Disaster in the West Woods
- I just finished reading "Disaster in the West Woods - Sumner and the II Corps
at Antietam" by Marion Armstrong ( 65-page booklet). I found the author had
some enlightening perspectives on Sumner's attack into West Woods. He does a
good job of explaining Sumner's orders, his understanding of Mac's plans,
what he saw of the terrain and units as he arrived at East Woods, his recon,
Based on Armstrong's points, I have a better understanding of what Sumner was
trying to accomplish and why events transpired as they did. The main fault he
finds in the attack is Sumner's choice of formation. Given the tactics of the
times, the formation was certainly an option; but a better choice was to
advance Gorman in line (as he did), but have next two brigades in column
(ready to deploy as needed).
Sumner' s extended formation greatly impeded command and control by him and
his brigade commanders. This led to Gorman's 34th NY drifting uncorrected to
the left and caused Dana to lose command of his right regiments as he
assisted his two left regiments. It also prevented a quick ability to refuse
their left or other tactical options against the flanking Rebs.
Armstrong also noted there was a more extensive gap between Gorman and Dana,
than between Dana and Howard. As Dana left the East Woods, he saw troops
laying in front of him. He assumed it was Gorman, so he halted his brigade
(thus Howard also halts). The mistake is realized and they then resume their
He does make a point that Sumner saw troops entering West Woods near Dunker
Church (125th PA) , troops further south (Greene), and troops around northern
end of the woods (Goodrich and Patrick), so he did presume his flanks would
be covered. He saw the gap between those forces and decided to move swiftly
to fill it. His line did not actually begin to unravel from a flank attack,
but a frontal attack against 7th MICH (IIRC also the 42nd NY). The breaking
of this part of his line opened a gap and the flanking attack began by Early,
Barksdale, and Kershaw. Furthermore, Sumner expected French to be coming on
on Sedgwick's left, further ensuring his left flank.
Armstrong also covers Sumner's activity after the West Woods debacle, which
is not often mentioned in other books.
- As of now, the only plans I have for Saturday April 22 are at 9:30 AM (about
one hour rehearsal for Church program).
Let me know what time you expect to be in the area.
Tom Shay - Cressona, PA
>>By the way Tom....I am going up to St. Vincent Depaul Cemetery inMinersville next Saturday (22nd) searching for the grave of Private
Hugh Gallagher, USMC (1859 - Harpers Ferry, 1862-65 - USS
Constellation). Want to meet up?