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    The story of "Cooks counter-charge"

    Cooke's counter-charge.
    The 27th North Carolina at Sharpsburg

    "We Will Stay Here, If We Must All Go to Hell Together"

    By Dean Harry (2004)

    The summer of 1862 was, all things considered, fairly uneventful for the 27th North Carolina. At the time they were assigned to Longstreet’s Corps, Walker’s Division (Brig. General John G. Walker), Walker’s Brigade (Col. Van H. Manning and Col. E. D. Hall). This Brigade consisted of the 46th NC, 48th NC, 27th NC (Col. John R. Cooke), 3rd AK, and the 30th VA. The 27th NC arrived in Richmond just as the Seven Days battle was drawing to a close. They did not see significant action there, although they were witness to some of the battle’s destruction. After McClellan’s retreat back down the Virginia peninsula, the men of the 27th moved into camp near Warrenton, Virginia, at Rapidan Station. They remained poised for a move back to Richmond should McClellan advance and threaten the Confederate capital again. And, though Warrenton was not far from Manassas, they did not participate in the battle fought there in August. While the soldiers of the 27th NC were fortunate enough to miss the bloody Seven Days and Second Manassas battles, their luck was about to change.

    On September 1, 1862 General Walker ordered the 27th from camp and they marched nearly to Warrenton. By the 4th they reached the battlefield at Manassas, and were unhappy witnesses to many of the still unburied dead. They continued north, passing through Haymarket and New Baltimore, reaching Leesburg on the evening of the 6th. The next day they crossed into Maryland, fording the Potomac at Noland’s Ferry. Like most of Lee’s troops, they were not welcomed by the local citizens. On the 8th of September, they reached Beckettown and rested there until the morning of the 9th.. Around 10 a.m. on the 9th, they reached the outskirts of Frederick, Maryland. That night the division moved to the mouth of the Monocacy River in an attempt to destroy the aqueduct there. Despite marching all night, they accomplished nothing. Around daylight, they found themselves in the vicinity of Beckettown, marched five miles further and formed a line of battle. There they stayed all day, in full view of the enemy.

    Lee had expected McClellan to order the evacuation of Harper’s Ferry after Lee’s army moved into Maryland. When McClellan failed to do so, Lee was forced to send Jackson back into Virginia in order to capture Harper’s Ferry and remove the threat to the Confederate supply lines. On the night of September 10th the 27th began the march towards Loudoun Heights, on the east side of the Shenandoah River, above Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. On the 12th they crossed the Potomac near Point of Rocks and on the morning of the 13th, reached the foot of the Blue Ridge opposite Loudoun Heights. Gen. Walker ordered Col. Cooke to take the 27th NC and 30th VA and take possession of Loudoun Heights. They did so without opposition at nightfall on the 13th. At daylight on the 14th, French’s Battery reached the Heights and around 1:00 pm opened fire on Harper’s Ferry. The next morning a heavy mist covered the town, delaying the artillery until around 8:00 a.m. Before the Confederate infantry could attack, the Union garrison surrendered and that night the men of the 27th once again marched north into Maryland, reaching Shepherdstown around midday on September 16th and going into camp near Sharpsburg that night.

    Just before daybreak on the morning of the 17th the men were awakened and moved to a position on the extreme right of the Confederate line. They were to support Gen. Toombs’ troops, entrenched opposite the lower bridge[now know as Burnside’s Bridge]. Just after daybreak, General Hooker’s I Corps began to attack the Confederate left, defended by Jackson’s Division.. Around 9:00 a.m. General Walker was ordered to reinforce Jackson’s hard pressed men.. The 27th marched at the double-quick one and one half miles to a position near the Confederate center.

    Jackson sent an aide to confer with Walker. The aide informed Walker that Jackson considered the West Woods the key to the battlefield. Should Walker find the West Woods occupied, it was imperative that the enemy be forced out. Walker was also informed that a gap of at least one third mile had developed between D.H. Hill’s left (Sunken Road area) and the West Woods. The 27th NC and 3rd AK, commanded by Col. Cooke, were dispatched towards this gap, while the rest of the division moved north, to the West Woods. Gen. Von Borcke, witness to this advance later said “it was astonishing to see men without shoes, whose lacerated feet often stained their path with blood, limping to the front to conquer or fall with their comrades.”

    Manning’s Brigade (46th NC, 48th NC and 30th VA) advanced through the West Woods, the 48th NC being split in half by the Dunker Church. Upon reaching the edge of the woods, many of the North Carolinians took cover behind the trees and refused to advance into the open. Col. Hall put the 46th NC across the Hagerstown Pike in an attempt to take the Smokestown Road. The regiment fired one ragged volley before falling back. The 30th VA rushed forward at the oblique to fill the gap and the reformed 48th NC advanced due east, towards Tyndall’s waiting brigade of Federals.

    Tyndall’s Brigade leveled a tremendous volley into the two regiments as they crossed the Pike. The disheartened Confederates turned and fled westward. Col. Manning rode into their ranks and begged the North Carolinians to turn back. Manning was struck down by bullets in the left arm and chest while trying to halt the retreat. Lt. Col. Walkup (48th NC) threatened to shoot anyone who broke ranks. He scrambled over the second fence along the Pike only to see what remained of the regiment break in disorder for the woods. Tyndall’s line rose to its feet in hot pursuit of Manning’s retreating Confederates, as Walkup vainly tried to rally his retreating men. Soldiers from the 2nd SC begged the North Carolina troops to stand and fight, but they would not. By now the Federal charge had penetrated the West Woods as far as the ridge 100 yards west of the church. There they formed an arc from the southwestern corner of the woods to the Hagerstown Pike.

    The left of Tyndall’s Brigade ran into opposition from Patterson’s Battery and Manning’s remaining two regiments, the 27th NC and 3rd AK. The two regiments moved up the rise behind the battery as it began to retire. The 27th NC went prone behind a worm fence along the northeastern portion of a cornfield behind a ridge about 600 yards south of the Dunker Church. The 3rd AK, commanded by Col. Cooke, advanced in full view of Union troops along the Dunker Church ridge.

    Cooke posted the 3rd AK in a stubble field about 100 yards to the right front of the 27th NC. After watching Tyndall’s Yankees charge Manning’s three regiments, Cooke ordered his men to fall back to the ridge and cornfield south of their line. Companies F, K and G of the 27th NC formed prone behind the worm fence bordering the cornfield facing north. The remainder of the two regiments posted along the northeasterly section of fence, following the ridge. Cooke pulled back the right of the line twenty paces and ordered them to lie down in the corn, leaving the three wing companies to concentrate their fire on the West Woods. By this time the smoke was so dense, the men of the 3rd AK could only identify troops from the knees down.

    Cooke’s maneuver was designed to lure the Federals into charging. Instead, according to James Graham (G Co. 27th NC) it attracted a hail of lead, causing “severe suffering.” Cooke himself ignored the minies, standing “boldly upon the hill crest next to a lone hickory tree, drawing more fire, but inspiring his men.” Pvt. Will Summerville, standing next to Cooke, was shot and died instantly, his body teetering several moments before keeling over. In spite of the destructive fire they received, Cooke’s two regiments held their ground and stopped any further Union advances against the Confederate left.

    By noon, Tyndall’s eight regiment brigade, still in the West Woods, had expended most of its ammunition. Manning’s and Ransom’s Brigades used the hour and a half lull to regroup in the ravines north and northwest of Tyndall’s anchor regiment. Around noon, Col. Tyndall came out of the West Woods and approached Knapp’s Battery. He ordered two rifled pieces into Mumma’s swale towards the southern end of the West Woods, aimed to support the 28th PA. The section had barely pulled away when Manning and Ransom struck and routed the Federals in the West Woods. Demoralized Federals began to rush towards Mumma’s swale.

    Col. Cooke watched routed Federals flush from the West Woods and cower behind the Dunker Church ridge about five hundred yards northeast of his two regiments. When Knapp’s guns reached the horizon Cooke hurried the three left companies of the 27th NC from the northern to the northeastern side of the cornfield. There, they quickly took aim and unleashed a powerful volley, cutting down several horses of the Section’s #2 rifle. The Yankees panicked, abandoned the gun and limber and ran for their lives. Col. Tyndall fell mortally wounded with a bullet to the head.

    Col. Cooke immediately recognized the opportunity and shouted for his two regiments to “Rise and Prepare to charge.” A battle line was quickly formed with the 27th NC on the left and 3rd AK on the right. A slightly built soldier from the 3rd AK holding a fiddle timidly approached his Captain as the men formed ranks and asked “Would it be all right if I give the boys a tune as they moved out?” The officer replied that he could, as long as it was a particular mountain tune. So, as nearly one thousand untried soldiers stepped over the splintered wooden fence to their front, “Swing your partner! Doe see Doe! Granny will your dog bite? Hellfire no!” squealed overhead and blended oddly with the sounds of battle.

    As the line moved forward, a drunken Confederate Colonel rode up to Lt. Col. Richard Singeltary and centered himself in front of the 27th NC. “Come on boys!” the Colonel slurred and he slashed the air with his saber. “I am leading this charge!” Singeltary angrily responded “You are a liar sir! We lead our own charges.” The chastised officer reined his mount aside and the two green Confederate regiments took off for Mumma’s swale at a dead run, leaven the inebriated officer galloping off in another direction, still swinging his sword and shouting at imaginary enemies.

    Cooke’s assault was an overwhelming success. The 27th NC overran the Yankees in Mumma’s swale and the 3rd AK, supported by Confederates from the western end of the Sunken Road pushed Federals deep into the Mumma’s cornfield and away from the lane. The 27th NC could hardly believe their success. They shouted for the Ohioans to surrender and lie down. As the North Carolinians charged towards the ruins of the Mumma’s smoldering farm house, Yankees threw down their arms and marched unescorted south towards the Confederate lines. Makeshift surrender flags began sprout from the haystacks in the Mumma’s mow field as two to three hundred Yankees gave up without a fight.

    Cooke’s regiments surged forward, becoming more unmanageable as the attack progressed. Cooke ran to catch up with color bearer Harry H. Campbell (G Co. 27 NC) who was leading the charge directly towards Thomas’ Regular Battery (4th US). Cooke caught Campbell and ordered him to slow down. “Colonel, I can’t let that Arkansas fellow get ahead of me” Campbell hoarsely replied. Cooke aimed Campbell further west towards Roulette’s Lane, hoping to spare the 27th canister fire, which had been pounding the two regiments since they crossed the Hagerstown Pike.

    Being inexperienced, Col. Cooke had assumed that Ransom’s Brigade would silence the Federal guns on his left flank. They did not. Ransom’s troops demonstrated momentarily in front of the West Woods until Yankee artillery found their range. They took a few casualties and melted back into the woods. Generals Jackson and Stuart found Ransom and ordered him to take Knapp’s Battery, still north of Mumma’s Lane. Ransom argued that the attack would fail. Jackson replied that he had witnessed the previous attack and believed Ransom could succeed. Ransom told Jackson that he believed the bulk of McClellan’s army to be in support of the guns, making any attack suicidal. To settle the dispute, Jackson called for a good climber. Barefoot Pvt. William S. Hood (H Co. 35th NC) came forward and was immediately sent up a tree and ordered to count battle flags. When Hood’s count reached 39, Jackson told him to come down. Jackson recalled Ransom’s regiments, leaving the 27th NC and 3rd AK to face the Federal VI Corps on their own.

    By now, Cooke’s regiments, along with Cobb’s Brigade (16th GA, 24th GA and 15th NC) found themselves dispersed over a front from the cornfield north of Roulette’s to the cornfield along the Sunken Road. In the fields behind them were over two hundred “paroled” Yankees who had surrendered and were now caught in an artillery barrage between Confederate and Union batteries. On the right flank, the 3rd AK engaged in vicious hand to hand fighting with Yankees from Ohio and Delaware in the Mumma swale. The Federals broke and ran, hotly pursued by the Confederates.

    Captain James Graham (G Co. 27th NC) halted his company in the corn above Roulette’s and some of his men took cover in the farm’s out buildings. Small arms fire quickly broke out and intensified and the 53rd PA advanced into the cornfield and took cover behind a stone wall on its eastern border. Out of ammunition, the men of the 27th NC rifled through Yankee cartridge boxes only to discover the rounds too large for their muskets.

    Col. William Irwin’s Brigade of the Union VI Corps began moving into Mumma’s swale in an effort to drive out Cooke’s men. Irwin, later accused of being drunk on the field, committed his regiments piecemeal without properly deploying them. Col. Irwin personally moved his largest regiment, the 20th NY regiment onto the Smokestown Road. The eight hundred Germans were formed into a shaky line and double quicked south, then southwest towards the Dunker Church plateau. Shrapnel and canister quickly took its toll, and the regiment started to waver. Col. Ernest Van Vegesack pulled out his revolver and ran along the rear rank, popping off rounds at skulkers. Suddenly, the colors moved out front, the Germans leveled their saber bayonets and hurried to keep pace with the colors.

    Col. Irwin grabbed the 187 man 7th ME, had them left wheel and push through the woods into the plowed field north of the Mumma cemetery. One by one the men tore down fence rails as they worked their way towards the left flank of the 27th NC. Col. Cooke realized his outnumbered men could not withstand the odds and ordered them back. The 27th NC fired a last volley at the 20th NY, panicked and “Double quick timed” their way back towards the Hagerstown Pike, directly into the leveled muskets of Union “prisioners” who had decided to “unsurrender”. Confederates fell by squads as bullets came in from all directions. The 27th NC and 3rd AK were forced to retreat directly across the front of the 20th NY, now a mere sixty yards away. Those men who managed to reach the rail fence at the Hagerstown Pike threw themselves down behind it, certain they were about to die.

    Suddenly, General Lee himself galloped up behind them and shouted “Boys, you must hold the center or General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia will be prisoners in less than two hours!” He then wheeled his horse and galloped away. Immediately afterwards, General Longstreet and four staff officers appeared, rolled an abandoned field piece into position, loaded it, fired one round at the 20th NY, remounted and galloped off towards the Piper farm. The rest of the Confederate batteries on the ridge six hundred yards south of Dunker Church and Cooke’s reorganized regiments unleashed a barrage on Von Vegesack’s Germans, opening massive gaps in their lines as they came close to the southern edge of the West Woods.

    The West Woods now teemed with Confederate troops, mostly from Ransom’s Brigade. These Confederates fired into the 33rd and 37th NY from the west and south. Both regiments quickly retreated to the Dunker Church Ridge. The 7th ME rushed through the Mumma’s cornfield, passing over Confederates whose fallen file closers and ranks stretched out in near perfect formation, having died suddenly, with no chance for escape. The Maine troops fell in behind the rail fence on the left of Von Vegesack’s Germans who had retreated to the Mumma swale. The time was now 1:00 p.m. and fighting shifted to the right, towards the Sunken Road.

    Around 5:00 p.m., after the Confederates abandoned the Sunken Road and reformed in Piper’s swale, the 7th ME made a charge towards the Confederate center. Gen. Longstreet, seeing the attack, dispatched Major Moxley Sorrell to the high ground six hundred yards south of the Dunker Church to meet Col. Cooke, still commanding the 27th NC and 3rd AK. Cooke’s men had been holding that position since repulsing Irwin’s attack at noon, despite having no ammunition. Longstreet ordered Sorrell to give his complements to Cooke and his men and to inform Cooke that should his position be lost, there was nothing left to stop the Federal advance. Sorrell never forgot Cooke’s heated response

    “Major, thank General Longstreet for his kind words, but say, by God Almighty, he needn’t doubt me. We will stay here, by Jesus Christ, if we must all go to hell together. That damn thick line of enemy has been fighting all day, but my regiment is ready to lick the whole damn outfit.”

    The feared attack never came and with the setting sun, the battle ended, neither side having gained an advantage. The Union lost 2,010 killed, 9,416 wounded and 1,043 missing. Confederates lost 1,567 killed, 8,725 wounded. Walker’s Brigade lost 134 killed, 691 wounded. Out of 325 present for duty the 27th NC lost 31 killed and 168 wounded, a casualty rate of over 61%

    Last edited by RhettVito; 05-06-2020 at 05:22 PM.

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