The Final Attack Trail Part 2

otto farm lands
Otto Farm located on the south end of the battlefield.  The artillery piece represents Confederate guns that held this spot as the Final Attack unfolded.

Antietam Staff/NPS Photo

 

Stop 4 - Otto Lane Respite

As you enter the historic Otto Lane the trail continues south (left). However, first walk down to the 11th Ohio Monument for stop 4, then come back and rejoin the trail.

This entire trail is located on the Otto Farm. John and Kate Otto’s home is just to the north down this historic farm lane. You passed the house on your drive to the Burnside Bridge. One of Otto’s two slaves, Hillary Watson, remembered how on September 16th, “The hill at our place was covered with the Rebels. They’d walk right into the house and say, ‘Have you got anything to eat?’ like they was half starved…The Union troops, who come into our place few days later, wasn’t so hungry. The rebels was always hungry, and the men were miserable dirty.” Hillary Watson was emancipated, but stayed on the farm. Later he bought several pieces of property and lived in Sharpsburg. After the battle the Otto and Sherrick Farms served as a field hospitals, primarily for the men of the 9th Corps.

After they advanced under the terrible fire from rifles and cannons to this point, Union soldiers would use this gully that you are standing in to seeking respite from the terror. Col Harrison Fairchild’s small brigade with the 9th (Hawkins Zouaves), 89th and 103rd New York Infantry (about 940 men) continued on, driving farther west than any other brigade in the 9th Corps. They paid dearly for their bravery with approximately 48% of their men killed and wounded, a higher percentage than any other Union brigade in the battle. A member of the 9th New York remembered that “The loss was frightful.” As you walk, look at the top of the hill. The tall obelisk is a monument dedicated to the 9th New York and it marks their farthest advance.

Supporting Fairchild was Col George Crook’s Brigade with the 11th, 28th and 36th Ohio who also advanced to this spot. The veterans of the 11th Ohio would return and dedicate this monument in 1903.

EYEWITNESS - After reaching the crest of the hill we had to pass over quite a stretch of ground before we commenced descending into a hollow lying between the ridge occupied by the enemy and ourselves. The enemy not only had a direct, but a cross fire on us. It was going down this slope that Col Clark [Col Melvin Clark, 36th Ohio, Crook’s Brigade] commanding the 36th was killed by a round shot that came from our left. It struck him sideways, just above the hips, tearing him almost in twain. He died almost instantly.
Colonel George Crook, 2nd Brigade, Kanawha Division

Backtrack to the trail which follows Otto Lane south. You are paralleling the Union lines of battle.

 
16 CT Monument
The 16th Connecticut Monument

Antietam Staff/NPS Photo

Stop 5 - Caught in the Corn

The 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.

A.P. Hill wrote how, “My lines advanced and soon encountered the enemy. This advance was made in the face of the most tremendous artillery fire I ever saw, and too much praise cannot be awarded to my regiments for the steady, unwavering step. It was as if each man felt that the fate of the army centered in himself.”

 
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.
 
Confederate Gen. A.P. Hill
Confederate Gen A.P. Hill did not survive the war, he was killed April 2, 1865.

Antietam Staff/NPS Photo

Stop 6 - The End of the Line

You have walked to the extreme southern end of the battlefield and have completed a mile of the 1.7 mile trail. The stone wall below the majestic hackberry tree is the park boundary. You are beyond the 16th Connecticut, the 4th Rhode Island and southern flank of the Union army.

Once again, it was on this end of the field that A.P. Hill’s Confederate’s made their counterattack to support D. R. Jones’ division that was being pushed back to Sharpsburg. It was Brig. Gen. Maxcy Gregg’s Brigade that attacked right across this hill top and into the 4th RI and 16th CT. One of the men in Gregg’s command remembered, “Running rapidly forward through the corn, we stopped at the top of the hill and poured a galling fire into the fleeing foe. Many of them stopped in a little hollow in the corn at the foot of the hill, afraid to attempt the passage of the open slope beyond. Into them grouped here in a crouching disorderly line we poured volley after volley, doubtless with terrible execution.”

From here the trail turns north. You will be walking in the footsteps of BGen. Gregg’s Brigade as they attacked Burnside’s flank.

 

Stop 7 - Final Attack Vista

You are overlooking one of the best battle panoramas at Antietam. From this spot you can see most of the ground covered in the 9th Corps advance and A.P. Hill’s counterattack. The 4th Rhode Island and 16th Connecticut Infantry were below and in front of you. They constituted the left flank of the entire Union army that stretched for close to three miles to the north. These two regiments were slowed by the difficult terrain and the corn. The 8th Connecticut, also part of Harland’s Brigade pushed on, advancing with Fairchild’s men all the way to the top of the far hill. This created a huge gap in the line and it was into this gap where most of Hill’s Confederates would strike.

Looking west toward the 16th CT monument, you are standing on the eastern edge of the 40-Acre Cornfield. Gregg’s Brigade, South Carolinians, attacked from your left (south). North Carolinians in Branch’s Brigade drove right (north) across the highest ground in front and into the flank of the 8th CT and Fairchild’s Brigade. Archer’s Brigade, men from Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, moved between Gregg and Branch, turned and drove toward you. The 30th and 23rd Ohio moved up to meet them where the tour road is today.

The 4th RI and 16th CT tried to hold but as one soldier described they, “stood for a few minutes trying to rally, swept by a destructive cross fire...Men were falling on every hand.” The new soldiers gave way, exposing the flank of the Ohio men where Major Hildt of the 30th stated that “a withering fire was directed from our left flank, from which we suffered severely.” They withdrew, further exposing Fairchild’s men and the 8th CT at the top of the hill who were forced to retreat. The entire 9th Corps collapsed from left to right and fell back towards the bridge.

A soldier in the 9th Corps remembered how “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.”

Stop by the 12th Ohio Monument then continue north along the ridge line.

 
Gen. Isaac Rodman
Gen. Isaac P. Rodman

Antietam Staff/NPS Photo

Isaac Peace Rodman
Born in 1822, Rodman commanded a division of 3,200 soldiers until he was shot in the chest on the hill in front of you. Taken to a field hospital, General Rodman died on September 20, 1862. He is buried in his family’s cemetery in Peace Dale, Rhode Island.

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Last updated: July 15, 2019

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