Tight Spot in the West Woods

     In a continuation of yesterday’s post that followed the march of the 1st Minnesota to the banks of Antietam Creek, today we follow “Sharpshooter” into battle of September 17, 1862 on the Federal right. The 1st Minnesota was part of General Willis Gorman’s First Brigade of General John Sedgwick’s Second Division of General Edwin V. Sumner’s Second Corps. Gorman’s brigade consisted of the 15th Massachusetts, 34th New York, 82nd New York, 1st Minnesota, and two companies of sharpshooters, one from the 15th Massachusetts and the other that belonging to our correspondent.

          Gorman’s brigade attacked the Confederates in the West Woods and suffered heavily. “Our loss in the brigade was 557 killed and wounded that we know of, and we have some 300 still missing of which no doubt one half are killed or wounded,” recalled Lieutenant Samuel T. Raguet of Gorman’s staff. “General Gorman’s was the only one of our division that was engaged, and it behaved as his brigade has always done, nobly, and with great credit to him and themselves.”


Bullion wire officer's hat insignia from the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry
(Minnesota Historical Society)

In hospital near Sharpsburg battlefield, Maryland

September 19, 1862

          On Wednesday the 17th, the great battle of Sharpsburg was fought. At an early hour, our corps forded Antietam Creek and after marching about a mile came under fire of a Rebel battery. The shells flew thick about us, but Gorman’s brigade coolly formed in line and advanced toward the enemy at double quick time. Our advance was to the front and right, through forest and field, under a constant artillery fire. The excitement of that hour is past description. The long line of battle sweeping over the fields, the hurried and varied commands of the officers, the yells, and cheers of the men as we came upon ground covered with Rebel dead showing that they had been forced back, the rattle of musketry to the front, the right or left, with the roar of artillery and the bursting of shells, all conspired to a high stage of excitement. As we hurried along, a good-looking officer came riding from the woods and with a countenance all triumph and enthusiasm called to us to give a cheer and added “We have them in a tight spot. Give us a cheer!’

          General Gorman seemed active and cheered on his brigade, while Colonel Sully was promptly in his place, directing every movement of the 1st Minnesota while Major Morgan was decidedly cool and brave. Finally, when we passed the narrow forest of large white oaks, the Rebel infantry appeared bearing down upon us in immense columns. The enemy had been driven from the fields for more than a mile back and large reinforcements had been brought up to regain it, and these were their advancing columns.

The position of Gorman’s brigade was that the 15th Massachusetts occupied the right, then the 1st Minnesota, 82nd New York, and 34th New York in the order named to the left. It appears that to the left of the 34th a gap intervened between it and the next brigade in line. The Rebel column moved directly upon the 34th and in so doing exposed itself to a crossfire from the 1st Minnesota which must have slain large numbers. The movement which resulted in flanking our brigade on the left was hid from our view by a hill, but it is enough to known that when the 1st Minnesota was hotly engaged with both infantry and artillery in front, the 82nd and 34th New York had both gone away, and the enemy appeared on the hill just occupied by our left flank. Our fire was immediately directed upon them. Such a fire as we received, I never before imagined.

Snare drum that belonged to a musician in the 1st Minnesota Volunteers
(Minnesota Historical Society)

When the 82nd New York gave way, Captain Russell’s sharpshooters on the left of the 1st Minnesota supposed it a general order to retreat, and for a moment fell back, but when informed to the contrary, coolly returned to their untenable position and resumed fire. Seeing we were completely flanked; Colonel Sully gave the order to fall back. The retreat was executed in good order and frequently halted to dress on the colors. In about one minute’s time before we commenced to retreat, three-fourths of all the casualties in the 1st Minnesota occurred.

Falling back about half a mile, artillery came to our support, the regiments rallied for another stand, and our regiment was formed for the support of the artillery. The shells fell thick at this time, and as we lay awaiting further movements, your correspondent was ordered from the field in consequence of a wound in the leg which unfitted him to march in quick time. I have since heard that the regiment was not again opposed to infantry. The loss in the 1st Minnesota you may have heard ere this reaches you. The company to which I belong (Russell’s Sharpshooters) went into the fight with 44 men of whom 21 are said to be wounded. A luckier set of wounds were never received- half a company wounded, and none killed. General Gorman behaved well as also did “my son Dick,” of whom all speak well.


Sergeant Major Edward S. Past, shown here wearing his corporal's stripes, was severely wounded at Antietam and discharged later in 1862. 


Letter from “Sharpshooter,” Co. L, 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, Weekly Pioneer & Democrat (Minnesota), October 3, 1862, pg. 8

Letter from First Lieutenant Samuel T. Raguet, Co. I, 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, Weekly Pioneer & Democrat (Minnesota), October 3, 1862, pg. 2


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