During the summer of 1862, Confederate General Robert E. Lee implemented his bold plan for the Army of Northern Virginia to invade the North for the first time. Lee's plan was to win a decisive victory on Northern soil, and gain foreign recognition and independence for the South. Nearly 55,000 seasoned veterans in gray and butternut confidently gathered along a Maryland creek known as the Antietam. General George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac rapidly advanced to meet the Southern threat. What resulted on September 17, 1862 was the bloodiest single day of war.
As the fog began to clear on the morning of the 17th, a brigade of young Georgia soldier's began to see long lines of advancing Federal troops ordered to take the stone bridge, later known as Burnside's Bridge. The four divisions of Major General Ambrose E. Burnside's IX Corps were ordered to cross the bridge and flank Lee's army, allowing McClellan to unleash his massed reserves and gain Lee's rear.
Commanding the few hundred Georgia men along the heights above the bridge was one of Lee's maverick generals, Robert Augustus Toombs. The wooded hillside along the creek provided excellent cover for the confederate defenders. Soon after 9 a.m., the Union assault on the bridge began. Charge after gallant charge was shattered by the sheets of deadly short range fire of Toombs' Georgian's.
Against all odds, by repulsing four distinct attacks, the 2nd and 20th Georgia regiments held the IX Corps at bay all morning. They accomplished their mission, buying General Lee's battered army the time needed to recover from the morning's carnage. At approximately 1 p.m., two regiments, the 51st Pennsylvania and the 51st at New York, marched swiftly out from the cover of a wooded hill, and made the final valiant charge against the bridge. Being supported by converging artillery fire, the 51st Pennsylvania finally crossed the bridge. But all was not lost for the Confederates. Soon General A. P. Hill's notable Light Division would arrive from Harper's Ferry in the nick of time, and plow through Burnside's men.
The IX Corps would retreat across the bridge they had so gallantly won earlier that day.