On September 14, 1862, Robert E. Lee's opportunistic first invasion of the North was turned back at the gaps of South Mountain near Boonsboro, Maryland. The fighting was desperate and for the numbers engaged rather bloody. It has become just a footnote in history, but it was here that the Confederacy reached it's high tide.
South Mountain by Rick Reeve
South Mountain by Rick Reeve depicting the wounding of General Garland
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
"Well, captain, your men fight like devils..."
The following excerpt is from the memoirs of Sergeant Archibald F. Hill of the 8th Pennsylvania Reserves that were published in 1866. Sergeant Hill enlisted in the 8th Pennsylvania Reserves regiment as a private in June 1861 and was promoted to corporal in July 1861 and eventually to sergeant in May 1862. He would serve with the regiment on the Peninsula and would find himself in the fight at South Mountain. He would survive the battle, but three days later at Antietam, he would be wounded in the leg as his regiment advanced to a point just to the north of the Cornfield. Archibald would be carried by his comrades in a blanket to an ambulance that was awaiting just beyond the regiments bivouac beyond the North Woods. He would be transported to a barn and then eventually a school house where he would have his left leg amputated. He would find himself recovering in the Smoketown Hospital during the fall of 1862 and he would receive a surgeons certificate and be discharged in December 1862. The excerpt begins following the arrival of the Hill's regiment arriving and going into camp near the Monocacy River near Frederick.
When night came and there were no indications of marching, we wrapped ourselves in our blankets and sought repose.
The morning of Sunday, the fourteenth of September, was beautiful--the sky clear. Before noon, however, it became clouded over, and there was every appearance of rain. We had time to breakfast before we were ordered to fall in. At last we were on our way again--westward. An hour after we passed through Frederick, where the number of flags and white handkerchiefs waved at us from doors and windows was truly gratifying. At almost every door stood some bewitching creature with a pail of clear, cold, sparkling water; while others stood with glasses in their hands inviting us to drink. They talked pleasantly with us, and manifested every indication of preferring us to the rebels. I can't for the life of me tell what made me so thirsty that morning; for I must have stopped a dozen times for a drink of water; and each time it chanced (?) I was helped to a glass by a beauty.
As we progressed the sound of artillery began to be heard in front. We had marched twelve miles and were certainly within two miles of the firing when it ceased. A little after three o'clock we found ourselves almost at the base of a tall mountain. Here taking a by-road we (our division) filed off the pike to the right. We had marched nearly half a mile when a rebel battery which was posted at the summit of the mountain opened upon us with shell and round shot. By left-oblique movement, we soon succeeded in gaining the cover of an abrupt ridge near the base of the mountain. The battery then ceased to play. A line of battle was now formed and preparations made to move forward.
About this time Lieutenant Carter said to Captain Conner--
"Captain, I think there will be a fight!"
"No doubt there will," replied the captain.
"Captain," he continued earnestly, " I know I shall be shot."
" But I will; I am an unlucky mortal. I was shot while on the Peninsula almost the first chance I got--I was only wounded there; to-day I will be killed; I know it."
"Come now, lieutenant, it's only a foolish notion that has got into your head; get rid of it; cheer up: you will come out all right."
"I wish I could think so. I will fall doing my duty, captain," said the brave fellow; for he was a brave man.
"I know you will do you duty, lieutenant."
About four o'clock we began to advance. We toiled up the steep ascent in front of us, when we discovered that a valley lay yet between us and the main ascent of South Mountain. While passing through a corn-field upon the hill, the enemy's artillery again opened upon us with solid shot. Down the hill we went--across the small valley--up the steep ascent of the mountain. A few hundred yards from the base of the mountain was a stone-fence. Below this, the ground was clear; above, the face of the mountain was covered with trees and rocks. When withing fifty yards of the stone-fence, a murderous fire of musketry was opened upon us by the rebels, who lay concealed behind it, and swarms of bullets whistled about our ears. With a wild shout, we dashed forward--almost upward--while volley after volley was poured upon us; but we heeded it not; we rushed madly on. The rebels, intimidated by our voices,and taken aback by our recklessness and disregard of their bullets, began to give way. We reached the stone-fence,and sprang over. The rebels reformed among the rocks, and fought with remarkable obstinacy.
Captain Conner had left his horse at the rear, and he and Lieutenant Carter were just springing over the wall, withing a few feet of each other, when the later was struck in the head by a bullet, and fell back--dead.
We pressed the rebels closely. They stood awhile, loading and firing, but at last began to waver. Directly in front of the right of our regiment, they gave way; and several companies from our right--ours among them--pressed forward, becoming detached from the regiment. We soon found ourselves thirty to forty paces ahead of the regiment, having gained the flank of the Seventeenth South Carolina. We were within twenty or thirty steps of them, directly on their left, and they did not see us; then we mowed them down. Poor fellows! I almost pitied them, to see them sink down by dozens at every discharge! I remember taking deliberate aim at a tall South Carolinian, who was standing with his side to me loading his gun. I fired, and he fell into a crevice between two rocks. Step by step we drove the rebels up the steep side of the mountain. By moving a little to the left, I reached the spot where I had seen the rebel fall. On my arrival thither, he arose to a sitting posture, and I was convinced he was not dead yet, I inquired whether he was wounded, and he very mournfully nodded assent. The blood was flowing from a wound in the neck. He also pointed to a wound in the arm. The same bullet had made both wounds; for at the time I fired, he was in the act of ramming a bullet home--his arm extended vertically. He arose to his feet, and I was pleased to find him able to walk. I informed him that, in the nature of things, he was a prisoner; and I sent him to the rear, under charge of one of the boys.
Having done so, I threw myself upon the ground, and crawled among the rocks to a position fifteen paces in advance of the company, with the intention of taking some unwary rebel by surprise, and getting a fair shot at him. Cocking my rifle, I abruptly arose from my position, which was protected by a rock three feet high. Oh, horror! there, scarcely ten paces from me, stood a great grim rebel, just on the point of bringing his gun to an aim--right at me, too, and his dark eyes scowled fiercely upon me from beneath the broad brim of a large ugly hat. Now it is sheer nonsense to talk about taking a cool aim under such circumstances. Therefore, with a little more agility than I had ever before exhibited, I blazed away at random, and dropped behind the rock--every hundredth part of a second seeming like an age; for I felt sure that the rebel bullet would catch me yet, ere I could drop behind my redoubt. A bullet tipped the rock above my head as I dropped.
Step by step, the rebels retired. I waited at my new position till the line came up. Our boys had just reached me, when Dave Malone was struck in the head by a bullet, and he fell back, quivering and gasping for breath. He soon expired. After the battle, he was buried in the wild, lonely mountain--where he fell.
By sunset we had driven the enemy to the crest of the mountain. Many were dead and the wounded they left lying among the rocks. Many prisoners were taken. Among the wounded left on the field was a rebel officer of manly appearance. He was wounded in the thigh, and appear to be suffering intense pain. Captain Conner approached him, and said:--
"You are wounded, are you not?"
"Yes in the thigh--and badly," was the reply.
"May I inquire your name?"
"I am Major Meanes, of the Seventeeth South Carolina. May I ask you the same question?"
"I am Captain Conner, of the Eighth Pennsylvania Reserves."
"Well, captain, your men fight like devils; they are driving our men right up this steep mountain; I never could have believed it!"
"Ah, major, there is blood in Pennsylvania as well as in South Carolina."
"I am convinced of that."
About dark, the rebels abandoned the mountain at this point, and the firing ceased. At the left and centre, however, the fighting continued till nine o'clock, when it ceased, and the whole rebel force gave way. O that it had been daylight, that we might have pursued them at once! Under the circumstances, however, it was impossible. The night was very dark, and the ways of the mountain obscure. We lay down among the rocks and slept.
Our whole loss at the Battle of South Mountain was twenty-three hundred; that of the enemy, more than four thousand. If there was every a victory gained, in any war, in any campaign, the Battle of South Mountain resulted in a most decided and complete Union victory.
Hill, Archibald F., Our Boys: The Personal Experiences of a Soldier in the Army of the Potomac. Phila: John E. Potter, 1866. Pgs. 394-398.