Antietam: Military Accounts of the Bloodiest Battle in American
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I hate cannons. Accounts from his home town in Pa, state he was cited for the capture of a rebel flag, but cannot find any reference. Robert E. George B. And when the fighting ended, the course of the American Civil War had been greatly altered.
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After his great victory at Manassas in August, Lee had marched his Army on Northern Virginia into Maryland, hoping to find vitally needed men and supplies. McClellan followed, first to Frederick, then westward 12 miles to the passes of South Mountains. But because he had split his army to send troops under Gen. Thomas J. McClellan forced his way through, and by the afternoon of September 15 both armies had established new battle lines west and east of Antietam Creek near the town of Sharpsburg.
The battle opened at dawn on the 17th when Union Gen. Jackson was reinforced and succeeded in driving the Federals back. An hour later Union troops under Gen. Meanwhile, Gen. William H. Hill posted along an old sunken road separating the Roulette and Piper farms. For nearly 4 hours, from a. Israel B. Confusion and sheer exhaustion finally ended the battle here and in the northern part of the field generally. Southeast of town, Union Gen.
Ambrose E. Some Georgians had driven them back each time. Then about 4 p. The Battle of Antietam was over. The next day Lee began withdrawing his army across the Potomac River. More men were killed or wounded at Antietam on September 17, , than on any other single day of the Civil War.
Federal losses were 12,, Confederate losses 10, The battle also gave President Abraham Lincoln the opportunity to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which, on January 1, , declared free all slaves in States still in rebellion against the United States. Now the war had a dual purpose: to preserve the Union.
The six major Generals of the battle of Antietam are Brig. Anderson, Brig. Joseph K. Mansfield, Maj. Richardson, Brig.
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Isaac P. Rodman, and Brig. William E. West Point graduate, class of , his brigade of North Carolinians fought desperately in the Sunken Road. Branch was born in Enfield, North Carolina in He graduated from Princeton in , studied law and served in Congress from until Branch commanded a brigade attached to A. Joseph King Fenno Mansfield was one of the oldest officers on the field at age A professional soldier, he served in the Army for forty years, including service in the Mexican War.
Just two days before the battle, he was given command of the XII Corps. Wounded in the chest he died the next day. There is a monument and mortuary cannon on the battlefield for MGen Mansfield. This Vermonter was 46 years old when he led his division at Antietam. Another West Pointer, Richardson graduated from the academy in and distinguished himself during the Mexican War. In he resigned his commission and moved to Michigan. Returning to service during the crisis of , Richardson led a brigade during the First Battle of Bull Run and the Peninsula campaign. Born in Rhode Island, Rodman served in both houses of the state legislative before the war.
Imagine his dilemma when the war broke out between his religion and service to his country. Hill and his men. Mortally wounded, this Quaker General would die on September 30, at age Born in Virginia, Starke was a successful cotton planter in New Orleans. He served as the colonel of the 60th Virginia, and then was promoted to Brigadier on August 6 When BGen John R. Jones was stunned by an artillery shell and left the field, Stark took command of the Stonewall Division. Starke would lead a counterattack, only to be wounded three times, he died within the hour.
His body was returned to Richmond where he was buried in Hollywood Cemetery next to his son who had been killed two months earlier. September McClellan resumes command of the Federal army and advances cautiously to find Lee and cover Washington. September D. Hill and Longstreet, forcing a Confederate Retreat. General Robert E. The ensuing battle on September 17 produced the bloodiest day in America combat history with over 23, casualties on both sides.
More than twice as many Americans were killed or mortally wounded in combat at Antietam that day as in the War of , the Mexican War, and the Spanish-American war Combined. The two armies met in the Maryland farm fields bordering the trickling Antietam Creek near the town of Sharpsburg.
The Union named the conflict the Battle of Antietam in honor of the creek while the South called it the Battle of Sharpsburg in honor of the town. From dawn till dark on the 17th the two armies threw frontal attacks at each other, littering the fields with their dead and wounded.
Lee withdrew during the night of September 18, and re-crossed the Potomac. Tactically, the battle ended in a draw. Strategically, it was a victory for the Union. The fight at Antetam was in many ways a disaster for the North. I do not see where you can even conisider this battle a battle of strategic value. However, on the local level it is of importance to the South. Antietam combined with clear victory at Harpers Ferry and the ability to manuever troops onto and off the field of battle quickly so that it tactially impacts the outcome of battle is indeed a victory for the South.
Bunside was an idiot to launch a 3 prong attack that was both illconcieved and illcordinated. There was no communication between his various commands and because of this an invitable slaughter took place that should not have. A case in point was his failure to order a reconnessance of Antienam creek over the south bridge.
But despite not having given such an order, one should have been given by the 11th Connecicut to check the depths of the water. By having done this the Federals could have taken the bridge without having to use it, by simply fording the water at chest deep and then whiped out the Georgians holding the high ground above on the opposite bank without the two hour wait for Burnside to consolidate lines before his assualt.
Imagine that! Burnside dicked around dilly dalling when he could have quickly pushed on through Sharpsburg and squarely cornered Lee on the banks of the Potomac and thus force him into surrender and end the war. Burnsides mismanagement of this particular battle ensured that there would be a 3 more years of war.
In fact, it was Burnsides clear mismanagement of the battle that allowed Lee to escape two days later with the bulk of his army. On September 18 Lee managed to consoldiate his lines, picked up some reenforcements and made for battle that would never come. Again I honestly do not see it. Lincoln was also advised against releasing his Emancipation Proclamation by his closesest advisors, because there was no clear victory here.
But also hopes of causing the South forefiture of battle, if men have to return home for planting of fields and harvest. Politically speaking it could break up the army if they have to send people home. He enlisted at the beginning of the war and remained in until he was captured in Ga late It was a sufficiently significant victory to give Lincoln the confidence to announce his Emancipation Proclamation , which discouraged the British and French governments from pursuing any potential plans to recognize the Confederacy.
Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia —about 55, men    —entered the state of Maryland on September 3, , following their victory at Second Bull Run on August Emboldened by success, the Confederate leadership intended to take the war into enemy territory. Lee's invasion of Maryland was intended to run simultaneously with an invasion of Kentucky by the armies of Braxton Bragg and Edmund Kirby Smith.
It was also necessary for logistical reasons, as northern Virginia's farms had been stripped bare of food. Based on events such as the Baltimore riots in the spring of and the fact that President Lincoln had to pass through the city in disguise en route to his inauguration, Confederate leaders assumed that Maryland would welcome the Confederate forces warmly. They sang the tune " Maryland, My Maryland! Civilians generally hid inside their houses as Lee's army passed through their towns, or watched in cold silence, while the Army of the Potomac was cheered and encouraged.
Some Confederate politicians, including President Jefferson Davis , believed that the prospect of foreign recognition would increase if the Confederacy won a military victory on Union soil; such a victory might gain recognition and financial support from the United Kingdom and France, although there is no evidence that Lee thought the Confederacy should base its military plans on this possibility. Mitchell and First Sergeant John M. Bloss   of the 27th Indiana Volunteer Infantry discovered a mislaid copy of Lee's detailed battle plans— Special Order —wrapped around three cigars.
The order indicated that Lee had divided his army and dispersed portions geographically to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia , and Hagerstown, Maryland , thus making each subject to isolation and defeat if McClellan could move quickly enough. McClellan waited about 18 hours before deciding to take advantage of this intelligence and reposition his forces, thus squandering an opportunity to defeat Lee decisively.
There were two significant engagements in the Maryland campaign prior to the major battle of Antietam: Maj. Thomas J. The former was significant because a large portion of Lee's army was absent from the start of the battle of Antietam, attending to the surrender of the Union garrison; the latter because stout Confederate defenses at two passes through the mountains delayed McClellan's advance enough for Lee to concentrate the remainder of his army at Sharpsburg.
The I Corps , under Maj. Joseph Hooker , consisted of the divisions of:. The II Corps , under Maj. Edwin V. Sumner , consisted of the divisions of:. The V Corps , under Maj. Fitz John Porter , consisted of the divisions of:. The VI Corps , under Maj. William B. Franklin , consisted of the divisions of:. The IX Corps , under Maj. Ambrose E. Burnside Brig. Jacob D.
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Cox exercised operational command during the battle , consisted of the divisions of:. Joseph K. Mansfield , consisted of the divisions of:. The Cavalry Division of Brig. Alfred Pleasonton consisted of the brigades of Maj. Charles J. Whiting and Cols.
John F. Farnsworth , Richard H. Rush , Andrew T. McReynolds , and Benjamin F. General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was organized into two large infantry corps. The First Corps, under Maj. James Longstreet , consisted of the divisions of:. The Second Corps, under Maj. The remaining units were the Cavalry Division , under Maj. Stuart , and the reserve artillery, commanded by Brig. William N. The Second Corps was organized with artillery attached to each division, in contrast to the First Corps, which reserved its artillery at the corps level.
Near the town of Sharpsburg, Lee deployed his available forces behind Antietam Creek along a low ridge, starting on September While it was an effective defensive position, it was not an impregnable one. The terrain provided excellent cover for infantrymen, with rail and stone fences, outcroppings of limestone , and little hollows and swales.
The creek to their front was only a minor barrier, ranging from 60 to feet 18—30 m in width, and was fordable in places and crossed by three stone bridges each a mile 1. It was also a precarious position because the Confederate rear was blocked by the Potomac River and only a single crossing point, Boteler's Ford at Shepherdstown , was nearby should retreat be necessary. The disposition of Union forces during the battle made it impractical to consider retreating in that direction.
And on September 15, the force under Lee's immediate command consisted of no more than 18, men, only a third the size of the Federal army. The first two Union divisions arrived on the afternoon of September 15 and the bulk of the remainder of the army late that evening. Although an immediate Union attack on the morning of September 16 would have had an overwhelming advantage in numbers, McClellan's trademark caution and his belief that Lee had as many as , men at Sharpsburg caused him to delay his attack for a day.
Hill's division, to arrive from Harpers Ferry. As the battle progressed and Lee shifted units, these corps boundaries overlapped considerably. Meade's division cautiously attacked Hood's troops near the East Woods. After darkness fell, artillery fire continued as McClellan positioned his troops for the next day's fighting. McClellan's plan was to overwhelm the enemy's left flank.
He arrived at this decision because of the configuration of bridges over the Antietam. The lower bridge which would soon be named Burnside Bridge was dominated by Confederate positions on the bluffs overlooking it. The middle bridge, on the road from Boonsboro , was subject to artillery fire from the heights near Sharpsburg. McClellan planned to commit more than half his army to the assault, starting with two corps, supported by a third, and if necessary a fourth.
He intended to launch a simultaneous diversionary attack against the Confederate right with a fifth corps, and he was prepared to strike the center with his reserves if either attack succeeded. He shifted men to his left flank and sent urgent messages to his two commanders who had not yet arrived on the battlefield: Lafayette McLaws with two divisions and A. Hill with one division. McClellan's plans were ill-coordinated and were executed poorly. He issued to each of his subordinate commanders only the orders for his own corps, not general orders describing the entire battle plan.
The terrain of the battlefield made it difficult for those commanders to monitor events outside of their sectors, and McClellan's headquarters were more than a mile in the rear at the Philip Pry house, east of the creek , making it difficult for him to control the separate corps. Therefore, the battle progressed the next day as essentially three separate, mostly uncoordinated battles: morning in the northern end of the battlefield, midday in the center, and afternoon in the south. This lack of coordination and concentration of McClellan's forces almost completely nullified the two-to-one advantage the Union enjoyed and allowed Lee to shift his defensive forces to meet each offensive.
Hooker's objective was the plateau on which sat the Dunker Church, a modest whitewashed building belonging to a local sect of German Baptists. Hooker had approximately 8, men, little more than the 7, defenders under Stonewall Jackson, and this slight disparity was more than offset by the Confederates' strong defensive positions. Jackson's defense consisted of the divisions under Alexander Lawton and John R. Jones in line from the West Woods, across the Turnpike, and along the southern end of Miller's Cornfield.
Four brigades were held in reserve inside the West Woods. As the first Union men emerged from the North Woods and into the Cornfield , an artillery duel erupted. Confederate fire was from the horse artillery batteries under Jeb Stuart to the west and four batteries under Col. Stephen D. Lee on the high ground across the pike from the Dunker Church to the south. The conflagration caused heavy casualties on both sides and was described by Col.
Lee as "artillery Hell. Seeing the glint of Confederate bayonets concealed in the Cornfield, Hooker halted his infantry and brought up four batteries of artillery, which fired shell and canister over the heads of the Federal infantry into the field. A savage battle began, with considerable melee action with rifle butts and bayonets due to short visibility in the corn. Officers rode about cursing and yelling orders no one could hear in the noise.
Rifles became hot and fouled from too much firing; the air was filled with a hail of bullets and shells. Meade's 1st Brigade of Pennsylvanians, under Brig. As Walker's men forced Seymour's back, aided by Lee's artillery fire, Ricketts's division entered the Cornfield, also to be torn up by artillery. George L. Hartsuff and Col. William A. Christian—had difficulties reaching the scene. Hartsuff was wounded by a shell, and Christian dismounted and fled to the rear in terror.
When the men were rallied and advanced into the Cornfield, they met the same artillery and infantry fire as their predecessors. Captain Benjamin F. Cook of the 12th Massachusetts Infantry, on the attack by the Louisiana Tigers at the Cornfield . While the Cornfield remained a bloody stalemate, Federal advances a few hundred yards to the west were more successful. John Gibbon's 4th Brigade of Doubleday's division recently named the Iron Brigade began advancing down and astride the turnpike, into the cornfield, and in the West Woods, pushing aside Jackson's men.
The Confederate brigade withdrew after being exposed to fierce return fire from the Iron Brigade, and Starke was mortally wounded. Although the cost was steep, Hooker's corps was making steady progress. Confederate reinforcements arrived just after 7 a. The divisions under McLaws and Richard H. Anderson arrived following a night march from Harpers Ferry. Around , General Lee moved George T. Anderson's Georgia brigade from the right flank of the army to aid Jackson.
The Texans attacked with particular ferocity because as they were called from their reserve position they were forced to interrupt the first hot breakfast they had had in days. They were aided by three brigades of D. Hill's division arriving from the Mumma Farm, southeast of the Cornfield, and by Jubal Early's brigade, pushing through the West Woods from the Nicodemus Farm, where they had been supporting Jeb Stuart's horse artillery. Artillery, and Gibbon himself saw to it that his previous unit did not lose a single caisson. When asked by a fellow officer where his division was, Hood replied, "Dead on the field.
Hooker's men had also paid heavily but without achieving their objectives. After two hours and 2, casualties, they were back where they started. It was estimated that the Cornfield changed hands no fewer than 15 times in the course of the morning. Dawes , who assumed command of Iron Brigade's 6th Wisconsin Regiment during the battle, later compared the fighting around the Hagerstown Turnpike with the stone wall at Fredericksburg , Spotsylvania's "Bloody Angle", and the slaughter pen of Cold Harbor , insisting that "the Antietam Turnpike surpassed them all in manifest evidence of slaughter.
Joseph Hooker . Half of Mansfield's men were raw recruits, and Mansfield was also inexperienced, having taken command only two days before. Although he was a veteran of 40 years' service, he had never led large numbers of soldiers in combat. Concerned that his men would bolt under fire, he marched them in a formation that was known as "column of companies, closed in mass," a bunched-up formation in which a regiment was arrayed ten ranks deep instead of the normal two. As his men entered the East Woods, they presented an excellent artillery target, "almost as good a target as a barn.
The new recruits of Mansfield's 1st Division made no progress against Hood's line, which was reinforced by brigades of D. Hill's division under Colquitt and McRae. The 2nd Division of the XII Corps, under George Sears Greene, however, broke through McRae's men, who fled under the mistaken belief that they were about to be trapped by a flanking attack. This breach of the line forced Hood and his men, outnumbered, to regroup in the West Woods, where they had started the day.
Federal forces held most of the ground to the east of the turnpike. Hooker attempted to gather the scattered remnants of his I Corps to continue the assault, but a Confederate sharpshooter spotted the general's conspicuous white horse and shot Hooker through the foot. Ricketts, had also been wounded. But with Hooker removed from the field, there was no general left with the authority to rally the men of the I and XII Corps. Greene's men came under heavy fire from the West Woods and withdrew from the Dunker Church. Sedgwick's division of 5, men was the first to ford the Antietam, and they entered the East Woods with the intention of turning left and forcing the Confederates south into the assault of Ambrose Burnside's IX Corps.
But the plan went awry. They became separated from William H. French's division, and at 9 a. They were assaulted first by Confederate artillery and then from three sides by the divisions of Early, Walker, and McLaws, and in less than half an hour Sedgwick's men were forced to retreat in great disorder to their starting point with over 2, casualties, including Sedgwick himself, who was taken out of action for several months by a wound.
Historian M. Armstrong's recent scholarship, however, has determined that Sumner did perform appropriate reconnaissance and his decision to attack where he did was justified by the information available to him. The final actions in the morning phase of the battle were around 10 a.
Walker, newly arrived from the Confederate right. They fought in the area between the Cornfield in the West Woods, but soon Walker's men were forced back by two brigades of Greene's division, and the Federal troops seized some ground in the West Woods. The morning phase ended with casualties on both sides of almost 13,, including two Union corps commanders.
By midday, the action had shifted to the center of the Confederate line. Sumner had accompanied the morning attack of Sedgwick's division, but another of his divisions, under French, lost contact with Sumner and Sedgwick and inexplicably headed south. Eager for an opportunity to see combat, French found skirmishers in his path and ordered his men forward. By this time, Sumner's aide and son located French, described the terrible fighting in the West Woods and relayed an order for him to divert Confederate attention by attacking their center. French confronted D.
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Hill's division. Hill commanded about 2, men, less than half the number under French, and three of his five brigades had been torn up during the morning combat. This sector of Longstreet's line was theoretically the weakest. But Hill's men were in a strong defensive position, atop a gradual ridge, in a sunken road worn down by years of wagon traffic, which formed a natural trench.
The first brigade to attack, mostly inexperienced troops commanded by Brig. Max Weber, was quickly cut down by heavy rifle fire; neither side deployed artillery at this point. The second attack, more raw recruits under Col. Dwight Morris, was also subjected to heavy fire but managed to beat back a counterattack by the Alabama Brigade of Robert Rodes. The third, under Brig. Nathan Kimball, included three veteran regiments, but they also fell to fire from the sunken road. French's division suffered 1, casualties of his 5, men in under an hour. Lee sent his final reserve division—some 3, men under Maj.
Richard H. Anderson—to bolster Hill's line and extend it to the right, preparing an attack that would envelop French's left flank. But at the same time, the 4, men of Maj. Israel B. Richardson's division arrived on French's left. This was the last of Sumner's three divisions, which had been held up in the rear by McClellan as he organized his reserve forces. Leading off the fourth attack of the day against the sunken road was the Irish Brigade of Brig.
Thomas F. As they advanced with emerald green flags snapping in the breeze, a regimental chaplain, Father William Corby , rode back and forth across the front of the formation shouting words of conditional absolution prescribed by the Roman Catholic Church for those who were about to die. Corby would later perform a similar service at Gettysburg in The mostly Irish immigrants lost men to heavy volleys before they were ordered to withdraw. Richardson personally dispatched the brigade of Brig.
John C. Caldwell into battle around noon after being told that Caldwell was in the rear, behind a haystack , and finally the tide turned. Anderson's Confederate division had been little help to the defenders after Gen. Anderson was wounded early in the fighting. Other key leaders were lost as well, including George B. Anderson no relation; Anderson's successor, Col. Charles C. Tew of the 2nd North Carolina, was killed minutes after assuming command  and Col.
John B. Gordon of the 6th Alabama. Gordon received 5 serious wounds in the fight, twice in his right leg, twice in the left arm, and once in the face. He lay unconscious, face down in his cap, and later told colleagues that he should have smothered in his own blood, except for the act of an unidentified Yankee, who had earlier shot a hole in his cap, which allowed the blood to drain.
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These losses contributed directly to the confusion of the following events. Sergeant of the 61st New York . As Caldwell's brigade advanced around the right flank of the Confederates, Col. Francis C. Barlow and men of the 61st and 64th New York saw a weak point in the line and seized a knoll commanding the sunken road. This allowed them to get enfilade fire into the Confederate line, turning it into a deadly trap. In attempting to wheel around to meet this threat, a command from Rodes was misunderstood by Lt. James N. Lightfoot, who had succeeded the unconscious John Gordon.
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Lightfoot ordered his men to about-face and march away, an order that all five regiments of the brigade thought applied to them as well. Confederate troops streamed toward Sharpsburg, their line lost. Richardson's men were in hot pursuit when massed artillery hastily assembled by Gen. Longstreet drove them back. A counterattack with men led by D. Hill got around the Federal left flank near the sunken road, and although they were driven back by a fierce charge of the 5th New Hampshire, this stemmed the collapse of the center.
Reluctantly, Richardson ordered his division to fall back to north of the ridge facing the sunken road. His division lost about 1, men. Barlow was severely wounded, and Richardson mortally wounded. Hancock assumed division command. Although Hancock would have an excellent future reputation as an aggressive division and corps commander, the unexpected change of command sapped the momentum of the Federal advance.
And yet a great opportunity presented itself. If this broken sector of the Confederate line were exploited, Lee's army would have been divided in half and possibly defeated. There were ample forces available to do so. There was a reserve of 3, cavalry and the 10, infantrymen of Gen. Porter's V Corps, waiting near the middle bridge, a mile away.
The VI Corps had just arrived with 12, men. Franklin of the VI Corps was ready to exploit this breakthrough, but Sumner, the senior corps commander, ordered him not to advance. Franklin appealed to McClellan, who left his headquarters in the rear to hear both arguments but backed Sumner's decision, ordering Franklin and Hancock to hold their positions.
Later in the day, the commander of the other reserve unit near the center, the V Corps, Maj. Fitz John Porter, heard recommendations from Maj. George Sykes, commanding his 2nd Division, that another attack be made in the center, an idea that intrigued McClellan. The action moved to the southern end of the battlefield. McClellan's plan called for Maj. Ambrose Burnside and the IX Corps to conduct a diversionary attack in support of Hooker's I Corps, hoping to draw Confederate attention away from the intended main attack in the north.
However, Burnside was instructed to wait for explicit orders before launching his attack, and those orders did not reach him until 10 a. He was disgruntled that McClellan had abandoned the previous arrangement of "wing" commanders reporting to him. Implicitly refusing to give up his higher authority, Burnside treated first Maj. Jesse L. Reno killed at South Mountain and then Brig. Cox of the Kanawha Division as the corps commander, funneling orders to the corps through him. Burnside had four divisions 12, troops and 50 guns east of Antietam Creek.
Facing him was a force that had been greatly depleted by Lee's movement of units to bolster the Confederate left flank. At dawn, the divisions of Brig. David R. Jones and John G. Walker stood in defense, but by 10 a. George T. Anderson's Georgia brigade had been removed. Jones had only about 3, men and 12 guns available to meet Burnside. Four thin brigades guarded the ridges near Sharpsburg, primarily a low plateau known as Cemetery Hill. The remaining men—the 2nd and 20th Georgia regiments, under the command of Brig. Robert Toombs, with two artillery batteries—defended Rohrbach's Bridge, a three-span, foot 38 m stone structure that was the southernmost crossing of the Antietam.
The bridge was a difficult objective. The road leading to it ran parallel to the creek and was exposed to enemy fire. The bridge was dominated by a foot 30 m high wooded bluff on the west bank, strewn with boulders from an old quarry, making infantry and sharpshooter fire from good covered positions a dangerous impediment to crossing. Confederate staff officer Henry Kyd Douglas .
Antietam Creek in this sector was seldom more than 50 feet 15 m wide, and several stretches were only waist deep and out of Confederate range. Burnside has been widely criticized for ignoring this fact. While Col. George Crook's Ohio brigade prepared to attack the bridge with the support of Brig. Samuel Sturgis's division, the rest of the Kanawha Division and Brig. Crook's assault on the bridge was led by skirmishers from the 11th Connecticut, who were ordered to clear the bridge for the Ohioans to cross and assault the bluff.
After receiving punishing fire for 15 minutes, the Connecticut men withdrew with casualties, one-third of their strength, including their commander, Col.