Having attached himself to the headquarters staff of Gen. Joseph Hooker, Smalley had seen more of the battle than any other newspaper correspondent at the scene.
Desperate to get word back to his newspaper, he rode through the night to the telegraph station at Frederick, Maryland. The telegraph operater agreed to send a short account, and Smalley sat down and wrote one.
“Fierce and desperate battle between two hundred thousand men has raged since daylight, yet night closes on an uncertain field. It is the greatest fight since Waterloo–all over the field contested with an obstinacy equal even to Waterloo. If not wholly a victory tonight, I believe it is the prelude to a victory tomorrow. . . .”
Smalley handed the telegraph operator each page as he wrote it. Without Smalley’s permission or knowledge, the operater sent the account to the War Department in Washington rather than to the Tribune in New York. There President Abraham Lincoln read the first account of the battle that he knew Union forces had to win.
Smalley’s job, however, was far from done.