Wednesday (Afternoon) 17 September 1862 –Sharpburg, Maryland

“If you die, die like a man.” – Inscription in the Bible of Oliver Cromwell Case

Wednesday 17 September 1862

Around 12:30 pm

After Snavely’s Ford is determined to be an adequate crossing site, the remainder of Harland’s Brigade is moved down the creek.

Around 1:00 pm

Due to dwindling supplies of ammunition, the Georgia troops on the far side of the Antietam pull back from the high bluffs overlooking the bridge as the other IX Corps units successfully secured the Rohrbach Bridge almost simultaneously. The 8th CVI is temporarily detached to provide protection for a Union battery on the far side of the creek.

General Rodman ordered me to detach one regiment for the support of the battery belonging to the Ninth New York Volunteers, and to send the remaining regiments of the brigade across the creek in rear of the First Brigade, and, when I had placed the regiment in proper position, to join the balance of the brigade. I found the battery on the hill just below the ford. I detached the Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, placed it in what I considered the strongest position for the defense of the battery, and then crossed the ford. [Harland]

Although still under some fire from the high bluffs on the far side of the creek, Rodman’s division crosses the Antietam at Snavely’s ford and realigns the regiments as it prepares to move up a ravine toward Sharpsburg.

David L. Thompson of Company G, 9th New York, described the crossing at Snavely’s Ford after the war:

Then we were ordered over at a ford which had been found below the bridge, where the water was waist-deep. One man was shot in mid-stream. At the foot of the slope on the opposite side the line was formed and we moved up through the thin woods.[i]

Around 2:00 pm

As the crossing operation draws to a close, Oliver Case and the other soldiers of the 8th Connecticut rejoin Harland’s Brigade for the movement over the rolling hills toward Sharpsburg. Harland’s Brigade is ordered to the far left of Rodman’s Division with the 8th on the right of the brigade.

While in this position the Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers rejoined the brigade, and I moved still more to the right, in the direction of the bridge, and halted in the woods, just under the brow of the hill. From this point I was conducted by an aide of General Rodman, and placed in position in the rear of the First Brigade. [Harland]

Around 3:00 pm

After the IX Corps units that crossed Rohrbach Bridge are resupplied, all the units begin to climb the ridge leading to the Harper’s Ferry Road and Sharpsburg. The terrain is actual a series of rolling hills and swales terminating near the Harper’s Ferry Road which leads into the town of Sharpsburg. The terrain makes it difficult for the Union commanders to determine the strength and disposition of the Confederate forces to their front. Around this time, the 8th CVI executes a countermarch. The reason for this countermarch may have been to properly position the regiment in the brigade line of march as they began to climb the ridge.

As we ascended the precipitous ridge which skirts the Antietam on the south I saw and saluted Lieutenant WAIT. As the company to which he belonged was next to the one on the extreme left and my own next to the one on the extreme right flank we seldom saw each other on the march. But as the regiment was here countermarched we passed each other. This took place less than an hour before he was killed. [Eaton]

Around 4:00 pm

General Rodman orders his division to advance toward Sharpsburg and the Confederate defenders.  On the right, Fairchild’s Brigade begins to advance. Harland orders his brigade to advance, but only the 8th moves forward. The 16th CVI and the 4th Rhode Island do not advance. This soon puts the 8th far in front of the brigade and leaves them unsupported by any other units.

4:05 pm

Harland notices that the 16th and 4th are not moving as instructed. He requests guidance from Rodman as to halting the 8th so that the other regiments might come on line. Rodman, likely realizing that the Confederates are being reinforced,  instructs him to let the 8th advance. Rodman assumes the mission of hurrying the other two regiments.

When the order was given by General Rodman to advance, the Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, which was on the right of the line, started promptly. The Sixteenth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers and the Fourth Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers, both of which regiments were in a cornfield, apparently did not hear my order. I therefore sent an aide-de-camp to order them forward. This delay on the left placed the Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers considerably in the advance of’ the rest of the brigade. I asked General Rodman if I should halt the Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers and wait for the rest of the brigade to come up. He ordered me to advance the Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, and he would hurry up the Sixteenth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers and the Fourth Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers I advanced with the Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers and commenced firing. [Harland]

4:10 pm

As the Colonel Harland continues to move forward with the 8th, he notices what Rodman may have observed only moments before, that the Confederates are being heavily reinforced and are now appearing on the left flank of his brigade. General Rodman is attempting to turn the 16th CVI to face left and exposed the flank to the Confederates.

Thus our slender line was exposed to a murderous fire on the front and on the flank. [Eaton]

It is believed that about this time, Lt. Wait is severely wounded as he is closing the ranks and encouraging the soldiers to move forward.

Captain Hoyt of Co A said in a letter to the parents of the deceased Lieutenant MARVIN WAIT fell at his post while urging on his men into that terrible storm of shot and shell. He was a brave noble hearted man and highly esteemed by all who knew him. The unflinching hero was first wounded in the right arm which was shattered. He then dropped his sword to his left hand he was afterwards wounded in the left arm in the leg and in the abdomen. He was then assisted to leave the line by private King who soon met Mr Morris the brave indefatigable Chaplain of the Eighth Regiment. [Eaton]

4:15 pm

About this time, Rodman likely realizes his mistake in not stopping the 8th because Harland’s Brigade is now extended forward with a heavily exposed right flank. Rodman is unable to affect any changes to the disposition of troops because he is shot in the chest as he is attempting to turn the 16th toward the Confederates on their flank. Men from the 8th bear his body to the rear. He will linger for several days before succumbing to his wounds.

At almost the same time as Rodman’s mortal injury, Colonel Harland turns his horse to alert the 16th of the danger, but his horse is shot from under him. Uninjured, Harland continues toward the green regiment on foot.

The Sixteenth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers and the Fourth Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers not coming up, I turned to see if they were advancing, and saw some infantry belonging to the enemy advancing upon our left flank. Knowing that if they were not checked it would be impossible to hold this part of the field, without waiting for orders, I put the Spurs to my horse to hasten the arrival of the Sixteenth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers. My horse was almost immediately shot under me, which delayed my arrival. I found that the Sixteenth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers had changed their front, by order of General Rodman. The line was formed facing to the left, and was nearly a prolongation of the enemy’s lines, except that they faced in opposite directions. I immediately ordered Colonel Beach to change his front, so as to attack the enemy on the right flank. This change was effected, though with some difficulty, owing to the fact that the regiment had been in service but three weeks, and the impossibility of seeing but a small portion of the line at once. [Harland]

4:18 pm

Although Harland continues toward the 16th on foot, he is unable to turn the “green” units owing to the uncertainty of battle and their location being in the middle of a cornfield. The new troops, with only three weeks of service, are confused by the order and panic soon strikes in the ranks. The soldiers of the 16th, followed by the 4th R.I., break and run from the field.

4:20 pm

The 8th CVI continues moving forward and to the right toward the crest of the hill near the Harper’s Ferry Road held by Confederate infantry under Toombs. Toombs has moved McIntosh’s Battery to meet the advancing Union regiments. CPT McIntosh orders his men to fire canister directly into the advancing Connecticut troops now only 50 to 75 yards to his front.

4:25 pm

In spite of the hail of fire from the Confederate guns, one company detached from the main body of the 8th advances directly at the battery. The 8th continues to sustain heavy causalities from both the Georgians to their front and arriving North Carolina regiments on their left flank. Captain Marsh, commander of Company F and previous lieutenant of Company A describes his former company as “suffering terribly but not a man faltered a steady and continual fire was returned against 6 times or more of our numbers…” [Marsh]

4:30 pm

Captain Upham and soldiers of Company K, 8th CVI are detached from the main body and sent to suppress the withering fire from McIntosh’s Battery of three guns.

[McIntosh’s Battery was] ordered by A.P. Hill to report to Kemper on the left of a cornfield and support the right of Jones’ Division. The guns were limbered up and went at a gallop directly across the fields and came into the Harper’s Ferry road at the northwest corner of what is known in the Confederate reports as the “narrow cornfield” and then moved up the road a few yards, in the direction of Sharpsburg, to a gate in the plank fence, where it waited in the road for Brown’s Battery, leaving the field, to come out.

In coming into position McIntosh came under fire of the Union Artillery posted on the high ground from which Rodman had charged, to which he responded with vigor and while so engaged, himself working one of his guns, for the battery was short-handed, he saw the colors of the 8th Connecticut and occasionally the heads of the men as they approached under the hill, moving diagonally across his front from right to left, and opened fire upon them. McIntosh says the advancing columns “halted and lay down for some minutes when they began their advance again” and gradually came into view and as they approached to within 60 yards of his guns, as all his horses, but two, had been shot, he ordered the men to save themselves and abandoned the guns. [Carman]

CPT McIntosh was actually seeing only Company K’s men moving toward his position and he orders the men to abandon the guns just as the soldiers of the 8th approach the battery. The soldiers of Company K capture McIntosh’s Battery, but only momentarily for the fresh North Carolina regiments continue to increase in numbers and volume of fire on Upham’s left. CPT Upham recounts the incident:

“They came up company or division front and deployed on reaching the fence at the edge of the field, each division opening fire as soon as it came into line. We fell back to our regiment which changed front and engaged them.”

CPT Upham and his troops lose the guns, but rejoin the main body of the regiment to continue the fight. The regimental commander has changed the direction of his movement to meet the fire from the front and the left flank.

4:35 pm

Fairchild’s Brigade fighting to the right of the 8th is ordered to retire from the field. The 8th continues to fight, but is being flanked by the 7th and 37th North Carolina regiments of Hill’s Division pouring in a withering fire from the left. The regimental commander, Lieutenant Colonel Appelman instructs his color guard to “never leave the colors.” In quick succession, all the members of the 8th CVI’s Color Guard are killed in the fighting.

One of the color-guard falls; two; three; four; the last, and the standard goes to the ground with him. Private Charles H. Walker (of Norwich) springs forward, and seizes it amid the storm of death; strikes the staff firmly in the ground; and shakes out the flag defiantly towards the advancing foe. [Croffut and Morris]

Shortly thereafter, Colonel Appelman is seriously wounded and carried from the field. Major Ward assumes command of the 8th as it continues to receive concentrated fire from the left flank. General Toombs has reformed the remnants of his brigade plus other stragglers moving through the area to retake McIntosh’s Battery and shape a new defensive line in front of the 8th. The fire builds from the front as these troops reform.

It is at this point in the battle Private Oliver Cromwell Case of Company A, 8th CVI is killed by a bullet that strikes him in the head just above his ear line. Based on his brother’s description of the wound, the bullet came from the North Carolina troops on the regiment’s left flank.

Case falls near his friends and fellow soldiers of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment where he has served for one year plus one day.

4:40 pm

Realizing that his isolated regiment is about to be flanked by the fresh Confederate troops of Hill’s division, Major Ward orders the 8th to retreat to a safer position. The men are stubbornly defending the territory they’ve paid for in blood and it takes the new commander three attempts to get the soldiers to abandon the fight. It is only when Major Ward appeals to them to rally around their colors that the soldiers relent. Although some Confederate accounts seem to disagree, the majority of the witnesses from both sides testify that the regiment retired in good order following their colors.

 

Major John Ward convinced the soldiers of the 8th CVI to retire by following the colors

 

5:00 pm

The 8th finds shelter and rest in the swale near the Otto House. Rest is relative and may be short lived because the Union commanders fully anticipate a Confederate counterattack at any moment. However, Confederate soldiers all along the lines are used up and there are no significant reserves, so the counterattack will never come. Although General McClellan is holding an entire corps of fresh troops in reserve located near his headquarters at the Pry house, the units on the Union left are totally exhausted from the day’s fighting and a relative calm falls across the battlefield as the daylight fades away.

 

“Burnside Holding the Hill” from Harper’s Weekly, October 4, 1862

 

6:00 pm

As darkness falls, Colonel Harland is able to gather the remnants of his brigade and prepare a hasty defense along the road west of the Rohrbach Bridge. It will be a long, sad night for these soldiers. The historian of the 16th CVI describes the scene:

Of all gloomy nights, this was the saddest we ever experienced. All was quiet and silent as the grave. The stacks of straw which the rebels had fired burned slow and dimly. The cries and groans of the wounded that lay on the battle-field could be heard distinctly, and the occasional report of artillery sounded solemn and death-like. [Blakeslee]

 


[i] “With Burnside at Antietam,” David L. Thompson, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War: Volume I, edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel, The Century Co., New York, 1887-1888.

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