While Hill's men were convinced they would see some rest now, unknownst to them, fifteen miles away, Lee's Army was in trouble. Joining with Jackson's forces in Sharpsburg on the sixteenth, Lee found his force of 25M men facing 87M troops under McClellan. Throughout the 16th, Lee situated his men, with Jackson's forces on the left, and Longstreet on the right. Backed up against the Potomac River and surrounded by McClellan on all sides north, south, and east, Lee realized his only avenue of escape across the river was the Boonsborough Turnpike. Whatever happened in the desperate fight approaching, the turnpike had to held. McClellan, the consistant slow poke, could have probably crushed Lee's Army had he sent his troops in that evening. Lee was unorganized and badly outnumbered. But even with the intelligence he had, McClellan failed to move with determination and that evening the two armies faced one another in a slight rain.

The next morning, Lee sent work to Hill to bring up his troops as fast as possible. Leaving the 35th Georgia and the rest of Thomas' brigade in charge of the stores captured, the rest of Hill's brigade began marching at 7:00 am that morning. Moments later, miles away, the Union Army began to attack Lee. First Jackson was hit on the left. At about 10:00 am the Union attacked Lee's right. The right wing, straddling the so important Turnpike, having been thinned by troops called to Jackson's relief on the left wing, was now running low on manpower. Lee rushed what troops he could to their relief, but it wasn't near enough. The right began to be pushed back. No matter what Lee tried, the right flank was crumbling to overwhelming Union pressure. Many observers have concluded that the afternoon of September 17, 1862, was the closest Lee came to loosing the entire war. With his only avenue of retreat about to fall under control of the Union Army, Lee was gravely worried.

Sunken Road...September 18, 1862 (taken as both Armies, under truce, bury the dead.)
Courtesy U. S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks

At about 2 pm, just when all seemed lost, red shirted AP Hill rushed up to Lee and advised his Division was crossing the Potomac. Lee was so relieved to see him, that he lost his usually docile composure, and embraced the young general. Close behind were the brigades of Branch, Pender, Archer, Gregg, and Field (temporarily commanded by Brockenbrough). Word spread quickly among the beaten Southern troops as couriers charged up and down the line yelling "Hill was coming". If they could just hold out long enough was the great question. Lee suddenly spotted blue suited troops coming over a hill. They were in a position to easily flank his forces and rout the entire right flank. Calling for his aide to identify them, the telescope revealed they were not Union troops, but the recently confiscated blue uniforms of Harper's Ferry on Hill's men. They had made it in time!!

Hill immediately threw his men into action, and after vigorous fighting, the Union attack , moments before in the position to rout their enemy, crumbled under the new pressure. But not before the fighting would claim the life of General Lawrence Branch, brigade commander of Hill's North Carolinian's.

Lawrence Branch

courtesy General Officers of the Civil War

Hill and his men would be credited with saving the Army of Northern Virginia that autumn day, near a little creek called Antietam. Probaly the greatest tribute to hill would come, when Robert E Lee, years after the war and delirious in the throws of death, would call out "Tell AP Hill he must come up".

To the southwest, Thomas' Georgian's in Harper's Ferry, were fortunate in that they missed the single bloodiest day in American History.

 Antietam National Battlefield

35th Georgia Index