Above you can see Thomas Bates of the 6th Texas Infantry, holding a Bowie knife and revolver. Texans played a key role at Antietam on September 17th, 1862: the bloodiest single day in American military history.
The morning thundered as the armies of Robert E. Lee and McClellan clashed, near Sharpsburg, Maryland. Fights raged back and forth through Miller’s Cornfield and the West Woods, and General John Bell Hood’s Texas division fought bravely. During a Union assault his 1st Texas Regiment was ordered to counterattack in a place now known as “the cornfield.” As H. W. Berryman said in a letter to his mother, “They always take the Texans to the hottest part of the field.”
In a span of two hours, the Texas 1st Regiment lost 82 percent of its men, the highest rate of casualties that any unit suffered in the war, North or South. Below you can read some of the first-hand accounts by the Texans.
“…the air was full of shot and shell…it seemed almost impossible for a rat to live in such a place.” J. M. Polk
“…the hottest place I ever saw on this earth or want to see hereafter. There were shot, shells, and Minie balls sweeping the face of the earth… The dogs of war were loose, and ‘havoc’ was their cry.”
“…it seemed the whole world was in arms against us.”’ E. S. Carson
General Hood described the attack of his men in these words:
“It was here that I witnessed the most terrible clash of arms, by far, that occurred during the war. The two little giant brigades of this division wrestled with this mighty force, losing hundreds of their gallant officers and men but driving the enemy….”
The Texans of the 1st Regiment struggled to keep their Battle Flag in the air. Again, fromBerryman: “Just as fast as one man would pick it up, he would be shot down. Eight men were killed or wounded trying to bring it off the field. I can’t say we were whipped, but we were overwhelmed.”
That flag survived the battle, and became so famous that we still reproduce it today.
We are told of an exchange between General Lee and General Hood:
Lee: “Great God, General Hood, where is your splendid division?”
Hood: “They are lying on the field where you sent them.”
In the end, the Battle of Antietam was a draw. Courage was evident on both sides, but one Union soldier, defending the 80th New York Battery, said of the Confederates that it was “one of the finest exhibitions of pluck and manhood ever seen on any battlefield.”