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

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