The Spartan Band’s “boiled meat and crackers” eaten, the 13th and the rest of the Mississippi Brigade marched through the dawn’s early light into the western suburbs of Sharpsburg, Maryland (above), headed for Gen. Lee’s headquarters.It was a clear and warm Wednesday. Sept. 17, 1862.
About 9:30 a.m., with the roar of the artillery ever building, Lee ordered McLaws division into action to the south and west of the West Woods. They advanced across the open fields northwest of the town and moved up the rising ground, just in time to help halt the advance of Union Gen. John Sedgwick’s division upon the Confederate left flank.
Barksdale’s men would take the center of McLaws’s division line with those of Kershaw and Cobb on his right and Semmes on his left.
Spartan Band Private Albert Wymer Henley recorded that the 13th marched to a small grove of trees where Gen. Barksdale gave the brigade a short speech:
“…cautioning us against unnecessary excitement,” Henley wrote, “reminding us of the State that we represented and of the high honored reputation.
Then they were formed in an open field: The 18th and the 13th on the left and the 17th and the 21st on the right.
“Laying off every encumbrance save one blanket,” Henley recalled, “we started off on a double quick, merry as hunters on a fox chase. The enemies batteries had full play on us as we advanced, but their shells so far as we were concerned proved harmless. Fences and stonewalls lay between us and the battlefield but we scaled them with the ease and alacrity of squirrels. After which we fronted, wheeled into line and advanced to share the fortunes of the field.”
They were met by the 11th Mississippi of Hood’s Division “who had shot away all their ammunition and were in the act of leaving…. The Yankees had followed them up a short distance to their rear.”
The Yankees were troops from Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania.
“We had no sooner passed [the 11th Miss] when an overpowering shower of bullets greeted us. A compliment we very willingly returned with greater effect and more facility advancing at the same time.”
Minutemen of Attala Private Mike Hubbert wrote in his diary: “It was indeed a frightful scene and looked as if we would be completely annihilated but we drove them back with great loss. Our loss was also very heavy, but nothing to compare with that of the enemy.”
Added Barksdale in his official report: “As we advanced, the ground was covered with the dead and wounded of the enemy.”
McLaws later reported: “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.
“The enemy did not make an attempt to retake the woods…but kept up a terrific fire of artillery…Fortunately the woods were on the side of a hill, the main slope of which was toward us…I could do nothing but defend the position…The line was too weak to attempt an advance. There were not enough men to make a continuous single line. In some places for considerable distance there were no men at all…”
Henley wrote that the 13th reassembled “on the field and lay in line during the remainder of the day…awaiting the renewal of the contest.”
According to Mississippi military historian Dunbar Rowland: “The brigade had been on constant duty for five or six days, marching throughout two nights, and many of the men had succumbed to fatigue. The brigade went into battle with less than 900 men and officers….”
The 13th regiment, wrote Rowland, citing Gen. McLaws, took just 202 men into the Battle of Sharpsburg—no more men than in two pre-war companies. They would be reduced by 60 dead or wounded, a casualty rate of almost 31 percent.
The casualties were fairly evenly distributed throughout the regiment. But the Spartan Band “merry as hunters on a fox chase” had suffered the most, with 2 killed and 14 wounded.
The Winston Guard’s Captain Neville Edmonds was mortally wounded. The regiment’s Lt. Col. Kennon McElroy was slightly wounded and Major John Bradley was seriously wounded, shot through both legs.
Diarist William H. Hill, a quartermaster clerk in the Spartan Band, was not on the field. “I was not there,” he recorded, “on account of a very sore hand.” He was “sent to the rear as unfit for duty.”