Camp Herndon, Va.
September 14, 2000
All Civil War Buffs:
To continue with Lee's Maryland Campaign; It is now the morning of September 14, 1862, and a pivotal battle in Lee's Maryland Campaign is about to occur. The Yanks called it the "Battle of South Mountain" while the Rebs referred to it as the "Battle of Boonesboro". Call it by any name and it was still a key moment. I think D.H. Hill described it best in an article written after the war, "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". While I won't even attempt to give the details of the battle I will try to give you a flavor for it.
As has been discussed in earlier posts, D.H. Hill had been bringing up the rear of Longstreet's Corps and had been encamped at Boonesboro on the 13th. About midday on the 13th Stuart asked for help to defend Turner's Gap and Hill had sent him the brigades of Colquitt and Garland. About midnight of the 13th Lee has sent word to Hill to retrace his steps and defend the passes on South Mountain. That's where we pick up the action. Hill, with the remainder of his division, has just arrived at Turner's Gap and it is between daylight and sunrise on the 14th. He finds Stuart has gone to Crampton's Gap and Garland's brigade is at the Mountain House (at Turner's Gap) and Colquitt's is at the foot of the mountain on the Eastern side.
I think this description by D.H. Hill of what he saw when he arrived at Turner's Gap says it all.
".... 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, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, and about Richmond under Grant, 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. The 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."
Instead of going into the fine details of the action on the mountain I will simply use the "Editor's Notes" from "Battles and Leaders".
"....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. (S) 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. (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 Rodes 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...."
Thus ended the battle of South Mountain. While the Union forces now controlled the mountain, the Confederates had accomplished what they set out to do, buy time for Lee to concentrate his army along the Antietam. The sad part about this whole day is that two fine generals were killed. Garland on the Confederate side and Reno on the Union side. The loss of Reno was to have grave consequences in the battle coming on 17th. Who knows what might have happened had it been Reno in charge of IX Corps at the "Lower Bridge" on the Antietam instead of Burnside.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Dick (a.k.a. Shotgun)