at Antietam, Lee would decide to take his Army back to Virginia. The day
after the battle was spent under a flag of truce as the two Armies stared
at on another and buried their dead. Late that evening, the Army of Northern
Virginia would retreat across the Potomac, with Hill's Division bringing
up the rear. About one the next morning, Hill's men would cross the river
into Virginia territory. Four regiments from Union General FitzJohn Porter's
were silently in pursuit.
The next morning, Sept 20th, as dawn began to break, firing was heard to the rear near an artillery train. Jackson, realizing they had been followed, ordered Hill to take his division back and confront the enemy. Before seven that morning, Hill's men were once again heading back to the Potomac, this time with Thomas' Georgians included. By nine that morning, Hill's two thousand men were in formation facing a like number of Federals, that had already crossed the river. These Union troops were covered by 70 cannon in the woods on the opposite bank of the river. In the front ranks, Pender, Gregg and Thomas lined up their men, with Branch's, Archer, and Brockenbrough brigades to the rear. Branch's brigade was temporarily under command of James Lane. Between the two forces were 1000 yards of a harvested wheat field, with stacks of wheat dotting the flat ground. Sometime after nine, the order to advance was given, and Hill's men moved forward. Immediately the cannons from the opposing bank opened up. With the field offering a perfect view to the gunners, and no cover for Hill's men, the shells thinned the Southern ranks with dead and wounded as they exploded. The Southern lines would not waver though, moving to quickly fill up the gaps left by their fallen comrades. As they approached the formed Union troops, they began to exchange volleys. The Union forces slowly were pushed back, but had no place to retreat too as the river was to their rear. Falling behind a bluff on the bank of a river, the Union forces fired upon the advancing Confederates. The Union forces were of Porter's Fifth Corps, First Division, First Brigade under Col Barnes. They included the 13th and 25th New York, 1st Michigan, 22nd and 18th Massachusetts, 2nd Maine, and 118th Pennsylvanian's. The 118th, the Corn Exchange Regiment, was under fire for the first time, and armed with condemned Enfield rifles, 50% of which wouldn't fire, their baptism must have been a frightening experience. As the left and right flanks of Hill's men came up to the river, encircling the Federal troops that had not retreated, the 118th Pennsylvanian's were trapped. With their every move within the sights of Confederate rifles, the retreat became a rout as desperate Union soldiers charged across an abandoned dam, attempting to escape capture. Many would refer to it later as a blood bath, as Hill's men, from the bluff, fired upon fleeing Union soldiers. Dead and wounded Pennsylvanian's piled onto the bridge and into the river. When the shooting ended, 92 Union soldiers were dead, 131 more wounded, and 103 were missing, most of which were captured before they could make it back to the river. With 277 casualties alone, the 118th Pennsylvanina was nearly wiped out. For Hill, it was another victory, one that cost him 30 killed and 261 wounded. The 35th suffered only 9 injured, most likely from cannon fire.
The battle would be called the Battle of Shepherdstown or Blackford's Ford. Hearing of the defeat, McClellan once again assumed the Confederate Army was a much stronger force than it actually was, and he called off the pursuit of Lee's Army. It was a decision that would cost him his command, for a second time.