Strategy of the Sharpsburg Campaign

STRATEGY OF THE SHARPSBURG CAMPAIGN

The military situation in Virginia on Sept. 2, 1862, excited
the gravest apprehension in the North, while it brought exultation
not unmixed with perplexity to the Confederates.

The consolidation of the three Federal corps in North Virginia
under Pope and his advance against Richmond had ended in disaster
far more speedy and serious than that which had befallen
McClellan earlier in the summer. Pope had been forced from
the Rappahannock, and though the Federal commander-in-chief
had succeeded in hurrying up a part of McClellan's and Burnside's
forces to his assistance, this had not been sufficient to
prevent the overthrow of Pope at Manassas in the last days of
August. Early in that month the two great Federal armies in
Virginia had numbered 150,000' men. Fully the half of these, or
about 80,000,2 had been concentrated under Pope and had suffered
defeat at Manassas. Some 20,000 to 25,000 more under Sumner
and Franklin had reached Centreville on the evening of Aug. 30,
and afforded a rallying point for the defeated army. This strong
body of veterans gave consistency to Pope's crumbling forces.

Their presence, together with the bold handling of Reno's and
Kearney's troops at Ox Hill, Sept. 1, by which Lee's last thrust
was parried, saved the Federal army from further loss and secured
its retreat within the lines of Washington.

Though it thus appears that but half the Union troops in Virginia
had been involved in Pope's defeat, the other half which had
hurried from the Peninsula and other points to Washington was
not in first-rate condition. Many had come from an unsuccessful
campaign; they were being transferred from a general they loved
to one they distrusted; they had been so hurried that in many
cases they had outstripped their baggage and supply wagons and
even their artillery. They had reached the Potomac to find the
air filled with rumors of disaster, rumors which every hour converted
into authentic statements. When the crowd of hungry and
exhausted fugitives which soon lined the Potomac left no doubt
as to Pope's fate, and interspersed their accounts of his campaign
with curses loud and deep at that picturesque commander, no
wonder that the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac were ready
to despair, and that a feeling near akin to dismay pervaded the
city of Washington. Unacquainted with the real slenderness of
the Confederate resources, the danger seemed most grave, and all
thoughts were turned to the salvation of the capital from the
victorious forces of Lee. McClellan was restored to command,
and charged to protect the city. His appearance at the head of
the army did much to restore confidence, and he promptly set to
work to place the abundant resources of the Federal government
in a condition for use. From the 150,000 men now in and about
Washington Secretary Stanton directed him to organize an army for
active operations. McClellan's first object was to post his troops
so as to secure the capital from attack, his next must depend upon
the movements of his adversary. Such was the condition of
affairs on the Union side.

Let us return to the other side, remembering that Lee was in
the midst of that series of operations which taken together constitute
his campaign of 1862. To the Confederates their very
successes were to some extent embarrassing. The design of Lee
in transferring his army from the James to the Rappahannock
had been accomplished. Pope had been brought to battle and
beaten before McClellan's main body could join him. Sanguine
expectation could hardly have pictured greater success than had
crowned the bold operations of Lee, Jackson and Longstreet; but
with the retreat of Pope to the lines of Washington the campaign
against him was ended, and what to do next, became the pressing
question. Lee had entered upon the movement against Pope with
about 50,000' men, leaving some 20,000 about Richmond. The
greater part of the latter had been ordered up during the campaign
but they did not join Lee till Sept. 2. They fully made up for
his losses in battle, but it is questionable whether they covered the
additional losses from sickness and straggling which insufficient
rations, bare feet and hard marching were already causing in his
ranks. But what was Lee at the head of 80,000 victorious but
ill-appointed soldiers and with no gun heavier than a 20 pounder
Parrott to do? Plainly he was in no condition to move upon
Washington where a line of heavy works armed with heavy guns
and manned by three times his numbers awaited him. Nor was
it easy to stay where he was, for the country around Centreville
was exhausted of supplies, and but one railroad, and that badly
damaged, led to his rear. A more serious objection to remaining
at Centreville was that it meant inaction while his adversary
recovered from the staggering blow just received and prepared
without molestation another campaign against Richmond. In a
few weeks, if Lee remained idle, a new Federal advance would
certainly be organized, and whether made by way of the Rappahannock
or of the lower rivers would force the Confederates back
again to recover their capital. Still stronger seemed to Lee the
reasons against falling back at once to the line of the Rappahannock.

This was to throw away a great part of the results of the recent
victotory, give up a large section of North Virginia with its partly
gathered harvests again to hostile occupation. None of these
courses was possible to a general who, though too weak to attack
such a place as Washington, was at the head of a successful army
which his enemies had been unable to match in the open field.
Lee's victories in the field had greatly depressed his enemies and
had restored a great part of Virginia to his possession, and it was
plainly his policy to compel the Federal army to further battle.

As he was greatly outnumbered, he must divide his adversaries;
he must keep up and increase, if possible, their apprehensions for
the safety of Washington and thus detain a part of the Union
army in the defensive lines of that city while he drew the other
part away and fought it at a distance from supports and strongholds.

The great object of all Confederate campaigns was, of
course, not to capture cities but to cripple the opposing army.
Every consideration, too, urged promptness of action in the present
case. Whatever was to be done should be done while the Union
army was still suffering from the blow it had received. In a few
weeks the defeated army would be on its feet again and the
resources of the Federal government would enable it to resume
the offensive.

The best and most direct way of effecting the object now to be
sought was to cross the Potomac and advance into Maryland.
Lee could thus turn the more formidable of the defenses of Washington
and threaten that city from its most vulnerable side. He
would at the same time excite fears about the safety of Baltimore
and Maryland, ill-affected as they were to the Union cause; and
alarm Pennsylvania. No other course promised to hamper the
Federal army so seriously. Large garrisons would be kept to
secure the safety of Washington, Baltimore, and other important
places, while public sentiment would demand that the remainder
be promptly led against the invaders. Lee could then, probably
choose his battle-field and fight when and where he thought best.

The relief of Virginia for a time from military occupation, and the
support of the Confederate army in a region not yet drained of
supplies, were additional inducements of no slight importance.
General Lee thus speaks of his proposed expedition into Maryland
in his letter to Mr. Davis of Sept. 3: "The two grand armies of
the United States that have been operating in Virginia, though
now united, are much weakened and demoralized. Their new
levies, of which I understood 60,000 men have already been
posted in Washington are not yet organized, and will take some
time to prepare for the field. If it is ever desired to give material
aid to Maryland and afford her an opportunity of throwing off the
oppression to which she is now subject, this would seem the most
favorable.

"After the enemy had disappeared from the vicinity of Fairfax
C. H. and taken the road to Alexandria and Washington I did
not think it would be advantageous to follow him farther. I had
no intention of attacking him in his fortifications, and am not
prepared to invest them. I therefore determined—if found practicable—
to cross into Maryland. The purpose, if discovered,
will have the eifect of carrying the enemy north of the Potomac,
and if prevented will not result in much evil.


"The army is not properly equipped for an invasion of an
enemy's territory. It lacks much of the material of war, is feeble
in transportation, the animals being much reduced, and the men
are poorly provided with clothes, and in thousands of instances are
destitute of shoes. Still we cannot afford to be idle, and though
weaker than our opponents in men and military equipments, must
endeavor to harass if we cannot destroy them. I am aware that
the movement is attended with much risk, yet I do not consider
success impossible, and I shall endeavor to guard it from loss."1

The Confederate commander proceeded to execute his plans
without loss of time. But one day's rest was allowed the tired
troops, when the army was headed toward Leesburg, where it
crossed and moved to Frederick city. D. H. Hill, who had just
arrived from Richmond, led the way, Jackson followed, and
Longstreet brought up the rear. Lee chose his crossing of the
Potomac east of the Blue Ridge rather than west of it, because
he would thus most distinctly threaten Washington and Baltimore,
and hence the more certainly cause the withdrawal of the Federal
army to the north side of the river, and the subtraction of large
garrisons from it. This strategy was successful. By Sept. 7, the
Confederate army was concentrated about Frederick and the mass
of the Federal army was on the north bank of the Potomac.

Lee's aggressive move threw the Federals completely on the defensive
and occupied them entirely with the protection of the northern
States and cities. His vigorous movements led to a greatly
exaggerated estimate of his strength, and the uncertainty as to
his objective point spread great alarm throughout Pennsylvania
extending to Philadelphia. Governor Curtin, in addition to earnest
appeals to the general government for aid, called out 50,000 State
troops. To realize the success of Lee's strategy, glance for a
moment at McClellan's dispositions to meet Lee's operations. On
the second day after assumming command McClellan began to
move his main body to the north side of the Potomac to meet the
threatened invasion. He placed over 70,0001 men under General
Banks in and about Washington to defend the capital. General
Wool with 10,000 or 12,0002 more held Baltimore and the
vicinity. After these large detachments, McClellan was still able
to gather 85,0003 men with which he set forward towards Frederick
to check the invader. Besides the Federal troops we have enumerated
there was a body of 14,0004 at Harper's Ferry and
Martinsburg concerned in this campaign. Now the problem
before Lee was how best to deal with this large aggregate of
hostile forces. By simply transferring his troops into Maryland
he paralysed the one half of his opponents and reduced them to
the condition of garrisons. There was left on his hands for the
the time only the army under McClellan and the troops at
Harper's Ferry.


For some days comparative quiet reigned. The Confederates,
who had left behind at Leesburg their broken down men, horses
and artillery, enjoyed much the two or three days of rest and the
supplies which were obtained about Frederick, while General
McClellan was rapidly reorganizing the forces with which he
expected to attack the invaders. The Union Army moved out
from Washington on Sept. 7, and by the 10th the Federal army
stretched from the Potomac at Poolesville, across to New Market,
covering thus both Washington and Baltimore. McClellan was
inclined to move cautiously, and this tendency was increased by
the apprehension of General Halleck, that Lee's irruption into
Maryland was intended to cover a real movement against Washington
on the south side of the Potomac. Such was the condition
of things on Sept. lOth, when General Lee began his movements
for the reduction of Harper's Ferry.

When the Confederates crossed the Potomac they had expected
that the garrison at Harper's Ferry and the troops which had
fallen back from Winchester would retreat into Pennsylvania and
rejoin the main body of the Federal forces around the left of the
Confederate army. But General Halleck insisted that the garrison
of Harper's Ferry should hold their post, and that the Winchester
garrison should join them. As these troops amounted to but
13,000 or 14,000 in all, and Harper's Ferry was not provided
for a siege, it is difficult to see what object the Commander-inchief
proposed to himself, but, whatever the object, this action on
his part led to unforeseen and most important consequences. When
Lee found after several days' stay in Maryland, that the troops at
Harper's Ferry still held their position, he determined, while
awaiting the slow advance of McClellan's army, to attempt the
capture of the garrison and the considerable amount of ordnance
stores which were known to be there. The means taken to secure
the prompt and certain success of this enterprise were comprehensive,
and involved the use of two-thirds of the Confederate
army. Jackson, with 14 brigades, was directed by a rapid march
to recross the Potomac at Williamsport, where after cutting off
the retreat of the troops of Martinshurg, he was to drive these latter
if possible to Harper's Ferry and occupy the region between the
Potomac and the Shenandoah so as to prevent the escape of the
garrison in that direction. The divisions of Anderson and
McLaws (10 brigades) under the latter were ordered to move by
way of Pleasant Valley upon Maryland Heights, the high mountain
which from the Maryland side of the Potomac commands Harper's
Ferry and everything else in the neighborhood and which was
known to be fortified. General J. G. Walker with two brigades
was to ascend the Potomac on the south side from the mouth of
the Monocacy and occupy what are called the Loudoun Heights.
McLaws was to prevent the escape of the garrison into Maryland
and Walker to prevent it from making its way down the Potomac
on the Virginia side. These troops once in position, the garrison
would be completely hemmed in, and Harper's Ferry would be
untenable even had it been provisioned, for the mountain heights
to be held by McLaws and Walker completely commanded the
town and its environs. Lee expected McLaws and Walker to be
in position by Friday the 12th, and Jackson by the 13th, and the
reduction of the place, it was thought, would speedily follow.

As soon as Harper's Ferry fell the troops engaged in these operations
were to rejoin the remainder of the Confederate army in
the neighborhood of Hagerstown. Lee retained the divisions of
D. H. Hill and Longstreet (14 brigades) with the mass of his
cavalry to watch the progress of McClellan and delay his advance
until the reduction of Harper's Ferry should be effected. There
was nothing in the movements of McClellan to cause the Confederate
commander to apprehend any serious interference with
his plans. The ITederal Army was advancing very slowly. It
was not Lee's desire to give battle in the vicinity of Frederick
nor at the South mountain passes. On the contrary he sought to
draw McClellan beyond the mountains and to fight in the Hagerstown
Valley where the Union army would be further from the
large forces in reserve at Washington. It would be some days
before McClellan would know of the movements against Harper's
Ferry and when these became evident they would be too near
completion to be interfered with. The exposed condition of the
garrison there seemed to offer an opportunity of striking a
damaging blow at little cost and Lee determined to seize it.

The capture of Harper's Ferry consumed a day or two more
than was expected. The swift-footed Jackson, to whom was committed,
the most difficult part of the enterprise and the general
direction of affairs when all the bodies should be in position, made
his circuit of 50 miles in the time assigned, having driven General
White into Harper's Ferry and cooped up the garrison from the
direction of the Shenandoah Valley by the evening of the 13th.
Walker, however, did not occupy Loudoun heights until the morning
of the 14th instead of the 12th. McLaws was delayed by the
rugged country and by the resistance made by the Federal troops
left to defend Maryland heights. He drove them down into the
town on the 13th but did not succeed in getting his guns into position
until the afternoon of the 14th. All being now ready Jack
son pushed his batteries and a portion of his troops against the
lines of his enemy during the night of the 14th, and prepared on
the morning of the 15th to assault the Federal position, in conjunction
with the Confederate batteries on the mountain tops. His
attack was anticipated by the surrender of the place at 8 o'clock
on the morning of the 15th. The captures comprised 12,500
prisoners, 73 guns, and a considerable amount of stores. All the
garrison was captured except some 1300 cavalry under Colonel
Davis. They had escaped during the night by a road at the base
of the Maryland heights on the north side of the river, which Mc-
Laws had omitted to guard.


Let us turn back now to the important events which had taken
place while these operations were in progress. On Sept. 13th
occurred one of those accidents which now and then give an
entirely unforeseen turn to military operations. The copy of
General Lee's order (No. 191) addressed to General D. H. Hill,
which detailed fully the movements of every division of the Confederate
army during the operations about Harper's Ferry and the
subsequent concentration near Hagerstown, had been lost in some
way which has never been explained and was picked up and carried
to McClellan, who by this time had reached Frederick. He
rejoiced at the information which removed all doubts as to the
designs of his enemy, and the movements of the Confederate army
for days to come, and gave orders at once for a vigorous advance
of his own forces. McClellau's aim was now two-fold : to relieve
Harper's Ferry by breaking through and destroying that part of
the line of investment under McLaws, while at the same time he
intended to overwhelm the divisions under D. H. Hill and Longstreet
which had been retained to confront him. The opportunity
was a rare one. The Confederate army as a whole was much less
numerous than the Federal troops (though McClellan would
never believe it), but it was a veteran army, flushed with victory,
and even with a reasonable estimate of its strength McClellan
might well have hesitated to attack it when concentrated, with
troops that had been so recently defeated. But Lee had now
divided his army. Sixteen brigades out of forty were on the south
side of the Potomac, which meant that they were two or three days
distant; ten others were among the mountains on the Maryland
side where they could be hemmed in between the garrison at Harper's
Ferry and McClellan's army ; but fourteen brigades numbering
some 12,000 to 15,000 men, and Stuart's cavalry, were in
McClellan's front ready to dispute his advance. The immense
advantage which the finding of Lee's dispatch gave to McClellan
is seen at a glance when we compare his knowledge of the situation,
and his course after getting it, with the cautious and vague
directions he was at the same time receiving from his Commanderin-
chief. When Halleck found that large bodies of Confederates
were recrossing the Potomac into Virginia he took this as a confirmation
of his fears of a sudden dash of Lee down the right bank
of the Potomac against Washington and renewed his cautions on
this head. McClellan knew now that there was no such danger to
be apprehended. He knew that two-thirds of the Confederate army
was actively engaged in the reduction of Harper's Ferry, and he
knew that after this was accomplished, Lee intended to concentrate
his troops around Hagerstown. It seemed to McClellan then, and
it does seem now that Lee was in a position of great difficulty and
danger when 80,000 troops could in a few hours be hurled against
his divided forces.


Let us before tracing the subsequent events stop a moment
longer to mark out clearly the difference in McClellan's situation
before and after finding the lost order, for this was the very turning
point of the campaign. Before getting the order McClellan
was uncertain whether Lee's object was Washington, Baltimore,
or Pennsylvania. On the one hand Halleck was cautioning him
not to uncover the capital even to an attack from the south side
of the Potomac, while on the other the Governor of Pennsylvania
was urging that his whole army be transferred to that State to
save its cities from the invader.1 There is no reason to suppose
that but for the lost order, McClellan's advance towards South
Mountain would have been more rapid after Sept. 13th than
before. On the contrary, it is as certain as anything of this kind
can be that he would have continued his cautions forward movement
keeping his eye, as Halleck advised, upon the south side of
the Potomac lest his left flank be turned, while he watched from
the other flank for Lee's advance northward which was being
constantly telegraphed from Pennsylvania. In this way he would
have gradually forced or followed Lee over the South Mountain.

But the lost order changed all this. It relieved McClellan of all
fears for Pennsylvania; it showed him that Halleck's apprehensions
were groundless; it proved that his adversary was for the
time wholly occupied with the capture of Harper's Ferry; it revealed
the great possibilities that lay within reach of quick and
vigorous blows.

Lee had been severely criticised for dividing his army at this
time, and in one sense he is fairly exposed to it. But at bottom,
the criticism in this case is but the common one to which a bold
leader is always exposed who attempts by superior energy and skill
to make up for inferiority of men and resources. General Lee's
whole course during the summer of 1862 and indeed during the
war, is open to this kind of criticism. There were no aggressive
movements possible to an army so inferior in strength as was
the Confederate that may not be condemned as rash, while on the
other hand a strictly defensive war against the resources and
facilities of attack possessed by the North pointed to certain and not
distant collapse. Lee's expectation in regard to the reduction of
Harper's Ferry was a reasonable one, and the risk he assumed in
dividing his army to effect it was less than the risk he incurred in
the operations against Pope three weeks before. A single day more
of time would probably have rendered unnecessary the struggle at
the South Mountain passes; two days would certainly have done
so, and the Confederate army loaded with the spoils of Harper's
Feny would have reunited at Hagcrstown without difficulty. No
one can read the history of this campaign, no one can study
McClellan's career, no one can see the doubt and anxiety of the
Federal administration as shown by Halleck's despatches without
feeling that these two days, and more, would have been Lee's had
the course of events not been affected by the accident of the lost
despatch. One of the most curious things about this despatch is
the crotchet of General D. H. Hill the officer to whom the lost
copy was sent, that Lee was benefited instead of being injured
by the loss of it. We have no time to dwell on this notion.


Let us return to the story. Lee learned on the night of the
13th that McClellan had one of his orders and that the Federal
army showed unusual signs of activity. Some Southern sympathizer
was present when the paper was brought to McClellan and
witnessed the exultation it produced at the Federal head-quarters.


This gentleman made his way through the lines as speedily as
possible, found General Stuart early in the evening, and told his
story. Stuart at once dispatched the news to Lee who was at
Hagerstown with Lougstreet and confirmed the statement by saying
that the Federal army had evinced much activity during the
afternoon.

D. H. Hill had been left at Boonsboro to hold Turner's Gap
while McLaws had been instructed to hold Brownsville and
Crampton's Gaps through which he had passed on his way to
Maryland Heights. The cavalry were on the eastern side of the
mountain watching the Federal approach. Lougstreet's division
had been taken to Hagerstown, twelve miles in the rear of the
South Mountain, to get supplies and look after the Pennsylvania
troops which were reported as advancing towards that point.

When Lee received Stuart's dispatch, lie seems at once to have
determined upon the boldest of the courses open to him. Longstreet
advised a withdrawal behind the Antietam, but this could
only be done by abandoning the investment of Harper's Ferry and
even then with risk to McLaws. Lee was not prepared to give
up the prize of Harper's Ferry unless forced. The fall of that
place might now occur, at any hour, it could certainly not be long
delayed. Meanwhile the Confederates would have the immense
advantage of the mountain barrier in stopping McClellan. A less
force than Lee had at hand, skilfully used at a mountain pass had
often baffled a great army. Hill had 5,000 men, which well
posted at the key points ought to stop McClellan for the time, and
Longstreet could more than double Hill's force by the middle of
the afternoon, that is by the time McClellan could get any large
force into action. The condition of the Federal army and Mc
Clellan's cautions disposition were further incentives to the course
of the Confederate commander. Hence, instead of breaking the
investment of Harper's Ferry and concentrating at once on the
Antietam, Lee informed Hill of the state of aifairs by midnight of
the 13th and directed him to see in person to the defense of the
main gap, while Longstreet was ordered to return early in the
morning to Hill's support. Lee also transferred his own headquarters
to Boonsboro. We have not space to describe in detail
the struggle at Turner's nor at Crampton's gap on Sept. 14th.


MeClellan had moved near enough the night before to be able to
strike with great force. His main efforts were directed against
Turner's gap where the old National road crosses the mountain.
Here it was that D. H. Hill with five brigades and one regiment
of cavalry blocked his way. The struggle was long and bloody
but it was poorly managed by the Confederates. D. H. Hill had
not studied the ground well and was dilatory in the disposition of
his forces. Only two brigades were on the mountain top during
the night of the 13th. The others lay around Boonsboro at the
western base of the ridge. Nor were these brought up and placed
in position promptly on the 14th. The consequence was that
General Cox secured a foot-hold on the top of the mountain beyond
Hill's right before he knew it, and while the Confederates were
moving in that direction. In the ensuing struggle the Confederate
General Garland and many of his men fell. The supports which
Hill now brought up, too tardy to save Garland from defeat, were
badly handled, and accomplished little. General Hill says one
brigade never drew trigger. On the north side of the gap Rhodes
made a gallant and brilliant fight against Hooker in the afternoon
but was unsupported and gradually forced back. Had Hill posted
two of his brigades at Fox's, and the gap south of it, early in the
morning, as carefully as he did Colquit across the main road, and
had he sent two brigades instead of one with Rhodes to the north
side, it is probable that the Federals would have been held in
check on the flanks, just as they were by Colquit on the turnpike
itself.

Longstreet's troops after a long and hurried march came to Hill's
assistance about the middle of the afternoon, but Reno and Hooker
had then made decided progress, and it was as much as the Confederates
could do to hold on to the main gap itself and prevent the
Union troops from crossing the mountain. Such positions had
been won by the Federals on both right and left as rendered another
day's struggle impossible and before .daylight General Lee
withdrew his troops from the gap and directed them towards
Sharpsburg. Such was the result at Turner's or the Boonsboro
gap. As for Crampton's gap, Franklin reached and attacked it
about mid-day, but was stubbornly held in check for some time by
Muuford with a small force of infantry and dismounted cavalry.


These were poorly supported, however, and were finally run over.
By nightfall Franklin, making better progress than the main body,
had reached the western base of the mountain directly in the rear
of McLaws.


Thus on the night of the 14th success seem to smile on
McClellan's plans. He had lost time it is true, in pushing his
attacks. After the discovery of Lee's plans he should not have
delayed an hour in seizing the passes. Instead of this he had
rested during the night of the 13th, and had made his attack on
the 14th, with deliberation. Greater promptness might have
saved Harper's Ferry—it certainly would have added much to
the embarrassment of his adversary. But as it was, McClellan's
attacks had been successful, and he had inflicted severe losses upon
Hill and Longstreet.


Lee had held the passes for a day—long enough as it had
proved to insure the fall of Harper's Ferry—but he had been
driven from them and on the morning of the 15th he fell back to
Sharpsburg, that he might the more readily cover the withdrawal
of McLaws, if necessary, while securing the speediest concentration
of his army either on the north or the south bank of the Potomac.

He was especially anxious about McLaws whose position was
critical, and whom he had ordered to join him on the Antietam
if pressed by Franklin before the surrender of Harper's Ferry.
The fall of this place early in the day relieved Lee of this anxiety.

It opened an easy way of retreat for McLaws and it enabled the
Confederate commander to call back by forced marches all the
troops that had been engaged there.

Lee now determined to give battle north of the Potomac, if he
could concentrate his army in time. Should McClellan press him
too quickly for this he was ready to withdraw D. H. Hill and
Longstreet to the south side at Shepherdstown, and Jackson's first
orders looked to the covering of such a movement. But Lee was
unwilling to give up Maryland without a battle. The success of
Harper's Ferry had been a great one, but he was not ready to
yield to McClellan without further contest the advantage that
would follow a forced withdrawal into Virginia. The battle before
him would be fought under disadvantageous circumstances that
he had not expected, and that might well give him pause; but on
the other hand, it was a battle in which McClellan would have to
take the initiative, and experience had taught Lee to expect much
in such a case from the overcaution of his antagonist. Besides,
immense results might follow a victory, and a victory Lee believed
to be within his reach notwithstanding all the difficulties of his
situation.

The surrender of Harper's Ferry was known to McClellan as
soon as to Lee, that is, by the middle of the forenoon of the 15th.
It made no great difference in the movements of the Federal commander.

He had advanced on the 14th, with two objects in
view—one the relief of Harper's Ferry—the other the overthrow
of part of Lee's army. He had not been prompt enough to effect
the first object. Had Franklin pushed through Crampton's gap
early on the 15th, and pressed vigorously upon the rear of Mc-
Laws it is possible—though by no means certain—that Harper's
Ferry might have been relieved; but, as we have seen, Franklin had
reached the western base of the mountain only at nightfall, and
when he moved next morning it was to find McLaws drawn up
across Pleasant Valley, in so strong a position that Franklin hesitated
to attack. The fall of Harper's Ferry relieved McLaws from
his embarrassing position and enabled him to withdraw from
Franklin's front without inconvenience. It must be counted a
capital mistake on Franklin's part that he permitted this withdrawal
without doing anything to prevent or impede it.

But the main body of McClellan's army had been directed
against D. H. Hill and Longstreet, had forced them from Turner's
gap, and on the morning of the 15th was ready to follow them up.
The failure to save Harper's Ferry should have stimulated Mc-
Clellan's efforts to accomplish the other part of his plan. It was
within his power to push Lee entirely across the Potomac or to
force him to battle while the greater part of his troops were away.
McClellan knew that upon the fall of Harper's Ferry the Confederate
commander would strain every nerve to concentrate his
army and he knew that this concentration could be effected inside
of two days. It was vitally important, therefore, to him that not
an hour should be lost in forcing Lee to fight.


It is impossible not to be struck with the contrast between the
energy that characterized the operations of the two armies during
those two days. Lee began to retreat to the Antietam on the
morning of the 15th covering his rear with cavalry and impeding
the advance of the enemy as much as possible. By midday the
troops were placed upon the heights of the Antietam and dispositions
made to give battle. Orders had been sent to Jackson to
hasten back from Harper's Ferry and the capitulation was no
sooner effected than that officer prepared to join his commander.


Jackson's troops were much exhausted by the marching and
manoeuvring of the past few days. Many of them had had no
sleep on the night of the 14th, and no breakfast the next morning.
Jackson himself is said to have fallen asleep on a chair during his
interview with General White, while copies of the terms of the
surrender were being prepared for signing. But no matter, the
troops were fed; A. P. Hill was left with one division to parole
the prisoners and dispose of the captured property; and having
ordered Walker and McLaws to follow, Jackson was, before
nightfall, leading two of his divisions towards Sharpsburg. All
night the weary column tramped on, and after marching seventeen
miles and wading the Potomac, reached the field in the forenoon
of the 16th. Walker followed some hours later. McLaws, who
was delayed by crossing into Virginia at Harper's Ferry, and who
was not so good a marcher, did not reach Sharpsburg until
10 o'clock of the 17th, when the great battle had been in progress
for some hours. Last of all, A. P. Hill, leaving Harper's Ferry
at 6 o'clock on the 17th, reached the field by the middle of the
afternoon, in time to do his part—and a great part—in the battle.
Lee effected this concentration at heavy cost in the exhaustion of
the men and the consequent straggling. Jackson's divisions sank
to brigades and many men from all the commands dropped along
the roadside. Still, Lee brought all the divisions of his army
together in time to participate in the battle. Military history furnishes
but few examples of so masterful and so energetic a concentration
of widely scattered forces in front of a powerful enemy.


On the other hand, McClellan followed Lee to the banks of the
Antietam, but instead of crossing and attacking at once, he waited
the arrival of the mass of his army, and its cumbersome material.


The opportunity of attacking Lee while worn by the conflict at
South Mountain and out of reach of all the troops engaged at Harper's
Ferry was thus lost. Next day, the 16th, McClellan spent
in reconnoitering. If it was a mistake not to attack on the afternoon
of the 15th, it was a greater mistake not to attack on the
16th. But McClellan was so impressed by Lee's bold front and
his evident intention of giving battle that he hesitated to assault
before his entire array was at hand. There was much in recent
events to make McClellan cautious, there was much in the then
present condition of aifairs to prevent him from being rash, but it
is simply impossible to explain why, after moving forward with the
design of crushing the half of Lee's divided army, after having
taken the first steps towards the execution of this design at the
South Mountain passes, he should have given Lee the time and
opportunity to confront him with a united army at Sharpsburg.

Though an indecisive one, the battle of Sharpsburg was one of
the great battles of the war, and one of those best deserving of
careful study. We can only outline its prominent features.

Lee's army was posted on the heights west of the Antietam, and
his front was covered by that stream. The Confederate centre
and left were some distance in rear of the creek, the crossing of
which on that part of his line Lee did not attempt to dispute.

The creek was crossed by stone bridges and by several fords.
Lee's left up stream was his most vulnerable point as on that
flank the country was less broken and the stream easily passable.
The Confederate army occupied a liue of about two miles on which
Lee was able to place not over 35,0001 men of all arms. The
Confederate loss at South Mountain had been considerable and the
marches to and from Harper's Ferry had caused a much greater
depletion of their ranks, but if the Confederate numbers were much
reduced it was the very flower of that army that remained. Only
the bravest and most vigorous of the men who had fought their
way from the James to the Potomac now stood north of the latter
stream ready to give battle. The Federal army which lay on the
eastern side of the Antietam, numbered, according to McClellan,
87,000,2 and this included a large number of the veterans of the
Peninsula, the Shenandoah, and the Rappahannock. General
Palfrey thinks McClellau's numbers are too high and it is possible
that the Federals had available for battle not over 75,000 or
80,000 men. McClellan's plan of attack was a good one. He
determined to throw three of his corps or about half of his army
under Hooker, Mansfield, and Sumner, against Lee's left. At the
same time he directed Burnside's corps against Lee's right over
the bridge since known as " Burnside's." Burnside's attack was
to divert the Confederate right and was to be converted into a
co-operating attack when success began to crown the Federal efforts
on the other wing. The cavalry were to occupy the attention
of the Confederate centre and were, if necessary, to have the support
of Porter who was held in reserve near the centre of the
Federal army. The disposition of his cavalry was the weakest
point in McClellan's plan of battle. It might have been of far
more use on either flank.


The tremendous blow which McClellan dealt with his right
wing fell first upon Jackson to whom Lee had committed the
Confederate left. Stuart with a part of his cavalry covered Jackson's
flank. From daylight until 10 o'clock a fight unsurpassed
in determination, in fierceness, in carnage, filled the famous cornfield
and woods about the Dunker Church with the dead and
wounded of both armies. Hooker first threw himself with his
accustomed dash upou Jackson, but though he Inflicted heavy loss
his corps was literally shivered to pieces. Mansfield coming
to his assistance, fell at the head of his troops, but Jackson
and Hood and part of D. H. Hill's men were borne back gradually
by the exhausting and unequal struggle. Fearful, however,
was the price which these Southern soldiers exacted for the ground
they yielded. When Sumner led forth the third Federal corps to
the attack he testifies that the commands of Hooker and Mansfield
had been practically dispersed. Besides the artillery which in
strong array formed a barrier against all the waves of Confederate
success, there were but a few hundred men of the two corps,
which had preceded him to be found, in order, upon the battle
field. The Confederates on the other hand were reduced almost
to the proportions of a picket line, and when Sumner pushed
forward at the head of Sedgwick's division it seemed as if neither
the courage nor the skill of Jackson could longer avert the
threatened destruction. But Early, at the head of the only
intact brigade on Jackson's line checked the advance of the
Federals and a few moments later, having been joined by
McLaws who had just arrived from Harper's Ferry and Walker
who had come over from the Confederate right, struck the flank
of Sedgwick's division with such force and effect that in twenty
minutes this splendid body of 5,000 troops was broken into fragments
and 2,000 of them lay wounded or dead upon the field.


This magnificent charge virtually decided the day on Lee's left
flank and gave Jackson possession of the field.


Sumner's other divisions which had been directed against D. H.
Hill at the Confederate center met for a time with greater success.
Hill's line ran along a narrow, crooked, country road to be known
in all coming time as the "Bloody Lane." Here for an hour or
two brave men fought and died stubbornly refusing to yield. In
that lane Rhodes' Alabamians and G. B. Anderson's North Carolinians
fought most courageously. The gallant and persistent
assaults of French and Richardson were for a time repelled, but
finally the efforts of these two divisions, composed of excellent
troops as they were, and led by such men as Barlow and Cross
wore successful. Rhodes and Anderson leaving the bloody lane
piled with the dead were driven from their position and the Confederate
centre seemed pierced. R. H. Anderson's division had
come np to the assistance of this part of the Confederate line but
Anderson was wounded and his badly handled troops were driven
back with loss. Richardson's advance reached the Piper House.


A number of Confederate batteries under Carter, H. P. Jones and
others were the most efficient agents in checking the Federal
advance at this critical stage. Richardson hesitated to expose
his flank by pushing on, especially after the defeat of Sedgwick.
The severity of the Federal losses and the fall of the brave
Richardson himself no doubt contributed to the same result. By
one o'clock the battle had died down on the centre as well as on
the left of the Confederate position. Both sides were exhausted
and were for a time content that the slaughter should cease.
Franklin's corps reached this part of the field about midday and
took the place of the exhausted commands which constituted the
Federal right. But when Franklin asked to be led against the
Confederates, Sumner declared that the whole Federal right wing
was too much shattered to admit of risking the only reserves within
reach and would not permit it. Later in the day McClellan
confirmed this judgment.


Meantime Burnside had been all the forenoon striving to carry
the bridge by which he desired to cross his corps against the
Confederate right. Here two skeleton regiments of Georgians
under Toombs, with a battery or two, disputed the way. Again
and again were the Federal assaults repulsed until the 400 or 500
Confederates had killed or wounded more of their assailants than
their own numbers. Finally, about the time the battle ceased on
the other wing, Burnside discovered a ford below, and crossing at
it compelled the brave Georgians to leave their post or be captured.
It was after midday when Burnside thus forced a passage. An
hour or more was spent in forming the troops, and about the
middle of the afternoon he pressed forward toward Sharpsburg,
opposed only by some 2,500 infantry under D. R. Jones and
a number of Confederate batteries. Lee had stripped his right
early in the day to reinforce his left and it seemed at one time as
if the slender force opposed to Burnside must be overwhelmed.

The Federal advance, in full tide of success, had even reached
the outskirts of Sharpsburg, when A. P. Hill reached the field at
the very crisis of the action. He had left Harper's Ferry at
sunrise and going up the Virginia side of the Potomac had waded
the river and now, after a march of 17 miles, was hastening to
reinforce the sorely pressed line. With admirable promptness and
skill Hill threw three of his brigades against the flank of Burnside's
column. Again victory perched on the Confederate standards.

Rodman was killed, his division thrown into confusion, and
defeated, and in an hour or so Burnside's entire corps was huddled
about the bridge from which they advanced, part of them even
taking refuge on the eastern side. Thus at nightfall the Confederates
had beaten back completely the formidable attack on their
right, and Burnside had nothing to show for his day's work but
the bridge over the Antietam. Pleasanton's demonstrations
against the Confederate centre were too unimportant to dwell upon.

Thus ended the battle of Sharpsburg. There has been much
ill-directed criticism of McClellan both as to the conception and
the execution of his plan of battle. The plan was good enough,
and the execution of it on Sumner's wing was at first not bad.
Hooker's and Mansfield's assaults were spirited and bloody and
they were made skilfully and with all the force at command. It
was an open-field, stand-up-fight between these two corps and the
Confederates. If the Union troops failed to drive back Jackson
and the flower of the Confederate army from the field it was not
their fault nor that of their leaders. Sumner's attack, too, was
vigorous and determined enough, though too far separated in time
from Hooker's and Mansfield's. But Sumner committed two serious
errors, first, in permitting his corps to be divided, and next, in
the incautious way with which he threw Sedgwick's division
against such an antagonist as Jackson. It was not, however, in
the mode of attack on the Federal right, that the great error of the
day lay; this error consisted in the dilatory manner in which
Burnside performed his part of the drama. His attack should
have been made while that on the Federal right was in progress.
Had Burnside's blow fallen two or three hours earlier than it did,
A. P. Hill, the Desaix of Sharpsburg, would have been out of the
question, for he was then on the south side of the Potomac. Had
Burnside pressed forward while Sumner was still fighting it is
possible that neither the skill of Lee nor the fighting of Longstreet
and Jackson might have been able to keep the Confederate lines
intact. We make no attempt to apportion the blame for this delay
between McClellan and Burnside, but wherever the fault lies, this
mistake more than all else, cost the Federals the day.


McClellan and Sumner have been criticised for not permitting
Franklin to attack, but as Sumner said at the time, there was no
reason to think that 10,000 or 12,000 men could accomplish what
40,000 had failed to do after putting forth all their strength. Nor
is there now any reason to think that Franklin would have done
more than add to the list of casualties on that bloody day. At the
very time when McClellan was deciding against this movement,
Jackson by Lee's direction was attempting to organize a column of
assault from his sorely thinned ranks with which to drive the
Federals across the Antietam. Stuart was to open the way for the
advance of this column. A vigorous outburst of Federal artillery
at the first aggressive movement convinced the Confederate leaders
that they were too weak for this enterprise and they desisted ; but
there is no reason to believe that Jackson would not have welcomed
and repulsed any attack that Franklin could have made
upon his lines about the Dunker church.

Nor has McClellan been justly condemned for failing to renew
the battle on the 18th. Fearfully thinned and exhausted as were
the Confederates, Lee was in the better fighting condition on the
18th, than was McClellan. In Hooker's corps for instance only
some G700 men were with their colors on the 18th, while there
were 6300 stragglers and fugitives over and above the killed and
wounded the day before. Mansfield's corps and Sedgwick's division
were likewise terribly shattered. On the other wing Burnside
asked and obtained Morell's division as reinforcements to enable
him to hold on to the bridge over the Antietam. The Confederates
were in no such condition as this; they had maintained their
ground; Lee felt after the battle entirely able to resist any
further assaults that McClellan might make with the troops he
then had, and therefore waited in position a renewal of the fight
on the 18th. McClellan, supported by the judgment of his best
officers, decided to defer the attacking until the heavy reinforcements
on their way should arrive, and there seems absolutely
nothing on which to base an opinion that he could, with his
shattered forces, have driven Lee on the 18th from the position
which the Confederates had been able to hold all day on the 17th
against the most determined assaults of the Federal army. But
Lee lost heavily in men, there were far less than 30,000 Confederates
in line on the 18th, he knew that large reserves were
hastening to McClellan's assistance, (Couch and Humphreys
brought up 14,000 of them during the 18th); the Confederates
were too weak to risk another battle with fresh troops in front and
the Potomac in their rear. Lee therefore withdrew across the
river on the night of the 18th, and on the 20th, checked in a
bloody and decided way the attempt to follow him.


Thus ended the campaign. A long period of rest and recuperation
succeeded before the two armies were again to lock horns at
Fredericksburg. A review of the campaign shows that (in the
then circumstances of the two belligerents) the balance of advantage
remained with the Federals. Lee had occupied Maryland too
short a time to secure any reinforcements. He had captured
12,500 men with a large quantity of arms and artillery at Harper's
Ferry, he had killed and wounded 15,000 1 men of McClellan's
army, but this had cost him 10,000 men besides some artillery.
He had left the Federal army in such a condition that for six
weeks it was not ready to resume the offensive, but his own forces
had been so greatly depleted not merely by the casualties of battle,
but by the labors and privations of the campaign, that an equal
length of time was required to restore them to first rate order.


McClellan, if he failed to seize all that fortune had placed in his
hands in the revelation of Lee's designs, had nevertheless effected
a great deal. On the second of September he had assumed command
of the disjointed and dispirited forces about Washington
with instructions to prevent the capture of the capital. In two
weeks he had restored confidence to the army, to the government,
to the country. He had rendered Washington and Baltimore secure,
or rather had made their safety manifest, for they were not in
danger. He had forced the Confederate army from Maryland and
inflicted upon it losses which, if far less in amount than those he
had himself sustained, were far more difficult to repair. He might
have done more, but it is nevertheless true that with the exception
of the fortnight that ended at Appomattox, no commander of the
army of the Potomac ever did so much in two weeks as did Mc-
Clellan in the Sharpsburg campaign.


We have before noticed the criticism directed against Lee for
dividing his army in order to invest Harper's Ferry, and we
believe he was fully justified in taking that risk. There is another
point where, as it seems to us, he is far more open to criticism.
Should he have fought at Sharpsburg at all ? Would it not have
been wiser, after having effected the fall of Harper's Ferry, to
have retired into Virginia without a battle? On the night of
the 15th two-thirds of his army was on the south side of the
Potomac; the remainder could have been transferred without
difficulty. In the light of subsequent events we believe this
course would have been the wiser. The Confederate army, concentrated
on the south side of the Potomac, would have been better
able to receive McClellan's assault if he had ventured to make one ;
or failing this, Lee might have recrossed at Williamsport or above
if he desired to attack McClellan. Lee did not realize fully the
depletion that was thinning his ranks; and he probably expected
to have McLaws and R. H. Anderson's divisions on the field by
the night of the 16th instead of the forenoon of the 17th. Fewer
stragglers and the earlier arrival of McLaws might have given
Lee -better results. But it seems probable on the whole that Lee
overrated his own strength and underrated the improvement that
had taken place in the Federal army since he had driven it two
weeks before into the lines of Washington. If McClellan erred
in not fighting on the 15th and 16th, Lee erred in fighting at all.

But however doubtful the policy of accepting battle at Sharpsburg,
when the battle had been once joined, the tactics of the Confederate
commander were such as to reflect the highest credit upon
his skill. Lee had no reserves and could afford none, but he
handled his forces with a judgment so cool and clear as to leave
nothing for criticism. It would be difficult for us now, with all
the facts before us, to correct his dispositions. Again and again
the utmost tension existed at different parts of the Confederate line
and it was hard to know where to look for succor. But the succor
was obtained, even when other points had to be stripped; it was
always in time, and it was used effectively.

If it be the part of a commander in the field to possess a full
comprehension of the situation; a just knowledge not only of his
own resources but of those of his enemy; a fair estimate of the
character of the attacks that can be made upon him, and an accurate
judgment as to how and where these blows will be delivered;
and if to knowledge of this sort there should be added the capacity
to handle his own army masterfully; we believe that on no other
occasion did General Lee show more ability for the direction of a
great battle than at Sharpsburg.

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