2nd Manassas - Aug. 1862
The Battle of Antietam - Wednesday, September 17, 1862
The West Woods
Confederate General McLaws & the Philadelphia Brigade

Philadelphia Brigade Monument
The peaceful serenity that now cradles the majestic Philadelphia Brigade monument belies the horrors that awaited their men this day in 1862. Comprised of the 69th, 71st, 72nd and 106th PA regiments and lead by Brigadier General Oliver Otis Howard, they would lose 545 during this one battle alone. As the morning phase of the battle progressed and the attacks of Union Generals Hooker then Mansfield died away, Union Major General Edwin V. Sumner led his men across the battlefield towards the Confederates in the west woods. Unaware of the approaching southern reinforcements, upon entering the woods, his men would be caught in a crossfire, suffering mightily at the hands of stalwart troops led by Major General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. General Sumner would speak just briefly of the maelstrom in which his Corps found itself. "My First Division (Sedgwick's) went into battle in three lines. After his first line had opened fire for some time, the enemy made a most determined rush to turn our left, and so far succeeded as to break through the line between Banks' corps and my own until they began to appear in our rear. In order to repel this attack from the rear, I immediately faced Sedgwick's third line about, but the fire at that moment became so severe from the left flank that this line moved off in a body to the right, in spite of all the efforts that could be made to stop it. The first and second lines after some time followed this movement, but the whole division was promptly rallied, took a strong position, and maintained it to the close of the battle." [5]

Confederate Major General Lafayette McLawsOne of General Sumner's foes on this day was the Division of Confederate Major General Lafayette McLaws. After the capture of Harpers Ferry, General McLaws would rush his men to the nascent battlefield. Arriving on the morning of the 17th, he did his best to find where his men could best serve the southern effort. General McLaws would describe his effort during this days fighting in the West Woods and his assault on General Sedgwick's Division. "General Hood, however, who was present, pointed out the direction for the advance, and my line of battle was rapidly formed, General Cobb's brigade on the right, next General Kershaw's, Generals Barksdale and Semmes on the left. Just in front of the line was a large body of woods, from which parties of our troops, of whose command I do not know, were seen retiring, and the enemy, I could see, were advancing rapidly, occupying the place. My advance was ordered before the entire line of General Kershaw could be formed. As the enemy were filling the woods so rapidly, I wished my troops to cross the open space between us and the woods before they were entirely occupied. It was made steadily and in perfect order, and the troops were immediately engaged, driving the enemy before them in magnificent style at all points, sweeping the woods with perfect ease and inflicting great loss on the enemy. They were driven not only through the woods, but over a field in front of the woods, and over two high fences beyond and into another body of woods over half a mile distant." [5]

This was no simple success on the part of the men in gray however. Of 2,893 men General McLaws took into battle on this day, the general would report 1,119 killed, wounded or missing. [5]

General Howard, commander of the Philadelphia Brigade, added to the description of the ferocious conflict and the movement by the General McLaws' Confederates on their flank and rear. "Nearly the whole of the first line in good order stood and fired some 30 or 40 rounds per man, when word came that the left of our division had been completely turned by the enemy, and the order was given by General Sumner in person to change the position of the third line. He afterward indicated to me the point where the stand was to be made, where he wished to repel a force of the enemy already in our rear. The noise of musketry and artillery was so great that I judged more by the gestures of the general as to the disposition he wished me to make than by the orders that reached my ears.

...about 11 a.m., I should judge--General Sedgwick having been severely wounded, and having remained on the field for upward of an hour afterward, until he was so weak he could scarcely stand, turned over the command of the division to me." [5]

Colonel Joshua T Owen, 69th PAColonel Joshua T. Owen of the 69th Pennsylvania would take the command of the brigade as General Howard would assume command of the Division in General Sedgwick's stead. Colonel Owen would state in his report, "The panic which I had observed on the left ultimately spread along the line, and the impetuous advance of the enemy's column threatened to turn our left flank. At this juncture, General Sumner appeared in person in the midst of a most deadly shower of shot and shell, and an order was received to fall back. With some confusion upon the left, the brigade retired. The Sixty-ninth, One hundred and sixth, and Seventy-first Pennsylvania Volunteers retired in good order; the Seventy-second Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, however, being on the extreme left, subjected to a heavier fire, and the first to encounter the panic-stricken fugitives from the left, did not retire in the same good order as the other three regiments...I regret to say that the casualties were very great, amounting in all to a loss in killed, 89; wounded, 370; and missing, 109; total, 468 [568.] I shall not here perform the mournful task of mentioning by name those of my comrades who fell upon this disastrous field; that shall hereafter be done in another form. Let me say here, however, their loss will be seriously felt in the brigade. 'Green be their memories for ever.' " [9]

By war's end, the Philadelphia Brigade would endure 3,409 casualties total out of 5,320 men, an eternal testament to their tenacity. The regiments of this brigade, especially the 69th Pennsylvania, would later stubbornly hold their ground along Cemetery Ridge and help stem a massive Confederate assault during Pickett's Charge on Day 3 of the Battle of Gettysburg.