THE MARYLAND CAMPAIGN OF 1862: THROUGH ARKANSAS EYES
It is hard to explain the desperation of infantrymen in Civil War Battles when they know they can’t hold against the enemy due to overwhelming numbers. The likelihood of being killed or taken prisoner can cause a rout to ensue.
Some units will just turn and run. Others due to their leadership would orderly retreat with a semblance of cohesiveness and make the enemy slow their advance, which made it possible for reinforcements to appear and aid.
The Confederate Units in the northern part of the battlefield on September 17, 1862, which were arrayed from the West Woods in an arc to Mumma’s Lane, held against repeated attacks and participated in some counterattacks during the morning from 5:45 am until about 8:30 am. The carnage was ghastly in D.R. Miller’s cornfield, which has been dubbed “The Cornfield” by Civil War Historians. By about noon Miller’s 40 acre cornfield had been cut down as if it a scythe had been used on it.
In the first years of the Civil War regiments were made up of relatives and friends. For example, the 3rd Arkansas had 7 sets of fathers and sons and 218 sets of brothers and or cousins in addition to fellow soldiers related by marriage. If a unit was in a very tough fight and losses of 30% to 50% occurred, which wasn’t uncommon, the whole younger generation of a hamlet, town or county could be wiped out.
When all the Confederate Units in the northern part of the battlefield had been used up, they retreated to the shelter of the West Woods. Mansfield XII Corps of about 7600 men were appearing on the scene and taking over portions of the field previously occupied by the Rebs. “The Cornfield”, Mumma’s eastern lane and the East Woods were in Union hands. But what a price was paid to attain it. A newspaper correspondent ventured into the East Woods behind the Union advance and saw a young Confederate severely wounded and sitting with his back to a tree with a dead Confederate lying across his legs. The young Confederate told the correspondent is was father. In many places there were both Union and Confederate dead neatly laid out in rows in the same positions they had occupied in their ranks when the opposing musket volleys had hit them.
When you see your fellow soldiers who were your friends, brothers, fathers, sons or cousins hit by musket fire or mutilated by cannon fire, it does something to your psyche. Life seems so precious and you want to preserve your own. Thus, when you see the enemy advance and you believe there is no chance to hold, what occurs to a unit faced with this dilemma is anyone’s guess. Some Confederate Units ran and others fought back to the West Woods.