2nd Manassas - Aug. 1862
The Battle of Antietam - Wednesday, September 17, 1862
General Burnside's Bridge

Burnside's Bridge.
Union Major General George McClellan's plans for the Battle included precise, coordinated attacks on the left and right wings of General Lee's Confederate army. The Federals hoped that, with both flanks threatened, Lee would pull reinforcements from, and consequently weaken, his center. A concentrated thrust through the Southerners' middle could then split and destroy the Army of Northern Virginia. However, despite repeated orders to advance against Lee's right flank, Major General Burnside's 12,000 men were held at bay by about 450 to 500 determined Georgians perched on the bluffs overlooking the bridge. The stone for the bridge had been mined from the bluffs overlooking the creek. This left depressions in the hillside forming ready-made rifle pits to fire from in relative safety. Pictured here, the Antietam Creek quietly flows under the now peaceful Rohrbach or Burnside's Bridge.

Georgia position over Antietam CreekDescribing the ground and the valiant efforts of his tremendously outnumbered men, CSA Brigadier General Robert Toombs reported, "Its chief strength lay in the fact that, from the nature of the ground on the other side, the enemy were compelled to approach mainly by the road which led up the river for near 300 paces, parallel with my line of battle, and distant there from 50 to 150 feet, thus exposing his flank to a destructive fire the most of that distance.

At between 9 and 10 o'clock the enemy made his first attempt to carry the bridge by a rapid assault, and was repulsed with great slaughter, and at irregular intervals, up to about 1 o'clock, made four other attempts of the same kind, all of which were gallantly met and successfully repulsed by the Twentieth and Second Georgia...After these repeated disastrous repulses, the enemy, despairing of wresting the bridge from the grasp of its heroic defenders, and thus forcing his passage across the river at this point, turned his attention to the fords before referred to, and commenced moving fresh troops in that direction by his left flank."

The Rohrbach or Burnside Bridge - 1862Union Major General Ambrose E. Burnside would describe the battle in a similar fashion. His plan was to send a force downstream to ford the river and then, while Union soldiers stormed the Confederate front, the flanking troops would come in on their right and catch the small but well entrenched Confederate forces between the Federal hammer and anvil. "At 10 o'clock I received an order from the general commanding to make the attack. i directed Colonel Kingsbury, of the Eleventh Connecticut, to move forward with his line of skirmishers, and directed General Cox to detail General Crook's brigade to make the assault. General Rodman was directed to cross over at the ford below the bridge, and join on to the left of the command, which was to be thrown over the bridge. From General Crook's position it was found to be almost impossible to carry the bridge, and General Sturgis was ordered to make a detail from his division for that purpose. He immediately sent forward the Second Maryland (Lieutenant-Colonel Duryea) and the Sixth New Hampshire (Colonel Griffin), which regiments made several successive attacks in the most gallant style, but were driven back by the galling fire of the enemy. I then directed the batteries on the left to concentrate their fire on the woods above the bridge, and sent word to General Sturgis to detail the Fifty-first Pennsylvania (Colonel Hartranft) and the Fifty-first New York (Colonel Potter) to assault the bridge and carry it at all hazards. In the mean time Colonel Crook had brought a section of his battery to bear upon the heights just above the bridge. General Sturgis, by a judicious posting of these two regiments in rear of a spur which fronted the bridge, succeeded in protecting them from the enemy's fire until they reached the crest of the spur, at which point they commenced their charge and carried the bridge at the point of the bayonet at about 1 o'clock, the whole division following immediately."

Burnside's Bridge from the Confederate side. CSA Brigadier General Robert Toombs would lament the lack of response to his request for reinforcements. He felt that, with a small force of men, he could have kept the Union soldiers from crossing downstream and held the men in blue in check. "Not being able to get any re-enforcements for the defense of these two fords, and seeing that the enemy was moving upon them to cross, thus enabling him to attack my small force in front, right flank, and rear, and my two regiments having been constantly engaged from early in the morning up to 1 o'clock with a vastly superior force of the enemy, aided by three heavy batteries, the commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Holmes, of the Second, having been killed in the action, and the only remaining field officer, Major [Skidmore] Harris, being painfully wounded, and fully one half of this regiment being killed or wounded, and the Twentieth having also suffered severely in killed and wounded, and the ammunition of both regiments being nearly exhausted, and Eubank's battery having been withdrawn to the rear nearly two hours before, I deemed it my duty, in pursuance of your original order, to withdraw my command and place it in the position designated." [9]