The scene outside Sharpsburg, MD., 150 years ago today of Sept. 19, 1862.
“The army advanced about noon and we crossed the field of slaughter. It was a sickening, loathsome sight — a sight that paled the cheeks of men strong of heart and nerve—a sight never to be forgotten. Rebel and Union lay mingled in heaps in this charnel-house, only the rebels had left more of their braves on the field.”
—Campfires of the 23rd
Confederate historians would name the fight for the town of Sharpsburg, MD. Union historians usually named battles for the natural landscape and took the name from Antietam Creek.
In a single day’s fighting the total estimated casualties — killed, wounded, missing and captured — was estimated at 22,717 men. When the final accounting was made the Union had lost about 2,100 more men than the Confederates.
On the scene was George Breck Staniford, age 24, who had enlisted as a private in the 23rd Regiment, New York Infantry.
In this battle alone 10 men from the 23rd New York were killed or died from their wounds. It was their bloodiest single day in their two-year enlistment term.
The morning had opened with the unit hunkered down under artillery fire at the extreme right of the army’s line on the turnpike to Sharpsburg. Under orders from General Doubleday [yes, the baseball Doubleday] the unit moved about the surging front. At one point the Confederates were advancing through the cornfield but were driven back by a flanking attack from the New Yorkers. When the Union troops advanced they found their own right flank exposed and were forced to fall back to a ledge of rocks, ammunition almost out.
In the back-and-forth surge of battle that followed the New Yorkers retreated in an orderly way and reformed their line.
At the same time the enemy poured a brisk fire into our right flank and rear, when we were ordered by you to return, which was done in such perfect order as to elicit the notice and highly complimentary and flattering remarks of Brigadier-General Howard, in addressing his own flying men whom he was nobly but vainly attempting to rally.
That brave officer pointed to us as an example for the disorganized, saying as he did so: “Men! That is the way to leave a field. That regiment are acting like soldiers! Do as they do, men and we will drive them back again in ten minutes.”
H.C. Hoffman, Colonel Commanding.
— From Campfires of the 23rd
Like a previous Tribune editor, Horatio Rembaugh, he enlisted early in the war answering the call of President Abraham Lincoln.
The Antietam had been especially bloody due to the piecemeal Union attack across the Confederate line.
The disjointed engagement allowed the Rebels to move reinforcements across their shorter interior lines to shore up wavering positions.
Though the Union under George B. McClellan lost more men, Confederate General Robert E. Lee was forced to return to the south. His first effort to take the offensive in the north was turned back and several Southern hopes were dashed.
Though the Union Army had recently suffered a series of defeats they were not demoralized.
The invasion would not contribute to election defeat for Republicans or negotiated settlement with the north.
Maryland did not rise up in support of the Rebels.
Union losses would be replaced, however the smaller population of the South made each loss more sorely felt.
Lincoln would review the troops after the battle and declare it a victory. He also issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves. The president had been waiting for a victory before signing the document to give it more power and for this reason alone the South had to view the campaign as a turning point.
Compromise could no longer be considered an option, war would determine the outcome.
After Staniford’s enlistment period was up he mustered out as second lieutenant, a long way up the promotion ladder from private, recognition of his leadership abilities. He would move to California and in the late 1878-1883, he would be editor of the Tribune in San Luis Obispo and other newspapers in the state.