The “Iron Brigade” after The Cornfield slugfest at Antietam


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After the men of the Iron Brigade had been in the intense fighting in the Dunker Church/ Cornfield area that opened the battle of Antietam they were able to get some relief and redeploy. Lance Herdegen in his book “The Iron Brigade in Civil War and Memory” describes this phase.

“Bullets, shot and shell, fired by the enemy in the corn-field, were still flying thickly around us, striking the trees in the woods and cutting off the limbs,” observed Rufus Dawes as he marched his regiment back to the trees and halted it in their shade. Next came the grim task of calling the roll to determine the regiment’s “dreadful losses.” The Wisconsin regiment carried 315 officers and men into the battle. Company C drew skirmish line duty that morning and escaped the heaviest fighting with only two casualties of the thirty-five engaged. Of the 280 men who fought in and around the cornfield and on the turnpike, 150 were killed, wounded, or missing. “This was the most dreadful slaughter to which our regiment had been subjected during the war,” Dawes penned in his memoir.

A short time later, the survivors were joined by the wounded Capt. George Ely of Janesville and 18 men from the 2nd Wisconsin. The small contingent brought their flags with them. A short time later the 7th Wisconsin and 19th Indiana, powder-stained and weary, joined the line. “The roar of musketry to the front was very heavy,” said Dawes. It was only perhaps 8: 00 a.m. The long day of battle was just beginning. 


General Jesse Reno killed at Fox’s Gap on South Mountain prior to Antietam


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General Reno had been most active all day, fearing no danger and appearing to be everywhere at the same time. Safe up to seven o’clock, no one dreamed of such a disaster as was to happen. He, with his staff, was standing a little back of the wood on a field, the rebel forces being directly in front. A body of his troops were just before him, and at this point the fire of the rebels was directed. A Minie-ball struck him and went through his body. He fell, and, from the first, appeared to have a knowledge that he could not survive the wound that he had received.

He was instantly carried with the greatest care to the rear, followed by a number of the officers, and attended by the division surgeon, Dr. Cutter. At the foot of the hill he was laid under a tree, and after a few moments the surgeon said he could not live, and he died without the least movement a few minutes after. Grief at any time is heart-rending; but such grief as was manifested by the staff officers and those about him it has never before been my lot to witness. The old soldier, just come from the scene of carnage with death staring him in the face on every side, here knelt and wept like a child. No eye was dry among those present, and many a silent and spoken resolution was made that moment that Reno’s death should be amply avenged.

Harper’s Weekly October 4, 1862

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Fox’s Gap on South Mountain. This was part of the Battle of South Mountain on September 14th, 1862. There was fighting at three gaps – Turner’s Gap to the north, Crampton’s Gap to the south and Fox’s Gap. Two Generals were killed here, Jesse Reno, the Union 9th Corp Commander and Samuel Garland, a Brigade Commander in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The monument on the left is to Gen. Jesse Reno.

Iron Brigade fans- Lance Herdegen’s new book a must read


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I’ve been reading Lance Herdegen’s “The Iron Brigade in Civil War and Memory” and am thouroughly enjoying it.I read his previous work on the Iron Brigade “Those ****ed Black Hats!…” but this covers their entire history, not just Gettysburg. It is a very easy read and I don’t mean that in a negative way. I sometimes get lost in reading some of the more “scholarly” works about battles when they get into troop movements and which regiment went where, in what field at what time. Sometimes I have to refer back to “Maps of Gettysburg” or “Maps of Antietam” to get things in perspective. But I digress.

This book tells about not only the Iron Brigade story but has little vignettes about what was happening in other parts of the Eastern theater and the war, a history of the states that comprised the brigade and funny little stories about the brigade. Here is an little story about the 19th Indiana’s train trip from Baltimore to Washington D.C.

Once out of Baltimore the bored soldiers trained their new muskets on “rebel” ducks and chickens along the railroad tracks. How much fowl was killed is unknown, but at least one horse was believed to be shot dead. Meredith, still much the farmer despite his new shoulder straps, was outraged that his men would shoot valuable livestock and stormed through the cars demanding to know who was pulling triggers. No one, of course, admitted to the deed.

This book is an interesting read. And the description of the brigade’s “baptism” at Brawner’s Farm has a little bit of a mystery book tone and very well done.

Lee’s tattered Army of Northern Virginia invades Maryland in the fall of 1862


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The Antietam Campaign in the fall of 1862 was referred to by many veterans of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia as “the green corn campaign” for what was one of the main foods they subsisted on when they invaded Maryland. Here, historian Keith Bohannan briefly discusses the mindset of this invasion force.

Robert E. Lee enjoyed a number of important advantages when his army forded the Potomac River on September 5, 1862. His men were in high spirits after their victories in the Seven Days and Second Manassas campaigns, and the army boasted a cadre of skilled generals. The physical condition of the Army of Northern Virginia was a different matter, as Lee acknowledged in a September 3 communication with Jefferson Davis. “This army is not properly equipped for an invasion of the enemy’s territory,” Lee noted. It lacked “much of the material of war, is feeble in transportation, the animals being much reduced,. . . the men . . . poorly provided with clothes, and in thousands of instances … destitute of shoes.” Despite being weaker than his opponents in men and military equipments, Lee considered it important that his command remain on the offensive and that he maintain the initiative.

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When moving into Maryland, Lee realized that his men would be far from major southern supply depots or railroad routes. He consequently proposed to Davis on September 5 that the army supply itself with provisions and forage taken from the countryside. Confederate soldiers had done this to some extent during the Second Manassas campaign. The diet of green corn, or “roasting ears,” and green apples usually associated with the Maryland campaign appears in official reports, newspaper columns, and the diaries and letters of many soldiers in early August 1862 and continues through most of September.

Essay by Keith Bohannan (excerpt)
Gary Gallagher “The Antietam Campaign (Military Campaigns of the Civil War)”

The 125th Pennsylvania honors their color bearer on it’s monument at Antietam


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Only six weeks in existence, and never having seen action, the 125th Pennsylvania bivouacked on the farm of George Line the night before the battle of Antietam. The next day the 125th advanced to the Dunker Church area where they advanced. Color Sergeant George Simpson was killed and a second, third and fourth man were casualties when they took the flag forward. At this time, Sergeant W. W. Greenland of Company C took the flag and carried it to the rear of the nearest battery, Monroe’s First Rhode Island. He was accompanied by the Company Commander, William Wallace. There the regiment rallied and defended the battery for the remainder of the fighting.

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George Simpson’s brother was shot in the breast and was taken from the field shortly after George was shot. He survived but suffered from the effects of the injury until his death years later. The regiment decided to honor George on it’s monument and the flag was kept in storage until the dedication on September 17, 1904, stained with George’s blood.

Burnside’s 9th Corp spends an uneasy night before the Battle of Antietam


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David Thompson of the 9th New York Volunteers wrote about the uneasy night his corps spent before the Battle of Antietam in the Civil War historical edition “Battles and Leaders of the Civil War”.

Our corps the Ninth, under Burnside—was on the extreme left, opposite the stone bridge. Our brigade stole into position about half-past 10 o’clock on the night of the 16th. No lights were permitted, and all conversation was carried on in whispers. As the regiment was moving past the 103d New York to get to its place, there occurred, on a small scale and without serious results, one of those unaccountable panics often noticed in crowds, by which each man, however brave individually, merges his individuality for the moment, and surrenders to an utterly causeless fear. When everything was at its darkest and stealthiest one of the 103d stumbled over the regimental dog, and, in trying to avoid treading on it, staggered against a stack of muskets and knocked them over. The giving way of the two or three men upon whom they fell was communicated to others in a sort of wave movement of constantly increasing magnitude, reenforced by the ever-present apprehension of attack, till two regiments were in confusion.

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In a few seconds order was restored, and we went on to our place in the line—a field of thin corn sloping toward the creek, where we sat down on the plowed ground and watched for a while the dull glare on the sky of the Confederate campfires behind the hills. We were hungry, of course, but, as no fires were allowed, we could only mix our ground coffee and sugar in our hands and eat them dry. I think we were the more easily inclined to this crude disposal of our rations from a feeling that for many of us the need of drawing them would cease forever with the following day.

From “Battles and Leaders of the Civil War” online

A Union veteran remembers Hardtack


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John Billings was a Union army veteran who wrote the book “Hardtack and Coffee” which told stories about all aspects of army life. Here he discusses that much maligned favorite, Hardtack.

What was hardtack? It was a plain flour-and-water biscuit. Two which I have in my possession as mementos measure three and one-eighth by two and seven-eighths inches, and are nearly half an inch thick. Although these biscuits were furnished to organizations by weight, they were dealt out to the men by number, nine constituting a ration in some regiments, and ten in others; but there were usually enough for those who wanted more, as some men would not draw them. While hardtack was nutritious, yet a hungry man could eat his ten in a short time and still be hungry. When they were poor and fit objects for the soldiers’ wrath, it was due to one of three conditions: First, they may have been so hard that they could not be bitten; it then required a very strong blow of the fist to break them. The cause of this hardness it would be difficult for one not an expert to determine. This variety certainly well deserved their name. They could not be soaked soft, but after a time took on the elasticity of gutta-percha.


The second condition was when they were mouldy or wet, as sometimes happened, and should not have been given to the soldiers. I think this condition was often due to their having been boxed up too soon after baking. It certainly was frequently due to exposure to the weather. It was no uncommon sight to see thousands of boxes of hard bread piled up at some railway station or other place used as a base of supplies, where they were only imperfectly sheltered from the weather, and too often not sheltered at all. The failure of inspectors to do their full duty was one reason that so many of this sort reached the rank and file of the service.

The third condition was when from storage they had become infested with maggots and weevils. These weevils were, in my experience, more abundant than the maggots. They were a little, slim, brown bug an eighth of an inch in length, and were great bores on a small scale, having the ability to completely riddle the hardtack. I believe they never interfered with the hardest variety.

Story and illustration from “Hardtack and Coffee ” by John Billings

Antietam’s earliest battlefield guide?


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Born March 11, 1857 in “a little log cabin” in Keedysville, Md., Oliver Thomas Reilly was one of 10 children born to Edward Reilly and Mariah Lantz Reilly. At the age of 5, O.T. Reilly stood “in the midst of both armies during the retreat from South Mountain of the Confederates and the advance of the Union Army.” He was “an eyewitness to the Battle of Antietam from the Union Signal Station” on nearby Elk Ridge. The memory of that single event made such a profound impression on the boy that it shaped his entire life..

Sharpsburg’s scribe, O.T. Reilly, wrote thousands of short news items in the local Sharpsburg papers between 1887 and 1942.

A battlefield guide from age 15, Reilly declared on his calling card, “Get O.T. Reilly, the best guide, nearly 65 years experience … has been over the battlefield with many high ranked officers of both armies [Gens. Hooker, Burnside, Franklin, and Longstreet included] and thousands of men who fought in the battles.”

Secure in his knowledge of the battle, he was known for challenging the memories of the veterans he met. A week before the battle’s 25th anniversary, the inaugural issue of the Antietam Wavelet featured a column by neophyte reporter Reilly, beginning an amazing run of weekly columns that lasted 55 years.

Robert E Lee’s views on “invading” the north


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I am reading Joseph Harsh’s “Taken at the Flood: Robert E. Lee and Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862” and he mentions Robert E Lee’s thoughts just before the Antietam campaign and later in the war regarding moving his troops into Northern states. It’s interesting regarding Lee’s thoughts about the efficacy of doing this. I think that Lee’s plans for the Antietam and the Gettysburg campaigns were fairly simple, threaten Washington or Baltimore, get the yankees in a fight to destroy them and get the northern population to press for peace. Here is what Harsh says.

It is also unlikely that on the afternoon of September 2, the Confederate commander gave more than passing thought to an invasion of the North. To Lee “invasion” meant more than a mere incursion across the border. In his mind it was a “very decided offensive movement” and involved deep penetration and occupation of the free states themselves. Looking backward in February of 1864, Lee would declare bluntly, “We are not in a condition, and never have been, in my opinion, to invade the enemy’s country with a prospect of permanent benefit.” An invasion of conquest would clearly exceed Confederate war aims, and such a drastic departure from policy ought not be undertaken without approval from Richmond. More to the point was the obvious question of what Lee would do with either land or cities he might capture. He dare not spread his forces too thin and become bogged down in a military occupation.

Another interesting quote attributed to Lee shows how not much has changed in the press covering wars and the military.

On another occasion Lee wryly observed that the South might lose the war because of a mistake it had made at the outset. “In the beginning,” he explained, “we appointed all our worst generals to command the armies, and all our best generals to edit the newspapers.”

15 year old Gettysburg resident Tillie Pierce “celebrates” July 4th after the battle


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After witnessing the early part of the Battle of Gettysburg from her house in Gettysburg and then after being sent to a “safer” place at the foot of Little Round Top, Tillie assisted doctors in caring for the wounded at Jacob Weikert’s farm. The day after the battlle ended was “Independence Day”. Tillie recalls the day.

It was the Fourth of July, and never has the cheering on that anniversary been more hearty and welcome than it was in 1863.

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On the summits, in the valleys, everywhere we heard the soldiers hurrahing for the victory that had been won. The troops on our right, at Culp’s Hill, caught up the joyous sound as it came rolling on from the Round Tops on our left, and soon the whole line of blue, rejoiced in the results achieved. Many a dying hero’s last breath, carried a thanksgiving and praise to Him, who had watched over, and directed the thoughts and movements of the last three days. Most befitting was it, that on the fourth of July, an overruling and allwise Providence should again declare this people, free and independent of the tyranny upheld by an enemy. Again had our natal day been recognized and honored by vouchsafing a new and purified existence to our nation, whose very life had been trembling on the brink of destruction, during this terrible ordeal.

We were all glad that the storm had passed, and that victory was perched upon our banners.

But oh! the horror and desolation that remained. The general destruction, the suffering, the dead, the homes that nevermore would be cheered, the heart-broken widows, the innocent and helpless orphans! Only those who have seen these things, can ever realize what they mean……..

For a number of days after the battle, amputating, nursing and cooking continued on the premises, after which the wounded were removed to the different corps’ hospitals. During this time many a brave and noble spirit went from its tenement, and passed to the great beyond. This is what it meant, when they silently carried out a closed rough box, placed it upon a wagon and drove away.

Matilda “Tillie” Pierce Alleman. “At Gettysburg, or, What a Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle”