Ramseur's divisions crossed at Williamsport and took position near St. James' College, and Vaughan's cavalry went into Hagerstown. Breckenridge, with his command, and Jackson's cavalry, crossed at Shepherdstown, and took position at Sharpsburg. This position is in full view from Maryland Heights, and a cavalry force was sent out by the enemy to reconnoitre, which, after skirmishing with Jackson's cavalry, was driven off by the sharpshooters of Gordon's division. On the 6th, the whole force recrossed the Potomac at Williamsport, and moved towards Martinsburg; and on the 7th we returned to Bunker Hill.
While at Sharpsburg on this occasion, I rode over the ground on which the battle of Sharpsburg, or Antietam as it is called by the enemy, was fought, and I was surprised to see how few traces remained of that great battle. In the woods at the famous Dunkard or Tanker Church, where, from personal observation at the battle, I expected to find the trees terribly broken and shattered, a stranger would find difficulty in identifying the marks of the bullets and shells.
I will take occasion here to say that the public, North or South, has never known how small was the force with which General Lee fought that battle. McClellan's estimate is very wide of the mark. From personal observation and conversation with other officers engaged, including Gen. Lee himself, I am satisfied that the latter was not able to carry 30,000 men into action. The exhaustion of our men in the battles around Richmond, the subsequent battles near Manassas, and on the march to Maryland, when they were for days without anything to eat except green corn, was so great that the straggling was frightful before we crossed the Potomac. As an instance of our weakness, and a reminiscence worthy of being recorded, which was brought very forcibly to my mind while riding over the ground, I will state the following facts: In the early part of the day, all of Gen. Jackson's troops on the field except my brigade (A. P. Hill had not then arrived from Harper's Ferry) were driven from the field in great disorder, and Hood had taken their place with his division. My brigade, which was on the extreme left supporting some artillery with which Stuart was operating, and had not been engaged, was sent for by General Jackson and posted in the left of the woods at the Dunkard Church. Hood was also forced back, and then the enemy advanced to this woods—Sumner's Corps, which was fresh, advancing on our left flank. My brigade, then numbering about 1000 men for duty, with two or three hundred men of Jackson's own division, who had been rallied by Colonels Grigsby and Stafford, and when there was an interval of at least one halt a mile between us and any other part of our line, held Sumner's corps in check for some time, until Green's division of Mansfield's Corps penetrated into the interval in the woods between us and the rest of our line, when I was compelled to move by the flank and attack it. That division was driven out of the woods by my brigade, while Grigsby and Stafford skirmished with Sumner's advancing force, when we turned on it, and, with the aid of three brigades to wit:—Anderson's, Semmes', and Barksdale's—which had just arrived to our assistance, drove it from the woods in great confusion and with heavy loss. So great was the disparity in the forces at this point that the wounded officers who were captured were greatly mortified, and commenced making excuses by stating that the troops in their front were raw troops, who stampeded and produced confusion in their ranks. McClellan, in his report, says that Sumner's corps and Green's division encountered, in this woods, "overwhelming numbers behind breastworks," and he assigns the heavy losses and consequent demoralization in Sumner's Corps as one of the reasons for not renewing the fight on the 18th. We had no breastworks nor anything like them in the woods on the 17th, and, on our part, it was a stand-up fight there altogether. The slight breastworks subsequently seen by McClellan were made on the 18th, when we were expecting a renewal of the battle.