South Mountain by Rick Reeve

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

Friday, April 22, 2011

"It soon became evident the enemy held the crest in considerable force..."

The following is the official report made by Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox about a week after the fighting at South Mountain and only three days after the bloody encounter at Antietam. At South Mountain, General Cox commanded the Kanawha Division, composed primarily of Ohioan's, but it included the only Kentucky unit to serve with the Army of the Potomac. Cox's Ohioans struck the first blows at Fox's Gap on the morning of September 14th and were involved in the fighting the occured throughout the day. Cox would be elevated to command of the 9th Corps when Major General Jesse Reno was mortally wounded as the fighting died down. He would "command" the 9th Corps at Antietam, but Major General Ambrose Burnside would lead the 9th Corps in its assaults against the Confederate right.


September 20, 1862.

Lieutenant Colonel LEWIS RICHMOND,

Asst. Adjt. General, Burnside's Hdqrs., Right Wing, A. P.

SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by the Kanawha Division, Ninth Army Corps, Major-General Burnside's command, in the battle of South Mountain:

At 6 o'clock in the morning of September 14 the division marched from Middletown under an order received by me from Major-General Reno, directing me to support with my division the advance of General Pleasanton, who, with his brigade of cavalry and artillery, was moving up the Hagerstown turnpike toward the positions of the pass of South Mountain. The First Brigade of the division, Colonel E. P. Scammon commanding, consisting of the Twelfth, Twenty-third, and Thirtieth Ohio Regiments, McMullin's Ohio battery, and Gilmore's and Harrison's troops of cavalry, was ordered to proceed by the Boonsborough road, moving to the left of the Hagerstown turnpike and to feel of the enemy, ascertaining whether the crest of South Mountain on that side was held by any considerable force. The Second Brigade, Colonel Crook commanding, consisting of the Eleventh, Twenty-eighth, and Thirty-sixth Ohio Regiments, and Simmonds' battery, with Schambeck's cavalry troop, was ordered to follow on the same road to support the First Brigade.

It soon became evident the enemy held the crest in considerable force, and the whole division was ordered to advance to the assault of the position, word being received from Major-General Reno that the column would be supported by the whole corps. Two 20-pounder Parrot guns from Simmonds' battery and two sections from McMullin's battery were left in the rear, in positions on the turnpike where they were most efficiently served during the action in opposition to the enemy's guns in the center of the line along the Hagerstown road. The First Brigade being in advance, the Twenty-third Ohio Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel R. B. Hayes commanding, was deployed to our left, and ordered to move through the woods to the left of the road and up to the crest of the mountain, gaining, if possible the enemy's right, so as to turn it and attack his flank. the Twelfth Ohio Regiment, Colonel C. B. White commanding, occupied the center of the line, and the Thirtieth Ohio Regiment, Colonel Hugh Ewing commanding, was on the right.

These movements were successfully made and the troops brought into position by Colonel Scammon before the arrival of the rest of the division.

The Second Brigade marched in column of reserve, and within supporting distance. The whole line in advancing was well covered with skirmishers, whose duty was very effectively performed.
The Twenty-third Ohio having reached the crest on the left, established itself there in spite of a most vigorous resistance on the part of the enemy. On the right the Thirtieth Ohio also succeeded in reaching the top of the slope, in the face of showers of canister and spherical case from a battery of the enemy commanding that part of the line. A section of McMullin's battery was immediately advanced to the front and opened an effective fire upon the enemy, but its position was necessarily so near the enemy's infantry as to be greatly exposed, and after losing Lieutenant Crome, commanding the section, and the wounding of 6 gunners of the section, it was withdrawn, having rendered good service, however, in enabling the infantry to gain tenable positions along the ridge. In the center of the line the Twelfth Ohio was obliged to advance several hundred yards over open pasture-ground, under a most galling fire from the edge of the wood which crowned the slope, and behind stone fences.

The skirmishers of this regiment, advancing with admirable courage and firmness, drove in those of the enemy, and the regiment with loud hurrahs charged up the slope with the bayonet. The rebels stood firmly, and kept up a murderous fire until the advancing line was within a few feet of them, when they broke and fledd over the crest into the shelter of a dense thicket skirting the other side. The Eleventh Ohio, of the Second Brigade, Lieutenant Colonel A. H. Coleman commanding, was now sent to support the left, and formed on the left of the Twenty-third. The enemy made several attempts to retake the crest, advancing with great obstinacy and boldness. In the center they were at one time partially successful, but the Thirty-sixth Ohio, of the Second Brigade, Lieutenant Colonel M. Clarke commanding, was brought forward, and, with the Twelfth, drove them back by a most dashing and spirited charge. The whole crest was now held by our troops, as follows: The left by the Eleventh and Twenty-third Ohio, the center by the Twelfth Ohio, supported by the Thirty-sixth formed in line in reserve, and the right by the Thirtieth Ohio, supported by the Twenty-eighth, Lieutenant Colonel G. Becker commanding.

Two 10-pounder Parrots, of Simmonds' battery, under Lieutenant Glassier, were pushed forward to an open spot in the woods, and, supported by the infantry, did good service throughout the rest of the action. The enemy withdrew their battery to a new position upon a ridge more to the front and right, forming their infantry in support and moving columns toward both our flanks.

Such was the situation about noon, when a lull occurred in the contest, which lasted some two hours, during which our supports from the remainder of the corps were arriving and taking position. General Willcox's division being the first to arrive, took position on the right, sending one regiment, however, to the extreme left, which was threatened to be turned by a column of the enemy which moved in that direction. General Sturgis' arriving subsequently supported General Willcox's, and General Rodman's was divided; Colonel Fairchild's brigade being posted on the extreme left, and Colonel Harland's (under General Rodman's personal supervision) being placed on the right.

While these supports were arriving the enemy made several vigorous efforts to regain the crest, their efforts chiefly upon our right, which was exposed not only to the fire in front, but to the batteries on the opposite side of the gorge beyond our right, through which the Hagerstown turnpike runs. About 4 o'clock p. m., most of the re-enforcements being in position, the order was received to advance the whole line and take or silence the enemy's batteries immediately in front. The order was immediately obeyed, and the advance was made with the utmost enthusiasm. The enemy made a desperate resistance, charging our advancing lines with fierceness, but they were everywhere routed and fled with precipitation. In this advance the chief loss fell upon the division of General Willcox, which was most exposed, being on the right, as I have said above, but it gallantly overcame all obstacles, and the success was complete along the whole line of the corps. The battery of the enemy was found to be across a gorge and beyond reach of our infantry, but its position was made untenable, and it was hastily removed and not again put in position near us.

General Sturgis' division was now moved forward to the front of General Willcox's position occupying the new ground gained on the farther side of the slope. About dark a brisk attack was abe by the enemy upon the extreme left, but was quickly repulsed by Colonel Fairchild's brigade, of Rodman's division, with little loss.

About 7 o'clock still another effort to regain the lost ground was made by the rebels in front of the position of General Sturgis' division and part of the Kanawha Division. This attack was more persistent, and a very lively fire was kept up for about an hour, but they were again repulsed, and, under cover of the night, retreated in mass from our entire front.

Just before sunset Major-General Reno was killed while making a reconnaissance at the front, and by this lamentable occurrence the undersigned was left in command of the corps. Early in the engagement Lieut Colonel R. B. Hayes, commanding Twenty-third Ohio, was severely wounded in the arm whilst leading his regiment forward. He refused to leave the field, however, until weakness from loss of blood compelled him. Major E. M. Carey, of the Twelfth Ohio was shot through the thigh later in the action, in which he had greatly distinguished by his gallantry and cool courage. Captains Skiles and Hunter, and Lieutenants Hood, Smith, Naughton, and Ritter, of the Twenty third Ohio, and Captains Liggett and Wilson, of the Twelfth Ohio, were also wounded in this engagement. Captain Liggett has since died. Lieutenant Crome, commanding a section of McMullins battery, was killed whilst serving a piece in place of the gunner, who had been disabled.

In the Kanawha Division the casualties were 528, of which 106 were killed, 336 wounded, and 86 missing, of all of which a full list will be immediately forwarded.

I take pleasure in calling attention to the gallantry and efficiency displayed in the action by Colonels Scammon and Crook, commanding the brigades of the division. The manner in which their commands were handled reflected great credit on them, and entitles them to the highest praise.

I beg leave also to mention my indebtedness to Capt. E. P. Fitch, Captain G. M. Bascom, and Lieutenants J. W. Covine and S. L. Christie, of my personal staff, for the devotion and courage displayed by them in the laborious and hazardous duties of the day. Also to Brigade Surg. W. W. Holmes, medical director of the division, for his tireless activity and efficiency in his department.

The conduct of both officers and men was everything that could be desired, and every one seemed stimulated by the determination not to be excelled in any soldierly quality.

I cannot close this report without speaking of the meritorious conduct of First Lieutenant H. Belcher, of the Eighth Michigan, a regiment belonging to another [Willcox's First, of the IX Corps] division. His regiment having suffered severely on the right, and being partly in confusion, he rallied about 100 men and led them up to the front. Being separated from the brigade to which he belonged, he reported to me for duty, and asked a position where he might be of use until his proper place could be ascertained. He was assigned a post on the left, and subsequently in support of the advanced section of Simmonds' battery; in both of which places both he and his men performed their duty admirably, and after the enemy in the evening he carried his command to their proper brigade. About 600 prisoners were taken by the Kanawha Division and sent to Middletown under guard. The losses of the enemy in our immediate front were not definitely ascertained, but it is known they very greatly exceeded our own.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. D. COX,



The War of the Rebellion: a Compliation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies: Volume 19, Part 1. 458-461.

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