South Mountain by Rick Reeve

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

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"They were so numerous that it looked as if they were creeping up out of the ground..." George Neese, Chew's Artillery, on Crampton's Gap

The following is a recollection from George M. Neese, a gunner in Chew's Horse Artillery. Roger P. Chew's horse battery was in position about half-way the mountainside in the area of Crampton's Gap, the primary artillery support for the Confederate defenders along the Mountain Church Road at the base of the mountain. Neese writes:

September 14- This morning the shades of night were still lingering over the landscape when we left camp, and early dawn found us on top of South Mountain, looking over the beautiful Middletown Valley that was lying before us like a diversified illuminated map, with its wooded hills, pleasant fields, hamlets, and towns reposing in the quiet calm of a peaceful Sabbath morning. But before the sun shots its first golden lance across the Catoctin range to kiss away the early dew, the booming of Yankee cannon came rolling across from the Catoctin hills, announcing in ominous thunder tones that the Yankee hosts were advancing, and that there would be but little Sunday for soldiers to-day in this part of Uncle Sam's domain. As soon as we found the whole Yankee army was on the advance, we moved about halfway down the mountain and went in battery ready to work on the first bluecoats that ventured within range of our guns The cannon we heard  so early this morning were at Jefferson, where the Yanks were shelling woods searching, I suppose,  for masked batteries, of which they were most awfully afraid. 
There are two principal gaps in South Mountain through which the main roads pass that lead west through the Middletown Valley. Turner's Gap is the most important one, as the National Road which passes through Frederick City, Middletown, Boonsboro, and Hagerstown leads through Turner's Gap, consequently the heaviest portion of the Yankee forces was hurled against the defenders of that pass to-day. We were at Crampton's Gap, which was some four or five miles south of Turner's and, judging from the small force we had there for its defense, it was not considered of much importance from a Confederate point of view. However, the Yankees did not so consider it, from the heavy force of cavalry, artillery, and infantry they brought to bear against it before the day was over. We had only three companies of infantry, Munford's brigade of cavalry, and six pieces of artillery to defend the pass against at least two, perhaps three, divisions of Yankee infantry, with accompanying artillery and a big bunch of cavalry. At about ten o'clock we saw the first of the Yankee host, about three miles away, approaching our gap cautiously and slowly. As they drew nearer the country seemed full of bluecoats. They were so numerous that it looked  as if they  were creeping up out of the ground -- and what would or could our little force of some three or four hundred available men standing half-way up the bushy, stony mountain side do with such a mighty host that was advancing on us with flying banners? As they came nearer to the mountain they threw out a heavy skirmish line of infantry on both sides of the road, and were still advancing  very slowly when their skirmish line came to within about a mile of our position , so we opened on it with our rifled guns. Our line of fire was right over the village of Burkittsville, and completely checked their skirmishers about a half a mile from Burkittsville. The Yanks now brought up a battery and opened fire on us, but they were about two miles off and all their shell fell short. I fired at them in return, but in doing I disabled my gun. The mountain where we were in battery was a little steep and my gun is a vicious little recoiler, and the recoil space of our position was too sloping, rough, and limited for a free kick, consequently with the second shot I fired--with two mile range--at the Yankees my piece snapped a couple of bolts of its mounting, entirely disabling it for the day. After my gun was damaged there was nothing for me to do but leave the field of action, but before I left I stood awhile and gazed at the magnificent splendor of the martial array that was slowly and steadily moving toward us across the plain below like a living panorama, the sheen of the glittering side-arms and thousands of bright, shiney musket barrels looking like a silver spangled sea rippling and flashing in a midday sun. 
The remainder of the battery held its position, and when the enemy advanced to a closer range opened fire and kept it up until nearly night; but late this evening the enemy forced the pass by flanking and fighting, with overwhelming numbers, and compelled our little force to retire. To observe caution with which the Yankees, with their vast superior numbers, approached the mountain, it put one very much in mind of a lion, king of the forest, making exceeding careful preparations to spring on a plucky little mouse. For we had only about three hundred men actually engaged, and they were mostly cavalry, which is of very little use in defending a mountain pass like Crampton's Gap, where there is one narrow road leading up the mountain and all the remainder of the surroundings heavily timbered  and thickly covered with regular mountain undergrowth and large, loose rocks and boulders.
Crampton's Gap is really neither gorge nor gap, only a little notch in the crest of South Mountain, and nearly all the fighting to-day in trying to defend it was done on the eastern face of the mountain. It is marvelous how a few hundred  of our men held in check nearly all day two divisions of Yankees, besides their artillery and cavalry, and I will venture the assertion that, as usual, correspondents of Northern newspapers will say that a little band of heroic Union patriots gallantly cleaned out Crampton's Gap, that was defended by an overwhelming force of Rebels strongly posted all over the mountain and standing so thick that they had to crawl over each other to get away. 
In retiring our disabled gun from Crampton's Gap we went to Boonsboro and moved southwest direction about four miles on the Shepherdstown road to our wagons, where we arrived at ten o'clock to-night, and camped. In going from Crampton's Gap to Boonsboro we passed within a half mile of Turner's Gap, where a portion of General Longstreet's forces were engaged, fighting desperately right in the gap, which the enemy was assaulting vigorously with a heavy force. The artillery fire was very heavy and the deep-toned thunder of Longstreet's guns, mingled with the crash of fierce and incessant musketry, raged and roared and rolled along the mountain slopes and made the craggy battlements of South Mountain tremble from base to crest.
Boonsboro is a pretty little town at the western base of South Mountain, on the National Road. The houses are nearly all built of brick and kept in good condition all through the town. Before we got to Boonsboro, we passed through Rorhersville, a small hamlet in a pleasant valley, three miles south of Boonsboro. We also passed through Keedysville, a small village three miles southwest of Boonsboro. 
Pleasant Valley is a beautiful little mountain vale a mile wide, extending toward Harper's Ferry along the western foothills of South Mountain. 

Neese would move with Chew's artillery through Williamsport to Martinsburg and onward toward Shepherdstown, (West) Virginia where the unit went into camp as part of the artillery reserve. On the 17th, Neese reported clearly hearing the booming of the cannon and sounds of the battle that was raging in the fields ourside of Sharpsburg. Chew's battery was ordered to Sharpsburg late in the day, arriving just as the fighting ended. The battery would remain in position until the 19th, when the Confederates retreated back across the Potomac. Neese would marched with his men over much of the Berkeley and Jefferson counties in (West) Virginia and remained in the Shenandoah Valley for the remainder of 1862.


1. Neese, George M. Three Years in the Confederate Horse Artillery. New York and Washington: The Neale Publishing Company. 1911.

2. photo of George Neese. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

"I never before saw the ground covered with dead..." Letter from Private Thomas Williams, Co. K, 12th Ohio Infantry

The following is a letter from Thomas Williams of Co. K, 12th Ohio that was published in The Highland Weekly News on October 2, 1862. The paper was the local paper for Hillsborough, Ohio. Thomas enlisted in the 12th Ohio in June 1861 at the age of 18 and was discharged from service in December 1862. He was wounded at South Mountain, reporting here that he had his index finger on his left hand "tapped". He writes of his experience in the battle, the hospital scenes in Frederick, his views on the scenery of western Maryland, and casualties of the 12th Ohio.

Middletown, MD, Sept. 16, 1862

Dear Brother:
 I am well at the present time, with the exception of a sore hand. I suppose you heard of our severe engagement with the enemy on last Sunday. (the 14th inst.)

In the evening, I got "tapped" with a ball, which took off a finger on my left hand - the one next the little finger.- It is very sore a present. It will have to be cut off again, which will be a painful operation. Brother John escaped unhurt. So did Sylvanus Cox - or had, at least, up to yesterday evening. I don't know whether our division is in the engagement to-day, or not. It was not yesterday, as it was resting.  Thomas Stonestreet was killed; he never moved after he fell. Our regiment suffered a great deal up to the present time. I know of 4 killed, 7 wounded, and 8 taken prisoners - the latter were sent ahead as skirmishers - in our company alone; so you may know that there was a big loss. 

Gen. Cox's Division was in the advance, so we were in the fight all day Sunday. We made three different charges during the day, and drove the enemy every time. Once we got close enough to prick some of them with the bayonet. We took a great many prisoners during the day; I suppose our regiment alone took about 300. John captured one fellow. When he had his gun half loaded, he ran up to him with bayonet presented, and told him to "hand over his traps." The rebel replied, "Here, I am a prisoner," (handing over his "traps") and John marched him off with the rest, half scared to death.

In the last charge (just before dark) I was wounded, while within fifteen feet of the rebels, who were behind a stone wall, and I went to the rear; but the regiment pushed on and drove the rebels again. I was sent to the hospital at Middletown, where I now am.

The prisoners say they never saw men fight like our division did there- that there was not such fight before Richmond. We didn't stand off and let them shoot at us: but as soon as we could get sight of them we would charge, and that they couldn't stand. Our division has won a great praise among the officers. Gen. Cox thinks he can go anywhere with it- he has such confidence in the bravery of his men. And Col. White thinks there is not another such a regiment as his "gallant 12th." Major Cary was wounded; Capt. Wilson (Co. A) do; Captin Leggett reported killed. A Lieut. of Co. "G" was wounded. 
I suppose you saw an account of our "advent" into Frederick City. I tell you we went in there nice. The citizens of Maryland are nearly all Union people, and they are very clever to us. All of the wounded who are able to walk will be sent from here soon, to give room for those who are badly wounded; but where I cannot say. There are over 200 wounded in this hospital and there are nine or ten [hospitals] more in town. I tell you I have seen "sights" before, but this is the greatest I ever saw. I never before saw the ground covered with dead as it was with "Secesh" where we charged. We were so close to them, that we could not well miss them, when we fired, and we just "rolled" them. Those that the balls from our guns hit were nearly all killed. 

I have seen many pretty places, but never as pretty a country as that between here and Washington; no exceptions whatever. When you write again to John, direct as before. I cannot tell you yet how to direct to me; but I will write again as soon as I learn where I am to remain until my hand gets well.

My love to all, and remember me, as ever, your Brother,



1. Roster Co. K, 12th Ohio

2. Library of Congress. Chronicling America: Historic Newspapers, The Highland Weekly News, October 2, 1862. article [accessed Feb. 17, 2012].

Sunday, February 12, 2012

"The conduct of the troops on this occasion is worthy of commendation."

The following is the official report of Brigadier General William T.H. Brooks, commanding the Vermont Brigade. Brooks would lead the brigade it its assault against the extreme right of the Confederate line.

Headquarters Second Brigade, Smith's Division.
Hagerstown, September --, '62

The Assistant Adujutant-General,
Division Headquarters, 

Sir: I have to report on the operations of this brigade in the battle of Crampton's Pass, September 14:

The brigade was ordered to pass through the town of Burkitsville, with the view of support Slocum's main attack on the right, by following the main road that crossed the mountain. After passing through the town, under a heavy fire of artillery from the crest of the mountain on the left, we found the enemy in position behind a stone wall at right angles with the road. From this position they kept a harassing fire, not only on this brigade, but upon Slocum's left. Skirmishers were thrown out to dislodge them, with little effect. As soon as the nature of the ground and the exact position of the wall could be determined, the Fourth Vermont, Lieutenant-Colonel Stoughton, was deployed with the Second Vermont, under Major Walridge, in support in second line, and the other three regiments in support on the edge of town. In this position an advance was made against the wall, which was carried immediately, and some 15 or 20 prisoners captured. The advance was continued by the Fourth and Second without further opposition, until the top of the mountain was reached, when the Fourth was ordered to take the crest to our left, toward the battery that fired upon us as we passed through the town. The Second continued on down the other slope of the mountain and reached the base as the troops of Slocum's division had scattered the enemy. The Fourth proceeded on the crest of the mountain about a mile, and captured another party of prisoners, all belonging to the Sixteenth Virginia. In the last party was the Major of the regiment, who commanded, and the battle-flag of this regiment was also captured. The other regiments followed the above movements by the main road. The brigade bivouacked at the point where Slocum's division ceased the pursuit, and, on throwing out pickets, a 12-pounder howitzer, with horses, &c., complete, and but slightly disables, was found abandoned by the enemy, which was turned over to Captain Cowan. 

The conduct of the troops on this occasion is worthy of commendation. Exposed to a plunging fire of artillery while passing over a space of a mile and more, and afterward to that of the enemy sharpshooters, not the least hesitancy was observed. It gives me pleasure to call especial notice to the good conduct of Lieutenant Colonel C.B. Stoughton, commanding Fourth Vermont, and Major Walbridge, commanding Second Vermont, also to Lieutenants Parsons and Wheeler, of my personal staff, who were active in the discharge of their respective duties. 

Very respectfully,

W.H.T. Brooks,
 Brigadier-General, commanding brigade. 


The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of of the records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Series 1, Volume 19 (part 1), pgs. 407-408.