The Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers at Antietam
The Ezra Carman Antietam Manuscript
Excerpts on the Actions
of the 8th Conn. Vols.
[excerpts from the unpublished manuscript of Gen. Ezra Ayres Carman]
Burnside's Bridge: Daybreak to Dusk
THE BURNSIDE BRIDGE
by Ezra A. Carman (originally Chapter 21)
In his preliminary report of the battle, made October 15, 1862, McClellan says: "The design was to make the main attack upon the enemy's left--at least to create a diversion in favor of the main attack, with the hope of something more by assailing the enemy's right--and, as soon as one or both of the flank movements were fully successful, to attack their center with any reserve I might then have on hand." In his elaborate report, dated August 4, 1863, but not made public until some months later, he says: "My plan for the impending general engagement was to attack the enemy's left with the corps of Hooker and Mansfield, supported by Sumner's and, if necessary, by Franklin's, and, as soon as matters looked favorably there, to move the corps of Burnside against the enemy's extreme right, upon the ridge running to the south and rear of Sharpsburg, and, progressing favorably, he "was to create a diversion in favor of the main attack, with the hope of something more." General Cox, to whom Burnside communicated his understanding of the part the Ninth Corps was to take in the action, says: "It would also appear that Hooker's movement was at first intended to be made by his corps alone, taken up by Sumner's two corps (2nd and 12th) as soon as he was ready to attack and shared in by Franklin if he reached the field in time, thus making a simultaneous oblique attack from out right by the whole army except for Porter's corps, which was in reserve, and the Ninth Corps, which was to create the "diversion" on our left and prevent the enemy from stripping his right to reinforce his left
About 7 o'clock, Burnside received an order to make his dispositions to carry the stone bridge over the Antietam but to await further orders before making the attack. In accordance with these instructions Cox was directed to advance the whole corps to the ridge nearest the stream and hold it, keeping the troops under cover as much as possible.
Early in the morning Rodman's Division was northeast of the stone bridge; Harland's Brigade lying east of the road that ran past the Rohrback house to Porterstown, its left opposite the Rohrbach orchard. Fairchild's Brigade, on the left of Harland's, was in the northeast part of a cornfield that ran down the road skirting the Antietam. It had been put in position in the darkness and when morning came, found itself exposed to the fire of Eubank's Battery across the Antietam, by which it suffered many casualties before it could change position, which was almost immediately done, the brigade moving up the ridge in the rear and under cover of the woods. Harland followed later.
Burnside had directed that, in case of an attack on the bridge, Crook should make it; as a compliment to Cox's Kanawha division for its brilliant conduct at South Mountain. Crook threw forward two companies as skirmishers before whom some Confederate skirmishers, who had been sent across the bridge, retired, and all awaited orders to go forward.
Burnside says: "At 10 o'clock I received an order from the general commanding to make the attack." Rodman's Division, supported by Ewing's Brigade, had been directed to cross at the ford below the bridge. General Cox says: "Burnside's view of the matter was that the front attack at the bridge was so difficult that the passage by the ford below must be an important factor in the task; for if Rodman's Division should succeed in getting across there, at the bend of the Antietam, he would come up in rear of Toombs, and either the whole of D.R. Jones' Division would have to advance to meet Rodman, or Toombs must abandon the bridge...and Rodman was ordered to push rapidly for the bridge. We were constantly hoping to hear something of Rodman's advance by the ford, and would gladly have waited for some more certain knowledge of his progress, but at this time McClellan's sense of the necessity of relieving the right was such that he was sending reiterated orders to push the assault. Not only were these forwarded to me, but to give additional weight to my instructions Burnside sent direct to Sturgis urgent messages to carry the bridge at all hazards."
The position to which the Georgians retired [after the bridge was carried] was a stone fence about 900 yards in rear, some of them went farther to the south and skirmished with the advance of Rodman's Division, which had crossed at Snavely's Ford. There is no doubt that an earlier appearance of Rodman on this part of the field would have rendered unnecessary much of the great loss sustained in the successive attacks on the bridge. His delay is partly attributable to the want of knowledge of the fords. On the 16th McClellan's engineer officers made reconnaissances for fords and gathered information regarding them, and Burnside was informed by them that there was a ford less than a half mile below the bridge, and when Rodman's Division was led to its bivouac that night Fairchild's Brigade was supposed to be opposite this ford. Cox says all the orders for the movement of troops were based on the reports of the engineer officers.[…] It was not until after Rodman had been ordered to advance, about 10 o'clock, from the heights to which he had retired early in the morning, and had marched some distance that he became aware of the fact that the only ford by which he could cross was a mile distant--as the crow flies from his starting point--and that he would be required to march two miles over very rough ground to reach it. This was Snavely's Ford 680 yards below the ford indicated in the orders of the day. It does seem probable that had one or two of the regiments of Pleasonton's cavalry been used on this flank, some good results would have followed, not only in finding and crossing the ford, but protecting Rodman's flank from its surprise and disaster later in the day.
Rodman's Division consisted of two brigades commanded by Colonels Harrison S. Fairchild and Edward Harland. Fairchild had the 9th New York (Hawkins' Zouaves), 89th and six companies of the 103rd New York. To this brigade was attached a battery of naval howitzers, under command of Captain J.R. Whiting, 9th New York. Harland had the 8th, 11th and 16th Connecticut, and 4th Rhode Island. Battery A, 5th U.S. Artillery, Lieutenant Charles P. Muhlenberg, was attached to the division, but did not accompany it to the left, nor did the 11th Connecticut. The division was followed by the 12, 23rd and 30th Ohio of Scammon's Brigade. Scammon being in command of the Kanawha division, his brigade was commanded by Colonel Hugh Ewing, 30th Ohio. The entire force numbered about 3,200 officers and men.
Rodman moved from his position on the high ridge at 10.30 a.m., crossed the Rohrersville road about 1000 yards below the bridge, marched some 500 yards after crossing the road, and halted opposite the great bend in the Antietam, where the course of the stream changes from due south to west. Whiting's five guns were put in position to shell the wooded bluff opposite the ford by which it was proposed to cross, and shelled the road and woods on the opposite side of the creek, driving the enemy from their positions. This fire of Whiting's enfiladed the line of Georgians, at and below the bridge, and the annoyance it caused them is referred to in some of their reports. Meanwhile skirmishers had gone down to the creek and Rodman had come to the conclusion that this ford was not one that could be crossed and directed Colonel Harland to make further reconnaissance. Harland says: "I then sent out two companies of skirmishers from the 8th Connecticut Volunteers to discover, if possible, a ford by which the creek could be crossed." These two companies were under command of Captain C.L. Upham. The bank of the stream was quite heavily wooded, with dense undergrowth, but Upham soon reported that he had found a practicable ford, and the column, Fairchild's Brigade in advance, marched down to it. Whiting's Battery supported by the 8th Connecticut, was put in position on a hill just below the ford to cover the crossing. Much time had been lost and it was nearly 1 o'clock. Cox says the winding of the stream made Rodman's march much longer than was anticipated, and that, in fact, he only approached the rear of Toombs' position from that direction about the time when the last and successful charge upon the bridge was made, between noon and 1 o'clock. From Snavely's Ford to the bridge, in a direct line, a little east of north, it is 1275 yards. When the head of column halted on the hill overlooking the ford, at an elevation of 100 feet, it had an extensive view of a stretch of country toward the front and right, and above the bushes and over the trees, could be seen the smoke of the contest at the ridge and the charge of the 51st Pennsylvania and 51st New York, and while the contest was in progress Fairchild's Brigade, the 9th New York leading, marched by the left flank, down an old trail or wood road and entered the stream; which is about 75 feet wide, with a swift and strong current, the water hip deep. At the far side was a meadow, partly plowed, beyond which the ground rose gradually to a stone fence, running parallel to the stream and about 165 yards from it, and on the right the high, steep wooded bluff, the eastern part of which commanded the ford 680 yards above Snavely's.
Harland followed Fairchild and while the latter was making his difficult way up the bluff, on the right, the 4th Rhode Island crossed the creek under fire of the enemy behind the stone fence, filed to the left on open ground, then one company to the front and one to the left as skirmishers, and advancing drove the enemy from the stone fence and formed behind it, and almost immediately received a musketry fire from the left, which was almost immediately silenced by Whiting's guns across the creek. The 16th Connecticut followed the 4th Rhode Island and moved to support its left. Two companies were sent to the left, beyond the Snavely buildings and were deployed behind the stone and rail fences of the road leading to Myers' Ford, and at the foot of a bluff, upon which was a large cornfield, in which Munford had his cavalry skirmishers, who advancing to the brow of the bluff, opened fire, and Eshleman's Louisiana battery, about 600 yards to the right and front dropped shrapnel among them. Some casualties resulted and the skirmishers were ordered back to the regiment, which moved to the right along the rear of the 4th Rhode Island, which, as soon as the 16th Connecticut had passed, moved to the right and formed under cover. The 8th Connecticut now came up and the brigade marched up the ravine and to the right, the two Connecticut regiments forming in Fairchild's rear, and the 4th Rhode Island farther to the left in the woods near the creek. Ewing's Ohio brigade followed Harland, came under fire of Eshleman's guns and, marching under cover, halted some distance below the bridge, thus forming the extreme left of the line, and it was 2 o'clock.
Three divisions of the Ninth Corps had now been thrown across the Antietam and formed in one curved line; the left resting on the stream, at its bend below the bridge, the right on the Sharpsburg road, close to the stream, 300 yards north of the bridge. Sturgis' Division, supported by Crook's Brigade, was on the right; Rodman's Division, supported by Ewing's Brigade on the left. It would have been well if they had been in condition to go forward; both Burnside and Cox say they were not: "The ammunition of Sturgis and Crook's men had been nearly exhausted, and it was imperative that they should be freshly supplied before entering into another engagement. Sturgis also reported his men so exhausted by their efforts as to be unfit for an immediate advance." On this Cox, who had accompanied the troops across the bridge, sent to Burnside the request that Willcox's Division be sent over, with an ammunition train, and that Sturgis' Division be replaced by the fresh troops, remaining, however, on the west side of the stream as support to the others. "This was done as rapidly as was possible," says Cox, "when everything had to pass down the steep hill road and through so narrow defile as the bridge."
In the formation as made Willcox's Division was on the right, Christ's Brigade north and Welsh's Brigade south of the road leading to Sharpsburg, with Crook's Brigade in support to Willcox. Rodman's Division was on the left, Fairchild's Brigade joining Willcox, and Harland's Brigade having the left, with Ewing's Brigade as a support or reserve. Sturgis' Division was to hold the crest of the hill above the bridge. It was determined that Willcox, supported by Crook, should move directly upon Sharpsburg, and that Rodman, supported by Ewing, should follow the movement of Willcox, first dislodging the enemy in their immediate front, and then inclining to the right, so as to bring the left wing in echelon on the left of Willcox.
The order to advance was given by Cox at 3.15 p.m., and responded to in the most cheerful and gallant manner, officers and men moving with the greatest enthusiasm and, on the right and in the center, carrying everything before them.
All was now confusion in the town; artillery was dashing to the rear, through the rough and narrow streets, stragglers from the left, in squads, men of Garland's and Colquitt's brigades, who had been driven from Cemetery ridge by the 4th United States Infantry, men of Kemper and Drayton, and Garnett who were retreating from Cemetery hill, filled the streets, broken in organization; Jones, Kemper, Drayton, Garnett and other officers endeavoring to rally them. Earlier in the afternoon General Lee had been near Reel's directing affairs on the left and at the Sunken Road. When the advance of the Ninth Corps became serious he rode to the high ground near his headquarters, where he met A.P. Hill and gave him instructions, and ordered every gun that had wheels and horses to the south of the town; now that his right was broken, he directed that every man that could be gathered should be sent out on the Harper's Ferry road, to unite with Toombs, who had been ordered to join Kemper's right, and he rode into town and gave his personal assistance in stopping stragglers and rallying the broken commands. Drayton's men were rallied on the colors of the 15th South Carolina, in the road, just out of town, a few men of Kemper's Brigade were rallied on their colors, which were conspicuously displayed in the road, and Toombs was seen coming down the road, as the 8th Connecticut made its appearance on the high ground from which Kemper had been driven but a little nearer the road and farther south.
When the order was given Rodman's Division to advance, Harland's Brigade was on the left of Fairchild, the 8th Connecticut, on its right, a little to the left and rear of Fairchild, overlooking the northeast corner of the 40 acre cornfield, the 16th Connecticut in the cornfield, into which it had entered at the northeast corner, and the 4th Rhode Island approaching to move on the left of the 16th Connecticut. When making dispositions for the advance, Major Thomas W. (Lion?) of the staff, who had carried instructions to the left of the line, rode up to Harland and reported and reported that he and officers of Scammon's Brigade had seen Confederate infantry (Gregg's Brigade) forming on the left, which fact Harland reported to Rodman and then ordered his brigade forward. The 8th Connecticut wheeled slightly to the right, passed to the right of the cornfield, its right in rear of Fairchild's left, which preceded it a few minutes, but the 16th Connecticut, apparently, did not hear the order to advance, and Harland sent an aid to hasten them, and, when moving down the hill, suggested to Rodman that the 8th Connecticut, when at the foot at the hill and under cover from the artillery fire pouring on it, should halt and wait for the 16th Connecticut and 4th Rhode Island to come up, but Rodman ordered the continued advance of the regiment, , saying he would bring up the two regiments, so Harland kept on with the 8th Connecticut, and began firing at some skirmishers who appeared on his left. The two regiments not yet coming up Harland turned to see if they were advancing and saw instead some Confederate infantry--the 7th and 37th North Carolina--rapidly advancing on his left flank, upon which, Rodman having ridden ahead to Fairchild, ordering the 8th Connecticut to continue its advance, he put his spurs to his horse and rode back to hasten the advance of the 16th. The 8th Connecticut, under a scattering flank fire from the North Carolina skirmishers, moved on and soon came under the fire of McIntosh's South Carolina battery, but was somewhat protected, as it was moving under cover of the hill upon which the battery had just gone into position, though it suffered some casualties.
McIntosh's Battery was the advance of A.P. Hill's Division. After crossing the Potomac it preceded the infantry, came by the road from Blackford's Ford and, when nearing Blackford's house, near the Harper's Ferry road, left one howitzer and all its caissons and, with a Napoleon and two rifles, took position on the right of and near the Blackford house, and, after firing two or three shots at Fairchild's Brigade, moving to the left, was ordered by A.P. Hill to report Kemper on the left of a cornfield and support the right of Jones' Division. The guns were limbered up and went at a gallop directly across the fields and came into the Harper's Ferry road at the northwest corner of what is known in the Confederate reports as the "narrow cornfield" and then moved up the road a few yards, in the direction of Sharpsburg, to a gate in the plank fence, where it waited in the road for Brown's Battery, leaving the field, to come out. Some of the men suggested that it was not a proper place for a battery, where another had been driven out, but McIntosh replied that he had been directed to go in there and fight and ordered the battery forward. It went through the gate as soon as Brown's guns had cleared it, and, obliquing to the right, took position 100 feet on the left of the narrow cornfield and 100 yards fro the road, the guns not quite to the crest of the ridge. When taking this position there was seen about 300 yards to the left and front, Kemper's small brigade, huddled together behind a fence, firing upon Fairchild's Brigade, which was rapidly advancing, and about the time the guns began firing, less than three minutes after they were in position, Kemper's men were run over by Fairchild. In coming into position McIntosh came under fire of the Union Artillery posted on the high ground from which Rodman had charged, to which he responded with vigor and while so engaged, himself working one of his guns, for the battery was short-handed, he saw the colors of the 8th Connecticut and occasionally the heads of the men as they approached under the hill, moving diagonally across his front from right to left, and opened fire upon them. McIntosh says the advancing columns "halted and lay down for some minutes when they began their advance again" and gradually came into view and as they approached to within 60 yards of his guns, as all his horses, but two, had been shot, he ordered the men to save themselves and abandoned the guns.
It was not the entire 8th Connecticut that McIntosh saw approaching him, it passed to his left, but the left company, under Captain C.L. Upham, that had been detached, while advancing, to take the battery, from which the gunners had apparently been driven, as, at the time, the battery was silent. But as Upham was crossing the field, ascending the hill and nearing the guns, apparently at the very moment McIntosh was abandoning them, his attention was called to troops approaching his left and rear through the narrow cornfield, upon which, without reaching the guns, [?] he fell back. Upham says: "They came up company or division front and deployed on reaching the fence at the edge of the field, each division opening fire as soon as it came into line. We fell back to our regiment which changed front and engaged them." The Confederate force was the 7th and 37th North Carolina, whose skirmishers had been annoying the 8th Connecticut as it advanced.
When Upham rejoined his regiment it had gained the high ground to the left of where Fairchild fought. Fairchild had swung off to the right and down hill, in pursuit of Kemper and Drayton, and had then been ordered to fall back, but his dead and wounded marked the ground over which he had fought. Save those dead and wounded there was not a Union soldier in sight. The regiment was alone, over half a mile in advance of the position from which it had charged and with no support. It was 120 yards from the Harper's Ferry road and nearly parallel to it, and on its right front, in the road, were small remnants of Kemper's and Drayton's brigades that had retreated to a deep cut of the road, and, looking to the left was seen Toombs' Brigade, coming at a double quick down the road.
When A.P. Hill's Division was announced as approaching the field Toombs was directed, that as soon as Gregg's Brigade arrived and relieved him, to move his command to the right of his own division to the right in the direction of Sharpsburg; before Gregg arrived he received an order to move immediately to meet the enemy, who had already begun his attack on Jones' Division. He quickly put his command in motion, and fell back to the Harper's Ferry road, where he was met by another order to hasten his march as the enemy had broken the line of Jones' Division and were nearly up to the road without a Confederate soldier in front. At this point Toombs was joined by the 20th Georgia, and the entire command went double-quick along the road, passed the 7th Virginia, which had fallen back before the advance of Fairchild, and in a short time the head of the line passed the "narrow cornfield," saw McIntosh's three abandoned guns, and the 8th Connecticut "standing composedly in line of battle," about 120 yards from the road, apparently waiting for support, on the very ground Toombs had been ordered to occupy. Colonel Benning reports that "neither in their front nor far to their right was a man of ours to be seen, but three abandoned guns of ours were conspicuous objects about midway between the road and the enemy's line." Little's battalion was in advance, followed by the 17th Georgia, Captain J.A. McGregor, 15th, Colonel William T. Millican, and a large part of the 20th in rear. All, however, made but a short line, and Benning, when he thought the rear had not quite cleared the cornfield, for he did not desire to see the enemy to see how short his line was, halted the head of his line opposite the right of the 8th Connecticut, and ordered it to begin firing: "the rest of the line as it came up joined in the fire. The fire soon became general. It was hot and rapid. The enemy returned it with vigor, and showed a determination to hold their position stubbornly."
Meanwhile General Rodman had fallen. He had gone forward with the 8th Connecticut, rode ahead to where Fairchild was engaged, saw the 8th Connecticut coming up and started to meet it, or to go for the rest of the brigade, when he was shot through the breast and fell from his horse. No one saw him fall, but two of Upham's men--Seth D. Bingham and T.H. (Hanley?)-- were falling back from the advance on McIntosh's guns, to rejoin their regiment, they heard his cry for help, went to him and took him to a sheltered position under the hill, from which he was moved across the Antietam to Roulette's house, where he died some days later.
A.P. Hill's Division had remained at Harper's Ferry until the morning of the 17th, when, at half-past six, he received orders from General Lee to march to Sharpsburg. Leaving Thomas' Brigade to complete the removal of the captured property he put his division in motion at half-past seven, marched up the Virginia side of the river, crossed at Blackford's Ford and, after an exhausting march of 17 miles, the head of his column arrived upon the field at 2.30 p.m. Hill reported in person to General Lee, by whom he was warmly greeted and who exclaimed: "General Hill I was never so glad to see you, you are badly needed, put your force in on the right as fast as they come up." Hill then rode to D.R. Jones, who gave him such information of the character of the ground as was necessary, and then rode to the Blackford house, where he met the advance of his division coming upon the field by the ford leading from the ford. McIntosh's Battery had already taken position near the Blackford house, where it fired a few shots and was then sent forward to strengthen Jones' right. The infantry now came up and were rapidly thrown into position. Pender and Brockenbrough on the extreme right, looking to the road crossing the Antietam near its mouth, Branch, Gregg and Archer extending to the left to make continuation with D.R. Jones's Division. Hill says: "Braxton's Battery...was placed upon a commanding point on Gregg's right; Crenshaw and Pegram on a hill to my left, which gave them a wide field of fire. My troops were not in a moment too soon. The enemy had already advanced in three lines, had broken through Jones' Division, captured McIntosh's Battery, and were in the full tide of success."
We left Harland riding back to this cornfield to hasten the advance of the 16th Connecticut. His horse was shot from under him before he had gone far, which delayed his arrival. He found that the regiment, by an order of Rodman, had changed front to the left and was heavily engaged and perceiving that the right of the 12th South Carolina was exposed ordered Colonel Beach to change the front of the 16th Connecticut to strike it; "which change was effected, though with some difficulty, owing to the fact that the regiment had been in service but three weeks, and the impossibility of seeing but a small portion of the line at once." It was this change of front of the 16th Connecticut and its attack, and the appearance of the 4th Rhode Island that caused the 12th South Carolina to fall back in some disorder, but, almost immediately after this, both the 16th Connecticut and 4th Rhode Island were flanked in turn, and driven from the field.
In Benning's desire to front the right of the 8th Connecticut he had carried his line so far that his rear had passed 100 yards beyond the narrow cornfield, but he was in an excellent, well sheltered position in the road, which, at this point, ran in a cut, much lower than the bank in front, and on the left were parts of Kemper's and Drayton's brigades. The entire line engaged the 8th Connecticut with some spirit, inflicting upon it much loss, and, in addition to this fire in its front, it was suffering from a fire upon its left flank and rear, which caused it to change the front of its left wing. This flank and rear fire came from the 7th and 37th North Carolina of Branch's Brigade.
When Branch's Brigade came upon the field by the road passing Blackford's, a battery opened upon it, upon which it turned sharply to the right, down hill, then resumed its first course and after the leading regiment, the 7th North Carolina, had fired two or three volleys at a regiment beyond the cornfield, crossed the Harper's Ferry road and marched east until the 8th Connecticut was seen, marching in line northwest, upon which skirmishers were sent out and the 7th North Carolina, Colonel Edward S. Haywood, and 37th North Carolina, Captain W.G. Morris, were detached and sent on the double quick to the left, north, the 7th on the right. The (running?) skirmishers soon opened fire upon the moving 8th Connecticut, and the two regiments followed by the flank. The 37th, on the left, went through the lower part of the "narrow cornfield," and the 7th over open ground on its right, and both came into line, behind the fence on the northern edge of the cornfield and the fence continuing east from it. The fence was approached as Upham was advancing to seize McIntosh's guns and opened fire upon the left and rear of the 8th Connecticut, not quite 300 yards distant, which caused it to make a partial change of front. This fire and that of the enemy in the road was more than the Connecticut men could stand. Richardson's Battery from across the road now opened upon them and, after an engagement of less than 30 minutes, losing nearly one half its men (34 killed and 139 wounded) and with no hope of support, the regiment was ordered to retreat. Toombs and Benning say it retreated in confusion but officer of the 37th North Carolina testify that it "held ground quite stubbornly, fought splendidly, and went off very deliberately, firing back at the 37th and waving its flag." Officers of the regiment admit that some of the men retreated without halting to fire, but contend that a greater part of them stopped several times to fire at the enemy in the corn. While the 37th North Carolina was engaged a volley was poured into its right flank, also upon the flank of the 7th, from the fence of the 40 acre cornfield, by which some men of the latter were killed and wounded and some men of the 37th wounded, upon which the 7th immediately fell back, soon followed by the 37th. We shall see them later.
When the 8th Connecticut was seen leaving the field Toombs ordered pursuit, and his men, with those of Kemper and Drayton, a mere handful, climbing the bank and board fence, advanced to near where the regiment had stood, and Toombs ordered a charge over the hill, but Benning, who was a better soldier, thought otherwise. He says: "We could not see what was below the crest of the hill, but I knew a very large force of the enemy must be somewhere below it, for I had from our last position seen three or four successive long lines of them march out from the bridge. I therefore suggested to General Toombs the propriety of halting the line, as its numbers were so small and it had no supports behind it, just before it reached the crest of the hill, and sending to the crest only the men armed with long-range guns. This suggestion he adopted."