Research Hooker's Advance: A Scenario (Details of events prior to 7 a.m.)

Moe Daoust

Jun 11, 2018
As promised, here are the events that transpired on Hood's front at Antietam prior to 7 a.m.

- Picking up the fight from the previous night, Seymour’s brigade (Meade) drives through to the southern end of the East Woods where they come upon Trimble’s brigade (now under Col. James Walker) which was then deployed on the Mumma farm.
- One of Seymour’s regiments, the 13th Pennsylvania Bucktails who happen to be armed with Sharps rifles, lays down a rapid and deadly fire on Walker. This, combined with less than effective artillery fire coming from across the Antietam, makes things quite hot for Walker’s men.
- Running low on ammunition, the Bucktails are ordered to pull back. Not realizing that fresh troops were coming up to replace the Bucktails and concerned he might be outflanked, the commander of the regiment next to the Bucktails marches his own men out of the fight thereby allowing Walker to drive back Seymour’s remaining regiment. (Also see Murfin’s map, p. 216.)

- Coming up directly behind Seymour, Ricketts’s division (advancing along the Smokeytown Road) is struck by flanking artillery fire (from John Pelham’s guns on Nicodemus Hill) as soon as it clears the cover of the North Woods. NOTE: Hooker will tie up four of his nine batteries to contend with Pelham’s guns and to guard against any concealed troops Lee might have in the lower ground toward the Potomac.

- 6:00 A.M. Supported by Mathews’s and Thompson’s batteries (positioned in the field east of the Miller orchard), Duryea’s brigade begins advancing through the Cornfield.
- As Duryea’s line breaks out of the corn, it is met by a “terrible fire” from Lawton’s brigade (now under Col. Marcellus Douglass) whose men had been lying in wait (some from behind piles of fence rails) for just such an enemy movement. After recovering from the initial shock, Duryea’s’s men return fire and the two sides (less than 250 yards apart) proceed to blaze away at each other in what could only be termed as a stand up fight.
- “Shouted commands went unheard in the din, and ragged sheets of dirty white smoke hung low in the windless air over the pasture and in the corn.” Common sense finally prevails and both sides finally continue the fight under whatever cover they can find.
- Meanwhile, after chasing Seymour back into the East Woods, three regiments of Trimble’s brigade (under Walker) moves up across the Smokeytown Road to the shelter of a low rock ledge and fires into Duryea’s already decimated ranks.
- Some of Walker’s men try to advance further in an attempt to flank Duryea but are themselves hit on the flank by remnants of Seymour’s men who were still holding onto the East Woods.
- 6:30 A.M. By now, an outnumbered Duryea, who had been expecting reinforcements (Hartsuff’s and Christian’s brigades) which have yet to arrive, is running low on ammunition and taking heavy losses. Learning that the Rebels were apparently edging into the East Woods on his left, Duryea orders a withdrawal back through the Cornfield. The brigade completes its retirement in good order but having lost one third of its men in the last half hour, will fight no more on this day. NOTE: Hartsuff’s and Christian’s brigades have been delayed due to command breakdown following the former’s wounding and the latter’s mental breakdown.

- Having replaced his wounded superior and straightened things out, Col. Richard Coulter finally advances Hartsuff’s brigade through the Cornfield and East Woods (all the while under heavy artillery fire from Pelham’s guns.)
- Realizing Walker’s regiments are only barely hanging on, Division commander Lawton sends in a fresh brigade - Harry Hays’s Louisiana Tigers. - As they advance, Hays’s Tigers are riddled by shells from Mathews’s and Thompson’s guns but eventually manage to collide head-on with Coulter’s men.
- Hays Tigers (supported by some of Col. Douglass’s Georgians) charge and drive Coulter’s men back into the corn and fringes of the East Woods where the Federals (including the 12th Mass.) rally and hold.

- Recognizing the desperate nature of affairs, Thompson advances his guns to a hillock in the centre of the Cornfield from where he will be better able to better direct his fire on the enemy. Meanwhile, Rebel artillery, from near the church, are firing caseshot into the Cornfield and solid shot into the East Woods. - Caught in a crossfire (from the Cornfield on their front and the East Woods and their right) in which Col. Douglass is killed, Hays’s men are eventually forced to fall back to the cover of the hollows and outcroppings in the pasture from where they keep up a murderous fire on the thinning Federal ranks.

NOTE: When the final count is made, the 12th Mass. will (one of the Tiger’s principal opponents that day) have lost 224 of the 334 (67 percent) men who went into battle. The Tigers do not go unscathed, having suffered 61 percent casualties including all of its regimental commanders being killed or wounded.

- 7:00 A.M. Col. Peter Lyle (replacing Christian) finally advances through the East Woods. Upon Lyle’s arrival, Coulter withdraws his wrecked formations. Although they come under accurate fire from the moment they arrive, Lyle and his men will stand fast until about 7:00 a.m. when Hood finally advances. Even then, one regiment (90th Pennsylvania) will stay behind to take the brunt of Hood’s counterattack. When it does finally withdraw, the 90th will do so slowly and defiantly. In the end, Ricketts’s attack will, thanks to a sequence of misfortunes, have been made piecemeal. What effect this, combined with Hooker’s decision to advance without Mansfield, may have had on the battle is not difficult to imagine.


- To Hooker’s right, Doubleday’s division advances along the Hagerstown turnpike with Gibbon’s Black Hat Brigade in the van.

- Advancing southward along the pike, the Iron Brigade comes under extremely
- accurate artillery fire and loses two dead and eleven wounded when one shell explodes in the midst of the 6th Wisconsin.
- After clearing enemy skirmishers from the Miller farm, the brigade deploys on either side of the pike (19th Ind., 7th and three companies of the 6th Wis. on the right and the remainder of the 6th and the entire 7th Wisconsin on the left.) On the left, the 6th and 7th Wis. entered the Cornfield at about the same time as Coulter was leading Hartsuff’s brigade in. Close behind were Patrick’s and Phelps’s brigades (all supported by a two gun section of Battery B, 4th U.S. near the Miller barn.)

- As the brigade advances, it is struck by a surprise volley from the area of a clover field in front of the West Woods (Virginians under Col. Andrew Grigsby.) To counter this threat, Gibbon sends the 7th Wis. and 19th Ind. into the fields west of the turnpike. Meanwhile, Doubleday advances Patrick’s brigade up in support. This proves to be sufficient in forcing Grigsby back toward the woods and prompting the latter to call for reinforcements if he was to hold the flank.
- Before reinforcements can be sent forward, Grigsby’s line breaks and the 7th Wis. And 19th Ind. push into the West Woods to a point opposite the Cornfield.
- With his flank now secure, Gibbon sends the 2nd and 6th Wis, (supported by Phelps’s brigade) on through the Cornfield (at about the same time as Hartsuff’s brigade was fighting it out with the Louisiana Tigers) to its southern end where they are met with the same deadly fire (from three Georgia regiments of Lawton’s brigade) as had greeted Duryea. In the smoke and ceaseless noise men were yelling incoherently, overcome with wild, hysterical excitement. “Men and officers of New York [Phelps] and Wisconsin are fused into a common mass, in the frantic struggle to shoot fast. Every body tears cartridges, loads, passes guns, or shoots. Men are falling in their places or running back into the corn.”

- Just as Lawton’s Georgians are being pressed, William E. Starke’s two brigades (his own and Talliafero’s) come slanting across the clover field to a post and rail fence along the turnpike. Taking cover behind the stout fence, Starke’s men begin blazing away at Gibbon’s and Phelps’s men in the pasture less than thirty yards ahead of them.
- Suddenly, Starke is caught in a converging fire from the pasture, the Cornfield, caseshot from Battery B and sharpshooter fire (7th Wis. And 19th Ind. then advancing east through the West Woods) from their flank and rear. Starke is struck by three bullets and will die within the hour and his replacement will finally give the order to withdraw.
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