Report of Colonel Joshua T. Owen, Sixty-Ninth Pennsylvania Infantry, commanding Second Brigade, of the Battle of Antietam.
Headquarters Burn’s Second Brigade,
Camp near Sharpsburg, Md., September 21, 1862.
Sir: Having assumed command of the brigade by direction of General Howard, subsequent to the wounding of General Sedgwick and General Howard’s assumption of the command of the division, I have the honor to report that the brigade took up its line of march from its encampment on the south side of Antietam Creek on the morning of the 17th instant, about 8 o’clock, and, having forded the same, deployed into line and preceded at a quick march to the front, constituting the third line of battle, and, together with the other two brigades, occupied the extreme right of General Sumner’s corps. Upon arriving at within a quarter of a mile of the enemy’s lines, a heavy fire of infantry was heard, showing that the first line was already hotly engaged. The men and officers eagerly pressed forward, yet the line advanced in good order. During most of this period the brigade was subjected to a cross fire from a battery posted on the enemy’s extreme left. As the brigade reached the top of the hill, I noticed many of the regiments to the left of Sedgwick’s division falling back in great confusion, and immediately suggested the propriety of moving the brigade obliquely to the left. Orders having been received, however, to dress to the right, the brigade entered the woods in good order, and was dressed by the right of the second line of battle, to wit, Dana’s brigade.
I beg here to mention the relative positions of the regiments of the brigade. The Seventy-first Pennsylvania Volunteers, Colonel Isaac J. Wistar, was posted on the right; the Seventy-second Pennsylvania Volunteers, Colonel D. W. C. Baxter, on the left; the One hundred and sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers, Colonel T. G. Morehead, on the right center; and the Sixty-ninth Pennsylvania Volunteers, Colonel Joshua T. Owen, on the left center (Colonel Owen not having yet assumed command of the brigade). Immediately after the brigade was halted and dressed, it was subjected, in common with the other two lines, to a most terrific fire of infantry and artillery, notwithstanding which the officers and men behaved with remarkable coolness, and though the ranks were thinned by the enemy’s deadly aim, the gaps were quickly filled and an unbroken front maintained.
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, nor was it reformed, nor did it rejoin the brigade until a late hour in the afternoon.
As speedily as possible I restored the brigade to order, and assumed a position in support of the reserve batteries. This position proved to be a most formidable one, and the enemy did not dare to attack it, except with artillery and at a great distance, and with ultimate defeat.
I take great pleasure in saying from my personal observation that the regimental commanders and field officers behaved with great coolness and courage, and that the line officers, with rare exceptions, acquitted themselves with credit.
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 a other form. Let me say here, however, their loss will be seriously felt in the brigade. “Green be their memories for ever.”
As this is the first occasion of this brigade having fallen back in battle, I beg leave to state in its defense, and as a matter worthy of discussion in a military point of view, whether the disaster was not attributable to its having been placed in too great proximity to the other two lines, and thus, while intended to act as a reserve, subjected to as deadly a fire as those it was intended to support.
J. T. Owen,
Colonel, Commanding Brigade.
Captain E. Whittelsey,