A small engagement took place in this area the night before the battle. The fighting also opened here early on September 17 as Union and Confederate soldiers exchanged deadly musket volleys, vying to control these woods.
"The shells crashing through the trees and fluttering overhead as well as the musketry… all contributed to mark the time, and place, fixed in one's memory forever."
The first infantry engagement at Antietam took place here during the early evening hours of September 16. As darkness fell, Federal soldiers from Hooker's First Corps clashed with Confederates under Stonewall Jackson. The opposing picket lines exchanged fire throughout the damp and dismal night.
Shortly before sunrise on September 17, First Corps soldiers advanced through the East Woods and engaged Confederates posted along Mumma Farm Lane behind you. During the next three hours the woodlot changed hands numerous times as both sides pushed reinforcements into the fray.
Finally, near 8:00 a.m., the Union Twelfth Corps drove the Confederates from this area for the last time that day. The Twelfth Corps soldiers had taken the woods, but they lost their commander Gen. Joseph K.F. Mansfield.
Gen. Joseph King Fenno Mansfield entered West Point age the age of fourteen, graduating 2nd in the Class of 1822. Fifty-nine years old at Antietam, one of Mansfield's men described him as "venerable, but not old; white haired, yet fresh and vigorous, his face showed that intelligent courage which a soldier admires." Confusion reigned in the East Woods as the Twelfth Corps advanced. Gen. Mansfield rode to the front telling his men to stop shooting, "You are firing into your own men!" He was wrong. Just then a Confederate bullet went through his chest. Carried to the rear through the "tornado of deadly missiles," Mansfield died within 24 hours. He was one of six generals killed at Antietam.
It was Confederate Gen. Alexander Lawton's soldiers who took the brunt of the initial Union attacks. At dawn, Lawton's Division of approximately 2,500 men were in the open ground south of the Cornfield and the East Woods. In the furious fighting across this ground, over 1,100 of Lawton's Confederates were killed or wounded. Lawton, educated at West Point and Harvard University, was also wounded. He survived the Civil War and became president of the American Bar Association in 1882. He was appointed minister to Austria in 1887, and died there in 1896.
Last updated: September 15, 2020