One of the most tragic scenes of the Battle of Antietam was the ill-conceived charge of Major Thomas Hyde‘s 7th Maine Infantry on the afternoon of 17 September 1862 at the order of their brigade commander Colonel W.H. Irwin.

Sergeant John C McKenney of Company B recounted his recollection of that day in Old Eliot: a Quarterly Magazine of the History and Biography of the Upper Parish of Kittery, now Eliot in 1906 [online from the Internet Archive]:

Here’s my partial transcription:

I was First Sergt. of B Company, and went into the fight when I could honorably have kept out, as I was on the sick list at the time, and had been for nearly two weeks. The Regiment went into the battle with less than two hundred men.

In the forenoon we were supporting a battery. In the afternoon we were ordered to advance and drive back a large skirmish line of Rebels in our front. We advanced and drove them back over a short hill; and when we reached the top of the hill, we found a rebel brigade waiting for us. They gave us a volley, which we returned the best we could. In a few minutes we discovered that the Rebels were on our flank and rear; they opened fire on us from that direction.

Maj. Hyde immediately gave the order: “By the left flank, double quick, march!” A rail fence was in our path, and a gap had to be made by the head of the column to get through. Maj Hyde could not go where the men were filing through; and 1st Sergeants Hill, Benson and McKenney, stopped and tore down a place for the Major to get his horse through. By this time all had passed on, and left the three Sergeants in the rear of the command. All were running to get out of the trap. I being weak and exhausted, was soon left behind; I was compelled to surrender, and was reported missing. Sergeants Hill and Benson escaped, and were promoted for special bravery.

[pg. 173] For five days we lived mostly on green corn taken from the fields through the Shenandoah Valley. We reached Staunton, and were put into cattle cars, sent to Richmond, and confined in Libbey Prison thirty days.


I haven’t found a photograph for McKenney, but here are Sergeants (by then Lieutenant and Captain, respectively) Benson and Hill, thanks to the Maine State Archives.

Please Leave a Reply