South Mountain by Rick Reeve

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

Friday, December 9, 2011

"Their dead lay in piles all over the field and in the woods in every direction."

The following is an account of the battle written by an unknown soldier of the 23rd Ohio. The 23rd Ohio was part of Scammon's Brigade and was the regiment that initiated contact with Samuel Garland's Confederates on the morning of the 14th of September near Fox's Gap. This article was published in the Western Reserve Chronicle of Warren, Ohio on October 8, 1862.

From the Twenty Third
Near Sharpsburg, MD., Sept. 21

Long before this you have probably received accounts of the great battle fought on Sunday, the 14th, but I will send such minor details as came under my own observation. On the 12th Gen. Cox drove the rebels from Frederick City, and immediately followed them up, having a small battle on the 13th near Middletown, which place we occupied the same evening. 

Early on Sunday morning our artillery was moved up to the front of the rebel force and commenced a heavy cannonading which was replied to with spirit by the enemy. They were advantageously posed near the ridge of what is call South Mountain or Middleton Heights. What their force was we have no means of knowing, but that it was superior to ours we have every reason to believe. 

General Cox's Division was in Reno's corps holding the left, and the first brigade, composed of the 12th, 23d, and 30th Ohio regiments, the extreme left of the division. This brigade, under command of Col. E.P. Scammon, was sent up the side of the mountain through a dense undergrowth of red cedar to outflank the enemy on the left. Cos. A and F. of the 23d. were deployed as skirmishers to scour the woods in advance of the column. The rebel pickets were captured near the foot of the mountain without making any resistance. When near the summit of the mountain, small detachments of rebels were seen through the underbrush, some of which were captured. At the edge of the forest, and on the ridge of the mountain, was a stonewall with a cornfield beyond. As soon as this was reached a hot fire was opened upon us by the rebels, when the column, headed by the 23d, charged over the stonewall into the corn field, where lay a whole division of the rebel forces. The conflict at this moment was terrible, but of short duration. Our loss was heave and that of the rebels immense. Both parties fell back to rally--ours to the woods just left and the enemy across an open field to another slight elevation. The column was formed again and led into the open field under fire of the rebels, where we laid flat on the ground on the ground, fixed bayonets and prepared for another charge. Previous to this, Col. Hayes of the 23d, was severely wounded in the arm, but he retained command until he was too faint to stand, when Major Comly took charge of the regiment.

We lay on the side hill waiting with breathless anxiety the word, and when "Charge them with the bayonet" ran along the line, the brigade rose as one man, sent up a shout that seemed to shake the mountain, and rushed upon the enemy. The had every advantage of us. Part of the line had to go over a wall, and the whole line of the rebels was sheltered either by walls or piles of stone. We were meet with a terrible reception, but the rebels could not stand the impetuosity of our men, and broke through the woods in all directions. We followed them close and pouring volley after volley into their rear. Their dead lay in piles all over the field and in the woods in every direction. By singular coincidence the 12th Ohio met the 12th North Carolina and the 23d Ohio met the 23d North Carolina. We took a number of prisoners who said that they never saw such a furious onset before, and that it was the first time their regiment ever gave away. They also stated that the force we met was a whole division of five brigaes- the whole of which we drove with three regiments. Other troops laying in sight of us said tha tin the whole war they had not seen a charge that would compare with ours for impetuosity and the results--not even on the Peninsula where some of the most brilliant charges on record were made. While the fight was raging on the left in the manner I have described the artillery held, and finally drove them in front, assisted by Pennsylvania and other troops. 

The rebels charged on our batteries which opened upon them with grape and canister, mowing them down by scores at every discharge. The day was finally decided in our favor and the enemy driven entirely from the mountain. Our loss was heavy, but that of the rebels was full five to our one. The left their dead on the field and our men collected and buried over one thousand of their dead. The greater part of their wounded seemed to have been carried from the field when they retreated, so we do not know their loss; but following the usual ration of the wounded to killed their loss could not have been less than five or six thousand. A great number of their killed wire in the woods, and it is more than probable that many of them not found. 

During the day Gen. Reno was killed and the command developed upon Gen. Cox, Col. Scammon taking command of the Division, and Col. Ewing of the 30th Ohio, of the 1st brigade. As soldiers we were proud of the day's work and proud of our officers. Wherever Col. Scammon will take the brigade and Major Comly the 23d, there we will follow confident of success. 

Other regiments fought well and deserve great praise which I would cheerfully give if I knew their State and no, I have seen several accounts of the battle given by Eastern correspondents, some of whom totally ignored the fact that the Ohio troops fought at all, much less the principal part of the battle. Our entire army followed close at the heels of the retreating enemy, and the next day established its lines some six miles in advance of the battle ground. 


Library of Congress. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. " Western Reserve Chronicle: Warren, Ohio; October 8, 1862". article.

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