The left flank of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was collapsing on September 17, 1862, at Antietam Creek.
Elements of Joseph Hooker’s Union first Corps had torn a hole in Jackson’s gray line near the Dunker Church and West Woods and the Rebels fell back. General James Longstreet in command of the left ordered “Stonewall” Jackson to bring in his reserves to plug the hole: the 2,300 man division of John Bell Hood, which included: The Texas Brigade. 1
When the orders came to advance, the hardened veterans of Willam Wofford’s and Evander Law’s brigades were cooking the first meal in three days and they were not happy; The Texans jumped to their feet and marched into battle hungry. 2
Hood’s line stretched about a quarter of a mile from the fenced Hagerstown Turnpike to the East Woods on his right with Law deployed on the right and the Texas Brigade on the left. Hood’s counterattack on the Union’s I Corp was, “like a scythe running through our line” recalled a Wisconsin officer.
As Hood’s Division advanced, it stumbled on the 4th US Artillery. In minutes, fourteen of the gunners of 4th were shot down but four Napoleons of the unit began blasting away with double canister. The turnpike fence splintered and canister wiped away the entire confederate front just 50 yards away.
The 4th US artillery stalled the advance of the Texas Brigade on Hoods left but the 1st Texas redeployed and advanced through the Cornfield toward the center. After marching 150 yards through the corn, the 1st Texas approached a rail fence bordering the Cornfield. Resting their rifles on the lower rail fence was Robert Anderson’s brigade to Pennsylvania reserves. When they saw the long gray line of Texas troops come into view, they opened fire. In moments, 8 color bearers dropped in the hell storm of the lead. In less than 20 minutes, four of every five men in the first Texas were either dead or wounded.
The Texas brigade alone lost 16 color bearers and 560 of its 850 men, 83% casualties. No one reported for roll call for Company A and only six men standing to represent the three other companies. 3 When General Lee asked Hood on the evening of the 17th where was his division. Hood replied, “Dead on the battlefield.”
In the end, Hooker lost 2,600 of 9,000 killed and wounded. Hood broke Hooker’s advance. Lee’s left was saved and Hood would be promoted to Major General due to his efforts at Antietam. 4
1. Bailey, Ronald H., The Civil War: The Bloodiest Day, 1984 Time-Life Books Inc., page 75
2. Bailey, Ronald H., The Civil War: The Bloodiest Day, 1984 Time-Life Books Inc., page 76
3. Bailey, Ronald H., The Civil War: The Bloodiest Day, 1984 Time-Life Books Inc., page 78
4. Bailey, Ronald H., The Civil War: The Bloodiest Day, 1984 Time-Life Books Inc., page 79