South Mountain by Rick Reeve

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

Friday, April 29, 2011

"The Brigade sustained for some time a fierce attack.."

The following is the official report on the Battle of South Mountain written by Brigadier General Richard B. Garnett. Garnett commanded wounded Brigadier General George Pickett's brigade during the Maryland Campaign. Garnett's  brigade was deployed immediately to the left of the National Pike at Turner's Gap and fought against the advance of General John Hatch's division against the unoccupied Mountain Spur. Garnett goes into detail about the forced march from Hagerstown, the shuffling of troops on the mountain side, and, of course, the fighting on the mountain.


November 6, 1862.

Major A. COWARD,

Assistant Adjutant-General to Brigadier General D. R. Jones.

MAJOR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by Pickett's brigade, of General D. R. Jones' division, which I commanded in the battle of Boonsborough:

This command, consisting of the Eighth, Eighteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-eighth, and Fifty-sixth Regiments Virginia Volunteers, commanded, respectively, by Colonel Hunton, Major Cabell, Colonel [J. B.] Strange, Captain [W. L.] Wingfield, and Colonel Stuart, left the neighborhood of Hagerstown, Md., on the morning of September 14 last, and reached Boonsborough, on the Hagerstown and Frederick turnpike, in the afternoon, after a hot, dusty, and fatiguing march of some 18 miles. A short distance beyond the village, Kemper's, Pickett's, and Jenkins' brigades (the latter commanded by Colonel Walker), in the order named, were moved in a southerly direction on a road running perpendicular to the pike. Having proceeded over a mile, these troops were directed on another route parallel to the turnpike, leading toward a gap in the South Mountain, farther south than that through which the Hagerstown and Frederick road ran. After marching nearly half a mile, Kemper filed to the left, and again moved in the direction of the pike. At this time I received an order, by Major Mayo [Moses?], of General Jones' staff, to bring my troops to an about-face, and to return the way I came until I reached a path, which I must take. He was unable to give me any information respecting the path in question, but said be would go forward and try to obtain some. I did not, however, see him again.

I followed Jenkins' brigade, which was now in front some distance; but hearing musketry open on the mountain, I took what I supposed to be a near cut in the direction where I presumed I was wanted. This took me over rough and plowed ground up the mountain side. I at length found an old and broken road, along which General Kemper must have moved. Here I met Captain Hugh Rose, of General Jones' staff, who had orders for me to return to the turnpike. When I got back to this road my troops were almost exhausted. I consequently lost the services of a number of men by straggling.

After a shot rest, I proceeded up the mountain, and, having gained the summit on the main road, I was sent, by a narrow lane bearing to the left, to a higher position. A portion of this route was commanded by several pieces of the enemy's artillery, which opened upon my column (marching by the flank) as soon as it came in sight, which they were enabled to do with considerable accuracy, as they had previously been practicing on other troops which had preceded mine. Several casualties occurred from this cause while I was approaching and forming my line of battle, which I did by filing my command to the right through an open field. My right rested in a thick woods, which descended quite abruptly in front, and my left in a field of standing corn. As soon as my troops were formed, I sent forward a line of skirmishers to ascertain the position of the enemy. When these dispositions had been completed (which was only a short time before sunset), I received an order from General Jones to detach my left regiment to Kemper's right (the being on my left), and to withdraw the rest of the brigade to a wooded ridge a little to the left and rear. The first part of this order had scarcely been executed when the Federal skirmishers made their appearance, immediately followed by their main body, so that the action at once became general.

The brigade sustained for some time a fierce attack by doubtless many times their number. It has subsequently been ascertained that General McClellan's army, consisting of at least 80,000 men, assailed our position, only defended by General D. H. Hill's division and a part of General Longstreet's Corps. The left was the first to fall back, and finally the right was forced to retreat, being without support. Many renewed the contest a little farther to the rear, and stoutly disputed the approach of the enemy, but it had now become so dark it was impossible to distinguish objects, except at a short distance. About this time two regiments of Jenkins' brigade came up, and, the probable position of the enemy being pointed out, they advanced to the attack with great gallantry. Just as these troops moved forward, I was ordered to bring off my brigade, which I did.
 It is due to the brigade to say that it went into the battle of Boonsborough under many serious disadvantages. It had marched (a portion of the time rapidly) between 22 and 23 miles before it went into action, much oppressed by heat and dust; reached its position a short time before sunset under a disheartening fire of artillery, and was attacked by a much superior force as soon as it was formed in line of battle. That it bravely discharged its duty is fully attested by the number of casualties which occurred during the engagement.

I had been placed in command of the brigade only a few days before the battle of Boonsborough, and, therefore, was personally acquainted with few of the officers, save the regimental commanders. I cannot, therefore, mention names, but can only say I saw several in connection with them, both by words and example, encouraging and cheering on their men in the hottest of the fight. For further information on this subject you are referred to the sub-reports, herewith inclosed.

Colonel Stuart, as I formerly mentioned, was detached with his regiment (the Fifty-sixth Virginia) before the action commenced. His accompanying official report will show the part taken by his command.

Lieutenant McIntire, Eighth [Nineteenth] Virginia Volunteers, acting assistant adjutant-general; Lieuts. Elliott Johnston and A. C. Sorrel, First Georgia Regulars, acting aides-de-camp, composed my staff. It is with much pleasure that I acknowledge the zeal, intelligence, and bravery with which they discharged their duties pending the battle.

We have to mourn in this action many of our companions as killed and wounded, who go to swell the list of noble martyrs who have suffered in our just cause. It was not to be acquainted with but one of the officers who fell on this occasion - Colonel John B. Strange, Nineteenth Virginia Volunteers. His tried valor on othe fields, and heroic conduct in aminating his men to advance upon the enemy with his latest breath, and after he had fallen mortally wounded, will secure imperishable honor for his name and memory.

I herewith furnish a list of the killed and wounded, and have the honor to state that the delay and imperfection of my report with regard to details have been occasioned by my being relieved from the command of Pickett's brigade before the reports of regimental commanders could be made out; and although I applied for them some weeks since, I received several of them only yesterday.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Brigadier-General, Commanding.

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