Remarkable description of fighting around cornfield at Antietam


Date Written

Sept. 21, 1862

History Referenced

Alexander McNeil was 41 years old when this was written.
Alexander McNeil died 1 year, 4 months, 16 days after writing it.
It was written 161 years, 14 days ago.
It was a Sunday.

Sharpsburg, Maryland
Sept. 21st, 1862

Mr. Whelton, Dear Sir,

I have a few leisure moments this morning to write a few lines. I am well at present, thank God, for all the blessings he has conferred upon me. He has spared my life while others who stood around me were cut down like grass. About two o’clock Sept. 17th, Wednesday morning we were called out and each man received “40” rounds of cartridges, which made us “80” rounds, as each man had “40” rounds as previous to that time. We lay on our arms till day break. We then took up our line of march for the battle field, about two miles distant, where death was being dealt out to thousands on both sides. We first came in sight of the enemy strongly posted in a large corn field with a large open field in front of them. We were also in a corn field close to the edge of the open field. As soon as the Rebels saw our flag advancing, they poured in a terrific fire. Oh, what a scene. Our boys, with a few exceptions, stood up to the work manfully for about 2 hours. Some of the time we lay flat on the ground, loaded our muskets and got up on one knee & fired and then fell flat. Along the latter part of the time we were in the corn field, some of us stood erect and fired as fast as we could right in the face of the enemy. A North Carolina Regiment in the front of us displayed a white flag three different times & would have surrendered, but others of the Rebels behind them kept pouring volley after volley into our troops. Now, I have no wish to blow my own trumpet, but it made me so infernal angry to see that flag of truce thrown out and still kept mowing down our troops. I jumped up to my feet & told the boys to load & give it to the “devils”. There were three of the North Carolina Regiment I mentioned taken prisoner, & they tell the story themselves. They say they were the only three left of the whole regiment, & I believe it. There was a whole division behind them, so they could not retreat & they were exposed to a cross fire. {This would have been the 2nd North Carolina Regiment.}

I walked over a part of the battle field the second day after the fight, and , Oh what a sight. In one place I visited an old road, quite narrow, worn down below the surface of the ground some three feet deep, it was actually filled with dead Rebels. There they lay, piled up 3 & 4 deep, some torn with cannon balls, others torn to pieces with grape and canister, and thousands shot with rifle and musket balls. The Rebels we have taken prisoners are the dirtiest, filthiest looking set I have ever beheld in my life, more on account of the color of their clothes I suppose more than anything else, a dirty “Butternut” color begrimed with dirt. Our “line of battle”, our officers tell me, extended for nine miles. The Rebels, they say, has never had such a dressing down as they got this time since the war commenced, but you will read about it in the papers.

We have been on the move ever since we left Hartford. I have only received one letter from home, but I know there must be a large mail for the regiment in Washington. I feel anxious to hear from home. Please write me a letter when you find time. Also send me a newspaper. Be kind enough to let my wife know I am well. Tell her to send me a few postage stamps, as I have no chance to get any. I will write as soon as I can to you again.

I remain yours, very respectfully,

A. McNeil

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