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Not Even at Gettysburg Were Tar Heels In Fiercer Battle

North Carolina troops at South Mountain and Antietam Click on the MEDIA ITEMS below for more information


Not Even at Gettysburg Were Tar Heels In Fiercer Battle

President Roosevelt Plans To Attend Antietam Anniversary

The celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam or Sharpsburg, in Washington County, Maryland, on September 17th, recalls many of the forgotten fights and deeds of the Maryland Campaign of 1862. The highlight of this commemoration is the re-enactment of the fight at Bloody Lane on Sharpsburg Battlefield, September 17th, at which President Roosevelt will be present.

Not even at Gettysburg where their valour is commemorated by the handsome North Carolina monument, did the troops from North Carolina, under Gen. Robert E. Lee, play a more heroic or important part. They were everywhere in this campaign, and participated in the fighting at the most important points in each engagement. Under Jackson at Harpers Ferry they did most of the fighting done there. They did all the fighting at Fox's Gap in South Mountain and their regiments participated in the fights at Turner’s Gap and Crampton's Gap. They were at Bloody Lane, the Dunkard Church, and Burnside's Bridge at Sharpsburg and finally in the rear guard action at Shepherdstown ford.

Of the 40 infantry brigades of the Army of Northern Virginia, six were composed almost entirely of North Carolinians while several regiments were scattered through other brigades. Four batteries of artillery and a regiment of cavalry in Wade Hampton's brigade of Stuart's Cavalry completed the North Carolina forces. Of approximately 180 infantry regiments present, 30 were composed of North Carolinians. Thus one sixth of the regiments and brigades were North Carolinian.

The Battle of Sharpsburg was the bloodiest single day's fighting of the whole war. The Confederate reports lump all the losses incurred in Maryland in one report. Accordingly, it is impossible to form an accurate estimate of the Confederate loss there. The army sustained a total loss of about 13,609 casualties during the campaign. The Federals lost 27,767 in killed, wounded and missing during the campaign, or double the number of the Confederate losses. North Carolina's losses were approximately 2,200 killed and wounded. A number were captured but there are no figures available to check the states they came from. Accordingly North Carolina's loss amounted to one sixth again. Add the number of prisoners to this and it will be seen that she lost slightly more than her share in battle. From the crossing of the Potomac at Edward's Ferry, twenty miles northwest of Washington, to the savage rear guard action at Blackford's Ford, the story of General Lee's army is the story of the North Carolina troops and their story is the story of the campaign.

Lost Order No. 191.
The plan of the campaign, its greatest moments of suspense and anxiety for the Confederates, all centered about the famous "Lost Order No. 191". This order was written just east of Frederick, Maryland, and its execution, for the capture of the Federal garrison at Harper's Ferry, dangerously divided the army of Northern Virginia into five parts. Had not fate decreed that a copy be lost, picked up by a Union soldier and given to McClellan, the army would have accomplished its aim, reconcentrated and would have been waiting for McClellan to come up. Slow and cautious, with a chronic tendency to magnify the numbers opposed to him, Stuart's Cavalry alone could have delayed him for several days. This is what Lee expected. The certain knowledge of the divided condition of the Confederate Army, which from the other sources he already had reason to suspect, accelerated his pace and soon he began to push Stuart back with alarming energy.

According to the terms of the order, General Lee with Longstreet's command was in Hagerstown 25 miles West of Frederick, D. H. Hill was in Boonsboro, between Hagerstown and Frederick, Stuart was between Hill and the enemy, while Walker, McLaws and "Stonewall" Jackson were ten miles to the south at Harper's Ferry, on the three mountains which overlook that town separated from each other by the Potomac and the Shenandoah, surrounding the Federal garrison there, which consisted of 11,000 men and which yielded, when captured, 73 guns, 13,000 small arms and rich stores.

Walker on Loudoun Heights.
Brigadier General John G. Walker's Division consisted of his own and Ransom's Brigades which consisted of the 24th North Carolina (Lt. Col. John L. Harris); 25th North Carolina (Col. H. M. Rutledge); 49th North Carolina (Lt. Col. Lee M. McAfee). Walker's Brigade was commanded by Col. Van H. Manning and Col. E. D. Hall. It consisted of the 27th North Carolina (Col. J. R. Cooke); 46th North Carolina (Col. E. D. Hall); 48th North Carolina (Col. R. C. Hill); and the 3rd Arkansas and 30th Virginia.

After the army had entered Maryland this command was turned back into Virginia and ordered to occupy the steep and wooded Loudoun Heights which overlooks the mouth of the Shenandoah River at Harpers Ferry. This abutment of the Blue Ridge, overlooking the whole Federal camp was found entirely unguarded and was occupied by Col. John R. Cooke and the 27th North Carolina. At 1 p. m. on the 14th the General Walker ordered his batteries to open on the town to silence the Federal guns which had opened on him. During this cannonade Major F. L. Wiatt of the 48th North Carolina was killed. At 9:30 a. m. on the 15th the garrison surrendered.

McLaw's on Maryland Heights.
The Division of Gen. Lafayette McLaw's with that of R. H. Anderson was ordered to operate on Harper's Ferry from the north, down an off-shoot of the Blue Ridge called Elk Ridge, the abutment of which is called Maryland Heights. The Federals had quite a large force on these heights but all batteries and defenses had been constructed with an enemy to the south across the Potomac. When McLaw's struck these forces in the rear, from the north, the effect was disastrous and after a feeble resistance they rushed pell-mell down into the trap of Harper's Ferry. With Gen. McLaw's were only two North Carolina organizations the 15th Regiment and Manly's Battery of artillery consisting of one 3 inch rifle, 2 twelve pound howitzers and 3 six pounders.

The North Carolina troops did not operate against Harper's Ferry with Gen. McLaws along Elk Ridge but remained on the main stem of the Blue Ridge about a mile east across a narrow valley. Capt. Basil Manly's North Carolina Battery occupied Brownsville Pass from which point he shelled the Federals advancing towards Crampton's Pass the whole day without loss. From this pass Cobb's Brigade (in which was the 15th North Carolina) was forced back into the valley but not until the garrison at Harper's Ferry had surrendered. The troops at Crampton's Gap did not exceed 2,200 while the advancing Federals (Franklin's Corps) were between 10,000 and 15,000 in number. In this engagement however, the 15th North Carolina lost 183, killed, wounded, and missing out of 402 officers and men.

"Stonewall" Jackson at Harpers Ferry.
The North Carolinians under Jackson, with the exception of the 21st North Carolina commanded by Capt. Miller and the 1st North Carolina battalion of Trimble's Brigade, Ewell's division, were all in the full North Carolina Brigades of A. P. Hill's Light Division. Branch's brigade consisted of the 7th, 18th, 28th, 33rd, and 37th North Carolina, and Pender's of the 16th, 22nd, 34th, and 38th North Carolina. As these forces under Jackson advanced via Bolivar Heights, the most accessible of the three peaks overhanging Harpers Ferry, they had the sharpest part of the fighting to do. Of his command, A. P. Hill's division in which Branch and Pender were, bore the brunt of the fight. In a dispatch to Lee, Jackson wrote, "As Hill's troops have borne the heaviest part of the engagement, he will be left in command until the prisoners and public property have been disposed of.”

Pender's North Carolina Brigade with Archer and Brockenbaugh under the command of Gen. Pender won this part of the fight by seizing, with slight loss, an eminence crowned with an abbatis which commanded the whole line of the Federals. In this movement Gen. Hill reported only 3 killed and 66 wounded, while he took 11,000 prisoners, 13,000 small arms, 74 pieces of artillery, and large quantities of all kind of stores.

Stuart on the National Road.
During the fights at Harpers Ferry, the Federal advance had driven in Stuart and several corps were attacking the division of D. H. Hill who was grimly trying to keep them east of the Blue Ridge. Gen. Wade Hampton in his report speaks thus of the only North Carolina Cavalry Regiments with the army, "The 1st North Carolina Regiment, under command of Col. L. S. Baker, was the rear guard of the brigade during the fight at Middletown (a village between Frederick and South Mountain), and both officers and men conducted themselves to my perfect satisfaction. They were exposed to a severe fire of artillery and musketry, which they bore without flinching, nor was there the slightest confusion, in the ranks. They lost 8 men wounded and 3 missing.

D. H. Hill at South Mountain.
As the cavalry was pressed back, D. H. Hill's division prepared to meet the enemy in the gaps of South Mountain. His division of 5 brigades was fully 50 percent North Carolinians, as two brigades, Garlands and G. B. Anderson's were entirely North Carolinian and Colquitt's consisted of two Georgia regiments and the 1st North Carolina commanded by Lt. Col. H.A. Brown, and the 3rd North Carolina commanded by Col. Wm. L. D. Rosset. Garland's Brigade was composed of the 5th North Caro-(Col. D. K. McRae) and Capt. Garrett), the 12th (Capt. S. Snow), 13th (Lt Col. Thos. Ruffin, Jr.); 20th (Col. Alfred Iverson) and 23rd (Col. H. D. Christer). Gen. Geo. B. Anderson's Brigade consisted of the 2nd North Carolina, (Col. C. C. Tew and Capt. G. M. Roberts), 4th North Carolina (Col. Bryon Grimes and Capts. W. T. Marsh and D. P. Latham), 14th North Carolina (Col. R. T. Bennett) and the 30th (Col. F. M. Parker and Maj. W. W. Sillers).

The National Road (U. S. No. 40) crosses the Blue Ridge on South Mountain as it is usually called midway between Hagerstown and Frederick (13 miles from each place). At its summit along the road 6 metal tablets tell a story of the battle. Rode's brigade of Alabamians held the crest to the left, Colquitt's the road in the center and Garland, Anderson and Ripley whose brigade now consisted of 2 North Carolina Regiments and 1 Georgia Regiment, his other Georgia Regiment having been detached. These three brigades fought on the right at a gap in the mountain one mile south of the National Road called Fox's Gap. This Gap was traversed by an old dirt road. Today that road, on the west slope of the mountain has become impassable and the spot remains heavily wooded isolated and very slightly changed since 1862. The sole marker in this section is a granite shaft to the Federal Maj. Gen. Jesse Reno who fell here.

The North Carolinians at Fox's Gap.
The fight at Fox's Gap began at 9 a. m. September 14, 1862, one mile east of the Gap. When Cox's Division of the 9th corps met Garland's brigade, Gen. Garland was killed and the brigade, unable to resist a full division, withdrew up the mountain, into the gap where they were rallied by Col. Ruffin and Col. McRae. Soon Cox was reinforced by three other Federal divisions. At this juncture Gen. Anderson with his brigade of North Carolinians rushed to the rescue of Garland's men who were being forced down the west slope of the mountain and north toward the National Road. Anderson charged and was repulsed. Again the North Carolinians charged and the Yankees gave ground. Ripley's brigade, sent to Anderson's assistance became entangled in the thick growth and failed to render any material assistance except by their appearances at different places on the slope to give an impression of a large body of men.

At noon Reno, evidently thinking that Longstreet had arrived rested the fight until about 3 p. m. when McClellan ordered a general advance all along the line. Fortunately the first of Longstreet's men arrived from Hagerstown at this time, worn out after a 13 mile march on a hot September day. The first of these troops was Dayton's small brigade of 3 regiments which went into action before being properly formed, was enfiladed and driven back. Just as darkness was falling Wofford's and McLaw's brigades of Hood's division arrived. Law's brigade contained the 6th North Carolina commanded by Maj. Robert F. Webb. These troops attacked and in the final onslaught Gen. Reno, the Federal commander, was killed, and darkness settled over the ridge the fight ended, with the Confederates holding the ground which, however, would be untenable the next day due to the Federal occupation of several commanding points on the ridge, from which the gaps could be shelled. During the night the position was evacuated and the next day the troops took up the position at Sharpsburg, about five miles away, between the Antietam Creek and the Potomac River.

The fight at Sharpsburg divides itself into three sections, roughly - the struggle for the Dunkard Church and Bloody Lane, on the left and Burnside's Bridge on the right. The center of the line was devoted to a sharp artillery duel in which the heavier metal of the Federals told seriously upon the Confederates artillerymen. D. H. Hill's division of over half North Carolinians and Walker's division. North Carolinian except for 1 Arkansas Regiment and a Virginia Battery fought at the Dunkard Church and Bloody Lane. The old Church was destroyed by a windstorm several years ago and an attempt is being made to restore it. The fight at Bloody Lane will be re-enacted on September 17th by National Guard troops from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

At Burnsides Bridge the North Carolina brigades of Branch and Pender of A. P. Hill's division arrived from Harpers Ferry just in time to prevent the crumbling of the Confederate right under the repeated onslaught of Burnside. The narrow stone arch bridge over the Antietam which has since taken Burnside's name is pictured on the commemorative 50 cent pieces, one of the very few architectural subjects on the U. S. coinage.

Ten tablets on the field at Sharpsburg directly refer to the deeds of the North Carolina regiments and eleven others tell the story of the brigades and division of which they constituted either the whole or a large part. Two of these tablets are located in the Bloody Lane itself.

After a night of gentle rain, the fight began at dawn when Hooker assaulted the extreme left, under Jackson, with his own, Ewell's Hood's and D. H. Hill's division. The fight raged herein both sides of the road which ran from Hagerstown to Sharpsburg, standing corn was cut down as if in harvest, and trees were splintered by the deadly fire of canister and successive volleys of musketry. The Confederate line strained and seemed about to crack when Walker's division, over 80 percent North Carolinian, arrived from the right wing. Hooker paused and a lull in the fighting ensued, until Mansfield moved up with the 12th Corps to Hooker's support. His first fresh division faced Ripley's brigade, half of which were North Carolinians, with Colquitt on one side and Garland's North Carolina Brigade on the other. These troops held their position but despite their withering fire which mowed the Federals, they pressed on and by 10 o'clock took the ridge which Hooker had assaulted at dawn. Kershaw charged but was driven back by a storm of canister. Then the Federals counter-charged him to gain the most advanced Federal position of the day, just south of the old Dunkard Church. During this time Sumner was leading the 2 Corps in attack against Early, north of the Church in whose division was the 21st North Carolina. Outnumbered he was driven back on McLaws and Walker, where he made a stand. The Federals, however, abandoned their captured ground at noon and fell back to where they were when the fight began.       

At Bloody Lane.
At this time D. H. Hill with his largely North Carolinian division and Walker's North Carolinians marched out over the sunken road soon to be forever baptized as "Bloody Lane". Near some farm buildings, half mile in this lane, Hill charged French and Brook's division and was driven back into the lane, which offered some cover. Here the Brigade of Colquitt (partly N. C.), Garland (N. C.) Rodes, G. B. Anderson (N. C.) were closely formed and the most terrific fighting of the day took place. From the farm buildings the Federals charged these men, over open fields and in compact ranks in brigade front. Hill's brigades poured a murderous fire into them. Line after line charged the lane and time and again Hill's men countercharged. Still the Federals came on until only 75 yards separated the furious armies. As guns fouled the men would grab up those of their fallen comrades and continue firing, but the Confederate line was melting away. D. H. Hill grabbed a musket and fought like a private. Longstreet steadied the horses of his staff officers as they dismounted to operate a battery the gunmen of which had all fallen. Ammunition ran low and the line was ready to break at every point. For once Jackson was numbed and dazed, and the strained killed Gen. D. R. Jones who died the next day though not wounded. Hill's brigades were absolutely exhausted and some of them contained only a hundred men. The lane was covered with the fallen, two and three deep in most places and its sides stained with blood. Even then, Col. John R. Cooke of the 27th North Carolinians told a staff officer that his command was "Still ready to lick this whole damn outfit". At last Hill fell back beyond the church, but the Federals were in no mood to take any advantage of the position they had carried. By one p. m. the battle on this section of the field was over,—bloody and perilously near defeat or victory it stopped short, for flesh and blood could do no more, leaving an indecisive record to military contraversialists.

Burnside's Bridge.
The configuration of the terrain divided the battle of Sharpsburg into several natural sections. In addition to this Gen. McClellan fought the battle in a fragmentary way instead of a general assault along the whole line. Practically, the assault against the Confederates left, occupied the morning and the right the afternoon. Thus Lee was enabled to shift his division to the points needed.

The Confederate right rested on the crest of several high hills south of Sharpsburg which overlooked the meandering Antietam Creek which was crossed by one stone arched bridge and one practicable ford. Burnside with the 9th Corps was posted on the opposite side of the creek. Against him was arrayed D. R. Jones division, stretched out on the crest of the hills until it was hardly more than a skirmish line. At 8 a. m. Burnside was ordered to carry the bridge. Five separate attempts were made to carry it but were driven back by a galling fire. At 1 p. m. it was carried as was also Snavely's Ford, and the Federals soon crossed in force. One division could not withstand them. Lee knew this, and anxiously scanned the road to the South East for some sign of A. P. Hill's division, coming up from Harpers Ferry. All available artillery was concentrated here, firing over the heads of Jones' men and into the massing Federals. Ammunition was about exhausted. Captains commanded regiments and Lt. Cols, brigades. Defeat was so close. The minutes passed like hours, at last a group of officers galloped on the horizon. They were A. P. Hill's men, but his division was an hour behind them, having marched 17 miles in 7 hours. Then at 3 p. m. the threatened attack began. D. R. Jones gave ground slowly. Another attack on Jackson's line made reinforcements from that sector impossible. All depended upon A. P. Hill's arrival. For an hour this went on, D. R. Jones falling back slowly but with heartbreaking steadiness. At last at 4 p. m., A. P. Hill's division rushed on the field like a sudden storm. With the Rebel Yell, Archer's brigade swept forward, recovered a captured battery, while Gregg's brigade and Branch's North Carolinians repelled the Federal advance, and followed them up, driving them back to the creek. Pender's North Carolinian Brigade, which had behaved so gallantly at Harpers Ferry, moved into the field, but the Federal retreat had already begun in front of them so that their losses only amounted to 2 men killed and 28 wounded as they prodded the retreating foe. As the red sun set over the West Virginia hills, the battle was over, exactly one and a half hours after Hill had arrived.

The Confederate Army had maintained its position in every part of the line, administering greater causalities than it suffered. It waited the whole next day for the renewal of the battle but McClellan had had enough. In perfect order and unmolested it crossed the Potomac to move westward towards Martinsburg to probably continue the projected movement up the valley into Pennsylvania, while McClellan remained rooted to the spot for several weeks. The battle was indecisive and was only a Confederate defeat in the sense that, for the first time in the war, the enemy was not routed from the field. It was a battle in which the gallantry of North Carolina's troops deserves to be as highly praised as any action of the whole war, and this September this gallantry is not forgotten north of the Potomac in the rolling hills of Maryland, where, in the Confederate cemeteries, many of her sons still sleep, loved and honored.


George Gelbach

Raleigh News and Observer

Used with permission of the News and Observer, Raleigh, NC


Collection Location:
Western Maryland Room, Washington County Free Library.

Antietam, Battle of, Md., 1862: Centennial celebrations, etc

Washington County (Md.), 1937.

Western Maryland Regional Library
100 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland 21740

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