Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.
Powered by Campus Explorer
All Rights Reserved.
Site last updated
26 June, 2013
The Great Republic by the Master Historians|
The Conflict at Antietam
by Bancroft, Hubert H.
|[The war which immediately followed the assault on Fort Summer was so crowded
with events of striking importance and interest that we shall be obliged to pass
in rapid review over certain engagements of vital consequence, and dwell only
upon the special turning-points of the war. The conflict in Virginia was in
particular crowded with sanguinary engagements, constituting a drama of imposing
interest, whose first act may be considered to end with the battle of Antietam,
in September, 1862. The varied scenes prceding the denouement of this act can be
given but in rapid outline. The reduction of Fort Sumter was immediately
followed by a call from President Lincoln for seventy-five thousand volunteers,
who were quickly furnished by the aroused and indignant people of the North. Yet
a lack of boldness and decision on the part of the authorities permitted the
valuable navy-yard at Norolk to fall into the hands of the Confederates, caused
the destruction of the costly arms-making machinery at Harper's Ferry, and left
Washington City in no little danger of capture. The latter peril was averted by
the hasty southward movement of troops, but highly valuable material of war fell
into the hands of the secessionists, through the seizure of Southern forts and
arsenals, some of which had been specially supplied for this purpose by the
secession element of the Buchanan cabinet.
The military situation,and the character of the war that followed, were in some
respects peculiar. There was actually a double war,-- one confined to the State
of Virginia and the country immediately north of it, the other waged for the
possession of the Mississippi and the range of States bordering it on the east.
Besides these two great fields of campaigning, were the operations west of the
Mississippi, of minor importance, and the blockade of the coast, which proved
highly useful in isolating the South form foreign countries.
The two capital cities, Washington and Richmond, were the points between which,
for four years, raged the war in Virginia, these cities being assailed and
defended with a vigor and fury that went far to exhaust the resources of the
warring sections of the country. In the West the line of battle was gradually
pushed southward from the Ohio, through the States of Kentucky and Tennessee,
till the Gulf States were finally reached. On the Mississippi it went southward
more rapidly, while a like movement was pushed northward along that river, until
the two invading armies met, and the great artery of the West became again a
river of the United States,. Only after this achievement did the two fields of
war begin to combine into one, the Western army marching into the Atlantic
States and pushing north to the aid of Grant in that final struggle which was
draining the last life-drops of vitality from the venins of the exhausted
The operations of the armies must therefore be considered separately. In the
East hostilities first broke out definitely in West Virginia. This new State,
which had clung to the Union, became the seat of a struggle in which McClellan
and Rosecrans gained an early triumph. At the battle of Rich Mountain (July 11,
1861), Garnet, the Confederate general, was killed, and his troops routed.
General Patterson had meanwhile taken possession of Harper's Ferry, which was
evacuated by General Johnson, and General Butler, stationed at Fortress Monroe,
had skirmished with the enemy at Big Bethel.
The war fairly began in later July, when General McDowell, with twenty-eight
thousand men, advanced against General Beauregard, who was strongly posted
behind the small stream of Bull Run, south of Washington. In the severe battle
that ensured both armies were under the disadvantage of being composed of
untried and undisciplined men. Victory at first inclined strongly towards
McDowell, but Beauregard, with great skills, maintained his position until
joined by Johnston's army from the Shenandoah Valley. Patterson, who was
expected from the same quarter, failed to appear, and the Federal army,
overwhelmed by these fresh troops, was forced to retreat with a haste that soon
became precipitate. They were not pursued, however.
McClettan was now recalled from West Virginia, and placed in command of the Army
of the Potomac, while Rosecrans was left to confront Geneal Lee, who had been
placed in command of the West Virginia Confederate foresees. No further events
of particular importance occurred in that quarter, while in Eastern Virginia
comparative quiet reigned during the remainder of 1861, McClellan being busily
engaged in drilling and disciplining his army. IN March, 1862, he moved his
whole force to the peninsula between the York and James Rivers, and began an
advance upon Richmond, pursuing General Johnston, who had hastily evacuated
Yorktown and retreated, his rear being struck and defeated at Williamsburg. The
first battle of importance took place on May 31, on which day Johnston suddenly
assailed a portion o the Union army that had crossed the Chickahominy. Nothing
but the hasty pushing forward of reinforecements prevented a serious disaster.
Johnston was wounded in this engagement, and was succeeded by Robert E. Lee, who
on the 1st of June was made commander-in-chief of the Confederate army of
Meanwhile, events of importance were occurring in the Shenandoah Valley, where
Stonewall Jackson made that memorable march which gave him so sudden and
brilliant a reputation. Striking rapidly north, he defeated Banks, and drove
him, with severe loss, beyond the Potomac, and then drew backs so rapidly as to
slip unharmed between the columns of McDowell and Fremont, who were advancing
across the mountains from the east and the west, hoping to catch their alert
antagonist in a trap.
The removal of McDowell to the Valley gave General Lee an opportunity of which
he took instant advantage. McClellan's line of communication with York River had
been left exposed, and the new Confederate commander, calling Jackson to his aid
from the Valley, fell upon the Union army with an impetuosity which it proved
unable to withstand. Thus began that remarkable series of battles which for
seven days kept the cannon of the contending armies in unceasing roar.
An assault was made on Fitz-John Porter's post at Mechanicsville on June 26. He
retired to his workes on Beaver Dam Creeks, where he was assailed on the 27th.
Finding his lines flanked by Jackson's corps, he withdrw to a strong line of
intrenchments at Gaines's Mills. Here he was exposed to a series of impetuous
charges, in which the Confederates, after being several times repulsed,
succeeded in gaining the crest of the ridge and breaking the Union lines. A
retreat followed that was almost a panic, and only the approach of night put a
stop to the salughter which had decimated Porter's broken ranks.
During the next day a general retreat of the Union columns began, McClellan
cutting loose from his base on the York, and moving back towards the James
River. The victorious Confederates followed, and several severe battles occurred
during the following days. The Union rear-guard, with great courage, checked the
pursuit at successive points, and on the 1st of July a pitched battle took place
at Malvern Hill, in which the whole forces of both armies were engaged, and in
which the assault of the Confederates on the Union intrenchments was repulsed
with great loss. It is asserted by many historians that Lee's army was almost in
a panic, and that a Union advance in force at that moment must have routed them,
and probably have placed Richmond in the hands of the Union army. Be that as it
may, McClellan persisted in his plan of retreat. During the night Malvern Hill
was deserted, and by nightfall of the next day the Union army was safely gathered
at Harrison's Landing, under the protection of the gunboats on the James River.
This position was immediately fortified, and Lee made no effort to assail it.
The loss on both sides had been enormous, though that of the Unionists had been
considerably the greater, whie the main object of their campaign, the capture of
Richmond, was completely frustrated.
Meanwhile, the three armies of Fremont, Banks, and McDowell had been massed into
one, and placed under the command of General Pope, who had gained prominence by
successes in the West. The design was to aid McClellan, but Lee's success
rendered new plans necessary, and Pope's army was held between Richmond and
Washington, as a cover to the latter city.
A covering force had become essential, for Lee soon began a series of bold
movements which placed the seat of government in great jeopardy. In August he
advanced towards the Rapidan, a menace which so disconcerted the Federal
authorities that McClellan was hastily recalled from the James, and ordered to
transport his army with all haste to Washington. The confederate force under
Jackson was now sent on a rapid flanking march through Thoroughfare Gap in the
Bull Run Mountains. Jackson reached the rear of Pope's army at Manassas
Junction, at which point an immense quantity of army stores was captured, such
as could not be carried off being dstroyed.
Pope, finding that Jackson was in his rear, and separated from the remainder of
Lee's army, marched rapidly upon him, hoping to destroy him before he could
effect a junction with Longstreet. But this movement seems to have been ill
managed. Thoroughfare gap, Through which along Longstreet could come to
Jackson's aid, was weakly held, and a junction between the two divisions of
Lee's army was suffered to be made almost without opposition. The failure to
overwhelm Jackson was ascribed by Pope to disobedience of orders on the part of
Fitz-John Porter, and this general was subsequently court-martialled and
dismissed the service, his explanation of the circumstances not beign accepted
The engagement with Jackson occurred on August 29. On the succeeding day the
battle was renewed, Pope being now confronted by the whole of Lee's army. The
conflict ended in a disastrous repulse of the Union army, it being driven beyond
Bull Run, with serious loss. On the 31st, Pope fell back to Centreville, a point
more immediately covering Washington. A minor conflict took place on the evening
of that day, near Chantilly, in which Generals Kearney and Stevens were killed.
Pope now resigned his command, having lost during the campaign about thirty
thousand men, thirty guns, twenty thousand small-arms,and vast quantities of
supplies and munitions. Lee's loss numbered about fifteen thousand men.
Up to this point Lee had been remarkably successful. He now entered upon a series
of movements which ended in failure. Recognizing the fact that Washington was
too strongly defended to be taken by an attack in front, he decided upon an
invasion of Maryland, in the hope of bringing that State over to the support of
the Confederacy and of obtaining large accessions to his ranks. Suddenly
breaking camp, he made a hasty march to the Potomac, which he crossed on
September 5 at Point of Rocks. Marching quickly to Frederick, he issued from
that city an appeal to Maryland, calling upon it to throw off the Northern yoke
and join its sisters of the South. The appeal fell flat, and the volunteers he
had hoped for failed to make their apperance in his ranks. His accessions did
not equal the desertions from his army. So far, the enterprise was evidently a
failure. It remained to obtain from it whatever advantagte might be gained.
The gaps of South Mountain were occupied, and Jackson was sent to assail Harper's
Ferry, whose garrison, through an error of judgment, had not been withdrawn.
Taking possession of the heights which surrounded the town, a bombardment was
commenced which forced an almost immediate surrender, the place being
indefensible. On the morning of the 15th there were surrendered eleven thousand
five hundred and eighty-three men, seventy-three guns, thirteen thousand small-
arms, two hundred wagons, and a large store of supplies.
Meanwhile, the Union army bunder McClellan was hurrying after the invading
force. Franklin was sent to the relief of Harper's Ferry, and succeeded in
forcing Crampton's Gap, near that place. But he was too late. The surrender had
taken place, and the Confederates were withdrawn. In the succeeding events he
was destined to receive the first check to his remarkably victorious career.
Boonsborough Gap, norht of Carmpton's was strongly held by the Confederates, and
was assaulted by the army under McClellan on Spetember 14. Longstreet, who had
advanced to Hagerstown, probably with the intention of invading Pennsylvania,
was hastily recalled, and sent to reinforce Hill, who was being severely pushed
at the Gap. After a desperately-contested conflict, the Union army succeeded in
forcing its way through the mountains and reaching the opposite slope.
The defence of this pass had been necessary to Lee. His army was widely
scattered, and the approach of McClellan rendered concentration indispensable.
Jackson was marching in all haste from Harper's Ferry to Sharpsburg, having left
A.P. Hill to receive the surrender of the garrison. The trains from Hagerstown
were hurrying towards the same point. After their repulse at Boonsborough,
Longstreet and D.. Hill fell back, so that by the morning of the 16th the whole
army, with the exception of the force left at Harper's Ferry, was concentrated
at Sharpsburg, behind Antietam Creek, a stream which there flows into the
Potomac. McClellan's army reached the opposite side of the stream on the same
day. Of the events which followed we give an account in the words of Benson J.
Ossing, from his "Civil War in America."]
On the morning of the 16th both armies were actively preparing for battle. The
bulk of the Confederate forces, under Longstreet and D. H. Hill, stood along the
range of heights between Sharpsburg and the Antietam, which flowed between the
belligerents. Longstreet was on the right of the road between Sharpsburg and
Boonsborough, and Hill on the left. Hood's division was posted between Hill and
the Hagerstown road, north of Miller's farm, so as to oppose an expected flank
movement in that direction; and near that point, in the rear, Jackson's
exhausted troops were posted in reserve, his line stretching from the Hagerstown
road towards the Potomac, and protected by Stuart with cavalry and artillery.
Walker was posted on Longstreet's right with two brigades a little south of
Sharpsburg, near Shaveley's farm. General Lee had his quarters in a tent, as
usual, on the hill close by Sharpburg, where the National Cemetery now is, and
from that point he overlooked much of the country that was made a battle-field
the next day.
Along the line of the Confederate army, the Antietam sluggish stream with few
fords was spanned by four stone bridges of like architecture, three of which
were strongly guarded. McClellan made his head-quarters at the fine brick
mansion of Philip Pry, about two miles northeast of Sharpsburg, east of the
Antietam, and on each side of him in front his army was posted. On the right,
near Keedysville, and on both sides of the Sharpsburg pike, stood the corps of
Sumner and Hooker. In advance, on the right of the turnpike and near the
Antietam, General Richardson's division of Sumner's corps was posted. In line
with this, on the left of that road, was Sykes's regular division of Porter's
corps, protecting bridge No. 2. Farther down the stream, on the left, and not
far from No. 3, Burnside's corps was posted. Upon a ridge of the first line of
hills east of Antietam, between the turnpike and Pry's house, and in front of
Sumner and Hooker, batteries of twenty-four-pounder Parrott guns, commanded by
Captains Taft, Langner, and Von Kleizer, and Lieutenant Weaver, were planted. On
the cresto of the hill, above bridge no. 3, were batteries under Captain Weed
and Lieutenant Benjamin. Franklin's corps and Couch's division were farther on
in Pleasant Valley, near Brownsville, and Morrell's division of Porter's corps
was approaching from Boonsborough, and Humphreys's from Frederick. A detatchment
of the Signal Corps, under Major Myer, had a station on Red Ridge, a spur of
South Mountain, which overlooked the entire field of operations, and from that
point it performed very improtant service. Such was the general position of the
contending armies on the 16th of September.
The confederates opened an artillery fire on the Nationals at dawn, but it was
afternoon before McClellan was ready to put his troops in position for attack,
the morning having been spent in reconntering, finding fords, and other
preparations reqired by prudence. There was found to be a lack of ammunition
and rations, and these had to be supplied from tardily-approaching supply-
trains. Finally he was in readiness, and at two o'clock in the afternoon Hooker
was ordered to cross the Antietam at and near bridge No. 1, with the divisions
of Ricketts, Meade, and Doubleday, and attack and turn the Confederate left.
Sumner was directed to throw over the stream during the night General
Mansfield's corps (Twelfth), and to hold his own (Second) ready to cross early
the next morning. Hooker's movement was successful. Advancing through the woods,
he struck Hood, and, after a sharp contest, commenced with Meade's Pennsylvania
Reserves, near the house of D. Miller, and which lasted until dark, the
Confederates were driven back. Hooker's men rested that night on their arms upon
the ground they had won from their foe. Mansfield's corps (divisions of Williams
and Greene) crossed the Antietam during the evening in Hooker's track, and
bivouacked on Poffenberger's farm a mile in his rear
The night of the 16th was passed by both armies with the expectation of a heavy
battle in the morning. Few officers found relief from anxiety, for it was
believed by many that it might be a turning-point in the war. Only the
commander-in-chief of the national army seems to have had a lofty faith that all
would be well. He retired to his room at a little past ten o'clock, and did not
leave it until eight o'clock the next morning, when the surrounding hills had
been echoing the sounds of battle which had been raging within a mile of head-
quarters for three hours. Then, with some of his aaides, he walked to a
beautiful grove on the brow of a declivity near Pry's overlooking the Antietam,
and watched the battle on the right for about two hours, when he mounted his
horse and rode away to Porter's postions, on the right, where he was greeted, as
usual, by the hearty cheers of his admiring soldiers.
The contest was opened at dawn by Hooker, with about eighteen thousnad men. He
made a vigorous attack on the Confederate left, commanded by Jackson. Doubleday
was on his right, Meade on his left, and Ricketts in the center. His first
object was to push the Confederates back through a line of woods, and seize the
Hagerstown road and the woods beyond it in the vicinity of the Dunker church,
where Jackson's line lay. The contest was obstinate and severe. The national
batteries on the east side of the Antietam poured fire on Jackson
that galled him very much, and it was not long before the Confederates were
driven with heavy loss beyond the first line of woods, and across an open field,
which was covered thickly in the morning with standing corn.
Hooker now advanced his centre under Meade to seize the Hagerstown road and the
woods beyond. They were met by fire from Jackson, who had just been
reinforced by Hood's refreshed troops and had brought up his reserves. These
issued in great numbers from the woods,and fell heavily upon Meade in the
cornfield. Hooker called upon Doubleday for aid, and a brigade under the gallant
General Hartsuff was instantly forwarded at the double-quick, and passed across
the corn-field in the face of a terrible storm of shot and shell. It fought
desperately for half an hour unsupported, when its leader fell severely wounded.
In the mean time Mansfield's corps had been ordered up to the support of Hooker,
and while the divisions of Williams and Greene, of that corps, were deploying,
the veteran commander was mortally wounded. The charge of his corps then
developed on General Williams, who left his division to the care of General
Crawford. The latter, with his own and Gordon's brigade, pushed across the open
field and seized a part of the woods on the Hagerstown road. At the same time
Greene's division took position to the left of the Dunker church.
Hooker had lost heavily by battle and straggling, yet he was contending manfully
for victory. Doubleday's guns had silenced a Confederate battery on the extreme
right, and Ricketts was struggling against a foe extreme right, and Ricketts was
struggling against a foe constantly increasing, but was bravely holding his
ground without power to advance. The fight was very severe, and at length the
national line began to waver and give way. Hooker, while in the van, was so
severely wounded in the foot that he was taken from the field at nine o'clock,
and to McClellan's head-quarters at Pry's, leaving his command to Summer, who
had just arrived on the field with his own corps. Up to this time the battle had
been fought much in detail, both lines advancing and falling back as each
Summer at once sent General Sedgwick to the support of Crawford and Gordon, and
Richardson and French bore down upon the foe more to the left, when the
cornfield, already won and lost by both parties, was regained by the Nationals,
who held the ground around the Dunker church. Victory seemed certain for the
latter, for Jackson and Hood had commenced retiring, when fresh troops under
McLaws and Walker came to Jackson's support, seconded by Early on their left.
These pressed desperately forward, penetrated the national line at a gap between
Sumner's right and centre, and the Unionists were driven back to the first line
of woods east of the Hagerstown road, when the victors, heavily smitten by the
national artillery, and menaced by unflinching Doubleday, withdrew to their
original position near the church. Sedgwick, twice wounded, was carried from the
field, when the command of his division developed on General Howard.
Generals Crawford and Dana were also wounded.
It was now about noon, and fighting had been going on since dawn. The wearied
right needed immediate support. It came at a timely moment. Franklin had come up
from below, and McClellan, who remained on the east side of the Antietam, sent
him over to assist the hard-pressed right. He formed on Howard's left, and at
once sent Slocum with his division towards the centre. At the same time General
Smith was ordered to retake the ground over which there had been so much
contention and bloodshed. Within fifteen minutes after the order was given it
was executed. The Confederates were driven from the open field and beyond the
Hagerstown road by gallant charges, accompanied by loud cheers, first by
Franklin's Third Brigade, under Colonel Irwin, and then by Seventh Maine.
Inspired by this success, Franklin desired to push forward and seize a rough
wooded position of importance; but Summer thought the movement would be too
hazardous, and he was restrained.
Meanwhile, the divisions of French and Richardson had been busy. The former,
with the brigades of Weber, Kimball, and Morris (the latter raw troops), pushed
on towards the centre, Weber leading; and, while he was fighting hotly, French
received orders from Summer to press on vigorously and make a diversion in favor
of the right. After a severe contest with the brigades of Hill (Colquitt's,
Ripley's, and McRae's) not engaged with Jackson, the Confederates were pressed
back to a sunken road in much disorder. In the mean time, the division of
Richardson, composed of the brigades of Meagher, Caldwell, and Brooks, which
crossed the Antietam between nine and ten o'clock, moved forward to the attack
on French's left. Right gallantly did Meagher fight his way up to the crest of a
hill overlooking the Confederates at the sunken road, suffering dreadfully from
a tempest of bullets; and when his ammunition was almost exhausted, Caldwell,
aided by a part of Brooks's brigade, as gallantly came to his support and
Hill was now reinforced by about four thousand men, under R. H. Anderson, and
the struggle was fierce for a while, the Confederates trying to seize a ridge on
the national left for the purpose of turning that flank. This was frustrated by
a quick and skilful movement by Colonel Cross with his "Fighting Fifth" New
Hampshire. He and the Confederates had a race for the ridge along parallel
lines, fighting as they ran. Cross won it, and, being reinforced by the Eighty-
First Pennsylvania, the Confederates were driven back with a heavy loss in men,
and the colors of the Fourth North Carolina. An effort to flank the right at the
same time was checked by French, Brooks, and a part of Caldwell's force, and a
charge of the Confederates directly on Richardson's front was quickly repulsed.
The national line was steadily advanced until the foe was pushed back to Dr.
Piper's house, near the Sharpsburg road, which formed a sort of citadel for
them, and there they made an obstinate stand. Richardson's artillery was now
brought up, and while that brave leader was directing the fire of Captain
Graham's battery, he was felled by a ball that proved fatal. General W. S.
Hancock succeeded him in command, when a charge was made that drove the
Confederates from Piper's in the utmost confusion, and only the skilful show of
strength by a few of his fresh troops prevented a fatal severance of Lee's line.
The Nationals were deceived, and deceived, and did not profit by the advantage
gained. Night soon closed the action on the right and centre, the Unionists
holding the ground they had acquired. In the struggle near the centre, the
gallant General Meagher was wounded and carried from the field, and his command
developed on Colonel Burke, of the New York Sixty-Third.
During the severe conflicts of the day, until late in the afternoon, Porter's
corps, with artillery, and Pleasonton's cavalry, had remained on the east side
of the Antietam as a reserve, and in holding the road from Sharpsburg to
Middletown and Boonsborough. Then McClellan sent two brigades to support the
wearied right, and six battalions of Sykes's regulars were thrown across bridge
No. 2, on the Sharpsburg road, to drive away the Confederate sharp-shooters, who
were seriously interfering with Pleasonton's horse-batteries there. Warren's
brigade was sent more to the left, on the right and rear of Burnside, who held
the extreme left of the national line. This brings us to a notice of the
operations of the day under the directions of Burnside.
The left was resting on the slopes opposite bridge No. 3, at Rohrback's farm, a
little below Sharpsburg, which was held on the morning of the 17th by the
brigade of Toombs (Second and Twentieth Georgia), supported by sharpshooters and
batteries on Longstreet's right wing, commanded by D. R. Jones. Burnside was
directed, at eight o'clock in the morning, to cross that bridge, attack the foe,
carry the heights on the opposite bank of the Antietam, and advance along their
crest upon Sharpsburg. It was a task of the greatest difficulty, for the
approaches to the bridge were in the nature of a defile, exposed to a raking
fire from the Confederate batteries and an enfilading one from their sharp-
shooters. In several attempts to cross the bridge Burnside was repulsed.
Finally, at about one o'clock in the afternoon, the Fifty-First New York and
Fifty-First Pennsylvania charged across and drove the defenders to the heights.
Gathering strength at the bridge by the crossing of the divisions of Sturgis,
Wilcox, and Rodman, and Scammon's brigade, with the batteries of Durell, Clark,
Cook, and Simmons, Burnside charged up the hill, and drove the Confederates
almost to Sharpsburg, the Ninth New York capturing one of their batteries. Just
then A. P. Hill's division, which had been hastening up from Harper's Ferry,
came upon the ground, and under a heavy fire of artillery charged upon
Burnside's extreme left, and after severe fighting, in which General Rodman was
mortally wounded, drove him back almost to the bridge. In that charge General
Branch, of North Carolina, was killed. The pursuit was checked by the
national artillery on the eastern side of the stream, under whose fire the
reserves led by Sturgis advanced, and the Confederates did not attempt to retake
the bridge. Darkness closed the conflict here, as it did all along the line.
Hill came up just in time, apparently, to save Lee's army from capture or
destruction. Experts say that if Burnside had accomplished the passage of the
bridge and the advance movement an hour earlier, or had Porter been sent a few
hours sooner to the support of the hard-struggling right, that result would
doubtless have ensued. It is easy to conjecture what might have been. We have to
do only with what occurred. Looking upon the event from that stand-point, we see
darkness ending one of the most memorable days of the war because of its great
and apparently useless carnage, for the result was only hurtful in the extreme
to both parties. With the gloom of that night also ended the conflict known as
the Battle of Antietam, in which McClellan said (erroneously as to the number of
troops) "nearly two hundred thousand men and five hundred pieces of artillery
were for fourteen hours engaged. Our soldiers slept that night," he said,
"conquerors on a field won by their valor and covered by the dead and wounded of
When the morning of the 18th dawned, both parties seemed willing not to renew
the strife. Lee was really in a sad plight, for he could not easily call to his
aid any re-inforcements; his supplies were nearly exhausted, and his army was
terribly shattered and disorganized. A careful estimate has made his losses at
that time, since he commenced the invasion of Maryland, a fortnight before,
nearly thirty thousand men. McClellan's army was also greatly shattered; but on
the morning after the battle he was joined by fourteen thousand fresh troops
under Couch and Humphreys. It is certain now that with these, and the effective
remains of his army, he might easily have captured or ruined Lee's army that
day. But there were grave considerations to be heeded. McClellan afterwards
said, "Virginia was lost, Washington menaced, Maryland invaded: the national
cause could afford no risk of defeat." He therefore hesitated, and finally, in
opposition to the advice of Franklin and others, he deferred a renewal of the
battle until the next morning. When that morning dawned, and he sent his cavalry
to reconnoitre, the national army had no foe to fight, for Lee, with his
shattered legions, had recrossed the Potomac under cover of darkness, and was on
the soil of his native Virginia, with eight batteries under Pendleton on the
river-bluffs, menacing pursuers.
[On the 20th a portion of the Union army crossed the river in pursuit, and was
repulsed with heavy loss. Lee retreated down the Shenanaoah Valley, while
McClellan, after considerable delay in reorganizing and refitting his forces,
marched his army to Warrenton. His slowness gave such dissatisfaction to the
authorities at Washington that on November 7 he was relieved from duty, and
replaced by General Burnside in command of the Army of the Potomac.]
Benson J. Lossing