Local boys fight (and die) at Antietam
Confederate artillery from the high ground along the Hagerstown Pike near Dunker Church helped repulse the early morning attack of the Union I Corps, which included a company of York Countians serving in the 12th Pennsylvania Reserves.
The Battle of Antietam has been termed “America’s Bloodiest Day,” with more than 22,000 American casualties falling on September 17, 1862. More Americans fell that day than at D-Day, any single day of World Wars I or II, any day during Viet Nam, or any other day in any war in the country’s history. Among those men to fall during the savage encounter at Antietam were some locals from York County, Pennsylvania.
The 12th Pennsylvania Reserves (also known as the 41st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment) was organized at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg in June 1861. It was made up of volunteers who answered the governor’s call to arms following President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation for 100,000 men to put down the fledgling rebellion. Company G of the new regiment was raised in York County, with Samuel N. Bailey of Dillsburg elected as the lieutenant colonel. Company G was commanded by Stewartstown’s Charles W. Diven, who later in the war would become the colonel of the 200th Pennsylvania Infantry. At the time of his enlistment, the thought that the war would last long enough for the Keystone State to raise more than 200 regiments must have been inconceivable to Captain Diven.
The 12th Reserves fought in several engagements during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign in the army of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan. With little time for rest and recuperation, and with its ranks thinned from the summer campaign, the regiment participated in the Maryland Campaign in September. As part of Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s division, the 12th was part of the grand assault on Turner’s Gap during the Battle of South Mountain. Anchoring the center of the Union line, the 12th, including the York County boys of Company G, “moved on with the most determined gallantry.” Despite a steady rain of bullets from Confederates at higher elevations, Company G suffered remarkably light casualties in the successful attack that eventually carried the National Road and the heights. The entire regiment only lost six men killed and nineteen wounded.
On the evening of September 16, the York Countians were again in action during Meade’s aborted attack on Confederate positions in the East Woods, an engagement halted by gathering darkness. The following day, Company G was part of the Union I Corps assault along the Hagerstown Pike southward toward Sharpsburg, and then manned a wooden fence at the northern edge of Miller’s Cornfield in the firefight with John Bell Hood’s Rebels. With “its accustomed gallantry.” the 12th Reserves fought hard, losing thirteen killed, forty seven wounded, and four missing. Among those lost was York County’s Christian S. Wagner, corporal of Company G.
Among the casualties of America’ Bloodiest Day was Sgt. James McClure, a namesake of my friend and fellow author who edits the York Daily Record. He would die on October 9 from his injuries. Unusually tall for the period more than 6 feet in height, the 30-year-old sergeant was also older than most of his men. Auburn-haired with a light complexion and dark eyes, he had been a pre-war laborer in one of York’s small factories.
The day before McClure died, Corp. Daniel D. Bailey died of his wounds. Bailey, a 5′ 7″ blue-eyed, black-haired student, was more typical of the men and boys of Company G. He had left school at the age of 18 to enlist in downtown York.
The next time you visit South Mountain or the Antietam Battlefield, pause for a moment to remember Chris Wagner, Jim McClure, Dan Dailey, and all the other men from York County whose lives were forever touched (and sometimes ended or shattered) by the Civil War.