Antietam, fought on Wednesday, September 17, 1862, is considered the bloodiest single day in the Civil War, with a combined total, from both sides, of 22,717 dead, wounded or missing.
It is called, alternately, Antietam, for the creek near where it was fought, as the North named most of its battles after nearby natural spots, with the First Battle of Bull Run [creek] setting the stage for the Northern naming convention.
Or, by Southern troops, Sharpsburg, after the nearby town, Sharpsburg, Maryland, just as Bull Run was called by Confederates the First Battle of Manassas, [Virginia] its closest town.
Antietam was the first major battle in Northern territory.
Despite Lee’s 2-1 outnumbered force, Confederates fought the Union troops to a standstill and were able to withdraw back across the Potomac River without pursuit.
McClellan’s failure to follow up and route Lee’s army may have been a lost opportunity, but he had stopped the invasion into Maryland.
Since the Confederates withdrew first, Lincoln used this rare occasion of good news to announce the Emancipation Proclamation, changing the focus of the war from keeping the Union together to freeing the slaves, which, for many, it had been all along.
It appears to have made Great Britain and France withhold their recognition of the Confederacy.
It is also the battle where my husband’s great-grandfather, William Wesley Covin, Pfc, Georgia 13th Infantry Regiment, Company K, at the age of 19, was wounded.
He had been lying on his back, reloading his rifle, bracing it against his leg, when a bullet went through his knee.
His company was the last of the companies formed for the Georgia 13th.
He was mustered in on July 8, 1861, in Griffin, Georgia, near Atlanta, not far from his home in Troup County, sixty miles south of Atlanta.
It was six months past his 18th birthday.
Though the Georgia 13th was not sent there, it was only weeks before the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861.
The Georgia 13th, originally called up to protect the Georgia coast after Fort Sumter, was soon sent to support Robert E. Lee on Sewell Mountain, West Virginia, in September, 1861, on a high pass through the Appalachian Mountains.
A doctor with the troops chronicled the cold and disease of that time:
“There was an epidemic of measles in the army and every soldier who had not been 10 miles from his home before he enlisted was seized with it….”
“The nights were as cold as in Jan. for we were high up the mountain, and had to have fires all the time.”
Robert E. Lee bought his horse, Traveler, during this time, from a nearby farm.
The Georgia 13th was then sent home to Georgia because of the sickness and clothing ill-suited to the cold weather of West Virginia mountains.
The Georgia 13th Infantry was one of 6 regiments (13th, 26th, 31st, 38th, 60th and 61st Georgia) that made up the Lawton-Gordon-Evans Brigade, named for its commanders.
In April, 1862, the Georgia 13th fought back the offloading of 800 Federal troops from a ship at Whitemarsh Island, near Savannah, Georgia. The ship withdrew in the middle of the night.
In May, 1862, the brigade of six regiments mustered between 6,000 and 7,000 men, when they were moved to Lynchburg, Virginia, to reinforce Stonewall Jackson and help conceal a Lee offensive against McClellan near Richmond.
The 13th was to have been deployed on the last day of the Seven Days Battle, around Richmond, Virginia, July 1, 1862, in the Battle of Malvern Hill.
McClellan’s Union Army of the Potomac occupied high ground and commanded the James River.
Though Lee’s plan was to bombard the Union with artillery and then send in the infantry, the Union’s artillery nearly destroyed the Confederate artillery.
When the Confederate infantry was sent in, Jackson’s reserve divisions, including the 13th, ran into muddy roads and a swampy creek that stopped them and only D.H. Hill’s division went in.
The Confederate army suffered 5,650 casualties to the Union’s 2,214.
But, after the Seven Days’ Battle, McClellan reported to Washington that it was not possible to take Richmond.
Lincoln put Major General John Pope in charge of a newly-formed 51,000-strong Union Army of Virginia.
Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia had 55,000 men.
As Lee made plans for the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Georgia 13th reinforced General Early’s Brigade on the night of August 23, 1862, to stave off a Union cavalry attack at Great Run, Virginia, going for two days and nights without food or shelter.
On August 27, 1862, the Georgia 13th camped at Bristoe Station and, in a skirmish that was part of Jackson’s plan to control Manassas Junction, a key rail crossroads, repelled a train full of soldiers from Warrenton Junction.
I now live 5 minutes from Bristoe Station, which has become a Civil War battlefield park because of a larger battle fought there a year later.
On August 28, 1862, the Georgia 13th marched 15 miles North, across Bull Run.
In the ensuing Battle of Groveton (Brawner’s Farm), just east of Gainesville, Virginia, in the opening battle of the 2nd Battle of Bull Run, the Georgia 13th Regiment, placed on the left flank in the front, lost 20% of their men, of 2,100 engaged.
“Men fell like leaves in autumn.”
“…the battle continued unabated for two hours.”
“It was a stand-up fight at a maximum range of seventy-five yards, with no respite and with neither side entrenched or covered.”
“…on the Federal right, the Sixth Wisconsin also slowly pressed forward and forced Lawton’s men [including the Georgia 13th] back twenty yards before the Confederates again powered their way to the original line…but except for these movements, neither side advanced or retreated”
“…darkness and the tacit consent of the opposing commanders at last broke off the engagement.”
By the time the 2nd Battle of Bull Run was over, three days later, a victory for the Confederates, the Union had lost 10,000 killed or wounded, out of 62,000.
The Confederates had lost 8,300 killed or wounded, out of 50,000.
On September 5, 1862, the Georgia 13th Infantry Regiment crossed the Potomac River, at White’s Ford, into Maryland, with General Stonewall Jackson.
They marched on to Frederick, Maryland by September 10, and back across the Potomac River, and on to Martinsburg, West Virginia, where they seized abandoned Union commissary and ordnance supplies.
By September 13, they were camped at Harper’s Ferry.
More than 12,000 Union troops there, surrounded and unsupported, surrendered on September 15.
The Georgia 13th “made a ‘severe’ night march, arriving … [at Antietam] on September 16.”
The Battle of Antietam began at about 6 AM on September 17, 1862.
The 13th bore most of the Union’s first assault, south of the cornfield, on the Confederate left.
Their commander, Colonel Douglass, fearing for his brigade, ran from one regiment to another, telling his men to wait until the enemy started climbing over the fence, to “shoot low and make every bullet count.”
They waited until the Union troops were within 100 yards before opening fire.
A Union officer, Ezra Carman, who fought at Antietam, later described it:
“at first no attention was paid by either line to the rail fence in their respective fronts, but each stood and fired on the other, neither party endeavoring to advance, soon, however, the severity of the fire dictated more caution and most of the men, on both sides, laid down and sought cover.”
As their volley “tore wide gaps…in the blue lines” and “the volleys made [the Federals] stagger and hesitate” the commander of the Brigade, Douglass, already wounded several times, followed up on the Union retreat, suffering, when the Union troops were reinforced, the loss of every one of his regimental commanders, who died or were wounded.
They retreated at 7 AM to Dunker Church, where Douglass was shot an eighth time and died.
They pulled back and remained in a reserve position the rest of the day while other Confederate troops counter-attacked.
“At sundown of September 17, Lawton’s Brigade could muster only 48 men of the 1,213 it had carried into the battle.”
The Georgia 13th Infantry, of Lawton’s Brigade, reported that, of the 361 present for duty on the morning of the battle at Antietam:
- 5 officers were killed
- 43 enlisted men were killed
- 9 officers were wounded
- 157 enlisted men were wounded
- 2 enlisted men were missing
This made for a total of 216 casualties, killed, wounded or missing (59.8%) in a single day, in a single hour.
William Wesley Covin was treated for his wounds and a few months later returned as a wagon master for the duration of the war.
He limped the rest of his life.
The Georgia 13th fought at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Wilderness and Spotsylvania.
At the Appomattox Court House surrender on April 9, 1865, the Lawton-Gordon-Evans Brigade had 750 men, out of a brigade that had mustered 7,000 three years before and been reinforced with 800 during the course of the war.
Only a double Louisiana brigade had lost more men.
The last official record of William W. Covin is “on furlough of indulgence in Troup County, Ga. February 28, 1865. No later record.”
After Appomattox, he was given a horse to ride home to Georgia.
Somewhere along the way, he met a soldier with wounds worse than his own and he walked beside the horse and let the soldier ride.
He and his father, his son and his grandson, are buried in the cemetery outside of town, in Hogansville, Georgia, in Troup County, just south of Atlanta.
Carol Covin, Granny-Guru