Throughout history, all battles and wars were driven by a commander’s intent. According to ADRP 5-0, the commander’s intent ‘succinctly describes what constitutes success for the operation. It includes the operation’s purpose, key tasks, and the conditions that define the end state. It links the mission, concept of operations, and tasks to subordinate units. A clear commander’s intent facilitates a shared understanding and focuses on the overall conditions that represent mission accomplishment.’ The Fight for Miller’s Cornfield was a bloody battle fought in the Battle of Antietam driven by Major General George McClellan who led the Union and General Stonewall Jackson who led the Confederates. In this paper, I will analyze the George McClellan’s commander’s intent during the fight and conclude with the actual outcome and lesson learnt.
On September 16, 1862, the Union and the Confederates fought in what’s known as the single bloodiest day in American History, The Bloody Cornfield. Major General Gorge B. McClellan’s intent was to attack the Confederate’s left flank in order to gain the key defensive terrain, Miller’s Cornfield. With this key terrain, the Union would have been able to drive the Confederates out of the North (Maryland). His mindset was set on victory knowing the fact that he had more man power. In total, both sides had a combined number of approximately 25,000 soldiers, but the Union outnumbers the Confederates two to one (Harries).
Though the Union were bigger in numbers, McClellan failed to realize the importance of terrain and the effects it would have on the outcome of this fight. During his planning phase, he negated the fact that during that time of year, corn were harvesting. As a result, the ‘Bloodiest Battle is American History’ was fought nearly blind as the Union attacked the Confederates in a cornfield filled with ready to harvest, six feet high corn stalks in the early dawn. Visibility was atrocious as both sides fired blindly back and forth killing 5,000 soldiers and injuring almost 13,000. Thirty acres of green corn stalks were destroyed (Battle Of Antietam Casualties).
McClellan also had the support of General Joseph Hooker’s artillery battery at his disposal. Hooker plagued Jackson’s men in the Miller cornfield with artillery fire. “In the time I am writing,” Hooker reported, “every stalk of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the Confederate soldiers slain lay in rows precisely as they had stood in their ranks a few moments before.”(The Bloody Cornfield) They then advanced on the South taking advantage of the positive effects of the superior fire power. General Stonewall Jackson reported that his men were “exposed for near an hour to a terrific storm of shell, canister, and musketry.” (The Bloody Cornfield) Though this may have been a turning point for the Union, Jackson brought in reinforcements from General Joseph Mansfield who conducted a counterattack on the Union. His support helped the Confederates regain lost ground. As a result, historians believed that this particular fight had no clear victor.
By analyzing McClellan’s intent, assumptions were made that the North would force the South to retreat. They came with more man and firepower and thought that the mission would be successful. However, the actual result of this particular fight of a bigger war, The Battle of Antietam and the war that would later establish the Emancipation Proclamation, was a draw.
There are many lessons to be learned in the fight, but the most important was planning. Planning and reconnaissance are very important before execution. It is where a commander’s intent can be revised. An analysis of a future mission helps the commander instill both a task and purpose to his/her subordinates. It’s understood that it is not possible to always have the appropriate time to strategically plan, but as a leader, McClellan failed his soldiers and as a result, there were many casualties. In my opinion, The Union lost that particular fight because General George McClellan had more soldiers and asset capabilities. With the appropriate planning, this fight should have been an easy victory even with the reinforcements of General Mansfield.
o ADRP 5-0 ‘ The Operations Process
o Battle Of Antietam Casualties. (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2014.
o Harries, William H. Antietam, Battle Of, Md., 1862. United States History Civil War, 1861-1865 Regimental histories.
o The Bloody Cornfield – Sharpsburg, MD – Battlefields on Waymarking.com. (2012, January 14). Retrieved September 26, 2014.