This Antietam Photo Has Been a Mystery for 40+ Years. We’ve Solved It (We Think)–Part II

Colonel William Irwin’s sixth Corps brigade of Maj. Gen. William F. “Baldy” Smith’s 2nd Division was an skilled unit, whose regiments had been mustered into service between Could 9, 1861, and November 23, 1861. They participated to various levels in all fight in the course of the Peninsula Marketing campaign and Seven Days Battles.

Col. William Irwin (USAHEC)

Pennsylvanian William Howard Irwin was born in 1818 and attended Dickinson School for 2 years earlier than returning dwelling to review for the bar. He entered the Military in February 1847 and acquired a fee within the eleventh U.S. Infantry. Irwin was critically wounded on the Battle of El Molino del Rey on September 8, 1847, in the course of the battle with Mexico, whereas main his firm. He acquired a brevet to main for his bravery and returned to Pennsylvania to observe legislation till the outbreak of the Civil Conflict when he once more donned a uniform. He enlisted as a non-public after the autumn of Fort Sumter however shortly rose to the rank of colonel of the seventh Pennsylvania Volunteers, a 90-day unit that participated within the early advance on the Shenandoah Valley in June–July 1861.

After the regiment mustered out, Irwin assisted in elevating and organizing a number of Pennsylvania items. He was appointed colonel of the forty ninth Pennsylvania in late 1861. A number of of his subordinates introduced expenses towards him for drunkenness and “conduct prejudicial to good order and army self-discipline.” He was acquitted on the primary cost however convicted on the second, drawing an inconsequential suspended punishment. He went on to guide the forty ninth with distinction in the course of the Peninsula Marketing campaign. He was given a brigade within the 2nd Division within the sixth Corps previous to the advance into Maryland.

Irwin’s brigade left Camp California, close to Alexandria, Va., and ultimately crossed the Potomac River at Lengthy Bridge, tenting close to Georgetown on September 7. The column subsequently marched via the Maryland cities of Rockville, Barnesville, Darnestown, and Jefferson, towards Catoctin Mountain. On September 14, the brigade trudged via Burkittsville to assist William T.H. Brooks’ brigade (additionally of Smith’s division) at Crampton’s Hole. The brigade was subjected to enemy artillery fireplace because it hurried via the city however sustained no casualties. The boys spent the afternoon and night supporting Captain Romeyn Ayres’ divisional artillery and camped on the hole till Wednesday, September 17, once they started their march towards Antietam Creek. Irwin’s brigade reached its vacation spot at 10 a.m. and crossed Antietam Creek at Pry’s Ford, the place it was referred to as into motion by Smith to alleviate troops from Maj. Gen. George S. Greene’s division of the twelfth Corps.

Brigadier Basic William French’s division (2nd Corps) launched cost after cost towards the Sunken Street throughout this time. To alleviate stress on D.H. Hill’s two brigades defending the highway, wing commander James Longstreet directed a counterattack meant to land on French’s weak proper flank. John Cooke of the twenty seventh North Carolina led his regiment and the third Arkansas (Colonel Van Manning’s Brigade in Brig. Gen. John Walker’s Division) out of the West Woods and towards French’s flank. The bold band assisted in routing the left of Greene’s division holding the Dunker Church after which crossed Hagerstown Pike, setting their sights on the Union troopers clearing out the Sunken Street.

Irwin threw the thirty third and 77th New York out as skirmishers on the proper of the brigade alongside Smoketown Street. The remainder of the brigade was oriented south-southwest with its proper on the highway. The big twentieth New York led the advance, the forty ninth New York adopted on its proper, and the seventh Maine superior on its left en echelon. The twentieth New York cleared the East Woods with Smith driving behind the regiment. Because the three regiments dashed previous the southern fringe of the East Woods, they encountered retreating parts of Greene’s division. They then moved via Lieutenant Evan Thomas’ 4th U. S. Artillery, Battery A, firing on the enemy within the West Woods.

Colonel Ernst von Vegesack led the twentieth New York at Antietam. He was born in Sweden and served as a Swedish military officer earlier than coming to America. He acquired a Medal of Honor for guiding troops below heavy fireplace at Gaines’ Mill as a volunteer on Brig. Gen. Dan Butterfield’s workers. After the battle, he returned to his native nation to serve in its army. (The Nationwide Archives of Sweden)

Farther south, Cooke’s Accomplice assault drive climbed over the fences lining Mumma Lane and entered a cornfield. Earlier than Cooke’s males may assault French, they had been hit by John Brooke’s brigade (Israel Richardson’s 1st Division, 2nd Corps) that was rushed towards the Roulette Farm buildings from the east to halt the 2 enemy regiments. The seventh Maine additionally rushed ahead so as to add its assist from the north. Whereas Brooke’s males fired into the enemy’s entrance, the seventh Maine fired into the left flank of the twenty seventh North Carolina. The extreme fireplace of their entrance and flank was greater than Cooke’s males may deal with and so they broke in confusion, adopted carefully by Irwin’s males.

Whereas the seventh Maine was engaged with Cooke, the twentieth New York got here to an increase within the floor simply to the east of the Hagerstown Pike that had sheltered Greene’s males earlier within the day. It was ordered to halt there, however the New Yorkers saved going till they had been pushed again by small arms fireplace from Manning’s Brigade and an enemy battery stationed close to the West Woods. The New Yorkers shortly retraced their steps to the excessive floor and lay down behind the hill. They had been quickly joined by the forty ninth New York who additionally took cowl. After repulsing Cooke and clearing the Mumma Farm buildings, the seventh Maine additionally returned to the brigade, mendacity down behind the hill on the left of the twentieth New York.

The thirty third and 77th New York, on the skirmish line to the proper of the remainder of the brigade, had their very own share of pleasure. As they headed towards the West Woods, with the thirty third New York on the proper of the Smoketown Street and the 77th New York on its left, they had been carefully watched by the forty ninth and thirty fifth North Carolina (Robert Ransom’s Brigade in John Walker’s Division). The Tar Heels hopped behind a rail barricade that they had beforehand constructed simply north of the Dunker Church. Irwin defined what occurred subsequent: “A extreme and sudden volley from the woods on our proper struck full on the Seventy-seventh and Thirty-third New York, which staggered them for a second, however they closed up and confronted by the rear rank, and poured in an in depth and scorching fireplace.”

Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Corning of the thirty third New York reported his regiment was “in columns on the time, marching by the proper flank. This sudden and sudden assault triggered a momentary unsteadiness within the ranks, which was shortly rectified. The battalion confronted by the rear rank and returned the hearth.” Captain Nathan Babcock of the 77th New York claimed the 2 traces had been so shut that “you could possibly see the white of their eyes.” The historian of the forty ninth New York claimed its two fellow New York regiments had been “dropping frightfully, and would likely have been annihilated had not Basic Smith seen their predicament and despatched an aide to their rescue, who confronted them by the rear rank and positioned them behind the ridge, at proper angles with the opposite regiments of the brigade.” The brigade re-formed within the security of the Mumma swale.

The swale sheltered Irwin’s males from the enemy’s small arms fireplace however not from their artillery and sharpshooters. The brigade additionally discovered itself within the uncomfortable place between dueling Union and Accomplice artillery, inflicting appreciable uneasiness among the many males within the ranks.

A Accomplice battery fired alongside the flank and thru the road of the twentieth New York, which, from the character of the bottom, was compelled to refuse its left, and thus acquired the hearth alongside its whole entrance. Sharpshooters from the woods to the proper and to the acute left additionally opened upon the brigade. Shell, grape, and canister swept from left to proper. The enemy fired shortly and precisely, inflicting Irwin’s losses to speed up. The historian of the forty ninth New York recalled, “the whirring shells and screaming shrapnel going each methods over their prostrate kinds, diminished essentially the most corpulent of the boys to very skinny proportions.”

Main Thomas Hyde and his seventh Maine discovered themselves higher protected by giant boulders alongside their line and had been in a position to see the Irish Brigade’s (Richardson’s Division, 2nd Corps) notable colours and the Union line lastly breaching the Sunken Street, in addition to artillery enjoying alongside the proper of the road from Accomplice batteries close to the Dunker Church. The Germans of the twentieth New York on the proper, having solely flat floor to lie on for cover, suffered mightily, and a stream of wounded headed for the rear. The regiments occupying protected terrain, such because the seventh Maine, misplaced however few males. At one level, Hyde recommended to Colonel Ernst von Vegesack of the twentieth New York that the Confederates may probably be sighting in on the twentieth’s regimental colours being held excessive.

Veterans of the 20th New York color guard with their battle-shredded banners, including the state flag presented by the “City of New York.” The 20th was primarily composed of German immigrants from New York City and New Jersey who belonged to Turnverein, or German gymnastic clubs. Members of such clubs were known as Turners, and the regiment was nicknamed the “Turner Regiment.” The sprightly soldiers put on occasional gymnastic shows in camp. The 20th served from May 1861 to June 1863. Aside from Antietam, the regiment’s other major fight came at the May 1863 Battle of Salem Church during the Chancellorsville Campaign. (The Buffalo History Museum)
Veterans of the twentieth New York colour guard with their battle-shredded banners, together with the state flag offered by the “Metropolis of New York.” The twentieth was primarily composed of German immigrants from New York Metropolis and New Jersey who belonged to Turnverein, or German gymnastic golf equipment. Members of such golf equipment had been referred to as Turners, and the regiment was nicknamed the “Turner Regiment.” The sprightly troopers placed on occasional gymnastic exhibits in camp. The twentieth served from Could 1861 to June 1863. Except for Antietam, the regiment’s different main combat got here on the Could 1863 Battle of Salem Church in the course of the Chancellorsville Marketing campaign. (The Buffalo Historical past Museum)

Many of the brigade remained on this place, subjected to heavy artillery and sharpshooter fireplace for twenty-four hours, till relieved by a brigade from Maj. Gen. Darius Sofa’s 4th Corps division (hooked up to the sixth Corps) on September 18. The seventh Maine didn’t keep inactive, nonetheless. The rugged males had been useless pictures and had been deployed as sharpshooters towards the Accomplice artillery positions. One Maine sharpshooter identified by the title of “Knox” drove each man from the weapons of 1 part and knocked an unknown normal officer from his horse within the distance.

At about 4:30 p.m., Colonel Irwin turned involved about Accomplice troops he may see shifting throughout Reel Ridge to the west, on the opposite aspect of the Hagerstown Pike, who appeared to threaten the division’s left flank. Heavy preventing could possibly be heard within the course of Sharpsburg. The hills blocked most views of troop actions to the left, the place the fifth and ninth Corps had been in motion. Irwin watched the Accomplice columns and frightened they could possibly be supporting Lee’s proper flank, now below assault. Irwin despatched phrase to Smith requesting artillery assist, and the division’s chief of artillery, Captain Emery Upton, complied. Captain John Wolcott’s Maryland Gentle Battery arrived as ordered and dropped path with its three rifled weapons. These weapons threw a harmful cannonade towards the enemy positions for half an hour earlier than being changed by Lieutenant Edward Williston’s 2nd U.S. Artillery’s six Napoleons. Enemy sharpshooters from D.H. Hill’s Accomplice division started firing on the cannoneers from the Piper Orchard, inflicting Irwin to look to his finest unit accessible to place an finish to the sniping. He once more turned to the seventh Maine.

Hyde led his males towards the brand new goal, the Piper Farm constructing advanced, about half a mile away, firing whereas crossing the Sunken Street crammed with enemy useless and dying.

The start of the seventh Maine’s memorable cost started as badly because it ended, with supporting Union weapons by accident firing into Hyde’s males, dropping 4. Enemy troopers in entrance of, and to the left of, Hyde’s males realized they had been in peril of being minimize off and ran for security, clearing out the orchard. Hyde shortly obliqued his males to the left to take cowl behind a ridge, on the south rim of the cup, working from behind the Piper barn to Hagerstown Pike. As Hyde rode up the excessive floor, he shortly took within the hazard round him. Mendacity down in entrance of his males was a line of enemy troops from George T. Anderson’s Brigade and one other physique led by D.H. Hill himself, speeding alongside Piper Lane to his left in an effort to chop off his retreat.

With the enemy in entrance, and shutting on his proper, Hyde shortly realized it was time to retreat. He ordered the regiment to maneuver by the left flank earlier than Hill’s males noticed them, and double-quickened his males previous the Piper barn, via a pressured opening within the picket fence, and into the orchard. Extra troops, remnants of Cadmus Wilcox’s and Ambrose Wright’s brigades (each of Richard Anderson’s Division), nonetheless filled with combat, headed for Piper Lane and opened fireplace simply as Hyde’s males handed via the fence. Hyde’s males returned the hearth after which Hyde immediately despatched his males up the hill in the course of the orchard, the place they once more halted to fireside into G.T. Anderson’s males and others who had been hurrying towards them.

Hyde and the remnants of his regiment shortly retraced their steps again throughout the Sunken Street to the security of the remainder of the brigade hunkered down within the Mumma Farm swale. The seventh Maine received accolades for its actions on the Piper Farm and Hyde acquired the Medal of Honor, albeit at nice value.

Irwin’s brigade occupied the battlefield for 26 hours till relieved at midday on September 18. Irwin summed up his brigade’s actions in the course of the battle: “It was below fireplace continuously throughout this time in a most uncovered place, misplaced 311 in killed and wounded, but neither officers nor males fell again or gave the slightest proof of any need to take action. My line was immovable, solely anxious to be launched towards the enemy. I forbear touch upon such conduct. It should commend itself to the center and thoughts of each true soldier.”

This text is excerpted from: Brigades of Antietam edited by Bradley M. Gottfried. Copyright © 2021 by The Antietam Institute. Printed by The Antietam Institute,

Learn Half III right here.


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