IX Corps Attacks, Burnside Bridge and Beyond

September 17, 1862

View of Toomb's Georgians

On the southern end of the battlefield, General Burnside was ordered to attack the Confederates to his front.  Burnside, the commander of the IX Corps, previously in the campaign had commanded a wing composed of two corps.  At the battle of Antietam, Jacob Cox would technically be in command of IX Corps under the close guidance of Burnside. It would take three attacks and several hours to capture the stone bridge over Antietam Creek

1)  At 10am, the 11th Connecticut and Crook's brigade attacked the bridge, bungling the effort.  Approaching from behind the ridge east of the creek, Crook ended up 300 yards north of the bridge.
2) At 11am, Nagle's brigade joins the effort but is also pinned down.
3)  Two regiments of Ferrero's brigade captured the bridge at 1pm.

For the third attempt, Col. Ferrero choose the 51st Pa. and the 51st NY to storm the bridge, about 650 men.  First, artillery was rolled down near the creek to blast Confederate defenders with canister shot.  The two Union regiments charged down to the stone wall and opened fire. Georgians under Gen. Toombs defended the hilltop above the bridge and poured fire into the advancing Yankees.  Eventually, men of the two regiments charged across the bridge.  While their bravery was an essential element in capturing the bridge, other factors were also involved. 

Rodman's division had been sent downstream and crossed at Snavely Ford after enduring sniper fire.  Rodman now threatened to flank Toombs' men.  (The ford had been protected by Walker's division earlier in the battle, but Walker had been sent north for the West Woods counter-attack.)  In danger of being flanked and low on ammunition, the Georgians overlooking the bridge fell back.  They had inflicted 500 Union casualties and held up the Union advance for hours.  It was now 1 P.M..  Burnside's corps would now cross Antietam Creek and be McClellan's main effort.    


360 Degree View From Union Side of Creek

Union troops emerged from the ridge on the left of the panorama to attack the bridge.  Formerly Rohrbach Bridge, it would now be known as Burnside Bridge.  Rodman's Division had been sent downstream, toward the left of the panorama, to cross at Snavely Ford.

Union troops crossed coming in the direction of the camera.

From Confederate Side of Bridge

Once across the bridge, the road makes a sharp right turn.  Although the creek could be waded across in a number of places, capture of the bridge was necessary to bring across artillery and other horse drawn necessities.  This would take time.

William McKinley Monument

On the bluffs above the creek is one of the more unusual Civil War monuments - this one to future President William McKinley, then a 19 year old commisary sergeant with the 23rd Ohio, who brought coffee and food to the troops.  This wasn't part of his duties, but being new to the job, he didn't know it.  The men cheered him.

Burnside's Reserve Area

The NPS 'Final Attack Trail' gives access to a good deal of the area where Burnside's 8,000 man corps deployed into a line about a mile long then attacked.  In addition to trail sites, we will see views from other places, especially along the roads.  From the ridge at Trail Tour Stop 2 you can see the Antietam Creek valley where the fighting to capture Burnside Bridge had taken place.  This is the center and right side of the panorama, and the bridge is about 300 yards away.  The ridge here is roughly the center of Burnside's line in the rear where the reserve was.  With Antietam Creek to his back, as the battle developed Burnside did not commit his reserve knowing that a repulse could lead to disaster if the Confederates pushed him into the creek.  What he perhaps didn't realize was the extent that he outnumbered the Confederates.  All that kept Burnside from taking Sharpsburg and destroying Lee's army was the division of D.R. Jones, which he outnumbered by more than five to one.  All remaining Confederate troops were committed, and the only hope for reinforcement was A.P. Hill's division approaching from Harper's Ferry.       


View From Below the National Cemetery  

     It took until 3 P.M. for Burnside's corps to deploy across Antietam Creek.  

     Burnside deployed Willcox's division on his right - straddling the valley visible here with the Otto and Sherrick houses.  Christ's brigade of Willcox's division reached here and threatened Confederate artillery on the hill on the right of the panorama, an area which is now the national cemetery.  The Yankees met skirmishers as they advanced, and clashed with a South Carolina brigade on this hill.  In advance of the rest of the corps, and taking artillery fire from near modern Branch Ave, Christ halted until he got support on his left flank.  The Rebels were forced back some, but the Yankees were low on ammunition and halted.  Part of the Union artillery, cavalry, and V Corps had crossed Antietam Creek on the Boonsboro Pike.  They could have made a decisive contribution to the battle, ending up in the area on the far right of the panorama, but they were not committed by the cautious McClellan.

     Rodman's division was on Burnside's left, and Sturgis' division was in reserve.  They advanced in a line roughly parallel to the monuments visible here just below Branch Avenue.  These Federals were on course to capture the Harpers Ferry Road and push Lee back into the Potomac.  Their "high water mark" is the Hawkins Zouaves monument. 

    Next, we will go back to walking the 'Final Attack Trail'.


Otto Lane

    On the left side of this nearly 360 degree panorama, you can see a fence line roughly marking the Union line of artillery.  Infantry of Ewing were behind the guns with Ferrero and Nagle further back.  Here, off to the north and just in advance of the guns is a lane leading down toward the Otto house.  Advancing Union troops used the lane for cover as they advanced.  Fairchild's brigade continued on toward the main Confederate line along the Harpers Ferry Road, reaching as far as the Zouave Monument.  Behind them was Crook's brigade, with the 28th and 36th Ohio reaching the modern Branch Ave - the 28th a little further.  The 11th Ohio of Crook's brigade reached the Otto Lane, thusly the monument.

    Next, we will continue to Branch Ave.   

Kemper and Drayton Pushed Back

     Much of the Union IX Corps deployed 450 yards to east of here on the ridge beyond the 11th Ohio monument.  During the attack, Fairchild's Brigade crossed the stone fence here and continued toward the Harpers Ferry Road.  The defending brigades of Kemper and Drayton along with some artillery were on high ground 350 yards away on far right of panorama, near the Zouave monument, just off the panorama on the right.

     Crook's Brigade was behind Fairchild.  While the 11th Ohio reached the Otto Lane, the brigade's other two regiments reached this vicinity. 




 Trail to Zouave Monument

    Attacking along the axis of this paved trail toward the Harpers Ferry Road, the Union troops of Fairchild's brigade approached the Confederates defending a fence near the monument.  The Rebels waited until the Yankees were within 60 yards to open a devastating fire.  After a firefight, the Federals stormed the fence and the Confederates of Kemper's and Drayton's brigades fled to the Harpers Ferry Road, Lee's vulnerable line of retreat.  The monument to the Hawkins Zouaves, the 9th NY Regiment, marks the furtherest advance of Burnside's corps.  Although the battle was all but won, the exhausted Federals did not pursue.  Fairchild had lost 48% of his men.  On the right of the panorama, McIntosh's battery, an early arrival of AP Hill's division, was attacked by the 8th Connecticut, which forced the Confederates from their guns.  

    The situation was desperate for Lee, but soon the infantry of A.P. Hill's division was arriving just beyond where you can see the Harpers Ferry Road disappear in the right-center of the panorama.  Hill would save the day.  With the attack of Powell Hill, Hawkins was ordered to withdraw, and the brigades of Kemper and Drayton returned to their position here on the heights.


Miller's Sawmill Road

    At Harper's Ferry, A.P. Hill had left a small detachment to handle the paroled Yankees and the surrendered equipment and marched his division to join Lee.  The Potomac River is visible on the left half of the panorama.  Approaching from across the river on the left of the panorama, Hill's men passed upstream of here to cross at Boteler's Ford.  Marching along the road toward the camera, the Confederates turned left up Miller's Sawmill Road then marched uphill along a creek to arrive on the battlefield just in the nick of time.  Having marched 17 miles in seven hours, only around 3,000 men - or half the division - was available for battle.  Despite their small numbers, they would prove decisive.


A.P. Hill Counterattacks

     This is the view from the right flank of the Confederate army.  The Harpers Ferry Road on the far left was defended there by Toomb's brigade.  The guns here were early arrivals of Hill's division.  Pegram's battery is represented by the guns visible here.  McIntosh's battery was up the Harpers Ferry Road on the left of the panorama.  Kemper's and Drayton's brigades had made their stand against the attacking Yankees near the Hawkins Zouaves Monument.  Burnside's corps had originally deployed on the wooded ridge beyond the north/south portion of the Park Service's Branch Road and were now advancing toward the Harpers Ferry Road. 

     Harland's brigade on the extreme Union left flank was disorganized and wasn't keeping up with the rest of the IX Corps.  Most of the brigade was in the 40 Acre Cornfield, located just beyond the North / South section of Branch Ave.  The only regiment to advance, the 8th Connecticut, accompanied by brigade commander Harland and division commander Rodman, pushed back Toombs' brigade to the Harpers Ferry Road, getting to with 60 yards of Pegram's guns firing double canister, forcing the artillerymen to abandon the guns.  Division commander Rodman had been mortally wounded, though, and Harland had a horse shot from under him, so the Union effort continued to be disorganized.  The isolated 8th Connecticut was counterattacked in front and flank by Toombs' brigade and AP Hill's infantry arriving from the Miller's Sawmill Road on the right of the panorama and deploying along the Harpers Ferry Road.

    Two of AP Hill's brigades protected the right flank.  Archer's brigade advanced directly into the 40 Acre Cornfield while Gregg's brigade advanced into its southern end.  Both brigades attacked Harland's brigade in flank, shattering it.  The Yankees fled in panic.  Branch's Confederates moved up the hill on the left of the panorama, along the axis of the north-south section of the modern Branch Ave, threatening the Union troops which had captured the stone wall near the Hawkins Zouaves monument.  The whole XI Corps was in danger of being outflanked, and they fell back toward Antietam Creek having lost one fifth of the men.

A.P. Hill Counterattacks Continued

    This is the view from near where Branch Ave turns sharply right to climb up to the Harpers Ferry Road.  Hill's attacking infantry moved from near the modern house on the far right along the axis of the descending portion of Branch Ave and into the Union flank.  (The 40 Acre Cornfield is on the left of the panorama.)

Trail Tour Stop 8

As Burnside Bridge was being contested, two Confederate batteries here provided support.  With Burnside's deployment across the creek, two batteries of Union artillery here dueled Confederate guns, now on the ridge to their front.

Trail Tour Stop 7

Once again, the Union artillery was behind the fence line, with infantry behind the guns.  In front, Fairchild's brigade, with Crook in support, was attacking, reaching the area of the Zouave Monument.  To their left Harland's brigade was advancing, or trying to.  As we have already seen, the 8th Connecticut advanced to near the Harpers Ferry Road.  Lagging far behind them were the 16th Connecticut and the 4th Rhode Island in the 40 Acre Cornfield.  Archer's Tennessee brigade attacked the two regiments in front while Gregg's brigade moved around the flank of the two Union regiments, forcing them to fall back.  The 30th and 23rd Ohio regiments had moved forward to modern Branch Ave to support the two embattled regiments - now they were flanked and forced back.

This made the 8th CT and Fairchild's brigade vulnerable, forcing them back too.  AP Hill's attack had repulsed Burnside and saved the day.  

16th Connecticut

The monument at right is to the 16th Connecticut, which lost over 200 of its 779 men.  At center and left of the panorama, Confederates attacked from modern Branch Ave.

Southern Flank

    The National Park's southern boundary, and the boundary of the 40 Acre Cornfield, is marked by the stone wall on the left side of the panorama.  Gregg's brigade marched from the Harpers Ferry Road to this hill, firing into fleeing Yankees of the 4th RI and 16th CT.  The Confederates continued over the hill and into the Union flank, but feeling that the Union position at the gun line too strong, most of the Confederates halted there.

     Lee's army was saved.  Although XI Corps still far outnumbered its opponents, the Union attack was over.  McClellan had a division of Porter's V Corps and his cavalry, but he did not commit them to battle.  Another 12,000 men arrived that night, but McClellan did not attack the next day. 

     Lee remained on the field the next day and withdrew across the Potomac that night, lucky that his army had survived the fight.  The Union's best chance ever to destroy Lee was lost.  The momentum of Confederate success started in June was now over, however.  Lee lost 13,000 men compared to Federals losses of 12,000 men.  The Confederacy could not afford these unnecessary casualties.  Worse still for the Southern cause, Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation, virtually eliminating any hopes the Confederacy had for European intervention and drastically escalating the Union's wartime objectives.  Without a vigorous after-battle pursuit, Lincoln became increasingly frustrated and replaced the timid McClellan with Burnside.  Although the battle at Antietam Creek was a frustrating tale of lost opportunities for the Union, for good reason many historians consider Antietam to be the turning point of the war. 


Copyright 2011, 2008, 1998 by John Hamill



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