Sunday, January 17, 2010

Winter in the Woods

On Saturday, I wandered over in the direction of Hauser's Ridge in order to take a few pix for an upcoming post on Confederate artillery positions.

On my way back, I veered north toward the position of the First Minnesota--the extreme right of Sedgwick's Division (Gorman's Brigade).

Along the way, I ran into a herd of about 20 to 25 deer. Here are a couple of them--at first curious and then cautious. The park in the winter may be a slow time for visitors but it is still full of life.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"My men were behaving beautifully:" E.M. Morrison and 15th Virginia advance on the West Woods

Captain Emmet Masalon Morrison (1841-1932) led Company C of the 15th Virginia Regiment into the West Woods as part of Brigadier General Paul Jones Semmes brigade's attack against the middle of Sedgwick's division (see previous entry under Paul Jones Semmes). A sketch of Morrison and a description of his actions that day can be found at Brian Downey's definitive Antietam Web Site at

Below is a transcription of an account of the 15th's action in the West Woods written by Morrison in 1905. Excerpts of this account have been widely published. Here it is in its entirely save one elision on my part (it is noted). This particular transcription was made by S. Calvin Mumma around 1935 as part of the New Deal WPA records project and resides in the Antietam National Battlefield Library.

"Behold Sharpsburg, now the historical as the Federals put it, the 'Antietam' battlefield. Up to that moment I do not believe we knew the battle was on in our immediate front. The field that we fought over was enclosed by a chestnut rail fence, and near its corner a gate, and near the gate a small but beautiful tree. The head of the regiment filed through the gate on the run, rapidly swung into position as best we could, forming on the regiment to our right and firing as we came into line. As we got close to them, one hundred to two hundred yards, I should say, we could see individual men, officers, I suppose, running backward and forward through the smoke.

As we got into line and commenced firing with much precision, I heard the greatest cheering a little to me right, and recognized General Semmes (gallant old Paul Semmes, brother of Raphael, both born fighters) standing on a pile of rocks, swinging his hat and cheering 'to beat the band.' I rushed up to him. 'General, are they retreating?' says I. 'No," says he. I rushed back, naming myself a fool, but that brave old man and two officers or orderlies with him kept making so much fuss, I was compelled to see what was the matter.

Just here I must digress only briefly to say a word for General Paul Semmes, our gallant old brigadier. General M.D. Corse[2] became our brigadier when General George E. Pickett's division was formed. Paul Semmes was the brother of Raphael Semmes, the Confederacy's great sea fighter. All survivors of the "Old Fifteenth" well remember General Paul Semmes, our first brigadier. He fell at Gettysburg and, like Marmion---'With dying hand aobve his head, He shook the fragment of his blade.' and died like the bravest of the brave for his beloved Southland.

My men were behaving beautifully, loading and firing as deliberately as if on drill, but the 'old rebel yell' they were putting up in their intense excitement.

Men never battled and lost in a nobler cause in and the 'tide of time.' As we continue to grow older in years and reminiscenses, the memory of the past becomes dearer and more sacred.

I should say the regiment carried in about 114 men, and, although they were not in action very long, perhaps some three or four hours, they suffered a loss of 58, or 58 per cent. Their names ought to be on record somewhere. 'Marse Robert' had no braver or more devoted band of gallant men than they who composed the Fifteenth Virginia Infantry. Its old commander often dwells in fondest memory of the dear 'old boys,' and their many deeds of true heroism in those memorable days of trial and suffering. Many times in the past two-score years his heart has melted and his eyes dimmed with kindly tears in sad and tender recollection, and now he most earnestly and lovingly wishes he had the capacity to portray for their posterity their patriotic devotion to duty and the suffering and sacrifices they endured to uphold a cause they knew to be right. Ah! surely it was right, time has only the more firmly grounded us in our convictions; nothing has occurred in the past two-score years in anyway calculated to change our views and opinions about our 'Lost Cause' with every idea and principle it involved and embraced, and for which we contended and suffered; it ever remains with us a sweet and sacred memory. It is true to-day we are all American citizens, living under one flag, and giving hearty allegiance to one government; but we are still very human, and while we may forgive many wrong and cruel things, we can never forget the old, old days, for then it was we willingly, bravely, risked our all in a common cause in the hopeful lusty days of our youth. It will never enter our minds and hearts in our mature years that our cause was anything but right and just and so we will continue to believe as our shadows lengthen in the sunset of life ere we join our dear old comrades who have gone hence. ...[1]

The writer is fully aware he has written in a rambling, discursive, reminiscent manner, and for such offense he pleads in extenuation the natural and time-honored privilege that is kindly granted to age and the reminiscent period. When two-score years are added to youth, forebearance and indulgence are quite in order, then it becomes every chivalrous nature to reckon kindly with old friends and comrades.

E. M. Morrison
Lieut.-Col. 15th Va. Inf.
Smithfield, Va., November 1905"


Signed and transcribed by S. Calvin Mumma, ca. 1935.

1. Morrison writes a long paragraph "About Our Artillery and 'The Boy Battery' of Parker." This will be included in a future post on artillery in the West Woods.

2. Montgomery Dent Corse, at Antietam was Colonel of the 17th Virginia, Jones Division, Kemper's Brigade.


First. From the Cope/Carman map--Semmes' advance across the then (and now) open ground leading to the West Woods.

Second. What Morrison and the 15th Virginians saw as they advanced towards the West Woods. The tree line of the West Woods is on the horizon; the Alfred Poffenberger farmstead is in the near distance with the foundation of the barn visible.