Antietam.–Diary of Josiah Marshall Favill.

[September 17th]

During the night the Eleventh corps, General Mansfield, crossed, and at daylight this morning the combined force commenced an attack which proved to be most sanguinary and without important result. To our astonishment the whole line was not engaged simultaneously, but the old McClellan method of fighting in detail, one corps at a time, the rest of the army looking on. The fight was murderous, the musketry terrific and the number of guns in action almost incredible. About 9 o’clock our division was ordered to follow French, now commanding the Third division across the river, and promptly fell in, marched around the base of the hill into the valley, and crossed at a shallow ford, Caldwell and Meagher in front. We filed off to the left along the stream, and lay down, while Meagher’s brigade supported by Caldwell moved forward to the attack up the hill directly in front. As they approached the summit, they were met by a severe musketry fire, and were shelled by many guns from different directions. The first thing I noticed was General Meagher slip from his horse, and some of the men carrying him to the rear. His brigade, however, marched forward to the crest in beautiful style, but were unable to make further progress. They remained standing in line of battle, loading and firing as fast as they could, their men falling in the ranks every second, and we could see them gradually melting away. Just then Captain Norvell, of General Richardson’s staff, came along, and ordered us forward to relieve them. The order to fall in was given and with nervous force, teeth firmly set and without a word spoken, we marched steadily forward. As we approached the Irish brigade, it opened files and we passed through, immediately coming under a terrific fire of musketry, and artillery. Caldwell, in the meantime, had gone in on our left and gained considerable ground, reaching the crest of the hill. The enemy were in plain sight a very short distance below, and the Fifty-seventh and Sixty-sixth were ordered to charge, which they did, in a most gallant manner, led by Colonel Parisen on horseback. Down the slope, over a sunken road strewn with dead and dying, and into a cornfield pell mell we went, driving the flying rebels before us in splendid shape, bayoneting all who did not promptly surrender. We finally reached a house, since known to be the Piper house, and came under a converging fire or rebel artillery and so were ordered back again, and to the left, taking a position on the slope of the hill overlooking the cornfield. Here the regiment became scattered, and it was some time before it was gotten together under the severe artillery fire. Just at this time Colonel Brooke came up and ordered me to join his staff as aide-de-camp in place of Lieutenant Potts, carried from the field badly wounded. The first thing to do was to reorganize the line. Richardson, on the left, while directing the batteries and infantry as they fell back into new positions, was severely wounded and carried from the field. There was a considerable gap on our right and Colonel Brooke directed me to move up the regiment on the left of Caldwell’s brigade to close it as the enemy were advancing, and there was danger of our line being broken. I walked across the field right on the edge of the cornfield, my ears fairly burning with the singing of the deadly minnie. I could see nothing, but the tips of the cornstalks were constantly toppling over, cut by the rebel infantry fire. When I reached the infantry line, it was lying flat down, and proved to be the Sixty-first New York, commanded by Barlow. The colonel was lying down, too, and I directed him by order of Colonel Brook, to move by the left and close up the gap. To my surprise, he refused to budge, saying he did not recognize Colonel Brooke’s authority. The balls were whistling around me as I stood arguing with him, almost beside myself for chagrin, when Brooke suddenly made his appearance. I told him the colonel refused to recognize his authority, and he, very angry, ordered him instantly to move forward. Barlow got right up, advanced the regiment, and taking the rebels in the flank, gave them a severe drubbing, getting shot himself badly, which I am afraid I thought served him right. Soon afterwards Brooke and I, entirely alone, started for the brigade on the left. As the firing was rather serious, we walked some distance down the side of the hill and then started across. All of a sudden a section of rebel guns appeared on the crest of the hill, unlimbered, and opened fire; they saw us immediately and fired one gun at us exclusively, until we were out of sight, I told the colonel we were certainly in for it now, but he said he did not believe they could hit us anyway, and so we kept right on; the gun plowing up the earth with canister all around us, scattering the dirt and stones everywhere. A piece of shell cut off the colonel’s sword knot, but wonderful to relate, did no further harm. We were not more than seventy-five to one hundred yards distant, on open ground, and could see the operation of loading and firing and the flame of the burning powder bursting out of the cannons’ mouth perfectly. As the colonel seemed to care little for it, and took matters so coolly, I kept up my courage and we talked and walked away until out of range. As soon as the line was re-established we quickly drove these fellows back and so far as we were concerned, the battle was over. While we lay on the ground in position the enemy charged French’s line on our right, but they were so far off when they started, and were in such loose order and small force, that we could easily see they were beaten before they got within range. Cannon everywhere opened upon them, and French’s line, when they came within range, delivered a fire that sent them back much quicker than they advanced. While they were passing our right I took a sergeant’s musket, and fired several long range shots, using the adjustable sight on an Enfield piece. I tried hard, but think it doubtful if I hit any of them.

Burnside commenced an attack on the left in the afternoon which at first seemed successful, ending, however, like most of his undertakings in nothing being accomplished. At sunset, the battle ceased entirely, the victory, although not decisive, undoubtedly being with us. Our men remained throughout the afternoon lying in their ranks, expecting orders every moment for another advance, but none came and we lay in the same position all night. It became very cold during the night, and to keep off the wind we piled up a rampart of dead men and so spent a wretched night. Some of the wounded were brought in during the night by comrades from between the lines, which were very close together. Several times our men hailed the rebel pickets, asking them not to shoot, when the pitious cries of some poor wounded fellow attracted especial notice, and in many cases the friendly Johnnies held their fire, and the victims were brought in.

Diary of a Young Officer–Josiah Marshall Favill (57th New York Infantry)

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