Brigadier General Nathan Kimball’s Report on His Brigade’s Action at the Battle of Antietam
Beginning in June of 1861 when he was appointed colonel of the 14th Indiana Infantry, Nathan Kimball served as a commander of Union troops from the regimental through division levels throughout the length of the Civil War. He was promoted to Brigadier General on April 16th, 1862, earning his promotion for his effective command of his forces in the Shenandoah Valley that year.
In September of 1862, Kimball commanded the 1st Brigade of Brigadier General William H. French’s 3rd Division of Major General Edwin Sumner’s 2nd Corps. Kimball’s brigade consisted of the 14th Indiana, 8th Ohio, 7th West Virginia, and 132nd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiments. The first three were veteran regiments, while the 132nd Pennsylvania was new and had not seen action. On September 17th, at the Battle of Antietam, Sumner ordered French to attack a Confederate line located on a dirt road that had been worn down below surface level from years of wagon traffic. This formed a natural trench for the Rebels. This location, later known as the Sunken Road or Bloody Lane, would see some of the hardest fighting of the battle.
French deployed his three brigades in three lines, with Kimball’s brigade in the third line as a reserve. Opposing French were Alabama troops under
Brigadier General Robert E. Rodes and North Carolinians of Brigadier General George B. Anderson’s Brigade, all from Major General D.H. Hill’s Division. The Confederates repelled the attack by French’s 1st Brigade, under command of Brigadier General Max Weber, as well as the follow up attack by Colonel Dwight Morris’ 2nd Brigade. French then ordered Kimball’s brigade forward.
Kimball’s command advanced, but as it reached the top of a ridge, the Confederates in the Sunken Road opened with a devastating fire, as did Rebel artillery on the Union right. The brigade returned fire and the two sides slugged it out as casualties mounted on both sides. Reinforcements in the form of Brigadier General Ambrose Wright’s brigade of Georgians and Alabamians took position on the Rebel right flank. Wright ordered his troops to attack the 7th West Virginia’s left (Kimball’s left flank regiment), but the West Virginians changed front to meet the threat and drove off the attacking Rebels.
Two Federal brigades under Major General Isaac Richardson arrived and went into action on Kimball’s left. The continual pressure from the Union troops finally dislodged the Confederates in the Sunken Road, at great cost to both Blue and Gray.
General Kimball submitted this detailed report on his brigade at the Battle of Antietam. Note that he refers to the 7th West Virginia as the 7th Virginia; at that time West Virginia was still in the process of becoming a separate state, so the unit was basically a loyal to the Union Virginia regiment.
Hdqrs. Kimball’s Brig., French’s Div., Sumner’s Corps,
On the Field of Battle, near Sharpsburg, September 18, 1862.
General: On the morning of the 17th instant, in obedience to your order, my brigade crossed Antietam Creek and was formed into line of battle, on the left of General Sedgewick’s division, and in the third line, Generals Weber’s and Morris’ forming the first and second lines. In this position I moved directly forward about three-fourths of a mile, when General Weber encountered the enemy’s pickets and drove them back, and soon came upon the enemy in force, posted in a strong position in an orchard, corn-field, ditches, and upon the hill-sides. At this moment, in obedience to your order, I moved my brigade forward and formed my line in front on the left of General Weber. My right wing, consisting of the Fourteenth Regiment Indiana Volunteers, Colonel Harrow, and the Eighth Regiment Ohio Volunteers, Lieutenant- Colonel Sawyer commanding, was posted on the hill-side in front of the orchard, their left resting on a lane running in the direction of Sharpsburg; my left wing, consisting of the Seventh Regiment Virginia Volunteers, Colonel Snider, and the One hundred and thirty-second Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, Colonel Oakford commanding, resting on an extension of the same line, their right resting on the lane running toward Sharpsburg and their left extending toward the creek.
Directly on my front, in a narrow road running parallel with my line, and, being washed by water, forming a natural rifle-pit between my line and a large corn-field, I
found the enemy in great force, as also in the corn-field in rear of the ditch. As my line advanced to the crest of the hill, a murderous fire was opened upon it from the entire force in front. My advance farther was checked, and for three hours and thirty minutes the battle raged incessantly, without either party giving way. The enemy, having been re-enforced, made an attempt to turn my left flank by throwing three regiments forward entirely to the left of my line, which I met and repulsed, with loss, by extending my left wing. Seventh Virginia and One hundred and thirty second Pennsylvania, in that direction. Being foiled in this, he made a heavy charge on my center, thinking to break my line, but was met by my command and repulsed with great slaughter. I then, in turn, ordered a charge, which was promptly responded to, and which resulted in driving the enemy entirely from the ditches, &c., and some distance into the corn-field beyond. In this charge my command captured about 300 prisoners, the enemy in his flight leaving on the field several stand of colors, which were taken by some parties outside of my brigade whilst we were pursuing him.
At this time a brigade of General Richardson’s division advanced to my relief on the left of my line, securing that flank from further assaults. In the mean time, the line on my right having been abandoned, the enemy made an attempt to turn that flank, and by that to gain my rear, and succeeded in gaining a corn-field directly on my right. To repulse them, a change of front was made by the Fourteenth Indiana and Eighth Ohio Volunteers, which resulted in driving the enemy from my right, and restored the line, which was afterward occupied by Smith’s division of General Franklin’s corps. For four hours and a half my command was under most galling fire, and not a man faltered or left the ranks until the field was left by the rebels in our possession, those who were sent with the wounded to the rear quickly returning to their places in line. For three and a half hours of this time wo were upon the field, and maintained our position without any support whatever. My men having exhausted all their ammunition, the fight was maintained for some time with the supplies stripped from the bodies of their dead and wounded comrades.
Every man of my command behaved in the most exemplary manner, and as men who had determined to save their country or die. The Fourteenth Indiana and Eighth Ohio Volunteers, in the change of front which saved our right, executed it as veterans and as only brave men could. The battle was fought under your own eye, general, and I need not tell you how terrible was the conflict. The loss in my command is a lasting testimony of the sanguinary nature of the conflict, and a glance at the position held by the rebels tells how terrible was the punishment inflicted on them. The corn -fields on the front are strewn with their dead and wounded, and in the ditch first occupied by them the bodies are so numerous that they seem to have fallen dead in line of battle, for there there is a battalion of dead rebels. We maintained our ground and drove the enemy from his. After the firing had ceased on my front, the enemy seemed to have concentrated his force on the force of General Richardson’s command. Colonel Brooke, commanding a brigade, sent to me for assistance. You having previously ordered Colonel Morris, commanding Second Brigade, to take orders from me, I ordered him to Colonel Brooke’s assistance.
The loss in my command is as follows: 121 killed, 510 wounded, 8 missing. This number embraces officers and men.
Lists from the several regiments, with name and rank, together with the reports of Colonels Harrow and Snider and Lieutenant-Colonels Sawyer and Wilcox, are forwarded herewith. Among the killed and wounded are many brave and gallant officers.
Col. E. A. Oakford, One hundred and thirty-second Pennsylvania Volunteers, was killed while leading his regiment. He was a brave officer and died like a hero. Captain Coons, acting lieutenant-colonel, and Captain Cavins, acting major, Fourteenth Indiana Volunteers, were wounded while gallantly leading their commands.
Where every officer and man behaved with such signal bravery and coolness, it would be invidious to make distinction by mentioning the names of a part only.
I cannot speak in too high praise of the officers of my staff, to whom I am indebted for valuable services rendered to me on the field. My adjutant-general, Capt. E. D. Mason, behaved with great coolness, and received a very painful wound during the engagement. The conduct of Lieutenants Swigart, Marshall, and Burrell, throughout the entire fight, was highly commendable, and exhibited a high degree of gallantry, efficiency, and personal bravery. They were proved by a test such as it is seldom the lot even of veterans to encounter, and the result has been highly honorable to them. I recommend them to the consideration of the commanding general.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Brigadier- General, Commanding.
Kimball would go on to have commands in many of the biggest campaigns and battles in the Civil War, in both the eastern and western armies. These included Fredericksburg, Vicksburg, the Atlanta Campaign, and Franklin.
Antietam,South Mountain, and Harper’s Ferry: A battlefield Guide by Ethan S. Rafuse.
“The Battle of Antietam” by Jacob D. Cox. In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume II, edited by Clarence C. Buel and Robert U. Johnson.
Generals in Blue by Ezra J. Warner
Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam by Stephen W. Sears
The Maps of Antietam by Bradley M. Gottfried
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume 19, Part 1
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