The following is a letter written by an unknown soldier in the 11th Ohio Infantry. The only clue is the initials “J.D.K.” at the end of the letter. In this letter, he describes his regiment setting out on the campaign into Maryland and tells of the fighting at Frederick, South Mountain, and Antietam. It appeared in the Dayton Daily Empire in October 1862.
Camp Burnsides, Md. Sept 30, 1862
Friend Joe:–Having as yet failed to see any notice of the part of the 11th Regiment O.V.I., took in the recent hard fought battle in Maryland, I will endeavor to give you a brief history of the ordeal through which they passed in the memorable battles of South Mountain and Antietam.
Gen’l Cox’s Division (better known as the Kanawha Division) left Munson’s Hill, Va. on the 6th of Sept: and crossed the Potomac over the Georgetown Aqueduct, marching through Georgetown and Washington City, and encamped in Maryland, a few miles from the Captal. On the next day we marched to Leesborough, where we encamped for the night. On the next morning we received the disagreeable news that our transportation was to be reduced to six wagons; three of those were to haul the ammunition and one for field officers, another for the Medical Department, and one for the Quartermaster’s Department. Leaving us poor private “individuals” narry waggon with which to haul our cooking utensils. In consequence of this change every man had to carry his own rations for three days in his haversack, and also his cooking utensils; and take into consideration a knapsack, heavy loaded haversack, cartridge box with a hundred rounds, gun, etc. all making a respectable load for a pack mule, you have a pretty good idea of what a soldier has to carry on the march. It was a kind of ” Stunner” on the line officers, for it compelled them for once, to pack their own “bed and board” on their backs. At night, when we camped, we found it very inconvenient, as every man had to do his own cooking and in order to make a cup of coffee you had first to brown the coffee, then smash it with a stone, then cook it, which generally took from dark until “tatoo.” But enough of this; let’s now on to Frederick City.
After one days march we reached Ridgville, 24 miles from Frederick, the enemies pickets having just left before our entrance. We stacked arms just outside this village, and camped for the night. Ridgville is situated in a beautiful country. There are some splendid orchards in its immediate vicinity, and the nice peaches and apples the I saw makes my mouth water whenever I think of them. There were such stringent orders against taking any thing in the fruit line that, viz.—“Any solder caught in the orchard, potato patch, corn field, etc without permission, will be arrested, Court Martialed, and if found guilty–Shot”–General Order.
On our march from Ridgeville to Frederick I saw a soldier arrested for attempting to steal an old goose. The chap was in a field after a flock of geese and he had just succeeded in overhauling an old goose, when Gen’l Rodney and Staff came riding by and discovered the scamp, and thereby saved old Mrs. Goose’s life, by ordering the fellow arrested, sent to the rear, and to be tied fast to the wagon until further orders. I never heard whether the offender was shot or not, but as geese don’t come under the head of peaches, apples or potatoes, I don’t think he was.
We past through New Market, six miles from Frederick, and on passing through we passed the Pennsylvania Reserves, who had arrived there an hour before us by another road. I noticed among them a good many new Regiments, some not a month yet in the service. They were soon destined to smell gunpowder, for some of the new Pennsylvania Regiments suffered terribly in the battle of Antietam, as their lists of killed and wounded show.
It was reported along the road that the enemy had blown up the Stone Bridge across the Monocacy and were prepared to dispute our passage across that river, but this was found on approaching the bridge to be false, as the bridge was still there, and the enemies pickets had just been driven across it. They had a peice of Artilery posted in a ploughed field, on a hill, opposite the bridge, supported by a regiment of cavalry, a couple of our guns soon shelled them out, however, and they retired in the direction of Frederick closely pursued by our cavalry. During this skirmish Gen. Burside’s made his appearance for the first time, and was vociferously cheered by all the troops along the line. He was accompanied by his Staff and body guard. He proceeded immediately to the front, I supposed to see what was up. The enemies pickets having been driven into town we advanced for the purpose of driving the enemy through Frederick, which our generals had found out, was only held by a brigade of Stewarts Cavalry and a battery of four guns. Gen. Cox’s Division being in the advance was ordered to advance and take possession of Frederick—The first brigade was formed in line of battle on the right of the road and the 36th and 28th formed on the left. The 11th kept the road. Two peices of artilery were in the advance of the 11th, supported by a squadron of cavalry. Thus formed the whole line advance toward the town. The cavalry ahead met with some resistance at the edge of town by the enemy who were concealed behind houses and kept up a brisk fire for a while. Col. Moore, who commands our brigade, placed himself at the head of Gilmore’s Chicago Cavalry and ordered them to charge. Away they went into town the artilery following close after. The 11th was then ordered up double quick, and when we arrived at the edge of town we were all out of breath, having come double quick for two miles. Gilmore’s Cavalry having charged into town and not discovering the enemy supposed the town clear, but in this they were mistaken, for suddenly out of a street, leading on to Main street, came a large body of the enemies cavalry. They immediately came sweeping down on out cavalry, so sudden as to through them into confusion and force them back on our artilery who were in the street, with their guns in position, ready to rake the street when Gilmore’s cavalry would get out of the way, some of the horses became unmanageable and one horse ran over the man holding the “Laneard” of a 12-pound Howitzer, loaded with canister, which caused the gun to go off sending the whole load of canister into our own men and horses. Wounding several of the men and killing eight or nine horses. Among the number was Lieutenat Chas. Akoff, of Col. Moore’s Staff, who had his horse killed under him, and was himself badly bruised up by the fall. Col. Moore was taken prisoner, and the enemy had taken our guns and were preparing to haul them off, when just at this moment the 11th arrived at the edge of town. Col. Coleman seeing at a glance the situation of affairs gave the following order: “By companies into line. Now boy’s I want you to take those guns. Forward, charge bayonetts.” In one moment the guns were recaptured and the enemy were driven out of Frederick at the point of the bayonett. A number of prisoners were taken in this charge. Our acting Brigadier General Colonel Moore who was taken prisoner was paroled the next day. We encamped near Frederick that night.
On the 13th, General Rodney’s (Rodman) Division took the advance, and skirmished with the enemy’s rear guard, driving them through Middletown and across Middle Creek, over which the enemy burnt the bridge, and then retreated to South Mountain, where there were a large force of the enemy. On Sunday morning the 14th, Cox again took the advance, and moved on with his division towards South Mountain. Our artillery took position on the hills looking towards the Gap, through which ran the turnpike and commenced shelling the Gap and woods to ascertain the enemy’s position, in the meantime we were sent to flank them on the left, their position being now accurately ascertained, and passed through a strip of woods immediately under the batteries, they shelled us at the same time, but without effect, we gained a position in an open field upon a slope of the Mountain. A few moments were now spent in the maneuvering the different regiments into position. The 11th were sent into a cornfield to draw the enemy’s fire, while the 12th and 23d regiments, were in readiness to charge. The 11th had advanced but a short distance into the cornfield when they received a murderous volley from the enemy who were concealed behind stone walls on their right and in their front, which subjected to a terrific cross fire, wounding a great number and killing a few. Almost simultaneously the 12th and 23d charged down the hill with a yell, and rushing upon the stone wall, engaged the 12th and 23d North Carolina Regiments. A desperate hand to hand fight took place, which lasted but a few moments and ended in the utter rout of the enemy. The enemy suffered severely in this charge. On examination most of their dead were found to have been killed by the bayonet. A number of persons were taken in this charge. The 11th were withdrawn from the cornfield and formed into line of battle, ready for the struggle next to come, which was not far off. Lieut. George Croome, was shot by a musket ball in this action, while in the act of charging one of his guns with a load of canister. He died in a short time after.
The enemy having been driven from their first position were next discovered in a narrow lane, protected by a stone wall, in front of which were posted their batteries. The position was a strong one, and one of their own choice, and as our artillery could not be brought into action owing to the nature of the ground, it looked next to impossible to dislodge the enemy. Gen. Cox formed his division into line and ordered a charge, (the only way to move them out from behind stone walls.) Everything now being ready the word charge was given and the bugle sounded and the whole division went in “with a yell” and a terrific encounter ensued, desperate fighting on both sides with bayonets for some time when at length the enemy gave way in confusion, retreating in all directions. Their lose in this charge was terrible, the ground lay strewed with rebel dead. Their loss in dead on our flank was 1000 and the wounded three times that number, also a great number of prisoners. The gallant and lamented Col. Coleman here performed a daring act which I think worth mentioning. After this charge was made the 11th and 28th were obliged to fall back a short distance as an overwhelming force of the enemy’s cavalry and infantry were advancing. A number of our men got separated from their companies and were taken prisoners. Instead of the enemy taking them to the rear, they kept them remaining on the field, one of their officers remarking that “it was no use to be in a hurry for they would have a lot more in a moment,” but in that next moment the column of rebel infantry and cavalry were repulsed and routed. Col. Coleman rode ahead of the regiment and before he knew it rode straight into the rebels who had our men prisoners. The Col. seeing he was in a bad snap, he being entirely alone at the time, concluded to put a bold face on the matter, so he drew his sword, and asked our men in a loud voice, “What are you doing there?” “Why, Colonel we are prisoners.” “Prisoners,” roared the Colonel, “get your arms immediately!” Then going up to the crown he told the rebels that if they didn’t surrender immediately he’d cut them to pieces. The rebels thought of course that the Colonel had a force somewhere near and surrendered. There were 23 of them. The enemy being now driven from all their strong positions on the mountain, Gen. Cox;s division stopped for rest, having been engaged with the enemy since 8 o’clock in the morning. Such is a synopsis of the fighting on our left at South Mountain. The rebel loss in killed was very heavy. They lost three to our one. In the narrow lane behind the stonewall their dead lay in heaps. There were 58 dead rebels thrown down an old well and covered up. Some of the boys out of our company were detailed to bury the dead. And did not again arrive to the regiment until after the Battle of Antietam.
After resting on the battle-field until 4 o’clock the next day, we again took up our line of march towards Antietam creek, fighting the enemy every step of the way.
On Tuesday, there was a brisk artillery duel for over two hours’ duration, there being a great number of guns engaged on both sides. But the enemy were compelled to abandon their position and fall back across Antietam creek, where the combined forces of Jackson, Longstreet and Hill were ready to give us battle.
On Tuesday, the whole day was spent in forming a Line of Battle. There was sharp Artillery firing at long range, in which we had decidedly the advantage, owing to our superiority in guns. The enemy occupied the heights across Antietam Creek and had their forces so disposed as make their position a strong one. The line of battle extended nine miles from right to left. Cox’s division were in the advance on the left on Tuesday evening. The 2nd brigade, 36th, 28th, and 11th under Col. Crook, laid along the side of a hill, the enemy shelling them from different batteries for about an hours, wounding some 5 or 6. Owing to the nature of the ground which Col. Crook selected but few were hurt, although shells burst over their heads at the rate of two per minute.
On Wednesday morning early the great battle of Antietam commenced and in a few moments it became general all along the line. The 11th Conn, 11th regulars, and 11th Ohio, opened the battle on the left. Three Companies of the 11th Ohio being thrown out as skirmishers. Col. Coleman was mortally wounded early in the engagement while deploying the men as skirmishers. No braver man fell on that bloody field. He was always found, in time of danger, at the head of his regiment. He never was known to say “Go boys,” but it was always ” Come on Boys.” He has been with us since our organization at Camp Dennison, and the men placed the utmost confidence in him. Our part of the programme was to force a passage over a narrow stone bridge which spanned the Antietam, directly in front of the heights, occupied by the rebels. The fight at this place was for awhile terrible, but finally our troops charged, took the bridge and drove the enemy from the heights.
Had the troops that made this charge been supported in time they would have captured the enemies batteries. Some of the men had their hands already on the guns; and had it not been for a new regiment, only three weeks in the service, giving way in the center, the enemy would have been completely routed and their guns captured, as it was they were forced to relinquish a part of the ground they had gained.
Our part of the programmed being accomplished we had only to hold our position which we did until relieved by fresh troops. Every house, barn, and haystack for miles around were converted into hospitals, and which were crowded to excess. All along the whole line the ground was strewen with dead and wounded. On the right where the enemy massed their troops in solid column, their dead lay in heaps. They lay side by side just as they stood in line of battle. It was been the hardest battle fought during the war, and the rebels were beaten. A good many believe that if the battle had been renewed the next day that the whole rebel army would have been captured but McClellan knew his own business best, and I suppose that if the thing could have “been did” he would have done it.
The following is the list of killed and wounded in Company A, 11th Regiment:
wounded at South Monutain—John Kramer in the leg; James Wyrick, shot in hip; Milyon Smith, shoulder; Robert Frank, in the leg; Lieut. Johnson, slightly.
1. J.D.K. Dayton daily empire. (Dayton [Ohio]), 17 Oct. 1862. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85026002/1862-10-17/ed-1/seq-2/>