The Civil War’s “Band of Brothers” – We’ve Drank from the Same Canteen poem

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There is an excellent book about everyday life in the Civil War by John D Billings called “Hardtack and Coffee”. In it there is a simply wonderful poem by a Private Miles O’Reilly. It goes:

There are bonds of all sorts in this world of ours,
Fetters of friendship and ties of flowers,
And true lover’s knots, I ween;
The girl and the boy are bound by a kiss,
But there’s never a bond, old friend, like this,
We have drank from the same Canteen!

It was sometimes water, and sometimes milk,
And sometimes apple-jack “fine as silk;”
But whatever the tipple has been
We shared it together in bane or bliss,
And I warm to you, friend, when I think of this,
We drank from the same Canteen!

The rich and great sit down to dine,
They quaff to each other in sparkling wine,
From glasses of crystal and green;
But I guess in their golden potations they miss
The warmth of regard to be found in this,
We drank from the same Canteen!

We have shared our blankets and tents together,
And have marched and fought in all kinds of weather,
And hungry and full we have been;
Had days of battle and days of rest,
But this memory I cling to and love the best,
We drank from the same Canteen!

For when wounded I lay on the center slope,
With my blood flowing fast and so little hope
Upon which my faint spirit could lean;
Oh! then I remember you crawled to my side,
And bleeding so fast it seemed both must have died,
We drank from the same Canteen!

By Private Miles O’Reilly
From “Hardtack and Coffee” written by John D. Billings

Confederate General D. H. Hill’s “spin” on the Army of Northern Virginia’s unfulfilled victory at Antietam

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The Battle of Antietam was considered a turning point in the Civil War since from it came the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.  The careful planning of this document, with Lincoln releasing it at just the right moment in the war, ensured that it had a great positive impact on the Union efforts and redefined the purpose of the war. That was one major reason that England did not come to the Confederacy’s aid. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation primarily as a war measure. Perhaps its most significant immediate effect was that it, for the first time, it officially placed the U.S. government against the “peculiar institution” of slavery, thereby placing a barrier between the South and its recognition by European nations that had outlawed slavery.

But Lincoln could not introduce the proclamation until there was a union victory. In a cabinet meeting two months before the battle he brought his proclamation up for consideration. Secretary of State William Seward said the proclamation should be postponed to a “more auspicious period” when it would not be “received and considered as a despairing cry—a shriek from and for the Administration, rather than for freedom.” Seward’s idea, “said the President, ‘was that it would be construed our last shriek on the retreat.’ And this “auspicious period” came since the Confederate invasion was turned back.

On the other hand Confederate General D. H. Hill considered it a Confederate victory and gave this opinion in his report after the battle. This is an excerpt from this report of of Operations July 23-September 17 later published in “The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies”. It is his explanation for how the Army of Northern Virginia won the battle but could have done more.

The battle of Sharpsburg was a success so far as the failure of the Yankees to carry the position they assailed. It would, however, have been a glorious victory for us but for three causes:

First. The separation of our forces. Had McLaws and R. H. Anderson been there earlier in the morning, the battle would not have lasted two hours, and would have been signally disastrous to the Yankees. 

Second. The bad handling of our artillery. This could not cope with the superior weight, caliber, range, and number of the Yankee guns; hence it ought only to have been used against masses of infantry. On the contrary, our guns were made to reply to the Yankee guns, and were smashed up or withdrawn before they could be effectually turned against massive columns of attack. An artillery duel between the Washington Artillery and the Yankee batteries across the Antietam on the 16th was the most melancholy farce in the war.

Third. The enormous straggling. The battle was fought with less than 30,000 men. Had all our stragglers been up, McClellan’s army would have been completely crushed or annihilated. Doubtless the want of shoes, the want of food, and physical exhaustion had kept many brave men from being with the army; but thousands of thieving poltroons had kept away from sheer cowardice. The straggler is generally a thief and always a coward, lost to all sense of shame; he can only be kept in ranks by a strict and sanguinary discipline.

The Civil War and Total War

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One of the members of the Civil War Talk forum I belong to brought up that Union General David Hunter was infamous for his ways of handling the confederate towns he was in, including burning homes on a seemingly indiscriminate basis. My response was thus:

Steve Knott from the US Army War College at at Carlisle, Pa gave an interesting talk about JEB Stuart and the Gettysburg campaign in June of last year. And he talks about the simple equation used by military strategists. It is Power of Resistance = Means x Will. And as he stated when the Power of resistance goes to zero the war is over. Robert E Lee could not attack the North’s means as they had infinitely more so he had to attack the North’s will. And that meant he had to destroy the Army of the Potomac and therefore destroy the North’s morale. And when morale goes to zero the north goes to the peace table. After his greatest victory he was quite incensed that the Army of the Potomac was allowed to escape after Chancellorsville. He knew that the clock was always ticking for him and his army.

In retropect I think that Hunter was a buffoon and that his methods were heavy handed to say the least. But as another one of my Civil War Talk members stated “Suspension of morality is a prerequisite for war making”. The Civil War has been seen as being on the cusp between old style war where honor was involved and modern war where anything goes. It starts out in heroic Napoleanic charges and ends up in World War I’s bitter trench warfare. So what the North was doing essentially with Sheridan and Sherman was the “scorched earth” policy the followed in later wars. Destroy the opposing army but if you can’t destroy the South’s will to fight by taking out their food supply, railroads, etc. As Sherman stated (and people thought he was crazy when he told what would to expect in the war) “War is Hell”.

The Piper farm- center of the Confederate line at Antietam

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This farm, owned by Henry and Elizabeth Piper, was home to the Piper family, several slaves, and a free black. Henry was known by the residents of Sharpsburg as “Old Stovepipe,” for the tall hat he wore. The center of the Confederate line stood in the area around the house. Generals James Longstreet and D. H. Hill established their headquarters there. After serving the Confederate officers dinner the night before the battle, the Pipers chose to leave the area, not knowing what to expect from the anticipated battle.

For several hours during the intense fighting, Hill’s outnumbered troops stubbornly held off General Israel Richardson’s Union advance across the Piper Farm, until they were eventually pushed back beyond the Piper cornfield. Later in the afternoon, Anderson’s brigade stopped another advance. During the fighting, many wounded Confederates found their way into the farmhouse, where they received rudimentary treatment.

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Piper barn​

After the battle, three dead Confederate soldiers were found in the house, including one who succumbed while lying under a piano in the parlor, according to records held by the 130th Pennsylvania Infantry. The Pennsylvanians reported that every stitch of muslin, linen, and calico in the house appeared to have been used to treat the wounds of the Confederates.

The family had mixed emotions upon returning home. Dead soldiers lay throughout the property. Henry Piper reported only minimal destruction from the actual fighting but claimed more than two thousand dollars in damages during the days after the battle, when the farm was occupied by Federal forces. Piper blamed the Third and Fourth Pennsylvania cavalries and the Eighth New York Cavalry for the losses. The barn, used as a hospital, is much larger today than it was at the time of the fighting. An addition was constructed in 1898.

James and Suzanne Gindlesperger “So You Think You Know Antietam? The Stories Behind America’s Bloodiest Day”

A 72d Pennsylvania Volunteer remembers the Miller Cornfield fight

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Remembrances of the Civil War as told by Thomas H. Eaton, Co. H 72nd Pennsylvania Volunteers Sept 17 1904 in Sharpsburg , Maryland on Pennsylvania Day.

It rained quite hard during the night. Roll call at 2.00 in the morning. 80 rounds of cartridges were distributed, shelling from the Confederates at 7.00. Gen. Hooker had opened the fight at daylight, Gen. Mansfield going to his support had met with such a severe fire that a movement to the rear was inaugurated. Hooker was wounded & Mansfield killed. At this time the Second Corps which had been prepared to move at daylight, started from Keedysville toward the right through some woods, then down a hill to the Antietam Creek which the men waded, taking care to keep their ammunition above the rushing water. The point of crossing was at the first ford above bridge No. 1. On the other side of the stream we ascended a hill then through the open country to the right until Miller’s house was reached, when the line of battle was formed by the left flank while marching. From this point to the point of attack was one mile.

As Col. Banes gave such a graphic account I will use his language.

“All of this distance was moved was in battalion front, the movement hurrying us through pieces of woods, across fences, through barnyards and other obstacles which continually threw the line into confusion. In addition to this we were subjected to a heaver artillery fire from the enemy, but in spite of all the opposition the advance never stopped until the fatal Cornfield was reached, &c. Here Gen Sedgwick gave the command “Push into the woods”

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We now cross the Hagerstown Pike into the West Woods. Inclined as we were to the left of the Dunkard’s Church, the men in the best of spirits when on our flank and left were seen the colors of the Confederacy a mighty host. It was a bad position, and the fact of our flanks having no support we were ordered to retire. It was at this time when the 34th NY fell back.

I wrote Gen Howard in relation to this critical movement. His reply was, “My dear Sir, I commanded Sedgwick’s Division after his wound, when the Division gave way to the rear, its flank was already turned. It only went from one piece of woods to another about a quarter of a mile. There was considerable confusion in the retirement, but I believe the movement was necessary to prevent annihilation or capture. What was true of the division was true of the Brigade.”

Ezra Ayers Carman papers, 1861-1909
Library of Congress online

Harper’s Weekly’s belated answer to Lee’s “Proclamation to the people of Maryland”

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The September 27th issue of Harper’s Weekly featured a cartoon over the byline “A pictorial commentary upon General Lee’s proclamation to the people of Maryland”. In this proclamation which was was written in Frederick, Maryland on September 8th Lee explained that he was invading in order to restore the freedoms of the State and throw off the yoke of United States’ transgressions against the state. He then outlined his mission in the state.

This, Citizens of Maryland, is our mission, so far as you are concerned.

No constraint upon your free will is intended, no intimidation is allowed.

Within the limits of this Army, at least, Marylanders shall once more enjoy their ancient freedom of thought and speech.

We know no enemies among you, and will protect all of every opinion.

It is for you to decide your destiny, freely and without constraint.

This army will respect your choice whatever it may be, and while the Southern people will rejoice to welcome you to your natural position among them, they will only welcome you when you come of your own free will.

Harper’s Weekly’s cartoon:

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The Army of Northern Virginia’s failed “recruitment” campaign before Antietam

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Part of the plan for the Army of Northern Virginia’s invasion of Maryland was to “liberate” the state from Lincoln’s holding it in the union by force. And Robert E Lee also hoped to get new recruits joining his army which was decimated from the 7 Days battles and 2d Manassas. Unfortunately, he invaded the wrong half of the state as the eastern half was more southern leaning then the western half. Gary Gallagher in his book “Lee and His Generals in War and Memory” discusses this salient fact.

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Lee’s expectation of gathering recruits in Maryland came to little. Indeed, illusions about pro-Confederate Marylanders waiting to break free of Union oppression disappeared even before the battle of Antietam. As early as September 7, Lee had cautioned Davis that despite “individual expressions of kindness that have been given,” he did not “anticipate any general rising of the people in our behalf.” The next day, September 8, Lee issued a proclamation informing Marylanders that “our army has come among you, and is prepared to assist you with the power of its arms in regaining the rights of which you have been despoiled.”
The numerous Germans in western Maryland turned a distinctly cold shoulder to the intruders. The ragged clothing and gaunt frames of the Confederates, as well as their lice and pungent odor, put off even sympathetic civilians. No more than a few hundred Marylanders stepped forward to join the thin ranks of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Illustration from Harper’s Weekly September 27, 1862

The “Iron Brigade” after The Cornfield slugfest at Antietam

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After the men of the Iron Brigade had been in the intense fighting in the Dunker Church/ Cornfield area that opened the battle of Antietam they were able to get some relief and redeploy. Lance Herdegen in his book “The Iron Brigade in Civil War and Memory” describes this phase.

“Bullets, shot and shell, fired by the enemy in the corn-field, were still flying thickly around us, striking the trees in the woods and cutting off the limbs,” observed Rufus Dawes as he marched his regiment back to the trees and halted it in their shade. Next came the grim task of calling the roll to determine the regiment’s “dreadful losses.” The Wisconsin regiment carried 315 officers and men into the battle. Company C drew skirmish line duty that morning and escaped the heaviest fighting with only two casualties of the thirty-five engaged. Of the 280 men who fought in and around the cornfield and on the turnpike, 150 were killed, wounded, or missing. “This was the most dreadful slaughter to which our regiment had been subjected during the war,” Dawes penned in his memoir.

A short time later, the survivors were joined by the wounded Capt. George Ely of Janesville and 18 men from the 2nd Wisconsin. The small contingent brought their flags with them. A short time later the 7th Wisconsin and 19th Indiana, powder-stained and weary, joined the line. “The roar of musketry to the front was very heavy,” said Dawes. It was only perhaps 8: 00 a.m. The long day of battle was just beginning. 

General Jesse Reno killed at Fox’s Gap on South Mountain prior to Antietam

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General Reno had been most active all day, fearing no danger and appearing to be everywhere at the same time. Safe up to seven o’clock, no one dreamed of such a disaster as was to happen. He, with his staff, was standing a little back of the wood on a field, the rebel forces being directly in front. A body of his troops were just before him, and at this point the fire of the rebels was directed. A Minie-ball struck him and went through his body. He fell, and, from the first, appeared to have a knowledge that he could not survive the wound that he had received.

He was instantly carried with the greatest care to the rear, followed by a number of the officers, and attended by the division surgeon, Dr. Cutter. At the foot of the hill he was laid under a tree, and after a few moments the surgeon said he could not live, and he died without the least movement a few minutes after. Grief at any time is heart-rending; but such grief as was manifested by the staff officers and those about him it has never before been my lot to witness. The old soldier, just come from the scene of carnage with death staring him in the face on every side, here knelt and wept like a child. No eye was dry among those present, and many a silent and spoken resolution was made that moment that Reno’s death should be amply avenged.

Harper’s Weekly October 4, 1862

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Fox’s Gap on South Mountain. This was part of the Battle of South Mountain on September 14th, 1862. There was fighting at three gaps – Turner’s Gap to the north, Crampton’s Gap to the south and Fox’s Gap. Two Generals were killed here, Jesse Reno, the Union 9th Corp Commander and Samuel Garland, a Brigade Commander in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The monument on the left is to Gen. Jesse Reno.

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