It was great fun at Antietam today to host the great-great grandson and great-great-great granddaughter of General William French. The Hereford (MD) High School student is doing a historical project and has chosen the topic of her ancestor. They brought a dress sword that belonged to the General.
The fame of General French at Antietam is in consequence of his Third Division of the 2nd Corps constituting the Union forces in the attack upon the Sunken Road – Bloody Lane. His 5700 total troops were deployed in three parallel lines of attack upon the entrenched Confederate position.
The three lines, in order of battle, were his three brigades of Weber, Morris, and Kimball. The first two brigades were fully constituted of green troops. His only veterans were in three regiments in the final brigade of Kimball – from right to left: 14th Indiana, 8th Ohio, 132nd Pennsylvania, and 7th West Virginia. The 132nd PA were in their first battle along with the veterans on either side.
Of Kimball’s Brigade, French wrote in his official report, “General Kimball, Second Brigade, brought his veterans into action, and fought the enemy on the front and either flank with such desperate courage and determination as to permit the arrival of the re-enforcements, which reached the field three hours after my division had sustained the conflict. After the arrival of re-enforcements, the exhaustion of ammunition brought my line from the crests it had carried to the second line, which, being supplied, my troops were ready to continue the action. Richardson’s division supported me with that success which always distinguished that noble corps. Brooke’s brigade was particularly conspicuous. I particularly ask attention to the report of Brigadier-General Kimball, to whom the division is indebted for a brilliant display of courage never surpassed.”
Of the 320 men in the 14th Indiana that entered the conflict, 30 were killed with an additional 150 wounded, for a casualty rate of 56%. They would serve under French at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. But before Gettysburg, French was assigned to garrison duty at Harpers Ferry. The separation must have been the occasion of the 14th Indiana giving General French a dress sword, as seen in the picture. The inscription reads, “Presented to Major Gen. W.H. French by the Officers and Soldiers, 14th Regt. Indiana Volunteers as a testimonial of their appreciation of his gallantry and merit … June, 1863.”