All of the eyes watching the campaign in Maryland now focused in on the two armies facing off along the banks of Antietam Creek. As more time wore on from the last fight two days prior at South Mountain, more Union and Confederate soldiers gathered with their respective armies and shook out into their battle formations.
This afternoon, George B. McClellan set his army in motion to drive Lee’s forces from Maryland. Joseph Hooker’s First Corps moved to the west side of the Antietam, aiming for the northern end of the Confederate line. As darkness descended upon the landscape, Hooker’s men stumbled into “Stonewall” Jackson’s command in a woodlot and cornfield. Darkness ended the fighting, but sporadic shots rang throughout the uneasy night, announcing to all within the earshot where the next day’s deadly work would begin.
Brig. Gen. Alpheus Williams and the Union Twelfth Corps, under the command of Joseph Mansfield, crossed the Antietam to support Hooker on the night of September 16. Williams recalled the night march, and the uneasiness of the evening as the pall of death hung in the air.
We passed a stone bridge over the Antietam and then branched off into the fields. Gen. Mansfield and his escort led the way, but it was so dark and the forests and woods so deep that I could not follow and was obliged to send ahead to stop our leaders repeatedly.
After a weary march we halted in some ploughed ground and I was told to put my division in column in mass. It took a long time as I had five new regiments who knew absolutely nothing of maneuvering. At length about two o’clock in the morning I got under the corner of a rail fence, but the pickets in front of us kept firing and as often as I got asleep Gen. Mansfield would come along and wake me with some new directions. At length I fairly got asleep and for two hours was dead to all sounds or sensations. I shall not, however, soon forget that night; so dark, so obscure, so mysterious, so uncertain; with the occasional rapid volleys of pickets and outposts, the low, solemn sound of the command as troops came into position, and withal so sleepy that there was a half-dreamy sensation about it all; but with a certain impression that the morrow was to be great with the future fate of our country. So much responsibility, so much intense, future anxiety! and yet I slept as soundly as though nothing was before me.