On September 4, 1862, Confederate General Robert E. Lee was riding high. After a successful campaign against the Federals in Northern Virginia Lee decided that it was time to take the fight to the enemy resupply his army on their lands and demoralize their civilians. With those goals in mind, he would lead his men across the Potomac River and into Maryland.
On the Federal side General McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, searched for Lee’s army and a chance to end the war once and for all. With a stroke of luck, one of his men had come across a copy of Lee’s orders at a former campsite. These orders gave McClellan what he needed. The invasion culminated with the battle of Antietam just outside the town of Sharpsburg Maryland on September 17th in what would be to this point the bloodiest day of the war.
132nd Pennsylvania Volunteers
In August 1862 in Harrisburg, PA the 132nd PA Volunteer Regiment was formed under the command of Colonel Richard A. Oakford. A few weeks later they found themselves in Maryland taking part in their first battle. They would attack a Confederate position that would become known as Bloody Lane. By the time the battle was over the 132nd had lost 152 men killed, wounded and missing, including their commander.
The following is a brief excerpt from the regimental history written by Richard Hitchcock and available through Project Gutenberg:
A remarkable fact about our experience during this fight was that we took no note of time. When we were out of ammunition and about to move back I looked at my watch and found it was 12.30 P.M. We had been under fire since eight o’clock. I couldn’t believe my eyes; was sure my watch had gone wrong. I would have sworn that we had not been there more than twenty minutes, when we had actually been in that very hell of fire for four and a half hours.
Just as we were moving back, the Irish brigade came up, under command of General Thomas Francis Meagher. They had been ordered to complete our work by a charge, and right gallantly they did it. Many of our men, not understanding the order, joined in that charge. General Meagher rode a beautiful white horse, but made a show of himself by tumbling off just as he reached our line. The boys said he was drunk, and he certainly looked and acted like a drunken man. He regained his feet and floundered about, swearing like a crazy man. The brigade, however, made a magnificent charge and swept everything before it.
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The monument in the photo was dedicated to the regiment on September 17, 1904 and was erected by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for their brave men. Besides the units name the single inscription reads simply, Virtue, Liberty, and Independence.