EYEWITNESS: 1862 PITTSBURGH RIFLES PLAY VITAL ROLE AT ANTIETAM Series: EYEWITNESS

By Barcousky, Len | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), September 16, 2012 | Go to article overview

EYEWITNESS: 1862 PITTSBURGH RIFLES PLAY VITAL ROLE AT ANTIETAM Series: EYEWITNESS


Barcousky, Len, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


When Union and Confederate troops collided in a cornfield near Antietam Creek 150 years ago, soldiers from the Pennsylvania Reserves were in the front lines.

Volunteers from an Allegheny County unit, known as the Pittsburgh Rifles, were in a crucial position during the battle near Sharpsburg, Md., according to a report in the Sept. 26, 1862, Daily Pittsburgh Gazette and Commercial Journal.

When Gen. Joseph Hooker led almost 9,000 men against the Confederates before dawn on Sept. 17, the Pennsylvania Reserves' 9th Regiment anchored the right flank of the Union line. The men of the Pittsburgh Rifles -- Company A of the 9th Regiment -- were, in turn, the far end of the Union line. It was "a position of great danger and importance, and one which was well sustained, never yielding for a moment before that dreadful sheet of fire," the anonymous correspondent for Gazette wrote.

The two armies were about 25 yards apart when the battle opened with point-blank firing. "A perfect sheet of flame seemed to issue from our ranks, but although the rebels fell by hundreds, their front remained unbroken and their fire unslackened." Musket balls filled "the air in a perfect storm ... described by an eyewitness as having the appearance of a handful of beans flung right into their faces."

The Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest single day in U.S. history and the morning's fight was the most costly. Historians estimate casualties at one per second during the first few hours.

While Union forces were able temporarily to drive "the butternuts back, back, through the corn, through the adjoining open field," the Confederates soon regrouped and counterattacked, regaining most of the ground they lost. …

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