Tour Stop 10 - The Final Attack
After taking the Lower Bridge, Burnside moved across these fields from east to west, pushing back the Confederate right flank. Just as it appeared that Lee's line was breaking, Confederate Gen. A.P. Hill's Light Division arrived from Harpers Ferry to drive Burnside back to Antietam Creek.
"The Advance Was Made With the Utmost Enthusiasm"
After finally driving the Confederates from the bluffs overlooking the Lower Bridge, close to 10,000 Federal troops crossed Antietam Creek and formed on the ridge 300 yards to the east (behind you). At approximately 3:00 p.m., a mile-wide battle line of Union soldiers swept forward across the extremely rugged terrain. About 2,500 Confederate soldiers and forty cannon awaited their advance.
Burnside's men moved through a withering fire of artillery and infantry, surging to the high ridge to the west (in front of you). At about 4:00 p.m., the last of Lee's Confederate reinforcements arrived on the field (from your left). Although exhausted and footsore after marching seventeen miles from Harpers Ferry, Gen. A.P. Hill's Confederate soldiers slammed into the exposed Union left flank and drove them back. As darkness fell, the battlefield finally grew quiet. One soldier in the Ninth Corps remembered: "The conflict died away, the enemy also had got all the fighting they wanted for the day. It had been an afternoon in the valley of death."
After defending the Lower (Burnside) Bridge, the Confederates fell back to this ridge and then to the high ground west of this point. When the final Union attack started, there were more than 2,000 Confederate soldiers and more than forty cannon stretching from Sharpsburg south toward Millers Sawmill Road.
Over 8,000 Federal troops, commanded by Gen. Ambrose Burnside, formed on the ridge 300 yards to the east. At 3:00 p.m. the attack began. A few regiments from Gen. Isaac Rodman's division advanced to the high ground 400 yards to the west. Col. Harrison Fairchild declared, "We charged over the fence, dislodging them and driving them from their positions down the hill toward the village."
When it appeared that the Federals had finally gotten the better of Lee's army, Confederate Gen. A.P. Hill and his men arrived from Harpers Ferry. Striking Burnside's left flank, Hill remembered that his soldiers "were not in a moment too soon," and how with a "yell of defiance" and "destructive volleys" they "drove them back pell-mell…the tide of the enemy surged back, and, breaking in confusion, passed out of site."
Burnside's men fell back to the protection of the ridge 300 yards to the east. That evening over 23,000 Union and Confederate wounded and dead covered the fields around Sharpsburg. Both armies maintained almost the same positions as they did when the day began. Neither Lee nor McClellan would renew the battle the next day. On the evening of September 18, Lee started his retreat across the Potomac River and back to Virginia.