- Friendly Fire – isn’t.
There are a number of instances during the war when “friendly fire” occurred in the confusion of battle during the War.
At Gettysburg on July 2, 1863 Confederate artillery on Warfield Ridge dropped rounds on the Texans and Georgians at the Devil’s Den.
At the skirmish at Dranesville, in 1861, J.E.B. Stuart accidentally ordered his infantry to fire into Confederate troops.
At the Dunker Church, as the 125th Pennsylvania fled down the Smoketown Road with the Rebels right behind them, Lt. George A. Woodruff (Battery I, 1st U.S. Artillery) ordered his guns to fire through them. One man recalled it was because “they were only volunteers.”
During the attack on the West Woods, the Confederate artillery on Hauser (Nicodemus) Ridge fired case shot and canister over the heads of their own men to stop Sedgwick’s advance. Confederate hit by artillery came from their own guns.
The 35th Massachusetts at Fox’s Gap, September 14, 1862, a new regiment with no combat experience in the dark fired at the 51st Pennsylvania from behind and missed. Their fire hit the Texans in the woods across from the Pennsylvanians. They fired back and hit both Yankee regiments.
- Never forget that your weapon was made by the lowest bidder.
At the Battle of Shepherdstown in September 1862, the 118th Pennsylvania sadly discovered that the nipples on their weapons broke off when the hammers struck them.
The same thing happened to a new regiment stuck in the Hagerstown Pike during the Rebel counterattack against the west Woods.
- If your attack is going really well, it’s an ambush.
At Antietam, John Sedgwick’s Division (II Corps) entered the West Woods without too much difficulty until it walked into Lafayette McLaws’ Division, which had just arrived upon the field and the Confederate artillery on Hauser (Nicodemus) Ridge. He lost 2500 men of 4500 in 20 minutes.
The same thing happened to the 3rd Arkansas, the 27thNorth Carolina, and remnants of other regiments when they flanked the Bloody Lane as the Federals overran it. They captured Ohioans from Greene’s Division and swung into line perpendicular to the lane.
After firing a few rounds, they ran out of ammunition only to discover that the Yankee cartridges were the wrong caliber for their weapons. The Ohioans, rather than march to the rear, turned about, picked up their arms, and fired into the Confederates’ backs. The 7thMaine, coming in from the north, flanked the rebs and drove them from the field
- Make it too tough for the enemy to get in, and you won’t be able to get out.
The Confederates learned this the hard way at the Bloody Lane. The Yankees trapped them in the lane from high ground on both flanks, making it nearly impossible to escape south over the high bank behind them. Many of them who tried ended up hanging on the fence on the crest - dead or dying. One poor fellow was shot through the rear about 17 times.
- Professional soldiers are predictable; the world is full of dangerous amateurs.
George McClellan had at least 27 brand new regiments at Antietam.
The 35th Massachusetts stayed on the field after dark at Otto’s farm lane, genuinely believing they were going to be relieved. Their shots in the dark probably killed Gen. L. O’Brien Branch of North Carolina.
The 130th Pennsylvania while moving toward the Bloody Lane around the Roulette farm buildings, rather than push down the picket fence surrounding Roulette’s beehives pulled it down- right on top of Pvt. Theodore Boyle. In the excitement of it all, their colonel rode over Boyle, driving a picket into his chest. Boyle became the regiment’s first casualty.
Some of the men in that same regiment, climbed over the fence behind which they lay and started down the hill over open ground to “bag” the Rebs. It was an ambush. Few of them returned.
- When in doubt, empty your magazine.
The smoke was so thick in the Cornfield (Antietam) that when Tyndale’s brigade (XII Corps) came on the field and approached the northeastern corner of the field the line halted uncertain who men were prone on the other side. A captain resolved the issue by ordering his “boys” to fire. At a range of about 10 feet, they slaughtered a Georgia regiment where it lay.
Both sides repeated that scenario again and again in the Cornfield, which explains why it had the largest number of casualties during the battle and why so many Rebels were knocked down in formation.
- If you find yourself in front of your platoon, they know something you don’t.
During A.P. Hill’s counterattack along the Harpers Ferry Road at Antietam. Brig. Gen. James Archer led the Tennessee Brigade in a charge across an open field but no one followed him.
At the Wilderness, a Confederate colonel jumped into a group of his own men and told them to attack. They refused so he leaped from cover to inspire them. He got shot to which they replied, “We told you so.”
The list could go on forever. Soldiers, through the centuries have changed very little. The equipment is “smarter.” Soldiers are better trained and educated than before but they generally experience the same frustrations. They share an immutable kinship with those who preceded them.