Sunday, March 31, 2013

Semmes' Brigade in the West Woods: Stores' Correspondence, Part 1

What follows is the first of two posts of correspondence from Captain William J. Stores, 32nd Virginia, Semmes' Brigade, to Ezra Carman of the Antietam Battlefield Board.

 "Office of County Sup. of Schools
Tabb, York Co., Va., Dec. 30th 1899

Genl. E. A. Carman

Washington D.C.

Dear Sir,

My recollection of the battle of Sharpsburg is very vivid and clear. But the topography as prepared by your Board a little strange at this date.

On the night of the 16th we made a forced march from near Harpers Ferry (marching all night) crossed the Potomac River just about the break of day, marched up in an open field, near a large dwelling house stacked arms and proceeded to get something to eat. 

Possible location of the 32nd VA
is marked by an X. The 1st MN
lies ahead and probably has
moved into the Poffenberger
Cornfield. Cope/Carman Map,
1908 edition. Library of Congress.
We were soon, however, in line again, and on the march. We proceeded up a road in a northerly direction and turned to the right into an open old field where we were ordered to throw off knapsacks and blankets. We continued our march across this fallow field in Column of fours — the 32d Va. At the head of the Brigade. We were thus marching when the enemy opened fire upon us from a Cornfield.

In formation line of battle, and advancing upon the Enemy in his partly concealed position, was the time we suffered mostly * (the command was halted as Col. Montague[1] reports “under cover of a slight hill” or rocky ledge).⁠[2]

Soon however the Enemy in our front gave way but we were ordered to charge_ Now this hill or rocky ledge referred to above, and reported to in Col. Montague’s report, must have been the one just above A. Poffenberger’s home_ [3] but it was not in a cornfield but in an open fallow field_ we had not reached the Cornfield when we halted_ If the position of the 15th Masst. And the 1st Minn. Are correctly reported, then there must have been the troops we engaged.

When routed from this Cornfield, the Enemy was pushed back, in a North, NorthWest direction, through a body of woods to an open field beyond. Thence across this field to a Barn and Haystacks where he attempted to rally, but we were too close on him, and he went some distance beyond the barn & stacks to a stone fence where it seemed the reserve forces were reemploying. We captured some prisoners at the barn, stacks, but they were hurried to the rear and I did not learn from what Regt. they came.

Detail from the Cope/Carman 9:00 a.m.
map (1908 edition). 1 and 2 are David R.
Miller's stacks and barn; 3 is the Miller
farmhouse; 4 is the stone fence that bordered
the Hagerstown Pike on the East at that point;
5 is the "rocky ledge...S.W. of the [Miller]
barn." Library of Congress.
Now this barn & stacks to which we advanced must have been the barn & stacks marked near D. R. Miller’s_ Because the barn and stacks near Nicodemus are not situated with relation to each other, as the barn & stacks were at which we advanced. These stacks were certainly on the right hand side of the barn.

I remember distinctly that we had a man killed standing on an old drag frame between the barn and the stacks.

Genl. Stuart’s Calvary was in a body of woods just to our left_ for Stuart came from the woods, across an open field at full speed, to the barn & stacks where we were and asked to what Command we belonged to and inquired for Genl. Semmes_  Just then a battery from the Enemie's side opened fire on the barn and stacks_ Anxious to hear what so distinguished a General as Stuart would have to say to our Brigade Commander[4] I pressed up close and heard him say, “General that battery must be taken” Semmes replied “General! My men have been in this engagement all the morning. Barksdale’s brigade is through the woods there unexposed_” Stuart dashed off, as if in search of Barksdale’s brigade. I turned about and found that my Regt. had retired through the woods to a less exposed position & when ammunition was brought up and the Cartridge boxes were refilled, we advanced no farther than the barn and stacks alluded to above.

My impression was that we were occupying the extreme left of the Confederate Infantry. Late[r] on we were ordered to the Center of our line, where it was said the Enemy was very stubborn. But we were not engaged any more during the day.

Allow me to say, that I hardly think that this dead of the 10th Geo. & 15th Va. were buried when they fell. [5]

Yours very Respectfully &c

Wm. J. Stores

Capt. Co. I 32nd Va Infantry


Source: Antietam Studies, Record Group 92, National Archives.

William J. Stores was the Captain of Company I, 32nd Virginia.


1. Col. Edgar Burwell Montague (1832-1885) commanded the 32nd Virginia at Antietam. Brian Downey's Antietam on the Web under entry from Edgar Burwell Montague.

2. See Montague's Official Report at Antietam on the Web.

3. This was Alfred Poffenberger's Farmstead (Locher Cabin).

4. Brigadier General Paul Jones Semmes (1815-1863).

5. See further: "'It getting dark and plank scarce:' Philologus H. Loud and the 10th Georgia in the West Woods" posted here.

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