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Hood: Advance and Retreat
Chapter 2c


On the 13th of September intelligence was received of McClellan's advance from the direction of Federal City toward South Mountain, and on the morning of the 14th I marched with Longstreet's Corps to Boonsboro' Gap, a narrow and winding pass, through which runs the turnpike from Hagerstown to Federal City. I was still under arrest, with orders to move in rear of my two brigades. The division reached the foot of South Mountain about 3.30 p. m., from which point could be seen the shells of the enemy, as they passed over the rugged peaks in front, and burst upon the slope in our proximity. I could hear the men, as they filed up the ascent, cry out along the line, " Give us Hood!" but did not comprehend the meaning of this appeal till I arrived with the rear of the column at the base of the ridge, where I found General Lee standing by the fence, very near the pike, in company with his chief of staff, Colonel Chilton. The latter accosted me, bearing a message from the General, that he desired to speak to me. I dismounted, and soon stood in his presence, when he said: " General, here I am just upon the eve of entering into battle, and with one of my best officers under arrest. If you will merely say that you regret this occurrence, I will release you and restore you to the command of your division." I replied, " I am unable to do so, since I cannot admit or see the justness of General Evans's demand for the ambulances my men have captured. Had I been ordered to turn them over for the general use of the Army, I would cheerfully have acquiesced." He again urged me to make some declaration expressive of regret. I answered that I could not consistently do so. Then, in a voice betraying the feeling which warmed the heart of this noble and great warrior, he said, "Well, I will suspend your arrest till the impending battle is decided."

I quickly remounted, galloped to the front of my column, and, with a kind welcome from my troops, reported for duty to General Longstreet, who by this time had reached the summit of the mountain. He immediately instructed me to file to the left, in the wake of Evans's brigade, and to take position with my right near the pike. The advance of McClellan's long lines could be seen moving up the slope in our front, evidently with the purpose to dislodge our forces posted upon the sharp ridge overlooking the valley below. Before long Major Fairfax, of Longstreet's staff, came to me in haste with orders to move to the right of the pike, as our troops on that part of the field had been driven back. He accompanied me to the pike, and here turned his horse to leave, when I naturally asked if he would not guide me. He replied, " No, I can only say, go to the right." Meantime Major Frobel's batteries had come forward into position on top of the ridge; they opened fire, and performed excellent service in checking the enemy. The wood and undergrowth were dense, and nothing but a pig path seemed to lead in the direction in which I was ordered. Nevertheless, I conducted my troops obliquely by the right flank, and while I advanced I could hear the shouts of the Federals, as they swept down the mountain upon our side. I then bore still more obliquely to the right, with a view to get as far as possible towards the left flank of the enemy before we came in contact. We marched on through the wood as rapidly as the obstacles in our passage would admit. Each step forward brought nearer and nearer to us the heavy Federal lines, as they advanced, cheering over their success and the possession of our dead and wounded. Finally, I gave instructions to General Law and Colonel Wofford, directing the two brigades, to order their men to fix bayonets; and, when the enemy came within seventy-five or a hundred yards, I ordered the men to front and charge. They obeyed promptly, with a genuine Confederate yell, and the Federals were driven back pell mell, over and beyond the mountain, at a much quicker pace than they had descended. Night closed in with not only our dead and wounded, together with those of our adversary in our possession, but with the mountain, on the right, within our lines.

After the correction of my allignment, rode, at about 10 p. m., back to the Gap, where I found General D. H. Hill and other officers on the gallery of a tavern, near the pike, evidently discussing the outlook. As I approached, I inquired, in an ordinary tone of voice, as to the condition of affairs on our left, and to my surprise was met with a mysterious " Pshe—Pshe " —; a voice added in an audible whisper, " The enemy is just there in the corn field; he has forced us back." I thereupon suggested that we repair without delay to General Lee's headquarters, and report the situation. Accordingly, we rode down to the foot of the mountain, where we found General Lee in council with General Longstreet. After a long debate, it was decided to retire and fall back towards Sharpsburg.

The morning of the 15th our forces were again in motion in the direction of the Antietam; the cavalry and my two brigades, in addition to Major Frobel's artillery, formed the rear guard to hold our opponents in check, whilst the Army marched quietly to its destination. My troops, at this period, were sorely in need of shoes, clothing and food. We had had issued to us no meat for several days, and little or no bread; the men had been forced to subsist principally on green corn and green apples. Nevertheless, they were in high spirits and defiant, as we contended with the advanced guard of McClellan the 15th and forenoon of the 16th. During the afternoon of this day I was ordered, after great fatigue and hunger endured by my soldiers, to take position near the Hagerstown pike, in an open field in front of * Dunkard Church. General Hooker's Corps crossed the Antietam, swung round with its right on the pike, and, about an hour before sunset, encountered my division. I had stationed one or two batteries upon a hillock, in a meadow, near the edge of a corn field and just by the pike. The Texas brigade had been disposed on the left, and that of Law on the right. We opened fire, and a spirited action ensued, which lasted till a late hour in the night. When the firing had in a great measure ceased, we were so close to the enemy that we could distinctly hear him massing his heavy bodies in our immediate front.

The extreme suffering of my troops for want of food induced me to ride back to General Lee, and request him to send two or more brigades to our relief, at least for the night, in order that the soldiers might have a chance to cook their meagre rations. He said that he would cheerfully do so, but he knew of no command which could be spared for the purpose; he, however, suggested I should see General Jackson and endeavor to obtain assistance from him. After riding a long time in search of the latter, I finally discovered him alone, lying upon the ground, asleep by the root of a tree. I aroused him and made known the half-starved condition of my troops; he immediately ordered Lawton's, Trimble's and Hays's brigades to our relief. He exacted of me, however, a promise that I would come to the support of these forces the moment I was called upon. I quickly rode off in search of my wagons, that the men might prepare and cook their flour, as we were still without meat; unfortunately the night was then far advanced, and, although every effort was made amid the darkness to get the wagons forward, dawn of the morning of the 17th broke upon us before many of the men had had time to do more than prepare the dough. Soon thereafter an officer of Lawton's staff dashed up to me, saying, " General Lawton sends his compliments with the request that you come at once to his support.,, " To arms ,' was instantly sounded, and quite a large number of my brave soldiers were again obliged to march to the front, leaving their uncooked rations in camp.

Still, indomitable amid every trial, they moved off by the right flank to occupy the same position we had left the night previous. As we passed, about sunrise, across the pike and through the gap in the fence just in front of Dunkard Church, General Lawton, who had been wounded, was borne to the rear upon a litter, and the only Confederate troops, left on that part of the field, were some forty men who had rallied round the gallant Harry Hays. I rode up to the latter, and, finding that his soldiers had expended all their ammunition, I suggested to him to retire, to replenish his cartridge boxes, and reassemble his command.

The following extract from the official report of General Jackson will convey an idea of the bloody conflict in which my two little brigades were about to engage:

"General Lawton, commanding division, and Colonel Walker, commanding brigade, were severely wounded. More than half of the brigades of Lawton and Hays were either killed or wounded, and more than a third of Trimble's, and all the regimental commanders in those brigades, except two, were killed or wounded. Thinned in their ranks, and exhausted of their ammunition, Jackson's Division and the brigades of Lawton, Trimble and Hays retired to the rear, and Hood, of Longstreet's command, again took the position from which he had been before relieved."

Not far distant in our front were drawn up, in close array, heavy columns of Federal infantry; not less than two corps were in sight to oppose my small command, numbering, approximately, two thousand effectives. However, with the trusty Law on my right, in the edge of the wood, and the gallant Colonel Wofford in command of the Texas brigade on the left, near the pike, we moved forward to the assault. Notwithstanding the overwhelming odds of over ten to one against us, we drove the enemy from the wood and corn field back upon his reserves, and forced him to abandon his guns on our left. This most deadly combat raged till our last round of ammunition was expended. The First Texas Regiment had lost, in the corn field, fully two-thirds of its number; and whole ranks of brave men, whose deeds were unrecorded save in the hearts of loved ones at home, were mowed down in heaps to the right and left. Never before was I so continuously troubled with fear that my horse would further injure some wounded fellow soldier, lying helpless upon the ground. Our right flank, during this short, but seemingly long, space of time, was toward the main line of the Federals, and, after several ineffectual efforts to procure reinforcements and our last shot had been fired, I ordered my troops back to Dunkard Church, for the same reason which had previously compelled Lawton, Hays and Trimble to retire.

My command remained near the church, with empty cartridge boxes, holding aloft their colors whilst Frobel's batteries rendered most effective service in position further to the right, where nearly all the guns of the battalion were disabled. Upon the arrival of McLaws's Division, we marched to the rear, renewed our supply of ammunition, and returned to our position in the wood, near the church, which ground we held till a late hour in the afternoon, when we moved somewhat further to the right and bivouacked for the night. With the close of this bloody day ceased the hardest fought battle of the war.

In the Military Biography of Stonewall Jackson, edited by Rev. J. Wm. Jones, D. D., occur the following passages (pp. 330-31) in reference to this engagement:

"Seeing Hood in their path the enemy paused, and a Northern correspondent writes: 'While our advance rather faltered, the rebels, greatly reinforced, made a sudden and impetuous onset, and drove our gallant fellows back over a portion of the hard won field. What we had won, however, was not relinquished without a desperate struggle, and here, up the hills and down, through the woods and the standing corn, over the ploughed land and clover, the line of fire swept to and fro as one side or the other gained a temporary advantage.'

" Hood was now fighting with his right toward the main line of the enemy, for General Hooker had swept round so far, that, as we have said, his line was almost at right angles with its original position. Hood threw himself into the action with great gallantry, and says in his report: 'Here I witnessed the most terrible clash of arms by far that has occurred during the war. The two little giant brigades of my command wrestled with the mighty force, and although they lost hundreds of their officers and men, they drove them from their position, and forced them to abandon their guns on our left.' 'One of these brigades numbered only eight hundred and fifty-four (854) men ' "

The following morning I arose before dawn and rode to the front where, just after daybreak, General Jackson came pacing up on his horse, and instantly asked, " Hood, have they gone ? " When I answered in the negative, he replied " I hoped they had,', and then passed on to look after his brave but greatly exhausted command.

The subjoined letter, I have no doubt, obtained my promotion about this period. I had no knowledge of its existence until after the close of the war, when it was handed to me in New York by Mr. Meyer, to whom I am indebted for the favor. He was at the time of the surrender a clerk in the War Office, at Richmond, and, in consideration of the unsettled condition of affairs, placed it among his papers for preservation:

" HEADQUARTERS, V. DIST., Sept. 27th, 1862.

" GENERAL:—I respectfully recommend that Brig. Genl. J. B. Hood be promoted to the rank of a Major General. He was under my command during the engagements along the Chickahominy, commencing on the 27th of June last, when he rendered distinguished service. Though not of my command in the recently hard fought battle near Sharpsburg, Maryland, yet for a portion of the day I had occasion to give directions respecting his operations, and it gives me pleasure to say that his duties were discharged with such ability and zeal, as to command my admiration. I regard him as one of the most promising officers of the army.

" I am, General, your obedient servant, (Signed) T. J. JACKSON, Major General.,'

"General S. COOPER, Adjutant and Inspector General, C. S. A.

" Endorsed, New York, November 9th, 1866." "The enclosed letter from General Jackson to General Cooper was handed to General Hood by Mr. Meyer (a former clerk in the War Department at Richmond), at the Southern Hotel in this city. The letter is the original, and preserved by Mr. Meyer. " (Signed) F. S. STOCKDALE."

The foregoing letter is doubly kind in its tenor, inasmuch as I was not serving in General Jackson's Corps at the time.

During the 18th the Confederate Army remained in possession of the field, buried the dead, and that night crossed near Shepherdstown to the south side of the Potomac. Soon thereafter my division marched to a point north of Winchester, and passed a pleasant month in the beautiful Valley of the Shenandoah. My arrest, which General Lee, just prior to the battle of Boonsboro, Gap, had been gracious enough to suspend, was never reconsidered; the temporary release became permanent, and, in lieu of being summoned to a Court Martial, I was shortly afterwards promoted to the rank of Major General with the command of two additional brigades. The accession of Benning's and Anderson's brigades, which had already taken part in a number of battles, composed a division which any general might justly have felt honored to command. The former brigade had been gallantly led by General Toombs at Sharpsburg. I experienced much interest in training these troops, as I endeavored to excite emulation among them and thoroughly arouse their pride, in accordance with the system of education I had pursued with the Fourth Texas Regiment, Law's, and my original brigade. Under the unfortunate organization of brigades by States, I lost the Eighteenth Georgia Regiment and Hampton's Legion, to both of which commands, I, as well as my Texas troops, had become warmly attached. The former had served with me longer than the latter, and in every emergency had proved itself bold and trusty; it styled itself, from a feeling of brotherhood, the Third Texas.

Whilst I lost these two excellent bodies of men, I gained the Third Arkansas, a large regiment, commanded by Colonel Van Manning, a brave and accomplished soldier, who served with distinction, and, in truth, merited higher rank and a larger command. I also lost the Sixth North Carolina, Ninth and Eleventh Mississippi Regiments, which, after long and gallant service in Law's brigade, were also transferred to other commands; thus, unfortunately, were severed relations which had been engendered and strengthened by common trials and dangers.

* In my official report erroneously called St. Mumma Church.

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