« PreviousContinue »
correcting this state of things. The General said he "was sure, whatever estimate the Army of the Potomac might entertain of General Pope, that they would obey his orders, support him to the fullest extent, and do their whole duty.” The President, "who was much moved,” asked him to telegraph to Fitz-John Porter, or some other of his friends, "and try to do away with any feeling that might exist," to which he consented.
The President had abundant reason to be greatly “moved” on account of the late disasters, in any event; and he was evidently not entirely satisfied that McClellan's “influence” had been properly used in aid of his country at a critical moment. Later. General Fitz-John Porter was tried by court-martial for disobedience to Pope's orders; was found guilty, and was sentenced to be dismissed from the service, with perpetual disqualification for holding any office under the Government. The President approved the finding and sentence. *
On the ist of September, after Pope had fallen back to Centreville, there was much excitement at Washington, and there was a necessity certainly that both armies should be placed under one commanding General. With nearly all his advisers especially Stanton, Halleck, and Chase — strongly opposed to what seemed to him the only practicable course, the President adhered to his own judgment as firmly as, under like opposition, he had refused to evacuate Fort Sumter. Now, as then, his action was that of a shrewd statesman and a firm master. He wrote with his own hand an order to Halleck, directing all the troops to be put under the control of McClellan for the protection of the capital. Whether the General was to remain on the defensive in the immediate neighborhood of Washington or again take the field aggressively would depend upon his adversary's purposes, not yet definitely disclosed.
* Porter had proved himself an able and gallant officer-at Gaines's Mill especially, and under Pope, on the second day at Bull Run. More than twenty years after, under authority conferred by a special act of Congress, he was restored to his former rank in the army and placed on the retired list.
The advance of Lee's army had in fact reached the Potomac above the city, near the mouth of the Monocacy, on the day of the encounter at Chantilly (September ist), and all were over the river by the 5th. At Frederick City, on the 8th, Lee issued a proclamation addressed to the people of Maryland, proposing to aid them in throwing off the burden of Federal oppression. Recruiting offices were opened, and urgent appeals were made to Marylanders to join the Confederate army. But this visitation, in Western Maryland at least, was unwelcomed; of recruits there were almost none; of stragglers from Lee's ranks there were many. Orders looking to an invasion of Pennsylvania were soon issued, involving the crossing of South Mountain and a concentration at Hagerstown, Jackson being charged with the capture of Harper's Ferry and its garrison.
McClellan, leaving Banks to hold the defenses of Washington, took the field with an army of about ninety thousand men. Burnside reached Frederick on the 12th, after Jackson had recrossed the Potomac near Martinsburg, and McLaws had appeared in the immediate rear of Maryland Heights and Harper's Ferry. On the 13th (McClellan having now information of the enemy's plans from an order of Lee's that came into his possession at Frederick) Middletown was occupied by Pleasanton's cavalry advance, after skirmishing with the enemy's rear guard. Sumner and Burnside closely followed. To resist Jackson's designs against Harper's Ferry, Franklin was ordered to push forward by Crampton's Pass into Pleasant Valley, in the rear of Maryland Heights. On the 14th, after a three hours' combat in the afternoon, he drove the enemy from the Pass and moved down into the valley; but next morning at 8 o'clock, Miles — in command at Harper's Ferry, with a force of ten or twelve thousand men surrendered everything to Jackson, save two thousand cavalry, who had cut their way out during the night.
In the meantime McClellan had been busy at Turner's Gap (South Mountain), where a more determined resistance was made than at Crampton's. Cox's division (on the 14th) succeeded in gaining the crest, and was supported by the remainder of Reno's corps, the contest lasting until night. Hooker co-operated on the right, moving by the Hagerstown road, but the brunt of the battle was borne by Burnside's men. Reno was killed about sunset, while reconnoitering in front of his corps. The Pass was carried, with a Union loss of 312 killed and 1,256 wounded. The Confederates lost 260 killed, 1,150 wounded, and 1,500 prisoners. On the next morning McClellan reported: “I have just learned from General Hooker, in the advance, who states that the information is perfectly reliable, that the enemy is making for the river in a perfect panic, and General Lee stated last night publicly that he must admit they had been shockingly whipped. I am hurrying everything forward to endeavor to press their retreat to the utmost." The President telegraphed to the General: “God bless you and all with you. Destroy the. rebel army if possible.”
Lee was presently found to have disposed the troops with him on the high ground along the farther bank of Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg. McClellan's entire army was available at a seasonable hour on the 15th, had he chosen to attack. Every hour's delay would bring Jackson, McLaws, and the rest of the Harper's Ferry victors nearer, though now too far away to be of any help to Lee. The old Napoleon would have used the opportunity with crushing effect. Was not the young Napoleon capable of a like exploit? The President indulged such a hope, and the General's dispatches seemed to warrant the expectation. Nevertheless, McClellan waited a whole day within striking distance and delayed the blow.
The battle of Antietam was one of the most sanguinary conflicts of the war. The stream from which it is named runs nearly due south between Hagerstown and the Potomac, into which it empties about three miles from Sharpsburg and nearly opposite Shepherdstown. Lee's forces were extended northward from the rear of Sharpsburg near the Hagerstown road, partly sheltered by woods, his left resting on the Potomac at a point from which it sweeps around in a semi-circle to the mouth of the Antietam. McClellan's line, on the opposite heights, fronting Lee, with the Antietam and its narrow valley between them, was about four miles long — the three corps of Hooker, Sumner, and Mansfield on the right, near the upper bridge of the three
that crossed the creek; Porter in rear of the middle one; and Burnside on the left, near the lower one. Heavy batteries were placed at several effective points along the heights. Franklin's corps and Couch's division, on the morning of the 16th, were a few miles away, near Brownsville.
McClellan's plan of battle involved the complete cutting off of Lee's lines of retreat, towards Hagerstown on the one hand, and Shepherdstown on the other, while the Potomac shut him in on the rear. He sent the larger share of his force to turn the enemy's left Hooker and Mansfield taking the lead, sustained by Sumner, and, if needed, by Franklin. Burnside was ordered to cross the lower bridge, turning the right of the enemy when he became engaged on his left. Porter was held in reserve, ready to attack in his front when the fit opportunity should come. Hooker crossed the Antietam on the evening of the 16th, made a wide circuit to the front of the enemy's advance position, on the Hagerstown road, and camped there for the night. Mansfield followed, bivouacking a mile in the rear of Hooker. Advancing at daylight (on the 17th), Hooker soon found heavy masses confronting him. In fact, Jackson, with a large part of Lee's army, had been sent to turn the Union right — a flanking movement such as he usually executed with brilliant success.
The fighting here became desperate and destructive, with varying results for hours. The Twelfth Corps (under Mansfield, soon mortally wounded) came promptly into line on Hooker's left; the three divisions of Sumner (Sedgwick, French, and Richardson) joined in the fray two