The West Woods

The West Woods

This page consists of quotes made about actions around the West Woods during the Battle of Antietam.  It was last updated on December 24, 2011.  There are 53 quotes in this collection.

 

Confederate Quotes

 

“[the whole division was a mere skeleton-about 2300 men to go into action.”

John R. Jones describing the condition of the Stonewall Division

From  “Defending Lee’s Flank.” by Robert E. L. Krick. The Antietam Campaign. Ed. Gary Gallagher  Chapel Hill:  The University of North Carolina Press,  1999.

“General are you going to send  us in again?”  “Yes my son, you all must do what you can to help drive these people back.” Robert E. Lee to his son when asked if he was going back into action.  Son in W. T. Poague’s battery

From R.E. Lee A Biography by Douglas Southall Freeman.  New York Scribners, 1934.

“Well General, I am glad to see you.  But we have I believe a hard day’s work before us.”

Robert E. Lee’s greeting to Lafayette McLaws upon the latter’s arrival at Sharpsburg early in the morning of Sep 17, 1862

From Taken at the Flood Robert E. Lee & Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862 by Joseph L. Harsh.  Kent:  The Kent State University Press, 1999.

“Men I want you to go back on the line, and show that the stragglers of the Army of the Northern Virginia, are better than the best troops of the enemy.”

Robert E. Lee. As Hood leads the “Straggler’s Brigade” back to the front lines around 2PM on Sep 17, Lee shouts to them

From Taken at the Flood Robert E. Lee & Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862 by Joseph L. Harsh.  Kent:  The Kent State University Press, 1999.

“broken down from loss of sleep and forced marching…paid but little attention to details, and cared but little whether we lived or died.”

Robert Withers a senior officer in one of Grigsby’s brigades recounts the condition of the unit as the battle unfolds

From  “Defending Lee’s Flank.” by Robert E. L. Krick. The Antietam Campaign. Ed. Gary Gallagher  Chapel Hill:  The University of North Carolina Press,  1999.

“General, your presence will do good, but nothing but infantry can save the day on the left.”

Stephen D. Lee to RE Lee just prior to the arrival of McLaws division

From Taken at the Flood Robert E. Lee & Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862 by Joseph L. Harsh.  Kent:  The Kent State University Press, 1999.

“We were in the hottest part of the fight under Jackson, and for me to give an idea of the fierceness of the conflict, the roar of musketry, and the thunder of artillery is as utterly impossible as to describe a thousand storms in the region of Hades.  The Malvern Hill fight was a circumstance….[Federals] fought better than they ever did before.”

Taliaferro N. Simpson, an SC enlisted man looked back on the Seven Days for a point of comparison

From “The Net Result of the Campaign Was in Our Favor.” by Gary Gallagher.  The Antietam Campaign. Ed. Gary Gallagher  Chapel Hill:  The University of North Carolina Press,  1999.

“. . . after a hurried march of 2 miles we reached the field of battle & went immediately into action, through a piece of woods [West Woods] facing a terrific fire of artillery and musketry, several of our men were killed & wounded in the woods & many hesitated and took shelter behind trees & could not be forced forward, when we passed the woods we crossed a fence & under a most galling fire of grape & canister from the artillery & musketry & many of our force could not be rallied beyond the fence, I drew my pistol and threatened to shoot & scolded but with very futile effect, I mounted the fence & moved forward exposed to a terrible fire which swept away every thing before it & saw our Regt. Breaking & the whole gave way in confusion & retreat in disorder.  I tried to rally them in the woods behind the brow of a hill, but was not aided by our Col. Commandant, who led the retreat nor listened to by the men.” Walkup, Samuel H. 48th NC Infantry

From “Antietam Eyewitness Accounts.” by Scott D. Hartwig. [Online] Available http://www.historynet.com/antietam-eyewitness-accounts.htm

“White and I, seeing we were in point blank range of the batteries, had pressed the left wing forward under the hill, the colors continuing to advance. Just here, Major White passed down the line from the right, and said to me; “We can take that battery – forward!” We both passed through the ranks, and moved side by side, with the colors, to the front, and had almost reached the battery (the guns of which were already abandoned), when the Major was struck in the cheek by a rifle ball, fired by the infantry in rear of the battery. Still he pressed forward, until within twenty yards of the battery, when just at this moment the guns, re-manned, opened upon us, and swept down the remnant of gallant men who had followed us; the Major falling at the first discharge, being struck about the ear by a grape shot.”

Captain, 7th South Carolina Infantry, McLaws’s Division

From “Antietam Eyewitness Accounts.” by Scott D. Hartwig. [Online] Available http://www.historynet.com/antietam-eyewitness-accounts.htm

Union Quotes

“For a time the loss of life was fearful.  We had never seen anything like it.”

a Massachusetts soldier describing the fire from Nicodemus heights into the West Woods

From Cavalryman of the Lost Cause by Jeffry D. Wert.  New York:  Simon and Schuster, 2008.

“stood leaning on their muskets, and some of the officers commenced smoking.”

a soldier of the 20th Mass describes men of the 20th Mass despite taking heavy casualties in the West Woods

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

“Gen. Hooker appears to be driving the enemy rapidly. If he does not require your assistance on his right, please push up on his left through the ravine at the head of which the house was burned this morning, getting possession of the woods to the right as soon as possible & push on towards Sharpsburg and a little to its rear as rapidly as possible. Use your artillery freely.”

Albert V. Coburn

More specific instructions from McClellan’s aide to Sumner as he moves toward the battlefield

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

Genl Sumner has been directed (if you do not require him to assist you on the right) to move up on your left and push forward toward Sharpsburg. P.S. Keep the Genl. Fully posted by means of his aides.”

Albert V. Coburn 8:30 AM note to Hooker alerting him to Sumner’s mission once he reaches the battlefield

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

“Not an enemy appeared. The woods in front were as quiet as any sylvan shade could be.”

Alpheus Williams describing the quiet conditions on the field as Sumner arrives in a letter home to his family.

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

“I had just got myself pretty comfortable when a bomb burst over me and completely deafened me. I felt a blow on my right shoulder and my jacket was covered with white stuff. I felt mechanically whether I still had my arm and thank God it was still whole. At the same time I felt something damp on my face; I wiped it off. It was bloody. Now I first saw that the man next to me, Kessler, lacked the upper part of his head, and almost all his brains had gone into the face of the man next to him, Merkel, so that he could scarcely see. Since any moment the same could happen to anyone, no one thought much about it.”

Christoph Niederer

From “Antietam Eyewitness Accounts.” by Scott D. Hartwig. [Online] Available http://www.historynet.com/antietam-eyewitness-accounts.htm

“We advanced over the ground gained by Hooker, he had just been taken off the field wounded, and his men were exhausted.  As we moved on the dead and wounded lay thick, and fragments of regiments cheered us as we passed.  Our men and Secesh lay as they fell, many begging us for a drink of water, others telling us not to tread on them and it was difficult to march over the ground without stepping on some man.”

Corporal Edward A. Walker of Co D, 1st Minnesota describing the advance of the 1st Minnesota across the Cornfield

From The Last Full Measure The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers by Richard Moe.  New York:  Avon Books, 1993.

“We now crossed the turnpike, had to climb two fences, this was the place they were last drove from, the fences were perfectly riddled with bullets.  Our men lay thick there, it was a hard place to carry.  After climbing the fences and crossing the road we came into a piece of woods and advancing through it we found Secesh waiting for us.” Corporal Edward A. Walker of Co D, 1st Minnesota describing the advance of the 1st Minnesota across the Hagerstown Pike into the West Woods

From The Last Full Measure The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers by Richard Moe.  New York:  Avon Books, 1993.

“Our regiment was close to a rail fence and a corn field between us and the enemies battery.  This battery was on a hill about 700 yards to our right-directly in front of us was their infantry, about 300 yards distant at the commencement of the fight.  As soon as we got into the proper position both sides commenced peppering one another.  Our company fired a few shots at the artillerymen, but as the distance was so great we directed most of our shots at the rebel colors, they came down several times, but the men stuck to them well, a piece of the staff found after the fight had several ball marks on it and had been cut away two or three times.  We kept firing at what we considered the best marks, every man firing at will, we could see their wounded hobbling to the rear and some that wasn’t wounded, but they seemed to have plenty of reinforcements.”

Corporal Edward A. Walker of Co D, 1st Minnesota describing the advance of the 1st Minnesota  into the West Woods

From The Last Full Measure The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers by Richard Moe.  New York:  Avon Books, 1993.

“About this time the shot was coming into us pretty thick, several had been wounded in our company, among them our captain, the man next to me on the right had left, wounded in the leg and the next minute the man next to me on my left was hit in the side.  Shot seemed to be coming in a new direction, and looking to our left we saw the line give way and the place that was occupied by our men was now full of Secesh and they pouring a fire into us lengthwise.  It seems that Secesh had found the place where our division failed to connect and had made a break and got through.”

Corporal Edward A. Walker of Co D, 1st Minnesota describing the collapse of Gorman’s brigade on the left of the 1st Minnesota

From The Last Full Measure The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers by Richard Moe.  New York:  Avon Books, 1993.

 

“The order had been given to fall back, but we being on the extreme right did not get or understand the order till the rest of the line had fallen back, as it was we came near being flanked.  We were now ordered by the colonel to fall back and we slowly retired through the wood, this was done in pretty good order considering the circumstances.  Some Slinks of course run but the men generally behaved better than they ever did in any fight before.  We did not go out over the same ground we came in on.”

Corporal Edward A. Walker of Co D, 1st Minnesota describing the retreat of the 1st Minnesota

From The Last Full Measure The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers by Richard Moe.  New York:  Avon Books, 1993.

 

“My God Howard! You must get out of here!”

Edwin V. Sumner to Oliver Howard in the West Woods

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

“Back Boys, for God’s sake move back; you are in a bad fix.”

Edwin V. Sumner riding toward Howard’s line

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

“In God’s name, what are you fighting for?  Unfurl those colors.”

Edwin V. Sumner

Sumner upon seeing that the 1st MN flag was still cased.  Carmen, “Maryland Campaign” ch 17, p 26

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

“My God!  We must get out of this.”

Edwin V. Sumner as the left of Sedgwick’s division is flanked.  Bruce, George A The Twentieth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry

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

“Gen. McClellan desires you to be very careful how you advance, as he fears our right is suffering. P.S. Gen. Mansfield is killed and Hooker wounded in the foot.”

George D. Ruggles to Sumner 9:10 AM

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

“shooting red hot anathemas over such exquisite progressiveness.”

George H. Washburne

soldiers of the 108 NY describe officers who accost them for stopping to remove their shoes as the ford the Antietam

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

“On one side of this turnpike lay rows of the union dead,-in some instances taking in every man in the line-while on the opposite side lay the dead Confederates, equally thick, showing how terribly in earnest these lines had been which lay on each side of the narrow road and shot at each other. A terrible sight to go into battle over!”

historian of 19 Mass

Description of the fighting along the parallel post and rail fence rows on the Hagerstown Pike

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 awful to lay there with no chance to reply, but Col. Hinks sat on his horse near the centre of the regiment, amid the heaviest fire of which he seemed to be the special object, watching the movements of the enemy, and as his men remarked, exhibiting no consciousness of danger.”

historian of 19 Mass

Historian of the 19th Massachusetts describes the heavy firing and bravery of Col. Hinks

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

“Suddenly, loud above the rattle of musketry and the roar of the artillery, that historic rebel yell was heard. To those who have never heard it I will simply say that it is indescribable; but if ten thousand fiends were unchained and let loose it could not be more unearthly.”

James Larkin, Co K 72d Pennsylvania, Howard’s Brigade, Sedgwick’s describing the rebel yell from the Confederate attack in the West Woods

From “Walking the West Woods” by Jim Buchanan [Online] http://walkingthewestwoods.blogspot.com/

“completely flanked on the left and in two minutes more would have been prisoners if gen Sumner himself had not rood in through the terrific fire of the enemy and brought us off.”

James Peacock describes the flanking of the 59th New York

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

“Battle oh horrid battle. What sights I have seen now see around me. I am Wounded! And am afraid shall be again as shells fly past me every few seconds carrying away limbs from trees and scattering limbs around. Am in severe pain. Furies how the shells fly. I do sincerely hope shall not be wounded again. We drove them first till they got sheltered then we had a bad place. Oh I cannot write.”

Jonathan Stowe

From “Antietam Eyewitness Accounts.” by Scott D. Hartwig. [Online] Available http://www.historynet.com/antietam-eyewitness-accounts.htm

“The Forty-second moved nobly up to its work, but before it was formed in its new position, and whilst it was in disorder, the enemy was close up on it, and the fire which was poured upon it and the Seventh Michigan was the most terrific I ever witnessed.”

Napoleon Dana describes the action in the West Woods

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

“Men this is the way to leave a field. That regiment acts like soldiers. Do as they do, men, and we shall drive them back again in ten minutes.” 

Oliver O. Howard attempting to rally his brigade by comparing them to the 23rd New York

From The Maryland Campaign of 1862 edited by Joseph Pierro. New York: Routledge, 2008

“abundant evidence of the preceding conflict, surely not encouraging to men just coming upon the field. Too many were busy themselves in carrying their wounded comrades to the rear.”

Oliver O. Howard describing the East Woods as his brigade enters

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

“to protect themselves by taking advantage of the rock, trees, and hollows, or by the old plan of lying down.”

men of Howards brigade describe the fire from the West Woods

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

“I think, even then, I could have executed such an order with troops which, like my old brigade, had been some time commanded by  myself, and thoroughly drilled; but here, quicker than I can write the words, the men faced about and took the back track.”

Oliver O. Howard describing the retreat of his brigade from the West Woods

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

“The noise of the musketry and artillery was so great that I judged more by the gestures of the general as to the disposition he wished me to make than by the orders that reached my ears.”

Oliver O. Howard’s description of Sumner riding toward him in the West Woods

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

“We were as easy to hit as the town of Sharpsburg.”

R. I. Holcombe describing the advance to the West Woods

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

“The Comdg. General directs that you move Sedgwick and French across the creek by the fords which Capt. Custer will point out to you. You will cross in as solid a mass as possible and communicate with Genl. Hooker immediately. Genl. Richardson’s Division will not cross till further orders. You will cross your artillery over the bridge and halt after you cross until you ascertain if Genl. Hooker wants assistance.”

Randolph Marcy.  McClellan’s orders to Sumner to advance sent at 7:20 AM

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

“keeping my eye on them guns so as to drop [when they fired]“

Roland E. Bowen of the 15th MA Inf describes his reaction to artillery fire.

From  “Defending Lee’s Flank.” by Robert E. L. Krick. The Antietam Campaign. Ed. Gary Gallagher  Chapel Hill:  The University of North Carolina Press,  1999.

“The Shell burst thick and fast over and around us, one passed through the ranks of Co. D of our regiment killing one and wounding three, but we pressed steadily on.”

Roland E. Bowen of the 15th Mass describes the heavy shelling experienced by the regiment

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

“The field was strewn with dead en where Hooker had fought before us. One reb held up his hand and waved it as if to say, don’t hurt me.  As I stepped over him said I, no one will hurt you.”

Roland E. Bowen describes his advance over the ground fought over by Hooker earlier

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

“I shot 4 times at an officer on a horse, but did not fetch him, so I gave up and went to firing into the crowd which were much nearer.”

Roland E. Bowen of the 15th Mass describes his experience in the West Woods

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

“All hands ran for dear life. I pulled to the left to get out of the range of the guns and got off safe and sound. The rebs chased us like the Devil for about a half or 3/4 of a mile when our batteries opened on them with grape and they give up the chase….No God Damned Southerner is going to catch me unless he can run 29 miles an hour. That’s my gate.”

Roland E. Bowen of the 15th Massachusetts describes the rout of his regiment

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

“The artillery could be heard plainly on the right, and General Sumner was so impressed with the necessity of reaching the field of battle that he, personally, rode over to the army headquarters hoping to facilitate the movement of his command”

Samuel Sumner, the general’s son recalls waiting for McClellan to issue his orders

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

“I don’t know if General McClellan was asleep or engaged inside. I know General Sumner was uneasy and impatient….We remained outside Headquarters for some time, quite an hour or so as I remember it.”

Samuel Sumner, the general’s son recalls waiting for McClellan to issue his orders

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

“No one seems to know how it was done, but in falling back our massed division somehow so disentangled itself as to form in a comparatively straight line, division front by the time we reached the edge of the woods, but as the rebels followed us closely and rapidly our broken lines soon gave way and confusion worse confounded reigned in our now depleted ranks until we reached a position on higher ground a short distance north of the church and west of the Hagerstown Pike where portions of a couple of our batteries had taken position and by a liberal and effective use of grape and canister compelled the enemy to fall back after they had been uncovered by our retreating troops.”

Thomas H. Pressnell from Company C 1st Minnesota describes the retreat from the West Woods.

From The Last Full Measure The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers by Richard Moe.  New York:  Avon Books, 1993.

“Owing to the cool head of Sully, the 1st Minnesota was the only regiment in the division which maintained anything like organization, and when we were only about half way up the slight rise of ground over which we were retreating the Colonel gave the order to face and fire, with the result that a solid volley from about 300 muskets poured into the following enemy and caused a quite appreciable check to their oncoming.”

Thomas H. Pressnell from Company C 1st Minnesota describes the retreat from the West Woods.

From The Last Full Measure The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers by Richard Moe.  New York:  Avon Books, 1993.

“my whole brigade became hotly engaged, giving and receiving the most deadly fire it has ever been my lot to witness. Although the firing was not so rapid, it was most deadly, and at very close range. We also had to stand the most terrific fire of grape and canister, which told fearfully on the three right regiments of the brigade.”

Willis Gorman describes the fighting as his brigade enters the West woods

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

“was so sudden and in such overwhelming force that I had no time to lose, for my command could have been completely enveloped and probably captured.”

Willis Gorman reporting on the attack on the flank of his brigade

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

“a seamless wall of canister”

describing the fire from Nicodemus heights into the West Woods

From Cavalryman of the Lost Cause by Jeffry D. Wert.  New York:  Simon and Schuster, 2008.

“keeping all near him steady.”

Describing the calming effects of Sumner on the men of the 59th NY and 20th Mass

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

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