|[Article excerpted from Confederate States Rangers by Michael Dan Jones]|
|Confederate dead along the Hagerstown Pike fence at the Battle of Sharpsburg.|
The Bloodiest Day, September 17, 1862
The fatigued men of the Confederate States Rangers got little rest the night before the battle. Sporadic skirmishing throughout the night made sleep very difficult. The two advance brigades of General J.R. Jones’ division were those of his own brigade, under Colonel Bradley Johnson and the Stonewall Brigade under Colonel A.J. Grigsby—both on the west side of the fence. Behind them were Captain J.B. Brockenbrough’s Baltimore battery and in support of the artillery were Starke’s and Taliaferro’s brigades. On the east side of the fence in the field was Lawton’s (Ewell’s) division. To the south of Stonewall Jackson’s position were Longstreet’s divisions. About 12,000 Federals were massed for the assault on Jackson’s line on the Confederate left. Hooker’s corps was massed to the north of the North woods. Their immediate target was the Dunker Church on the west side of the Hagerstown Pike, just south of where Starke’s brigade was located in the West Woods.
The battle started shortly before 6 o’clock with a massive artillery barrage cutting across the Confederate positions. The Confederate artillery returned fire but was heavily outgunned. The advance brigades of Jones’ and Lawton’s divisions absorbed the first blows and returned fire until overwhelmed. General Jones was stunned by an overhead artillery burst and had to be removed from the field. General Starke assumed the command of the division, and with his sword and battle flag in hand, rallied the retreating Confederates. But Starke was soon pierced by three bullets through the body and fell from his horse, dead. Colonel Grigsby then took command of the division. The 1st Louisiana Brigade, under Brigadier General Harry T. Hayes, was part of Lawton’s division and took part in the fighting in the Miller Cornfield east of the pike. The brigade had only 550 men going into the battle and suffered heavy losses, 323, before it was relieved by Hood’s Texas Brigade.
As the battle rolled back to where Starke’s brigade was located, Colonel Stafford, who assumed command of the brigade when Starke was called upon to replace the wounded General Jones, received orders at 7 o’clock to move out of the woods in a counterattack on the advancing Federals. As soon as they emerged from the woods, they found themselves practically “face-to-face” with the enemy in close musket range. They charged through the murderous shower of bullets coming their way but found it all but impossible to get any further than the sturdy rail fence along the Hagerstown Pike. They were battling mainly, again, with Gibbon’s “Iron Brigade” of Abner Doubleday’s division. These were the same Mid-Westerners with whom they fought at Brawner’s Farm at the Second Battle of Manassas. The Iron Brigade was reinforced in the firefight by the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters, 14th Brooklyn and Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery. The men of both sides loaded and fired at a blistering rate.
Colonel Edmund Pendleton of the 15th Louisiana, said in his report on the battle, “The men, being formed along this fence, kept up an accurate and well-sustained fire, which visibly told upon the enemy’s ranks; and, although we suffered greatly, as well from musketry in front as from a battery on our left, which enfiladed us with grape and canister, still, not a man was seen to flinch from the conflict. By some mistake or misapprehension, the troops which were intended, as I have since been informed, to support us on the left, failed to get in position as early as was expected, and, our left being unprotected, we were outflanked, when the order to retire was given and obeyed, the men withdrawing in tolerable order, and fighting as they fell back.” Stafford reformed the men in the woods. Determined to counterattack the enemy, Stafford gave the order to charge and the Louisianians, determined to “win or die,” then hurled themselves against the exulting Yankees and drove them from the field. “The enemy being thus completely repulsed on his right, did not again offer to renew the combat on that portion of his lines during the day,” Pendleton said.
Captain Monier, writing of the latter action, noted in his journal that at 10:30 o’clock that morning the brigade was marched by the left flank to support Stuart’s cavalry. They fell into the right of Stuart where the enemy was massing and held firm, then drove the blue tide back. The brigade settled in while the battle moved on south of them. Later in the day, however, Starke’s brigade was called upon to support a Confederate battery and at that time Stafford received a wound to the foot and had to withdraw. Pendleton then stepped up to command the brigade. Also wounded was Colonel J.M Williams of the 2nd Louisiana regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Nolan of the 1st Louisiana and Pendleton received a minor wound to the ankle. Lieutenant Colonel Gaston Coppens of the 1st Louisiana Zouave Battalion was killed in action. Captain Henry Monier of the 10th Louisiana was the only regimental commander who came through the battle unscathed.
Among the severely wounded enlisted men left at the rail fence on the Hagerstown Pike was Private Armelin Linscomb, spelled Lincicome in his military records, of Company K, Confederate States Rangers. He was disabled and probably knocked out and left for dead. In fact, Lieutenant Seton, in a letter written after the battle, listed Linscomb among the dead. His plight was similar to many of the Confederate prisoners. He had been disabled by a gunshot wound to the neck. Since he was unable to read and write and probably had a thick Louisiana French accent, his Yankee
captors were unable to correctly spell his name. The 20-year-old farm boy was from Vermilion Parish, deep in South Louisiana’s Cajun country. Up until the time of his wounding, he was always present for duty in the ranks and was there for every battle up to Sharpsburg. He was first brought to the U.S.A. General Hospital in Frederick, Maryland where his medical complaint was listed as “Vulnus Sclopeticum” which was an archaic Latin medical term for gunshot wound. He was quickly paroled, but because of his medical condition was transferred to the hospital at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. He was then sent to Fort Monroe to the hospital there and on November 12, 1862, was transferred to City Point for exchange. Linscomb never rejoined his unit and the last record in his file was made March 22, 1865 at Petersburg, Virginia. It just noted he was absent due to a gunshot wound to the neck. The records are silent on where he was, but most likely he spent the rest of his time in army in hospitals. He did survive the war and eventually recovered from his wound
Another member of the Confederate States Rangers, Private Asa Ryan, was also severely wounded in the battle. He was crouching down at the fence on the Hagerstown Pike when he saw men on either side of him shot down. Then a bullet slammed into his left leg above the knee. Ryan went down also and was left behind when the Federals overran his position. A rugged 26-years-old carpenter from Lake Charles, Louisiana, Ryan, like Linscomb, was present for every battle up to Sharpsburg. His leg was amputated and he was sent to the prisoner of war camp at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Ryan wasn’t a prisoner for long. He was paroled and exchanged at Aiken’s Landing, Virginia. Ryan was the older brother of Joseph Lawrence Ryan who was wounded at Second Manassas.
Other casualties in Company K at Sharpsburg included corporals Joseph Auge Jr., James McKinney, and Private Justice Jackson, all killed in action; and also wounded privates Easton Hoffpauir, Dupre Marcantel, in the heel and disabled, and Raphael Foreman.
General Hood had been alerted by Lawton that he would be needing assistance as soon as possible. Hood’s division was part of Longstreet’s corps. As he had done many times, Hood called upon his old command, the Texas Brigade made up of the 1st, 4th and 5th Texas, along with the 18th Georgia and the South Carolina infantry companies of Hampton’s Legion, to lead the counterattack. They were followed by Brigadier General Evander Law’s brigade. Hood’s men had been cooking breakfast when they were notified to fall in. They did so but were as mad as hornets. Hood said the battle had been raging with great fury and he noted, “It was here that I witnessed the most terrible clash of arms, by far, that has occurred during the war.” At about 7 o’clock, the Texas Brigade clashed with the Federal Iron Brigade under Gibbon, which had already suffered heavily in its battles with the divisions of J.R. Jones and Lawton. The Federals were taken by surprise by the ferocity of the counterattack and fell back in disorder. Major Rufus Dawes of the 6th Wisconsin said the attackers volley went through his regiment like a “scythe.” They retreated through the Miller Cornfield with the Texans and others on their heels. Hood’s men stretched out from the Cornfield to the East Woods. D.H. Hill’s Confederate division also came up to keep the momentum going.
The Federals then staged their own counterattack with two brigades of Meade’s division. The Texans were caught in a crossfire with the 1st Texasbeing particularly hard hit. They lost 186 men out of 226 which was a casualty rate of 82.3 percent—a record high for the war. But Hooker’s assault was blunted and his corps lost 2,600 men out of 9,000 engaged, and it was only 7:30 o’clock. Joseph Mansfield’s 12th Corps fed in some 7,200 more men into this meat grinder. At 9:20 o’clock, fresh Federal troops were seen approaching from the east headed for the West Woods. These were men from John Sedgwick’s division of the 2nd U.S. Army Corps. Confederates in McLaw’s division countered this move and drove off the Federals within 20 minutes of savage fighting. The bluecoats retreated having suffered 2,200 casualties. It had become evident that the Confederate left couldn’t be moved. Mansfield himself was among those dead on the field of battle. So far Lee had moved his divisions in the battle like a master chess player moving his pieces on a chess board. The battle would now move to the center of the Confederate line at a sunken farm lane.
Holding the Confederate center were 6,000 men under generals George B. Anderson, Robert Rodes and R.H. Anderson. They were attacked by 8,000 men in two divisions from the 2nd U.S. Corps. First came the division of William French which was repulsed with great casualties on both sides. Then the division of Israel Green attacked and, following the death of General G.B. Anderson, the confused Confederates mistakenly abandoned the sunken farm lane, now known as “Bloody Lane.” But astoundingly, McClellan didn’t follow up on this breakthrough. Instead, McClellan sent in his 12,000 man 12th U.S. Army Corps against the Confederate right, which was held by just 500 Georgians under Brigadier General Robert Toombs. Burnside’s focus was a bridge over Antietam Creek which negated a massive frontal assault. Instead, he sent individual brigades against the bridge, which was like a funnel, enabling the well concealed Georgians to repulse attacks for three hours. Then, at 1 o’clock, two regiments, the 51st New York and 51st Pennsylvania managed to get across the bridge and establish a line of battle on the Confederate side. Then, when Toombs saw he had also been outflanked to the right by the Federal division of I.P. Rodman, he retreated from the position leaving it in enemy hands.
Burnside spent the next two hours building up his corps for a grand assault on the Confederate right. When he launched the attack, Toombs had only some 700 men to stop it. All seemed lost for the South because Lee couldn’t weaken the other parts of his line. But just then, A.P. Hill dramatically came up with 3,000 men in a nick of time. They had been on a forced march of 17 miles in seven hours from Harper’s Ferry, where they had been left behind to parole the Federal garrison that had been captured. Lee immediately sent Hill’s men in on Burnside’s left flank, crushing it and sending the Federals back over Antietam Creek. The day and the battle had been saved. The men of both sides settled in but Lee readjusted his line that night to a stronger position and waited for another attack the next day, September 18, but it never came. McClellan was waiting for more reinforcements. Lee, seeing it would be fatal for the Army of Northern Virginia to remain in that position, retreated across the Potomac that night. While the Federals held the battlefield and claimed a victory, it was a tactical
draw at a massive cost in human lives.
The Confederates lost 1,546 killed, 7,752 wounded and 1,018 missing for a total of 10,316 casualties. The Federals suffered 2,108 killed, 9,549 wounded and 753 missing for a total of 12,410 casualties. The overall total was 22,726 – the bloodiest day in American history. Starke’s (Stafford’s) brigade losses were—less Coppen’s battalion which never gave a report—81 killed, 189 wounded and 17 missing for a total of 287. The 10th Louisiana lost 24 killed, 34 wounded 19 missing for a total of 77. This figure is a revision from the Official Records, based on examination of individual service records for the 10th Louisiana. The other regiments in the brigade lost 71 total in the 1st Louisiana, 62 in the 2nd Louisiana, 82 in the 9th Louisiana and 15 in the 15th Louisiana. A few days after the battle, renowned photographer Mathew Brady sent Alexander Gardner to take pictures of the battlefield and the dead that still were unburied. The picture of the dead Confederates along the Hagerstown Pike were, in one of Gardner’s photographs, specifically identified as being Louisiana troops. Since that is where Starke’s brigade fought and most of the killed and wounded occurred, it is believed most of the bodies in the picture must be from that brigade. In addition, in his book Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America’s Bloodiest Day, William A. Frassanito, notes that while it is impossible to know which specific Louisiana regiments to which those dead belong, he specifically mentions many of the dead of the 10th Louisiana being among the possibilities, , , ,