How Many Men Where In The Sunken Road?

Hannover

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Jan 30, 2020
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*photo by @kholland
thread: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/the-irish-brigade-attacks-the-sunken-road.119355/#post-1230043


First you would think a description of the Sunken Road would be fairly straight forward, Pierro editing Carmen on page 282 describes it as;

From the Hagerstown Road the sunken road runs easterly for 550 yards, then turns nearly southeast 450 yards to where it makes an angle and runs nearly south. For the first 100 yards the road is level, then rises to pass over a rock ledge, descends but little and again rises to another rock ledge where it turns southeast. From this last rock ledge (the angle in the road) it descends 80 yards to the mouth of the Roulette lane, the descent in the eighty yards being twenty feet. From the mouth of the lane the road begins to ascend, and at 150 yards reaches the plateau upon which it runs to its southerly course.

I believe this is a printing error as the distance from the Hagerstown Pike to the angle is more like 450 yards, just look on any map and the distance from the Pike to the angle and from the angle to where the road turns southwards are similar distances – 450 yards. This gives a total length of 900 yards.

The road was filled with the following troops from left to right:

1. Remnants of Cobb’s and Colquitt’s brigade plus some men from 23rd North Carolina and 13th North Carolina (from Garland’s brigade)

2. Five regiments of Rodes’ brigade consisting of 26th Alabama, 12th Alabama, 3rd Alabama, 5th Alabama and 6th Alabama.

3. Four regiments of G.B. Anderson’s brigade with 2nd North Carolina, 14th North Carolina, 4th North Carolina and 30th North Carolina.

The numbers for G.B. Anderson’s brigade reported by Carmen are thought to be realistic at 1,174 men. We know that the right flank finished short of the turn southwards as Wright’s brigade was able to join the end of the line later on, therefore G.B. Anderson’s brigade held a frontage of about 325 yards. This gives a density of about 3.6 men per yard – in line with our estimate of between 3 to 4 men per yard as given in the training manuals.

Rodes described his position with the right flank being 80 yards west of the Roulette Lane (this is the point where the road turns southeast) and his left flank was 150 yards from the Hagerstown Pike. This gap was the space where Colquitt’s brigade was stationed. This is a distance of 300 to 325 yards, yet Carmen gives the strength as 850 (as reported by Rodes?). If this were the case it would only give a density of 2.6 men per yard, a density equivalent to that of a single line! Alternatively, if G.B. Anderson’s brigade had a similar density to this it would occupy a frontage of 450 yards, over 100 yards more and would reach the point where the lane turns south thereby leaving no gap for Wright’s brigade. This suggests that Rodes must have had more than 850 men. If we assume a similar density as G.B. Anderson’s brigade, Rodes’ brigade would number at least 1,200 men. With only 800 men, there would be a gap of close to 100 yards which would be visible from the Union side, which was not commented upon.

Is this reasonable from what we know was reported at the time? Carmen states that the conformation of the ground in the Sunken Lane determined the position of the troops. The gap between the two brigades therefore coincided with the turn in the road as the ground falls away at that point. With perhaps only a small gap between the brigades, with a density of about 3.5 men per yard means the lane is capable of holding far more troops than what is reported and is once again suggestive that Rodes’ brigade especially contained more men than the 850 reported. This contrasts with G.B. Anderson’s brigade that contained the number reported.

The lane had to be full of men as any gap between regiments or brigades of the sizes we have suggested with Rodes’ brigade, would be noticed by the attacking Union forces as these would be seen as vulnerable parts in the line to assault.

Now let us now consider Wright’s brigade from R.H. Anderson’s division. The disintegration of R.H. Anderson’s division can be seen by the simple fact that there are no official reports from any of its brigades. So, in the O.R. there is no divisional report, none of six brigade reports and only a single regimental report (16th Mississippi) from the 26 regiments present! Therefore, a lot of what happened to these brigades is open to conjecture (1 document present in the O.R. from a possible 33!!).

Wright’s brigade tore down the strong oak picket fence that was on the lane side of Piper’s apple orchard. At this time the brigade suffered from artillery fire from Tompkins’ battery and from batteries on the other side of Antietam creek. Whilst travelling through the orchard, Wright’s iron-grey horse was torn to pieces by a shell, Wright himself being thrown to the ground. He then led his brigade on foot. Wright was further injured probably passing through the cornfield and it is said only about 250 men reached the Sunken Lane. Control of the brigade went to Col Robert H. Jones of 22nd Georgia. On reaching the lane the brigade had the following order from left to right: 22nd Ga. 44th Al. 48th Ga. 3rd Ga. We also know the brigade went prone on reaching the lane.

It was this section of the Sunken Lane that whilst not under fire from Tompkins’ battery, it was however enfiladed by batteries on the other side of Antietam creek.

The first question to consider is the 250 men reaching the lane a reasonable assumption? The brigade of 4 regiments had a reported strength of 521. The total reported losses were 203; 16 KIA, 187 WIA, 34 MIA. Let us assume 520 men set foot onto Piper’s farm. If only 250 men reach the lane that means 270 men are lost on the Piper farm i.e., greater than the total reported loss for the battle. Not only that, but there must be no losses when the brigade is in the lane – an impossible scenario.

We know some men might be left behind when crossing the Piper farm, but the figures just do not add up. So, what might be a more probable outcome? The first assumption is that it is more than probable that more casualties would have occurred in the vicinity of the sunken lane. If not in the lane itself, as it was enfiladed by union batteries on the far side of Antietam Creek, then either side of the lane; the cornfield they moved through obviously would have been under fire and the brigade would eventually advance out of the sunken lane to attack Union forces on the far side of the lane.

What might be the alternatives? First let us assume that 1/3 of the casualties occur crossing the Piper farm. This equates to 68 men, leaving about 450 men reaching the lane. Alternatively, if 2/3 of the losses occur crossing the farm, this still leaves 385 men reaching the lane. Either way this means about 400 men reach the lane to fit into a gap of 100-120 yards giving a density of between 3.3 and 4 men per yard. If only 250 men reached the lane at a density of 3.3 men per yard would only occupy a frontage of 75 yards, thereby leaving a noticeable gap in the line.

In the meantime, Col. Robert H. Jones who leads the brigade into the lane becomes a casualty (interestingly so unpopular in his own regiment that some say he was shot by one of his own men!) and leadership of the brigade passes to Col. William Gibson of 48th Georgia, who after the battle is reported by D.H. Hill as being totally unsuited for brigade command. It was Col. Gibson who apparently decided to attack out of the Sunken Road although Wright (who had been carried to the Sunken Road on a litter) may have prompted the attack.

We now have the gap from the Mumma Lane junction to the Hagerstown Pike, a distance of 150 yards. If our estimate of 3.6-3.7 men per yard is reasonable, how many men could fit into this space? This gives values of 540 to 560 men. The remnants of Colquitt’s and McRae’s brigade are believed to be in the region of 200 men and at the junction with the Turnpike was Cobb’s brigade thought to be about 350 men. This means that the total number of 550 men is a reasonable estimate and would fit into the gap at a density similar to elsewhere in the Sunken Road.

The assumptions used in this method of considering regimental and brigade frontages seems to be a reasonable one. A density of around 3.5 to 4.0 men per yard seems to be consistent with a regiment formed as a double line, and as both sides utilised the same or similar training manuals this value can be applied to both sides in the conflict. However, this method again signifies that in some specific cases outlined above, the reporting of the number of some of the Confederates brigades at Antietam is questionable.

Finally, what would be the likely number of men that defended the Sunken Road? If we assume a density of 3.6 men per yard for 900 yards gives a total of 3,240 along its entire length. If we subtract the number from Wright’s brigade that arrived later and assume this to be about 440, then the figure falls to 2,800 men. What units make up this number? The remnants of various brigades stretching from the Hagerstown Pike to the Mumma farm lane at 550 men, G.B. Anderson’s brigade of about 1,200 men thereby giving a value of about 1,050 men for Rodes’ brigade. These numbers give a similar troop density right across the sunken road which is not an unreasonable assumption. Even if we allow gaps between each individual regiment and slightly larger gaps between brigades we would attain very similar numbers.
 
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Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Normally in a two-deep line you'd expect a bit more than 3,000 men to fit into 900 yards as a rule of thumb; of course, it might have been denser. But the numbers you've come up with seem to pretty much line up with a standard two-deep line, which is a point in their favour overall.


This is a distance of 300 to 325 yards, yet Carmen gives the strength as 850 (as reported by Rodes?). If this were the case it would only give a density of 2.6 men per yard, a density equivalent to that of a single line! Alternatively, if G.B. Anderson’s brigade had a similar density to this it would occupy a frontage of 450 yards, over 100 yards more and would reach the point where the lane turns south thereby leaving no gap for Wright’s brigade. This suggests that Rodes must have had more than 850 men. If we assume a similar density as G.B. Anderson’s brigade, Rodes’ brigade would number at least 1,200 men. With only 800 men, there would be a gap of close to 100 yards which would be visible from the Union side, which was not commented upon.
Rodes' brigade is interesting, because my notes say Carman only reported three of the five regiments in Rodes' brigade. That's where the 840 strength comes from, it's the 3rd, 6th and 12th Alabama, though it excludes the officers of the 12th and possibly of the other two. (The officers should represent about 1/15 to 1/20 of the total strength of a formation, so this could mean those regiments had anything like 14 to 56 unreported men.)

After Second Bull Run, the effective strength of the brigade was 1,800 (exclusive of brigade staff) going by the Schulte ORBAt which is effectives not PFD. Increasing the 840 pro rata would leave about 1,100 (going by 2nd Bull Run strength ratios) to 1,400 (if the average strength of 5th and 26th AL was like the other two). 1,200 is within that bracket.

ED: of course, DH Hill had been heavily engaged at South Mountain, so the regiment ratios might have ended up skewed off the post-2BR numbers. Which is why we can only really be a bit vague there...


Now let us now consider Wright’s brigade from R.H. Anderson’s division. The disintegration of R.H. Anderson’s division can be seen by the simple fact that there are no official reports from any of its brigades. So, in the O.R. there is no divisional report, none of six brigade reports and only a single regimental report (16th Mississippi) from the 26 regiments present! Therefore, a lot of what happened to these brigades is open to conjecture (1 document present in the O.R. from a possible 33!!).

The 22nd September return from Anderson's division gives 5,324 Confederate PFD, and it suffered 1,278 casualties at Antietam, though this includes Armistead who wasn't with the rest of the division (and was in reserve all day). I'd say you could peg the regiments as up to an average of 250 men each at the start of the day, and certainly more than an average of 200 men each.
 
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Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
The regiments making up Anderson's division, in the Schulte ORBAT (i.e. September 2) have 10,546 men exclusive of brigade/divisional staff and artillery. This implies 400 effectives per regiment at the start of the Maryland Campaign, which is the high bar for their possible strengths.
I also have the number of companies per regiment, which means I can say that:


Three brigades (Featherston, Mahone, Armistead) were 39-40 effectives per company on the 2nd of September, exclusive of artillery.

Wilcox' brigade was the most depleted, at 33 effectives per coy.
Wright's brigade was at 35-6 effectives per coy.
Pryor's brigade, the largest, was at 52 effectives per company, mostly thanks to the 5th and 8th FL which hadn't been at the Seven Days and which had seen no significant fighting in the Northern Virginia campaign. Without them it's at the average of 40 effectives per coy.
The numbers for September 2 (effective infantry only) are:

Armistead 2143
Mahone 1498
Wright 1465
Wilcox 1323
Featherston 1496
Pryor 2621

Even the weakest two formations (the 8-coy 2nd MS Bn and the 6-coy 5th VA Bn) were more than 200 strong on that date.
 
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Miles Krisman

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Feb 15, 2012
Rodes' brigade is interesting, because my notes say Carman only reported three of the five regiments in Rodes' brigade. That's where the 840 strength comes from, it's the 3rd, 6th and 12th Alabama, though it excludes the officers of the 12th and possibly of the other two. (The officers should represent about 1/15 to 1/20 of the total strength of a formation, so this could mean those regiments had anything like 14 to 56 unreported men.)
I can tell you that the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment had on 40 to 50 men present at the Battle of Sharpsburg/Antietam. After the battle, there were only about twenty men left in the regiment! The entire Confederate line had about 2500 men in a SINGLE line formation in the Sunken Road, according to Colonel John B. Gordon who was commanding Rodes' Brigade.
 
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Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
I can tell you that the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment had on 40 to 50 men present at the Battle of Sharpsburg/Antietam. After the battle, there were only about twenty men left in the regiment! The entire Confederate line had about 2500 men in a SINGLE line formation in the Sunken Road, according to Colonel John B. Gordon who was commanding Rodes' Brigade.
Does rather raise the question of where the 292 effectives with the regiment on September 2nd had all gone.
 

Hannover

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Jan 30, 2020
The entire Confederate line had about 2500 men in a SINGLE line formation in the Sunken Road, according to Colonel John B. Gordon who was commanding Rodes' Brigade.
There is simply insufficient space to fit 2,500 men in a 900 yard space, this would only allow 12 inches per man, not including the required spacing in between regiments and brigades. Formations described as 'single lines' were nearly always double ranked. So the description given by Colonel John B. Gordon of a 'single line' does not necessarily mean it was a single file or rank.
 

Miles Krisman

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Does rather raise the question of where the 292 effectives with the regiment on September 2nd had all gone.
I would be interested in knowing where this "292 effectives" derives from.

At the start of the Maryland Campaign the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment only had about 190 men. At the Battle of South Mountain/Boonsboro, on September 14, 1862, they lost 150 men.
 

Miles Krisman

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Feb 15, 2012
There is simply insufficient space to fit 2,500 men in a 900 yard space, this would only allow 12 inches per man, not including the required spacing in between regiments and brigades. Formations described as 'single lines' were nearly always double ranked. So the description given by Colonel John B. Gordon of a 'single line' does not necessarily mean it was a single file or rank.
Perhaps Colonel Gordon was only referring to his Brigade as forming in a single line.
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
I would be interested in knowing where this "292 effectives" derives from.
The Schulte ORBAT for September 2. This is based on Owen's analysis of individual regimental strengths in the Northern Virginia Campaign; it is effectives, not PFD, so in PFD there'd be more like 355 men.

At the start of the Maryland Campaign the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment only had about 190 men. At the Battle of South Mountain/Boonsboro, on September 14, 1862, they lost 150 men.
Where do you get those numbers from, out of curiosiry?
 

Miles Krisman

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The Schulte ORBAT for September 2. This is based on Owen's analysis of individual regimental strengths in the Northern Virginia Campaign; it is effectives, not PFD, so in PFD there'd be more like 355 men.


Where do you get those numbers from, out of curiosiry?
My numbers come from an unpublished history of the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment. (I have been working on it for over twenty-five years.) I'm quite confident that my numbers are accurate. After the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862, the regimental strength was only about 150 men according to Major Eugene Blackford of the regiment. Over a third of these men had suffered wounds! By the time of the Maryland Campaign (10 weeks later) the regiment definitely still had less than 200 men present.

I'm not familiar with Schulte ORBAT. What is that?
 

Hannover

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Civil War Officers regarded the two-rank battle line as the standard formation and the use of one rank on the Civil War battlefield was very rare. This prompted me to see if I could find examples of the use of a single rank.
1. Gouverneur K. Warren ordered part of his V Corps to advance as a single rank at Spotsylvania on 10th May 1864. This single rank was used to reconnoitre the Confederate position without exposing the line to unnecessary casualties. I cannot be sure as I could not find a suitable reference but I think VI Corps did a similar thing on approaching the Confederate line.
2. Another example was the attack on Fort McAllister, December 13th 1864. William Hazen arranged for an assault that resembled a close line of skirmishers. This considerably reduced the casualties taken in the assault even though 9 regiments were involved.
These were the only two or three examples I could find.
 

Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
My numbers come from an unpublished history of the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment. (I have been working on it for over twenty-five years.) I'm quite confident that my numbers are accurate. After the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862, the regimental strength was only about 150 men according to Major Eugene Blackford of the regiment. Over a third of these men had suffered wounds! By the time of the Maryland Campaign (10 weeks later) the regiment definitely still had less than 200 men present.
So I now have another question.
The 5th Alabama is listed as having 24 killed, 13 wounded and 121 missing at Chancellorsville. How is this possible, if they'd lost 150 of 190 men at South Mountain?
 

Miles Krisman

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"The 5th Alabama is listed as having 24 killed, 13 wounded and 121 missing at Chancellorsville. How is this possible, if they'd lost 150 of 190 men at South Mountain?"

The losses at South Mountain included 112 men captured. These men were exchanged before Chancellorsville.

The regiment also recruited and had some of the wounded of 1862 return to the ranks. Estimated strength of the regiment at Chancellorsville is about 600 men of which 41 were killed, 143 were wounded of which 26 were captured, along with at least 111 additional men captured.

At Gettysburg, eight weeks later, they had 380 men in the regiment.
 
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Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
"The 5th Alabama is listed as having 24 killed, 13 wounded and 121 missing at Chancellorsville. How is this possible, if they'd lost 150 of 190 men at South Mountain?"

The losses at South Mountain included 112 men captured. These men were exchanged before Chancellorsville.

The regiment also recruited and had some of the wounded of 1862 return to the ranks. Estimated strength of the regiment at Chancellorsville is about 600 men of which 41 were killed, 143 were wounded of which 26 were captured, along with at least 111 additional men captured.

At Gettysburg, eight weeks later, they had 380 men in the regiment.
I think the point I'm trying to get at is that if they could replenish and recover wounded after South Mountain they could certainly do that after Gaines Mill (where they suffered heavily). So is your strength for the 5th AL in the Maryland Campaign based on any positive data, or is it just a number based on Seven Days casualties alone?

The numbers I have are:

Battle of Seven Pines


The regiment lost 27 killed and 128 wounded of 660 men engaged, including Captain James V. Tutt was wounded and resigned due to disability.

Then in the Seven Days battles the 5th AL reports 174 killed and wounded. (Or, in the other list, 66 at Gaines Mill and 92 at Malvern.) Either way they suffered less than 180 casualties; they weren't at Second Bull Run, so no casualties there. If no recovery of casualties had taken place we'd expect them to have gone:

660 (engaged at Seven Pines)
- 22
-128
-174
for 336.

So 292 effectives is about what you'd expect.
 

Miles Krisman

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Actual losses of the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment based on Compiled Service Records. Casualty numbers are probably slightly greater because the CSR records do have gaps. Some records have been found "misfiled" with the CSR of the 5th Alabama Infantry Battalion.

Seven Pines:
46 killed or died of wounds
179 wounded

Gaines Mills:
33 killed
60 wounded

Malvern Hill
30 killed or died of wounds
72 wounded

Further, this doesn't include those of the regiment that would have been lost to service due to being sick in hospital. The numbers were definitely lower for this group in 1862 than it was in 1861, but there was still sickness amongst the men.

Some wounded men would be returning to the regiment prior to the Maryland Campaign, but as mentioned in a previous post, the regiment had only about 150 men left after the Battle of Malvern Hill as reported by Major Eugene Blackford.
 

Lubliner

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Numbers are always going to be a bit of a stickler. But going back to the Sunken Lane once more, when talking about Wright's men making the advance through the orchard and when arriving lying down prone; they are filling a space other troops have held. These spaces have dead bodies and the living that join those men in the lane are typically not going to show a gap due to the dead. Am I thinking about this properly?
Lubliner.
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
Some wounded men would be returning to the regiment prior to the Maryland Campaign, but as mentioned in a previous post, the regiment had only about 150 men left after the Battle of Malvern Hill as reported by Major Eugene Blackford.
But if what you have is the post-Malvern numbers (possibly effectives before readjusting the ratios) then you can't necessarily extrapolate from there to give you certainty about the Maryland Campaign numbers.

You also said that over 1/3 of the 150 men left post-Malvern had suffered wounds, but that doesn't really line up numerically given the casualty numbers you provided; you're effectively claiming that the 5th AL suffered casualties nearly twice as heavy as reported overall in the 7P-7D sequence (over 560 instead of about 320).

That being said, to reach 292 effectives all it'd take is that about half of the wounded had recovered by two months after the end of the Seven Days.
 

GMSorrel

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May 31, 2011
Col. Gibson of the 48th GA took command of Wrights Brigade during the battle. His report is in the supplemental OR. He states after the first charge toward the enemy and high casualties, the brigade numbered under 200. I will have to look tonight but I may have a newspaper account that gives the number taken into battle.
 

Hannover

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Jan 30, 2020
But going back to the Sunken Lane once more, when talking about Wright's men making the advance through the orchard and when arriving lying down prone; they are filling a space other troops have held.
Wright's men filed into a gap between the right flank of the 30th North Carolina (part of G.B. Anderson's brigade) and the point where the road turns southwards. How much of Wright's brigade occupied what was left of the sunken road is I think unknown. The regiment on the right flank, the 3rd Georgia, was beyond the point where the road turns southwards as they ended up advancing beyond the Sunken Road into a ploughed field to be repelled quickly by the 7th West Virginia of Kimball's brigade. In effect, on arrival at the Sunken Road there would be few dead in this vicinity so there had to be space at least for part of the brigade to fit into. The standard procedure would be that the brigade would 'dress its lines' having arrived into the line of battle as they had travelled through Piper's cornfield that would have caused disruption. Dressing the lines would return the brigade to its correct frontage which may have been lost by passage through the cornfield. It is thought that Wright's brigade was formed left to right: 22nd Georgia, 44th Alabama, 48th Georgia, 3rd Georgia. To allow the brigade to go prone would have required more space than was available from the end of the 30th North Carolina to where the road turns, hence probably about half of the brigade lined up along a rail fence facing the ploughed field. Going prone would in all likelihood effectively double the frontage of the brigade, hence the overspill. Where Wright's brigade arrived was therefore empty of troops and his brigade extended the right flank of the battle-line. A history of 48th Georgia may have a description of where they lined up along the Sunken Road as this may have been the regiment positioned where the road turned southwards.
 

Andy Cardinal

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Ohio
The area between the Piper Farm and the Sunken Road was a killing ground. Soldiers moving through there were highly exposed. In that sense the Sunken Road was a trap in addition to being a breastwork, as it was difficult if not impossible for any troops to move forward toward the road or retreat from it once there without sustaining heavy losses.
 
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