An early version of a famous story from the battle:

Brigade commander Colonel Edward Ferrero of the 51st NY Infantry had previously taken away his men’s whiskey ration to reduce drunkenness. On 17 September 1862 near the Lower Bridge at Antietam he called to his own and the 51st Pennsylvania regiments …

“It is General Burnside’s special request that the two 51sts take that bridge. Will you do it?”

The request was unlooked for, and the men had not had time to think of it, when Corporal Lewis Patterson, of Co. I [51st PA], although a temperate man, exclaimed, “Will you give us our whiskey, Colonel, if we take it?”

Col. Ferrero turned suddenly around to the corporal and replied, “Yes, by G–, you shall all have as much as you want, if you take the bridge. I don’t mean the whole brigade, but you two regiments shall have just as much as you want, if it is in the commissary or I have to send to New York to get it, and pay for it out of my own private purse; that is, if I live to see you through it. Will you take it?”

A unanimous “Yes,” went up that told of the determination of the men to take the bridge, not in anticipation of the whiskey, but to let Gen. Burnside know that his confidence in the twin regiments was not misplaced nor should be abused. After a few words in private by the regimental and brigade commanders, the 51st P. V. led the advance …

Lewis Patterson (1835-1883) survived the charge unharmed, was later promoted to First Sergeant, and was commissioned First Lieutenant in 1865.

The narrative above is from Thomas Parker‘s “History of the 51st Regiment of P.V. and V.V.” (1869). Parker was First Sergeant, Co. I at Antietam and was wounded in that action.

The painting of the 51st Pennsylvania at the bridge is by Don Troiani.

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