Tuesday, November 16, 2010
The "Rock of South Mountain"
In 1863 at the Battle of Chickamauga, Union General George Thomas earned the sobriquet "Rock of Chickamauga" for holding the line as the routed Union Army fled back towards Chattanooga, Tennesse. A year earlier, the Confederacy found their "rock" in the form of Colonel Alfred Colquitt who commanded a brigade of Georgian's and Alabamian's that held back the determined attack of General John Gibbon's Iron Brigade.
Alfred Holt Colquitt was born on April 20, 1824 in Walton County, Georgia to Walter T. Colquitt, a Methodist Preacher and future US Representative and Senator, and Nancy H. Lane. He would be enrolled in local schools and he attended Princeton University (then the College of New Jersey) where he studied law. He was accepted into the Georgia bar in 1846 but when war broke out with Mexico, he enlisted in the army. By the time the war ended, he had been promoted to major.
Upon completion of his service, he returned to Georgia where he practiced law in Macon. Not long after his return though, he was appointed assistant secretary in the Georgia Senate. This appointment sparked an interest in politics for Colquitt so in 1852 he ran for the US House of Representatives and won. He would only serve one term in the house. His wife, Dorothy, had fallen ill and he did no consider being re-elected in 1854 so that he could be with his ailing wife. Dorothy would die in 1855. Colquitt would marry Sarah Tarver, the sister of his recently deceased wife. Colquitt would return to politics in 1859 when he ran for a seat in the Georgia Senate, a seat that he would win in the election. With the two sections of the country drifting apart, Senator Colquitt strongly advocated for secession. In 1860, he was an elector for Presidential candidate John C. Breckinridge and when Georgia began considering the secession question, Colquitt was appointed to the secession convention in 1861. Georgia seceded on January 18, 1861.
When Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, Colquitt volunteered his services and was appointed a captain in the 6th Georgia Volunteer Infantry. When the regiment was moved to the Virginia Peninsula to reinforce the Confederate army in May 1861, he was elected Colonel of the regiment. The 6th Georiga was assigned to the brigade of Gabriel Rains. He would lead his Georgians in the Battle of Seven Pines and upon the wounding of General Rains, Colquitt would take command of Rains' brigade that consisted of the 6th and 23rd Georgia Infantry regiments and the 13th and 26th Alabama regiments. In the Seven Days Battle, Colquitt's brigade would be left in the defences of Richmond as General Lee took the remainder of the army in an attempt to push George McClellan's Union army back from the gates of Richmond.
After Lee's victory in the Seven Days, he turned his attention to the army of John Pope who was advancing into Northern Virginia. Colquitt would again be left behind in Richmond and assigned to the division of General Daniel H. Hill. Hill's division would be called upon as reinforcements after the stunning defeat of Pope's Army at Second Bull Run to make up for casualties in this battle as Lee prepared to cross into Maryland. By this time, Colquitt's brigade had changed in make up. The 26th Alabama infantry was transferred to Robert Rodes' Brigade. Colquitt would receive the 27th and 28th Georgia as his brigade moved north. On September 1st, Colquitt was promoted to Brigadier General, but his promotion would not be recieved until after the coming campaign.
Colquitt's brigade crossed the Potomac River into Maryland on September 4 & 5, 1862 with the lead elements of Lee's army. His brigade reached out across the Maryland countryside eventually making its way to Frederick, Maryland, where the Confederate army would be concentrating. On September 10, orders were sent out making D.H. Hill's Division the rear guard for the Confederate Army as it moved westward towards Hagerstown to await the capture of Harper's Ferry by General Jackson's command. Hill would concentrate his division at Boonsboro to watch the gaps in South Mountain and roads leading south towards Harper's Ferry while also guarding the wagons and reserve artillery of the army. On the 13th, Colquitt recieved orders to occupy Turner's Gap along the National Pike to support General J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry as it was being pressed by Union forces. Colquitt put his brigade into position at the eastern base of the mountain and some skirmishing to place with lead elements of the Union 9th Corps. Colquitt retreated a little ways back up the mountainside in preperations for the action that was to surely to take place on the 14th.
September 14th dawned with Colquitt's line firmly holding its position astride the National Pike. The 23rd and 28th Georgia were posted to the left of the road behind stonewalls and the three remaining regiments were posted in a wood lot to the right of the road. These three regiments were attempting to link up with Garland's Brigade, who was engaged at Fox's Gap. By late afternoon, fighting was raging to the North and South of Colquitt's line, but little activity had taken place in his portion of the line. Suddenly, firing erupts on his right flank, Gibbon's brigade had arrived to force the pass. Colquitt's men held their ground stubbornly until a company of the 19th Indiana outflanked the 27th Georgia on the Confederate right. The Union fire caused the Georgian's to break and flee up the mountainside. This 27th would be followed by the 13th Alabama and 6th Georgia in the retreat back up the mountainside. These three regiments would stop just short of the gap itself. On the Confederate left, the 23rd and 28th Georgia had completely stalled the Union advance. The 7th Wisconsin had been decimated and the 6th Wisconsin had been repulsed in is attempt to flank the Georgians. These two regiments held for until well after dusk holding back the entire Union brigade of John Gibbon. The night, the Confederate forces were pulled off of the mountain and ordered to concentrate at Sharpsburg. Colquitt had performed suberbly in this little fight and southern newspapers, upon hearing of his fight, called him the "Rock of South Mountain", a nickname that stuck with him until the day he would die.
At Sharpsburg, Colquitt's brigade was in position to the right of Roswell Ripley's brigade near the center of the Confederate line. Around 7, Colquitt ordered an advance into the East Woods and Cornfield that ran into the advance of the 12th Corps under Joseph Mansfield. Colquitt's brigade is pushed back and Colquitt goes into position to the left of Robert Rodes' brigade in the sunken road. Colquitt's brigade suffered tremendously in these two fights during the Maryland Campaign. The brigade would retreat back across the Potomac on the night of September 18th and 19th.
During the Battle of Fredericksburg, Colquitt's brigade would remain in reserve behind Jackson's front despite the breakthrough by Meade's division. Colquitt's brigade would make winter quarters in the Fredericksburg area during the winter of 1862-63.
When spring came, so did a new Union offensive. In later April, General Joseph Hooker moved the Union army around Lee's and successfully captured the crossroads of Chancellorsville, just miles from the rear of Lee's lines at Fredericksburg. Colquitt's brigade is now part of Robert Rode's Division. The brigade now consists of all Georgia regiments with the loss of the 13th Alabama and the addition of the 19th Georgia. Chancellorsville would prove to be Colquitt's worst fight in command of his brigade. As part of Jackson's famous flank attack, Colquitt advance with caution believing that there was a large force of Union infantry on his flank. His men did fight but this caution would cause Colquitt to be subject to harsh critisisms. In this fight, he lost 422 men from his brigade. Just before the Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania, Colquitt was transferred, along with his brigade, to Charleston, South Carolina. Here, Colquitt and his men would participate in the defense of the city for the remainder of 1863.
In early 1864, Colquitt was ordered to take his brigade to Florida to combat a Union invasion of the state. Colquitt's brigade would be bolstered by the 6th Florida Infantry Batallion and two batteries of artillery and would be assigned to the command of Brigadier General Joseph Finegan. On February 20, 1864,Colquitt, commanding a detachment from the small army of General Finegan, clashed with the Union invasion force near the Olustee, Florida. Colquitt's men fought savagely pushing back the Union force at all points before it finally broke in route losing 43 killed, 441 wounded and 2 missing in the effort. Colquitt was praised as the "Hero of Olustee" and Florida was saved for the Confederacy. This little battle also got the attention of those in Richmond and Colquitt was transferred back to Lee's army just as General Ullysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign began. Colquitt would serve with Lee during the Overland Campaign and early stages of the Siege of Petersburg before he would again be transferred with his brigade to North Carolina in early 1865. Colquitt's brigade would surrender in North Carolina in the Spring of 1865.
Following the war, Colquitt returned to his law practice and eventually reentered politics. Colquitt opposed the Reconstruction measures passed by congress and he served as the president of the Georgia Democratic Convention in 1870. He would be elected Georgia's Governor for two terms in 1876 and 1880. During his time as Governor, watched over the return of Georgia's economy. He also suffered controversy when he was accused of corruption. He was appointed to fill the seat of deceased Georgia Senator Benjamin Hill in 1882 and he would win reelection to the Senate serving until his death in 1894.
Alfred Colquitt is remembered for his fight at Olustee, but his first claim to fame was at South Mountain as the "Rock of South Mountain". If Colquitt's men had been beaten, the entire Confederate position was untenable with those brigades fighting around Frosttown Gap cut off from Virginia. Colquitt's fight helped save those elements of the Confederate Army near Boonsboro, Maryland. He fought with distinction throughout the war and in the post-war years, he showed that an ex-confederate could, again, become a lawful and hardworking American Citizen. He is buried in the Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia.