The battle of South Mountain, or Boonsboro‘
Fighting for time at Turner's and Fox's gaps.
by Daniel H. Hill, Lieutenant-General, C. S. A.
The conflict of the 14th of September, 1862, is called at the North
the battle of South Mountain
, and at the South
the battle of Boonsboro
‘. So many battle-fields of the Civil War
bear double names that we cannot believe the duplication has been accidental.
It is the unusual which impresses.
The troops of the North
came mainly from cities, towns, and villages, and were, therefore, impressed by some natural object near the scene of the conflict and named the battle from it. The soldiers from the South
were chiefly from the country and were, therefore, impressed by some artificial object near the field of action.
In one section the naming has been after the handiwork of God; in the other section it has been after the handiwork of man. Thus, the first passage of arms is called the battle of Bull Run
at the North
,--the name of a little stream.
At the South
it takes the name of Manassas
, from a railroad station.
The second battle on the same ground is called the Second Bull Run
by the North
, and the Second Manassas
by the South
's defeat is the battle of Ball's Bluff with the Federals
, and the battle of Leesburg
with the Confederates
The battle called by General Grant
, Pittsburg Landing
, a natural object, was named Shiloh
, after a church, by his antagonist.
called his first great fight with Bragg
, the battle of Stone River
, while Bragg
named it after Murfreesboro
‘, a village.
's battle of the Chickahominy
a little river, was with Lee
the battle of Cold Harbor
, a tavern.
The Federals speak of the battle of Pea Ridge
, of the Ozark
range of mountains, and the Confederates
call it after Elk Horn
, a country inn. The Union soldiers called the bloody battle three days after South Mountain
from the little stream, Antietam
, and the Southern
troops named it after the village of Sharpsburg
Many instances might be given of this double naming by the opposing forces.
According to the same law of the unusual, the war-songs of a people have generally been written by non-combatants.
The bards who followed the banners of the feudal lords, sang of their exploits, and stimulated them and their retainers to deeds of high emprise, wore no armor and carried no swords.
So, too, the impassioned orators, who roused our ancestors in 1776 with the thrilling cry, “Liberty or death,” never once put themselves in the way of a death by lead or steel, by musket-ball or bayonet stab.
The noisy speakers of 1861, who fired the Northern
heart and who fired the Southern
heart, never did any other kind of firing.2
The battle of South Mountain
was one of extraordinary illusions and delusions.
The Federals were under the self-imposed illusion that there was a
very large force opposed to them, whereas there was only one weak division until late in the afternoon.
They might have brushed it aside almost without halting, but for this illusion.
It was a battle of delusions also, for, by moving about from point to point and meeting the foe wherever he presented himself, the Confederates
deluded the Federals
into the belief that the whole mountain was swarming with rebels.
I will endeavor to explain the singular features of the battle and what caused them.
In the retirement of Lee
's army from Frederick
‘, my division constituted the rear-guard.
It consisted of five brigades (Wise
's brigade being left behind), and after the arrival at Boonsboro
' was intrusted with guarding the wagon trains and parks of artillery belonging to the whole army.
's corps went to Hagerstown
, thirteen miles from.
‘, and I was directed to distribute my five brigades so as not only to protect the wagons and guns, but also to watch all the roads leading from Harper's Ferry
, in order to intercept the Federal
forces that might make their escape before Jackson
had completed the investment of that place.
It required a considerable separation of my small command to accomplish these two objects, and my tent, which was pitched about the center of the five brigades, was not less than three miles from Turner's Gap on the National
road crossing South Mountain
During the forenoon of the 13th General Stuart
, who was in an advance position at the gap in the Catoctin Mountain
, east of Middletown
, with our cavalry, sent a dispatch to me saying that he was followed by two brigades of Federal infantry, and asking me to send him a brigade to check the pursuit at South Mountain
I sent him the brigades of Colquitt
, and the batteries of Bondurant
, with four guns each.
's Federal cavalry division came up to the mountain and pressed on till our infantry forces were displayed, when it returned without fighting.
The Confederates, with more than half of Lee
's army at Harper's Ferry
, distant a march of two days, and with the remainder divided into two parts, thirteen miles from each other, were in good condition to be beaten in detail, scattered and captured.
writes to me that he urged General Lee
in the evening of the 13th to unite at Sharpsburg
the troops which were then at Hagerstown
‘. He said that he could effect more with one-third of his own corps, fresh and rested, than with the whole of it, when exhausted by a forced march to join their comrades.
That night, finding that he could not rest, General Longstreet
rose and wrote to his commander, presenting his views once more, favoring the abandonment of the defense of the mountain except by Stuart
and the concentration at Sharpsburg
I received a note about midnight of the 13th from General Lee
saying that he was not satisfied with the condition of things on the turnpike or National road, and directing me to go in person to Turner's Gap the next morning and assist Stuart
in its defense.
In his official report General Lee
Learning that Harper's Ferry had not surrendered and that the enemy was advancing more rapidly than was convenient from Fredericktown, I determined to return with Longstreet's command
to the Blue Ridge to strengthen D. H. Hill's and Stuart's divisions engaged in holding the passes of the mountains, lest the enemy should fall upon McLaws's rear, drive him from the Maryland Heights, and thus relieve the garrison at Harper's Ferry.
This report and the note to me show that General Lee
expected General Stuart
to remain and help defend the pass on the 14th.
But on reaching the Mountain House
between daylight and sunrise that morning, I received a message from Stuart
that he had gone to Crampton's Gap.
[See map, p. 593.] He was too gallant a soldier to
Rations from the stalk.|
leave his post when a battle was imminent, and doubtless he believed that there was but a small Federal force on the National
I found Garland
's brigade at the Mountain House
and learned that Colquitt
's was at the foot of the mountain on the east side.
I found General Colquitt
there without vedettes and without information of the Federals
, but believing that they had retired.
's Federal division was at that very time marching up the old Sharpsburg
's road, a mile to the south, seizing the heights on our right and establishing those heavy batteries which afterward commanded the pike and all the approaches to it. General Pleasonton
, of the Federal
cavalry, had learned the ground by the reconnoissance of the day before, and to him was intrusted the posting of the advance troops of Reno
's corps on the south side of the pike.
I directed Scammon's brigade to move up the mountain on the left-hand road, gain the crest, and then move to the right, to the turnpike in the enemy's rear.
At the same time I placed Gibson's battery and the heavy batteries in position to the left, covering the road on that side and obtaining a direct fire on the enemy's position in the gap.
This shows that Pleasonton
knew that the Confederate forces were at the foot of the mountain.
However, I brought Colquitt
's brigade back to a point
near the summit and placed the 23d and 28th Georgia regiments on the north side of the pike behind a stone-wall, which afforded an excellent fire upon the pike.
The other three regiments, the 6th and 27th Georgia and the 13th Alabama, were posted on the south side of the pike, a little in advance of the wall and well protected by a dense wood.
This brigade did not lose an inch of ground that day. The skirmishers were driven in, but the line of battle on both sides of the road was the same at 10 o'clock at night as it was at 9 o'clock in the morning.
After posting Colquitt
's brigade I went with Major Ratchford
of my staff on a reconnoissance to our right.
About three-fourths of a mile from the Mountain House
we discovered by the voices of command and the rumbling of wheels, that the old road and heights above it were occupied, and took it for granted that the occupation was by Federal troops.
We did not see them, and I suppose we were not seen by them.
Colonel T. L. Rosser
of the cavalry had been sent that morning with his regiment and Pelham
's artillery, by order of General Stuart
, to seize Fox's Gap on the Braddock
had got to the heights first and confronted Rosser
with a portion of his command, while the remainder of it could be plainly seen at the foot of the mountain.
writes to me that he reported the situation of things to Stuart
, who was passing by on the east side of the mountain on his way south.
, was not directed to report to me, and I did not suspect his presence.
I do not know to this hour whether Ratchford
and myself came near stumbling upon him or upon the enemy.
Returning through the woods we came upon a cabin, the owner of which was in the yard, surrounded by his children, and evidently expectant of something.
The morning being cool, Ratchford
was wearing a blue cloak which he had found at Seven Pines
In questioning the mountaineer about the roads I discovered that he thought we were Federals.
“ The road on which your
battery is,” said he, “comes into the valley road near the church.”
This satisfied me that the enemy was on our right, and I asked him: “Are there any rebels on the pike?”
“Yes; there are some about the Mountain House
I asked: “Are there many?
9” Well, there are several;
I don't know how many.
“” Who is in command?
“I don't know.”
Just then a shell came hurtling through the woods, and a little girl began crying.
Having a little one at home of about the same age, I could not forbear stopping a moment to say a few soothing words to the frightened child, before hurrying off to the work of death.
The firing had aroused that prompt and gallant soldier, General Garland
, and his men were under arms when I reached the pike.
I explained the situation briefly to him, directed him to sweep through the woods, reach the road, and hold it at all hazards, as the safety of Lee
's large train depended upon its being held.
He went off in high spirits and I never saw him again.
I never knew a truer, better, braver man. Had he lived, his talents, pluck, energy, and purity of character must have put him in the front rank of his profession, whether in civil or military life.
After passing through the first belt of woods Garland
, and, conferring with him, determined to make his stand close to the junction
of the roads, near the summit of the mountain (Fox's Gap). He had with him five regiments of infantry and Bondurant
's battery of artillery — his infantry force being a little less than one thousand men, all North Carolinians.
The 5th regiment was placed on the right of the road, with the 12th as its support; the 23d was posted behind a low stone-wall on the left of the 5th; then came the 20th and 13th.
From the nature of the ground and the duty to be performed, the regiments were not in contact with each other, and the 13th was 250 yards to the left of the 20th. Fifty skirmishers of the 5th North Carolina soon encountered the 23d Ohio, deployed as skirmishers under Lieutenant-Colonel R. B. Hayes
, afterward President
of the United States
, and the action began at 9 A. M. between Cox
's division and Garland
I will delay an account of the fight to give the strength of the forces engaged.4
The Ninth Corps (Reno
's) consisted of four divisions under Cox
, and Rodman
; or eight brigades — Scammon
); and Fair-child and Harland
). It had 29 regiments of infantry, 3 companies of cavalry, and 8 batteries of artillery, 3 of them United States batteries of regulars under Benjamin
, and Muhlenberg
, who fought Garland
, had six Ohio
regiments under Brigadiers Scammon
, and also the batteries of McMullin
, and three companies of cavalry.
The heavy batteries in position (20-pounder Parrotts) were of service to him also, in commanding the approaches to the scene of the conflict.
The strength of the division is not given directly, but Scammon
estimates his effectives at 1455.
The other brigade was most likely equally strong, and I conclude that Cox
's infantry, artillery, and cavalry reached three thousand.6 Garland
's brigade is estimated at “scarce a thousand.”
's brigade led the attack with great spirit.
The 13th North Carolina, under Lieutenant-Colonel Ruffin
, and the 20th, under Colonel Alfred Iverson
, were furiously assailed on the left.
Both regiments were under tried and true soldiers, and they received the assault calmly.
, of McMullin
's battery, ran up a section of artillery by hand, and opened with effect upon the 20th North Carolina; but the skirmishers under Captain Atwell
of that regiment killed the gallant officer while he was himself serving as a gunner.
The section was abandoned, but the Confederates
were unable to capture it. The effort seemed to be to turn the 13th; and Colonel Ruffin
in vain urged General Garland
to go to the other part of his line.
But with Garland
the post of danger was the post of honor.
, in a recent letter to me, thus speaks of the fall of the hero:
I said to him: “ General, why do you stay here?
you are in great danger.”
To which he replied: “ I may as well be here as yourself.”
I said: “No, it is my duty to be here with my regiment, but you could better superintend your brigade from a safer position.”
Just then I was shot in the hip, and as there was no field-officer then with the regiment, other than myself, I told him of my wound, and that it might disable me, and in that case I wished a field-officer to take my place.
He turned and gave some order, which I have forgotten.
In a moment I heard a groan, and looked and found him mortally wounded and writhing in pain.
We continued to occupy this position for some time, when I sent my adjutant to the right to see what was going on (as the furious fighting had ceased in that direction). He returned and reported that the remainder of the brigade was gone and that the ground was occupied by the enemy.
I then attempted to go to the left, hoping to come in contact with some portion of your command, but was again confronted by the enemy.
I next tried to retreat to the rear, but to, my dismay found myself entirely surrounded.
The enemy in front was pressing us, and I saw but one way out, and that was to charge those in my front, repel them, if possible, and then, before they could recover, make a dash at those in my rear and cut my way out. This plan was successfully executed.
I shall never forget the feelings of relief which I experienced when I first caught sight of you. You rode up to me, and, shaking my hand, said that you had given us up for lost and did not see how it was possible for us to have escaped.
You then attached us to G. B. Anderson's brigade, which had come up in the meantime. . . . I remember one remark which you made just after congratulating me upon cutting my way out that surprised me very much.
You said that you were greatly gratified to find that McClellan's whole army was in your front.
As I knew how small your force was, I could not understand how it could be a source of pleasure to you to find yourself assailed by twenty times your number.
In a moment you made it plain to me by saying that you had feared at first that McClellan's attack upon you was but a feint, and that with his main army he would cross the mountain at some of the lower gaps and would thus cut in between Jackson's corps and the forces under Lee.
A little before this I had seen from the lookout station near the Mountain House
the vast army of McClellan
spread out before me. The marching columns extended back far as eye could see in the distance; but many of the troops had already arrived and were in double lines of battle, and those advancing were taking up positions as fast as they arrived.
It was a grand and glorious spectacle, and it was impossible to look at it without admiration.
I had never seen so tremendous an army before, and I did not see one like it afterward.
For though we confronted greater forces at Yorktown
, and about Richmond
, these were only partly seen, at most a corps at a time.
But here four corps were in full view, one of which was on the mountain and almost within rifle-range.
sight inspired more satisfaction than discomfort; for though I knew that my little force could be brushed away as readily as the strong man can brush to one side the wasp or the hornet, I felt that General McClellan
had made a mistake, and I hoped to be able to delay him until General Longstreet
could come up and our trains could be extricated from their perilous position.
When two distinct roars of artillery were heard south of us that morning, I thought that the nearer one indicated that McClellan
was forcing his way across some gap north of Harper's Ferry
with a view of cutting Lee
's army in two.
I suppose that Stuart
believed that this would be the movement of the enemy, and for this reason abandoned Turner's Gap and hastened to what he believed to be the point of danger.
was too cautious a man for so daring a venture.7
Had he made it, Jackson
could have escaped across the Potomac
, but the force under Lee
in person (Longstreet
's corps and my division) must have been caught.
My division was very small and was embarrassed with the wagon trains and artillery of the whole army, save such as Jackson
had taken with him. It must be remembered that the army now before McClellan
had been constantly marching and fighting since the 25th of June.
It had fought McClellan
's army from Richmond
to the James
, and then had turned about and fought Pope
's army, reenforced by parts of McClellan
's, from the Rapidan
to the Potomac
The order excusing barefooted men from marching into Maryland
had sent thousands to the rear.
Divisions had become smaller than brigades were when the fighting first began; brigades had become smaller than regiments, and regiments had become smaller than companies.8 Dabney
, a careful statistician, in his “Life of Jackson
,” estimates Lee
's forces at Sharpsburg
) at 33,000 men, including the three arms of service.9
Three of Longstreet
's twelve brigades had gone to Harper's Ferry
) puts the strength of his nine brigades at Hagerstown
on the morning of the 14th of September at thirteen thousand men. Accepting the correctness of his estimate for the present (though I expect to prove it to be too large), I find that Lee
had under his immediate command that morning but eighteen thousand men.
gives his force at Sharpsburg
Had he made the movement which Stuart
and myself thought he was making, it was hardly possible for the little force under Lee
in person to have escaped, encumbered as it was with wagon trains and reserve artillery.
Forming his infantry into a solid column of attack, Lee
might have cut a way through the five-fold force of his antagonist, but all the trains must have been lost,--an irreparable loss to the South
Frederick the Great
's campaign against the allies
shows what he would have done had he been in command of the Federal
But the American
soldier preferred to do sure work rather than brilliant work, his natural caution being increased by the carping criticisms of his enemies.
Upon the fall of Garland
, Colonel McRae
, of the 5th North Carolina regiment, assumed command, and ordered the two regiments on the left to close in to the right.
This order either was not received or it was found to be impossible of execution.
The main attack was on the 23d North Carolina behind the stone-wall.
The Federals had a plunging fire upon this regiment from the crest of a hill, higher than the wall, and only about fifty yards from it. The 12th North Carolina, a badly trained regiment, on that day under the command of a young captain, deserted the field.10
The 12th Ohio, actuated by a different impulse, made a charge upon Bondurant
's battery and drove it off, failing, however, to capture it. The 30th Ohio advanced directly upon the stone-wall in their front, while a regiment moved upon the 23d North Carolina on each flank.
Some of the 30th Ohio forced through a break in the wall, and bayonets and clubbed muskets were used freely for a few moments.
's brigade, demoralized by his death and by the furious assault on its center, now broke in confusion and retreated behind the mountain, leaving some two hundred prisoners of the 5th, 23d, and 20th North Carolina in the hands of the enemy.
The brigade was too roughly handled to be of any further use that day. Rosser
retired in better order, not, however, without having some of his men captured, and took up a position from which he could still fire upon the old road, and which he held until 10 o'clock that night.
, having beaten the force in his front, now showed a disposition to carry out General Pleasonton
's instructions, and advance to the Mountain House
by the road running south from it on the summit of the mountain.
There was nothing to oppose him. My other three brigades had not come up ; Colquitt
's could not be taken from the pike except in the last extremity.
So two guns were run down from the Mountain House
and opened a brisk fire on the advancing foe. A line of dismounted staff-officers, couriers, teamsters, and cooks was formed behind the guns to give the appearance of battery supports.
I do not remember ever to have experienced a feeling of greater loneliness.
It seemed as though we were deserted by “all the world and the rest of mankind.”
Some of the advancing Federals encountered Colquitt
's skirmishers under Captain Arnold
, and fell back to their former positions.
seems not to have suspected that the defeat of Garland
had cleared his front of every foe. He says in his report: “The enemy withdrew
their battery to a new position on a ridge more to the front and right, forming their infantry in support and moving columns toward both our flanks.”
It was more than half an hour after the utter rout and dispersion of Garland
's brigade when G. B. Anderson
arrived at the head of his small but fine body of men.11
He made an effort to recover the ground lost by Garland
, but failed and met a serious repulse.
says of this attack: “The enemy made several attempts to retake the crest, advancing with great obstinacy and boldness.”
Under the strange illusion that there was a large Confederate force on the mountain, the Federals
withdrew to their first position in the morning to await the arrival of the other three divisions of Reno
's arrived about noon, and Sturgis
's and Rodman
's between 3 and 4 o'clock, but there was no advance until 5 P. M. The falling back of Cox
's division is alluded to by Colonel Ewing
's brigade and by Major Lyman J. Jackson
The former says: “We fell back to the original position until the general advance at 5 P. M.” Major Jackson
, after speaking of fighting the enemy behind a stone-wall with the cooperation of two other regiments, adds: I “We then fell back to the hillside in the open fields, where we were out of reach of their guns, and remained here with the rest of our brigade
until an advance was made against the enemy by the Pennsylvania
and Rhode Island
troops on our right.”
After the arrival of his whole corps General Reno
arranged his line of battle as follows: Cox
's division on the left, resting on the batteries already in position; Willcox
's on the right, supported by the division of Sturgis
's. division was divided; Fairchild
's brigade was sent to the extreme left to support the batteries, and Harland
's was placed on the extreme right.
In the meantime Rodes
, of my division, reported to me for orders.
was sent with his brigade of twelve hundred men to a commanding knoll north of the pike or National road. Ripley
was directed to attach himself to G. B. Anderson
, being thus strengthened, and finding there was no enemy in his immediate front, sent out the 2d and 4th North Carolina regiments of his brigade on a reconnoissance to the front, right, and rear.
Captain E. A. Osborne
, commanding the skirmishers of the 4th North Carolina, discovered a brigade in an old field south of Foxes Gap, facing toward the turnpike and supporting a battery with its guns turned in the same direction.
hastened back to Colonel Grimes
, commanding the regiment, and told him that they could deliver a flank fire upon the brigade before it could change its position to meet them.
But a Federal
Map of the positions at Fox's and Turner's gaps.
The fights of September 14th were so distinct as to time and place, and the positions of the troops were so often changed, that any single map would be misleading without analysis: (1) The early morning fight was mostly on the south side of Fox's Gap, between Cox's-two Union brigades and Garland's brigade, the latter being assisted on its left by a part of Colquitt's brigade which was at Turner's Gap.
By 10 o'clock Garland had been killed and his brigade routed. (2) Then Cox encountered G. B. Anderson's arriving brigade, repulsed it, and fell back to his position in the morning. (3) G. B. Anderson was then posted at Fox's Gap on both sides of the old Sharpsburg road. D. H. Hill's two other brigades came up toward noon, Ripley being joined to G. B. Anderson, and Rodes being sent to occupy a hill on the north side of Turner's Gap, near where Garnett is placed on the map. (4) About 2 o'clock, on the Union side, Cox's division was reenforced by the arriving divisions of Willcox, Sturgis, and Rodman; and Hooker's corps of three divisions was moving north of the National road by way of Mount Tabor Church (Hooker's headquarters) to flank the Confederate left.
About the same time D. H. Hill's brigades at Fox's Gap were reenforced by Longstreet's brigades of G. T. Anderson, Drayton, Law, and Hood; and north of Turner's Gap three of Rodes's four regiments were sent still farther to the left.
The defense was afterward strengthened by the posting of Longstreet's brigades of Garnett and Kemper, supported by Jenkins, on the hill first held by Rodes.
Evans's brigade arrived later, and was of assistance to Bodes when the latter had been thrown back by Meade's flank movement. (5) The last severe engagements began at both gaps after 3 o'clock and lasted until after dark.
Colquitt and Gibbon, in the center, joined desperately in the battle.--Editors. |
scout had seen the captain, and the brigade was the first to open fire.
The fight was, of course, brief, the regiment beating a hasty retreat.
The brigade halted at the edge of the woods, probably believing that there was a concealed foe somewhere in the depths of the forest.
This Federal brigade was, possibly, Benjamin C. Christ
's of Willcox
's division — the same which had made the successful flank movement in the previous fight.12
About 3:30 P. M. the advance of Longstreet
's command arrived and reported to me--one brigade under Colonel G. T. Anderson
and one under General Drayton
They were attached to Ripley
's left, and a forward movement was ordered.
In half an hour or more I received a note from Ripley
saying that he was progressing finely; so he was, to the rear of the mountain on the west side.
Before he returned the fighting was over, and his brigade did not fire a shot that day.13
The Federal commander intrusted to General Burnside
the management of the fight, but under his own eyes; Burnside
ordered a general advance on both sides of the pike.
The First Corps, under Hooker
, was to attack on the north side of the National
road, while the Ninth Corps, under Reno
, was to move forward, as before, on the south side.
's corps consisted of 3 divisions, 10 brigades, or 42 regiments, with 10 batteries of artillery and a battalion of cavalry.
, a division commander, had under him the brigades of Seymour
, and Gallagher
, containing 13 regiments with 4 batteries attached.
, division commander, had under him the brigades of Doubleday
, and Gibbon
--17 regiments and 4 batteries.
, division commander, had under him the brigades of Duryea
, and Hartsuff
--12 regiments and 2 batteries.
From the nature of the ground, none of the artillery of Hooker
's corps could be used, except that which went directly up the pike with Gibbon
's brigade and one battery (Cooper
's) on the enemy's right.
The hour for the general advance is not specified in the reports.
Some of the Federal
officers, as we have seen, speak of the general advance at 5 P. M. General Sturgis
says that he became engaged on the south side of the pike at 3:30 P. M. General Meade
, on the north side, says that he moved toward the right at 2 P. M.,14
while General Ricketts
, who took part in the same movement, says that he did not arrive at the foot of the mountain until 5 P. M. If General Meade
was not mistaken as to the time of his starting, he must have been long delayed in the thick woods through which the first part of his march was made.
Here is probably the best place to explain the extraordinary caution of the Federals
, which seemed so mysterious to us on that 14th of September.
order of General Lee
, made while at Frederick
, directing Jackson
to capture Harper's Ferry
, and Longstreet
and myself to go to Boonsboro
‘, had fallen into the hands of the Federals
, and had been carried to General McClellan
This order (known at the South
as the Lost Dispatch
) was addressed to me, but I proved twenty years ago that it could not have been lost through my neglect or carelessness.15
The Federal commander gained two facts from the order, one of which was needless and the other misleading.
He learned that Jackson
had gone to Harper's Ferry
— a truth that he must have learned from his own scouts and spies and the roar of artillery in his own ears: the cannonading could be distinctly heard at Frederick
, and it told that some one
was beleaguering Harper's Ferry
The misleading report was that Longstreet
was at Boonsboro
The map of the battle-field of South Mountain
, prepared in 1872, ten years after the fight, by the United States
Bureau of Engineers, represents ten regiments and one battalion under Longstreet
at the foot of the mountain on the morning of the 14th of September, 1862.
was then an ordinary day's march from that point.
In fact, after the removal of Colquitt
's brigade, about 7 A. M., there was not a Southern soldier at the foot of the mountain until 3 P. M., when Captain Park
of the 12th Alabama Regiment was sent there with forty men. General McClellan
in his report says: “It is believed that the force opposed to us at Turner's Gap consisted of D. H. Hill
's corps (fifteen thousand) and a part if not the whole of Longstreet
's, and perhaps a portion of Jackson
's,--probably thirty thousand in all.” ( “Official Records
,” Volume XIX., Pt. I., p. 53.) The mistake of the Federal
commander in regard to General Longstreet
was natural, since he was misled by the Lost Dispatch
But it seems strange that the United States Engineers should repeat the blunder, with the light of history thrown for ten years upon all the incidents of the battle.
It was incomprehensible to us of the losing side that the men who charged us so boldly and repulsed our attacks so successfully should let slip the fruits of victory and fall back as though defeated.
The prisoners taken were from my division, but the victors seemed to think that Longstreet
's men lay hidden somewhere in the depths of those mysterious forests.
Thus it was that a thin line of men extending for miles along the crest of the mountain could afford protection for so many hours to Lee
's trains and artillery and could delay the Federal
advance until Longstreet
's command did come up, and, joining with mine, saved the two wings of the army from being cut in two.
But for the mistake about the position of our forces, McClellan
could have captured Lee
's trains and artillery and interposed between Jackson
before noon on that 14th of September.
The losing of the dispatch was the saving of Lee
's army .
About 4 P. M. I saw what appeared to be two Federal brigades emerge from the woods south of Colquitt
's position and form in an open field nearly at right angles to each other--one brigade facing toward the pike, and the other facing the general direction of the mountain.
This inverted V-like formation was similar to that of the 1st Mississippi Regiment at Buena Vista
If it was made anywhere else during the Civil War
, I never heard of it. The V afforded a fine target from the pike, and I directed Captain Lane
to open on it with his battery.
His firing was wild, not a shot hitting the mark.
The heavy batteries promptly replied, showing such excellent practice that Lane
's guns were soon silenced.
A small force in the edge of the woods on the west side of the old field opened fire upon the V. The Federals
changed their formation, and, advancing in line of battle, brushed away their assailants and plunged into the woods, when heavy firing began which lasted possibly half an hour.
I suppose that the Federal
force which I saw was the division of General Sturgis
and that he left behind Harland
's brigade of Rodman
's division to guard his flank in his advance, since Harland
reports that he had no casualties.
claims that he swept everything before him. So do his comrades who fought on his left.
On the other hand, General Hood
, who came up a short time before this advance, with the brigades of Wofford
and Law, claims that he checked and drove back the Federals
G. T. Anderson
reports that only his skirmishers were engaged.
The surviving officers under G. B. Anderson
(who was killed at Sharpsburg
, and left no report) say that the same thing was true of their brigade in the afternoon.
's brigade was not engaged at all. About dusk the 2d and 13th North Carolina Regiments attacked Fairchild
's brigade and the batteries protected by it on the extreme Federal left, and were repulsed disastrously.
say that the fight was continued until 10 o'clock at night.
was mistaken, then, in thinking that he had driven back the Federal
The opposing lines were close together at nightfall, and the firing between the skirmishers was kept up till a late hour.
Equally erroneous is the claim that any Confederates were driven except Drayton
's small brigade.
We held the crests of the mountain, on the National
road and the old Sharpsburg road, until Lee
's order for withdrawal was given.
, the Federal
corps commander on our right, was killed at 7 P. M., in Wise's field, where the fight began at 9 o'clock in the morning.
But on our left a commanding hill was lost before night.
Batteries placed upon it next morning, acting in concert with the heavy batteries placed on our right by General Pleasonton
before we were aware of his presen ce, would have made any position untenable on the pike or the crest of the mountain.
I made that statement to General Lee
about 9 P. M., when he consulted with Longstreet
and myself in regard to renewing the fight the next morning.
concurred in this view, remarking that I knew the ground and the situation better than he did.
's brigade, consisting of three Wisconsin
Fox's Gap — the approach to Wise's field.
This sketch and the one on the next page (from photographs made in 1885) may be regarded as parts of one picture.
The old Sharpsburg or Braddock road lies between the stone-wall and the rail fence.
The left distance shows the Middletown valley and the Catoctin range, from which Reno approached.--Editors. |
regiments and one Indiana
regiment, from Hatch
's division, and directed it to move directly up the pike with a section of artillery.
Then the divisions of Meade
were formed on the north side of the pike, with the division of Ricketts
in supporting distance in rear.
A belt of woods had to be passed through, and then it was open field all the way to the summit, and the two detached peaks were in full view upon which the devoted little band of Bodes
was posted — the 12th Alabama Regiment on one, and the 3d, 5th, 6th, and 26th Alabama regiments on the other.
Under the illusion that there were ten regiments and one battalion of Longstreet
's command in those woods, the progress through them was slow, but, when once cleared, the advance was steady and made almost with the precision of movement of a parade day. Captain Robert E. Park
, of Macon, Georgia
, who commanded the forty skirmishers in the woods, thinks that he delayed the Federal
advance for a long time.18
It is not more improbable that a few active skirmishers north of the pike should prove an obstacle to progress through the forest there, than that a
Fox's Gap — Wise's field as seen from the Pasture North of the road.
The stump in the middle of the field beyond the wall is near where Reno fell.
Part of the struggle was for the wooded crest on the left of the field.
The house is Wise's, at the crossing of the ridge and Old Sharpsburg roads. [See map, p. 568.] The Confederates here were posted behind a stone-wall.
The well at Wise's house was filled with the Confederate dead.--Editors. |
division on the south side should hesitate to penetrate a forest from which their foes had been completely driven.
The success of the Federals
on the north side was due to the fact that after getting through the belt of woods at the foot of the mountain, they saw exactly what was before them.
The lack of complete success south of the pike was owing to the thick woods on that side, which were supposed to be full of hidden enemies.
In the battle of South Mountain
the imaginary foes of the Lost Dispatch
were worth more to us than ten thousand men.
The advance of Hatch
's division in three lines, a brigade in each, was as grand and imposing as that of Meade
's general and field officers were on horseback, his colors were all flying, and the alignment of his men seemed to be perfectly preserved.
, looking at the steady and precise movement from the foot of the mountain, describes it as a beautiful sight.
From the top of the mountain the sight was grand and sublime, but the elements of the pretty and the picturesque did not enter into it. Doubtless the Hebrew poet whose idea of the awe-inspiring is expressed by
the phrase, “terrible as an army with banners,” had his view of the enemy from the top of a mountain.
There was not a single Confederate soldier to oppose the advance of General Hatch
I got some guns from the reserve artillery of Colonel Cutts
to fire at the three lines; but owing to the little practice of the gunners and to the large angles of depression, the cannonade was as harmless as blank-cartridge salutes in honor of a militia general.
While these ineffective missiles were flying, which the enemy did not honor by so much as a dodge, Longstreet
came up in person with three small brigades, and assumed direction of affairs.
He sent the brigade of Evans
under Colonel Stevens
to the aid of Rodes
's men, sorely pressed and well-nigh exhausted.
The brigade of Pickett
) and that of Kemper
were hurried forward to meet and cheek Hatch
, advancing, hitherto, without opposition.
had moved the brigade of Seymour
to the right to take Rodes
's position in reverse, while the brigades of Magilton
went straight to the front.
was one of our most dreaded foes; he was always in deadly earnest, and he eschewed all trifling.
He had under him brigade commanders, officers
, and soldiers worthy of his leadership.
In his onward sweep the peak upon which the 12th Alabama was posted was passed, the gallant Colonel Gayle
was killed, and his regiment was routed and dispersed.
The four other regiments of Rodes
made such heroic resistance that Meade
, believing his division about to be flanked, sent for and obtained Duryea
's brigade of Ricketts
It was pitiable to see the gallant but hopeless struggle of those Alabamians against such mighty odds.
claimed to have fought for three hours without support; but an over-estimate of time under such circumstances is usual and natural.
He lost 61 killed, 157 wounded, and 204 missing (captured), or more than one-third of his brigade.
His supports [Evans
's brigade] fought gallantly and saved him from being entirely surrounded, but they got on the ground too late to effect anything else.
's brigade under Stevens
had been wasted by two campaigns and was small when it left Hagerstown
that morning, and many had fallen out on the hot and dusty forced march.
Of the four regiments in the brigade, we find in Volume XIX.
of the “Official Records
” only the report of one, the 17th South Carolina regiment under Colonel McMaster
That says that 141 men entered the fight on South Mountain
, and of these 7 are reported killed, 37 wounded, and 17 missing (captured). Colonel McMaster
writes to me that his was the largest regiment in the brigade; so the brigade must have been about 550 strong.
says in his report that he lost 397 men, or ten per cent. of his division.
As he received the support of Duryea
before or about the time that Rodes
got the aid of Stevens
, he fough t Rodes
with the advantage all the while of three to one.
came up, as before described, the pressure was all at Fox's Gap.
He was sent in there and his brigade was uselessly employed by him in marching and counter-marching.
Had it been sent to strengthen Rodes
the key of the position might not have been lost.
But the vainest of all speculations and regrets are about “the might have been.”
encamped that night on the commanding eminence which he had won.
The strength of the two brigades sent to check General Hatch
did not exceed eight hundred men, as I will show presently.
They must have performed prodigies of valor, and their praises can best be spoken in the words of their enemies.
, commanding the leading Federal brigade, tells of a race between his men and a strong force of the enemy for the possession of a fence.
won the race and delivered his fire from the fence, picking off the cannoneers at some of our guns.
was wounded at this fence, and the command devolved on General Doubleday
The latter speaks of lying down behind the fence and allowing the enemy to charge up to within fifteen paces, whereupon he opened a deadly fire.
, who succeeded Doubleday
in command of his brigade, was also wounded here, and Colonel Hofmann
assumed command of it. Colonel Hofmann
tells us that the ammunition of the brigade was just giving out when Ricketts
Several of the reports speak of the “superior force of the enemy.”
says that “he relieved Doubleday
hard-pressed and nearly out of ammunition.”
came in person with Hartsuff
's brigade, he had sent Christian
's brigade to the assistance of Doubleday
The brigades of Kemper
(the latter under Garnett
) must have fought valiantly, else such results could not have been achieved.
's report contains this curious story: “I learned from a wounded prisoner that we were engaged with four to five thousand under the immediate command of General Pickett
, with heavy masses in their vicinity.
He stated also that Longstreet
in vain tried to rally the men, calling them his pets and using every effort to induce them to renew the attack.”
Of course, the old rebel knew that Pickett
was not there in person and that there were no heavy masses in the vicinity.
The astonishing thing is that General Doubleday
should believe that there were 4000 or 5000 men before him un der the immediate command of Pickett
's belief of the story is a tribute to the efficiency of the 800 men who fought a division of 3500 men (the number reported by Hatch
had been detached), and fought it so vigorously that two brigdes were sent to its assistance.
's brigade, under Walker
, came up at dusk, too late to be in the fight; but it went in on the right of Garnett
and took part in the irregular firing which was kept up till a late hour.
's report shows a loss of 3 killed and 29 wounded, which proves that he was but slightly engaged.
The tired men of both sides lay down at last to rest within a hundred yards of each other.
But now Gibbon
was putting in earnest work on the pike.
He had a choice brigade, strong in numbers and strong in the pluck of his men, all from the North-west, where habitually good fighters are reared.
He had pushed forward cautiously in the afternoon with the 7th Wisconsin regiment, followed by the 6th on the north side of the pike and the 19th Indiana, supported by the 2d Wisconsin, on the south side.
The ten imaginary regiments of the Lost Dispatch
retarded his progress through the woods; and at one time, believing that the 7th Wisconsin was about to be
View from Turner's Gap, looking South-East [see map, P. 568]. from a photograph taken in 1886.
The point of view is a little to the left of the Mountain House, now the home of Mrs. Dahlgren, widow of Admiral Dahlgren.
Rodes was first posted on the hill, the slope of which is seen on the left; Gibbon was farther down the road in their hollow.
The white patch on the mountain to the south (on the right) is Wise's field at Fox's Gap, where Reno and Garland were killed.--Editors. |
turned on its right flank, he sent the 6th to its assistance.
There were only a few skirmishers on his right, but the Lost Dispatch
made him believe otherwise.
About 9 P. M. the stone-wall was reached, and several gallant efforts were made in vain to carry it. When each repulse was followed by the “rebel” yells, the young men on my staff would cry out: “Hurrah for Georgia
is having a free fight.”
The Western men had met in the 23d and 28th Georgia regiments men as brave as themselves and far more advantageously posted.
, of the 6th Wisconsin, says in his report: “We sat down in the dark to wait another attack, but the enemy was no more seen.”
At midnight Gorman
's brigade of Sumner
's corps relieved Gibbon
reports officially 318 men killed and wounded — a loss sustained almost entirely, I think, at the stone-wall.
The colonel of the 7th Wisconsin reports a loss of 147 men in killed and wounded out of 375 muskets carried into action.
This shows that he had brave men and that he encountered brave men. From his report we infer that Gibbon
hundred men. On our side Colquitt
had 11.00 men, and lost less than 100, owing to the admirable position in which he had been placed.
And now in regard to the numbers engaged.
sent to my aid 8 brigades,--5 belonging to the division of D. R. Jones
, consisting of the brigades of Drayton
, G. T. Anderson
, and Kemper
; and 3 belonging to an extemporized division of N. G. Evans
, including the brigades of Evans
, and Law. On page 886, Part I., Volume XIX.
of the “Official Records
says that after Toombs
joined him from Hagerstown
, his 6 brigades numbered at Sharpsburg
2430 men; i. e
., an average of 405 men to each brigade.
Now all Longstreet
's officers and men know that the ranks were fuller at Sharpsburg
than at South Mountain
, because there were more stragglers in the forced march from Hagerstown
to the battle-field of the 14th of September than there were casualties in the battle.19
The above average would give 810 as the number of men in the two brigades which confronted the division of Hatch
aided by two brigades from Ricketts
But it is well known that the Virginia
brigades were unusually small, because of the heavy draughts upon them for cavalry, artillery, and local service.
Between pages 894 and 902, Volume XIX., we have the strength at South Mountain
of four of the five regiments of Pickett
's brigade given officially,--the 19th Regiment, 150 men; 18th Regiment, 120 men; 56th Regiment, 80 men; 8th Regiment, 34 men. The strength of the other regiment, the 28th, is not given; but, assuming that it was 96, the average of the other four regiments, we have 480 as the number o f men in Pickett
's brigade at South Mountain
But the report of the colonel of the 56th shows that he was turned off with his 80 muskets, and did not go in with his brigade; so that Garnett
had in the battle but 400 of Pickett
's men. From Kemper
's brigade we have but one report giving the strength of a regiment, and that comes from Colonel Corse
of the 17th Virginia.
He says that at Sharpsburg
he had 6 officers and 49 privates in his regiment.
A calculation based upon this report would show that Kemper
's brigade was smaller than Pickett
On page 907 we have the only report from Jenkins
's brigade which gives any intimation of its strength.
There the 1st South Carolina regiment is said to have 106 men at Sharpsburg
It is possible the five regiments of this brigade numbered 530 in that battle.
It is true that it was considerably larger at Sharpsburg
than at South Mountain
, because the stragglers from the Hagerstown
march much more than made up for the small loss (32) in the battle of the 14th.
But with due allowance for that gain, the brigade must have been 450 strong at South Mountain
It is evident, then, that Kemper
's brigade fell below 400 at South Mountain
; otherwise, the brigade average in Jones
's division would have exceeded 406.
thinks that he had four thousand men at South Mountain
His estimate is too high, according to the records as I find them.
his numbers, I would place 2200 at Fox's Gap and 1800 north of Turner's Gap.
fought mainly and Rodes
entirely with Hooker
Adding the 2200 men of these two brigades to Longstreet
's 1800, we have 4000 as the number opposed to Hooker
puts the strength of the two attacking corps at thirty thousand.
His figures are substantially corroborated by the reports of his subordinates,--division, brigade, and regimental commanders.
They indicate, moreover, that there had been great straggling in the Federal
army, as well as in our own. On p. 97, General Ingalls
, chief quartermaster
, reports, October 1st, 1862, means of transporation for 13,707 men in the First Corps; for 12,860 men in the Ninth Corps . . . and for 127,818 men in the entire Army of the Potomac.21
This was after the wastage of the two
battles (14th and 17th of September), reported on page 204 as amounting to 15,203.
was well pleased with the work of his corps.
He says in his report: “When the advantages of the enemy's position are considered, and his preponderating numbers, the forcing of the passage of South Mountain
will be classed among the most brilliant and satisfactory achievements of this army, and its principal glory will be awarded to the First Corps.”
Undoubtedly that corps had gained important positions, but it is difficult to see how 4000 men could preponderate in numbers over 13,707.
's division and brigade commanders, who had been well up under musketry fire, lo not speak in such glowing terms of the victory.
The reports of the stubborn fighters in the Federal
army on both sides of the pike are models of modest propriety.
This is especially so with those who bore the heat and burden of the day,--Meade
, and others.
In regard to the casualties of the opposing forces, the losses in killed and wounded were greater on the Federal
side than on the Confederate
, because the one thin line of the latter fired at the dense masses of the former, sometimes in two lines, and sometimes in three.
But from their weakness the Confederates
took no prisoners, while they lost over four hundred within the enveloping ranks of their enemies.
The revised statement of Federal losses in Volume XIX.
gives the casualties in the First Corps as 923; of the Ninth Corps as 889,--total 1812, infantry and artillery; and to this number is added one cavalryman, how killed is not explained.
I lost two brigadiers and a large number of regimental commanders within three days, so that my division reports are very meager.
Of the five brigades, there is a statistical report from that of Rodes
By means of a very extensive correspondence I have ascertained the casualties as nearly as they can be reached at this late day:
's loss must have been less than mine, as he had but four small brigades seriously engaged.
reports only thirty-two casualties in Jenkins
's brigade; G. T. Anderson
speaks lightly of the fight of the two brigades under him. The exact losses can, however, never be known,
In the foregoing table reference is had to prisoners taken in battle.
Some of our wearied men slipped off in the woods to sleep, and were not aroused when the orders came to fall back.
of the 30th North Carolina, regiment, a brave and efficient officer, writes to me that he could hardly
keep his men awake even when the deadly missiles were flying among them.
This is in confirmation of what General Hood
, in charge of the rear-guard, told me when I passed him after daylight on the 15th.
He said that he found it difficult to arouse and push on the tired men, who had fallen out by the wayside to get a few minutes' sleep.
If the battle of South Mountain
was fought to prevent the advance of McClellan
, it was a failure on the part of the Confederates
If it was fought to save Lee
's trains and artillery, and to reunite his scattered forces, it was a Confederate success.
The former view was taken by the President
of the United States
, for he telegraphed to General McClellan
on the 15th of September: “God bless you and all with you. Destroy the rebel army, if possible.”
But, from whatever standpoint it may be looked at, the battle of South Mountain
must be of interest to the military reader as showing the effect of
a hallucination in enabling 9000 men to hold 30,000 at bay for so many hours, in robbing victory of its fruits, and in inspiring the victors with such caution that a simple ruse turned them back in their triumphal career.
Every battle-field of the Civil War
beheld the deadly conflict of former friends with each other, South Mountain
may be taken as a specimen of this unnatural and horrible state of things.
The last time I ever saw Generals McClellan
was in 1848, at the table of General G. W. Smith
, in the city of Mexico
. Generals Meade
had both been instructors while I was at West Point
. Colonel Magilton
, commanding a brigade in Meade
's division, had been a lieutenant in my company in the Mexican
war. General John Gibbon
(whose brigade pressed up the pike on the 14th of September) and his brother Lardner had been “best men” at my wedding.
They were from North Carolina
; one brother took the Northern
side, while the other took the Southern
There is another view of the picture, however.
If we had to be beaten it was better to be beaten by former friends.
Every true soldier loves to have “a foeman worthy of his steel.”
Every true man likes to attribute high qualities to those who were once friends, though now alienated for a time.
The temporary estrangement cannot obliterate the recollection of noble traits of character.
Some one attempted to condole with Tom Yearwood
, a famous old South Carolina
bully, upon the beating given him by his own son. “Hush up,” said old Tom. “I am glad that no one but my own flesh and blood had a hand in my drubbing.”
The sons of the South
struck her many heavy blows.
, of Tennessee
, rose, as a reward of merit, to the highest rank in the Federal
A large number of his associates were from the South
In the Federal
army there were of Southern blood and lineage Generals Thomas
, J. J Reynolds
, William Nelson
, R. W. Johnson
, T. J. Wood
, N. B. Buford
Some of these doubtless served the South
better by the side they took; most of them were fine, and some superb, officers.
Moreover, the South
had three hundred thousand of her sons in the Federal
army in subordinate capacities.22
Her armies surrendered when a Southern-born President
and a Southern-born Vice-President
were at the head of the United States Government.
That the wounds of defeat and humiliation have been so soon healed has been owing largely to this balm to mortified pride.
The sting of shame to Frenchmen is that their magnificent capital was captured by, and their splendid armies were surrendered to, soldiers of an alien race and religion.
On the other hand, the civil wars in England
have left no bitter memories behind them.
Compare this forgetfulness of civil strife in England
with the bitterness which Ireland
still feels over her subjugation; compare it with the fact that the Roman
occupation of England
for five hundred years made no impression upon the language of the natives, so little intercourse was there between them and their conquerors; compare it with the fact that for four hundred years after the Norman conquest there was no fusion between the Norman and Saxon tongues.
In truth, all history teaches that the humiliation of defeat by a foreign foe is felt for ages, while that of defeat by the same r ace is temporary and soon forgotten.
The late Civil War
was relieved of very much of its sectional character by the presence of so many Southerners in the Union
Therefore, it will be in the United States
as in all the unsectional civil wars of the world's history in which race and religion were not involved,--the waves of oblivion will roll over the bitter recollections of the strife.
But we trust that fragrant forever will be the memory of deeds of heroism, patience, fortitude, self-denial, and constancy to principle, whether those deeds were performed by the wearers of the blue or of the gray.
From A photograph.|