The Crazy Delawares at the Battle of Antietam

by Brett Schulte on August 26, 2011 · 0 comments

Editor’s Note: 2nd Delaware researcher and reenactor Sean Protas has generously agreed to do a series of guest posts focusing on the colorfully nicknamed ‘Crazy Delawares’.  Look for Sean’s posts to appear periodically here at TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog.  For more information on the modern day 2nd Delaware Volunteer Infantry reenactment group, check out their web page: http://www.2nddelaware.com/

The Crazy Delawares at the Battle of Antietam

By: Sean Protas

                The Antietam campaign of September 1862 was the first attempt of General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia to take the war north of the Potomac. This bold move was conceived following the humiliating defeats of Gen. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac during the Seven Day’s Battles before Richmond and the thorough rout of General Pope’s Army of Virginia in August 1862 at the Battle of Second Bull Run. Morale was extremely high in the Confederacy and in stark contrast, Northern morale was at a low point. The London Times stated the following in late July 1862, “After pouring forth blood like water and fertilizing the fields of Virginia with thousands of corpses, the North finds itself obliged to begin all over again, with credit destroyed, a ruined revenue, a depreciated currency, and an enormous debt.” (Gallagher, 1989) The Army of the Potomac received a morale boost on September 2nd, when the beloved General George B. McClellan was returned to command and the remaining units from the disbanded Army Virginia where combined with it.

The campaign began in earnest as Gen. Lee’s army crossed the Potomac into Maryland on September 5th, 1862. When this information became known in Washington, the 2nd and 12th corps of the Army of the Potomac, representing the center column, began their march from Tennallytown, MD, which was located on the Northwest border of Washington, DC and marched about 10 miles to Rockville, MD. During the introductory phase of the campaign, the Second Corps received a third division composed of 2 brigades of new volunteer regiments. This affected the 2nd Delaware directly because, Maj. General Sumner, the commander of the 2nd Corps would select Brig. Gen. William French as the commander of the third division. Gen. French had been the unit’s brigade commander during the Peninsula campaign. The Colonel of the 53rd Pennsylvania, John R. Brooke, was chosen to assume command of the Brigade on September 9th. (Armstrong, 2008, p. 81) From the 9th to the 13th of September, the 2nd  Corps would march from Rockville to Frederick, MD and pass through towns such as Clarksburg and Urbana. (Walker, 1886, p. 93) When the soldiers entered Frederick, MD, they were treated like conquering heroes as the city had until recently been under Confederate occupation. It was described this way by Sgt. John H. Rhodes of Battery G, 1st NY Light Artillery: “… as the full ranks of Sumner’s brigades, in perfect order and with all the pomp of war, passed through the quaint and beautiful town, their proud commanders and glittering staffs, and General Sumner at the head, the inhabitants responded with applause, and, from balcony and windows fair faces smiled, and handkerchiefs and scarfs waved to greet the army of the Union, as they passed along the streets from which, only the day before, the Confederates had been driven.” (Armstrong, 2008, p. 108)

The following day the fight for the passes through the South Mountain range that became known as the Battle of South Mountain erupted. The 2nd Delaware and its corps were tasked to support the assault of Turner’s Gap but did not become engaged. This battle set the stage for the forthcoming battle near Sharpsburg, MD. The Confederate forces were able to hold long enough to prevent the Union army from crossing the range and cutting off Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps that was still occupying Harper’s Ferry, WV to the South. On Sept. 15th, the 2nd Corps crossed the South Mountain Range through Turner’s Gap after it was discovered that the Confederate forces had left the area over night. Once across the mountain, Gen. Israel “Dick” Richardson, commander of 1st Division ordered the 5th NH deploy as skirmishers across the Boonsboro Pike and to move through Boonsboro, MD  to meet a group of Confederate cavalry that was resting on the western side of the town. This cavalry force was engaged by troopers of the 8th Ill. Cavalry who moved forward supporting the 5th NH. Gen. Richardson deployed his division and forced the rebels back for over four miles to the banks of the Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg. The Confederates escaped to the western side of the Antietam where Lee’s army was waiting. Richardson’s Division remained in this position because the full corps was not in place, the remainder of the corps was still several miles away along with the commander, Gen. Sumner. (Armstrong, 2008, pp. 132-137)

The morning of Sept. 17th had the 2nd Delaware stationed on the Eastern of bank of Antietam creek just west of Boonsboro, awaiting orders to cross with their division and engage that Confederates now camped just east of the town of Sharpsburg, MD. The initial movement orders for the 2nd Corps came at 7:20am, and the 2nd division of Gen. Sedgwick and Gen. French’s 3rd Division crossed the Middle bridge over the Antietam Creek. Maj. Gen. Sumner accompanied his 3rd division troops into a full on engagement across the Hagerstown Pike in the West Woods, Gen. French’s brigade without clear orders from its corps commander turned to the south towards the sunken road. The 2nd Delaware at this time was still on the eastern side of the Antietam creek with their division awaiting a division from the 5th corps which was ordered to replace it on the union lines. (Walker, 1886, pp. 100-101)

At about 9:30am, Gen. Richardson’s division crossed the Antietam creek and moved to the south in support of French’s Division. The division formed up in a ravine behind a ridge that was to the east of the Roulette House that is located to the North of the sunken road. It formed with the Irish Brigade under Brig Gen. Meagher on the right and the First Brigade commanded by Brig. Gen John Caldwell on the left, with the 3rd Brigade of Col. John Brooke in reserve. The initial attack began with Meagher’s brigade engaging the Confederates stationed in the Sunken Road at about 10:30am. Meagher’s Irish Brigade would hold their position for approximately 20 minutes and suffer severe casualties in the process. At this time, Gen. Richardson supported the Irish Brigade by committing his first Brigade commanded by Gen. John Caldwell. This brigade consisted of the 5th New Hampshire, the 7thNY, 61st NY, 64th NY, and the 81st PA. The brigade moved up behind and to the right of the Irish Brigade and directly engaged and drove the Rebels from the Sunken Road. About ten to twenty minutes after Caldwell’s men entered the fight, gaps began to appear in his line and they were noticed by Col. Brooke. Col. Brooke had his brigade in reserve to the north of the sunken road. Brooke’s brigade from left to right consisted of the 53rd PA, 66th NY, 57th NY, 2nd DE, and the 52nd NY, whose flank was on the farm lane that ran north from the sunken road. As Brooke advanced south towards the road, Meagher’s brigade left the field, having been relieved by Caldwell’s men. Brooke advanced his brigade forward across the sunken road and into a position of support for Caldwell who was fighting on the southern side of the road.

During this advance through the lane, the commander of the 52nd NY noticed enemy forces moving to their right rear. To counter this development, he took command of is regiment and the 2nd DE, and changed fronts to the west to counter the threat posed by the advancing rebels at about 12:15 pm. The remainder of Brooke’s regiments along with a regiment from another brigade advanced through the Piper cornfield to the south of the Sunken road and pushed the Rebel line to the breaking point. At this time however, the union troops in this sector were halted short of breaking the line when Gen. Richardson, the division commander was mortally wounded. Following his wounding, command devolved to Brig. Gen. Caldwell, who suspended further advances in order to hold and consolidate the gains that were made during the attack.

In researching this phase of the battle, I have encountered multiple accounts of the same action. The reports of the events from various officers are misleading or vague, as there was significant confusion in Brooke’s brigade as his regiments became separated to counter the enemy threat that developed on the right of the division. He countered this threat by detaching the 52nd NY, 2nd DE, and the 53rd PA, while he remained with the 66th and 57th NY in the area of the Piper farm. In a post-war history of the 2nd DE, Lt. Robert Smith of Co. A asserted that the 2nd DE played a key role in the charge on the Piper farm and that they were not given the credit in the official reports because the after action report of Captain Stricker was extremely vague in his description of the battle. The assertions of Lt. Smith are supported by a letter that was mailed home by Lt. Charles Lynch of Co. K. “At one time we were so far in advance of the regular line that we came near being out-flanked by the enemy, and for a short time we sustained quite a severe crossfire; fortunately for us there was another regiment in the rear of us, and they fired into them and saved us considerably.” (Blue Hen’s Chicken, 10/1/1862) It was at this battle that the regiment’s stellar conduct on the field earned them the moniker of “The Crazy Delaware’s”.

Captain Stricker’s report of the battle was written on September 21, 1862 and was extremely vague as to the actions of the regiment. The following is his description of the battle.

“On the morning of the 17th we moved with the brigade across the creek and took position in a corn-field, where we lay about twenty minutes, losing 1 man killed and 1 man wounded. The brigade was then ordered to move forward, and soon became engaged with the enemy, driving them for some distance. Our loss in killed, wounded, and missing foots up as follows: 12 killed, 43 wounded, 2 missing.”

He did single out several enlisted men for commendation as follows:

“Among the enlisted I may favorably mention: Company D, First Sergt. John L Ogden (killed); Company H, First Sergt. Thomas Russell, who, after Lieutenant Smith was wounded, took command of his company; First Sergt. Richard Fox (missing). The color sergeants deserve special mention. Their names are James Wier (wounded) and Robert Hanna.”

 

The 2nd Delaware’s involvement in the battle of Antietam was limited to the attack on the Sunken Road but it remained in the memories of the men for the rest of their lives. The historical slight of the 2nd Delaware was still felt in 1909 when Lt. Smith wrote his history of the regiment. He included the following in the introduction:

“… and so they have described this charge of ours as a splendid charge ‘by several regiments of Union troops,’ and thus, though our work has received the utmost credit as a fear of arms, yet historically our name is not mentioned; therefore it is most fitting that we should go to Antietam and put tablets, even if they are but those that we can scratch out ourselves, that will serve to show the important work we did that day—not in foolish egotism; but that a proper pride may be satisfied and that interesting historical facts may be made known; no matter how crude we may make our tablets and markers, distinguished people, or people of influence, are frequently visiting this battleground and they can thus learn what regiment it was that made that charge over the ‘Bloody Road’ up the hill beyond, and clean out to near ‘Pipers House’ a long distance beyond our front lines and capturing everything in its front, cutting Lee’s army in two.”

Unfortunately, at this time, I am unable to clearly ascertain the validity of Lt. Smith’s and Lt. Lynch’s assertions as the published historical record attributes this charge to the 57th and 66th NY under the command of Col. Brooke.

In closing, the battle of Antietam still is the bloodiest single day of warfare in American military history with over 23,000 casualties and the 2nd DE itself suffered fifty seven casualties of the 230 soldiers engaged. This battle occurred 1 year to the day that the regiment had left Camp Brandywine in Wilmington. It was the first major combat action for the regiment and their actions under fire were a sign of their impressive combat actions to come in the next two years of service with the Army of the Potomac.

List of Killed Wounded & Missing from the Second Regiment Delaware Vols. During the Battles of Sept. 16th & 17th, 1862

Company A Edward Quigley Killed
B Stephen Connelly Killed
Solomon Dickinson Killed
William P Savoy Killed
Color Sgt Joshua Lake Wounded
Corp Chas. Busby Wounded
Priv George B. Hamilton Wounded
Thomas Laws Wounded
Chas. Dickerson Wounded
Robert Sloan Wounded
Joseph Shrunk Wounded
C Corp Henry M. Bennett Killed
Priv Isaac Foracre Wounded
Philip Giles Wounded
William Sowers Wounded
Samuel Stretch Wounded
Heaster Smith Wounded
Jas. J Mahan Wounded
D Ord. Sgt John L. Ogden Killed
Color Sgt James Weir Wounded
Priv Henry B. Coleman
George Sheridan
George W. Hodgson
John Nesbit, Missing
E William Cummins Killed
George W. Tapper Killed
Adolph Brinkman Killed
Corp William Smith Wounded
Priv Jason McClusky Wounded
Jacob Weir Wounded
Gottlieb Faller Wounded
F John Albertus Killed
Corp Frederick Peifer Wounded
Priv Robert Clark Wounded
Emanuel Damshon Wounded
Patrick Dolan Wounded
Gottlieb Gentholdt Wounded
Vincent Roth Wounded
John Walsh Wounded
Thomas Holden Wounded
G Cornelius Callahan Killed
Lt. Thomas J. Moore Wounded
Priv John Brown Wounded
Henry Cake Wounded
Hugh Kelly Wounded
H John H. Noble Killed
George Emmerson Wounded
George Herpold Wounded
Andrew Howard Wounded
Jason Kenney Wounded
I Lt. H.C. Smith Wounded
Priv Edward Smith Wounded
K Corp John B. Laufman Wounded
Charles H. Hammer Wounded
Priv John Kendall Wounded
William Parks Wounded
Edward Russel Wounded
Ord. Sgt Richard K Fox Missing

*****

 Works Cited

Armstrong, M. V. (2008). Unfurl Those Colors! McClellan, Sumner, and the Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press.

Gallagher, G. W. (1989). The Autumn of 1862: A Season of Opportunity. In G. W. Gallagher, Antietam: Essays on the 1862 Maryland Campaign (pp. 1-13). Kent: The Kent State University Press.

Priest, J. M. (1989). Antietam: The Soldiers’ Battle. Shippensburg: The White Main Publishing Company.

Sears, S. W. (1983). Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam. New York: Book-of-the-Month Club, Inc.

Walker, F. A. (1886). History of the Second Army Corps in the Army of the Potomac. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.


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