The Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers at Antietam
Connecticut at Antietam by John W. Schildt
Antietam Publications, Chewsville, Md, 1988
When the attack of Crook's command and the Eleventh Connecticut failed, they had done all that brave men could do, another assault was made on the bridge. This time it was by the Second Maryland and Sixth New Hampshire. They also chose the path of the Connecticut regiment, using the Rohrbach lane and the hills near the lane for protection. But once they came into the open, and poured through an opening in the fence, they met the same fate. A German officer in the Maryland regiment felt the Confederates were throwing the blacksmith shop at them.
"The Second and the Sixth tried to move toward the bridge, but it was impossible. They were forced to fall back.
Meanwhile Rodman was taking the rest of his division down stream. They looked for several places to ford the Antietam. They met with no success. Then they found Snavely's ford approximately three miles downstream from the bridge. One wonders why all of this was not done the previous day. The Eleventh Connecticut was out of action for the day, the wounded at the Rohrbach farm, but the Eighth and Sixteenth were crossing the stream, helping to push back the 50th Georgia. And as they were advancing, it was time for another frontal assault on the bridge.
Samuel Sturgis selected two more regiments to make the attack, Things would be a little better. George Crook had managed to get several companies of the 28th Ohio across the Antietam. They were figuring on the Confederate defenders on the west bank. And a Union section of artillery was brought up'to fire directly on the Confederates at the west end of the bridge.
Two attacks had failed. Now it was time for the third. The 51st Pennsylvania spent the night of the 16th in a stubble field one mile from the bridge. Daybreak on the 17th brought the sounds of cannonading and musketry to the north. Then the regiment "slung knapsacks" and started forth to battle.
Nearing the creek, Colonel Ferrero rode up and ordered the 51st forward. Colonel Hartranft paid no attention to the command. The reason: there were two 51st's in the brigade and Ferrero did not say which one he meant. The commander of the 51st New York remained in place, too, not knowing which regiment the colonel wanted. Ferrrero rode off but returned moments later fuming and swearing.
Hartranft said, "Who do you want to go forward? Ferrero replied, "The 51st Pennsylvania." Hartranft retorted, "Why don't you say what you mean when you want me to move?" So the 51st moved forward and halted in a flat near the ridge. The rest of the brigade was brought up in close support. Then the 51st New York and 51st Pennsylvania started on their mission at a run. They yelled, "Remember Reno." 670 strong they came down the slope and ran toward the stone bridge. The Pennsylvanians took positions back of the stone wall to the right of the bridge. The New Yorkers were on the other side using the rail fence for some protection.
The Rebel fire slackened momentarily, and Colonel Hartranft of the 51st Pennsylvania yelled for his men to advance. Captain William Allenbaugh accompanied by a small group of men, including the color bearer leapt on to the bridge and rushed across the stone span. Hartranft took off his hat and waved his men forward. Colonel Potter also ordered his New Yorkers forward. The 21st and 35th Massachusetts rushed forward to assist their comrades.
The Stars and Stripes were planted on the west bank of the Antietam by 1:00 p.m. And all the Union soldiers who could see the flag cheered wildly. They had made it.
General Sturgis's division immediately marched over, deployed one brigade to the right and the other to the left of the bridge, and advanced up the slope, driving the enemy before them. This division was followed by Colonel Crook's brigade of the Kanawha Division, which took position on the right.
Meanwhile General Rodman's division and the First Brigade of the Kanawha Division, under Colonel Scammon, had succeeded in crossing at a ford about one-third of a mile below the bridge, and after a sharp engagement ... successfully took the position assigned at the left of the line of the crest above the bridge.
The stubbornly contested fight at the bridge having almost exhausted the ammunition and greatly fatigued the troops engaged, I (Cox) sent a request to General Burnside that General Willcox's division, which had been held in reserve on the left bank, might be sent over and take its place on the right front, putting Sturgis's division in reserve at the head of the bridge ... About 3 o'clock, the necessary changes in the line having been completed ... the whole force, except Sturgis's division was put in motion.
Batteries were brought forward to support the advance. Heavy infantry and cannon fire met them from the old Otto property, with a lot of it coming from the vicinity of the old mill. Willcox was proud of every officer and man in his command, and recommended that all his regiments be allowed to inscribe "Sharpsburg" and "South Mountain" on their colors.
Colonel Welsh reported extremely heavy fire from Confederate artillery. He captured many prisoners along a stone fence at the edge of Sharpsburg. The 45th Pennsylvania and 17th Michigan, the new regiment, were conspicuous for their gallantry.
The Georgians had done their task well. They retreated from the heights above the bridge on good order. They had cost the Ninth Corps approximately 500 casualties, while losing about 160 of their own men. More significantly, they delayed an already tardy Union attack for more than three hours.
Slowly but surely, the Confederates fell back toward the spires of Sharpsburg. However, they continued to use delaying tactics, stopping like Indians and using stone fences or strawstacks to fire a few more rounds at the men in blue. Willcox pushed on toward Sharpsburg, receiving fire from the Confederates at the Otto Mill. Two hundred yards from the center of town, he stopped. His men were out of ammunition. Another blunder.
On Willcox's left, Colonel Fairchild's men kept going. The land was worse than a roller coaster. There was a ravine and then a hill, with bullets and shells coming at you. The Georgia and South Carolina troops were stubborn and fought valiantly.
Included in Fairchild's Brigade was the colorful Ninth New York Zouaves. The regiment was being led this September afternoon by Lieutenant Colonel Edgar A. Kimball, a former newspaper editor and a veteran of the Mexican War. All along the line there was the chant, "Zou-Zou-Zou." And Colonel Kimball was up and down the line, clapping his hands and shouting, "Bully Ninth! Bully Ninth! Boys, I'm proud of every one of you."
The Ninth took heavy losses. One shell wiped out eight men. Lieutenant Matthew Graham, who was to receive a severe wound, looked back down the hill and saw "the field sprinkled all over with our dead and wounded". Twenty-two year old Adolph Li Baire won the Medal of Honor for rescuing the regimental colors. And Private Thomas Hare of Company D captured a stand of Rebel colors.
The Ninth pushed on and compelled two Confederate batteries to retire. Two small Confederate regiments remained to harass the men from New York. The 17th Virginia was down to a mere handful of men, 55 to be exact.
Private Alexander Hunter saw the mast of the Ninth Corps flag come up the hill. He saw the pole, then the eagle, and then the flutter of the Stars and Stripes. Then came the hats, the faces, and then the mass of blue. A charge with the bayonet followed, and the 17th Virginia blasted away. Men from New York went down from the volley, but on they came. The Virginians broke and left the field. Thirty-one members of the 17th were killed or wounded and ten more captured.
However, all units did not advance at the same progressive rate. A gap developed between the Ninth New York and the 89th and 103rd. And a far more serious gap occurred in Harland's brigade. His veteran unit, the Eighth Connecticut, held the left flank. To the right was the Fourth Rhode Island and the new 16th Connecticut.
Tall corn obscured the view, and officers were not sure what was happening. And this was extremely bad. It was almost as though Rodman's command was fighting as regiments rather than as brigades.
'The Eighth Connecticut and the Fourth Rhode Island reached their position by moving through one of the many ravines and gullies which concealed troop movements." These are all over the field of Antietam, and worked to advantage for both armies.
Sharpsburg was now filled with Confederates. Wounded men, stragglers, filled the streets. Ambulances were everywhere, blood leaking from the wooden floorboards. Civilians huddled in the basement of the Kretzer home and other places, fearful of their lives and possessions. Lee's lines were in shreds. Disaster was in the air. Then "Up Came Hill."
The spires of Sharpsburg were within sight of the advancing troops of the Ninth Corps. John Dooley of the First Virginia describes the Union approach through the Sherrick and Otto fields. Rodman went down, too, shot in the lungs, his life ebbing away. The 16th crossed the Antietam Creek with 940 men in the morning. When they regrouped near the bridge, only 210 were present." Hill's men had stemmed the tide.
Above the din of battle could be heard the foxhunters' call, the wild "Rebel yell". Red banners were following Stars and Stripes. Ragged boys in butternut leaped over prone bodies in blue. The roar of the guns on the heights swelled to a pitch of triumph yard by yard as the Union line, sagging and gaping but unbroken, fell back to the shelter of the low ridges near the creek.
Hill had arrived in the nick of time; the Federals had been driven back, and the Confederate Army had narrowly escaped defeat. Hill said, "My troops were not a moment too soon." In his dramatic counterstroke Hill lost 346 men.
Charles C. Coffin, the noted correspondent, describes the advance and crest of the Ninth Corps.
"Far up on the Union right, as well as in the center, the Union batteries were pounding. I recall a remarkable scene. The sun was going down -its disc red and large as seen through the murky battle-cloud. One of Sumner's batteries was directly in line toward the sun, on the crest of the ridge north of the smoking ruins of Mumma's house and barn, and there was one piece of which the gunners, as they rammed home the cartridge, seemed to be standing in the sun. Beyond, hid from view by the distance and the low hanging branches of the oaks by the Dunker (sic) Church, the Confederate guns were flashing. Immediately north of Sharpsburg, and along the hill in front, now the National Cemetery, Longstreet's cannon were in play. Halfway up the hill were Burnside's men sending out a continuous flame, with A.P. Hill's veterans confronting them. All the country was flaming and smoking; shells were bursting above the contending lines; Burnside was asking for reinforcements. How quickly Porter's eleven thousand could have rushed across Antietam bridge with no Confederates to oppose them, swept up the hillside and forced themselves like a wedge between Longstreet and A.P. Hill but McClellan had only Miller's battery to send him. The sun went down; the thunder died away, the musketry ceased, bivouac fires gleamed out as if a great city had lighted its lamps
Morning of the 17th had broken as all days do with streaks of light in the east. And young men from the North and South faced the dawn, young men from Connecticut and Georgia, and other parts of the nation. Their life was at the dawn, full of potential, promise and possibilities. They had hopes and dreams of home, family, and a career. Now they had fallen "to rise no more."
It is hard to imagine as we travel the fields of Antietam to realize the din and roar, and smoke of battle, the shrieks of the dying and the wounded. But there was all of this and more on the heights and in the ravines between the stream called Antietam and the village by the name of Sharpsburg. This was Wednesday, September 17,1862.
Thus the bloody battle of Antietam came to an end just as the setting sun, a crimson red, sank beyond the western hills.
General Longstreet, one of Lee's Corps Commanders wrote: "For fourteen long hours more than one hundred thousand men, with five hundred pieces of artillery, had engaged in titanic combat. As the pall of battle smoke rose and cleared away, the scene presented was one to make the stoutest heart shudder. There lay upon the ground, scattered for three miles over the valleys and the hills or in improvised hospitals, more than twenty thousand men. Horace Greeley was probably right in pronouncing this the bloodiest day in American history."
Lt. Blakeslee of the 16th Connecticut observed: "Of all the gloomy nights, this was the saddest we ever experienced. All was quiet and silent as the grave. The stacks of straw which the rebels fired burned slow dimly. The cries and groans of the wounded that lay upon the battlefield could be heard distinctly.