In the Miller Cornfield with the 18th Georgia

     The fighting in the Miller Cornfield during the Battle of Antietam is remembered as some of the bitterest combat of the war, and on the Confederate side is largely remembered as a fight of the Texas Brigade. However, the Texans didn’t fight alone in the Miller Cornfield; they fought alongside both Hampton’s South Carolina Legion and the subject of today’s post, the 18th Georgia, both members of Colonel William T. Wofford’s brigade of Hood’s Division.

          The Georgians, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Solon Z. Ruff, went into action at Antietam with 176 men and in that killing field lost 101, a casualty rate of 57%. Less than a week after the battle, an unknown soldier of the 18th Georgia writing under the nom-de-plume of “Potomac” penned a superb account of the 18th Georgia’s role in both Second Manassas and Antietam for the Atlanta Southern Confederacy newspaper. Potomac’s missive first saw publication on page two of the October 11th, 1862, edition of that paper.

 

The Miller cornfield counts among the most scared ground at Antietam, marked by the sacrifice of units such as the 18th Georgia who fought through it. 

Camp near Martinsburg, Virginia

September 23, 1862

 

          Early on the morning of the 14th of September, General Longstreet took up his line of march from Hagerstown towards the Potomac which he aimed to cross at Shepherdstown. On the same morning, General Daniel Harvey Hill, whose small division had been left to hold the gap through the Blue Ridge, was attacked by an immensely superior force of the enemy. Fighting continued all day, our men disputing most manfully every inch of ground, but in the evening, it became apparent that Hill would not be able to hold the gap and a part of Longstreet’s forces, the Texas brigade among them, was sent to his support. They arrived at the top of the mountain at dark and took a position so near the enemy’s lines that they could be heard talking, expecting to have a hot time on the return of daylight. But our trains having passed, the troops were ordered to follow and before daylight the whole army was again en route for the Shepherdstown Ford.

          The enemy pursued closely, hoping to overtake and beat our forces before they could be concentrated in a body strong enough to meet. The next morning, General Lee halted at Sharpsburg and took up position between the town and the Antietam Creek to await the arrival of the enemy. An hour afterwards, sharp picket firing announced the arrival of their advance guard at the brigade. The whole of that day and the next was spent in skirmishing and cannonading at long range. Late the next evening, it was ascertained that the enemy was moving large bodies of troops to our left, endeavoring to turn that flank. Quickly the old 3rd and Texas brigades were wheeled into line to receive them. Just at dark a sharp skirmish occurred which lasted considerably into the night when both parties ceased firing by mutual consent to renew it again on the return of daylight. During the night, the Texas brigade was withdrawn in an adjacent woods to cook rations, it having been out for some days, a Tennessee brigade taking its place.

General John Bell Hood

          At daylight the next morning, the battle opened in earnest and raged with fury until 7 o’clock when the enemy, having been reinforced, began to drive the Louisianans before them slowly. Seeing this, General Hood brought forward his division and sent the Texans in on their old ground. The drove the Yankees back most gallantly for a considerable distance, leaving the ground darkened with carcasses. The enemy fell back through a cornfield with the Texans following, then through an open field into the woods. Here their retreating line suddenly unmasked a fresh line of troops and several batteries, both of which immediately opened upon their already thinned ranks with Minie balls and grape. Unfortunately in their advance, the different regiments had been compelled to leave wide intervals between each other in order to cover the enemy’s front. This greatly weakened their line and disconcerted the movements of the brigade. With this broken line, however, they drove the enemy till they retired behind a continuous line of much greater length of fresh troops, which immediately commenced flanking our brigade on both sides. Seeing this, each colonel with one consent began to fall back slowly.

Colonel William T. Wofford

          The 18th Georgia had advanced to within a few yards of the enemy’s battery which had been playing on its ranks with terrible effect and had silenced the guns when the long dark line of the enemy was seen sweeping around to its left, threatening to cut it off. Two-thirds of its men had already fallen, but the rest undaunted still continued to advance and pour a deadly fire into the enemy in their front. When ordered to retire, they did so, continuing to fire upon the line that was sweeping around to outflank them. The shattered remnant of the brigade was reformed in the woods but for want of support, the enemy outnumbering them by at least ten to one, they were ordered to retire further. The enemy gained ground for a short time, bur fresh troops coming up, they were driven back again to their original position, leaving hundreds of their dead and wounded in our hands. The Texas brigade, much shattered, reformed and took its original position, ready to renew the conflict.

          Thus ended the fight in the hardest contested part of the field. The enemy fought his best troops (Porter’s Regulars) and outnumbered us by at least four or five to one. At night, both sides slept on their original ground and the next days exchanged flags of truce to bury the dead and recover the wounded. The 18th Georgia carried into the fight 176 men and lost 101 in killed, wounded, and missing. Most of the missing were killed or wounded and left behind in the enemy’s lines. Lieutenants T.C. Underwood and J.M.D. Cleveland while gallantly leading Co. K on to the battery fell, supposed to be killed. Captain J.A. Crawford and G.W. Maddox received serious wounds. Lieutenant Calahan of Co. C, Macon and Gilbert of Co. D, Crawford and Putnam of Co. E, Wooley of Co. F, Maddox of Co. G, Grant of Co. H, and Williams of Co. I are among the wounded.

          Colonel William T. Wofford commanded the brigade during the fight and acted with great coolness and decision. Lieutenant Colonel Solon Z. Ruff commanded the 18th Georgia and as usual behaved himself well. Every officer and man acted with the most distinguished coolness and bravery. As to the general result of this bloody battle of Sharpsburg, I would add that to the right and left of the point where the Texas and Louisiana brigades fought, our forces drove the enemy back a considerable distance. The enemy claim a drawn battle, but they clearly suffered a defeat since they were the attacking party and were repulsed at every point.

 

Potomac

 

Source:

Letter from Potomac, 18th Georgia Infantry, Southern Confederacy (Georgia), October 11, 1862, pg. 2

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