Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Howard's Left (Part 2)

Over the summer I posted a note regarding the location of the left of Howard's Philadelphia Brigade in the West Woods. All accounts show that the 72nd Pennsylvania (Baxter's Fire Zouaves) took up the extreme left of the brigade; the exact position of the regiment, and Howard's left was the mystery. Some maps show them within the confines of the 11 acre Philadelphia Brigade park; others, including the Cope/Carmen map, show them much further south at the Dunker Church.

Don Gallagher, Historian of the 28th Pennsylvania Historical Association ( forwarded an article that supports the view that the 72nd operated near the Dunker Church. The article, written by James F. Larkin, Company K of the 72nd Pennsylvania, was published in the Philadelphia Weekly Times in 1882.

Don wrote: "[Larkin] mentions seeing the 28th PA as they were advancing out of the Cornfield and towards the West Woods. A large number of the men in the 28th were from Philadelphia and the whole regiment was organized and trained in the city. Several companies of the 28th were recruited from the same neighborhoods as 72nd and it's likely there were acquaintances. At the time I believe the 28th was just south of the Smoketown Road probably near or possibly South West of the Mumma Cemetery. This would place the 72nd pretty far to the left on Howard's line. "

Below is an excerpt from the article that Don forwarded and is posted here with permission. To the left is the Cope/Carmen map of the West Woods action between 9 and 9:30. This along with the Larkin account suggests that the left of Howard's brigade rested very close to the Dunker Church.

Larkin writes: "...On arriving at the Antietam creek, which was waist deep, we were compelled to ford it, holding our guns and ammunition up over our heads.

During our advance we passed through an apple orchard, the trees of which were fairly bending to the ground with their loads of ripe, luscious fruit, and the men actually under fire, with shot and shell screaming and tearing around and among them, their line dressed as if on parade, with arms at “right shoulder shift” went on at a “quick step,” eating apples. We had now reached the famous cornfield, and death and destruction were seen on every side of us.

We emerged from the cornfield into a freshly ploughed field. Here we passed Geary’s Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania Regiment lying as support or reserve, who gave us three hearty cheers as we passed on, and above the din and roar of battle we distinctly heard them give “three more for Philadelphia,” You cannot conceive with what wild joy and excitement the mention of our dear home at such a time created. It electrified the men, and the answering shout that went up from us was enthusiastic beyond description. Our advance was still beautiful, the alignment perfect, but still the cautionary command of the file closers of “steady men,” “guide on the colors,” was at short intervals heard.

We had now arrived within two hundred feet of a piece of thick woods, where the enemy’s artillery had been planted early in the morning and the hundreds of dead and wounded that strewed the ground in every direction, mutely attested with what terrible vigor and execution those guns had been served. Suddenly, loud above the rattle of musketry and the roar of the artillery, that historic rebel yell was heard. To those who have never heard it I will simply say that it is indescribable; but if ten thousand fiends were unchained and let loose it could not be more unearthly.

We rightly surmised that this yell boded no good to the Union troops, for immediately from the wood in front came pouring in the utmost disorder and confusion our whole front line in wild retreat. What caused this break is a mystery, as no better or braver troops than Sedgwick’s Division of Sumner’s Corps (the Second) ever shouldered gun or drew sword in defense of the Union. The command to fix bayonets was promptly obeyed, the object being to endeavor to prevent the breaking of our line, but in vain, for such was the rush and crush that it was beyond human power to stop the frantic retreat of the fugitives.

Our splendid line, before this mad rout, was broken badly and almost rendered useless for effective work; but the color guard with the colors still stood firm with four or five companies intact, and the remnant of the other companies, which had been shattered, quickly rallied on this point.

We were all this time exposed to a galling, murderous fire in front left flank and rear, and the casualties were terrible. Human flesh and blood could not stand that iron storm longer, and the command was given to “fall back.” The writer of this was wounded within thirty yards of the piece of woods where we first saw our front lines fleeing and lay on the field until late in the afternoon, and can, therefore, truthfully bear witness that the Seventy-second Pennsylvania was the “last to go” from that part of the field of Antietam, and for the information of our Massachusetts friend (1) I would state that the troops which we recognized as breaking through our line was the Thirty-fourth New York Volunteers and that they were either a portion of Gorman’s or Dana’s Brigade- he probably knows which. Who were “the first to go” I am unable to say; but this I do know, that after they did go, and were no longer to be seen, the Seventy-second Pennsylvania lost more than one-half it’s effective force."

Many thanks to Don Gallagher for his invaluable contribution to this post.

(1) A reference to Frances Winthrop Palfrey's criticism of the 72nd's action in the West Woods in his book published in 1882 titled The Antietam and Fredericksburg. Palfrey wrote: "The third line, the Philadelphia brigade, so called, was the first to go. Sumner tried to face it about preparatory to a change of front, but, under the fire from its left, it moved off in a body to the right in spite of all efforts to restrain it." Larkin titled his article "The Last To Go: A Description of the Charge by a Private in the Seventy-Second Regiment."


Jim Rosebrock said...

Enjoyed the post. The map really helps put it into perspective. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours Jim!!

Jim Buchanan said...

And to you too Jim. See you up at the field this weekend.