Antietam Question

Andy Cardinal

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"I had parted with Gen. Mansfield but a moment before this and in five minutes afterward his staff officer reported to me that he was mortally wounded and the command of the corps devolved on me. I began at once to deploy the new regiments. The old ones had already gotten themselves into line. Taking hold of one, I directed Gens. Crawford and Gordon to direct the others. I got mine in line pretty well by having a fence to align it on and having got it in this way I ordered the colonel to go forward and open fire the moment he saw the Rebels. Poor fellow! He was killed within ten minutes. His regiment, advancing in line, was split in two by coming in contact with a barn. One part did very well in the woods but the trouble with this regiment and the others was that in attempting to move them forward or back or to make any maneuver they fell into inextricable confusion and fell to the rear, where they were easily rallied. The men were of an excellent stamp, ready and willing, but neither officers nor men knew anything, and there was an absence of the mutual confidence which drill begets. Standing still, they fought bravely."

-- Alpheus Williams, From the Cannon's Mouth

Alpheus Williams found himself in a tough situation around 8:00 a.m. on the morning of September 17th. Mansfield had just been mortally wounded and Williams resumed command of the Twelfth Corps (he had been in temporary command of the corps before Mansfield's arrival two days earlier). The corps was a mixture of veteran and green regiment's. With the veteran regiments already committed, Williams's task was to get the rookie regiments deployed and into the fight.

I've been re-reading Williams's account. The passage above gives a good description of the challenge he faced that day with the green troops: "The men were of an excellent stamp, ready and willing, but neither officers nor men knew anything..." Colonel Ezra Carman, commanding the rookie 13th New Jersey (Gordon's brigade) later wrote of himself: "Early in its movement the 13th New Jersey was detached and thrown into the edge of a piece of woods, to observe the right flank of the marching column, in the direction of the Hagerstown road, where, for the first time in its experience, its colonel instructed it how to form line of battle by deploying it along a fence, skirting the woods, much in the same manner as Williams had deployed the 124th Pennsylvania on the south border of the North Woods."

I have been trying to puzzle my way through Williams's account, which was written immediately after the battle and is presumably correct in its details. However, it seems to me to be incorrect in some of its details. Most accounts (including Carman) I have read indicate Williams was personally with the 124th Pennsylvania, which deployed near the Hagerstown Pike. This makes sense, since the barn Williams refers to would have been on the Miller farm. However, Williams also talks about the regiment's "poor colonel," who was killed soon after entering the battle. This clearly refers to Colonel Samuel Croasdale of the 128th Pennsylvania, which was deployed on the other side of the Cornfield in the East Woods. In addition, accounts I have read suggest Mansfield himself deployed this regiment before riding across the Smoketown road and getting shot. Williams specifies that it was this regiment that was split in two by the barn -- but their was no barn to my knowledge in the area where the 128th Pennsylvania deployed.

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All this is fairly trivial I suppose... yet I have been frustrated trying to figure it out and trying to reconcile Williams's account with the facts of this part of the battle, which I have been attempting to study recently. Thoughts? Any input or ideas would be helpful. Maybe I've missed something obvious....
 

upton j.

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Feb 23, 2016
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pa.
Hello, I agree with you that there was no barn in the path of the 128th the only ones close were d.r. millers, j.poffenbergers and s. poffenbergers in the immediate area but none in their path. My 2nd gt. grandfather w. tarbit Company B was with the 128th that day and i have relic hunted that area alot many years ago and can say no barns or foundations were in their path. I think Al. Williams perhaps was mistaken on the barns position.
 

Andy Cardinal

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I'm guessing that he just misremembered some of the specifics of the 2 units' movements.

Ryan
I agree, except this was written within days of the battle when Williams's memory was fresh and clear. Although how accurate your memory is while engaged in making command decisions and in combat is an open question -- at least for me, who has never been in a combat situation.
 
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rpkennedy

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I agree, except this was written within days of the battle when Williams's memory was fresh and clear. Although how accurate your memory is while engaged in making command decisions and in combat is an open question -- at least for me, who has never been in a combat situation.

There was a lot going on that morning and his responsibilities were increased when he took over corps command so I can understand if he got a little mixed up. I think that I would still just chalk this up to an innocent error.

Ryan
 

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