Because he was conspicuous on his white horse and close to the battle-front on the morning of Wednesday, 17 September 1862 near Sharpsburg, Maryland, perhaps it was inevitable that Major General Joseph Hooker would be killed or wounded in the ferocious combat there.

Major General Joseph Hooker (Library of Congress)
Major General Joseph Hooker (c. 1862, Library of Congress)

And wounded he was. Although it is fantasy to speculate, there were those who thought the battle of Antietam would have gone differently had Hooker not been knocked from command of the Federal First (I) Army Corps by a bullet through the foot at about nine o’clock that morning.

Sharpsburg, September 20, 1862.

MY DEAR HOOKER: I have been very sick the last few days, and just able to go where my presence was absolutely necessary, so I could not come to see you and thank you for what you did the other day, and express my intense regret and sympathy for your unfortunate wound. Had you not been wounded when you were, I believe the result of the battle would have been the entire destruction of the rebel army, for I know that, with you at its head, your corps would have kept on until it gained the main road. As a slight expression of what I think you merit. I have requested that the brigadier-general commission rendered vacant by Mansfield’s death may be given to you. I will this evening write a private note to the President on the subject, and I am glad to assure you that, so far as I can learn, it is the universal feeling of the army that are the most deserving in it.

With the sincere hope that your health may soon be restored, so that you may again be with us in the field, I am, my dear general, your sincere friend,

GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
Major-General.

Looking into the nature of the General’s injury led me in a somewhat different direction, however – toward learning about the medical care he received, and more about the life and career of his doctor, Assistant Surgeon Benjamin Douglas Howard, USA …

Frank Schell’s battle

17 January 2010

Frank Schell accompanied the Army of the Potomac on the Maryland Campaign of 1862, and was on the field for the battle on 17 September. He was a civilian there from New York – a sketch artist for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.

Fortunately for those who study the battle, a number of his original battlefield sketches have survived. I’ve recently discovered a set sold at auction in 2007, and a group preserved in a collection at Boston College, in particular. I’ve grabbed some selected gems among them to use here.

Even better, in 1904 Schell published his recollection of the events that were going on around him as he was drawing these same pictures. So in sharing his pictures and his superb eye, I can also leave the writing to Frank – to narrate his own drawings and give us a sense of his Battle of Antietam.

Hooker crossing the Antietam (16 Sept 1862)click to see larger image
Hooker’s Corps crosses the Antietam (16 September 1862, pub. Leslie’s 11 Oct 1862)

As I awoke soon after daylight on the morning of September 17, 1862, the air was already vibrating with mighty sounds of battle … With spirits aflame, I speeded at my best from Keedysville for the headquarters of the commanding general … I joined the group about the commanding general, who was anxiously scanning through his field glass the situation to the right, across the Antietam. Looking more to the left, the thick west wood, with its dark, broad front so clearly emphasized by the little white Dunker church, was clearly in view along its entire extent upon the Hagerstown turnpike.

General McClellan suddenly lowered his glass, and, with a few animated words and expressive gestures, called Porter’s attention to something that caused an immediate ferment of buzzing excitement throughout the group and a close scrutinizing of the bit of woodland, for the time being, the focus of such absorbing interest …

Halt at Clarksburg (Md), McClellan's Staff, Sept 12th 1862
Halt at Clarksburg, Sept 12th 1862, McClellan’s Staff (DH Strother, 1862)

David Hunter Strother (1816 – 1888) – writer, artist and Federal officer – was on General George McClellan’s staff on the Maryland Campaign of 1862. His creative skills resulted is some fascinating artifacts of that period, which I’m enjoying in my study of Antietam and its participants.

Born in Martinsburg, (now West) Virginia, he had trained as an artist in New York and Europe, and was working as a writer and illustrator in books and magazines in his 20’s. His father “Colonel” John – an Army Lieutenant 1813 to 1815 – ran the Strother House hotel in Berkeley Springs.

By the 1850’s D.H. was famous as “Porte Crayon” – his nom de plume. He was on assignment for Harpers Weekly at Harpers Ferry in 1859 and covered John Brown’s trial and execution …