South Mountain by Rick Reeve

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

Monday, January 24, 2011

"Hell is empty.."

The following is a reminiscence from Private Frederick Foard  of the 20th North Carolina Infantry. The 20th was engaged in the heavy fighting on the morning of the 14th at Fox's Gap as part of Garland's Brigade. We will pick up with Foard returning to his regiment after recuperating from a wound he recieved during the Seven Days as he describes the aftermath of the Second Battle of Manassas/Bull Run. Warning: parts of this post are rather graphic.

After six weeks furlough on account of my wound, I returned to my regiment, arriving the day before Hill's and McLaws divisions started on the march to the Patomic. We arrived on the field of the second Manassas battle two days after the battle had been fought. There had been no time to bury the enemies dead but they had been ordered collected conveniently for burial when men could be spared for the work. To that end, along the road upon which we marched so that without extravagence one could have walked a mile and a half stepping from one dead body to another without touching the ground. It was a horrible spectacle. Under the hot sultry August weather, they were in an advanced state of decomposition. Every single body had been demuded of its outer garments by negros and camp followeres and among them all I only saw one foot that was shod and that belonged to a poor wretch whose leg had been nearly severed above the knee by a cannon ball remaining attached to the body only by a small shred of flesh. The cavalry boot that was on it could not be taken off without taking the leg with it.

General D.H. Hill in his report of the battle of South Mountain stated his force to be 5,500 men under arms and to cover the front necessary to have some protection for his flanks his lines were extended into one rank with intervals from 150 yards to a quarter of a mile between his regiments. Our line of battle was formed on the summits that overlooked an extensive country and we could see the enemy's columns arrive and form line beyond musket shot, division after division.

It was a wonderful and impressive situation. With the exception of artillery firing the battle did not commence until about 10 o'clock in the morning. We could see the storm gathering that was soon to burst upon us. It was certain that for many of us it was the last day of life. The most . . . and ribald and profane among us could be heard groaning and praying aloud.

At last the enemy charged us three lines of battle deep. We resisted stubbornly retarding their progress in our front but being unopposed in the intervals between the regiments, they advanced more rapidly and got around both of our flanks and were about to completely surround us which compelled a hasty and precipate retreat with the sure alternative of death or capture.

As I pulled my trigger with careful aim, throwing a musket ball and three buck shot into them at no more than twenty yards distant, I could see dimly through the dense sulphurus battle smoke and the line from Shakespeare's Tempest flited across my brain:
                     "Hell is empty and all the devils are here."

Before I could reload, our line broke on both sides of me and it was a sharp run until we had extracted ourselves from the flanking columns.

Just as our line broke Jimmie Gibson from Concord, one of General Hill's old Davidson students was shot down. Texas Dan Coleman so called to distinguish him from another Dan Coleman, who on account of his courage and great strength had been detailed to the ambulance corps, and Jimmie were great friends. Jimmie exclaimed, "Great god, Dan don't leave me." Dan ran back in face of the enemy's fire, took Jimmie on his shoulder the enemy's line being not 10 yards distant and ran out with him.

Coleman lost a leg at Geteysburg, fell into the hands of the enemy and died in a hospital in Washington.

My bayonet was fixed for hand to hand work and in running through the laurel bushes my bayonet cought in the bushes above my head, threw the butt of my gun between my feet and I fell sprawling. Just then the man next to me was shot through the head and fell across me. I had to roll his dead body off of me before I could get up.

The 20th quickly rallied after extracting itself from the cul de sac and bore its part in the battle until the end of the day. General Garland was killed early in the action and was succeeded in command of the brigade by Colonal Duncan K. McRae.

The Chaplain of one of our regimetns was conspicuous for a pair of bear skins leggings probably the only pair of their kind in either army, which he continuely wore in camp and on the march. The parson with a prescience born of more than mortal wisdom quickly discerned it was impossible for us to with stand the enemy's onslaught, insured his own saftely by flight. Those bear skin leggens could be seen bounding over the tops of the laural bushes like a kangaroo. McRae who was always fictetious exclamed in a voice that could be heard above the din of battle "Parson..Parson..God damn it, come back here. You have been praying all you life to get to heaven and now that you have a short cut you are running away from it".

Foard would survive the fighting at Fox's Gap and the war.

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