South Mountain by Rick Reeve

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

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fighting Colonels of Fox's Gap- Morning Phase

In the chaotic and hellish conditions that the terrain of South Mountain created for the opposing armies who clashed here, it took the stellar leadership of regimental officers to keep their regiments together and take the fight to the enemy. Whether they were Confederate or Federal, they would go into battle living, fighting, and dying on the same ground that their men would fall on. Here are a couple of these men who held the lines together, Lieutenant Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes and Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Ruffin, Jr.

Lieutenant Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes, commanding 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry: On the morning of September 14th, Hayes orders his men onto the National Pike near Middletown, Maryland to support the Alfred Pleasonton's cavalry against the Confederate positions at Turner's Gap. Upon learning that a heavy force of Confederate infantry defending Turner's, Scammon's brigade was moved off the pike onto the Old Sharpsburg Road leading directly towards Fox's Gap and around the Confederate left flank. Hayes' 23rd Ohio was the lead regiment of the brigade and when it came under fire from Confederate artillery posted at Turner's Gap, Scammon ordered Hayes to move up an old farm lane called the Loop Road outflanking and Confederates posted at Fox's Gap. At 9 A.M., lead elements of the 23rd Ohio make contact with skirmishers from the 5th North Carolina. The growing firefight turns into an all-out brawl. Hayes orders his regiment to charge the North Carolinian, successfully pushing the Confederates back. With his men falling all around him, Hayes remains calm and collected keeping up pressure on the reeling Confederate troops. Hayes is wounded rather severely when a minie ball hits him in the left arm just as he prepares to order another charge. He remains in command and hears rumors of a confederate force attempting to flank him so he orders two companies from his left to pull back and turn to the left. Instead of two companies falling back, the entire regiment does so leaving the wounded Hayes between the opposing lines. Hayes calls out, "Hallo, Twenty-Third men, are you going to leave you colonel here for the enemy?!" Almost immediately, several men break ranks running to their wounded commander but Confederate fire forces Hayes to order them back to cover. Eventually, Lieutenant Jackson comes to Hayes and carries him back to friendly lines. Hayes has his wound tended to, but loss of blood causes Hayes to faint. Hayes is carried off the field and Major James Comly assumes command of the regiment. Hayes will spend most of the next two months recuperating and he will be promoted to full colonel in late October 1862. He would later command a brigade and end the war as a brevet Major General. He would become President of the United States following the election of 1876.

nt Colonel Thomas Ruffin, Jr. commanding 13th North Carolina Infantry: As part of Samuel Garland's brigade, the 13th North Carolina under Lt. Colonel Ruffin would be General Garland's left flank during the morning attacks on Fox's Gap. As the battle is raging all along the Confederate line, General Garland rides up behind the 13th North Carolina to help steady the men. Lt. Colonel Ruffin recalls:

"I said to him: 'General, why do you stay here ? you are in great danger. To which he replied: 'I may as well be here as yourself.' I said: 'No, it is my duty to be here with my regiment, but you could better superintend your brigade from a safer position.' Just then I was shot in the hip, and as there was no field-officer then with the regiment, other than myself, I told him of my wound, and that it might disable me, and in that case I wished a field-officer to take my place. He turned and gave some order, which I have forgotten. In a moment I heard a groan, and looked and found him mortally wounded and writhing in pain."

Ruffin, while suffering a rather severe wound to his hip, had just witnessed the death of General Garland. As the Confederate line began to collapse, Ruffin would keep the 13th in position and became hotly engaged with a Union regiment to there front. Suddenly, fire begins pouring down on them from their right, where Ruffin had believed the rest of the brigade was still in position. It was found that the brigade had been routed. To deal with the dual threat, Ruffin orders a charge to his front pushing back those Union troops. He then pulls his men back and faces to the right and orders a charge. This charge is also successful. As Ruffin begins pulling his men back following this second charge, they receive fire from where their left flank once rested Ruffin immediately about faced his regiment and charged in this direction. Finding a handful of Union skirmishers, they were easily dispatched. With these bold moves, Ruffin was able to connect with the 2nd and 4th North Carolina regiments under Colonel Charles C. Tew. Lt. Colonel Ruffin and the 13th would continue fighting as a part of General George B. Anderson's brigade on the 14th before being pulled off that mountain that night and reqrouping with the survivors of Garland's brigade. Lt. Colonel Ruffin would relinquish command of the regiment due to his wound and not take part in the fighting at Sharpsburg. He would survive the war and serve as a justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court.

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