15th Massachusetts Infantry Mine Creek

The McLaws-Walker Counter-Attack

Lee sent the two-brigade division commanded by Brigadier General John Walker from the extreme Confederate right to report to Jackson. The dispatch of Walker's division from the Confederate right meant that only one brigade was being left to oppose the possible advance of Federal IX Corps across Antietam Creek. The conduct of the Federals so far in the engagement regarding the commitment of their reserves and in their apparent unwillingness to launch a coordinated attack led Lee to believe that the gamble of drastically weakening his right was necessary to allow his left to survive. In addition, Lee sent Jackson his only major reserve, the division commanded by ¿Major General Lafayette McLaws, which had been camped at Lee's headquarters near the village of Sharpsburg since its arrival at sunrise. Lafayette McLaws (1821-1897)

A From General McClellan's headquarters, the Pry house (above right), observers could see Sumner's Corps advancing in the middle, with Franklin's VI Corps to his right in support. A column of smoke rises from the Mumma house and barn. Fighting between Mansfield and Jackson takes place in the East Wood, on the extreme right.

A From General McClellan's headquarters, the Pry house (above right), observers could see Sumner's Corps advancing in the middle, with Franklin's VI Corps to his right in support. A column of smoke rises from the Mumma house and barn. Fighting between Mansfield and Jackson takes place in the East Wood, on the extreme right.

was an 1842 graduate of the United States Military Academy and an officer in the regular army before the War. McLaws had been a first classman at West Point when Jackson had reported as a plebe. As soon as they arrived in his sector, McLaws' and Walker's troops (under McLaws as the senior general officer) were ordered by Jackson to make an immediate counter-attack on Sedgwick's Federal division and drive them out of the West Woods. The assault took place at approximately 1030.

McLaws' division advanced with his brigades commanded in the following order, from left to right: Brigadier General Paul J. Semmes, Brigadier General William Barksdale, Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw and Brigadier General Howell Cobb. Walker's division advanced behind McLaws division as a support, with Brigadier General Robert Ransom's North Carolinian Brigade on the left and Walker's own brigade commanded by Colonel Van H. Manning on the right. Manning detached the 3rd Arkansas and 27th North Carolina regiments to cover the distance between Walker's advance and the left of Longstreet's command. Walker's division drifted more to the right during the advance than perhaps was intended by Jackson, so that it eventually moved beyond McLaws' right. The counter-attacking Rebel divisions 'advanced in splendid style', wrote Walker in his report, 'firing and cheering as they went, and in a few minutes cleared the woods.' McLaws wrote that his advance was 'sweeping the woods with perfect ease and

Major General Lafayette McLaws, a Georgian, had received his promotion to divisional commander because of prior services during the Peninsular campaign.

inflicting great loss on the enemy'. Colonel Manning even advanced beyond the remainder of Walker's division with his 46th North Carolina, 48th North Carolina, and 30th Virginia Regiments. Walker reported that Manning's men were 'driving the enemy like sheep'.

The advance of McLaws and Walker had struck the left flank of Sedgwick's advance, creating considerable confusion. 'The attack of the enemy on the flank was so sudden', wrote Brigadier General Gorman, commanding Sedgwick's first brigade line, 'and in such overwhelming force that I had no time to lose.' Desperate Federal officers tried to rally .their men and reform until finally they withdrew and managed to stabilize a new line some 200 yards

Major General Lafayette McLaws, a Georgian, had received his promotion to divisional commander because of prior services during the Peninsular campaign.

▼ General McClellan riding the line of battle. His black horse, named Daniel Webster, was so fast that the Staff had difficulty keeping up and referred to him as 'that Devil Dan'.

15th Massachusetts Infantry Mine Creek

to the rear. There was heavy fighting. 'In this terrible conflict three regiments of the brigade', wrote Gorman, 'the 15th Massachusetts, 34th and 82nd New York Volunteers, lost nearly one-half their entire force engaged.' McLaws and Walker had succeeded in stalling any further advance of Sedgwick's division and had restored solidarity to the sector commanded by Jackson. Fighting would continue throughout the day on the Confederate left, but serious fighting was completed by 1300. The first phase of the battle of Antietam was over.

It did not have to be, however, because Sumner, commander of Federal II Corps, received substantial reinforcements just as the assault of McLaws and Walker was beginning to come to a conclusion. The new formations were the two divisions of Federal VI Corps, led by Major General Franklin, which had remained in the vicinity of Rohrersville following the battle of Crampton's Gap on 14 September. Franklin had been ordered by McClellan on the evening of the 16th to bring VI Corps to the Sharpsburg area after detaching the 1st Division/IV Corps, attached to Franklin's command and led by Major General Darius Couch, to occupy Maryland Heights, presumably to protect the Army of Potomac's communications. Couch's division was wastefully employed and not ordered to join the rest of the Army of the Potomac until the fighting was over. VI Corps arrived on the Antietam battlefield at 1000.

Franklin was ordered to send his leading formation, Major General Smith's 2nd Division/VI Corps, to support Sumner's II Corps. Brigadier General Winfield Hancock's 1st Brigade/2nd Division/VI Corps, deployed at the front of Smith's column, was instrumental in finally halting the Confederate counter-attack. 'This brigade was the means of saving two batteries', wrote Franklin, 'and occupied its position during the remainder of the action, sometimes under very heavy cannonading.' Franklin brought up his other division, the 1st Division/VI Corps commanded by Major General Slocum, at 1100, and deployed his two divisions for an immediate attack on the disorganized Confederate forces to his front. Franklin believed that he had a very good chance of destroying the Confederate left once and for all - and he may have been correct, since Lee had no reserves immediately

Green Rifle Frock
Private of the 1st US Sharpshooters, who wore the standard frock coat and trousers hut of rifle green rather than of blue wool, and with hard black rubber buttons. The weapon is a Sharps rifle. Painting by Michael Youens.

available. Sumner would not, however, allow Franklin to attack. The matter was referred to McClellan, who selected a cautious approach and supported Sumner's position. VI Corps did not advance, and McClellan may have lost his best opportunity to win a decisive victory at Antietam. Franklin remarked in his report with commendable restraint, 'The commanding general came to the position and decided that it would not be prudent to make the attack.'


▼ The south-eastern section of the sunken road, as seen in 1885.

Gods And Generals Battle Manassas

Major General William French's 3rd Division/II Corps had advanced on the left of Sedgwick's command when Sumner initially led II Corps forward. Sedgwick's men advanced on the West Woods, and French's troops moved more to the south against a sunken farm lane defended by Major General Daniel Harvey Hill's Confederate division. The position defended by Hill has come to be known as 'bloody lane', and it provided the Confederates with a naturally strong defensive position.

Daniel Harvey Hill's Confederate Division had been heav ily engaged at South Mountain, and casualties there along with the straggling that had plagued the Army of Northern Virginia throughout the Maryland Campaign had severely depleted Hill's brigades. Garland's Brigade had been nearly eliminated at South Mountain, and it along with Ripley's Brigade had been sent earlier in the day to assist Jackson around the time of Hood's morning counterattack. Hill had the remains of Colquitt's Brigade in the sunken road with its left flank on the Hagerstown Road, followed from left to right by Rodes' Alabamian Brigade and George B. Anderson's North Carolinian Brigade. The Confederate

▼ The south-eastern section of the sunken road, as seen in 1885.

line in the sunken road was continued by two brigades of Richard Anderson's Division, those commanded by Brigadier General Ambrose Wright and Colonel Alfred Cuming (Wilcox's Brigade). The remainder of Anderson's Division, commanded now by Brigadier General Robert Pryor, formed behind the sunken road as Hill's reserve, the brigades of: Brigadier General Winfield Feather-ston, Pryor's Brigade commanded by its senior Colonel, and fragments of two Virginia brigades.

► Because the Union attacks were totally uncoordinated, Lee was able to use his interior lines to rush troops front one threatened part of the field to another. Here he and one of his divisional commanders, Daniel H. Hill, ride along their lines during a respite in fighting on this sector of the front.

Hill was further supported beyond the sunken road, to the right by the independent brigade commanded by Brigadier General Nathan 'Shanks' Evans. The South Carolinians with Evans represented some of the most blue blooded of the Palmetto State's aristocracy. The next Confederate formation to the right was the division commanded by Brigadier General David R. Jones of Longstreet's command, which thinly stretched the Confederate line towards the Burnside Bridge area.

The Initial Attacks

French advanced his Division in three lines with Brigadier General Max Weber's 3rd Brigade in front, followed by the 2nd Brigade commanded by Colonel Dwight Morris, and the 1st Brigade in the rear led by Brigadier General Nathan Kimball. French was informed of Sedgwick's difficulties and lengthened his line by advancing Kimball, ordering him to form on the left of Weber. Kimball's Brigade advanced with the 14th Indiana on his right and connected with Weber's regiments, followed from right to left by the 8th Ohio, 7th West Virginia, and 132nd Pennsylvania regiments. 'Directly on my front', reported Kimball, lin a narrow road running parallel with my line, and, being washed by water, forming a natural rifle pit between my line and a large cornfield, I found the enemy in great force.'

Kimball's men were opposite the part of the sunken road held by Colquitt, Rodes, and G. B. Anderson. Hill's men had the advantage of a strong defensive position. In addition, the advancing Federals of French's division could not have seen the 'sunken road' until they were practically on top of it. The fighting was severe as French's men tried to carry the Confederate position and, failing in the attempt, then struggled to retain their own position before it.

Kimball's men stood their ground. 'Every man of my command behaved in the most exemplary manner', wrote Kimball, 'as men who had determined to save their country or die.'

The 2nd Brigade/3rd Division was composed of freshly raised troops; Antietam was their first battle. The 14th Connecticut had never fired their weapons before, and although the regiment would participate in twenty-three separate major engagements and serve in all the actions of the Army of the Potomac to the end of the War, many would recall 17 September as a harsh introduction to the conflict. 'Our colors are riddled with shot and shell', wrote Lieutenant Colonel Sanford Perkins, 'and the staff broken.' He added with pride in his report to his superiors, 'As you are aware, our men, hastily raised and without drill, behaved like veterans, and fully maintained the honor of the Union and our native State.' French was unable to drive Hill out of the sunken road, but Hill was equally unable to drive French away from it.

French received reinforcements ultimately from Brigadier Israel Richardson's 1st Division/II Corps, the first formation of which, forming to French's left, was the 'Irish Brigade' (2nd Brigade/1st Division/II Corps). The Irish regiments were commanded by Thomas Francis Meagher (1823-67), a colourful character born in Ireland, who was ordered transported to Tasmania in 1849 by English authorities on charges of seditious activities. Meagher had managed to find his way to America before the War and in the immediate pre-war era he became a recognized leader among the Irish-American population in New York City. Meagher had raised his command from the ethnically Irish population of New York City and other north-east-ern urban communities. He now deployed his 69th New York to the right, connecting with French's troops, followed from right to left by the 29th Massachusetts, 63rd New York and the 88th New York. The 1st Brigade/lst Division/II Corps, commanded by Brigadier General John Caldwell, formed to Meagher's left. Richardson retained his 3rd Brigade under Colonel John Brooke in a second

M French's Division Burns, while Richardson's sweeps forward against Division attacks the the Roulette House and sunken road on the left.

line as a reserve. Richardson's formations were opposite Wright's and Wilcox's brigades, the latter commanded by Colonel Cuming, both of Anderson's Confederate Division. The Irish regiments of Meagher's Brigade advanced under their prominent green regimental battle-flags to 'within paces of the enemy', where they were halted to trade rifle volleys with the Confederates. 'On coming into this close and fatal contact with the enemy', wrote Meagher, 'the officers and the men of the brigade waved their swords and hats and gave the heartiest cheers for their general, George B. McClellan, and the Army of the Potomac.' Meagher advanced his right two regiments slightly in an attempt to carry the Confederate line but was unable to make any headway against the torrent of musketry delivered at him by Hill's troops. The Irish Brigade was decimated and sent to the rear. Caldwell's brigade was redeployed by Richardson to cover Meagher's withdrawal.

The struggle over the sunken road and the orchard behind it lasted three and a half hours, from approximately 0930 to some time after 1300. There were a number of charges and counter-charges launched by both sides, as the Federal divisions commanded by French and Richardson contended for the possession of the 'bloody lane' with Hill's and Anderson's Confederate brigades. 'The battle raged incessantly', wrote Brigadier General Kimball, 'without either party giving way.'

The Exposed Flank

Brigadier General Rodes attempted to take advantage of a gap between Kimball and Caldwell's commands, taking several Southern regiments against

^ The sunken road, looking east from the lane leading to the Roulette . ' - house, as seen in 1885.

Kimball's left. Kimball countered this movement by changing the front of his left regiments, the 7th West Virginia and the 132nd Pennsylvania. He received assistance from Colonel John R. Brooke, commanding the 3rd Brigade/1st Division/II Corps, who changed the front of the 2nd Delaware and 52nd New York Regiments and ordered a charge of his own regiment, the 53rd Pennsylvania. Rodes was forced to retire to his original position in the sunken road. Brigadier General Caldwell, commanding the 1st Brigade of Richardson's division, meanwhile succeeded in driving Wright's Brigade and Colonel Cuming's command out of the right portion, from the Confederate perspective, of the sunken road.

The situation turned dismal for Rodes' command in an instant. Anderson's men were retreating out of the sunken road, Caldwell's men were

^ The sunken road, as seen from the second bend in the lane looking towards the Hagerstown Pike.

advancing, and Rodes found his right, which remained in the sunken road, exposed to a flank attack. Rodes was informed of this difficulty by the excited commander of the 6th Alabama, Lieutenant Colonel James M. Lightfoot. Lightfoot's men were now the extreme right flank of that portion of the sunken road retained by the Confederates, and Lightfoot told Rodes that his men were 'exposed to a terrible enfilade fire'. The consolidated 61st and 64th New York regiments commanded by Colonel Francis Barlow, the right regiment of Caldwell's Brigade, were the culprits. Rodes ordered Lightfoot to refuse his right; that is, as Rodes said in his report, 'throwing his right wing back and out of the road referred to'. Lightfoot apparently misunderstood and, instead of executing the manoeuvre Rodes envisaged, ordered his regiment to about face and leave the sunken road entirely. The commander

K G. B. Anderson L Wright and

Cutnming M Featherston N Hood's division

( regrouping) O Lawton's division (regrouping)


hern and central sections of the battlefront, i 1300 17 September, showing the attack of


K G. B. Anderson L Wright and

Cutnming M Featherston N Hood's division

( regrouping) O Lawton's division (regrouping)

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