South Mountain by Rick Reeve

South Mountain by Rick Reeve
South Mountain by Rick Reeve depicting the wounding of General Garland

Thursday, March 29, 2012

"With their usual gallantry": Hood's Division stems the tide at Fox's Gap

While going into battle at dusk on September 14th, Brigadier General John Bell Hood's division of would go into line of battle and, as General Hood stated in his report that he ordered his division, "to move forward with bayonets fixed..." and this movement towards Fox's Gap helped stem the tide of Union infantry that had all but destroyed the brigade of Thomas Drayton and was advancing unopposed in the growing darkness. The timely counterattack by Hood saved the Confederate foothold on the mountain and allowed the Confederates to withdraw towards the hills around Sharpsburg.

At the outset of the Maryland Campaign, General Hood would find himself marching at the rear of his division, under arrest for insubordination as a result of a dispute over the rightful ownership of captured Union ambulances following the Second Battle of Manassas/Bull Run between Hood and Brigadier General Nathan Evans. Hood was ordered to Culpepper for court martial but, General Lee rescinded that order and Hood remained with the army as it marched into Maryland. As a result of his arrest, according to Hood in his post-war memoirs, his division,upon it's arrival in Hagerstown would demonstrate a certain degree of insubordination and Hood advised his subordinates that the issue of his arrest would be decided in a short time.

Hood's prediction would come true on September 14th. Reports of a heavy Union presence threatening the division of D.H. Hill at the mountain gaps on South Mountain would cause the "main body" of the army to stir out of its encampments near Hagerstown and onto the National Pike in a forced march to the relieve of Hill's division. Surely, as the men of James Longstreet's command marched towards South Mountain, they heard the distant thunder of cannon and the sharp crack of musketry as Hill's division found itself in a stubborn fight for survival and all knew that deadly work was ahead and quickened the pace.

Longstreet's command would begin arriving at the base of the mountain in early to mid-afternoon after a dust-filled and exhausting march. Hood's division would begin ascending the mountain at about 3:30 pm and Hood, still at the rear of his division, faintly heard the cry's from his Texas brigade demanding of General Lee, "Give us Hood!". Coming upon  General Lee as his division walked by his headquarters, Lee called Hood into a meeting. Lee requested that Hood show regret for his dispute with General Evans and Hood politely declined, both attempts by Lee for the admittance of guilt. Seeing that he would get nowhere with Hood, Lee promptly released Hood from his arrest to re-take command of his division and the matter of the ambulance dispute would be settled at a later date.

Hood quickly mounted his horse and rode to the summit, amid the cheers of his division, and reported to General Longstreet, who was then placing his command into defensive positions on either side of the National Pike. Hood was ordered to deploy his division on the left of the pike with his right resting near the pike. From this position, Hood witnessed "the advance of McClellan's long lines" that had the evident appearance of forcing the Confederates from the mountain. Remaining in this position for a short time, Hood was ordered by Longstreet to shift his division to the South of the pike to shore up the Confederate line there. At this time, Drayton's brigade was heavily beaten back and the Union 9th Corps was across Fox's Gap. Hood quickly put his men on the move down the Wood's Road, described by Hood as nothing but a "pig path".

Hood's counterattack, Union positions (blue) are generalized.
Hearing the distinct shouts of the Union advance and fighting through remnants of Drayton's brigade, Hood order his division to deploy.  The alignment of Hood's battle line is up for debate, but from research, it is assumed that Hood deployed his division with Colonel Evander Law's brigade on his left and Colonel William Wofford's brigade on the right facing in a Southeasterly direction. Hood ordered that his division fix bayonets and when the Union troops were within 75 to 100 yards, the order to charge was given. Meeting little resistance from the Union lines, Hood's division regained a foothold near Fox's Gap and brought the fight to a close, remaining in position until about midnight when it was ordered to cover the army's retreat off the mountain. It is also to note, that a bullet fired by Hood's men may have been the fatal bullet the took the life of Major General Jesse Reno of the 9th Corps. As the Confederates withdrew towards Sharpsburg, Hood's division along with cavalry would supply the army with a determined rear guard.

 Arriving near Sharpsburg, Hood's division would first go into position on the Confederate left and would fight a severe skirmish for possession of the East Woods on the 16th. Hood would get his division pulled from the line and into position in an area  a few hundred yards to the rear of the Dunker Church where it would remain until called into action, delivering a heavy blow Union forces advancing down the Hagerstown Pike and in return suffering heavily for it.

Hood's hard-fighting division would suffer roughly 50 casualties, the majority in Evander Law's brigade, during its attack at dusk on September 14th. While this attack is not as famous or severe as that which would occur at Antietam on the 17th, it allowed the Confederates to keep a hold on the mountain long enough for night to come and another day to be bought for the reduction of Harper's Ferry by Stonewall Jackson.


John Bell Hood. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of of the records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Series 1, Volume 19 (part 1), pg. 922.

John Bell Hood. Advance and Retreat: Personal experiences in the United States and Confederate Armies. Hood Orphan Fund, G.T. Beauregard: New Orleans, LA. 1880  pgs. 38-41.

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.

Chapter XXXVII

South Mountain

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."
"Oh,  nonsense!"
" 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."
"The--the--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.

 Ibid, 405-410.

Gayley, Alice J. Roster, Co. D, 8th Pa Reserves ( [accessed 3/21/12]

Saturday, March 3, 2012

2nd Lieutenant William G. Dekle, Jr., Co. F, 50th Georgia Infantry. KIA Fox's Gap

This is a photograph of 2nd Lieutenant William Grissom Dekle, Jr. who served in Co. F, 50th Georgia Infantry. He enlisted in the 50th in the spring of 1862 and was elected 2nd lieutenant in June of 1862. Dekle would find himself crossing the Potomac into Maryland with Thomas F. Drayton's brigade in early September 1862 as Robert E. Lee moved his army northward for the first time in the war. On September 14th, the 50th would find itself marching to the aid of Daniel H. Hill's division, which had come under heavy pressure from Union forces advancing against the vital gaps on South Mountain. The 50th would march towards Fox's Gap and would constitute the  Confederate left during the afternoon fighting with  Co. F marking the extreme left.

At around 3 P.M., General Drayton ordered the Philip's (GA) Legion, the 3rd South Carolina Battalion, and the 15th South Carolina out of the Old Sharpsburg Road and into Daniel Wise's South Field. With this movement, the 50th moved from a position in Wise's North Field and into the road to support the advancing Confederate infantry. Suddenly, the roar of musketry broke the afternoon silence and the three regiments sent into Wise's South Field came under heavy attack to the front as well as their left. Lieutenant Dekle's Company F, along with the remainder of the 50th and the 51st Georgia, supported the exposed regiments the best they could. The company began to take fire from the left flank and rear as the fight reached a climax. The fire was coming from the 45th Pennsylvania and 46th New York from Thomas Welsh's Union brigade  and devastating volleys of musketry were coming from the 17th Michigan infantry (Benjamin Christ's brigade) that had gain the rear of the Confederate battle line. The devastating fire swept the 50th Georgia, especially Company F, leaving Confederate dead and wounded laying thick in the Old Sharpsburg Road. When the fighting had ended, Company F had lost 12 killed, 17 wounded, and 7 missing, the number of men from Company F escaping unscathed can be counted on one hand. Among the dead was Lieutenant Dekle. He would be buried in an unmarked grave beside the dozens of Confederate dead that littered the fields around Fox's Gap.  Dekle's remains would remain at Fox's Gap until after the war when in the 1870's an effort was begun to re-inter the Confederate dead from South Mountain and Antietam in on cemetery. Dekle is now buried, as an unknown, along side over 2,000 Confederate soldiers in the Washington Confederate Cemetery at Rose Hill Cemetery in Hagerstown, Maryland. To note, Dekle's wife, Susan, upon her passing in 1911, requested to be buried in an unmarked grave as her husband was in 1862.


1. Thomas County Historical Society and Museum of History.

2. Photo