Thursday, June 28, 2012

Truman Seymour's Brigade (US): Part 2 (September 17, 1862)


“… The men slept on their arms, ready at a moment’s notice to repel an attack.  The gray dawn at last appeared, and every man nerved himself for the conflict.  The death-like stillness was at length broken, … and the sharp report of musketry soon marked the commencement of this fierce battle.”  That is how Samuel P. Bates, author of History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865 described the opening of the Battle of Antietam on the morning of September 17, 1862.  The troops that “marked the commencement” of the battle were the Pennsylvanians of Truman Seymour’s Brigade, who were bivouacked in the East Woods after their fight with Confederate forces on the previous evening (see http://antietambrigades.blogspot.com/2012/06/truman-seymours-brigade-us-part-1.html).
        The men of Seymour’s Brigade had slept on their arms that tense night within close proximity of the Confederate line and sporadic firefights broke out during the night.  However, the Battle of Antietam began in earnest while “the stars were still shining.”  Soldiers on both sides reported that firing became constant at 2 a.m., nearly four hours before sunrise.  Then, “as soon as it became light enough to see” the enemy, the men of Seymour’s Brigade made the first move in what proved to be one of the greatest battles ever fought on this continent.  Colonel Joseph Fisher of the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves wrote that at about sunrise, “I charged across the piece of woodland in my front….”  The Fifth, advancing east of the Smoketown Road, was joined by the Pennsylvania Bucktails, advancing to the Fifth’s right.  The Buctkails were particularly ready for a fight as they were still bitter over the loss of their beloved colonel the night before.  Moving south through the East Woods, the Pennsylvanians ran into eight companies of the 31st Georgia, who were positioned just south of Miller’s Cornfield and just west of the East Woods.  The Georgians were quickly driven back and the Pennsylvanians continued their drive south towards the southern edge of the East Woods.  The Bucktails moved to the southern edge of the woods, with its left resting on the Smoketown Road, and began to fire on the right of Lawton’s Brigade, commanded by Colonel Marcellus Douglas, and the left of Trimble’s Brigade, which was posted near the Mumma Cemetery.  The Fifth soon came up in support of the Bucktails and began firing into Trimble’s men.  This firefight between the Pennsylvanians and the Confederates of Lawton’s and Trimble’s Brigades “raged with unabated fury” and the fast firing Bucktails, armed with their Sharps rifles, soon began to run low on ammunition and were forced to withdraw.  The 2nd Pennsylvania Reserves moved up to relieve them “and opened a heavy fire upon the enemy.” 

Movements of Seymour's Brigade, Daybreak, September 17



5th Pennsylvania Reserves charged across this field, which was part of the East Woods at the time of the battle, at about sunrise on the morning of September 17

View looking north from the southern tip of the East Woods.  The open ground in the foreground was part of the East Woods during the battle.  Seymour's Brigade advanced south from the woods in the distance
Seymour's Brigade, 6:00 a.m.

View from the position of the Pennsylvania Bucktails at 6:00 a.m. The Mumma barn and Cemetery can be seen in the center of the photograph


By the time that the Second had come up to relieve the Bucktails, the battle had been seriously raging for about 30 minutes, with both sides engaged in a hot firefight.  As a result, the battlefield, especially in the East Woods, began to fill with smoke and visibility began to become an issue.  Mix the confusion and smoke of battle with a sky not very bright (sunrise on September 17 had only been at 5:53 a.m.) and you would be in the position of Joseph Fisher and his 5th Pennsylvania Reserves, whose line was to the left of the 13th Pennsylvania Reserve’s position.  The Bucktails withdrew early enough into the battle where Fisher could see them withdraw but when the Second moved to Fisher’s left, his view would have been greatly obscured by smoke and most likely would have only seen the Bucktails leaving the field. Seeing the Thirteenth leave made Fisher understandably worried about his exposed right flank and he ordered his regiment to march by the left flank and fall back to the Samuel Poffenberger woods on either side of the Smoketown Road. According to Fisher, his men executed this maneuver in “excellent order” but Fisher’s withdrawal left the 2ndPennsylvania Reserves virtually alone in the southern sector of the East Woods. They began to receive heavy fire from Trimble’s men and an advance by the 21st Georgia and 21stNorth Carolina of Trimble’s Brigade began to push the Second, as well as elements of the First and Sixth Pennsylvania Reserves, out of the East Woods at approximately 6:45 a.m. However, this was not the end of the day for Seymour’s Brigade. 
Withdrawal of Seymour's Brigade, 6:45 a.m.
        Most of what was left of Seymour’s Brigade after two hard fights in about twelve hours reformed a few hundred yards north of the East Woods and supported the subsequent attacks of the rest of the First Corps as well as the later attacks of Joseph Mansfield’s Twelfth Corps.  The Pennsylvanians remained at this post until about noon when they were moved north of the Joseph Poffenberger farm, where they remained the rest of the day in support of artillery batteries massed on the farm itself.  By this time, the men of Seymour’s Brigade must have been exhausted as they had been on the frontline for 14 continuous hours and “every round had been fired” according to Captain Dennis McGee, who commanded the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves after Colonel McNeil’s death in the skirmish on September 16.  These men were also under artillery fire in their new position and this must have only added to the stress of the past few days.  At the end of the day, Seymour’s Brigade remained in line of battle and once again slept on their arms on the night of September 17 after a hard fought campaign in which the brigade had suffered 326 casualties. 
Seymour's Brigade, noon
Final position of Seymour's Brigade, 1:00 p.m.
        Truman Seymour’s Brigade was quite possibly engaged longer than any other brigade that fought at Antietam.  It had gone into action at approximately 6 p.m. on September 16 and was not removed from the action until about noon on the 17th.  The men of Seymour’s Brigade must have been completely exhausted after engaging in three fierce fights in four days.  Most of all, the night that they spent on September 16 in the East Woods must have been a tense and stressful night for those soldiers and it must have seemed to them that their worlds had been torn apart on the banks of Antietam Creek.      

Casualties of Truman Seymour’s Brigade

Killed
Killed
Wounded
Wounded
Captured or Missing
Captured or Missing
Aggregate

Officers
Enlisted Men
Officers
Enlisted Men
Officers
Enlisted Men

1st PAR
0
5
1
21
0
0
27
2nd  PAR
2
1
1
20
0
0
24
5th PAR
1
2
0
7
0
0
10
6th PAR
0
8
4
57
0
0
69
13th PAR
2
3
2
18
0
0
25
Total
5
19
8
123
0
0
155

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Truman Seymour's Brigade (US): Part 1 (Septemner 16, 1862)


Truman Seymour’s Brigade

1st Brigade, 3rd Division, I Corps



1st Pennsylvania Reserves (30th Infantry)

167 men commanded by Colonel R. Biddle Roberts



2nd Pennsylvania Reserves (31st Infantry)

171 men commanded by Captain James N. Byrnes



5th Pennsylvania Reserves (34th Infantry)

100 men commanded by Colonel Joseph W. Fisher



6th Pennsylvania Reserves (35th Infantry)

250 men commanded by Colonel William Sinclair



13th Pennsylvania Reserves (1st Rifles) (42nd Infantry)

110 men commanded by Colonel Hugh W. McNeil (KIA 9/16), Captain Dennis McGee

Brigadier General Truman Seymour


            Brigadier General Truman Seymour was born September 24, 1824 in Vermont.  Seymour graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in the famous class of 1846; he finished 19th out of a class of 59 cadets and was assigned to the artillery.  He served in the Mexican War and the Seminole War prior to the Civil War.  Seymour began his service with the Army of the Potomac in June 1862 in the Fifth Corps.  He was transferred to John Pope’s Army of Virginia just prior to the Battle of Second Bull Run where he commanded the 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, III Corps.  At the time, the brigade consisted of the 1st, 2nd, 5th, and 6th Pennsylvania Reserve Infantry.  After the reorganization of the Union forces in Washington following Pope’s defeat, the Pennsylvania Bucktails (13th Pennsylvania Reserves) joined the brigade, which became the 1st Brigade, 3rd Division (commanded by George Meade), I Corps (commanded by Joseph Hooker).  As such, the brigade was a part of the Right Wing of the Army of the Potomac as it advanced into Maryland in early September.  The First Corps participated heavily in the September 14 Battle of South Mountain, doing all of the fighting at Turner’s and Frosttown Gaps.  Seymour’s men cleared the latter of Confederate forces but suffered heavily for it, losing 171 men.  The First Corps reached the east side of Antietam Creek and camped at “the forks of the Big and Little Antietam.”  In this position, Hooker occupied the right of the Army of the Potomac as it gathered on the east banks of the Antietam.  Thus, on September 16, Hooker’s Corps, including Truman Seymour’s brigade, would be in position to open the ball on the west side of Antietam Creek. 

            By 2 p.m. of September 16, George McClellan was ready to begin his operations against the Army of Northern Virginia.  He ordered Hooker’s First Corps to cross the Antietam at the Upper Bridge and Pry’s Ford.  Seymour’s Brigade and the rest of Meade’s Division crossed at the Upper Bridge at approximately 4 p.m. 
Upper Bridge

Meade led the advance of the First Corps and, once the bridge was crossed, moved north up the Williamsport Road, which paralleled the west bank of Antietam Creek before shifting northwest towards the Hoffman Farm.  Meade’s Division turned due west when it reached the Hoffman Farm and began advancing towards the Hagerstown Pike. 
Hoffman Farm.  This picture looks west in the direction of Hooker's advance

At about this time, reports reached Hooker of an enemy presence to his left.  In response to this threat, Hooker posted the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves, better known as the Bucktails for the deer tails that they wore in their hats, as skirmishers in advance of the corps.  This regiment was armed with breech-loading Sharps carbines, which greatly increased the rate of fire and accuracy of the soldiers in the regiment.  The Bucktails turned south as they reached the farm of Martin Line, just east of the Smoketown Road.  Colonel Hugh McNeil, commanding the Bucktails, deployed four companies as skirmishers facing south on either side of the Smoketown Road; the remaining six companies, as well as the 6th Pennsylvania Reserves, were held in reserve.  The Pennsylvanians advanced steadily southward until they encountered dismounted troopers of the 9th Virginia Cavalry, supported by Confederate infantry, on the north edge of the East Woods around 5 p.m.
Martin Line Farm.  Seymour's Brigade advanced towards the distant treeline, where they first encountered Confederate cavalry on September 16
 

The Confederate infantry were the seasoned veterans of the Texas Brigade.  When word had reached John Bell Hood and Jeb Stuart at about 3:30 p.m. that Union soldiers were crossing the Antietam above their left flank, Hood moved his division to the southern edge of the plowed field on the David Miller farm and faced them north.  The left of the line sat on the Hagerstown Pike while the right rested in the East Woods.  When the Pennsylvanians advanced after driving the 9th Virginia Cavalry south from the Martin Line farm, they ran into the 5th Texas, which was posted in the northern edge of the East Woods.  Seeing this resistance, Colonel McNeil ordered his remaining six companies to support his skirmish line.  The regiment deployed west of the Samuel Poffenberger farm with four companies on the west side of the Smoketown Road and six on the east side.  A short lull then settled over the field of the 16th as McNeil rested his command for about fifteen minutes so that the rest of the brigade could support him. 
Four companies of the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves deployed in this field, which was plowed at the time of the battle.  The top of the Samuel Poffenberger house can be seen in the background


            Seymour’s Brigade was now deployed with the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves (Bucktails) in the center, being split by the Smoketown Road west of Samuel Poffenberger’s farm.  The 6th Pennsylvania Reserves formed on the right of the brigade and the 5th on the left.  After waiting for the rest of the brigade to come to his support, Colonel Hugh McNeil ordered his men to charge the Confederates in the northern portion of the East Woods.  The Pennsylvanians moved through the plowed field west of Samuel Poffenberger’s and when he was within 15 yards of the East Woods, McNeil shouted to his men, “Forward, Bucktails!” just seconds before a bullet pierced his heart.  McNeil was dead before he hit the ground.  The Bucktails surged around their falling colonel and drove the 5th Texas back into the East Woods.  However, this advance came at a deadly price; in addition to the death of their colonel, 29 more men were killed and 65 were wounded in that charge alone.  McNeil would be sorely missed by his men.  Captain Dennis McGee, who took command of the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves in the wake of McNeil’s death, wrote of McNeil: “a braver man than him the army did not hold.”
Colonel Hugh McNeil
Position of the 5th Texas, looking east along modern Mansfield Monument Road.  This road did not exist at the time of the battle, only a Virginia rail fence
The field that McNeil's Bucktails charged across, looking from the position of the 5th Texas.  Colonel McNeil died approximately 15 yards from this position
  

            After driving the Texans, the Bucktails, supported by the rest of Seymour’s brigade, pushed south through the East Woods.  However, a spirited stand by remnants of the 5th Texas in the East Woods, Confederate batteries south of Miller’s cornfield, and Wofford’s Brigade in the cornfield itself pushed the Bucktails back to the northern part of the East Woods.  Moving in support of the Bucktails, the rest of Seymour’s Brigade reached the vicinity of the East Woods.  The 1st Reserves formed on the Thirteenth’s right rear and the 5th formed on the First’s left along the fence that bordered the north edge of the woods while the 6th Pennsylvania Reserves formed the right flank of Seymour’s Brigade in its position in the northern portion of the East Woods.  The 2nd supported James Cooper’s Battery B of the 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery several hundred yards in the rear of the rest of Seymour’s Briagde.  By the time that the rest of the brigade came up to support the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves, it was around 6:30 p.m., too dark for any serious fighting to continue. 

            In many histories of the Battle of Antietam, much has been made of McClellan’s flanking movement consisting of Hooker’s First Corps.  Most believe that it showed McClellan’s hand to Lee for the coming battle.  However, this is not true.  Lee knew of McClellan’s movement north of the Confederate left flank as it was happening and thus sent Hood’s Division to the area around the East Woods.  The only real effect that this twilight skirmish had on the September 17 battle was to ensure that the Battle of Antietam would begin in this sector of the field.  As one Pennsylvanian wrote, “it was inevitable that the fight should recommence at daylight” in the East Woods.

            The night of September 16 must have been a hellish experience for any of the soldiers of Seymour’s Brigade in the East Woods that night.  One Confederate soldier wrote of the night that at “about nine a light rain began to fall and continued most of the night.”  However, soldiers were more concerned about the positions of their enemy than the rain as only twenty paces separated the lines at some points.  Bruce Catton described the tensions between the two armies on the night of September 16 in Mr. Lincoln’s Army:

There was a tension in the atmosphere for the whole army that night. Survivors wrote long afterward that there seemed to be something mysteriously ominous in the very air-stealthy, muffled tramp of marching men who could not be seen but were sensed dimly as moving shadows in the dark; outbursts of rifle fire up and down the invisible picket lines, with flames lighting the sky now and then when gunners in the advanced batteries opened fire; taut and nervous anxiety of those alert sentinels communicating itself through all the bivouacs, where men tried to sleep away the knowledge that the morrow would bring the biggest battle the army had ever had; a ceaseless, restless sense of movement as if the army stirred blindly in its sleep, with the clop-clop of belated couriers riding down the inky dark lanes heard at intervals, sounding very lonely and far off.

Indeed, the night of September 16 must have truly been a nerve-racking experience for the soldiers of both armies huddled in and around the East Woods.  The picket lines were so close that night that each side could hear the other walk in the darkness.  The men of Seymour’s Brigade and their Confederate adversaries slept under arms that night as the skirmishers and pickets of both sides “kept up a desultory fire all night.”  In fact, things were so confusing in the East Woods “that a squad of six men of the enemy [Confederates] were captured, having approached unawares to our [Seymour’s] line.”  A small firefight late on the evening of September 16 did nothing to lighten the moods of soldiers on either side.   


            At approximately 9 p.m., Colonel Joseph Fisher of the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves, the regiment occupying the left of Seymour’s line, ordered forward a squad of 24 men under the command of Lieutenant Hardman Petrikin.  This squad would post as pickets to ensure that the 5th would not be surprised by the enemy.  Petrikin and his party edged south along the east edge of the East Woods until they were fired upon by Confederates of the 4th Alabama and 6th North Carolina, who lay behind a fence running east from the southeast corner of the East Woods.  This scattered volley struck down Petrikin and another soldier of the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves and scattered the rest of the squad.  The private died soon afterwards while Petrikin lay mortally wounded in between the two lines.  A few Confederates of the 4th Alabama heard Petrikin’s cries and soon went to help him and bring him back to a field hospital.  Captain William Robbins of the 4th Alabama remembered what happened next: 

While I was making arrangements to have him sent back to our field hospital, he spoke to me and said that he felt his wound was mortal; told me his name as I have given it, and then pulling out his watch – quite a fine one – he handed it to me, saying: ‘I make the request of you that if you possibly can you will have my watch sent to my mother, who lives at… Chambersburg, Pa.’  And, also, ‘Tell my comrades of the Union army for me that I died like a soldier should, doing my duty.’    He died, as I afterward learned, about sunrise the next morning….
The ground that Petrikin and his party advanced across during the night of September 16.  The area was wooded in 1862.  Petrikin was most likely mortally wounded near the gap in the treeline in the left-center of the picture.  The Confederate line lay just beyond the modern house.  This view is looking south from Mansfield Monument Road


The position of the 4th Alabama on the night of September 16.  This view is looking east from the Smoketown Road
Captain William Robbins
During an informal truce on September 18, Captain Robbins conveyed Petrikin's message to one of his comrades and gave Petrikin's watch to a Union soldier, which eventually made its way to Petrikin's family.  Colonel Fisher called Petrikin “one of my most daring and gallant officers.” This is only one such firefight and one of the many men that would suffer on the dark, rainy night of September 16 as both armies held their breath for the dawn of September 17.