MILITARY REMINISCENCES OF THE CIVIL WAR
BY JACOB DOLSON COX, A.M., LL.D.
Formerly Major-General commanding Twenty-Third Army Corps
APRIL 1861--NOVEMBER 1863
March through Washington--Reporting to
Burnside--The Ninth Corps--Burnside's personal qualities--To Leesboro--Straggling--Lee's army at Frederick--Our deliberate advance--Reno at New Market--The march past--Reno and Hayes--Camp gossip--Occupation of Frederick--Affair with Hampton's cavalry--Crossing Catoctin Mountain--The valley and South Mountain--Lee's order found--Division of his army--Jackson at
Harper's Ferry--Supporting Pleasonton's reconnoissance--Meeting Colonel Moor--An involuntary warning--Kanawha Division's advance--Opening of the battle--Carrying the mountain crest--The morning fight--Lull at noon--Arrival of supports--Battle renewed--Final success--Death of Reno--Hooker's battle on the right--His report--Burnside's comments--Franklin's engagement at Crampton's Gap.
Late in the night of the 5th I received orders from McClellan's headquarters to march from my position on Upton's Hill through Washington toward Leesboro, [Footnote: Leesboro, a village of Maryland eight or ten miles north of Washington, must be distinguished from Leesburg in Virginia.] as soon as my pickets could be relieved by troops of McDowell's corps. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. ii. p. 183; vol. li. pt. i. p. 789.] My route was designated as by the road which was a continuation northward of Seventh Street, and I was directed to report to General Ambrose E. Burnside, commanding right wing, whose headquarters were in the suburbs of the city on that road. This was in accordance with my wish, expressed to McClellan that I might have active field work. For two or three days we were not attached to a corps, but as the organization of the army became settled we were temporarily assigned to the Ninth, which had been Burnside's, and had been with him in North Carolina. During this campaign it was commanded by Major-General Jesse L. Reno, who had long had a division in it, and had led the corps in the recent battle. We marched from Upton's Hill at daybreak of the 6th, taking the road to Georgetown by Ball's Cross-Roads. In Georgetown we turned eastward through Washington to Seventh Street, and thence northward to the Leesboro road. As we passed General Burnside's quarters, I sent a staff officer to report our progress. It was about ten o'clock, and Burnside had gone to the White House to meet the
President and cabinet by invitation. His chief of staff, General J. G. Parke, sent a polite note, saying we had not been expected so soon, and directed us to halt and bivouac for the present in some fields by the roadside, near where the Howard University now is. In the afternoon I met Burnside for the first time, and was warmly attracted by him, as everybody was. He was pre-eminently a manly man, as I expressed it in writing home. His large, fine eyes, his winning smile and cordial manners, bespoke a frank, sincere, and honorable character, and these indications were never belied by more intimate acquaintance. The friendship then begun lasted as long as he lived. I learned to understand the limitations of his powers and the points in which he fell short of being a great commander; but as I knew him better I estimated more and more highly his sincerity and truthfulness, his unselfish generosity, and his devoted patriotism. In everything which makes up an honorable and lovable personal character he had no superior. I shall have occasion to speak frequently of his peculiarities and his special traits, but shall never have need to say a word in derogation of the solid virtues I have attributed to him. His chief-of-staff, General Parke, was an officer of the Engineers, and one of the best instructed of that corps. He had served with distinction under Burnside in North Carolina, in command of a brigade and division. I always thought that he preferred staff duty, especially with Burnside, whose confidence in him was complete, and who would leave to him almost untrammelled control of the administrative work of the command.
On September 7th I was ordered to take the advance of the Ninth Corps in the march to Leesboro, following Hooker's corps. It was my first march with troops of this army, and I was shocked at the straggling I witnessed. The "roadside brigade," as we called it, was often as numerous, by careful estimate, as our own column moving in the middle of the road. I could say of the men of the Kanawha division, as Richard Taylor said of his Louisiana brigade with
Stonewall Jackson, that they had not yet _learned_ to straggle. [Footnote: See Taylor's "Destruction and Reconstruction," p. 50, for a curious interview with Jackson.] I tried to prevent their learning it. We had a roll-call immediately upon halting after the march, and another half an hour later, with prompt reports of the result. I also assigned a field officer and medical officer to duty at the rear of the column, with ambulances for those who became ill and with punishments for the rest. The result was that, in spite of the example of others, the division had no stragglers, the first roll-call rarely showing more than twenty or thirty not answering to their names, and the second often proving every man to be present. [Footnote: See letters of General R. B. Hayes and General George Crook, Appendix B.] In both the
Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia the evil had become a most serious one. After the battle of Antietam, for the express purpose of remedying it, McClellan appointed General Patrick Provost-Marshal with a strong provost-guard, giving him very extended powers, and permitting nobody, of whatever rank, to interfere with him. Patrick was a man of vigor, of conscience, and of system, and though he was greatly desirous of keeping a field command, proved so useful, indeed so necessary a part of the organization, that he was retained in it against his wishes, to the end of the war, each commander of the Army of the Potomac in turn finding that he was indispensable. [Footnote: I have discussed this subject also in a review of Henderson's
Stonewall Jackson, "The Nation," Nov. 24, 1898, p. 396.]
The Confederate army suffered from straggling quite as much, perhaps, as ours, but in a somewhat different way. At the close of the Antietam campaign General Lee made bitter complaints in regard to it, and asked the Confederate government for legislation which would authorize him to apply the severest punishments. As the Confederate stragglers were generally in the midst of friends, where they could sleep under shelter and get food of better quality than the army ration, this grew to be the regular mode of life with many even of those who would join their comrades in an engagement. They were not reported in the return of "effectives" made by their officers, but that they often made part of the killed, wounded, and captured I have little doubt. In this way a rational explanation may be found of the larger discrepancies between the Confederate reports of casualties and ours of their dead buried and prisoners taken.
The weather during this brief campaign was as lovely as possible, and the contrast between the rich farming country in which we now were, and the forest-covered mountains of West Virginia to which we had been accustomed, was very striking. An evening march, under a brilliant moon, over a park-like landscape with alternations of groves and meadows which could not have been more beautifully composed by a master artist, remains in my memory as a page out of a lovely romance. On the day that we marched to Leesboro, Lee's army was concentrated near Frederick, behind the Monocacy River, having begun the crossing of the Potomac on the 4th. There was a singular dearth of trustworthy information on the subject at our army headquarters. We moved forward by very short marches of six or eight miles, feeling our way so cautiously that Lee's reports speak of it as an unexpectedly slow approach. The Comte de Paris excuses it on the ground of the disorganized condition of McClellan's army after the recent battle. It must be remembered, however, that Sumner's corps and Franklin's had not been at the second Bull Run, and were veterans of the Potomac Army. The Twelfth Corps had been Banks's, and it too had not been engaged at the second Bull Run, its work having been to cover the trains of Pope's army on the retrograde movement from Warrenton Junction. Although new regiments had been added to these corps, it is hardly proper to say that the army as a whole was not one which could be rapidly manoeuvred. I see no good reason why it might not have advanced at once to the left bank of the Monocacy, covering thus both Washington and Baltimore, and hastening by some days Lee's movement across the Blue Ridge. We should at least have known where the enemy was by being in contact with him, instead of being the sport of all sorts of vague rumors and wild reports. [Footnote: McClellan was not wholly responsible for this tardiness, for
Halleck was very timid about uncovering Washington, and his dispatches tended to increase McClellan's natural indecision. Official Records, vol. xix. pt. ii. p. 280.]
The Kanawha division took the advance of the right wing when we left Leesboro on the 8th, and marched to Brookville. On the 9th it reached Goshen, where it lay on the 10th, and on the 11th reached Ridgeville on the railroad. The rest of the Ninth Corps was an easy march behind us. Hooker had been ordered further to the right on the strength of rumors that Lee was making a circuit towards Baltimore, and his corps reached Cooksville and the railroad some ten miles east of my position. The extreme left of the army was at Poolesville, near the Potomac, making a spread of thirty miles across the whole front. The cavalry did not succeed in getting far in advance of the infantry, and very little valuable information was obtained. At Ridgeville, however, we got reliable evidence that Lee had evacuated Frederick the day before, and that only cavalry was east of the Catoctin Mountains. Hooker got similar information at about the same time. It was now determined to move more rapidly, and early in the morning of the 12th I was ordered to march to New Market and thence to Frederick. At New Market I was overtaken by General Reno, with several officers of rank from the other divisions of the corps, and they dismounted at a little tavern by the roadside to see the Kanawha division go by. Up to this time they had seen nothing of us whatever. The men had been so long in the West Virginia mountains at hard service, involving long and rapid marches, that they had much the same strength of legs and ease in marching which was afterward so much talked of when seen in
Sherman's army at the review in Washington at the close of the war. I stood a little behind Reno and the rest, and had the pleasure of hearing their involuntary exclamations of admiration at the marching of the men. The easy swinging step, the graceful poise of the musket on the shoulder, as if it were a toy and not a burden, and the compactness of the column were all noticed and praised with a heartiness which was very grateful to my ears. I no longer felt any doubt that the division stood well in the opinion of my associates.
I enjoyed this the more because, the evening before, a little incident had occurred which had threatened to result in some ill-feeling. It had been thought that we were likely to be attacked at Ridgeville, and on reaching the village I disposed the division so as to cover the place and to be ready for an engagement. I ordered the brigades to bivouac in line of battle, covering the front with outposts and with cavalry vedettes from the Sixth New York Cavalry (Colonel Devin), which had been attached to the division during the advance. The men were without tents, and to make beds had helped themselves to some straw from stacks in the vicinity. Toward evening General Reno rode up, and happening first to meet Lieutenant-Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes, commanding the Twenty third Ohio, he rather sharply inquired why the troops were not bivouacking "closed in mass," and also blamed the taking of the straw. Colonel Hayes referred him to me as the proper person to account for the disposition of the troops, and quietly said he thought the quartermaster's department could settle for the straw if the owner was loyal. A few minutes later the general came to my own position, but was now quite over his irritation. I, of course, knew nothing of his interview with Hayes, and when he said that it was the policy in Maryland to make the troops bivouac in compact mass, so as to do as little damage to property as possible, I cordially assented, but urged that such a rule would not apply to the advance-guard when supposed to be in presence of the enemy; we needed to have the men already in line if an alarm should be given in the night. To this he agreed, and a pleasant conversation followed. Nothing was said to me about the straw taken for bedding, and when I heard of the little passage-at-arms with Colonel Hayes, I saw that it was a momentary disturbance which had no real significance. Camp gossip, however, is as bad as village gossip, and in a fine volume of the "History of the Twenty-first
Massachusetts Regiment," I find it stated that the Kanawha division coming fresh from the West was disposed to plunder and pillage, giving an exaggerated version of the foregoing story as evidence of it. This makes it a duty to tell what was the small foundation for the charge, and to say that I believe no regiments in the army were less obnoxious to any just accusation of such a sort. The gossip would never have survived the war at all but for the fact that Colonel Hayes became President of the United States, and the supposed incident of his army life thus acquired a new interest. [Footnote: This incident gives me the opportunity to say that after reading a good many regimental histories, I am struck with the fact that with the really invaluable material they contain when giving the actual experiences of the regiments themselves, they also embody a great deal of mere gossip. As a rule, their value is confined to what strictly belongs to the regiment; and the criticisms, whether of other organizations or of commanders, are likely to be the expression of the local and temporary prejudices and misconceptions which are notoriously current in time of war. They need to be read with due allowance for this. The volume referred to is a favorable example of its class, but its references to the Kanawha division (which was in the Ninth Corps only a month) illustrate the tendency I have mentioned. It should be borne in mind that the Kanawha men had the position of advance-guard, and I believe did not camp in the neighborhood of the other divisions in a single instance from the time we left Leesboro till the battle of South Mountain. What is said of them, therefore, is not from observation. The incident between Reno and Hayes occurred in the camp of the latter, and could not possibly be known to the author of the regimental history but by hearsay. Yet he affirms as a fact that the Kanawha division "plundered the country unmercifully," for which Reno "took Lieutenant-Colonel Hayes severely though justly to task." He also asserts that the division set a "very bad example" in straggling. As to this, the truth is as I have circumstantially stated it above. He has still further indulged in a "slant" at the "Ohioans" in a story of dead Confederates being put in a well at South Mountain,--a story as apocryphal as the others. Wise's house and well were within the camp of the division to which the Twenty-first Massachusetts belonged, and the burial party there would have been from that division. Lastly, the writer says that General Cox, the temporary corps commander, "robs us [the Twenty-first Massachusetts] of our dearly bought fame" by naming the Fifty-first New York and Fifty-first Pennsylvania as the regiments which stormed the bridge at Antietam. He acquits Burnside and McClellan of the alleged injustice, saying they "follow the corps report in this respect." Yet mention is not made of the fact that my report literally copies that of the division commander, who himself selected the regiments for the charge! The "Ohioan" had soon gone west again with his division, and was probably fair game. There is something akin to provincialism in regimental _esprit de corps_, and such instances as the above, which are all found within a few pages of the book referred to, show that, like Leech's famous Staffordshire rough in the Punch cartoon, to be a "stranger" is a sufficient reason to "'eave 'arf a brick at un." See letters of President Hayes and General Crook on the subject, Appendix B.]
From New Market we sent the regiment of cavalry off to the right to cover our flank, and to investigate reports that heavy bodies of the enemy's cavalry were north of us. The infantry pushed rapidly toward Frederick. The opposition was very slight till we reached the Monocacy River, which is perhaps half a mile from the town. Here General
Wade Hampton, with his brigade as rear-guard of Lee's army, attempted to resist the crossing. The highway crosses the river by a substantial stone bridge, and the ground upon our bank was considerably higher than that on the other side. We engaged the artillery of the enemy with a battery of our own, which had the advantage of position, whilst the infantry forced the crossing both by the bridge and by a ford a quarter of a mile to the right. As soon as Moor's brigade was over, it was deployed on the right and left of the turnpike, which was bordered on either side by a high and strong post-and-rail fence. Scammon's was soon over, and similarly deployed as a second line, with the Eleventh Ohio in column in the road. Moor had with him a troop of horse and a single cannon, and went forward with the first line, allowing it to keep abreast of him on right and left. I also rode on the turnpike between the two lines, and only a few rods behind Moor, having with me my staff and a few orderlies. Reno was upon the other bank of the river, overlooking the movement, which made a fine military display as the lines advanced at quick-step toward the city. Hampton's horsemen had passed out of our sight, for the straight causeway turned sharply to the left just as it entered the town, and we could not see beyond the turn. We were perhaps a quarter of a mile from the city, when a young staff officer from corps headquarters rode up beside me and exclaimed in a boisterous way, "Why don't they go in faster? There's nothing there!" I said to the young man, "Did General Reno send you with any order to me?" "No," he replied. "Then," said I, "when I want your advice I will ask it." He moved off abashed, and I did not notice what had become of him, but, in fact, he rode up to Colonel Moor, and repeated a similar speech. Moor was stung by the impertinence which he assumed to be a criticism upon him from corps headquarters, and, to my amazement, I saw him suddenly dash ahead at a gallop with his escort and the gun. He soon came to the turn of the road where it loses itself among the houses; there was a quick, sharp rattling of carbines, and Hampton's cavalry was atop of the little party. There was one discharge of the cannon, and some of the brigade staff and escort came back in disorder. I ordered up at "double quick" the Eleventh Ohio, which, as I have said, was in column in the road, and these, with bayonets fixed, dashed into the town. The enemy had not waited for them, but retreated out of the place by the
Hagerstown road. Moor had been ridden down, unhorsed, and captured. The artillery-men had unlimbered the gun, pointed it, and the gunner stood with the lanyard in his hand, when he was struck by a charging horse; the gun was fired by the concussion, but at the same moment it was capsized into the ditch by the impact of the cavalry column. The enemy had no time to right the gun or carry it off, nor to stop for prisoners. They forced Moor on another horse, and turned tail as the charging lines of infantry came up on right and left as well as the column in the road, for there had not been a moment's pause in the advance. It had all happened, and the gun with a few dead and wounded of both sides were in our hands, in less time than it has taken to describe it. Those who may have a fancy for learning how Munchausen would tell this story, may find it in the narrative of Major Heros von Borke of J. E. B. Stuart's staff. [Footnote: Von Borke's account is so good an example of the way in which romance may be built up out of a little fact that I give it in full. The burning of the stone bridge half a mile in rear of the little affair was a peculiarly brilliant idea; but he has evidently confused our advance with that on the Urbana road. He says: "Toward evening the enemy arrived in the immediate neighborhood of Monocacy bridge, and observing only a small force at this point, advanced very carelessly. A six-pounder gun had been placed in position by them at a very short distance from the bridge, which fired from time to time a shot at our horsemen, while the foremost regiment marched along at their ease, as if they believed this small body of cavalry would soon wheel in flight. This favorable moment for an attack was seized in splendid style by Major Butler, who commanded the two squadrons of the Second South Carolina Cavalry, stationed at this point as our rear-guard. Like lightning he darted across the bridge, taking the piece of artillery, which had scarcely an opportunity of firing a shot, and falling upon the regiment of infantry, which was dispersed in a few seconds, many of them being shot down, and many others, among whom was the colonel in command, captured. The colors of the regiment also fell into Major Butler's hands. The piece of artillery, in the hurry of the moment, could not be brought over to our side of the river, as the enemy instantly sent forward a large body of cavalry at a gallop, and our dashing men had only time to spike it and trot with their prisoners across the bridge, which, having been already fully prepared for burning, was in a blaze when the infuriated Yankees arrived at the water's edge. The conflagration of the bridge of course checked their onward movement, and we quietly continued the retreat." Von Borke, vol. i. p. 203. Stuart's report is very nearly accurate: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 816.] Moor's capture, however, had consequences, as we shall see. The command of his brigade passed to Colonel George Crook of the Thirty-sixth Ohio.
Frederick was a loyal city, and as Hampton's cavalry went out at one end of the street and our infantry came in at the other, and whilst the carbine smoke and the smell of powder still lingered, the closed window-shutters of the houses flew open, the sashes went up, the windows were filled with ladies waving their handkerchiefs and national flags, whilst the men came to the column with fruits and refreshments for the marching soldiers as they went by in the hot sunshine of the September afternoon. [Footnote: Although at the head of the column, the "truth of history" compels me to say that I saw nothing of Barbara Frietchie, and heard nothing of her till I read Whittier's poem in later years. When, however, I visited Frederick with
General Grant in 1869, we were both presented with walking-sticks made from timbers of Barbara's house which had been torn down, and, of course, I cannot dispute the story of which I have the stick as evidence; for
Grant thought the stick shut me up from any denial and established the legend.] Pleasonton's cavalry came in soon after by the Urbana road, and during the evening a large part of the army drew near the place. Next morning (13th) the cavalry went forward to reconnoitre the passes of Catoctin Mountain, Rodman's division of our corps being ordered to support them and to proceed toward Middletown in the Catoctin valley. Through some misunderstanding Rodman took the road to Jefferson, leading to the left, where Franklin's corps was moving, and did not get upon the Hagerstown road. About noon I was ordered to march upon the latter road to Middletown. McClellan himself met me as my column moved out of town, and told me of the misunderstanding in Rodman's orders, adding that if I found him on the march I should take his division also along with me. [Footnote: As is usual in such cases, the direction was later put in writing by his chief of staff. Official Records, vol. li. pt. i. p. 827.] I did not meet him, but the other two divisions of the corps crossed Catoctin Mountain that night, whilst Rodman returned to Frederick. The Kanawha division made an easy march, and as the cavalry was now ahead of us, met no opposition in crossing Catoctin Mountain or in the valley beyond. On the way we passed a house belonging to a branch of the Washington family, and a few officers of the division accompanied me, at the invitation of the occupant, to look at some relics of the Father of his Country which were preserved there. We stood for some minutes with uncovered heads before a case containing a uniform he had worn, and other articles of personal use hallowed by their association with him, and went on our way with our zeal strengthened by closer contact with souvenirs of the great patriot. Willcox's division followed us, and encamped a mile and a half east of Middletown. Sturgis's halted not far from the western foot of the mountain, with corps headquarters near by. My own camp for the night was pitched in front (west) of the village of Middletown along Catoctin Creek. Pleasonton's cavalry was a little in advance of us, at the forks of the road where the old
Sharpsburg road turns off to the left from the turnpike. The rest of the army was camped about Frederick, except Franklin's corps (Sixth), which was near Jefferson, ten miles further south but also east of Catoctin Mountain.
The Catoctin or Middletown valley is beautifully included between Catoctin Mountain and South Mountain, two ranges of the Blue Ridge, running northeast and southwest. It is six or eight miles wide, watered by Catoctin Creek, which winds southward among rich farms and enters the Potomac near Point of Rocks. The National road leaving Frederick passes through Middletown and crosses South Mountain, as it goes northwestward, at a depression called Turner's Gap. The old Sharpsburg road crosses the summit at another gap, known as Fox's, about a mile south of Turner's. Still another, the old Hagerstown road, finds a passage over the ridge at about an equal distance north. The National road, being of easier grades and better engineering, was now the principal route, the others having degenerated to rough country roads. The mountain crests are from ten to thirteen hundred feet above the Catoctin valley, and the "gaps" are from two to three hundred feet lower than the summits near them. [Footnote: These elevations are from the official map of the U.S. Engineers.] These summits are like scattered and irregular hills upon the high rounded surface of the mountain top. They are wooded, but along the southeasterly slopes, quite near the top of the mountain, are small farms, with meadows and cultivated fields.
The military situation had been cleared up by the knowledge of Lee's movements which McClellan got from a copy of Lee's order of the day for the both. This had been found at Frederick on the 13th, and it tallied so well with what was otherwise known that no doubt was left as to its authenticity. It showed that Jackson's corps with Walker's division were
besieging Harper's Ferry on the Virginia side of the Potomac, whilst McLaws's division supported by Anderson's was co-operating on Maryland Heights. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. ii. pp. 281, 603.] Longstreet, with the remainder of his corps, was at Boonsboro or near Hagerstown. D. H. Hill's division was the rear-guard, and the cavalry under Stuart covered the whole, a detached squadron being with Longstreet, Jackson, and McLaws each. The order did not name the three separate divisions in Jackson's command proper (exclusive of Walker), nor those remaining with Longstreet except D. H. Hill's; but it is hardly conceivable that these were not known to McClellan after his own and Pope's contact with them during the campaigns of the spring and summer. At any rate, the order showed that Lee's army was in two parts, separated by the Potomac and thirty or forty miles of road. As soon as Jackson should reduce Harper's Ferry they would reunite. Friday the 12th was the day fixed for the concentration of Jackson's force for his attack, and it was Saturday when the order fell into McClellan's hands. Three days had already been lost in the slow advance since Lee had crossed Catoctin Mountain, and Jackson's artillery was now heard pounding at the camp and earthworks of Harper's Ferry. McLaws had already driven our forces from Maryland Heights, and had opened upon the ferry with his guns in commanding position on the north of the Potomac. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 607.] McClellan telegraphed to the President that he would catch the rebels "in their own trap if my men are equal to the emergency." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. ii. p. 281.] There was certainly no time to lose. The information was in his hands before noon, for he refers to it in a dispatch to
Mr. Lincoln at twelve. If his men had been ordered to be at the top of South Mountain before dark, they could have been there; but less than one full corps passed Catoctin Mountain that day or night, and when the leisurely movement of the 14th began, he himself, instead of being with the advance, was in Frederick till after 2 P.M., at which hour he sent a dispatch to Washington, and then rode to the front ten or twelve miles away. The failure to be "equal to the emergency" was not in his men. Twenty-four hours, as it turned out, was the whole difference between saving and losing Harper's Ferry with its ten or twelve thousand men and its unestimated munitions and stores. It may be that the commanders of the garrison were in fault, and that a more stubborn resistance should have been made. It may be that Halleck ought to have ordered the place to be evacuated earlier, as McClellan suggested. Nevertheless, at noon of the 13th McClellan had it in his power to save the place and interpose his army between the two wings, of the Confederates with decisive effect on the campaign. He saw that it was an "emergency," but did not call upon his men for any extraordinary exertion. Harper's. Ferry surrendered, and Lee united the wings of his army beyond the Antietam before the final and general engagement was forced upon him.
At my camp in front of Middletown, I received no orders looking to a general advance on the 14th; but only to support, by a detachment, Pleasonton's cavalry in a reconnoissance toward Turner's Gap. Pleasonton himself came to my tent in the evening, and asked that one brigade might report to him in the morning for the purpose. Six o'clock was the hour at which he wished them to march. He said further that he and Colonel Crook were old army acquaintances and that he would like Crook to have the detail. I wished to please him, and not thinking that it would make any difference to my brigade commanders, intimated that I would do so. But Colonel Scammon, learning what was intended, protested that under our custom his brigade was entitled to the advance next day, as the brigades had taken it in turn. I explained that it was only as a courtesy to Pleasonton and at his request that the change was proposed. This did not better the matter in Scammon's opinion. He had been himself a regular officer, and the point of professional honor touched him. I recognized the justice of his demand, and said he should have the duty if he insisted upon it. Pleasonton was still in the camp visiting with Colonel Crook, and I explained to him the reasons why I could not yield to his wish, but must assign Scammon's brigade to the duty in conformity with the usual course. There was in fact no reason except the personal one for choosing one brigade more than the other, for they were equally good. Crook took the decision in good part, though it was natural that he should wish for an opportunity of distinguished service, as he had not been the regular commandant of the brigade. Pleasonton was a little chafed, and even intimated that he claimed some right to name the officer and command to be detailed. This, of course, I could not admit, and issued the formal orders at once. The little controversy had put Scammon and his whole brigade upon their mettle, and was a case in which a generous emulation did no harm. What happened in the morning only increased their spirit and prepared them the better to perform what I have always regarded as a very brilliant exploit.
[Illustration: Map: South Mountain ]
The morning of Sunday the 14th of September was a bright one. I had my breakfast very early and was in the saddle before it was time for Scammon to move. He was prompt, and I rode on with him to see in what way his support was likely to be used. Two of the Ninth Corps batteries (Gibson's and Benjamin's) had accompanied the cavalry, and one of these was a heavy one of twenty-pounder Parrotts. They were placed upon a knoll a little in front of the cavalry camp, about half a mile beyond the forks of the old Sharpsburg road with the turnpike. They were exchanging shots with a battery of the enemy well up in the gap. Just as Scammon and I crossed Catoctin Creek I was surprised to see Colonel Moor standing at the roadside. With astonishment I rode to him and asked how he came there. He said that he had been taken beyond the mountain after his capture, but had been paroled the evening before, and was now finding his way back to us on foot. "But where are _you_ going?" said he. I answered that Scammon was going to support Pleasonton in a reconnoissance into the gap. Moor made an involuntary start, saying, "My God! be careful!" then checking himself, added, "But I am paroled!" and turned away. I galloped to Scammon and told him that I should follow him in close support with Crook's brigade, and as I went back along the column I spoke to each regimental commander, warning them to be prepared for anything, big or little,--it might be a skirmish, it might be a battle. Hurrying to camp, I ordered Crook to turn out his brigade and march at once. I then wrote a dispatch to General Reno, saying I suspected we should find the enemy in force on the mountain top, and should go forward with both brigades instead of sending one. Starting a courier with this, I rode forward again and found Pleasonton. Scammon had given him an inkling of our suspicions, and in the personal interview they had reached a mutual good understanding. I found that he was convinced that it would be unwise to make an attack in front, and had determined that his horsemen should merely demonstrate upon the main road and support the batteries, whilst Scammon should march by the old Sharpsburg road and try to reach the flank of the force on the summit. I told him that in view of my fear that the force of the enemy might be too great for Scammon, I had determined to bring forward Crook's brigade in support. If it became necessary to fight with the whole division, I should do so, and in that case I should assume the responsibility myself as his senior officer. To this he cordially assented.
One section of McMullin's six-gun battery was all that went forward with Scammon (and even these not till the infantry reached the summit), four guns being left behind, as the road was rough and steep. There were in Simmonds's battery two twenty-pounder Parrott guns, and I ordered these also to remain on the turnpike and to go into action with Benjamin's battery of the same calibre. It was about half-past seven when Crook's head of column filed off from the turnpike upon the old Sharpsburg road, and Scammon had perhaps half an hour's start. We had fully two miles to go before we should reach the place where our attack was actually made, and as it was a pretty sharp ascent the men marched slowly with frequent rests. On our way up we were overtaken by my courier who had returned from General Reno with approval of my action and the assurance that the rest of the Ninth Corps would come forward to my support.
When Scammon had got within half a mile of Fox's Gap (the summit of the old Sharpsburg road), [Footnote: The Sharpsburg road is also called the Braddock road, as it was the way by which Braddock and Washington had marched to Fort Duquesne (Pittsburg) in the old French war. For the same reason the gap is called Braddock's Gap. I have adopted that which seems to be in most common local use.] the enemy opened upon him with case-shot from the edge of the timber above the open fields, and he had judiciously turned off upon a country road leading still further to the left, and nearly parallel to the ridge above. His movement had been made under cover of the forest, and he had reached the extreme southern limit of the open fields south of the gap on this face of the mountain. Here I overtook him, his brigade being formed in line under cover of the timber, facing open pasture fields having a stone wall along the upper side, with the forest again beyond this. On his left was the Twenty-third Ohio under Lieutenant-Colonel R. B. Hayes, who had been directed to keep in the woods beyond the open, and to strike if possible the flank of the enemy. His centre was the Twelfth Ohio under Colonel Carr B. White, whose duty was to attack the stone wall in front, charging over the broad open fields. On the right was the Thirtieth Ohio, Colonel Hugh Ewing, who was ordered to advance against a battery on the crest which kept up a rapid and annoying fire. It was now about nine o'clock, and Crook's column had come into close support. Bayonets were fixed, and at the word the line rushed forward with loud hurrahs. Hayes, being in the woods, was not seen till he had passed over the crest and turned upon the enemy's flank and rear. Here was a sharp combat, but our men established themselves upon the summit and drove the enemy before them. White and Ewing charged over the open under a destructive fire of musketry and shrapnel. As Ewing approached the enemy's battery (Bondurant's), it gave him a parting salvo, and limbered rapidly toward the right along a road in the edge of the woods which follows the summit to the turnpike near the Mountain House at Turner's Gap. White's men never flinched, and the North Carolinians of Garland's brigade (for it was they who held the ridge at this point) poured in their fire till the advancing line of bayonets was in their faces when they broke away from the wall. Our men fell fast, but they kept up their pace, and the enemy's centre was broken by a heroic charge. Garland strove hard to rally his men, but his brigade was hopelessly broken in two. He rallied his right wing on the second ridge a little in rear of that part of his line, but Hayes's regiment was here pushing forward from our left. Colonel Ruffin of the Thirteenth North Carolina held on to the ridge road beyond our right, near Fox's Gap. The fighting was now wholly in the woods, and though the enemy's centre was routed there was stubborn resistance on both flanks. His cavalry dismounted (said to be under Colonel Rosser [Footnote: Stuart's Report, Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 817.] ) was found to extend beyond Hayes's line, and supported the Stuart artillery, which poured canister into our advancing troops. I now ordered Crook to send the Eleventh Ohio (under Lieutenant-Colonel Coleman) beyond Hayes's left to extend our line in that direction, and to direct the Thirty-sixth Ohio (Lieutenant-Colonel Clark) to fill a gap between the Twelfth and Thirtieth caused by diverging lines of advance. The only remaining regiment (the Twenty-eighth, Lieutenant-Colonel Becker) was held in reserve on the right. The Thirty-sixth aided by the Twelfth repulsed a stout effort of the enemy to re-establish their centre. The whole line again sprung forward. A high knoll on our left was carried. The dismounted cavalry was forced to retreat with their battery across the ravine in which the Sharpsburg road descends on the west of the mountain, and took a new position on a separate hill in rear of the heights at the Mountain House. There was considerable open ground at this new position, from which their battery had full play at a range of about twelve hundred yards upon the ridge held by us. But the Eleventh and Twenty-third stuck stoutly to the hill which Hayes had first carried, and their line was nearly parallel to the Sharpsburg road, facing north. Garland had rushed to the right of his brigade to rally them when they had broken before the onset of the Twenty-third Ohio upon the flank, and in the desperate contest there he had been killed and the disaster to his command made irreparable. On our side Colonel Hayes had also been disabled by a severe wound as he gallantly led the Ohio regiment.
I now directed the centre and right to push forward toward Fox's Gap. Lieutenant Croome with a section of McMullin's battery had come up, and he put his guns in action in the most gallant manner in the open ground near Wise's house. The Thirtieth and Thirty-sixth changed front to the right and attacked the remnant of Garland's brigade, now commanded by Colonel McRae, and drove it and two regiments from G. B. Anderson's brigade back upon the wooded hill beyond Wise's farm at Fox's Gap. The whole of Anderson's brigade retreated further along the crest toward the Mountain House. Meanwhile the Twelfth Ohio, also changing front, had thridded its way in the same direction through laurel thickets on the reverse slope of the mountain, and attacking suddenly the force at Wise's as the other two regiments charged it in front, completed the rout and brought off two hundred prisoners. Bondurant's battery was again driven hurriedly off to the north. But the hollow at the gap about Wise's was no place to stay. It was open ground and was swept by the batteries of the cavalry on the open hill to the northwest, and by those of Hill's division about the Mountain House and upon the highlands north of the National road; for those hills run forward like a bastion and give a perfect flanking fire along our part of the mountain. The gallant Croome with a number of his gunners had been killed, and his guns were brought back into the shelter of the woods, on the hither side of Wise's fields. The infantry of the right wing was brought to the same position, and our lines were reformed along the curving crests from that point which looks down into the gap and the Sharpsburg road, toward the left. The extreme right with Croome's two guns was held by the Thirtieth, with the Twenty-eighth in second line. Next came the Twelfth, with the Thirty-sixth in second line, the front curving toward the west with the form of the mountain summit. The left of the Twelfth dipped a little into a hollow, beyond which the Twenty-third and Eleventh occupied the next hill facing toward the Sharpsburg road. Our front was hollow, for the two wings were nearly at right angles to each other; but the flanks were strongly placed, the right, which was most exposed, having open ground in front which it could sweep with its fire and having the reserve regiments closely supporting it. Part of Simmonds's battery which had also come up had done good service in the last combats, and was now disposed so as to check the fire of the enemy.
It was time to rest. Three hours of up-hill marching and climbing had been followed by as long a period of bloody battle, and it was almost noon. The troops began to feel the exhaustion of such labor and struggle. We had several hundred prisoners in our hands, and the field was thickly strewn with dead, in gray and in blue, while our field hospital a little down the mountain side was encumbered with hundreds of wounded. We learned from our prisoners that the summit was held by D. H. Hill's division of five brigades with Stuart's cavalry, and that Longstreet's corps was in close support. I was momentarily expecting to hear from the supporting divisions of the Ninth Corps, and thought it the part of wisdom to hold fast to our strong position astride of the mountain top commanding the Sharpsburg road till our force should be increased. The two Kanawha brigades had certainly won a glorious victory, and had made so assured a success of the day's work that it would be folly to imperil it. [Footnote: For Official Records, see Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. pp. 458-474.]
General Hill has since argued that only part of his division could oppose us; [Footnote: Century War Book, vol. ii. pp. 559, etc.] but his brigades were all on the mountain summit within easy support of each other, and they had the day before them. It was five hours from the time of our first charge to the arrival of our first supports, and it was not till three o'clock in the afternoon that Hooker's corps reached the eastern base of the mountain and began its deployment north of the National road. Our effort was to attack the weak end of his line, and we succeeded in putting a stronger force there than that which opposed us. It is for our opponent to explain how we were permitted to do it. The two brigades of the Kanawha division numbered less than 3000 men. Hill's division was 5000 strong, [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 1025.] even by the Confederate method of counting their effectives, which should be increased nearly one-fifth to compare properly with our reports. In addition to these Stuart had the principal part of the Confederate cavalry on this line, and they were not idle spectators. Parts of Lee's and Hampton's brigades were certainly there, and probably the whole of Lee's. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 819.] With less than half the numerical strength which was opposed to it, therefore, the Kanawha division had carried the summit, advancing to the charge for the most part over open ground in the storm of musketry and artillery fire, and held the crests they had gained through the livelong day, in spite of all efforts to retake them.
In our mountain camps of West Virginia I had felt discontented that our native Ohio regiments did not take as kindly to the labors of drill and camp police as some of German birth, and I had warned them that they would feel the need of accuracy and mechanical precision when the day of battle came. They had done reasonably well, but suffered in comparison with some of the others on dress parade and in the form and neatness of the camp. When, however, on the slopes of South Mountain I saw the lines go forward steadier and more even under fire than they ever had done at drill, their intelligence making them perfectly comprehend the advantage of unity in their effort and in the shock when they met the foe--when their bodies seemed to dilate, their step to have better cadence and a tread as of giants as they went cheering up the hill,--I took back all my criticisms and felt a pride and glory in them as soldiers and comrades that words cannot express.
It was about noon that the lull in the battle occurred, and it lasted a couple of hours, while reinforcements were approaching the mountain top from both sides. The enemy's artillery kept up a pretty steady fire, answered occasionally by our few cannon; but the infantry rested on their arms, the front covered by a watchful line of skirmishers, every man at his tree. The Confederate guns had so perfectly the range of the sloping fields about and behind us, that their canister shot made long furrows in the sod with a noise like the cutting of a melon rind, and the shells which skimmed the crest and burst in the tree-tops at the lower side of the fields made a sound like the crashing and falling of some brittle substance, instead of the tough fibre of oak and pine. We had time to notice these things as we paced the lines waiting for the renewal of the battle.
Willcox's division reported to me about two o'clock, and would have been up earlier, but for a mistake in the delivery of a message to him. He had sent from Middletown to ask me where I desired him to come, and finding that the messenger had no clear idea of the roads by which he had travelled, I directed him to say that General Pleasonton would point out the road I had followed, if inquired of. Willcox understood the messenger that I wished him to inquire of Pleasonton where he had better put his division in, and on doing so, the latter suggested that he move against the crests on the north of the National road. He was preparing to do this when Burnside and Reno came up and corrected the movement, recalling him from the north and sending him by the old Sharpsburg road to my position. As his head of column came up, Longstreet's corps was already forming with its right outflanking my left. I sent two regiments [Footnote: In my official report I said one regiment, but General Willcox reported that he sent two, and he is doubtless right. For his official report, see Official Records, vol. xix. pt. ii. p. 428.] to extend my left, and requested Willcox to form the rest of the division on my right facing the summit. He was doing this when he received an order from General Reno to take position overlooking the National road facing northward. [Footnote: _Ibid_.] I can hardly think the order could have been intended to effect this, as the turnpike is deep between the hills there, and the enemy quite distant on the other side of the gorge. But Willcox, obeying the order as he received it, formed along the Sharpsburg road, his left next to my right, but his line drawn back nearly at right angles to it. He placed Cook's battery in the angle, and this opened a rapid fire on one of the enemy's which was on the bastion-like hill north of the gorge already mentioned. Longstreet's men were now pretty well up, and pushed a battery forward to the edge of the timber beyond Wise's farm, and opened upon Willcox's line, enfilading it badly. There was a momentary break there, but Willcox was able to check the confusion, and to reform his lines facing westward as I had originally directed; Welch's brigade was on my right, closely supporting Cook's battery and Christ's beyond it. The general line of Willcox's division was at the eastern edge of the wood looking into the open ground at Fox's Gap, on the north side of the Sharpsburg road. A warm skirmishing fight was continued along the whole of our line, our purpose being to hold fast my extreme left which was well advanced upon and over the mountain crest, and to swing the right up to the continuation of the same line of hills near the Mountain House.
At nearly four o'clock the head of
Sturgis's column approached. [Footnote: Sturgis's Report, _Id_., pt. i. p. 443.] McClellan had arrived on the field, and he with Burnside and Reno was at Pleasonton's position at the knoll in the valley, and from that point, a central one in the midst of the curving hills, they issued their orders. They could see the firing of the enemy's battery from the woods beyond the open ground in front of Willcox, and sent orders to him to take or silence those guns at all hazards. He was preparing to advance, when the Confederates anticipated him (for their formation had now been completed) and came charging out of the woods across the open fields. It was part of their general advance and their most determined effort to drive us from the summit we had gained in the morning. The brigades of Hood, Whiting, Drayton, and D. R. Jones in addition to Hill's division (eight brigades in all) joined in the attack on our side of the National road, batteries being put in every available position. [Footnote: Longstreet's Report, Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 839.] The fight raged fiercely along the whole front, but the bloodiest struggle was around Wise's house, where Drayton's brigade assaulted my right and Willcox's left, coming across the open ground. Here the Sharpsburg road curves around the hill held by us so that for a little way it was parallel to our position. As the enemy came down the hill forming the other side of the gap, across the road and up again to our line, they were met by so withering a fire that they were checked quickly, and even drifted more to the right where their descent was continuous. Here Willcox's line volleyed into them a destructive fire, followed by a charge that swept them in confusion back along the road, where the men of the Kanawha division took up the attack and completed their rout. Willcox succeeded in getting a foothold on the further side of the open ground and driving off the artillery which was there. Along our centre and left where the forest was thick, the enemy was equally repulsed, but the cover of the timber enabled them to keep a footing near by, whilst they continually tried to extend so as to outflank us, moving their troops along a road which goes diagonally down that side of the mountain from Turner's Gap to Rohrersville. The batteries on the north of the National road had been annoying to Willcox's men as they advanced, but Sturgis sent forward Durell's battery from his division as soon as he came up, and this gave special attention to these hostile guns, diverting their fire from the infantry. Hooker's men, of the First Corps, were also by this time pushing up the mountain on that side of the turnpike, and we were not again troubled by artillery on our right flank.
It was nearly five o'clock when the enemy had disappeared in the woods beyond Fox's Gap and Willcox could reform his shattered lines. As the easiest mode of getting Sturgis's fresh men into position, Willcox made room on his left for Ferrero's brigade supported by Nagle's, doubling also his lines at the extreme right. Rodman's division, the last of the corps, now began to reach the summit, and as the report came from the extreme left that the enemy was stretching beyond our flank, I sent Fairchild's brigade to assist our men there, whilst Rodman took Harland's to the support of Willcox. A staff officer now brought word that McClellan directed the whole line to advance. At the left this could only mean to clear our front decisively of the enemy there, for the slopes went steadily down to the Rohrersville road. At the centre and right, whilst we held Fox's Gap, the high and rocky summit at the Mountain House was still in the enemy's possession. The order came to me as senior officer upon the line, and the signal was given. On the left Longstreet's men were pushed down the mountain side beyond the Rohrersville and Sharpsburg roads, and the contest there was ended. The two hills between the latter road and the turnpike were still held by the enemy, and the further one could not be reached till the Mountain House should be in our hands. Sturgis and Willcox, supported by Rodman, again pushed forward, but whilst they made progress they were baffled by a stubborn and concentrated resistance.
Reno had followed Rodman's division up the mountain, and came to me a little before sunset, anxious to know why the right could not get forward quite to the summit. I explained that the ground there was very rough and rocky, a fortress in itself and evidently very strongly held. He passed on to Sturgis, and it seemed to me he was hardly gone before he was brought back upon a stretcher, dead. He had gone to the skirmish line to examine for himself the situation, and had been shot down by the enemy posted among the rocks and trees. There was more or less firing on that part of the field till late in the evening, but when morning dawned the Confederates had abandoned the last foothold above Turner's Gap and retreated by way of Boonsboro to Sharpsburg. The casualties in the Ninth Corps had been 889, of which 356 were in the Kanawha division. Some 600 of the enemy were captured by my division and sent to the rear under guard.
On the north of the National road the First Corps under Hooker had been opposed by one of Hill's brigades and four of Longstreet's, and had gradually worked its way along the old Hagerstown road, crowning the heights in that direction after dark in the evening. Gibbon's brigade had also advanced in the National road, crowding up quite close to Turner's Gap and engaging the enemy in a lively combat. It is not my purpose to give a detailed history of events which did not come under my own eye. It is due to General Burnside, however, to note Hooker's conduct toward his immediate superior and his characteristic efforts to grasp all the glory of the battle at the expense of truth and of honorable dealing with his commander and his comrades. Hooker's official report for the battle of South Mountain was dated at Washington, November 17th, when Burnside was in command of the Army of the Potomac, and when the intrigues of the former to obtain the command for himself were notorious and near their final success. In it he studiously avoided any recognition of orders or directions received from Burnside, and ignores his staff, whilst he assumes that his orders came directly from McClellan and compliments the staff officers of the latter, as if they had been the only means of communication. This was not only insolent but a military offence, had Burnside chosen to prosecute it. He also asserts that the troops on our part of the line had been defeated and were at the turnpike at the base of the mountain in retreat when he went forward. At the close of his report, after declaring that "the forcing of the passage of South Mountain will be classed among the most brilliant and satisfactory achievements of this army," he adds, "its principal glory will be awarded to the First Corps." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. pp. 214-215.]
Nothing is more justly odious in military conduct than embodying slanders against other commands in an official report. It puts into the official records misrepresentations which cannot be met because they are unknown, and it is a mere accident if those who know the truth are able to neutralize their effect. In most cases it will be too late to counteract the mischief when those most interested learn of the slanders. All this is well illustrated in the present case. Hooker's report got on file months after the battle, and it was not till the January following that Burnside gave it his attention. I believe that none of the division commanders of the Ninth Corps learned of it till long afterward. I certainly did not till 1887, a quarter of a century after the battle, when the volume of the official records containing it was published. Burnside had asked to be relieved of the command of the Army of the Potomac after the
battle of Fredericksburg unless Hooker among others was punished for insubordination. As in the preceding August, the popular sentiment of that army as an organization was again, in Mr. Lincoln's estimation, too potent a factor to be opposed, and the result was the superseding of Burnside by Hooker himself, though the President declared in the letter accompanying the appointment that the latter's conduct had been blameworthy. It was under these circumstances that Burnside learned of the false statements in Hooker's report of South Mountain, and put upon file his stinging response to it. His explicit statement of the facts will settle that question among all who know the reputation of the men, and though unprincipled ambition was for a time successful, that time was so short and things were "set even" so soon that the ultimate result is one that lovers of justice may find comfort in. [Footnote: The text of Burnside's supplemental report is as follows:--
"When I sent in my report of the part taken by my command in the battle of South Mountain, General Hooker, who commanded one of the corps of my command (the right wing), had not sent in his report, but it has since been sent to me. I at first determined to pass over its inaccuracies as harmless, or rather as harming only their author; but upon reflection I have felt it my duty to notice two gross misstatements made with reference to the commands of Generals Reno and Cox, the former officer having been killed on that day, and the latter now removed with his command to the West.
"General Hooker says that as he came up to the front, Cox's corps was retiring from the contest. This is untrue. General Cox did not command a corps, but a division; and that division was in action, fighting most gallantly, long before General Hooker came up, and remained in the action all day, never leaving the field for one moment. He also says that he discovered that the attack by General Reno's corps was without sequence. This is also untrue, and when said of an officer who so nobly fought and died on that same field, it partakes of something worse than untruthfulness. Every officer present who knew anything of the battle knows that Reno performed a most important part in the battle, his corps driving the enemy from the heights on one side of the main pike, whilst that of General Hooker drove them from the heights on the other side.
"General Hooker should remember that I had to order him four separate times to move his command into action, and that I had to myself order his leading division (Meade's) to start before he would go." Official Records, vol. xix. pt. i. p. 422.] The men of the First Corps and its officers did their duty nobly on that as on many another field, and the only spot on the honor of the day is made by the personal unscrupulousness and vainglory of its commander.
Franklin's corps had attacked and carried the ridge about five miles further south, at Crampton's Gap, where the pass had been so stubbornly defended by Mahone's and Cobb's brigades with artillery and a detachment of Hampton's cavalry as to cause considerable loss to our troops. The principal fighting was at a stone wall near the eastern base of the mountain, and when the enemy was routed from this position, he made no successful rally and the summit was gained without much more fighting. The attack at the stone wall not far from Burkettsville was made at about three o'clock in the afternoon. The Sixth Corps rested upon the summit at night.