Sunday, November 24, 2013

"We knew that the devil would be to play somewhere on our lines:" William H. Andrews and the First Georgia in the West Woods

Sometime in the late 1890s William H. Andrews, a private in the First Georgia Regulars wrote to the Antietam Battlefield Board describing his recollection of the movement of the regiment to and through the West Woods. The annotated transcription of that letter follows.

"Battle of Antietam Md.

Early in the morning of Sept. 15, 1862 General Lee formed line of battle in front of Sharpsburg, Md. facing Antietam creek. General Longstreet's Corps occupied the right and D. H. Hill the left General Jackson's Corps being at Harper's Ferry. Anderson's, Toombs' and Drayton's Georgia Brigades were on the right of the road facing the creek.

General McClellan's forces arrived and formed line of battle on the north side of Antietam Creek his left opposite the Blue Ridge Mountains his right extending up the creek.

There was considerable sharpshooting throughout the day. Early on the morning of the 16th we saw a signal flag posted on top of the Blue Ridge[1] opposite the Federal left. While we could not read the signals we knew that the devil would be to play somewhere on our lines. We were not long left in suspense. His batteries on the left opened on our extreme right. General Drayton's[2] brigade which was in full view of our position[.] Every shell seemed to explode right in their ranks where they were lying down.

General Lee's line of artillery only extending to the right of Anderson's brigade and was posted along in our front it opened on the enemy's artillery drawing the fire to our part of the line. It was one of the hottest artillery duels I ever witnessed.

Our brigade was lying down some 50 yards in rear of the guns and in rear of the hill. Not many yards distant were the houses in Sharpsburg which had been deserted by their occupants when we first formed line of battle.

At one time during the shelling some of our boys had entered a dwelling in search of something to eat, as we had been two days without rations they found a table ready spread with the meal prepared to sit down to. The boys made themselves at home [and] took seats around the table and proceeded to devour everything in sight. About the time they had got in a good way eating, a shell crashed through the house knocking the table over and spilling its contents on the floor. It is needless to say that put an end to the feast.

During the shelling, I saw the extremes of bravery and cowardice. In the hottest of the shelling General Longstreet rode leisurely along the line in rear of the pieces [and] he and his horse both seemed perfectly indifferent to danger. Not long after in the same indifferent way General G. T. Anderson (Old Tige)[4] walked the line during the whole engagement with his hands crossed behind his back as unconcerned as though they were using fire crackers instead of shells.

To cap the climax our assistant surgeon made an ass of himself. The shelling was so terribly hot that the doctor became demoralized and made a break for the rear. Some of the boys called to him to come back he had a good place, he turned and ran back to find the shells exploding all around him. Someone else would call to him to run there and the way he would go with the whole line laughing at him. After running up and down the line for half dozen times he made a break for the bend east of the town and the boys rolled over and yelled themselves hoarse.

The artillery duel continued for a considerable for a considerable time but finally our guns were rounded and beat a hasty retreat to the rear.

About noon General Lee was sitting on his horse in the road at the left of our brigade when General Jackson rode up and saluted him, you should have seen the smile on the face of Longstreet's men at the sight of the famous stonewall. We knew his foot cavalry was not far distant and we felt like we needed just a little re-enforcement.

General Jackson formed on General Hill's left except A.P. Hill's Division which was left at Harper's Ferry to parole the prisoners. Sometime in the evening[5] General McClellan's forces crossed the Antietam and attacked Jacksons position above Sharpsburg when a considerable engagement took place night putting an end to the strife.

The grey streak of dawn had just begun to mantle the eastern sky on the morning of September 17th when fighting was resumed in Jackson's front and soon became a general engagement along the entire front. General Anderson's brigade was ordered to General Jackson's left. We moved by the left flank to our left passing the pump at the northwest corner of town then turned to the southwest passing a spring on our left. To our right was a field of green corn occupied by the enemy's artillery and from the noise they made through the corn must have been shooting trace chains[6] instead of shells.
In the stubble field between the spring and cornfield the ground was covered with Confederate dead and wounded. The wounded would ask what command as we went over them and being told Georgians they would cheer us on to victory or death. We must have gone at least one mile to the southwest of Sharpsburg when the order was given by the right flank, we moved in line of battle through a large field to a heavy timbered piece of woods[7] which was occupied in heavy force by the enemy in line of battle.

Before reaching the woods the enemy's sharpshooters opened fire on us. General Anderson ordered his brigade sharpshooters to the front. The brigade reached the fence and tore it down making breastworks of it when we were ordered to lie down.

Our sharpshooters entered the woods and I saw a Federal officer with high military boots on shot down and he had not quite stopped kicking before his boots were off. Shoes were in great demand in Lee's army as thousands were barefooted and you could trail them by their blood.

Soon after we arrived at the fence, Kershaw's South Carolina Brigade marched up within twenty feet of our line and halted. Just at the right of our brigade a regiment moved in by the right flank, the enemy's line of battle was beyond the ridge in a bottom and not visible from our position at the fence. As the head of the column rose the ridge the enemy opened fire on them. The regiment was ordered to right wheel into line which was promptly executed under the enemy's fire and on reaching the crest of the ridge opened fire, Kershaw's South Carolina Brigade was then ordered in passing over us[.]

General Kershaw asked what command and being told Anderson's Georgia Brigade called for three cheers for the Georgians which his men gave with a vim and moved forward into the fight. It made the Georgia boys feel good to watch the Palmetto boys move into action. As their heads rose over the ridge the enemy opened fire on them, but not a man flinched or a gun fired until they reached the crest and then such a volley of musketry as would scare a weak kneed soldier to death.

General Anderson then ordered his brigade by the left flank double quick and away we went at the right shoulder shift [--] how steady the boys moved as though on drill.

As we were well under way the enemy opened fire on us, their line being on top [of] the ridge and not more than sixty yards from the fence.
What a move under the enemy's fire, but not a bobble or a break until we gained our brigade distance to the left so we could come in on the S.E. left General Anderson then gave the order by the right flank and we jumped the fence it would then have done your heart good to hear the rifles of the Georgia boys.

As I jumped over the fence and cast my eyes to the front I saw directly in front of me the stars and stripes[.] [H]ow defiant that flag looked as it unfurled to the breeze then gradually wound itself around the staff to be lifted again by the powder exploding around it. Right then and there I though it would be the greatest feat of my life if I could topple that flag in the dust by shooting the color bearer. In placing my rifle to my shoulder I pressed the trigger, but instead of the colors falling my gun snapped[. M]y feelings can better be imagined than described. I had to pick the trobe and recap before I knew what was going on about me.

On looking up I saw that the line had passed me[. T]he order to charge had been given and I saw Lieut. G.B. Lamar,[8] Captain Wayne[9] and several other officers with swords aloft calling on the men to follow them. The line had fired about two volleys when ordered to charge.
The enemy were generally routed leaving the ground covered with the dead and wounded (I was on many battlefields during the war but never saw the ground covered so thick with the fallen) it then became a tree to tree fight. Anderson's Brigade sweeping everything before it.

During the fight I passed Captain Wayne and one or two other officers supporting Captain Montgomery[10] who was wounded in the head. He was promptly sent to the rear.

It seemed like it was only a few minutes that we were driving the enemy out of the woods, it being a total rout as the last squad I saw only amounted to three men. When our brigade was nearly through the woods a staff officer dashed down the line and ordered our line to fall back as the South Carolina boys had failed to move the enemy in their front and were were in a position to be cut off.

The line ceased firing about faced and returned to where we jumped the fence, I never returned with the line but kept on with a number of others to the fence.

In the fight I had fired forty-five rounds all of my ammunition so I scrambled around until I soon had a good supply on hand and was ready for another racket.

While hunting cartridges I encountered the color bearer of the First Minnesota Regiment who was wounded through the thigh, but was taking it as cool as if it had only been a scratch, we had quite an argument about what we were fighting for. He claimed he was fighting for the Union I told him he was fighting for the negro.

While talking to him a Federal Battery dashed up to the fence and opened through the woods[,] the shells passing between myself and the brigade. About that time an officer requested several others and myself to establish a picket line on the left to keep the enemy from flanking us, which we did but the artillery fire became so hot we moved still farther to the left out of range.

When I finally sought my command it had moved up to the right [and] charged the enemy in an apple orchard[11] where our Colonel W.J. Magill[12] lost his arm.

On the 18th there was some sharpshooting and a little shelling from our side but no reply to it. About 11 p.m. we retreated across the Potomac.
As to your questions.

Anderson did not have over 500 men, half of the 11th was guarding a wagon train. First Georgia regulars carried about fifty men into action judging by Company M[,] my own company. I was acting orderly sergeant and carried one corporal and three privates into action who escaped unhurt. As to the number killed and wounded I suppose there must have been some but can not recollect any killed and but two wounded Colonel Magill and Captain Montgomery. Colonel William J. Magill commanded until he lost his arm at the apple orchard.

W.H Andrews,[13]

East Atlanta, Ga.

Source: Antietam William H. Andrews to Unknown, no date, no place, Antietam Studies, Record Group 92, National Archives.

While the recipient and date of this letter is not known, it must have been directed to a member of the Antietam Board. Given other correspondence to the Board, this letter was probably written in the late 1890s. 

For more on the First Georgia, see the excellent blog One More Shot maintained by George W. Martin at


[1] This was probably the Federal signal station on Elk Ridge. For more on signal stations, see the excellent National Park Service page at
[2] Brigadier General Thomas Fenwick Drayton (1808-1891) commanded his brigade that was part of David Rumph Jones’ Division. Brian Downey’s Antietam on the Web.

[4] Col. George Thomas Anderson (1824-1901) commanded Anderson’s Brigade in David Rumph Jones’ Division.
[5] September 16.
[6] Trace chains were two chains attached to two or more horses so the artillery caisson could be pulled. Webster's Dictionary Online.

[7] The West Woods.

[8] First Lieutenant G.B. Lamar, Jr., First Georgia Regulars, Company F, First Georgia Regulars. He later went on to serve as Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws' Aide-de-Camp. He survived the war. RG 109, NARA M266, Roll 0122, Compiled service records of Confederate soldiers from Georgia units.

[9] Captain Richard A. Wayne, First Georgia Regulars, Company E. On October 9, 1862 he was promoted to Colonel of the Regiment in the stead of its wounded Colonel William J. Magill (see below). He survived the war. RG 109, NARA M266, Roll 0122, Compiled service records of Confederate soldiers from Georgia units.

[10] Captain James G. Montgomery, First Georgia Regulars, Company K. On March 19, 1864 a medical examining board stated that Montgomery was "incapacitated for full duty with his Regiment because of a gunshot wound over the left eye, with a depression of the frontal bone, received at the battle of Sharpsburg. Exposure and active exercise would seriously engager his life." He retired from service August 25, 1864. RG 109, NARA M266, Roll 0122, Compiled service records of Confederate soldiers from Georgia units.

[11] Apple Orchard

[12] Colonel William J. Magill suffered a gunshot wound to his left arm. His arm was amputated at the shoulder joint. Surgeon Abner Hard from the 8th Illinois Cavalry found Col. William Magill of the 1st Georgia Regulars at a house two miles from Shepherdstown. He wrote: “A few miles further on at a farm-house we found Colonel Magill and other rebel officers, suffering from severe wounds. The Colonel had an arm amputated at the shoulder, which, for the want of proper care, was alive with maggots. After dressing their wounds we learned that the Colonel had been educated at West Point, and was a classmate of General Pleasanton."

Magill signed a parole dated September 29, 1862 “2 miles from Shepherdstown, Md.” He was exchanged at Aikens, Virginia on November 8, 1862 and then served at Head Quarters, District of Georgia in Savannah from January 24, 1863 to October 31, 1863. He subsequently transferred to Floyd House and Ocmulgee Hospitals, Macon, Georgia. A note in his service record there describes his condition: “attended with neuralgia of stump. Wound was recd at Sharpsburg 17 July 1862 in the line of duty. Is in good general health. Is fit for Post Duty and is recommended for detail for such duty at some Post free from Malarial miasmatic to which he is peculiarly susceptible.” The incorrect date of 17 July 1862 is in the original record. He was then sent to the “malaria free” post of Whitemarsh Island, Georgia where he retired from service on October 29, 1864. Serving in the Invalid Corps he was once again captured in Athens, Georgia “by U.S. Forces under Brvt. Brig. Gen’l W. J. Palmer" and paroled on May 8, 1865. RG 109, NARA M266, Roll 0122, Compiled service records of Confederate soldiers from Georgia units; for the Shepherdstown account see, retrieved on November 12, 2013 from; for the context of Surgeon Abner Hard's account, see Abner Hard, Eighth Cavalry Regiment, Illinois Volunteers, During the Great Rebellion (Aurora, Il., 1868), pp. 181-191.

[13] William H. Andrews enlisted as a Private in Company M of the First Georgia Regulars. His parole papers dated May 1, 1865 at Greensboro, N.C. show him as a First Sergeant. By then Company M had become Company D of the First (Consolidated) Regiment Georgia Regulars. Confederate Statement of Service Reference Slip. National Archives, RG 109, Microfilm Roll 0119, 1st Infantry and 1st Regulars; Statement of Commissioner of Pensions, State of Georgia, op cit.