“My Rifles flamed and roared in the Federals’ faces like a blinding blaze of lighting”Col. John Gordon
Stop 5 - Sunken Road to Bloody LaneAs French’s Division drove toward the Sunken Road, approximately 2,200 Confederates anxiously awaited. Their muskets rested on the fence rails, which they had knocked down and piled up to strengthen their position. The Southerners clung close to this local short cut worn down by years of wagon traffic and erosion. Just before the Union advance, Commanding Gen. Robert E. Lee made an appearance to encourage his men.
The Confederate soldiers would have certainly heard the Federals before they saw them. Shouting officers and the din of clanging equipment announced the bluecoat’s approach. Then golden eagles appeared above the crest of the ridge, followed by the colorful battle flags, then bayonets, caps, faces, and shoulders appeared. It was at this point that the commander of the 6th Alabama regiment, Col. John Brown Gordon, remembered, “With all my lung power I shouted fire!...The effect was appalling” Col. Parker of the 30th North Carolina remembered that the Confederate volleys “brought down the enemy like grain falls before the reaper.”For more than three hours, the combatants slugged away at one another at point blank range. Gravely outnumbered, the Confederates attempted to reinforce the hollowed-out road with little success. At approximately noon, after numerous Federal assaults, the thin gray line broke. Union forces seized the road and drove the Southerners toward the Piper Farm.
While he attempted to reposition some artillery, Union Gen. Israel Richardson was mortally wounded. Following this, the command structure faltered and the Federal push towards Sharpsburg ended.After more than three hours of fighting, little had changed. Neither side held the Sunken Road, the Union forces fell back toward the Roulette Farm while the Confederates regrouped around the Piper Farm.5,500 soldiers were killed or wounded during the fighting in and around the Sunken Road, today known as Bloody Lane.
Longstreet, born in 1821, was a career soldier. At Sharpsburg, Longstreet commanded approximately half of Lee’s Army. The Piper House, just a few hundred yards south, was his headquarters. During the desperate stand made by the Confederates after they were driven from the road, Longstreet calmly sat on his horse. He held the reigns of his staff officer’s horses while they helped to load and fire a cannon at the advancing Union soldiers.
Daniel Harvey Hill
A North Carolinian, D.H. Hill was the general in direct command of the fighting in the Sunken Road. Hill was not related to Confederate general A.P. Hill, but he was brother-in-law to Stonewall Jackson. Hill made the decision to place his men in the road, not expecting to fight from this position, but to use it as a rallying point for soldiers falling back from the northern part of the battlefield. After the Confederate line in the road broke, Hill grabbed a discarded musket and rallied 200 men in an effort to stop the Federal breakthrough.
George B. Anderson
Anderson commanded a brigade of four North Carolina regiments and like many other commanders on this battlefield, Anderson attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Shortly after the fighting began at the Sunken Road, he was wounded in the ankle. In the days following the battle, the bullet which had lodged in Anderson’s ankle became infected. On October 16, 1862, at the age of 31, Anderson died from complications caused by the wound.
Rodes command the brigade of five Alabama regiments in the Sunken Road. Before the war he graduated from the Virginia Military Institute and later went on to become an instructor at that institute. Rodes then was a civil engineer for an Alabama railroad company. He survived Antietam, but was mortally wounded in 1864 while leading his men at the Third Battle of Winchester.
Walk down the lane, away from the tower. Turn right just after the 130th Pennsylvania Monument to Stop 6.
Last updated: February 20, 2021