Stop 5 - Caught in the CornThe 16th Connecticut (CT) was one of many new regiments in McClellan’s army. The regiment “had received no drill, no discipline, few instructions, even in marching. It was little more than a crowd of earnest Connecticut boys.” It was the 16th CT and the 4th Rhode Island (RI) of Col. Edward Harland’s Brigade that took much of the onslaught of the Confederate counterattack in the 40-Acre Cornfield. When looking back on his experiences, William Relyea of the 16th CT reflected that “When my mind goes back to that bloody field of Antietam, that wreck of human flesh, my blood curdles in my veins.”
The 8th Connecticut was on the 16th’s right in the open field north of the corn. Marching faster outside of the corn the 8th advanced forward with Fairchild’s brigade, leaving the 16th CT and 4th RI on the flank of the entire Union army. It was upon this flank, in the head high corn of the 40-Acre Cornfield that Maj. Gen. Ambrose Powell Hill would make the Confederate’s final attack.
Hill’s men had been left behind after the capture of Harpers Ferry to tend to the details of the surrender of the Union garrison. Lee ordered Hill to join the army as soon as possible. Known as the Light Division, Hill’s approximately 3,500 men left Harpers Ferry at 7:00 a.m., marched fifteen grueling miles, waded across the Potomac River and arrived about 4:00 p.m. Three of Hill’s five brigades, about 2,500 men, would arrive in time to attack, driving Burnside's soldiers back to the bridge.
Eyewitness“We were in a field of thick heavy corn where you could not see twelve feet ahead and things were somewhat mixed at times…all at once looking up to the left I saw a rebel brigade which had outflanked us so prettily forming with the utmost order and coolness…I am frank to confess that although I had no idea of running away, I trembled. You may call the feeling fear or anything you choose for I don’t deny that I trembled and wished we were well out of it.”
Pvt. John Burnham, 16th Connecticut Infantry, Harland’s Brigade
From here the trail continues south, through what was the 40-Acre Cornfield to the southern most boundary of the park.
Last updated: February 24, 2021