road clear for some 2 miles. I therefore determined to advance cautiously, without waiting for infantry, in order to protect the large wagon train proceeding by the Hagerstown road through Williamsport. The cavalry, which consisted of three regiments, escaped from Harper's Ferry, crossed our road perhaps less than an hour ahead of us. We thus narrowly missed a rather strange encounter. My purpose was, of course, if we met, to attempt the destruction of those retiring invaders.

Having crossed the Williamsport Ford, I assigned to Colonel Brown its defense and that of another a mile or more lower down, and proceeded with the remaining battalion (Major Nelson's) to the neighborhood of Shepherdstown.

By 10 o'clock of the 16th the guns were here in position on the heights overlooking the ford, a mile below the town, and the passage was thenceforward assiduously guarded.

Here other and arduous duties devolved upon the command and upon myself. By night or by day much labor was needed on the road; the passage of troops had to be facilitated, and important dispatches forwarded in different directions, all rendered the more essential toward General Jackson hastening to Sharpsburg after capturing Harper's Ferry. This continued through the 17th, while the battle (Sharpsburg) was raging, and during the night; especially in my having to meet a requisition for all the long-range guns that could be obtained and possibly spared from the fords. Instructions also reached me to have apprehended and sent forward all stragglers.

On the 18th arrangements had to be made for meeting a demonstration of the enemy reported at Shepherd's Ford, 4 miles above. Some cavalry and a small infantry force of collected stragglers, duly organized for the occasion, were sent thither with a battery. While engaged in these duties I was again summoned to aid in repairing roads and facilitating the passage of troops. The difficult achievement of recrossing our army, with its extensive train, over that single ford, during the night, and the enemy close at hand, having been resolved upon, every available man and officer of my immediate command, and such others as could be gathered, were at once set to work removing obstructions, preventing collisions, having lights at hand as needed, and promoting the orderly movement of vehicles on the several routes.

After a night thus spent, Major Nelson and myself were, by dawn Friday, 19th, in saddle, for the purpose of securing guns from some of the artillery that had crossed, and placing them in position to aid in repelling the enemy when he should appear. Forty-four guns were thus secured; of these the character, position, &c., were as follows: A 10-pounder Parrott and two other rifles, under Captain Maurin, on the right hand height, 200 or 300 yards from the river; next him, on the left, a 10-pounder Parrott, under Lieutenant Maddox. On his left, Captain Milledge had four 3-inch rifles and a 12-pounder howitzer. Next to Captain Milledge, Captain [W. H.] Chapman was placed, with one rifle and one Napoleon. On the left of these, and on the brow of the cliff overlooking the ford, and to rake it and its approaches, Capt. M. Johnson was placed with two 6-pounders and two howitzers. These dispositions were all below the road leading directly from the ford, along a ravine, to the interior. Above that road Captain Kirkpatrick, with two 6-pounders and two 12-pounder howitzers, occupied the brow of the cliff, to cross fire with Captain Johnson upon the ford and its approaches.

On Captain Kirkpatrick's left, and for a like purpose, was placed Captain Huckstep's battery of four 6-pounders. On an eminence to his left were planted two 10-pounder Parrotts, of Captain Braxton's battery. Still farther to the left, and on an elevation more commanding, though farther from the river, were located an effective 12-pounder Whitworth, under Captain Barnwell, my ordnance officer, and two 10-pounder Parrotts, under Captain Hardaway. Nearer to the river, and still to the left, positions were, by Colonel Long, assigned to a battery of four 6-pounders, to sweep the road on the opposite shore; and, to their left, two 10-pounder Parrotts, of a Louisiana battery (the names of their officers are not remembered). There being no favorable positions for other guns, the eleven remaining of the forty-four mentioned were removed beyond range, to be called up if required.

These arrangements had not been all completed, when, about 8 a.m. of the l9th, the enemy appeared on the distant heights opposite, and found our army entirely and safely across the ford, and on the Virginia side of the Potomac. They soon brought up and opened artillery much exceeding ours in weight. Still, our rifles did excellent service in keeping at bay for hours the entire hostile host, artillery, cavalry, and infantry, which, in various positions, appeared; care being taken not to waste ammunition in mere long-range exchanges of shot. Our troops that had been briefly resting in the valleys were now ordered farther inland, to be out of reach of the shells, &c., so numerously hurled by the enemy, yet near enough to turn readily upon and perhaps destroy the adverse army should it force the passage of the river and take position between it and our forces.

From yourself, I received instructions to hold the position all that day and the night succeeding, unless the pressure should become too great, in which event I was, at my discretion, to withdraw after dark, it being most unlikely that a discreet commander would then risk the destruction of his entire army by getting it across in the night, and being assailed when in disorder next morning, with such a river behind him-Should I find it best at nightfall to withdraw, I was to follow the track of our army. I was informed also that two brigades of infantry would remain as a support to the ford, defending artillery (those of Generals Armistead and Lawton); these commanded, the former by Colonel Hodges and the latter by Colonel Lamar. They were to picket the ford, and, screening themselves as well as possible, to act as sharpshooters on the bank. I was, by General Longstreet, requested to take charge of these brigades. I did so, and instructed the colonels commanding to keep their force at the ford strong, vigilant, and as well sheltered as occasion allowed, and to have the residue well in hand, back of adjacent hills, for protection, till needed. My directions were also given them not to fire merely in reply to shots from the other side, but only to repel any attempt at crossing, and to guard the ford. My own position was chosen at a point central, moderately protected by conformation of ground, at the same time commanding the general view and accessible from every direction, with as little exposure of messengers as any one place in such a scene could be. And here, except when some personal inspection or order had to be given requiring temporary absence, I remained for best service throughout the day.

During most of the forenoon the enemy's fire was furious, and, under cover of it, in spite of persistent vigor on the part of our batteries, a heavy body of sharpshooters gained the canal bank on the northern and hostile side of the river. This proved to us an evil not slightly trying, since it, exposed our nearer cannoneers to be picked off, when serving their guns, by the enemy's effective infantry rifles.

From the advanced batteries on the left I was, therefore, applied to for some infantry to counteract in part this evil, by availing themselves of any cover at hand to serve as sharpshooters on that part of our side. I accordingly ordered to the duty 200 of the infantry in reserve.

After some time, the cavalry officer commanding at the ford, 2 miles below, notified me that the enemy was before him in force; had planted a powerful battery, and could not be prevented crossing unless I sent him some infantry. Considering the importance of thus securing our flank, I judged it proper to send him also an infantry force of between 100 and 200 men. Of the extent of loss at Sharpsburg from the two brigades left with me, and of their consequent very small numbers all told, I had not been informed when their assignment to my direction was made. In providing, therefore, for protecting right and left, as described, I was not aware of infantry weakness for the ford itself. This was, however, as the evening progressed, made to me only too certain. The enemy's fire, which had for a season relaxed, became fiercer than before, and so directed as to rake most of the hollows, as well as the hills, we occupied. At the same time their infantry at the canal breastwork was much increased, and the crack of their sharpshooters became a continuous roll of musketry. Colonels Lamar and Hodges both reported to me that the pressure on their small force, the whole of which remaining I had ordered to the river, and the sum total when all were there was, they informed me, scarcely 300, was becoming too great to be borne. I directed them to hold on an hour longer; sunset was at hand, and I had communicated with Colonel Munford, who promised at dark to be with us; that by that time I would have the batteries withdrawn; they should, after due notice, retire next the batteries, and the cavalry should fall in between them and the enemy, so that all would get rightly out. This plan, I judged it, under the circumstances, best on the whole to adopt, in the discretion left with me, as the reason of the case already indicated seemed not to justify the sacrifice incident to utmost resistance against any crossing. While these directions were passing, the commanders of battery after battery notified me that their ammunition was exhausted, and that they were thus exposed to small purpose. Their request for permission to retire, under such circumstances, it was not deemed wise to grant wherever the movement could be seen by the enemy; in case where they could get back unseen, it was sanctioned. Instructions were sent to each battery, besides, to retire in specified order, as dusk deepened to conceal them in so doing. It was, of course, a critical and anxious hour, inasmuch as a dashing force might, on the necessary reduction of our fire, get across and capture some of our longest-served and latest-removed guns.

Deep dusk had now arrived; certain batteries, as allowed, were on their way inland, while others, as directed, were well using ammunition still on hand. My own position was taken near the point of chief importance, directly back from the ford, so that I might the better know of and control each requisite operation. The members of my staff vigorously seconded my endeavors, under furious fire, in carrying orders and supervising their fulfillment, and everything appeared likely, under favoring Providence, to result in effecting the withdrawal planned.

This prospect was, however, suddenly changed. A number of infantry-men rushed rapidly by the point I occupied. Arresting them, I learned that they were of the sharpshooters who held guard at the ford; that their body had all given way, and that some of the enemy were already on our side of the river. Worn as were these men, their state of disorder, akin to panic, was not, justly, to be met with harshness. They were, however, encouraged to be steady and useful in checking disorder, and affording such tokens as they might, in the settling dark, of force, to make the enemy cautious. No other means had I of keeping back an advance. All my staff were, at the moment, absent but two, one of whom was instantly sent to find, as carefully as possible, the state of facts toward the ford; the other, to secure the orderly retirement of the last batteries and of everything attached to my own headquarters, evidences being unmistakable that the reported crossing was in part a fact. My personal situation was all the while necessarily much exposed, and now to easy capture, accessible as it was to cavalry in a few moments, should such have crossed and be coming forward.

The arrival of our own cavalry being now unlikely, I had to determine, at once, what duty required of myself. The enemy would doubtless adopt one of two courses; either, shrinking from hidden danger, cautiously proceed only 100 or 200 yards, or, more adventurous, push on a force along the chief road as he could find it. In the former case, our guns, &c., would, as considerately instructed, get fairly out of reach, and this was, in the main, my expectation; still, the other course, a pushing hostile force, had to be provided for. I therefore proceeded to a point in the road probably not then reached by any party of the enemy, on foot and leading my horse, and accompanied by my adjutant and ordnance sergeant, who had rejoined me, along a path still thundered over by the enemy's shells and crossing the road inland from the river. Those shells were obviously indicative of no intended advance of any considerable body of the enemy; firing on their own troops thus would scarcely be risked. Along the road I found the rear of our artillery column properly moving. Mounting here, I rode with the column and employed the two young officers in moving our hospital camp and enforcing order along the entire column.

While thus proceeding, I learned that General Pryor was resting not far ahead with the division under his command. Finding him perhaps within 2 miles of the river, I made known to him the state of facts, and asked of him a detail to go back with me that I might at least, were any guns captured, recover them, or, endangered, secure them. The general thought the responsibility too serious for him to assume, and requested me to refer the matter to General Hood, supposed near. General Hood's staff was found on the march, but himself, unwell, I was told, I did not see. No one could inform me where General Longstreet was. To find yourself, then, was clearly my next duty. This, in the extreme darkness and amid the intricacies of unknown routes, proved a task of no little difficulty and delay. At length, succeeding, and making known to you the main facts, I was instructed to do no more till morning, when measures would be taken suited to circumstances, and meantime to secure a few hours of necessary rest. Early the next morning I had the privilege of accompanying a force, under General Jackson, sent to punish the enemy; of attending that honored officer and friend in the exposure incident to his command, and of witnessing the destructive chastisement inflicted upon the several thousands that had crossed and remained on the south side of the river. Under the immediate orders of General A. P. Hill, his division made upon that doomed body of the enemy a resistless charge, to their actual extermination. The furious fire of the enemy from beyond the Potomac, though necessarily harmful at first, proved far less damaging than it must otherwise have been, because such direction had to be given their pieces as to spare their own troops receiving the charge.

This severe work having been accomplished, I found that but four of our pieces had been lost. These, their horses being killed and the men being too weary to drag them away, had been spiked and left. They were, next morning, found by the enemy and thrown over the cliffs, before General Jackson's arrival to destroy them.

About noon of this day, Saturday, September 20, returning from Shepherdstown along the Winchester road, about 4 miles on the way, I joined our batteries, commanded by Major Nelson. With others, similarly instructed by myself, he had been diligently engaged the previous evening in causing batteries to be withdrawn in order, as directed, and the anticipated caution of the enemy had allowed them all to get back with no further damage than the leaving of one gun apiece by each of four batteries, as already mentioned.

Captain Maurin, an officer of tried merit: was, as said, compelled to spike and leave a 10-pounder Parrott; Captain Milledge, a 12-pounder brass howitzer; Capt. M. Johnson, also a 12-pounder brass howitzer, and Captain Huckstep, an iron 6-pounder.

The brass howitzer 12-pounder left by Captain Milledge proves, I regret to report, to have been a gun marked with the coat of arms of our own commonwealth, and belonging to the Virginia Military Institute, and to have been, on these accounts, especially valued. The Confederate States Government will, I hope and earnestly recommend, have of it a fac simile made and returned to the Virginia Military Institute.

Besides these losses, we had, in the batteries, 3 men killed and 4 wounded, and of horses, 26 killed and disabled. What casualties occurred in the infantry under Colonels Lamar and Hodges I have not been informed. Those officers have reported, I take for granted, through their division commanders.

That the immense force of the enemy was so effectually kept back and our army quietly relieved from disturbance by the persistent vigor and endurance of our comparatively small repelling strength, and with no greater loss, is assuredly cause for thankfulness to the Giver of good, and occasion for just appreciation of fidelity on the part of officers and men who performed the service.

Major Nelson's cool courage and persistent vigor throughout the day, and in the trying hour at its close, deserve especial mention. His services were of great value. Captains Hardaway, Kirkpatrick, Braxton, Maurin--indeed, every artillery officer from time to time under my eye, and as otherwise known of by me--performed stern duty, I am satisfied, with commendable resolution and skill, as did the men. Captain Barn-well, of my staff, distinguished himself by the efficiency with which, under ceaseless exposure to shells hurled at his position, he managed our accurate Whitworth gun. My aide, Lieut. Charles Hatcher, and Sergt. Maj. Robert Jones also deserve honorable mention for the alacrity with which they bore my messages in every direction under hottest fire. Other members of my staff were, for the most part, absent on duty previously assigned. To Colonels Lamar and Hodges and the troops they commanded credit is justly due for the persevering determination with which they bore during all the day a fire, doubly galling, of case shot from the enemy's cannon and of musketry from the vastly outnumbering infantry force sheltered by the canal bank across the river. Not until overworn did the handful of our sharpshooters at all give way, and that would probably have been prevented could a double number, partly sheltered by trees, &c., have allowed relief in action.

Thankful that so much was done with such partial loss, I have the honor to be, most respectfully, your obedient servant,
Brigadier-General and Chief of Artillery.

For convenience, a sketch is annexed of our entire artillery organization for and after the campaign.

With the First Corps, or right wing, of the Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by Lieutenant-General Longstreet, consisting of nineteen brigades, adjusted into five divisions, served an artillery force of 112 guns, viz: Forty-five rifles, 13 Napoleons, and 54 common smooth-bores, arranged into six battalions of several batteries each, of which battalions one attended each division and one constituted the corps reserve artillery. With the Second Corps, or left wing, commanded by Lieut. Gen. T. J. Jackson, and consisting of a brigade or two less than the other, adjusted into four divisions, served an artillery force of 123 guns, viz: Fifty-two rifles, 18 Napoleons, and 53 short range, arranged into battalions, attached and commanded as in the First Corps.

The cavalry corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart, had also attached to it an effective mounted battery, known as Pelham's Horse Artillery, armed with two rifles and two 12-pounder howitzers.

Besides the general charge of all this artillery, its equipment, organization, and constant efficiency for and in action, the general chief of artillery held, under personal orders as the Commander-in-Chief might direct, a general reserve artillery, consisting of three battalions with several batteries each, having in all 15 rifles, 1 Napoleon, and 20 short-range guns, so that in our artillery service with the Army of Northern Virginia there were, adjusted as described, 275 guns.

W. N. P.


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