Antietam - Sedgwick's Division of II Corps Attacks into the West Woods
By just 8:30, the Union I and XII Corps had shot their bolt. After marching across Antietam Creek, sixty-five year old Edwin Sumner was now arriving at the edge of the East Woods with the leading unit of his II Corps - Sedgwick's Division, composed of around 5,500 men. Sumner's other two divisions were not yet available. Lack of immediate support would argue for prudence, but the Confederates in his sight appeared to be used up, and the enemy flank was vulnerable. Perhaps the shock of Sedgwick's division would pierce the weak Confederate line, roll up their flank, and win the war. So without skirmishers, and formed into a column of three lines - one line for each brigade - Sedgwick's massive column, a third of a mile wide, headed toward weak Confederate resistance in the West Woods. Sumner placed himself on the right of the first line.
From Southern Edge of the Cornfield
You are NOT here! You're with Sedgwick.
This is the view looking west from just off the modern Sharpsburg Pike, or the Route 65 Bypass. Federals at the front of Sedgwick's column, Gorman's brigade, emerged from the West Woods. They must have had a view something like this. On Hauser's Ridge to their front was Confederate artillery - horse artillery under Pelham that had moved from the north, and SD Lee's guns - guns that had redeployed from near the Dunker Church. Remnants of Confederate infantry units also opposed them. Confederate guns fired double loads of canister, stopping the Federal column.
15th Mass and 59th NY
Center of Sedgwick's Column
This modern-day open field, then part of the West Woods, is the rising ground behind the first line of Sedgwick's column. The first line would have been parallel to the woods on the far left of the panorama, and the right of the column extended all the way to modern Starke Avenue. The following second line, Dana's brigade, would have been somewhere in this field. The prominent tree line in this panorama marks the eastern edge of the West Woods. At this edge of the woods was the third line, O.O. Howard's brigade. Beyond this tree line is the park service tour stop for the West Woods.
On the far right of the picture is the modern field that we just saw, separated from the park service tour stop by a fence and a line of small trees. The parking area is near the prominent Philadelphia Brigade monument, just behind the location of the third line of the Union column.
From Rear of Sedgwick's Column
The Starke mortuary cannon shown here is from an earlier action, when Confederates counterattacked Hooker's advance on the Dunker Church. During the attack of Sedgwick's column, this would have been the view to the Union rear.
The third line in the rear of the column wasn't safe from the Confederate attack either. In fact, they were among the first to feel the sting of the attack. Confederates advancing up the Hagerstown Pike from the right of the picture - from the Dunker Church - attacked the flank and rear of the Union column here in the open ground behind the West Woods. The massive Union column was under attack from three sides.
In the confusion of the Confederate attack, Union troops fired on each other, adding to the chaos. In the period of around half an hour, the Union division lost 2,200 of its 5,500 men and was put to flight. Greene's division near the Dunker Church had been pushed back, and now Sedgwick's division was fleeing north along the axis of the Hagerstown Pike - in the direction of the Cornfield, modern day Starke Avenue, and the North Woods beyond. Hopes for a quick and easy victory were dashed.
The battle in this area stabilized, but the remaining two divisions of Sumner's corps would cross Antietam Creek and enter the battle at the center of Lee's line near a sunken farm lane.
Copyright 2008 by John Hamill
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