On September 14, 1862, the rugged slopes of South Mountain would be the site of first major battle fought on Union Soil in the Eastern Theatre during the Civil War. By the time night fell, thousands of casualties littered the mountain, Robert E. Lee's army was in retreat, and Union forces were within hours crushing the rebellion. However, events over the next three days would overshadow the fierce and savage fighting that took place here but the Battle of South Mountain truly was the bloody prelude to the carnage that would unfold among the rolling hills outside of Sharpsburg.
This is a photograph of Captain Augustus C. Thompson, commanding Company G “Jackson County Volunteers”, 16th Georgia Infantry. He would lead his company in the fighting and be wounded at Crampton’s Gap on September 14,1862.
Captain Thompson was born in Georgia in 1828. When war broke out, he would be elected captain of company G on July 20, 1861. He would command his company during the grueling marches and battles during the Summer of 1862. Entering Maryland in September, Thompson would find himself in Howell Cobb’s brigade of Lafayette McLaws’ division. On September 14, the 16th Georgia was positioned at Brownsville in the rear of McLaw’s division as they worked to capture Maryland Heights during the operation against Harper’s Ferry. When fighting broke out at Crampton’s Gap, Cobb’s brigade was ordered to the immediate support of the small Confederate force defending the gap. Upon arrival at the mountain gap, Thompson would lead his company down the Burkittsville Road to support the Confederate right. As the regiment was going into position, the Confederate center broke under the weight of the Federal assault. Seeing a golden opportunity, the 16th Georgia and Cobb’s Infantry Legion, under Jefferson M. Lamar, go into line of battle and begin pouring a murderous flanking fire into the, now unorganized, Federal lines. Unknown to these two Confederate regiments, Alfred Torbert’s New Jersey Brigade was advancing up the Burkittsville Road and slammed into the flank of Cobb’s Legion. The two regiments would be mauled and during the fighting Captain Thompson would be wounded. Following the battle, Thompson would recover from his wound and remain in the Confederate service until he resigned in August 1863.
On September 14, 1862, the 12th Virginia Infantry of Mahone’s Brigade, commanded by Colonel William Parham, was in position along the Mountain Church Road at the base of South Mountain. Within the lines of this regiment was Philip C. Brown serving in Company C. He would write a reminiscence of his experience in the war, first, as a series of articles in a local newspaper and then in book form that was published in 1917. The following is an excerpt from this book. In it he describes the aftermath of the fighting at 2nd Manassas as he works to rejoin his regiment after guarding the baggage not carried into battle, the march into Maryland, and the fighting at Crampton’s Gap. Brown would be severely wounded in the arm and taken prisoner as Federal forces sweep up the mountain side. Brown begins with camp being set up following the Battle of 2nd Manassas.
” When night came on we were not close enough to the battlefield to be disturbed by the wounded. It was a lonely vigil that Sidney Jones, Gus Durphy and I had that memorable night. Before going to sleep, I deemed it wise to save a few coals for a fire next morning as we had used the only match in our party to start our evening fire. In raking up the ashes to cover the coals some cartridges accidently were caught up, and their explosion burnt my right thumb and singed my eyebrows.
We made our breakfast of hardtack, boiled in a tin cup, with a small piece of bacon, a dish that had become famous on the march, and known as “cush.” After turning over to the wagon train the belongings that were left with us the evening before, we started off to overtake our command. In doing so we saw the horrors of the evening previous. The ambulance corps of the enemy had been given permission to enter our lines, and care for their dead and wounded. The fields and roadway were strewn with them, and many sickening sights were seen. In several places the limbs and heads had been severed from the body by the artillery wheels, or mashed into a mangled mass by the hoofs of the cavalry trampling over them. At other places we counted where more than thirty bullets had struck a tree of not more than eight inches diameter, and in the height of a man. It was two days before we could overtake our command, as the line of battle before night had been pushed several miles from the point of first attack, and the regiment had one day start of us.
When we camped on Goose Creek, a few miles from Leesburg, John Pritchard and I obtained permission to go into town to provide a few articles for our mess, and, as it was nearly sunset when we left, it was understood that our return would be next morning. After purchasing tobacco and a small quantity of sugar and coffee, we sought rest on the lawn of a beautiful mansion, and were soon in a sound slumber, from which we were awakened by the music of several regimental bands passing through the town at the head of their commands. We little dreamed that ours was among the number, but so it was, and we marched off to overtake it. We forded the Potomac at Williams’ crossing (I think that was the name) about 10 A. M., and after dark arrived on the banks of Monocacy River, and still we had not overtaken our regiment. We were afraid to venture in the water not knowing its depth, and the September nights were growing cool. Leaving the road and entering the tall timber along the banks, we came to a stop, where we found many others were halted in a like manner. At last we found a suitable resting place. I took the precaution to unbuckle my bayonet belt, and pass it under my head for pillow, the bayonet scabbard under my rubber cloth. We were so exhausted from our long day’s march that our sleep must have been very sound, for, when I awakened, the sun was up, and my head flat on the ground. My belt had been unbuckled, and the bundle, containing coffee, sugar and tobacco, was stolen from under my head. Did I grow angry? Well, if my dear comrade, John Pritchard, is still alive, I would like for him to answer this! Fortunately for my sense of honor, no money had been given me to buy these articles, and the loss was, therefore, all my own.
Without a mouthful of breakfast we forded the stream; it was not deep, and we trudged along the dusty road and during the morning came to another point of the same river, where the railroad crossed on an iron bridge, and found it was being destroyed by some artillery command, to prevent its use by the enemy. Before night we were once more in the ranks of our own command, and felt a great relief. Very strict orders had been given by General Lee, that no property of any kind should be disturbed in passing through the enemy’s country, and, as our own wagon train was some distance in the rear, our rations were cut very short. Apples and green corn (when it could be had) were our principal diet. We passed through Frederick City on the morning of September 12, 1862, and the Twelfth Virginia made a handsome spectacle, as we marched through the streets, open order, arms resting on knapsacks. By this maneouvre [sic] four men abreast extended across the street, and caused our force to look much larger than it really was. Our next stopping point was the little town of Burkettsville, where we rested over night, and Saturday marched through Crampton’s Gap, in South Mountain, and camped in Pleasant Valley.
Sunday, September 14th, we received orders to retrace our march, re-crossing South Mountain, to defend the Gap against Franklin’s Corps, which was aiming to relieve the siege of Harper’s Ferry. I was nearly a mile from camp hunting for milk and bread, when I heard the drum corps beating the “long roll” and had to run fast to be in line when my name was called. The 12th was under the command of Lieutenant Col. Field, as Lieutenant Col. Fielding Taylor, though ill, was on the firing line and received a mortal wound. John Crow, of the Rifles, saved Col. Taylor’s gold-head cane by sticking it in the muzzle of his rifle as he retreated up the mountain.
All this was learned after my return from the North. I also learned that Leslie Spence, Ned Aikin, Captain Patterson and John Laughton were wounded same evening. General Thomas T. Munford, now eighty-six years old, living at “Oakland, ” near Union Town, Ala., on March 8, 1917, wrote me the following: “When I opened your letter, the Crampton’s Gap Fight, where you gave your blood, came back to me like a flash of lightning, revivifying the scenes that developed there as General Franklin moved out to attack the Gap.”I had orders to hold, with ten times our numbers visible. “To-day those scenes are forgotten, except by the handful who witnessed them — that campaign was written in blood — as precious as soldiers could furnish, and General Lee’s audacity as a great soldier was never crowned more brilliantly.”
As we descended the mountain, we could see in the distance clouds of dust rising above the trees on the several roads leading to this point. Such an ominous sight made us feel that in a few hours a battle would be fought. I have never known how the 6th, 16th and 41st regiments were placed along the base of the mountain. I only know that the 12th was where the road diverged, right and left at the base. We were deployed eight feet apart; in order to extend our line as far as possible. We were behind a rail fence, with just enough distance from the road to lie down at full length, and rest our rifles on a low rail, where good aim could be taken. I suppose we were in position nearly as hour before the enemy’s advance column appeared in our front. About two hundred yards distant was another rail fence, a freshly fallowed field lying between us. We had strict orders not to fire until the enemy was in good rifle range. For fully ten or fifteen minutes after arriving at the point mentioned, they hesitated to make a charge on us. Finally a great cheering, as if greeting some welcome reinforcements, swelled along the line, and over the fence they clambered, and started for us at double quick time. When they had advanced about fifty yards, a deadly rifle fire hurled them back, leaving a line of killed and wounded. By the time they reached the point from which they started, another volley was poured into them. From these two opposite points, a desultory fire was kept for some time. Then another great cheering (more fresh troops) and over the fence they came again. I was in the act of firing my rifle when the cheering commenced [sic] ; and, seeing an officer with his hat lifted on the point of his sword, as he mounted the fence, I took deliberate aim, but the smoke of my rifle prevented my seeing what effect it had. I do know, however, that they moved only a few feet before they doubled back, and kept up their fire from behind the fence.
In the meantime, a battery of artillery in our rear was delivering a plunging fire of shot and shell into their ranks. Their force outnumbered our own so greatly that while we were holding them back in our front, they had lapped around our right and left for some distance ; when at a given signal they made a desperate rush upon our line. Though we popped our rifles as rapidly as possible, it seemed evident that we would soon be overwhelmed. When they were about twenty yards distant I was shot in the left arm, about three inches below the elbow, the bullet passing between the two bones, then through the elbow joint, and lodged in the muscle of the arm. I do not know whether it was the excitement, or what, but I felt no more pain at the time than if a brush had hit me; but the blood trickling to my finger tips, and the utter uselessness of or inability to move the arm, made me realize that it was broken, and before the enemy reached the fence I pulled myself into the road.
At this moment Cobb’s Georgians came to our relief, and enabled all who could, to escape, for they halted the enemy at the fence from which we had, only a few minutes before, been firing at them. While lying in the wheel rut of this road, with the Yankee guns not more than ten feet to my left, my face resting on my blood covered hand, I could not help thinking of the shocking sights seen after the battle of Manassas, for should a battery of artillery or a squadron of cavalry move I would be ground or trampled into an unrecognizable mass.
For fully ten minutes the bullets were hissing near my ears, and as soon as the enemy crossed over this road I held my shattered arm in my right, and took refuge in an old cooper shop near the roadside, where a number of Federal soldiers were making good use of several barrels of fresh cider. I passed by them, and seated myself on the back sill, feeling quite faint from the loss of blood. I was not there more than a minute when one of the number brought me a tin cup of the cider, addressing me as “Johnnie.” He seemed very much interested in my condition, and insisted on going with me to have my wound attended to. I was utterly amazed at this mark of kindness, and I soon followed him over the field, where many evidences of the effectiveness of our fire was seen. About midway my eyes rested on the finest canteen I had ever seen, and I hardly thought it would be violating the Tenth Commandment if I asked him to appropriate it for my use, and this he did most cheerfully.
I was taken to five operating “field” hospitals before a surgeon could be found, who could spare the time from their great number of wounded, to attend to me. In an apple orchard, near a brick house, about one mile in the rear of the battlefield, a very noble and kindly disposed Federal surgeon, about sixty years old, with a sharp knife ripped my sleeve open, and cut it off about two inches below the shoulder. Then for the first time I knew the course of the bullet heretofore mentioned. He wished me placed under the influence of chloroform, as it would be exceedingly painful to extract the bullet so firmly embedded in the muscles. I objected to this, and told him I preferred to stand the pain. An incision about two inches long was made through the ligaments, and fastening the forceps on the bullet, they failed to remove it, until the fourth or fifth effort. When it yielded to his strong arm, the blood flew in all directions. He crammed a bunch of lint into the opening. The next minute everything turned pitch dark and I lost consciousness for several minutes. When I recovered, this kind doctor was bathing my face in cool water, and had such a sympathetic countenance that I felt he was a friend. He remarked, in a pleasant manner, “Young man, you stood the operation bravely, but you pinched my leg blue.” After placing the bullet in a pan of water to wash off the blood, he handed it to me with the remark, “You can now see why that bullet was so difficult to remove.” The point was turned back like a brim of a “rough and ready hat.” My arm was neatly bandaged and I remained sitting, with my back resting against a tree in the apple orchard. The Union soldier who accompanied me from the battlefield had remained by me, and as it was about sundown he brought me a small bowl of corn meal gruel, which refreshed me very much.
A little while later who should come up but one of my company comrades, W. C. Smith, who had been slightly wounded in the shoulder. He informed me that Thomas Morgan and George Bernard, of the Petersburg Rifles, and Charlie Pritchard, of my company, were wounded and fellow prisoners, but I did not see them until next day. I laid on the upper porch floor of the brick house that night, on a bed of loose straw, brought by this kind Federal soldier, who also brought a canteen of fresh water, which proved a great blessing, for my thirst was insatiate, and I could not sleep. On the same porch floor with me were six or seven wounded Federal soldiers, two of whom died before daybreak. Next morning my soldier friend brought me another bowl of gruel and a cup of coffee. About 10 o’clock all the wounded who were able to walk were marched to Burkettsville [sic], and a church was converted into a hospital.”
During his stay in Burkittsville, Brown would find himself in very crowded conditions as surgeons worked feverishly to tend to the wounded. From here, he can clearly hear the distant rumbling of artillery and musketry as intense fighting takes place at near Sharpsburg. He also, successfully, fends off the surgeon’s knife as he is told the his arm must be amputated. He manages to remove himself from the hopsital and into the care of a private citizen who tends to his wound and saves his arm, for the time being. Eventually, he recovers enough to be placed on a train in Frederick and taken to Fort McHenry in Baltimore where he is paroled and awaits exchange. After being exchanged and sent to Richmond, his wound is not fully healed and becomes rather infected. After a quick surgery by a family doctor, fragments of clothe and bone are taken out of the wound. Luckily for Brown, he receives an honorable discharge from the Confederate Army due to the nature of his wound, his elbow being crooked. He would work in a Richmond hotel for the remainder of the war, witnessing its fall in the Spring of 1865.
This post has been updated, original post was posted August 2010 here.
These are a couple letters written home by 2nd Lieutenant Cadmus M. Amoss of the Cobb Legion from Georgia. The first is written just moments before Amoss’ unit crosses the Potomac into Maryland. He writes about his health, the march, and his belief that the war can be won. During the ensuing campaign through Maryland, Amoss would be severely wounded at the Battle of Crampton’s Gap as part of Company C, of Cobb’s (GA) Infantry Legion. He would be shot through both lungs as Cobb’s Legion, under Lieutenant Colonel Jefferson Mirabeau Lamar, desperately held their position to allow those Confederates at the base of the mountain to retreat and to buy time for Brigadier General Howell Cobb to rally what Confederate infantry he could to make a desperate stand to hold Crampton’s Gap. Coming under fire from nearly every direction, the Legion would suffer roughly 72% casualties before the order to retreat was given by a mortally wounded Lt. Colonel Lamar. Amoss, to severely wounded to escape, would be captured and taken from the field to a makeshift hospital in Burkittsville. While there, he would come under the care of an Episcopal minister from Baltimore who would write one last letter home for him. On September 27, 1862, the day after this final letter is written, 2nd Lieutenant Cadmus M. Amoss succumbs to his wounds leaving behind a wife and young child. It is unknown when his remains were recovered after his death. It is assumed they were recovered prior to 1869 due to the absence of Amoss’ name in the Bowie List, a book published that year showing burial locations of Confederate soldiers who died in Maryland during the 1862 Maryland Campaign as well as those buried following the Battle of Monocacy in 1864. The letters both appear as they were written in 1862.
Leesburg VA Sept. 4th 1862
My Dear Georgia A long time has elapsed since I have had an opportunity of writing to you and even now I am forced to write in great haste. Our Division (General McLaws) arrived at this place last evening after a long and tedious march of nine days, I stood the march much better than I suppose and am in pretty good health with the exception of being perished out and a prospect ahead of being barefooted. Dont let this alarm you for half the army is in that delightful condition. As for getting anything to eat from the government that is out of the question for they haven’t got it. Our mel bought enough yesterday to last us several days and we are in high spirits. I suppose Georgia you would like to know what we are doing away up here and where we are going. Well the supposition is that we cros the Potomac in about two hours and go down on the side to Washington. Something important will trasprie very soon and it would not surprise me at all if we did go. I agree very much being so situated as not to receive or find letters to you. If we cros over on the other side there is not telling when I can write to you again. The last letter I received from you, you spoke of wanting some money. We have not been paid off since I came back and even if we had you letter came too late for me to send you any from Hanover. You will probibly need it before I have a chance of sending it so get as much as you want from the bank and I will replace it. Tell pa to . . . for you or he will let you have it ither. I have no idea when we will take up winter quarters if we remain here we will suffer very much from cold. If we succeed in the campaign that is now going on up here, we will have every reason to feel grateful and I think if the Yankees don’t give up the contest they are in a fair way to ruin themselves. If Washington falls the Yankees will be humbled and their attacks will become more feeble. I have only a few minutes in which to conclude. Good bye my dear wife for the present. I do hope it will not be long before I hear from you again. I will write to you the first chance I have. Give my love to all the family. Kiss our baby for me.
Your affectionate Husband C M Amoss
Mr B.B. Amos Sept 26th 1862
I came from Baltimore on last Saturday to look after the confederate wounded rough this place on the fight of the 14th. I am sorry to say that among the number I find your son Lieut C M Amos. He was shot through the lungs, the ball striking his spine and causing a paralysis of the lower extremities. From the character of the wound you will appreciate the danger to which he was now exposed. He has and will confine to receive my attention. You will be gratified I am sure to learn that in view of speech he is calm & resigned. I have been much with him & he seems to place his reliance upon our blessed Rescuer who I . . . will accept his reliance & comfort him with the presence of his holy spirit even until the end. I shall remain with him until the crisis is over & should he die will see that he is interred in such a way as to justify at some future time his removal. He sends his warmest love to you all & especially his dear wife and little boy. I give you his exact words when I say “ Keep up good hearts, I am in God’s hands.” May God bless and comfort you all
Minister of Protestant-Episcopal Church
The headstone of 2nd Lt. Cadmus M. Amoss at his grave in Hillview Cemetery, La Grange, Georgia. (Courtesy: Evening Blues, member, Findagrave.com)
The following an entry dated September 18, 1862 from the diary of Lieutenant Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes of the 23rd Ohio Infantry. Hayes would lead his regiment from the encampment near Middletown, up the National Pike before taking the Old Sharpsburg Road towards Fox’s Gap in an attempt to outflank the Confederate defense at Turner’s Gap. As the 23rd Ohio marched closer to Fox’s Gap, in the words of Brigadier General Jacob Cox, ” it soon became evident the enemy held the crest in considerable force. . .” (1) Hayes is ordered to take a road the went to the south and looped up the mountain towards the Ridge Road that ran along the crest. This movement would hopefully take the regiment beyond the Confederate right and make the position untenable for the defenders. During the ensuing fight, Hayes would be wounded severely, hit by a bullet above his left elbow making his arm useless. He would lead the regiment until loss of blood forced him down the mountainside. His wound would be properly treated and he would be taken to Middletown where he would spend the next month recovering the home of Jacob Rudy.
Thursday, September 18, 1862, — [At] Captain Rudy’s ( Jacob Rudy, merchant), Middletown, Maryland. Here I lie nursing my shattered arm, “as snug as a bug in a rug.”
September 12, entered Frederick amidst loud huzzahs and cheering –eight miles. Had a little skirmish getting in; a beautiful scene and a jolly time.
September 13, marched to this town, entered in night — Middletown, Maryland.
September 14, Sunday. Enemy on a spur of the Blue Ridge, three and one-half miles west. At 7 A.M. we go out to attack. I am sent with [the] twenty-third up a mountain path to get around the Rebel right with instructions to attack and take a battery of two guns supposed to be posted there. I asked, “If I find six guns and a strong support?” Colonel Scammon replies, “Take them anyhow.” It is the only safe instruction. General Cox told me General Pleasonton had arranged with Colonel Crook of [the] Second Brigade as to the support of his (General Pleasonton’s) artillery and cavalry, and was vexed that Colonel Scammon was to have the advance; that he, General Cox, wished me to put my energies and wits all to work so that General Pleasonton should have no cause to complain of an inefficient support. The First Brigade had the advance and the Twenty-third was the front of the First Brigade.
Went with a guide by the right flank up the hill, Company A deployed in front as skirmishers. Seeing signs of Rebels [I] sent [Company] F to the left and [Company] I to the right as flankers. Started a Rebel picket about 9 A.M. Soon saw from the opposite hill a strong force coming down towards us; formed hastily in the woods; faced by the rear rank (some companies inverted and some out of place) towards the enemy; pushed through bushes and rocks over broken ground towards the enemy; soon received a heavy volley, wounding and killing some. I feared confusion; exhorted, swore, and threatened. Men did pretty well. Found we could not stand it long, and ordered an advance. Rushed forward with a yell, enemy gave way. Halted to reform line; heavy firing resumed.
I soon began to fear we could not stand it, and again ordered a charge; the enemy broke, and we drove them clear out of the woods. Our men halted at a fence near the edge of the woods and kept up a brisk fire upon the enemy, who were sheltering themselves behind stonewalls and fences near the top of the hill, beyond the cornfield in front of our position. Just as I gave the command to charge I felt a stunning blow and found a musket ball had struck my left arm just above the elbow. Fearing that an artery might be cut, I asked a soldier near me to tie my handkerchief above the wound. I soon felt weak, faint, and sick at the stomach. I laid [lay] down and was pretty comfortable. I was perhaps twenty feet behind the line of my men, and could form a pretty accurate notion of the way the fighting was going. The enemy’s fire was occasionally very heavy; balls passed near my face and hit the ground all around me. I could see wounded men staggering or carried to the rear; but I felt sure our men were holding their own. I listened anxiously to hear the approach of reinforcements; wondered they did not come.
I was told there was a danger of the enemy flanking us on our left, near where I was lying. I called out to Captain Drake, who was on the left, to let his company wheel backward so as to face the threatened attack. His company fell back perhaps twenty yards, and the whole line gradually followed the example, thus leaving me between our line and the enemy. Major Comly came along and asked me if it was my intention the whole line should fall back. I told him no, that I merely wanted to one or two of the left companies to wheel backward so as to face an enemy said to be coming on our left. I said if the line was now in good position to let it remain and to face the left companies as I intended. This, I suppose, was done.
The firing continued pretty warm for perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes, when it gradually died away on both sides. After a few minutes’ silence I began to doubt whether the enemy had disappeared or whether out men had gone farther back. I called out, “Hallo Twenty-third men, are you going to leave your colonel here for the enemy?” In an instant a half dozen or more men sprang forward to me, saying, “Oh no, we will carry you wherever you want us to.” The enemy immediately opened fire on them. Our men replied to them, and soon the battle was raging as hotly as ever. I ordered the men back to cover, telling them they would get me shot and themselves too. They went back and about this time, Lieutenant Jackson came and insisted upon taking me out of range of the enemy’s fire. He took me back to our line and, feeling faint, he laid me down behind a big log and gave me a canteen of water, which tasted so good. Soon after, the fire having again died away, he took me back up the hill, where my wound was dressed by Dr. Joe. I then walked about a half a mile to the house of Widow Kugler. I remained there two or three hours when I was taken by Captain Skiles in an ambulance to Middletown — three and a half miles — where I stopped at Mr. Jacob Rudy’s
I omitted to say that a few moments after I first laid [lay] down, seeing something going wrong and feeling a little easier, I got up and began to give directions about things; but after a few moments, getting very weak, I again laid [lay] down. While I was lying down, I had a considerable talk with a wounded [Confederate] soldier lying near me. I gave him messages for my wife and friends in case I should not get up. We were right jolly and friendly; it was by no means an unpleasant experience.
Telegraphed Lucy, Uncle, Platt, and John Herron, two or three times each. Very doubtful whether they get the dispatches. My orderly, Harvey Carrington, nurses me with the greatest care. Dr. Joe dresses the wound, and the women feed me sumptuously.
Don’t sleep much these nights, days pretty comfortable.
[Yesterday, the] 17th, listened almost all day to the cannonading of the great battle on the banks of the Antietam, anxiously guessing whether it is with us [or] our foes. [Today, the] 18th, write letters to the divers friends. (2)
Hayes’ wife, Lucy, would arrive in late September where she would tend not only to her husband but also other Federal wounded in the town. Hayes would remain in Middletown until the middle of October when he would return to Ohio to complete his recovery. He would go on to command a brigade in the Kanawha Division in the mountains of what is now West Virginia for most of 1863 and early 1864 before being sent with his command to the Shenandoah Valley where he would fight during the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign at 2nd Kernstown, Berryville, 3rd Winchester, Fischer’s Hill, and Cedar Creek. He would end the war as a brigadier general, brevetted to major general. Following the war, he would serve as the Governor of Ohio and President of the United States.
1.) OFFICIAL RECORDS: Series 1, Vol 19, Part 1 (Antietam – Serial 27) , Pages 458 – 461.
2.) Rutherford Brichard Hayes, Diary and Letters of Rutherford Brichard Hayes: Nineteenth President of the United States, ed. Charles Richard Williams (Columbus, OH: The F.J. Heer Printing Company, 1922), 355-357. accessed Feb. 19,2018: https://archive.org/details/diarylettersofru00haye
Hugh McNeil was the colonel of the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves, the famous Bucktails, during the Battle of South Mountain. His regiment would take part in the assault that would capture the Frosttown Gap before nightfall stopped Federal forces from capturing their main objective, Turner’s Gap. McNeil would survive the fighting on South Mountain only to lose his life in a sharp skirmish on the evening of September 16, just hours before the Battle of Antietam. The following account is in regards to an interesting story of marksmanship by Colonel McNeil that took place during the battle as told by a soldier in the regiment.
An Incident of Battle
Colonel Hugh McNeil, of the famous “Bucktail” regiment, who was killed at the Battle of Antietam, was one of the most accomplished officers in the Federal Service. A soldier relates an exploit of his at South Mountain, which is worth recording.
During the Battle of South Mountain, the rebels held a very strong position. They were posted in the mountain pass, and had infantry on the heights on every side. Our men were compelled to carry the place by storm. The position seemed impregnable; large craggy rocks protected the enemy on every side, while our men were exposed to a galling fire. A band of rebels occupied the ledge on the extreme right, as the colonel approached with a few of his men. The unseen force poured a volley upon them. McNeil, on the instant, gave the command: ‘Pour your fire upon those rocks.’ The Bucktails hesitated; it was not an order that they had been accustomed to receive; they had always picked their men. ‘Fire!’ thundered the colonel; ‘I tell you to fire at those rocks!’ The men obeyed. For some time an irregular fire was kept up; the Bucktails sheltering themselves as best they could behind rocks and trees. On a sudden, McNeil caught sight of two rebels peering through an opening in the works to get an aim. The eyes of the men followed their commander, and a half a dozen rifles were leveled in that direction. ‘Wait a minute,’ said the colonel, ‘I will try my hand. There is nothing like killing two birds with one stone.’
The two rebels were not in line, but one stood a little distance back of the other, while just in front of the foremost was a slanting rock. Colonel McNeil seized a rifle, raised it, glanced a moment along the polished barrel; a report followed, and both the rebels disappeared. At that moment a loud cheer a little distance beyond rent the air. ‘All is right now,’ cried the colonel,’ charge the rascals.’ The men sprang up among the rocks in an instant. The affrighted rebels turned to run, but encountered another body of the Bucktails, and were obliged to surrender. Everyone saw the object of the colonel’s order to fire at random among the rocks. He had sent the party around to their rear, and meant this to attract their attention. It was a perfect success.
The two rebels, by the opening in the ledge, were found there stiff and cold. Colonel McNeil’s bullet had struck the slanting rock in front of them, glanced, and passed through both their heads. There it lay beside them, flattened.
The following is a letter written by an unknown soldier in the 11th Ohio Infantry. The only clue is the initials “J.D.K.” at the end of the letter. In this letter, he describes his regiment setting out on the campaign into Maryland and tells of the fighting at Frederick, South Mountain, and Antietam. It appeared in the Dayton Daily Empire in October 1862.
Camp Burnsides, Md. Sept30, 1862
Friend Joe:–Having as yet failed to see any notice of the part of the 11th Regiment O.V.I., took in the recent hard fought battle in Maryland, I will endeavor to give you a brief history of the ordeal through which they passed in the memorable battles of South Mountain and Antietam.
Gen’l Cox’s Division (better known as the Kanawha Division) left Munson’s Hill, Va. on the 6th of Sept: and crossed the Potomac over the Georgetown Aqueduct, marching through Georgetown and Washington City, and encamped in Maryland, a few miles from the Captal. On the next day we marched to Leesborough, where we encamped for the night. On the next morning we received the disagreeable news that our transportation was to be reduced to six wagons; three of those were to haul the ammunition and one for field officers, another for the Medical Department, and one for the Quartermaster’s Department. Leaving us poor private “individuals” narry waggon with which to haul our cooking utensils. In consequence of this change every man had to carry his own rations for three days in his haversack, and also his cooking utensils; and take into consideration a knapsack, heavy loaded haversack, cartridge box with a hundred rounds, gun, etc. all making a respectable load for a pack mule, you have a pretty good idea of what a soldier has to carry on the march. It was a kind of ” Stunner” on the line officers, for it compelled them for once, to pack their own “bed and board” on their backs. At night, when we camped, we found it very inconvenient, as every man had to do his own cooking and in order to make a cup of coffee you had first to brown the coffee, then smash it with a stone, then cook it, which generally took from dark until “tatoo.” But enough of this; let’s now on to Frederick City.
After one days march we reached Ridgville, 24 miles from Frederick, the enemies pickets having just left before our entrance. We stacked arms just outside this village, and camped for the night. Ridgville is situated in a beautiful country. There are some splendid orchards in its immediate vicinity, and the nice peaches and apples the I saw makes my mouth water whenever I think of them. There were such stringent orders against taking any thing in the fruit line that, viz.—“Any solder caught in the orchard, potato patch, corn field, etc without permission, will be arrested, Court Martialed, and if found guilty–Shot”–General Order.
On our march from Ridgeville to Frederick I saw a soldier arrested for attempting to steal an old goose. The chap was in a field after a flock of geese and he had just succeeded in overhauling an old goose, when Gen’l Rodney and Staff came riding by and discovered the scamp, and thereby saved old Mrs. Goose’s life, by ordering the fellow arrested, sent to the rear, and to be tied fast to the wagon until further orders. I never heard whether the offender was shot or not, but as geese don’t come under the head of peaches, apples or potatoes, I don’t think he was.
We past through New Market, six miles from Frederick, and on passing through we passed the Pennsylvania Reserves, who had arrived there an hour before us by another road. I noticed among them a good many new Regiments, some not a month yet in the service. They were soon destined to smell gunpowder, for some of the new Pennsylvania Regiments suffered terribly in the battle of Antietam, as their lists of killed and wounded show.
It was reported along the road that the enemy had blown up the Stone Bridge across the Monocacy and were prepared to dispute our passage across that river, but this was found on approaching the bridge to be false, as the bridge was still there, and the enemies pickets had just been driven across it. They had a peice of Artilery posted in a ploughed field, on a hill, opposite the bridge, supported by a regiment of cavalry, a couple of our guns soon shelled them out, however, and they retired in the direction of Frederick closely pursued by our cavalry. During this skirmish Gen. Burside’s made his appearance for the first time, and was vociferously cheered by all the troops along the line. He was accompanied by his Staff and body guard. He proceeded immediately to the front, I supposed to see what was up. The enemies pickets having been driven into town we advanced for the purpose of driving the enemy through Frederick, which our generals had found out, was only held by a brigade of Stewarts Cavalry and a battery of four guns. Gen. Cox’s Division being in the advance was ordered to advance and take possession of Frederick—The first brigade was formed in line of battle on the right of the road and the 36th and 28th formed on the left. The 11th kept the road. Two peices of artilery were in the advance of the 11th, supported by a squadron of cavalry. Thus formed the whole line advance toward the town. The cavalry ahead met with some resistance at the edge of town by the enemy who were concealed behind houses and kept up a brisk fire for a while. Col. Moore, who commands our brigade, placed himself at the head of Gilmore’s Chicago Cavalry and ordered them to charge. Away they went into town the artilery following close after. The 11th was then ordered up double quick, and when we arrived at the edge of town we were all out of breath, having come double quick for two miles. Gilmore’s Cavalry having charged into town and not discovering the enemy supposed the town clear, but in this they were mistaken, for suddenly out of a street, leading on to Main street, came a large body of the enemies cavalry. They immediately came sweeping down on out cavalry, so sudden as to through them into confusion and force them back on our artilery who were in the street, with their guns in position, ready to rake the street when Gilmore’s cavalry would get out of the way, some of the horses became unmanageable and one horse ran over the man holding the “Laneard” of a 12-pound Howitzer, loaded with canister, which caused the gun to go off sending the whole load of canister into our own men and horses. Wounding several of the men and killing eight or nine horses. Among the number was Lieutenat Chas. Akoff, of Col. Moore’s Staff, who had his horse killed under him, and was himself badly bruised up by the fall. Col. Moore was taken prisoner, and the enemy had taken our guns and were preparing to haul them off, when just at this moment the 11th arrived at the edge of town. Col. Coleman seeing at a glance the situationof affairs gave the following order: “By companies into line. Now boy’s I want you to take those guns. Forward, charge bayonetts.” In one moment the guns were recaptured and the enemy were driven out of Frederick at the point of the bayonett. A number of prisoners were taken in this charge. Our acting Brigadier General Colonel Moore who was taken prisoner was paroled the next day. We encamped near Frederick that night.
On the 13th, General Rodney’s (Rodman) Division took the advance, and skirmished with the enemy’s rear guard, driving them through Middletown and across Middle Creek, over which the enemy burnt the bridge, and then retreated to South Mountain, where there were a large force of the enemy. On Sunday morning the 14th, Cox again took the advance, and moved on with his division towards South Mountain. Our artillery took position on the hills looking towards the Gap, through which ran the turnpike and commenced shelling the Gap and woods to ascertain the enemy’s position, in the meantime we were sent to flank them on the left, their position being now accurately ascertained, and passed through a strip of woods immediately under the batteries, they shelled us at the same time, but without effect, we gained a position in an open field upon a slope of the Mountain. A few moments were now spent in the maneuvering the different regiments into position. The 11th were sent into a cornfield to draw the enemy’s fire, while the 12th and 23d regiments, were in readiness to charge. The 11th had advanced but a short distance into the cornfield when they received a murderous volley from the enemy who were concealed behind stone walls on their right and in their front, which subjected to a terrific cross fire, wounding a great number and killing a few. Almost simultaneously the 12th and 23d charged down the hill with a yell, and rushing upon the stone wall, engaged the 12th and 23d North Carolina Regiments. A desperate hand to hand fight took place, which lasted but a few moments and ended in the utter rout of the enemy. The enemy suffered severely in this charge. On examination most of their dead were found to have been killed by the bayonet. A number of persons were taken in this charge. The 11th were withdrawn from the cornfield and formed into line of battle, ready for the struggle next to come, which was not far off. Lieut. George Croome, was shot by a musket ball in this action, while in the act of charging one of his guns with a load of canister. He died in a short time after.
The enemy having been driven from their first position were next discovered in a narrow lane, protected by a stone wall, in front of which were posted their batteries. The position was a strong one, and one of their own choice, and as our artillery could not be brought into action owing to the nature of the ground, it looked next to impossible to dislodge the enemy. Gen. Cox formed his division into line and ordered a charge, (the only way to move them out from behind stone walls.) Everything now being ready the word charge was given and the bugle sounded and the whole division went in “with a yell” and a terrific encounter ensued, desperate fighting on both sides with bayonets for some time when at length the enemy gave way in confusion, retreating in all directions. Their lose in this charge was terrible, the ground lay strewed with rebel dead. Their loss in dead on our flank was 1000 and the wounded three times that number, also a great number of prisoners. The gallant and lamented Col. Coleman here performed a daring act which I think worth mentioning. After this charge was made the 11th and 28th were obliged to fall back a short distance as an overwhelming force of the enemy’s cavalry and infantry were advancing. A number of our men got separated from their companies and were taken prisoners. Instead of the enemy taking them to the rear, they kept them remaining on the field, one of their officers remarking that “it was no use to be in a hurry for they would have a lot more in a moment,” but in that next moment the column of rebel infantry and cavalry were repulsed and routed. Col. Coleman rode ahead of the regiment and before he knew it rode straight into the rebels who had our men prisoners. The Col. seeing he was in a bad snap, he being entirely alone at the time, concluded to put a bold face on the matter, so he drew his sword, and asked our men in a loud voice, “What are you doing there?” “Why, Colonel we are prisoners.” “Prisoners,” roared the Colonel, “get your arms immediately!” Then going up to the crown he told the rebels that if they didn’t surrender immediately he’d cut them to pieces. The rebels thought of course that the Colonel had a force somewhere near and surrendered. There were 23 of them. The enemy being now driven from all their strong positions on the mountain, Gen. Cox;s division stopped for rest, having been engaged with the enemy since 8 o’clock in the morning. Such is a synopsis of the fighting on our left at South Mountain. The rebel loss in killed was very heavy. They lost three to our one. In the narrow lane behind the stonewall their dead lay in heaps. There were 58 dead rebels thrown down an old well and covered up. Some of the boys out of our company were detailed to bury the dead. And did not again arrive to the regiment until after the Battle of Antietam. After resting on the battle-field until 4 o’clock the next day, we again took up our line of march towards Antietam creek, fighting the enemy every step of the way.
On Tuesday, there was a brisk artillery duel for over two hours’ duration, there being a great number of guns engaged on both sides. But the enemy were compelled to abandon their position and fall back across Antietam creek, where the combined forces of Jackson, Longstreet and Hill were ready to give us battle.
On Tuesday, the whole day was spent in forming a Line of Battle. There was sharp Artillery firing at long range, in which we had decidedly the advantage, owing to our superiority in guns. The enemy occupied the heights across Antietam Creek and had their forces so disposed as make their position a strong one. The line of battle extended nine miles from right to left. Cox’s division were in the advance on the left on Tuesday evening. The 2nd brigade, 36th, 28th, and 11th under Col. Crook, laid along the side of a hill, the enemy shelling them from different batteries for about an hours, wounding some 5 or 6. Owing to the nature of the ground which Col. Crook selected but few were hurt, although shells burst over their heads at the rate of two per minute.
On Wednesday morning early the great battle of Antietam commenced and in a few moments it became general all along the line. The 11th Conn, 11th regulars, and 11th Ohio, opened the battle on the left. Three Companies of the 11th Ohio being thrown out as skirmishers. Col. Coleman was mortally wounded early in the engagement while deploying the men as skirmishers. No braver man fell on that bloody field. He was always found, in time of danger, at the head of his regiment. He never was known to say “Go boys,” but it was always ” Come on Boys.” He has been with us since our organization at Camp Dennison, and the men placed the utmost confidence in him. Our part of the programme was to force a passage over a narrow stone bridge which spanned the Antietam, directly in front of the heights, occupied by the rebels. The fight at this place was for awhile terrible, but finally our troops charged, took the bridge and drove the enemy from the heights.
Had the troops that made this charge been supported in time they would have captured the enemies batteries. Some of the men had their hands already on the guns; and had it not been for a new regiment, only three weeks in the service, giving way in the center, the enemy would have been completely routed and their guns captured, as it was they were forced to relinquish a part of the ground they had gained.
Our part of the programmed being accomplished we had only to hold our position which we did until relieved by fresh troops. Every house, barn, and haystack for miles around were converted into hospitals, and which were crowded to excess. All along the whole line the ground was strewen with dead and wounded. On the right where the enemy massed their troops in solid column, their dead lay in heaps. They lay side by side just as they stood in line of battle. It was been the hardest battle fought during the war, and the rebels were beaten. A good many believe that if the battle had been renewed the next day that the whole rebel army would have been captured but McClellan knew his own business best, and I suppose that if the thing could have “been did” he would have done it.
The following is the list of killed and wounded in Company A, 11th Regiment: Killed–John Hammon—Antietam wounded at South Monutain—John Kramer in the leg; James Wyrick, shot in hip; Milyon Smith, shoulder; Robert Frank, in the leg; Lieut. Johnson, slightly. J.D.K.
In the late afternoon hours of September 14th, what would become known as the Iron Brigade would advance directly against the Confederate defenses holding Turner’s Gap. Major Rufus Dawes, as part of the 6th Wisconsin Infantry, would participate in the assault. He would write about his experiences during the war and they would be published in 1890. The following is an excerpt covering the regiments march through Frederick and into battle on the 14th, the night after the battle, and the pursuit on the 15th.
“Our camp on the quiet Sabbath morning of September 14, 1862, was in the valley of the Monocacy, new Frederick, Maryland. There are few fairer landscapes in our country than this valley affords from its eastern range of hills. The morning was bright, warm, and clear. The bells of the city of Frederick were all ringing. It was a rejoicing at the advent of the host of her deliverance, the Army of the Potomac. The spires of the city were glistening in the morning sunlight. To the south-west could be distinctly heard the muttering of cannon. This was General Stonewall Jackson attacking the garrison at Harper’s Ferry. From right to left along the valley below us, were stretched the swarming camps of the blue coats, and every soldier felt his courage rise at the sight. Through a wooded and uneven country, by different and devious routes, the columns of the grand army had marched forward. We had known something of their progress, but had not so felt their power as we did now when they were concentrating before us. The deep feeling of almost affectionate admiration among the solders for the commander of our army, General McClellan, was often thus expressed: “We have got a General now, and we will show the country what we can do.”
At eight o’clock A.M., our brigade marched forward on the National turnpike, the sixth Wisconsin in advance. Our entry into the city was triumphal. The stars and stripes floated from every building and hung from every window. The joyful people thronged the streets to greet and cheer the veterans of the Army of the Potomac. Little children stood at nearly every door, freely offering cool water, cakes, pies, and dainties. The jibes and insults of the women of Virginia, to which our men had become accustomed, had here a striking contrast in a generous and enthusiastic welcome by the ladies of Frederick City. At eleven A.M. we reached the summit of the Katoctin mountain. Fences and trees showed marks of a skirmish of the evening before. From the summit of this mountain a splendid view was spread before us, in the valley of Middleton. Over beyond the valley, eight miles away, from along the slopes of the South Mountain, we could see arising the smoke of battle. We hurried along down the road toward the scene of action, every gun of which we could see and hear. Our march through the little village of Middleton was almost a counterpart of our reception at Frederick City. The people were more excited as the cannon boomed loud and near, and bloodstained soldiers were coming in from the field of battle. Hearing that a colonel of an Ohio regiment had been brought in to Middleton, wounded, I made a special inquiry and found that it was Lieutenant Colonel Hayes of the 23rd Ohio (Rutherford B. Hayes). We marched on beyond Middleton about a mile and a half and then turned into a field to make our coffee. The fires were not kindled, when an order came to fall in and move forward. It was announced that General Hooker had said “that the crest of that mountain must be carried to-night.” General Hatch’s division turned from the National road toward the right, but an order was recieved assigning Gibbon’s brigade to a special duty. The brigade countermarched and advanced again on the National road for half a mole. We then turned to the left into a field and formed two lines of battle. The seventh Wisconsin and nineteenth Indiana were in the front line; the second and sixth Wisconsin in the second line. We had in the ranks of our regiment for hundred men. Simmon’s Ohio battery, planted in this field, was firing shell at the rebels on the summit of South Mountain. Before us was a valley, beyond which by a steep and stony slope, rose the South Mountain range. From our position to the summit of South Mountain was perhaps two miles. Two miles away on our right, long lines and heavy columns of dark blue infantry could be seen pressing up the green slopes of the mountain, their bayonets flashing like silver in the rays of the setting sun, and their banners waving in beautiful relief against the background of green.
Battle of South Mountain
Turner’s gap through which the National turnpike passes over the mountain, was directly in our front. To attack this pass was the special duty for which we had been selected. To our left along the wooded slopes, there was a crash of musketry, and the roll of cannon, and a white cloud of battle smoke rose above the trees. From Turner’s gap in our front, and along the right on the summit of the mountain, the artillery of the enemy was firing, and we could see the shells bursting over and among our advancing troops. For nearly an hour we laid upon the grassy knoll, passive spectators of the scene. The sun was sinking behind the mountain, when our order came to move forward.
The two regiments in front (7th Wisconsin and 19th Indiana) moved in line of battle. Our regiment and the 2nd Wisconsin followed at supporting distance, formed in double columns. Thus we went down into the valley and began to climb the slope of the mountain, which was smooth at first and covered with orchards and cornfields. The regiment was halted in an orchard and two companies (“B” Captain Rollin P. Converse and “K” Lieutenant John Ticknor) were sent forward as skirmishers. Our skirmishers immediately encountered skirmishers of the enemy and drove them slowly up the mountain, fighting for every inch of the ground. Nothing could be finer than the conduct of these two companies, or more gallant than the bearing of their young leaders. The officer commanding the skirmishers of the second Wisconsin, Captain Wilson Colwell, was killed.
For half a mile of advance, our skirmishers played a deadly game of “Bo-peep,” hiding behind logs, fences, rocks and bushes. Two pieces of artillery of battery “B” moved up on the turnpike under Lieutenant James Stewart, and when the skirmishers were checked, they would wheel into action and fire shell at the houses, barns, or thickets, where the rebels found a cover. The enemy now turned upon us the fire of their batteries, planted in the pass near the mountain top, but their shot flew over.
General Gibbon mounted upon his horse and riding upon high ground where he could see his whole line, shouted orders in a voice loud and clear as a bell and distinctly heard throughout the brigade. It was always “Forward! Forward!” Just at dusk we came to a rough, stony field, skirted on its upper edge by timber. Our skirmishers had encountered the enemy in force and were behind a fence. The seventh Wisconsin in front of us, climbed the fence and moved steadily forward across the field and we followed them, our regiment being formed in double column. Suddenly the seventh Wisconsin halted and opened fire, and we could see a rabid spitting of musketry flashes from the woods above and in front of us, and wounded men from the seventh began to hobble by us. The sharpest fire came from a stonewall, running along in a ravine toward the left of the seventh. Captain John B. Callis was in command of that regiment. He ordered a change of front, throwing his right forward to face the wall; but there burst from the woods, skirting the right of the field, a flame of musketry which sent a shower of bullets into the backs of the men of the right wing of the seventh Wisconsin. Many men were shot by the enfilading fire to which they could make no reply. Captin Hollon Richardson came running towards us shouting: “Come forward, sixth!” Sharp and clear rang out on the night, the voice of Bragg: “Deploy column! By the right and left flanks, double quick, march!” The living machine responded to this impulsive force with instant action, and the column was deployed into line of battle. The right wing of our regiment came into open field, but the left wing was behind the seventh. “Major!” order Bragg, “Take command of the right wing and fire on the woods!” I instantly ordered:
“Attention, right wing, ready, right oblique, aim, fire, load at will, load!” The roll of this wing volley had hardly ceased to reverberate, when Bragg said: “Have your men lie down on the ground, I am going over you.” “Right wing, lie down! Look out, the left wing is going over you!” was the command. Bragg had brought the left wing behind the right wing and he ordered them forward over the ment of the right wing as they laid upon the ground. The left wing fired a volley into the woods, and the right wing advanced in the same manner over them and fired a volley into the woods. Once more Bragg gave a volley by the left wing. There were four volleys by wing given, at the word of command. In a long experience in musketry fighting, this was the single instance I saw of other than a fire by file in battle. The characteristic of Colonel Bragg in battle was a remarkably quick conception and instant action. The conduct of the men was worthy of their commander. In the deployment of the column under fire, they hurried over the rough and stony field with the utmost zeal, and while many men were struck by the bullets of the enemy, there was neither hesitation nor confusion. After the four volleys by wing and a welcome cheer by the seventh Wisconsin, there was positive enthusiasm. Our whole line was slowly advanced up the mountain, the men shouting and firing. The rebels behind the stone wall and i the timber shout: “O, you d—d Yanks, we gave you h–ll again at Bull Run!” Our men would shout back: “Never mind Johnny, its no McDowell after you now. ‘Little Mac’ and ‘Johnny Gibbon’ are after you now.” The rebels fell back from the woods, but stuck to the stone wall. The hostile lines had approached each other closely and the fire was deadly. It was dark and our only aim was by the flashes of the enemy’s guns. Many of our men were falling, and we could not long endure it. Colonel Bragg took the left wing, directing me to keep up the fire with the right wing, and crept up into the woods on our right, advancing a considerable distance up the mountain. He gained higher ground than that of the enemy in our front, and from this position opened fire. Colonel Bragg directed me to join him with the right wing. Owing to the thick brush and the darkness of the night, it was a difficult matter to scramble up the stony side of the mountain. To add to our difficulties, the rebels opened fire upon us; but our gallant left wing fired hotly in return and the junction was completed. Our cartridges were getting short and our guns were dirty with bad powder. Gradually by direction of Colonel Bragg we ceased firing and lay still on the ground. A man in company “A” exclaimed: “Captain Noyes, I am out of cartridges!” It is likely that the enemy in the woods above us heard him, for they immediately opened upon us a heavy fire. We returned the fire, and for a short time the contest was very sharp. This was the last of the battle. When all was again still, Colonel Bragg felt sure that he could here the enemy withdrawing. He ordered, “Three cheers for the Badger State.” They were given and brought no reply. A few volunteer skirmishers crept forward into the woods in front of us. Further pursuit was impossibly. We were nearly out of ammunition and our guns so dirty that we could hardly use them. We lay among thing bushes on the steep rough slope of a mountain in almost total darkness. We did not dare to let the men sleep. Colonel Bragg sent to General Gibbon for ammunition. General Gibbon replied that it was impossible for him to furnish it, but that he hoped that we would soon be relieved by other troops. He said that we must hold the position we had gained so long as there was “an inch of our bayonets left.” The night was chilly, and in the woods intensely dark. Our wounded were scattered over a great distance up and down the mountain, and were suffering untold agonies. Owing to the difficulties of the ground and the night, no stretcher bearers had come upon the field. Several dying men were pleading piteously for water, of which there was not a drop in the regiment, nor was there any liquor. Captain Kellogg and I searched in vain for a swallow for our noble fellow (William Lawrence, Co. I) who dying in great agony from a wound in his bowels. He recognized us and appreciated our efforts, but was unable to speak. The dread reality of war was before us in this frightful death, upon the cold, hard stones. The mortal suffering, the fruitless struggle to send a parting message to the far off home, and the final release by death, all enacted in the darkness, were felt even more deeply than if the scene had been relieved by the light of day. After a long interval of this horror, our stretcher bearers came, and the poor suffering heroes were carried back to houses and barns. At last word came that General Sumner’s troops were marching up the mountain to relieve us. How glade we were to hear it, they only can know who have experienced the feeling of prostration produced by such scenes and surroundings, after the excitement of a bloody battle. It was after midnight, and it seemed to us bitterly cold. The other regiments of our brigade had marched down the mountain, but our relief–where was it? We sent Adjutant Brooks to General Gibbon, who said that our relief had been ordered, and would certainly come. But it did not come. Colonel Bragg finally sent Adjutant Brooks to Brigadier General Willis A. Gorman, the brigade commander, who had orders to relieve us. The Adjutant reported that he offered to lead the war to prevent the possibility of confusion or mistake, but that General Gorman’s reply was:” I can’t send men into that woods to-night. All men are cowards in the dark.” He forgot that the men whom he condemned to shivering and misery for the rest of the night had fought and won a bloody battle in the dark. We were not relieved until eight o’clock in the morning of September 15th, when the 2nd New York regiment of Gorman’s brigade came up. As soon as it became daylight, we examined the field of battle, and found many dead and wounded rebels. The troops opposed to us were five regiments of a brigade commanded by Colonel A.H. Colquitt, the 6th, 23rd, 26th, and 28th Georgia, and 13th Alabama regiments. One rebel soldier from Georgia, wounded in the head, his face a gore of blood, fled from us as we approached. We could hardly persuade him that it was not our purpose to kill him.
General George B. McClellan was stationed in the same field where Simmon’s Ohio battery was planted and he had watched our brigade in the engagement. He wrote the following to the Governor of Wisconsin: ” I beg to add my great admiration of the conduct of the three Wisconsin regiments in General Gibbon’s brigade. I have seen them under fire acting in a manner that reflects the greatest possibly credit and honor upon themselves and their stated. They are equal to the best troops in any army in the world.”
After being relieved by the second New York we marched down the mountain to the National turnpike and the men began to build fires to make coffee and cook their breakfast, but we were ordered to march immediately to the Mountain House on the top of South Mountain. It was hard, but the men fell in promptly and marched along munching dry hard tack. It was now 24 hours since they had had their coffee. Our brigade was put by General Hooker in the advance in the pursuit of the enemy and our regiment marched at the head of the column. We pushed along the turnpike down the western slope of the mountain. Presently old gray haired men, citizens of Maryland, came rushing up to meet us. They seemed almost frantic with joy. They swung their hats and laughed and cried without regard for appearances. Once respectable old gentleman who trotted along beside my horse said; ” We have watched for you, Sir, and we have prayed for you and now thank God you have come.”
Here his feelings got the better of him and he mounted a bank and began to shout. The last I saw of him, he was shouting and thanking God and the 19th Indiana was responding with lusty cheers. As we approached the village of Boonsboro, it seemed deserted, but when our column entered the streets, doors and windows flew open and the people thronged out to greet us. Flags that had been hidden in the darkest corner were now unfurled. These people informed us that the rebel infantry had passed through the town in haste and in much disorder. Colonels were in some cases, they said, carrying regimental banners. They said that General Lee was present when the retreat commenced. We turned to the left in Boonsboro toward Antietam Creek.”
Two days later, Dawes and comrades would find themselves in the maelstrom that was David Miller’s cornfield now known as The Cornfield. Dawes would survive the fighting at Antietam and go to serve in the Army of the Potomac until the summer of 1864 when he mustered out of service. He would be made a brevet Brigadier General of Volunteers in 1866 to date from March 1865. After the war, he would serve on the board of trustees for Marietta College and serve one term in the US House of Representatives. He would pass away in 1899.
Dawes, Rufus Robinson, Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers, Marietta (OH): E.R. Alderman & Sons, 1890. Available online at archives.org here.