I had an interesting question by email this morning, and I'm passing
it along to you for comment, too (with permission). My quick response
follows the original query ...
I note from the photograph on page 679 of Battles and Leaders of the
Civil War that, although the picture shows Confederate dead along the
"West side of the Hagerstown Road," the fence itself is in remarkably
good condition, with no sign of a single post or rail being displaced?
Presumably the conflict along this part of the road was restricted to
"musket fire" only, and that no artillery from either side was brought
into action to clear this section of the field. If artillery "had"
been used, then one would have expected to see much of the fence
destroyed, or at least broken down in several places.
There are also several other photographs taken after the battle which
show these same anomalies-page 671 for example, showing the dead
around the Dunker Church with the fence in the background looking
Were these fences actually under cannon fire?
The original of the first photograph you're talking about, by the way,
is at the US Library of Congress, and is online if you want to examine
it in more detail - it's probably better quality than the version in
Battles and Leaders. You could start with the copies I have of both
photos in my Gallery
and link to the original from there.
It is amazing how well the fence seems to have held up under fire in
the 1st picture. You can see sections blown out and rails down in the
Quick, short answer is that there certainly was artillery active in
both areas along the Hagerstown Pike.
The dead along the rail fence are likely men of Starke's Brigade -
Louisianans. They were in very close proximity to two Federal
artillery batteries early in the morning of September 17th: Campbell's
and Thompson's (see map: http://aotw.org/maps.php?map_number=1)
in range of at least two others. It is likely that the gunners were
firing canister rounds at that range against infantry. Perhaps that,
and the location of Campbell's Battery on the same side of the fence
as Starke's men limited the damage there.
Further south down the road, around the Dunkard Church, the artillery
fire was, if possible, more severe. That part of the field was a
point of contention for artillery of both sides, most particularly
counter-battery fire from the big rifled guns of the Federal reserve
artillery across Antietam Creek to the east.
Battle descriptions I've read describe rounds smashing both men and
fence rails along the Pike at various points and times, so it's likely
that great chunks of fence were destroyed. The photographs, of
course, only cover small portions - I'd guess those sections are
exceptions rather then the norm.