October 15, 1862, The Charleston Mercury
(Correspondence of the Savannah Republican.)
WINCHESTER, VA., Oct. 2.
The falsehood of the Northern press, and the error which prevails even among intelligent persons in the South, would seem to call for some further observations in regard to the campaign in Maryland. Before proceeding with these observations, however, it may be well enough to remark, that the army returned from Maryland with feelings far different from those with which it crossed the Potomac. The reception accorded to the troops was not so cordial as many had expected it would be. There was a wide diversity of opinion in those sections through which we passed, and many of the Unionists were impudent and offensive in the declaration of their sentiments. The effect of all these developments has been to cool the ardor of the Confederates in behalf of ‘My Maryland,’ and to render them indifferent to her fate, if not hostile to her people. Indeed, so strong has this feeling become, that many of the regiments would receive an order to return to Maryland with bitter repugnance.
It may well be suspected, however, that the judgment of the army is harsh, if not unjust. So heavily had the iron heel of the Northern despotism pressed upon the people of Maryland, and so unexpected was our advance in the State, that the action of the people was not unnaturally characterized by a certain degree of doubt and hesitation. We remained on the north bank of the Potomac from the 4th of September, the day on which the head of the column first crossed, until the night of the 18th — only two weeks altogether — which is a short time for a State, or the people of a State in their unorganized capacity, to discuss, decide, and engage in so important a revolution as that which we sought to inaugurate upon their soil. Great masses of people do not move with the ease and rapidity of individuals. Indeed the fact that the Confederates left the State after a short stay of only two weeks, would seem to justify the people in the course they pursued. As they could not possibly, with the difficulties surrounding them, have reached our lines in any considerable body before we re-crossed the river, any attempt to enroll themselves under our banner would only have involved them in fresh troubles after our departure.
That a very considerable majority of the people of Maryland desire to unite their destiny with ours, there need be no doubt. Nor is it strange that the behaviour of the Unionists, nearly all of whom are natives of the North or Germany, should not have been altogether gracious; for they knew as well as we did, that they were safe, and that we had not come to make war upon Maryland or any portion of the people. But as we do not condemn the State of Virginia for the conduct of the people in Northwestern Virginia, nor the State of Tennessee for the treason of East Tennessee; so we should not judge the State of Maryland by the deportment of the people living near her northern boundary. It may become necessary in the course of the war to abandon for the present the idea of incorporating Maryland into the Confederacy, though it is fervently hoped that no such necessity will ever arise; yet let us not judge her people who labor under great difficulties, either hastily or harshly. But to the campaign in Maryland.
After resting two days at Frederick, Jackson, A. P. Hill and McLaws proceeded to invest Harper’s Ferry; whilst Longstreet advanced forward to Hagerstown, and D. H. Hill stopped at Boonsboro’ Gap. McClellan’s movements were more rapid and energetic than had been anticipated; he overtook our rear guard on Sunday, the 14th, at the gap in the Blue Ridge, through which the Cumberland turnpike passes. This rendered the return of Longstreet necessary to the safety of Hill division. The battle of Boonsboro’ Gap was fought on the 10th. The enemy, in consequence of his immense superiority in numbers, and the lateness of Longstreet’s arrival, got the better of the battle, capturing a good many prisoners on the field, and all the wounded who were left behind. Seeing that he was unable, with only a portion of his command, to cope with nearly the whole of McClellan’s army, Gen. Lee moved from Boonsboro’ Sunday night, in the direction of Sharpsburg. This change brought him near enough to Jackson, Hill and McLaws to form a junction with them in case of a general engagement, which it was evident was then imminent. Gen. Lee’s calculation proved to be correct; for Harper’s Ferry had not only been captured, but its reduction was effected just in time to enable the forces investing it to reach Sharpsburg Tuesday night before the battle, except A. P. Hill’s division, which came up at 3 p.m. on Wednesday. If, therefore, the Federals had held out a day longer at Harper’s Ferry, or had General Lee remained a day longer at Boonsboro’, or had McClellan arrived a day sooner, the chances are that we should have been badly beaten. The nicety of the calculation establishes the superior genius of the Confederate commander; and yet one must confess it was a little to close to be altogether pleasant.
The two armies took up their final positions Tuesday and Tuesday night, and the great battle was fought the next day — Wednesday, the 17th of September. In my account of the battle the enemy’s forces were estimated at 125,000, and ours at 80,000. It would seem that I was widely mistaken, if Gen. Longstreet is to be regarded as good authority. He puts our forces engaged at about 40,000. The remainder, whom I supposed were present, were absent from their commands either sick, on detached duty, or stragglers! If this be so — and I am now satisfied that my estimate was entirely too high — the Confederates fought more than three times their own numbers of fresh troops at Sharpsburg. Our marches had been so constant and hard; so many of the men were barefooted and worn out from hunger and fatigue; the movement of the enemy so rapid and energetic, that it was found utterly impossible to bring up, in time for the battle, anything like the forces with which we had originally crossed the river. Indeed, regimental officers inform me that their commands now number more than twice the number of men they carried into action. The stragglers, who were scattered along the whole route from Richmond to the Potomac, and many of the sick and wounded left in the hospitals, have rejoined their commands, and the army is now stronger in numbers, notwithstanding our losses in battle, than it has been at any time since it left the James river.
That there is a sad lack of discipline in the army, there can be no doubt. It is equally true, that much of the spirit of disorganization and demoralizaton which prevail, arises from the miserable plight in which the government has left the men. As was said in a former letter, it is sheer nonsense to expect men, barefooted, in rags, and half fed, to perform all their duty on long and toilsome marches like an army of soldiers well clad and fully supplied.
The results of the battle, about which there seems to be considerable doubt even in Richmond, may be easily summed up. The enemy made the attack, and we repulsed it. So far we were victorious. Our victory, however, was only a technical victory. We neither routed the enemy nor threw him into confusion. When the battle was over, he maintained his original ground, and we held ours. His loss, according to the admissions of the Northern press, was unprecedentedly heavy — twice as heavy, indeed, as ours. This was owing to the superiority of our marksmanship, and the manner, heretofore explained, in which our artillery was fought.
The battle was not renewed the next day, though both parties remained in position that (Thursday) night. Gen. Lee decided to recross the Potomac, which he did without the loss of a man, or gun, or wagon, except such of the wounded as could not be moved on account of their injuries, and a few wagons that were turned over in the darkness. The retreat was a most masterly movement, and conducted with great order and judgment. The enemy followed on next morning, and threw a few shells into Shepherdstown and across the river at our forces, but did no damage worth naming. That night he sent across a brigade — some say a division — which was attacked by A. P. Hill, of Jackson’s corps, early Saturday morning, and the entire force driven back into the river, where nearly the whole of them were slaughtered, drowned, and captured. We subsequently retired further from the river — probably with the hope of drawing the enemy over. He was content, however, to despatch a cavalry force to Shepherdstown, where such of our wounded — only a few — as were too ill to be removed, were captured and paroled.
If General Lee’s object in crossing the river was to secure a permanent foothold in Maryland, as I think it was, then the movement has failed. If his aim was confined to the capture of the forces at Harper’s Ferry, as some who are anxious to mitigate the pain of our disappointment would contend, then he has been eminently successful. But be this as it may, the effect upon Maryland cannot be otherwise than disastrous. In prisoners and arms, we got greatly the advantage of the enemy, as we did in the casualties sustained by the respective armies.
Considered apart, therefore, from the effect upon Maryland of our retreat across the river, the net result of the campaign was in our favor. A different conclusion, however, must be come to, if we take into the account the moral and political consequences to the people beyond the Potomac. Such, at least, is the humble opinion of your correspondent, who does not believe any harm can arise from a candid and honest expression of opinion, even though it be adverse to our desires.