Hood’s assault into the Bloody Cornfield at Antietam unwise?

Mdiesel

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I have to admit I’ve always wondered why the Confederates were counterattacking every Federal advance & not just utilizing defensive position to stem Hookers advance. The following excerpt is an Interesting perspective on Hoods attack into the Cornfield at Antietam by David A. Welker in his “The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point”.



“In many respects, the reasons the 1st Texas’s attack failed reflect the same problems plaguing Hood’s larger assault into the Cornfield. Hood moved quickly into battle, putting his division in the right place at the right time to turn back Gibbon’s Union attack and secure Jackson’s salient south of the Cornfield. Had Hood been content with these achievements, his division’s actions at Antietam would today be judged a success that had also prepared Hood’s Division to meet the advance of Meade’s fresh brigades. Instead, Hood chose to push beyond defensive goals and launched a wider counterattack into the Cornfield, a tremendous gamble the Confederacy lost because Hood’s command mismanagement early-on surrendered control of the fight’s direction and momentum. Despite Hood’s initial success against Gibbon and the 90th Pennsylvania, he should have anticipated the looming threat of large numbers of fresh Union troops and acted accordingly. The fate of Lawton’s, Trimble’s, and Hays’s Brigades should have warned Hood to the presence of unseen reinforcements; instead, Hood pressed on to counterattack, playing right into Hooker’s advantages of greater manpower and mass once Meade’s Division entered the fight. Hood acknowledged this in his postwar memoir, writing “Not far distant in our front were drawn up, in close array, heavy columns of Federal infantry; not less than two corps were in sight to oppose my small command, numbering approximately, two thousand effectives. However, with the trusty Law on my right, in the edge of the woods, and the gallant Colonel Wofford in command of the Texas Brigade on the left, near the pike, we moved forward to the assault.” Was it overconfidence bordering on hubris that propelled Hood’s advance or the common military assumption that securing the initiative can overcome manpower and firepower deficiencies of an attack? Regardless why it was so, Hood chose poorly.”

— The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point by David A. Welker ~ reading it kindle so it’s page #130-131 may not be the same as printed versions of this book.
 

Mdiesel

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Welker continues:

“Having decided to counterattack, Hood’s success turned on his and his subordinate commanders’ abilities. Although Colonels Law and Wofford were generally effective under fire, controlling their brigades in the whirlwind of battle and exploiting opportunities when possible, the same cannot be said for General Hood. Hood’s first error occurred when dividing his division before a numerically superior enemy, moving Wofford’s Brigade left against Gibbon and Patrick, while sending Law’s Brigade right toward the East Woods. Had Hood’s goal been modest and defensive, this deployment would have been completely appropriate. In shifting to the offensive, however, Hood’s action created two separate brigade-sized forces, robbing his division’s attack of mass and surrendering offensive initiative to the Yankees by reacting to their deployments.

Moreover, Hood never tried reuniting his divided force to undo this error; instead, Hood let the situation spiral out of his grasp, focusing his command energy instead on overseeing Wofford’s struggling brigade on the left. Regardless why this was so, at the most critical moments in the division’s advance Hood was not directing his entire command but rather trying to be both a division and a brigade commander. As a result, command confusion erupted on the left as both Hood and Wofford moved the brigade’s various regiments into place, frequently at cross purposes. Hood’s misplaced command role left his critical center empty until the 1st Texas unknowingly filled it. This command confusion also probably explains in part how the 1st Texas drifted unchecked so far forward that it “slipped the bridle.” The division’s commander, who should have been monitoring his entire attack’s progress and making adjustments to ensure success, was doing no such thing much of the time. When the situation slipped completely beyond control—when the 1st Texas’s repulse collapsed the center—Hood wasn’t in a position to do more than retreat. Hood’s shortcomings as a senior commander were evident, even in late 1862.”

harsh a criticism or just about right, what do you think?
 

RayDoolittle

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It was later in the day when Lee asked Hood where his division was and Hood responded, to the effect, "They are dead on the field, where you sent them," (or something very similar).

Some would argue that Hood's men were not urged on by him or the officers but (as was said of the 1st Texas), they "slipped their bridle" and got carried away pressing their initial successes. Others may say that the aggressive Confederate high command was not looking for a stalemate against the Union Army but was looking to rout them. Even very late in the day, on that part of the field, Jackson was still looking for a way to turn the Union's flank and drive them from the field.

That parcel of land between the Dunker Church and the Miller Farm is beyond fascinating.
 
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Coonewah Creek

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Everyone has 20/20 hindsight. Maybe Hood did try to do too much with too little. However, do we really know what impact...not just the physical impact...but also the mental impact...his counterattack had on the opposing Federal commanders? Would they have assumed because of the audacity of his assault that the Confederates had reserves nearby to follow-up? Had he fallen back after his initial success would the Federals simply have fed their reserves in more quickly and perhaps overrun and crushed the Confederate left?

I don't know the answers, but those are some of the questions that come to mind when second-guessing Hood in this particular situation. And long-time members of this group know that I am no great fan of Hood's. Promotion past division commander was a horrible mistake when they moved him to the Western Theater to say the least, the Peter Principle aptly illustrated.
 

ErnieMac

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Seems there is a quote of Hood to Lee that he had no men remaining. Did it happen here, and what is the quote?
The quote was given in response to a question from General Lee as to where Hood's Division was. Hood responded "They are lying on the field where you sent them. But few have straggled. My division has been almost wiped out." The source was Colonel (later Lieutenant General) Stephen D. Lee and is cited in Ezra Carman's The Maryland Campaign (Vol. 2, page 505).
 

Ole Miss

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Attacking aggressively was the tactic used by Civil War units at each battle till the siege of Vicksburg and then later the Over Land campaign in 1864. If you look back to the Battle of Shiloh, the bloodiest fight of the war, the Confederates attacked steadily the 1st​ day of battle and at made at least 5 or 7 attacks across a large open expanse called Duncan Field! On the 2nd​ Federal troops attacked the Rebels head on and drove them from the field back to Corinth

Hood was a fighter but not a strategist! He was a brawler and hit at what was in front of him and then kept going. There is no blame to him as he was following orders but no one in the Confederate higher command knew how and where the Union troops were as the rising smoke of battle interfered with their vision.

All of the above is merely my opinion and I am willing to adjust with additional information.
Regards
David
 

Bruce Vail

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Seems easy to me to look back in retrospect and say a commander like Hood should have done this, or should have done that, to produce a more favorable outcome. I don't think any commander looks particularly good when given this kind of scrutiny and second-guessing.

Fact is, Hood's assault, while bloody, was pretty successful. It kept the enemy off balance and disorganized, preventing the kind of coordinated Union assault that would almost certainly have been successful. The fact that Gen. Jackson rewarded Hood with a recommendation for promotion speaks volume, since Jackson was right there on the field at the time.

Any number of alternate scenarios are possible, of course, but Hood did what he was ordered to do, and succeeded in the basic mission. What more can you ask for?
 
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James N.

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I have to admit I’ve always wondered why the Confederates were counterattacking every Federal advance & not just utilizing defensive position to stem Hookers advance...
There really aren't particularly good strictly defensive positions on that part of the field at Antietam - certainly nothing as good as Bloody Lane or Burnside's Bridge. The land bordering the Hagerstown Pike is open and rolling though the sight lines were blocked by the West Woods and the corn in the Cornfield, at least until it was all trampled. To the west Nicodemus Heights aren't really very high and although they were occupied by Stuart's Horse Artillery, they don't run conveniently to be used as a defensive position that would block north-south movement. The best option for a defender here would involve passive-aggressive reaction by a mobile infantry force, which was what Jackson was doing.
 

MHB1862

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Welker continues:

“Having decided to counterattack, Hood’s success turned on his and his subordinate commanders’ abilities. Although Colonels Law and Wofford were generally effective under fire, controlling their brigades in the whirlwind of battle and exploiting opportunities when possible, the same cannot be said for General Hood. Hood’s first error occurred when dividing his division before a numerically superior enemy, moving Wofford’s Brigade left against Gibbon and Patrick, while sending Law’s Brigade right toward the East Woods. Had Hood’s goal been modest and defensive, this deployment would have been completely appropriate. In shifting to the offensive, however, Hood’s action created two separate brigade-sized forces, robbing his division’s attack of mass and surrendering offensive initiative to the Yankees by reacting to their deployments.

Moreover, Hood never tried reuniting his divided force to undo this error; instead, Hood let the situation spiral out of his grasp, focusing his command energy instead on overseeing Wofford’s struggling brigade on the left. Regardless why this was so, at the most critical moments in the division’s advance Hood was not directing his entire command but rather trying to be both a division and a brigade commander. As a result, command confusion erupted on the left as both Hood and Wofford moved the brigade’s various regiments into place, frequently at cross purposes. Hood’s misplaced command role left his critical center empty until the 1st Texas unknowingly filled it. This command confusion also probably explains in part how the 1st Texas drifted unchecked so far forward that it “slipped the bridle.” The division’s commander, who should have been monitoring his entire attack’s progress and making adjustments to ensure success, was doing no such thing much of the time. When the situation slipped completely beyond control—when the 1st Texas’s repulse collapsed the center—Hood wasn’t in a position to do more than retreat. Hood’s shortcomings as a senior commander were evident, even in late 1862.”

harsh a criticism or just about right, what do you think?
The mission was to advance to stabilize the shattered line. The counterattack definitely succeeded. There was no defensive ground to which he could have retired. Falling back may have encouraged Meade to follow up and risked disaster for Jackson.
In my opinion the ferocity of the attack stunned the Federals to the point that they were content to stay put until the XII Corps comes on the field.
Could the attack have been better managed? Most could have been given hindsight. The division’s two brigades swinging like barroom doors opened up the center but they were reacting to the situation on the ground. The First Texas untiringly plugged the gap and paid the price when it lost contact with their supports on both flanks.
The attack wrecked a fine division but it saved the Confederate left flank which was in a precarious position.
In my view, mission accomplished.
 

Georgian183

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In my reading of The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point by David Welker, as Hood began his assault, Wofford commanded the Texas Brigade deployed on the left flank and Law's Brigade on the right flank. These two commands gradually floated apart and offered no mutual support of one another. Hood also micro-managed Wofford's deployment of the Texas Brigade. The two brigades floating apart may not have been an error of Wofford/Law, but due to how the situation developed and their response to Union troops either giving way or standing their ground.

It is easy to read books decades or hundreds of years later about who made what mistakes. I did this for decades until being able to visit some of this hallowed places. Knowing and experiencing rapidly evolving situations can give one a basic understanding of how quickly and badly things happen in such a tense and deadly environment. Having this in mind and actually walking the ground where these engagements occurred most definitely gave me a better understanding of how the battle flowed back and forth.

I too wonder why Hood decided to attack without knowing exactly what he was attacking into, but he was ordered to counter the Union attack.
 

James N.

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In my reading of The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point by David Welker, as Hood began his assault, Wofford commanded the Texas Brigade deployed on the left flank and Law's Brigade on the right flank. These two commands gradually floated apart and offered no mutual support of one another. Hood also micro-managed Wofford's deployment of the Texas Brigade. The two brigades floating apart may not have been an error of Wofford/Law, but due to how the situation developed and their response to Union troops either giving way or standing their ground.

It is easy to read books decades or hundreds of years later about who made what mistakes. I did this for decades until being able to visit some of this hallowed places. Knowing and experiencing rapidly evolving situations can give one a basic understanding of how quickly and badly things happen in such a tense and deadly environment. Having this in mind and actually walking the ground where these engagements occurred most definitely gave me a better understanding of how the battle flowed back and forth.

I too wonder why Hood decided to attack without knowing exactly what he was attacking into, but he was ordered to counter the Union attack.
Evidently it wasn't only the two brigades that floated apart, but also the regiments within the brigades; the exact same thing was to happen to them the following year at Gettysburg. Another good way for me to get an understanding on a basic level of how this can happen has been reenacting through the "golden years" of the hobby encompassing the 125th through the 135th anniversary years, roughly 1986 - 2001. Participation in these 10,000+ man-sized events that duplicate at least some of the conditions - heat, dust, noise, confusion, etc. - gave me an enhanced appreciation of how things can and did go wrong!
 

Coonewah Creek

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Evidently it wasn't only the two brigades that floated apart, but also the regiments within the brigades; the exact same thing was to happen to them the following year at Gettysburg.
From my basic understanding of Hood's assault, in addition to the conditions discussed above on the battlefield adding to the confusion, on the right of Hood's division, the 4th Alabama of Law's Brigade was slowed by its necessary advance into the West Woods to clear Federal units that had infiltrated on that flank. And, IIRC, the left flank of the Texas Brigade was put in a similar threat situation it had to protect itself from. Then seeing the gap developing in the center, Hood personally directed the 1st Texas to move over to the right flank of the Texas Brigade where it suffered its horrendous casualties, as did the 2nd Mississippi which was Law's left flank regiment in the same general area. I think in summary, although successful in accomplishing its intended goal, Hood's division simply was too small to cover the entire frontage to the depth necessary to do a "full sweep" of all the Federal units in the vicinity of the Cornfield.
 

Georgian183

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Evidently it wasn't only the two brigades that floated apart, but also the regiments within the brigades; the exact same thing was to happen to them the following year at Gettysburg. Another good way for me to get an understanding on a basic level of how this can happen has been reenacting through the "golden years" of the hobby encompassing the 125th through the 135th anniversary years, roughly 1986 - 2001. Participation in these 10,000+ man-sized events that duplicate at least some of the conditions - heat, dust, noise, confusion, etc. - gave me an enhanced appreciation of how things can and did go wrong!
A large component of this is and always will be communication. The lack of communication or simply the turn around time from commanders to subordinates either within the brigade, division, or corps level always had the potential to win or lose the engagement. I can not count the many different occasions of this very thing that occurred throughout the war. Before actually seeing the ground at Antietam, I had no idea that the entire battlefield is all rolling terrain.....sure there are many plateaus but the amount of low ground sufficient to adequately hide approaching troops was staggering.
 
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