The Night Before the Battle

The Joseph Poffenberger Farm at dusk

This page consists of quotes made the night before the Battle of Antietam.  It was last updated on December 21, 2011.  There are 37 quotes in this collection.

 

Confederate Quotes

 

“with Hooker, there was bustle and cooking, with Jackson there was only munching of cold rations and water from the spring.” Bradley Johnson Sep 17 1862

Bradley Johnson describing the awakening of the armies at 3AM on the morning of Sep 17, 1862.  Johnson First Maryland Campaign

From Stonewall Jackson The Man, The Soldier, The Legend by James I. Robertson.  New York:  Macmillan Publishing Co, 1997.

“It was so dark & dismal in that fearful woods which I was rapidly travelling with messages from Jackson that at times I could not tell thunder from artillery & was semi-bewildered as to the locality of our cannon; an experience I have never forgotten.” Henry Kyd Douglas Sep 16 1862

Douglas describing the night before the battle as he carried messages and helped place artillery.  Marginal annotation made in Henderson, 2:228, Douglas Library

From Stonewall Jackson The Man, The Soldier, The Legend by James I. Robertson.  New York:  Macmillan Publishing Co, 1997.

“Suddenly something seemed to pass through the animals like a quiver of motion, a faint sound as of a sign, and then the wildest scene ensured.  The horses for no reason that could be found had become stampeded, in the greatest panic and excitement.”

Moxley Sorrel describing the stampede of horses in the Jeff Legion the night before the battle of Antietam.

From Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer by Moxley G. Sorrell. New York:  Bantam edition, 1992.

 

“Ah, this is all very well, Major, but we have much hard work before us”

Thomas Jackson Sep 15 1862

Jackson to JEB Stuart aide Heros Von Borcke upon capture of Harpers Ferry.  Von Borcke  Confederate War, 1:221-22

From Stonewall Jackson The Man, The Soldier, The Legend by James I. Robertson.  New York:  Macmillan Publishing Co, 1997.

 

“When moving into line, one could see men tearing up precious missives from loved ones at home, and the way was littered for miles with fragments.”

William R. Hougton Sep 16 1862

Sgt Houghton of a Georgia regiment describes the superstitiousness of men before a battle

From Burnside’s Bridge The Climactic Struggle of the 2nd and 20th Georgia at Antietam Creek by Phillip T. Tucker. Mechanicsburg:  Stackpole, 2000.

 

“We [had] slept in our clothes, taking off our shoes with a cartridge box for a pillow.”

William R. Hougton

Sep 16 1862

Sgt Houghton describes the day before the battle and night before

From Burnside’s Bridge The Climactic Struggle of the 2nd and 20th Georgia at Antietam Creek by Phillip T. Tucker. Mechanicsburg:  Stackpole, 2000.

 

Union Quotes

 

“a noiseless march in the silence of night.”

A 124th PA soldier Sep 16 1862

A 124th Pennsylvania complains about having to make a noiseless march in the silence of the night. The night before the battle

From For Honor, Flag, and Family Civil War Major General Samuel W. Crawford 1827-1892 by Richard Wagner. Shippensburg: White Mane, 2005.

“as we look down the line, we wonder how many will be with us at the rising of tomorrow’s sun! Some must fall in the fearful contest in which we are about to engage. ‘Who will it be? Is the question that rises to our lips. But time alone can tell.” A Pennsylvania private Sep 17 1862

Awaiting the attack on the bridge, a Pennsylvania private

From Burnside’s Bridge The Climactic Struggle of the 2nd and 20th Georgia at Antietam Creek by Phillip T. Tucker. Mechanicsburg:  Stackpole, 2000.

 

“freshly plowed and manured field”

A soldier of the Twelfth Corps. Description of 12th Corps bivouac site night before the battle

From For Honor, Flag, and Family Civil War Major General Samuel W. Crawford, 1827-1892 by Richard Wagner.  Shippensburg:  White Mane Books, 2005.

“dismal, drizzling, rain” a veteran Sep 16 1862

recalling the night before the battle

From Mr. Lincoln’s Army by Bruce Catton.  New York: Anchor Books 1990.

 

“The night was so dark, so obscure, so mysterious, so uncertain; with the occasional rapid volleys of pickets and outposts, the low, solemn sounds of the command as troops came into position.”

Alpheus Williams Sep 16 1862

Williams describes the minutes before the beginning of the battle

From For Honor, Flag, and Family Civil War Major General Samuel W. Crawford 1827-1892 by Richard Wagner. Shippensburg: White Mane, 2005.

 

“We passed a stone bridge over the Antietam and then branched off into the fields. Gen. Mansfield and his escort led the way, but it was so dark and the forests and woods so deep that I could not follow and was obliged to send ahead to stop our leaders repeatedly.”

Alpheus Williams Sep 16 1862

Williams describes the night march of the 12th Corps

From Unfurl Those Colors! McClellan, Sumner, & The Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign by Marion Armstrong. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2008.

 

“The night was so dark, so obscure, so mysterious, so uncertain; with the occasional rapid volleys of pickets and outposts, the low, solemn sounds of the command as troops came into position.”

Alpheus Williams describing the night before the battle of  Antietam

From For Honor, Flag, and Family Civil War Major General Samuel W. Crawford, 1827-1892 by Richard Wagner.  Shippensburg:  White Mane Books, 2005.

“There was a tension in the atmosphere for the whole army that night.  Survivors wrote long afterward that there seemed to be something mysteriously ominous in the very air-stealthy, muffled tramp of marching men who could not be seen but were sensed dimly as moving shadows in the dark; outbursts of rifle fire up and down the invisible picket lines, with flames lighting the sky now and then when gunners in the advanced batteries opened fire; taut and nervous anxiety of those alert sentinels communicating itself through all the bivouacs, where men tried to sleep away the knowledge that the morrow would bring the biggest battle the army had ever had; a ceaseless, restless sense of movement as if the army stirred blindly in its sleep, with the clop-clop of belated couriers riding down the inky dark lanes heard at intervals, sounding very lonely and far off.”

Bruce Catton Sep 16 1862  Catton describing the night before the battle

From Mr. Lincoln’s Army by Bruce Catton.  New York: Anchor Books 1990.

 

“And while they slept the lazy, rainy breeze drifted through the East Woods and the West Wood and the cornfield, and riffed over the copings of the stone bridge to the south, touching them for the last time before dead men made them famous.  The flags were furled and the bugles stilled, and the hot metal of the guns on the ridges had cooled, and the army was asleep-tenting tonight on the old camp ground, with never a song to cheer because the voices that might sing it were all stilled on this most crowded and most lonely of fields.  And whatever it may be that nerves men to die for a flag or a phrase or a man or an inexpressible dream was drowsing with them, ready to wake with the dawn.”

Bruce Catton Sep 17 1862

Catton describing the night before the battle

From Mr. Lincoln’s Army by Bruce Catton.  New York: Anchor Books 1990.

“The morning came in like the beginning of the Last Day, gray and dark and tensely expectant.  Mist lay on the ground, heavy as fog in the hollow places, and the groves and valleys were drenched in immense shadows.  For a brief time there was an ominous hush on the rolling fields, where the rival pickets crouched behind bushes and fence corners, peering watchfully forward under damp hat brims.”

Bruce Catton

Sep 17 1862

Catton describing the battlefield moments before the start of the firing

From Mr. Lincoln’s Army by Bruce Catton.  New York: Anchor Books 1990.

“There was something weirdly impressive yet unreal in the gradual drawing together of those whispering armies under cover of night-something of awe and dread, as always in the secret preparation for momentous deeds.”

David Thompson Sep 16 1862

Pvt David Thompson of the 9th NY remembers the night before the battle

From Our Boys Did Nobly Schuylkill County Pennsylvania, Soldiers at the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam by John David Hoptak.  John David Hoptak, 2009.

 

“These fear producing missiles gave us our first real taste of war, and the sensations of the green soldiers were anything but pleasant. The idea harbored before, that we would rather fight than eat became suddenly susceptible of considerable moderation, and a square meal, even without dessert, out of range would have been more palatable.” Edward W. Spangler  Sep 16 1862

Pvt Spangler of the 130th PA, a rookie regiment explains his fear of the shelling on Sep 16

From Unfurl Those Colors! McClellan, Sumner, & The Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign by Marion Armstrong. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2008.

 

“we was aroused at 11 o’clock from tired natures sweet repose.  Our officers ordered us to fall in and make no noise.  We were even warned not to let our canteens or tin cups rattle.” Frederick Crouse Sep 16 1862

Pvt Crouse of the 128th PA describes the night march of Sep 16/17

From For Honor, Flag, and Family Civil War Major General Samuel W. Crawford, 1827-1892 by Richard Wagner.  Shippensburg:  White Mane Books, 2005.

 

“we march in the terrible darkness.  We went groping through the bushes, over fences, across ditches, fields, creeks and through woods.” Frederick Crouse  Sep 16 1862

Pvt Crouse of the 128th PA describes the night march of Sep 16/17

From For Honor, Flag, and Family Civil War Major General Samuel W. Crawford, 1827-1892 by Richard Wagner.  Shippensburg:  White Mane Books, 2005.

“the constant firing of the pickets kept us from sleeping but at the break of day everything became as still as death.  It was only the calm that proceeds a terrible storm.” Frederick Crouse Sep 16 1862

Pvt Crouse of the 128th PA describes the night before the battle.

From For Honor, Flag, and Family Civil War Major General Samuel W. Crawford, 1827-1892 by Richard Wagner.  Shippensburg:  White Mane Books, 2005.

 

“breakfast was not to be thought of, although we had scarcely [sic] eating [sic] anything for the last two days.  Sitting on a stump I took out my pocket Bible and read the 91st Psalm.”

Frederick Crouse.  breakfast for the 12th Corps

From For Honor, Flag, and Family Civil War Major General Samuel W. Crawford, 1827-1892 by Richard Wagner.  Shippensburg:  White Mane Books, 2005.

“All realized that there was ugly business and plenty of it just ahead. This was plainly visible in the faces as well as in the nervous, subdued demeanor of all. The absence of joking and play and the  almost painful sobriety of action, where jollity had been the rule was particularly noticeable.” Frederick L. Hitchcock Sep 17 1862

Lt Hitchcock of the 132 PA describes the mood on the morning of the battle.

From Unfurl Those Colors! McClellan, Sumner, & The Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign by Marion Armstrong. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2008.

 

“[The camp was ominously still this night….Unquestionably, the problems of the morrow were occupying all breasts….I can never forget the words of Colonel Oakford, as he inquired very particularly if my roster of the officers and men of the regiment was complete, for, said he, with a smile, 'We shall not all be here tomorrow."

Frederick Lyman Hitchcock Sep 16 1862

Hitchcock, adjutant of the 132d PA talks about the night before the battle

From  "Who Would Not Be A Soldier?" by Scott D. Hartwig. The Antietam Campaign. Ed. Gary Gallagher  Chapel Hill:  The University of North Carolina Press,  1999.

 

It has been the subject of much remark that troops never went into battle more cheerfully than did ours that morning, so confident were all that the shattered enemy would be driven ere night across the river."

John W. Kimball.  Ltc Kimball of the 15th Mass on the confidence of the men on the morning of the battle.

From Unfurl Those Colors! McClellan, Sumner, & The Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign by Marion Armstrong. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2008.

 

"We are through for tonight, but tomorrow we fight the battle that will decide the fate of the Republic."

Joseph Hooker  Sep 16 1862

Hooker on the night before the Battle of Antietam

From Our Boys Did Nobly Schuylkill County Pennsylvania, Soldiers at the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam by John David Hoptak.  John David Hoptak, 2009.

"It has been a pretty hard time for the past week, but I feel none the worse for it. Everyone seems anxious to come up with the enemy and I can't but believe that if we do they must be defeated. Should that be the result it will be the beginning of the end for they never can reconstruct an army in the face of the immense increase to our army. I feel more hopeful as to the final result than for a long time."

Paul J. Revere Sep 16 1862

Revere in a letter to his wife about the significance of this battle.

From Unfurl Those Colors! McClellan, Sumner, & The Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign by Marion Armstrong. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2008.

 

"It was nine o'clock at night when our brigade reached the position assigned it.  The men laid down upon the ground, formed in close column, muskets loaded and line parallel with the turnpike.  Once or twice during the night, heavy volleys of musketry crashed in the dark woods on our left.  There was a drizzling rain and with the certain prospect of deadly conflict on the morrow, the night was dismal.  Nothing can be more solemn than a period of silent waiting for the summons to battle, known to be impending."

Rufus Dawes Sep 16 1862

Dawes recalls the night before the battle of Antietam

From  "I Dread the Thought of the Place." by Scott D. Hartwig. Giants in Their Tall Black Hats - Essays on the Iron Brigade. Ed. Alan T. Nolan and Sharon Eggleston Vipond. Bloomington:  Indiana University Press, 1998.

 

"There is work to do up there."

Samuel Crawford Sep 17 1862

Crawford to his men before the battle

From For Honor, Flag, and Family Civil War Major General Samuel W. Crawford, 1827-1892 by Richard Wagner.  Shippensburg:  White Mane Books, 2005.

"for the quiet that precedes a great battle has something of the terrible in it. Everybody knows that there must be fought a bloody battle tomorrow and all are therefore anxious to save their strength for the contest."

Thomas Galwey Sep 16 1862

Description of the last hours before the great battle

From Unfurl Those Colors! McClellan, Sumner, & The Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign by Marion Armstrong. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2008.

 

"many of them 'last words'-and the quiet talks were had, and promises made between comrades. Promises providing against the dreaded possibilities of tomorrow."

William H. Osborne Sep 16 1862

the last hours before the great battle and last letters home.

From Unfurl Those Colors! McClellan, Sumner, & The Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign by Marion Armstrong. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2008.

 

"when the day closed, there was probably not a private soldier along the line who did not realize that the army was on the eve of one of the greatest battles of the war."

William H. Osborne Sep 16 1862

historian of the 29th Massachusetts on the momentous occasion

From Unfurl Those Colors! McClellan, Sumner, & The Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign by Marion Armstrong. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2008.

 

"I slept very little, I felt certain that there would be desperate fighting in the morning and that many of my comrades would fail to answer at roll call when the morning sun had again set behind the western hills.  I realized that I might be among the killed." William Harries Sep 16 1862

Harries broods the night before the battle of Antietam

From  "I Dread the Thought of the Place." by Scott D. Hartwig. Giants in Their Tall Black Hats - Essays on the Iron Brigade. Ed. Alan T. Nolan and Sharon Eggleston Vipond. Bloomington:  Indiana University Press, 1998.

 

"we could hear the commands given by the officer's [sic] of the enemy’s troops.”

William Harries Sep 16 1862

Harries broods the night before the battle of Antietam

From  “I Dread the Thought of the Place.” by Scott D. Hartwig. Giants in Their Tall Black Hats – Essays on the Iron Brigade. Ed. Alan T. Nolan and Sharon Eggleston Vipond. Bloomington:  Indiana University Press, 1998.

 

“Being without shelter, we received a good drenching.”

William Todd

Sep 16 1862

Corporal William Todd, historian of the 79th describes the rain the night before the battle

From “The 79th New York Highlanders in the Maryland Campaign.” The Maryland Campaign of 1862 and its Aftermath, Civil War Regiments Vol 6 No. 2. Campell CA:  Savas Publishing Company, 1998.

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  1. [...] The Night Before the Battle [...]

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