Chapter 16: “the lost order” --South Mountain.
- How the Federals found the despatch
-- with every advantage mcclellan “made haste slowly” --lee turns back to meet him at South Mountain
-- Longstreet preferred that the stand should be made at Sharpsburg
-- the battle at the Pass
-- many killed
-- General Garland of the Confederate and General Reno of the Union side
-- a future President among the wounded
-- estimate of forces engaged.
The strange losing and stranger finding of Lee
's “General order no. 191
,” commonly referred to as “the lost despatch,” which he had issued September 9 for the movement of his army, made a difference in our Maryland campaign
for better or for worse.
Before this tell-tale slip of paper found its way to McClellan
's Headquarters he was well advised by his cavalry, and by despatches wired him from east and west, of the movements of Lee
's army, and later, on that eventful 13th day of September, he received more valuable information, even to a complete revelation of his adversary's plans and purpose, such as no other commander, in the history of war, has had at a time so momentous.
So well satisfied was he that he was master of the military zodiac that he despatched the Washington
authorities of Lee
's “gross mistake” and exposure to severe penalties.
There was not a point upon which he wanted further information nor a plea for a moment of delay.
His army was moving rapidly; all that he wished for was that the plans of the enemy would not be changed.
The only change that occurred in the plans was the delay of their execution, which worked to his greater advantage.
By following the operations of the armies through the complications of the campaign we may form better judgment of the work of the commanders in finding ways through its intricacies:
of the efforts of one to grasp the envied crown so haplessly tendered; of the other in seeking refuge that might cover catastrophe involved in the complexity of misconceived plans.
The copy of the order that was lost was sent by General Jackson
to General D. H. Hill
under the impression that Hill
's division was part of his command, but the division had not been so assigned, and that copy of the order was not delivered at Hill
's Headquarters, but had been put to other use. The order sent to General Hill
from general Headquarters was carefully preserved.
When the Federals
marched into Frederick
, just left by the Confederates
, General Sumner
's column went into camp about noon, and it was then that the despatch was found by Colonel Silas Colgrove
, who took it to division Headquarters, whence it was quickly sent to the Federal
reported to General Halleck
that the lost order had been handed him in the evening, but it is evident that he had it at the time of his noonday despatch to the President
, from his reference to the facts it exposed.
It is possible that it was at first suspected as a ruse de guerre, and that a little time was necessary to convince McClellan
of its genuineness, which may account for the difference between the hinted information in his despatch to General Halleck
and the confident statement made at noonday to the President
Some of the Confederates
were a little surprised that a matter of such magnitude was intrusted to pen-and-ink despatches.
The copy sent me was carefully read, then used as some persons use a little cut of tobacco, to be assured that others could not have the benefit of its contents.
It has been in evidence that the copy that was lost had been used as a wrapper for three fragrant Confederate
cigars in the interim between its importance when issued by the Confederate
chief and its greater importance when found by the Federals
thought the capital in imminent peril before he heard from McClellan
on the 13th, as shown on that day by a despatch to General McClellan
The capture of this place will throw us back six months, if it should not destroy us.
But later, the “lost despatch” having turned up at headquarters of General McClellan
, that commander apprised the authorities of the true condition of affairs in the following:
With the knowledge afforded by securing Lee
's “lost order” the passes of the South Mountain
became important points.
If he could force them, McClellan
might fall on the divided columns of the Confederates
and reach Harper's Ferry
in time to save its garrison; but Lee
received intelligence of his only moderate forward movement, and, without knowing then how it came to be made, recalled a force to make resistance, and, so supplementing or complementing by his rapid moves the Federal
commander's slowness, saved his campaign from the disastrous failure that threatened it.
claimed to have been more vigorous in pursuit after he received the “lost despatch,” but events do not support the claim.
He had time after the despatch was handed him to march his army to the foot of South Mountain
before night, but gave no orders, except his letter to General Franklin
calling for vigorous action, which was afterwards tempered by caution to wait for developments at Turner's Pass.
He gave no intimation of the despatch to his cavalry leader, who should have been the first to be advised of the points in his possession.
had pushed the Confederate cavalry back into the mountains long before night of the 13th under his instructions of the 12th.
Had he been informed of the points known by his chief in the afternoon, he would have occupied South Mountain
at Turner's Pass before any of the Confederate infantry was therefor apprised of his approach.
's orders for the 14th were dated,--
- 13th, 6.45 P. M., Couch to move to Jefferson with his whole division, and join Franklin.
- 13th, 8.45 P. M., Sumner to move at seven A. M.
- 13th, 11.30 P. M., Hooker to march at daylight to Middletown.
- 13th, 11.30 P. M., Sykes to move at six A. M., after Hooker on the Middletown and Hagerstown road.
- 14th, one A. M., artillery reserve to follow Sykes closely.
- 14th, nine A. M., Sumner ordered to take the Shockstown road to Middletown.
- Franklin's corps at Buckeystown to march for Burkittsville.
He wrote General Franklin
at 6.20 P. M., giving the substance of information of the despatch, but not mentioning when or how he came by it, and ordered him to march for the mountain pass at Crampton's Gap, to seize the pass if it was not strongly guarded, and march for Rohrersville
, to cut off the command under McLaws
about Maryland Heights
, capture it, and relieve the garrison at Harper's Ferry
, and return to co-operate in capturing the balance of the Confederate army north of the Potomac
; but, in case the gap was occupied by a strong force, to await operations against it until he heard the engagement of the army moving upon Turner's Pass.
He wrote General Franklin
that General Pleasonton
had cleared the field east of the mountain of Confederate cavalry.
After relieving Harper's Ferry
was to destroy bridges and guard against crossing of the Confederates
to the north side, his idea being to cut the Confederate army in two and capture or break it up in detail.
His appeal was urgent for the best work that a general could exercise.
The division under General Couch
was ordered to General Franklin
, without waiting for all of its forces to join.
This is the only order of the records that indicates unusual action on the part of the Union
commander, and General Franklin
's evidence before the Committee
on the Conduct
of the War
shows that his orders of the 13th were so modified on the 14th as to direct his wait for Couch
's division to join him, and the division joined him after nightfall.
The divisions of the Ninth Corps reached Middletown
on the 13th, under the orders of the 12th, issued before the lost despatch was found, one of them supporting Pleasonton
's cavalry; but Rodman
's, under misconception of orders, marched back towards Frederick
range, standing between the armies, courses across Maryland
northeast and southwest.
Its average height is one thousand feet; its rugged passes give it strong military features.
The pass at Turner
drops off about four hundred feet. About a mile south of this the old Sharpsburg road crosses at a greater elevation through rugged windings; a fork of this road, on the mountain-side, makes a second way over below Fox's Pass, while another turns to the right and leads back into the turnpike at the summit, or Mountain House
On the north side of the turnpike a road leads off to the right, called the old Hagerstown road, which winds its course through a valley between a spur and the mountain, and courses back to the turnpike along the top. A more rugged route than this opens a way to the mountain-top by a route nearer the pike.
, not advised of the lost despatch, did not push for a careful reconnoissance on the 13th.
At the same time, General Stuart
, forced back into the mountains, finding his cavalry unserviceable, advised General D. H. Hill
of severe pressure, called for a brigade of infantry, ordered Hampton
's cavalry down to Crampton's Pass to assist Robertson
's brigade, Colonel Munford
commanding, leaving the Jeff Davis Legion
, under Colonel Martin
, Colonel Rosser
with another cavalry detachment, and Stuart's horse artillery to occupy the passes by the old Sharpsburg road. Colquitt
's brigade of
infantry reported to him under his call.
After posting it near the east base of the mountain to hold the pass, he rode to join his other cavalry detachments down at Crampton's Pass.
He only knew of two brigades of infantry pressing him back, and so reported.
His cavalry, ordered around the Union
right under General Fitzhugh Lee
, for information of the force in his front, had failed to make report.
ordered two brigades, Garland
's and Colquitt
's, into the pass to report to Stuart
, and drew his other three near the foot of the mountain.
's brigade filed to the right after ascending the mountain, and halted near the turnpike.
's brigade took its position across the turnpike and down towards the base of the mountain, Lane
's batteries at the summit.
It seems that up to the night of the 13th most of the Confederates
were looking with confidence to the surrender at Harper's Ferry
on the 13th, to be promptly followed by a move farther west, not thinking it possible that a great struggle at and along the range of South Mountain
was impending; that even on the 14th our cavalry leader thought to continue his retrograde that day. General Hill
's attention was given more to his instructions to prevent the escape of fugitives from Harper's Ferry
than to trouble along his front, as the instructions covered more especially that duty, while information from the cavalry gave no indication of serious trouble from the front.
A little after dark of the 13th, General Lee
received, through a scout, information of the advance of the Union
forces to the foot of South Mountain
in solid ranks.
Later information confirmed this report, giving the estimated strength at ninety thousand. General Lee
still held to the thought that he had ample time.
He sent for me, and I found him over his map. He told of the reports, and asked my views.
I thought it too late to march on the 14th and properly man the pass at Turner
's, and expressed preference for concentrating D. H. Hill
my own force behind the Antietam
, where we could get together in season to make a strong defensive fight, and at the same time check McClellan
's march towards Harper's Ferry
, in case he thought to relieve the beleaguered garrison by that route, forcing him to first remove the obstacle on his flank.
He preferred to make the stand at Turner's Pass, and ordered the troops to march next morning, ordering a brigade left at Hagerstown
to guard the trains.
No warning was sent McLaws
to prepare to defend his rear, either by the commanding general
or by the chief of cavalry
The hallucination that McClellan
was not capable of serious work seemed to pervade our army, even to this moment of dreadful threatening.
After retiring to my couch, reflecting upon affairs, my mind was so disturbed that I could not rest.
As I studied, the perils seemed to grow, till at last I made a light and wrote to tell General Lee
of my troubled thoughts, and appealed again for immediate concentration at Sharpsburg
To this no answer came, but it relieved my mind and gave me some rest.
At daylight in the morning the column marched (eight brigades with the artillery), leaving Toombs
A regiment of G. T. Anderson
's that had been on guard all night was not relieved in time to join the march, and remained with Toombs
The day was hot and the roads dry and beaten into impalpable powder, that rose in clouds of dust from under our feet as we marched.
Before sunrise of the 14th, General Hill
rode to the top of the mountain to view the front to which his brigade had been called the day before.
As he rode he received a message from General Stuart
, informing him that he had sent his main cavalry force to Crampton's Pass, and was then en route
to join it. He found Garland
's brigade at the summit, near the Mountain House
, on the right of the road, and Colquitt
's well advanced down the
He withdrew the latter to the summit, and posted two regiments on the north side of the pike behind stone walls, the others on the south side under cover of a woodland.
Upon learning of the approaches to his position, he ordered the brigade under G. B. Anderson
and one of Ripley
's regiments up, leaving Rodes
's brigade and the balance of Ripley
's to watch for refugees from Harper's Ferry
While he was withdrawing and posting Colquitt
's brigade, General Pleasonton
was marching by the road three-fourths of a mile south, feeling his way towards Fox's Gap, with the brigade of infantry under Colonel Scammon
Co-operating with this advance, Pleasonton
used his cavalry along the turnpike.
His batteries were put in action near the foot of the mountain, except one section of McMullen
's under Lieutenant Crome
, which advanced with the infantry.
The battle was thus opened by General Pleasonton
and General Cox
without orders, and without information of the lost despatch.
The latter had the foresight to support this move with his brigade under Colonel Crook
Batteries of twenty-pound Parrott guns were posted near the foot of the mountain in fine position to open upon the Confederates
at the summit.
After posting Colquitt
's brigade, General Hill
rode off to his right to examine the approach to Fox's Gap, near the point held by Rosser
's cavalry and horse artillery.
As he passed near the gap he heard noise of troops working their way towards him, and soon artillery opened fire across the gap over his head.
He hurried back and sent Garland
's brigade, with Bondurant
's battery, to meet the approaching enemy.
made connection with Rosser
's detachment and engaged in severe skirmish, arresting the progress of Scammon
's brigade till the coming of Crook
's, when Cox
gave new force to his fight, and after a severe contest, in which Garland
fell, the division advanced in a gallant charge, which broke the ranks of the
brigade, discomfited by the loss of its gallant leader, part of it breaking in confusion down the mountain, the left withdrawing towards the turnpike.
G. B. Anderson
's brigade was in time to check this success and hold for reinforcements.
's brigade, called up later, came, but passed to the right and beyond the fight.
had posted two batteries on the summit north of the turnpike, which had a destructive cross fire on Cox
as he made his fight, and part of Colquitt
's right regiments were put in, in aid of G. B. Anderson
's men. About two P. M., General Cox
was reinforced by the division under General Wilcox
, and a little after three o'clock by Sturgis
's division, the corps commander, General Reno
, taking command with his last division under Rodman
's division came into the fight, the head of my column reached the top of the pass, where the brigades of G. T. Anderson
, under General D. R. Jones
, filed to the right to meet the battle, and soon after General Hood
with two brigades.
The last reinforcement braced the Confederate
fight to a successful stand, and held it till after night in hot contest, in which many brave soldiers and valuable officers were lost on both sides.
The fight was between eight brigades on the Union
side, with a detachment of cavalry and superior artillery attachments, against two of D. H. Hill
's and four of my brigades, with Rosser
's detachment of cavalry and artillery.
's brigade of Hill
's division marched for the fight, but lost its direction and failed to engage.
The Confederate batteries made handsome combat, but were of inferior metal and munitions.
Numerically, the Union brigades were stronger than the Confederates
, mine having lost more than half its numbers by the wayside, from exhaustion under its forced march.
It seems that several brigades failed to connect closely with the action.
's, on the Confederate
side, General Hill
said, “didn't pull a trigger.”
G. T. Anderson
claimed that some of his
skirmishers pulled a few triggers, while Harland
's Union brigade of Rodman
's division seems to have had little use for its guns.
brought a section of McMullen
's battery up in close connection with Cox
's advance, put it in, and held it in gallant action till his gunners were reduced to the minimum of working force, when he took the place of cannoneer and fought till mortally wounded.
On the Union
side the officers had their time to organize and place their battle, and showed skill in their work.
The Confederates had to meet the battle, as it was called, after its opening, on Rosser
The lamented Garland
, equal to any emergency, was quick enough to get his fine brigade in, and made excellent battle, till his men, discouraged by the loss of their chief, were overcome by the gallant assault under Cox
. General Reno
, on the Union
side, an officer of high character and attainments, was killed about seven o'clock P. M. Among the Union
wounded was Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes
, afterwards President
of the United States
The pass by the lower trail, old Sharpsburg road, was opened by this fight, but the Confederates
standing so close upon it made it necessary that they should be dislodged before it could be utilized.
The First Corps marched from the Monocacy
at daylight and approached the mountain at one P. M. General Hooker
had three divisions, under Generals Hatch
, and Meade
. General Hatch
had four brigades, Generals Ricketts
three each, with full artillery appointments.
At two o'clock, General Hooker
was ordered north of the turnpike to make a diversion in favor of the troops operating on the south side under General Reno
's division was marched, followed by Hatch
's and Ricketts
's on the right, Hatch
's left, Ricketts
's division was deployed along the foot-hills.
A cavalry regiment under
, First Massachusetts, was sent to the far right in observation.
's advance was followed by Hatch
's only available force to meet this formidable move was his brigade under General Rodes
He ordered Rodes
to his left to a prominent position about a mile off which commanded that part of the field.
's battalion of artillery had been posted on the left of the turnpike, to cover by its fire the route just assigned for Hooker
The weight of the attack fell upon Rodes
's brigade, and was handsomely received.
's brigade, fortunately, came up, and was sent to General Hill
, who ordered it out to connect with Rodes
Before making close connection it became engaged, and operated near Rodes
's right, connecting with his fight and dropping back as the troops on his left were gradually forced from point to point.
As the brigades under Generals Kemper
, and Colonel Walker
's brigade) approached the mountain, a report reached general Headquarters that the enemy was forcing his way down the mountain by the old Sharpsburg road. To meet this General Lee
ordered those brigades to the right, and they marched a mile and more down a rugged way along the base of the mountain before the report was found to be erroneous, when the brigades were ordered back to make their way to the pike and to the top of the mountain in double time.
had five regiments, one of which he left to partially cover the wide opening between his position and the turnpike.
In view of the great force approaching to attack him his fight seemed almost hopeless, but he handled his troops with skill, and delayed the enemy, with the little help that finally came, till night, breaking from time to time as he was forced nearer our centre at the turnpike.
's brigade had been called from Hooker
and was ordered up the mountain by the direct route as the corps engaged in its fight farther off on the right.
A spur of the mountain trends towards the east, opening a valley between it and the mountain.
Through this valley and over the rising ground Meade
's division advanced and made successful attack as he encountered the Confederates
's battery marched, and assisted in the several attacks as they were pushed up the mountain slope.
The ground was very rough, and the Confederates
worked hard to make it too rough, but the divisions, with their strong lines of skirmishers, made progress.
made an effort to turn the right of the advancing divisions, but Hooker
put out a brigade from Hatch
's division, which pushed off the feeble effort, and Rodes
lost his first position.
It was near night when the brigades under Generals Kemper
and Colonel Walker
returned from their march down the foot of the mountain and reached the top. They were put in as they arrived to try to cover the right of Rodes
and fill the intervening space to the turnpike.
As they marched, the men dropped along the road, as rapidly as if under severe skirmish.
So manifest was it that nature was exhausted, that no one urged them to get up and try to keep their ranks.
As the brigades were led to places along the line, the divisions of Hatch
were advancing; the former, in range, caught the brigades under fire before their lines were formed.
At the same time Meade
's division was forcing Rodes
from their positions, back towards the turnpike.
claimed fifteen hundred prisoners taken by his troops, and that our loss in killed and wounded was greater than his own, which was fifteen hundred.
He estimated the forces as about equal, thirty thousand each.
General D. H. Hill
does not admit that the Confederates
had more than nine thousand.
Several efforts have been made to correctly report the numerical strength of my column, some erroneously including the brigades detached with R. H. Anderson
's, and others the brigade of General Toombs
and the regiment of G. T. Anderson
's brigade, that were left at Hagerstown
concedes reluctantly that four thousand of my men came to his support in detachments, but does not know how to estimate the loss.
Considering the severe forced march, the five brigades that made direct ascent of the mountain were in good order.
The three that marched south of the turnpike, along a narrow mountain trail part of the way, through woodlands and over boulders, returning, then up the mountain, the last march at double time, were thinned to skeletons of three or four hundred men to a brigade when they reached the Mountain House
That they succeeded in covering enough of the position to conceal our retreat after night is sufficient encomium of their valorous spirit.