Shepherdstown: Last Clash of the Antietam Campaign, September 19-20, 1862

Just downstream from the village called Shepherdstown, near a shallow crossing called Boteler s Ford, a mill was built to exploit the rich vein of cement found nearby. Life in this idyllic region was interrupted by struggles of the still young nation. Few could have imagined the dramatic events that took place around the ford and mill in September of 1862 when General Robert E. Lee s Army of Northern Virginia entered the region. Union soldiers were sent to oppose this invasion. It is difficult to understate the importance of this offensive, known as the Maryland Campaign of 1862.

On September 17th, the two armies clashed around the village of Sharpsburg in the bloodiest single day of combat ever seen in North America. Wounded men streamed across the ford, competing for the road with southern forces still marching toward the conflict. After 12 hours of conflict resulting in 23,000 casualties the two exhausted armies did not renew the contest on the 18th. It was clear to Lee that he must retreat, but also that the crossing would be extremely difficult. While still able to fight, Lee s army was in a precarious and vulnerable position. If pursued, the Army of Virginia might be cornered and destroyed. This campaign was far from over, and only a miracle could save Lee’s army.

Long overlooked by historians and visitors, the events that took place at Boteler s Ford on September 19 and 20 were critical to the outcome of this campaign. This study for the first time examines in detail the fighting along the Potomac, and places it into the context of the campaign. Long overdue for a detailed study, the events, both heroic and tragic, show that a real battle took place at Shepherdstown. In fact, in terms of troops engaged and the number of killed and wounded, it was the largest battle in what is now the state of West Virginia. ~~Tom Clemens

The postscript to America s bloodiest day has been substantially ignored. Until now, no full-length detailed narrative of the September 19-20, 1862, engagement on the banks of the Potomac River near the hamlet of Shepherdstown, Virginia (now West Virginia) has ever been written. The Battle of Shepherdstown is largely over shadowed events at nearby Harper s Ferry and Antietam. Yet this fight was unforgettable by those who participated. At least 162 men were killed or mortally wounded in the engagement 63 Confederates and 99 Federals. Eighty-three of the Federal dead came from the freshly recruited 118th Pennsylvania Infantry (Corn Exchange Regiment). Those men from eastern Pennsylvania soaked the bluffs of Shepherdstown with their life-blood. Even three years later at Appomattox Court House, a North Carolinian commented to the men of the 118th that Didn t we give it to you at Shepherdstown? but the Corn Exchange soldiers replied, Now you re surrendering to us. No single Southern regiment met such a fate the worst loss being suffered by the 14th South Carolina Infantry with 13 men killed followed by the 22nd North Carolina Infantry that lost 12. General Maxcy Gregg s South Carolina brigade had 64 casualties, while General William D. Pender s North Carolina brigade lost 63. General James Archer s Tennesseeans, Alabamians, and Georgians had 55 men killed and wounded. Most of the Federal casualties came from Colonel James Barnes Fifth Corps Brigade with 351 men killed, wounded, captured or missing. Of the 677 known casualties, 307 are Confederate soldiers.

WHF Notes

256 pages, index, more than 80 photos illustrations and maps.


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