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Comrade Chernov's Battle Threads #1: Battle of Antietam

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Comrade Chernov's Battle Threads #1: Battle of Antietam

Post by Comrade Chernov on 22nd January 2012, 8:27 am

Aight, since I'm one of the site's (current) ranking historians, I figured I might as well contribute to the history section *somehow*, so this is how! Using a copy and pasted wikipedia article my large knowledge of the American Civil War, I'll be summarizing battles for you so you can understand what happened easier.

Opposing Forces

Union - Army of the Potomac - 76,000 Men
Confederacy - Army of Northern Virginia - 55,000 Men (38,000 present)

The Battle took place over the course of an entire day, mainly in three phases - the Morning phase, located along the Confederate left; the Midday phase in the center; and the Afternoon phase on the right.

MORNING PHASE
Spoiler:
The battle began with the 8,500 men of the AoTP I Corps, under General Joseph Hooker, advancing uphill to take control of a Plateau on which the Confederate left flank was dug in. Also upon the plateau was the Dunker Church, a small building run by a sect of local German Baptists. Facing Hooker, approximately 7,700 Confederates were in defensive positions, utilizing numerous Limestone outcroppings, rock fences, and folds in the ground as cover. Making up Hooker's force were three divisions; the Division of Doubleday on his right, Rickett on his left, and Meade's in his center. They were attacking two Confederate divisions(of Stonewall Jackson's Corps) under Alexander Lawton and John R. Jones.

As the first Federal troops emerged out of the Northern woods and into a cornfield, an Artillery duel between the Flying batteries of James E.B. Stuart, supported by four batteries under control of Stephen D. Lee, and nine batteries on the ridge behind the Northern woods, supported by four batteries of the high-range 20-pounder Parrott rifles 2 miles away. The chaos of the guns firing caused heavy casualties for both sides, and S.D. Lee described it as "Artillery hell".

By this time, Confederate Infantry had advanced into the other side of the Cornfield which the Union troops had just entered. Hooker, riding forward to survey his Corps' deployment into action, saw the glinting sunlight off of Confederate bayonets, halted his Infantry, and brought up four Artillery batteries into the northern edge of the Cornfield, firing Canister and Shell over his men's heads and causing the Confederates heavy casualties. The Cornfield then veritably exploded with violence; Savage close range volleys tore units to shreds, Men beat each other over the heads with rifle butts, stabbed with bayonets, the air becoming hot and thick from the gunpowder and smoke. The Federals were repulsed from the Cornfield.

Meanwhile, to the right of the Cornfield, Meade sent in his first brigade, under Truman Seymour, against the Confederate brigade of James Walker. Walker's men shredded Seymour's brigade and forced them back, supported by Lee's artillery, just as Rickett's division moved into the cornfield, and was promptly torn up by Artillery fire. Rickett's first brigade, under Abram Duryée, marched directly into a powerful volley by the Georgians of Marcellus Douglass' brigade. Duryée received no reinforcements and was subjected to heavy fire, and he ordered a withdrawl.

The reinforcements that Duryée had needed so badly - two brigades under George Hartsuff and William Christian - were having enormous confusion and coordination problems; Hartsuff was wounded by shrapnel from a shell, and Christian had fled to the rear in terror, leaving no second in command. Both brigades were, however, finally rallied, and marched into the cornfield, only to be subjected to the same Artillery and Infantry punishment as the others to enter before them. However, their numbers began to tell in the following minutes, and the situation was only saved by Harry Hays' brigade, the "Louisiana Tigers"; As described by a soldier facing them, the attack of the Tigers was "the most deadly fire of the war; Rifles are shot to pieces in the hands of their holders, Canteens and haversacks riddled with bullets, the dead and wounded going down in scores". Needless to say, the assault of the Tigers pushed back the Federals again. However, their bloody rampage was finally stopped when another Battery was brought up, firing double canister at point blank range; this slaughtered the Tiger brigade, who lost over 300 of their 500 men.

As the Cornfield remained a bloody, futile stalemate, attacks to the west proved more successful. Doubleday's 4th Brigade, under John Gibbon - recently named the Iron Brigade - was breaking through Confederate lines, flanking the cornfield, when they were subjected to a 1,200-musket volley of the brigade of William Starke, fired from deadly-close range, only 30 yards away; Starke's men then proceeded to charge, but were massacred by fierce return fire from the Iron Brigade, and withdrew, Starke mortally wounded. Although a bloody affair for both sides, with the routing of Starke's brigade, the Federals were making good progress in their assault.

Reinforcements for the Confederates arrived at around 7a.m., when three Divisions - those of Lafayette McClaws, and Richard Anderson - joined the division of John Hood(which was in reserve further down the line until Lee repositioned it) in a counterattack. The Texas Brigade of Hood's division attacked with a particular vigor, because they were called from their position during the first hot breakfast they had available for several days. Hood's 2,300 men swept through the cornfield and the woods to the west, breaking the Federal line, and nearly overrunning the 6 batteries of Federal Artillery stationed there. However, Gibbon rallied his Iron Brigade around the guns, and made sure that one of the batteries - battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery, his pre-war command - lost not a single gun or caisson. Hood's men bore the brunt of the return fire, and sustained 60% casualties; when another officer later asked him where his Division was, he replied, "Dead on the field."

However, Hooker's men had paid a heavy price now, too, and found themselves in a bad position; after two hours spent, and 2,500 out of 8,500 of his men casualties, his Corps was back where it started at the beginning of the battle. The Cornfield was now completely cut from the countless bullets and shells; bodies lay in neat rows, as they had stood alive minutes earlier. It was estimated the Cornfield changed hands no less than 15 times during the fighting. Knowing he had to renew the offensive, Hooker called on the nearby 7,200 men of the XII Corps of Joseph Mansfield for reinforcements. Around half of Mansfield's men were raw, and Mansfield himself, in 40 years of service, had never led a unit in combat, let alone as large a unit as this.

Mansfield quickly sent his Corps into action, albeit in a peculiar formation; Fearing for his unit's cohesion, he sent his men forward in a formation known as "Column of companies, closed in mass"; a battle line ten ranks deep rather than the usual two. It served the purpose of reassuring his men's safety, but an unexpected drawback occurred; it was a perfect target for Artillery. His men were shredded to bits in their first attacks, and Mansfield himself was fatally wounded in the gut, dying the next day. Alpheus Williams temporarily took command of Mansfield's corps for the duration of the battle.

Mansfield's shredded 1st Division made no progress against Hood's line - reinforced by two brigades under Alfred Colquitt and Duncan McRae - and were quickly repulsed; however, the 2nd Division, under George Greene, shattered McRae's men, who fled mistakenly thinking they were being flanked. This development forced Hood and Colquitt's men to regroup in the forest where they had started the day. Greene's men reached the Dunker Church, Hooker's original objective, and Hooker tried to rally his men to continue the assault; However, a Confederate sharpshooter spotted his horse and shot him through the foot. With Hooker wounded, Meade took command, but due to Meade's inferior seniority, there was no man in the area with the authority to rally the I and XII Corps. Greene's men, meanwhile, withdrew from the Dunker Church after receiving heavy return fire from Hood's reformed division in the Western woods.

Now, the II Corps of Edwin Sumner was ordered to send two Divisions - under John Sedgwick and William French - to support Hooker and Mansfield. Sedgwick's 5,400 men were launched into battle early, becoming disconnected from French, and in a peculiar formation; 3 long lines in a column formation, with only a short distance between each line. The formation was first pounded by Artillery, then by the three Divisions of Jubal Early, John Walker, and McClaws. Sedgwick's men took 2,200 casualties - including Sedgwick himself - and had to withdraw to their starting point.

The morning phase of the battle ended with Walker's Division being pushed back slightly by Greene's reformed men. By this point, around 13,000 casualties out of the 23,000 in the battle had been dealt out.

Will post the other two parts soon.


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Re: Comrade Chernov's Battle Threads #1: Battle of Antietam

Post by Soviet on 22nd January 2012, 7:22 pm

Not that I have much interest for American history, and especially American war history, your breakdown of the battle was engaging, informative and easy to read. Good job, Chernov, looking forward to your next two "phases". Keep it up.

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Re: Comrade Chernov's Battle Threads #1: Battle of Antietam

Post by Comrade Chernov on 23rd January 2012, 11:14 am

Thank you Comrade! ^_^

Here is parts 2 and 3.

MIDDAY PHASE
Spoiler:
During Sumner's moves to assist Mansfield and Hooker's corps, the division of Sedgwick had lost contact with French. While Sedgwick attacked further to the west, Sumner's son and aide found French, described the horrible carnage to the west in the forest, and relayed an order for French to draw away Confederate attention by using his 5,700 men to attack the Confederate center. French, of course, complied.

French's men launched them against the division of D.H. Hill, one of Jackson's subordinates. Hill had less than half the strength French had - about 2,500 men - and three of his five brigades had been torn up and worn out by the fierce fighting earlier that morning. However, they had one massive advantage; they were defending an 800-yard-long sunken lane, atop a low ridge, worn down by years of wagon traffic, making a natural trench.

French sent in wave after wave of troops against Hill, in Brigade-sized attacks. The First Brigade, made up of raw recruits under Brig. Gen. Max Weber, was quickly decimated by heavy rifle fire and forced back. The Second Brigade, more raw recruits under the command of Col. Dwight Morris, also suffered heavy fire, and wavered; One of D.H. Hill's brigades, Alabama troops under Brig. Gen. Robert Rodes, decided to launch a counterattack to drive them off; However, Morris' men fired a number of devastating volleys into Rodes' men, driving them back, before withdrawing themselves. The third and final Brigade of French's division, three Veteran regiments under Brig. Gen. Nathan Kimball, also was repulsed by the heavy fire from Hill's men. With all 3 of his attacks defeated, French had lost 1,800 of his 5,700 men in under an hour.

By 10:30 A.M., Lee had sent one final reserve - 3,400 men of Richard Anderson's division - to extend Hill's line to the right, preparing to envelop French's left flank with a heavy counterattack. However, on French's left had arrived the fresh Division of Brig. Gen. Israel Richardson, 4,000 men strong. This was the last of Sumner's divisions, which was finally sent forward while McClellan was busy organizing reserve forces. Both sides planned to use their reinforcements to attack; Richardson's men struck first.

Leading the fourth assault against the sunken road was the notorious Irish Brigade of Brig. Gen. Thomas Meagher. As they rode forward, subjected to Confederate sniper fire, emerald green flags snapping in the breeze, a Regimental chaplain, Father William Corby, rode back and forth along the Brigade's front line, shouting the Catholic Conditional Absolution for those about to die. The Brigade, comprised mainly of Irish immigrants, lost 540 men before it withdrew.

Richardson then personally dispatched the Brigade of Brig. Gen. John Caldwell, after being informed that Caldwell was in the rear, hiding behind a haystack, and Caldwell's men were able to turn the tide; Anderson's men had been little help to Hill's beleaguered defenders, as Anderson had been wounded in the fighting. Other Regimental commanders had been lost as well, including Col. John Gordon of the 6th Alabama - one of Lee's better commanders later in the war - who had been wounded seriously no less than 4 times in the fighting, including a serious facial wound; He lay on the ground, slumped against a haystack, and would have drowned in his own blood, had it not been for the act of an unknown Federal soldier, whose bullet had hit his cap, forming a hole, and allowing the blood to drain. Rodes was wounded as well, but was still on the field. With so many Confederate commanders wounded in this sector, confusion quickly took over.

As Caldwell's Brigade hit the Confederates in the flank, Col. Francis Barlow, commanding 350 men of the 61st and 64th New York Regiments, saw a weak point in the Confederate line and seized a knoll which commanded the sunken road. This allowed them to bring about enfilade fire - two units firing on a target from different angles - on the Confederate line, turning the sunken lane into a deadly trap. As an officer of the 61st New York put it, "We shot them like sheep in a pen. If our bullets failed to hit them directly, they were liable to strike the further bank, angle back, and take them secondarily."

As Rodes frantically tried to wheel troops to the right to combat this new threat, an order was misunderstood by Lt. Col. James Lightfoot - Col. Gordon's successor of the 6th Alabama - and he withdrew his Regiment. The other four regiments of Rodes' brigade, thinking this order was for them too, withdrew, and now Hill's Division had no right flank. This, coupled with the confusion in Anderson's men, caused a mass, disorganized retreat from this sector of the line, Confederate troops streaming back towards Sharpsburg.

Richardson sent his men forward, intent on capitalizing on this advantage, but hastily-assembled, massed Confederate artillery drove them back with heavy loss. Hill personally led 200 men in a counterattack, which got around the Federal flank and even reached the sunken road, but a counterattack by the 5th New Hampshire drove them back. Still, however, this stopped the fall of the Confederate center.

Richardson, seeing his attack floundering, decided to recall his men, when a shell fragment wounded him severely. He died several weeks later. Barlow, meanwhile, was severely wounded, but would continue to serve for the duration of the war. In the meantime, however, Richardson's men had to fall back, having lost 1,000 men of his 4,000 men, and failing to permanently damage the Confederate center.

The carnage around the sunken road for almost 5 hours straight left 5,600 casualties there; 3,000 Federal, 2,600 Confederate. This gave the road the name "The Bloody Lane". And though the Confederates retained the position, the already-weak position had been further depleted by the fighting. If enough force was applied here, Lee's army would be cut in two and separated. There were certainly enough forces available for such a task; 10,300 Infantrymen of Porter's V Corps were nearby, only a mile away, and Franklin's VI Corps of 12,000 Infantrymen had just arrived on the scene, literally only hundreds of yards from the weakened area. Sumner, however, the senior Corps commander, would not authorize an assault there again. Franklin appealed to McClellan, and, after hearing his arguement, backed Sumner, and ordered Franklin to hold his position.

Later in the day, Porter, hearing a recommendation from one of his Division commanders, Maj. Gen. George Sykes, to attack the center once more, brought the idea up with McClellan again, and he was intrigued; However, Porter was said to have told him, "Remember, General, I command the last reserve of the last army of the republic." McClellan demurred, his trademark caution once again prevailing, and another opportunity to whip Lee was lost.

AFTERNOON PHASE
Spoiler:
At this point, the action turned to the Southern end of the battlefield, on the Confederate right flank. This task was assigned to Ambrose Burnside - commanding general of the IX Corps, AoTP - who, with his 12,500 men, was originally instructed to attack in conjunction with Hooker's original offensive, but Burnside was told to wait for *explicit* orders to advance, which did not reach him until 10:30. However, this turned out to be a mixed blessing, because earlier in the day, two Confederate divisions had been facing him(those of earlier-mentioned John G. Walker and David R. Jones); by this point, all of Walker's men as well as one of Jones' brigades had been stripped from the area to support the left. In essence, when Burnside launched his assault, he was confronted by less than a third his number of Confederates; 3,000 men supported by a dozen guns.

2,600 Confederates in four thin Brigades defended the main high ground in the area, especially a low plateau known as Cemetery Hill; The remaining 400, supported by two Artillery batteries, was part of the brigade of Brig. Gen. Robert Toombs. They defended a 120-foot, 3-span bridge known as Rohrbach's Bridge, but after the battle it would become known as Burnside's bridge. Rohrbach's Bridge was the southernmost bridge to cross the Antietam on the battlefield, and was to play a prominent role in the coming fighting. The main defense of the bridge was atop a small, 100 foot knoll, strewn with thickets and boulders from which sharpshooters and Infantry could easily pick off Union troops as they crossed.

In this place, the creek was often not more than 50 feet wide, with several parts being only waist deep. Burnside's main plan, which did not involve wading through the water, was to launch a simultaneous assault across the bridge, and crossing through a ford around 2 miles downstream. However, the force crossing the Ford became tangled up in the thick brush, and was not able to arrive at the ford before the main attack began.

The first troops to attack across the bridge was the Brigade of Col. George Crook, supported by the Division of Brig. Gen. Samuel Sturgis. Crook's skirmishers, men of the 11th Connecticut Infantry, were ordered forward to lay down covering fire for the rest of Crook's Brigade, but after 15 minutes of punishing fire, the Connecticut men had to withdraw, having lost a third of their strength - 140 men - and their Colonel mortally wounded. Crook's assault went awry, and his unfamiliarity with the terrain caused him to reach the creak a quarter-mile upstream from the Bridge, where he and his men exchanged fire with Confederate skirmishers for the next several hours.

Meanwhile, Sturgis sent in another Brigade, a two-Regiment combination of the 2nd Maryland and 6th New Hampshire, who both also fell apart in the face of withering fire, this time from Artillery as well as Infantry. By this time, it was Noon, and McClellan was growing miffed. He sent several couriers, one after the other, all telling him to take the bridge at all costs. At one point, Burnside replied, "McClellan appears to think I am not trying my best to carry this bridge; you are the third or fourth one who has been to me this morning with similar orders".

The third attempt came from Sturgis' third Brigade, the 51st New York and 51st Pennsylvania, who, being promised Artillery support and that a cancelled ration of Whiskey would be renewed if they were successful, charged downhill, captured a Light Howitzer, and fired canister at the Confederates. Toombs, by now having heard that the two Divisions had crossed the ford further south and that he was about to be flanked, ordered his Brigade to withdraw towards town. He had cost Burnside 500 men, giving up 160 himself, and had stalled Burnside's attack for three hours.

By now, Burnside's assault had stalled out on its' own accord; His officers had forgotten to transport Ammunition across the river, and that by now was a difficult task, as Rohrbach's Bridge was now a bottleneck of Men, Cannons, Horses, and Wagons. This caused Burnside to delay for another two hours, in which time Lee brought up more and more men to his Right flank, calling up every Artillery unit he could, but not bringing up much in terms of Infantry to support Jones' beleaguered men. Instead, he put his money on the arrival of the Division of A.P. Hill - 5,000 men who, until now, were overseeing the surrender of the Federal garrison at Harpers' Ferry, and had been practically jogging for 17 miles straight to reach the battlefield in time. The Federals were completely unaware that they were about to be facing over 3,000 new men.

Burnside's plan, at this point, was to move around the Confederate's supposedly-weakened right flank with one Division; that of Brig. Gen. Isaac Rodman, about 8,000 men. After flanking them, Rodman and Burnside planned on turning west, cutting off the Confederates from Boteler's Ford - the only ford across the Potomac in this area - and causing them to either flee or surrender.

An initial assault by the 79th New York "Cameron's Highlanders" managed to push Jones' outnumbered division to within 600 feet of Sharpsburg proper. Meanwhile, Rodman's men flanked the Confederate right, and Jones' division for the most part was routed; Only Toombs had his brigade intact at this point, and he had only 700 men. Sharpsburg was in a panic, clogged with retreating Confederates.

However, seemingly in the nick of time, A.P. Hill's Division arrived at 3:30. 3,000 men - the other 2,000 were deserters or stragglers - suddenly hit Rodman's division in the flank, routing three Regiments - for a multitude of reasons ranging from poor visibility due to corn stalks, to raw Federal troops, to Confederates wearing blue uniforms captured at Harpers' Ferry - and repulsing a counterattack. Although Burnside still had over twice the number of troops as the Confederates did in the area, he was unnerved by the sudden collapse of his flank, withdrew all the way to the western bank of the Antietam, and urgently requested more men and guns from McClellan. McClellan only gave him one Artillery battery, writing, "I can do nothing more, I have no Infantry." But this was a lie, he had two fresh Corps in reserve; However, he was concerned about a (non-existant and impossible) imminent massive counterattack by Lee, the sudden arrival of Hill's troops seeming to confirm this in his mind. Burnside's Corps spent the rest of the battle guarding the Bridge they had suffered so much to capture.

The battle ended by around 5:30 P.M., with both sides sustaining heavy casualties. The next day, after an impromptu truce to collect dead and wounded, Lee withdrew across the Potomac back into Virginia.

The Union took 12,401 Casualties(2,108 Killed) out of 76,000 Men.
The Confederacy took 10,318 Casualties(1,546 Killed) out of 55,000 Men.

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