Here is the fourth of five posts from “Reminiscences of the Civil War: by Judge John W. Stevens, a Soldier in Hood’s Texas Brigade, Army of Northern Virginia.” Stevens served in the 5th Texas Infantry and, as we’ll read today, was wounded at Antietam. The italicized text is Stevens’ writing, whereas my remarks will be in regular type, enclosed within [brackets].
Just before daylight on the morning of the 17th we had some meat and flour issued to us with orders to cook it at once. No such order was necessary, as we had been practically without rations for three days; hence the starting of the fires and wetting up of the flour in any way we could was started at once. Some of us used an old scrap of oil cloth or one corner of our blankets as bread, trays. We all understood that we must work in a hurry or go into battle with very empty craws. But daylight came too soon, the smoke of our fires proving a good mark to indicate to the Federals where our lines were. They began to shell us with their canister shot and at the same time to advance their lines. The falling shot raked our bread pans, skillets and fires right and left, putting a complete check to all preparations for the much needed breakfast. Simultaneously with this our commanders came dashing down the line ordering us to fall in, load and prepare for action, and in less time than it takes to pen these lines we were in line and moving out in battle array to play our part in what is said to be the hardest fought battle of the war. It is about 600 yards across an open field to the point at which we had been relieved the night before by a command of Georgia troops.
They are now hotly engaged and we are moving on to support them. The enemy is pressing them back and at the same time raining a terrible shower of shell and shrapnel on us as we advance. We are suffering terribly and our men are falling all along the line. The Georgians are being cut to pieces badly by overpowering numbers who are pressing them back. We advance at double-quick and cheer the Georgians. More than half their number lie stretched upon the ground. As they close up their ranks to the left an opening is made which admits our brigade; we cheer our friends and raise the rebel yell as we take positions in line, now in sixty or seventy yards of the enemies line. We charge them with a yell, and not only check their advance but push them back some 400 or 500 yards, but at a most terrible cost.
At this point this writer received a painful wound that left him flat on his back on the ground, where in a few minutes he received a second wound that for some time left him unconscious on the field. Upon recovering consciousness, to his horror, our lines were falling back. The idea of falling into the hands of the enemy was too horrible to be considered, so, making an effort to stand up, I found that I was not disabled so badly that I could not walk. Therefore I determined to make my exit to the field hospital, some 700 yards to the rear in an old barn.
[The movement being described here is that of the 5th Texas essentially coming out of the West Woods very near the Dunker Church, and then moving to the northeast along the Smoketown Road. This would have them passing over the ground where today is the Maryland Monument, and moving across the Mumma Farm Lane – passing the 4th and 44th Georgia regiments of Ripley’s Brigade. Beyond that they would have entered the extreme southeast sections of the East Woods. Here they would have been engaged with driving back elements of Rickett’s Division of the 1st Corps, then later being driven by Crawford’s Division of Mansfield’s 12th Corps.]
Of the battle of the 5th Texas, Ike Turner wrote in his report: “About 8 o’clock at night we were relieved, and retired to the [West] woods in rear of the [Dunker] church. Slept until about day, when firing commenced in front. We were called to attention; thrown around the hill in line of battle to protect us from grape and shell. We had not occupied this position more than half an hour before we were ordered out as support for the Third Brigade. We caught up with said brigade where our first line had been fighting. Here the Fifth was ordered to halt by Major [Captain] Sellers, and allow the regiments on the right of the Third to advance. While lying here, General Hood rode up, ordering me to incline to the right, press forward, and drive the enemy out of the woods, which we did. The enemy twice tried to regain their position in the woods by advancing a force through the lower edge of the corn-field, which we repulsed. From a point of timber about 400 yards to our front and left, I discovered strong reinforcements marching out by the left flank down a hollow, which protected them from our fire. Allowing them to get within 75 yards of us with lines unbroken, I saw we would soon be hard pressed. Sent four times to Major [Captain] Sellers for support, determined to hold my position as long as possible. My men, were out of ammunition, the enemy not more than 100 yards in my front, no support, no ammunition; all our troops had fallen back on my left; I deemed it prudent to fall back also.
The casualties of the regiment were 5 killed and 81 wounded total, 86. Of the wounded, 3 were mortally, and have died; 16 were not removed from the field, and 2 were left on the Maryland side in hospital for want of transportation.