After the surrender of Harper’s Ferry, Sept. 15, 1862, Robert E. Lee felt vulnerable. General Franklin had entered Pleasant Valley and threatened the severance of his army. L Lee at once took measures to concentrate his forces. He withdrew his troops from South Mountain and took position in the Antietam valley, near Sharpsburg, Md. Jackson, had again crossed the Potomac and joined Lee on Antietam Creek.
McClellan was very cautious, for he believed the Confederates were on his front in overwhelming numbers. As McClellan hesitated to attack, the Confederates put him on the defensive by opening an artillery fire upon the Nationals at dawn (Sept. 16, 1862). He was ready for response in the course of the afternoon, when Hooker crossed the Antietam with a part of his corps, commanded by Generals Ricketts, Meade, and Doubleday. Hooker at once attacked the Confederate left, commanded by “Stonewall Jackson,” who was soon reinforced by General Hood.
On the morning of the 17th the left, under Burnside, engaged in a desperate struggle for the possession of a bridge just below Sharpsburg. The commander had been ordered to cross it and attack the Confederates. It was a difficult task, and Burnside, exposed to a raking fire from the Confederate batteries and an enfilading fire from sharp-shooters, was several times repulsed.
Finally, two regiments charged across the bridge and drove its defenders away. The divisions of Sturgis, Wilcox, and Rodman, and Scammon’s brigade, with four batteries, passed the bridge and drove the Confederates almost to Sharpsburg. A. P. Hill, with fresh troops, fell upon Burnside’s left, mortally wounding General Rodman, and driving the Nationals nearly back to the bridge. Gen. O. B. Branch, of North Carolina, was also killed in this encounter.
The Confederates were checked by National artillery on the eastern side of the stream, and, reserves advancing under Sturgis, there was no further attempt to retake ìthe Burnside Bridge,” as it was called. Hill came up just in time to save Lee’s army from destruction.