Page images
PDF
EPUB

68

BATTLE OF SOUTH MOUNTAIN.

lery duel followed, the enemy pouring their shot and shell down from the sides of the mountains, and our batteries replying from the plain below. About noon, a short, severe conflict occurred between the infantry, over some pieces abandoned by our troops in a panic, in which the rebels were beaten. About two o'clock, the head of Hooker's column, coming to reinforce Reno, was seen moving along the turnpike. Sweeping off in a road that turned to the right, it steadily approached the foot of the mountain, amid the prolonged cheers of Reno's troops. An hour later, the line of battle was formed at the base of the ridge - Rickett's brigade on the extreme right, and Reno's on the left-and the order to advance given. The enemy opened on it with artillery, but it steadily advanced, and, at length, began to ascend the rugged slope. In a short time the whole rebel force was encountered, and then the wooded steep became wrapped in flame and smoke. For three hours, it thundered and flamed without a moment's interval, along the breast of the mountain, but nothing could stay the steady upward sweep of that magnificent line, and as the last rays of the sun were gilding the summit, our victorious flag was planted upon it, and the shout of triumph rolled down the farther side, after the fleeing enemy. Our total loss, in killed and wounded, was two thousand three hundred and twenty-five ---that of the enemy was unknown. Among our dead was the gallant Reno.

The next day, the garrison at Harper's Ferry surrendered, numbering eleven thousand five hundred and eighty-three men, with nearly fifty pieces of artillery. The cavalry, about two thousand in number, under Colonel Davis, escaped previously, capturing Longstreet's train, and a hundred prisoners on its way. The unnecessary fall of this place, awakened the deepest indignation, and the blame was laid, now on Halleck, and now on Miles, and again on McClellan

ADVANCE OF THE ARMY.

69

Colonel Ford, who commanded the Heights, also came in for his share of the blame. The disgraceful affair, however, is surrounded with no difficulties. Colonel Miles was not a fit man to command the place, as had been fully shown in his conduct at the first battle of Bull Run, and should not have been put there. His death, after he had hoisted the white flag, saved him from further disgrace.

The second blunder was in not putting it under McClellan's command at the first, as it was inclosed in the field of his military operations. His advice, at least, should have been taken. General Franklin was within a few miles of Harper's Ferry, to relieve it, when it surrendered. A

proper officer could have held the place, though in itself it was of no consequence, in the campaign; for, if McClellan was beaten, wé could not hold it, and if he drove the enemy out of Maryland, it was necessarily ours, for the latter would not attempt to retain it, as the sequel proved. The misfortune consisted in losing, at this critical period, so many men whom McClellan could have put to a useful purpose. The latter was blamed for not relieving it, at the last moment. But it fell within three days after it was placed under his command, and while his relieving columns were almost within cannon shot of it.

Although, as before stated, Harper's Ferry, as a military post, had no important bearing on McClellan's plan of the campaign, the loss of so many troops at this juncture, was a serious matter, and, in case of disaster, might increase it indefinitely. . Still, no change was made in the Commander's purpose, and no delay permitted in the movement of the army. He had ascertained definitely, Lee's whereabouts and designs, and he was resolved at once to give him battle. Pushing his army rapidly forward, he, on the 15th, came upon the rebel host, drawn up in line of battle, on a row of heights that stretched along the west side of Antietam Creek

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

Antietam is a sluggish stream, emptying into the Potomac, with but a few fords, and those difficult ones; near these the enemy had taken his position. Four stone bridges crossed within the distance of about seven miles-the last one being near its mouth. The creek 'entering the Potomac at a sharp angle, brought the two streams so near together at Sharps burg, that Lee's position actually stretched from one to the other—thus protecting both his flanks and his rear. The rebel leader had chosen his position admirably, for a stronger one could not well be found. Not only was he protected by these two streams, but the heights on which he was planted, were not composed of a single line of hills, which, if once carried, the battle was won, but of a succession of hills—those rear commanding those in front. The hollows between, successfully concealed the number and movements of the hostile troops. A direct advance in front was plainly out of the question, and McClellan, having thoroughly reconnoitered the ground, resolved to attack by both flanks Hooker and Mansfield, supported by Sumner, were to attempt to turn the enemy's left, while Burnside, at the

proper moment, was to carry the lower bridge, near the mouth of the creek, and crush the enemy's right, and then sweep along the heights towards the centre, which was then to advance and complete the victory. In accordance with this plan, Hooker, with his corps, composed of Rickett's, Meade's, and Doubleday's divisions, was ordered, on the afternoon of the 16th, to cross Antietam Creek by the upper bridge and å ford near it, attack the enemy's left, and fix himself firmly there, while Mansfield was to cross during the night, and Sumner early next morning. The passage of the stream. was effected without difficulty, and the corps moved cau

[graphic][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »