Before mid-morning of September 17, the woods and the Cornfield along Antietam Creek became the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the war. This area is where Francis M. Poore and his fellow Mississippians were called upon to help repel a Union advance by General Joseph Hooker’s divisions.
Francis and his fellow rebels under Brigadier General Lafayette McLaws moved into position about midmorning. They could have watched as fresh federal units under Major General John Sedgwick passed through the East Woods and into the Cornfield.
The 5,000 Yankees in front of Francis moved in three lines of battle, their colors flying and bayonets gleaming in the sun. The Union men had to step over thousands of Yankee and rebel corpses. Wounded men shouted or waved their arms to keep from being trampled.
General William R. Barksdale cautioned his Mississippians against “unnecessary excitement.”
The Mississippians prepared to strike directly into Major General John Sedgwick’s exposed left flank.
Francis and his comrades had managed to reach the West Woods undetected by Sedgwick’s advancing Union troops and were now in a position to hit the bluecoats in the left flank and rear. Francis and the other rebels struck so fiercely into the Union troops that 2,200 bluecoats fell within 20 minutes.
Francis and his fellow Mississippians filled the air with rebel yells as they chased what was left of Sedgwick’s broken division to the North and East Woods.
“The ground over which the Mississippi Brigade … advanced … was thickly strewn with the dead and wounded of the enemy, far exceeding our own, and their dead were much more numerous than their wounded,” McLaws said in his official report of the action.
Union artillery and infantry fire checked the Mississippians’ advance and forced Francis and his comrades to fall back. But Francis and his fellow Southerners had stopped the federals from rolling up the Confederate flank.