South Mountain by Rick Reeve

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

Monday, March 5, 2018

“For fully ten minutes the bullets were hissing near my ears. . .” : A Virginian remembers the fighting at Crampton’s Gapp

Post-war Philip C. Brown, Co. C, 12th Virginia
Philip F. Brown
On September 14, 1862, the 12th Virginia Infantry of  Mahone’s Brigade, commanded by Colonel William Parham, was in position along the Mountain Church Road at the base of South Mountain. Within the lines of this regiment was Philip C. Brown serving in Company C. He would write a reminiscence of his experience in the war, first, as a series of articles in a local newspaper and then in book form that was published in 1917. The following is an excerpt from this book. In it he describes the aftermath of the fighting at 2nd Manassas as he works to rejoin his regiment after guarding the baggage not carried into battle, the march into Maryland, and the fighting at Crampton’s Gap.   Brown would be severely wounded in the arm and taken prisoner as Federal forces sweep up the mountain side.  Brown begins with camp being set up following the Battle of 2nd Manassas.

" When night came on we were not close enough to the battlefield to be disturbed by the wounded. It was a lonely vigil that Sidney Jones, Gus Durphy and I had that memorable night.  Before going to sleep, I deemed it wise to save a few coals for a fire next morning as we had used the only match in our party to start our evening fire. In raking up the ashes to cover the coals some cartridges accidently were caught up, and their explosion burnt my right thumb and singed my eyebrows.
We made our breakfast of hardtack, boiled in a tin cup, with a small piece of bacon, a dish that had become famous on the march, and known as “cush.” After turning over to the wagon train the belongings that were left with us the evening before, we started off to overtake our command. In doing so we saw the horrors of the evening previous. The ambulance corps of the enemy had been given permission to enter our lines, and care for their dead and wounded. The fields and roadway were strewn with them, and many sickening sights were seen. In several places the limbs and heads had been severed from the body by the artillery wheels, or mashed into a mangled mass by the hoofs of the cavalry trampling over them. At other places we counted where more than thirty bullets had struck a tree of not more than eight inches diameter, and in the height of a man. It was two days before we could overtake our command, as the line of battle before night had been pushed several miles from the point of first attack, and the regiment had one day start of us.

When we camped on Goose Creek, a few miles from Leesburg, John Pritchard and I obtained permission to go into town to provide a few articles for our mess, and, as it was nearly sunset when we left, it was understood that our return would be next morning. After purchasing tobacco and a small quantity of sugar and coffee, we sought rest on the lawn of a beautiful mansion, and were soon in a sound slumber, from which we were awakened by the music of several regimental bands passing through the town at the head of their commands. We little dreamed that ours was among the number, but so it was, and we marched off to overtake it. We forded the Potomac at Williams’ crossing (I think that was the name) about 10 A. M., and after dark arrived on the banks of Monocacy River, and still we had not overtaken our regiment. We were afraid to venture in the water not knowing its depth, and the September nights were growing cool. Leaving the road and entering the tall timber along the banks, we came to a stop, where we found many others were halted in a like manner. At last we found a suitable resting place. I took the precaution to unbuckle my bayonet belt, and pass it under my head for pillow, the bayonet scabbard under my rubber cloth. We were so exhausted from our long day’s march that our sleep must have been very sound, for, when I awakened, the sun was up, and my head flat on the ground. My belt had been unbuckled, and the bundle, containing coffee, sugar and tobacco, was stolen from under my head. Did I grow angry? Well, if my dear comrade, John Pritchard, is still alive, I would like for him to answer this! Fortunately for my sense of honor, no money had been given me to buy these articles, and the loss was, therefore, all my own.
Without a mouthful of breakfast we forded the stream; it was not deep, and we trudged along the dusty road and during the morning came to another point of the same river, where the railroad crossed on an iron bridge, and found it was being destroyed by some artillery command, to prevent its use by the enemy. Before night we were once more in the ranks of our own command, and felt a great relief. Very strict orders had been given by General Lee, that no property of any kind should be disturbed in passing through the enemy’s country, and, as our own wagon train was some distance in the rear, our rations were cut very short. Apples and green corn (when it could be had) were our principal diet. We passed through Frederick City on the morning of September 12, 1862, and the Twelfth Virginia made a handsome spectacle, as we marched through the streets, open order, arms resting on knapsacks. By this maneouvre [sic] four men abreast extended across the street, and caused our force to look much larger than it really was. Our next stopping point was the little town of Burkettsville, where we rested over night, and Saturday marched through Crampton’s Gap, in South Mountain, and camped in Pleasant Valley.

Sunday, September 14th, we received orders to retrace our march, re-crossing South Mountain, to defend the Gap against Franklin’s Corps, which was aiming to relieve the siege of Harper’s Ferry. I was nearly a mile from camp hunting for milk and bread, when I heard the drum corps beating the “long roll” and had to run fast to be in line when my name was called. The 12th was under the command of Lieutenant Col. Field, as Lieutenant Col. Fielding Taylor, though ill, was on the firing line and received a mortal wound. John Crow, of the Rifles, saved Col. Taylor’s gold-head cane by sticking it in the muzzle of his rifle as he retreated up the mountain.

All this was learned after my return from the North. I also learned that Leslie Spence, Ned Aikin, Captain Patterson and John Laughton were wounded same evening. General Thomas T. Munford, now eighty-six years old, living at “Oakland, ” near Union Town, Ala., on March 8, 1917, wrote me the following: “When I opened your letter, the Crampton’s Gap Fight, where you gave your blood, came back to me like a flash of lightning, revivifying the scenes that developed there as General Franklin moved out to attack the Gap.”I had orders to hold, with ten times our numbers visible. “To-day those scenes are forgotten, except by the handful who witnessed them — that campaign was  written in blood — as precious as soldiers could furnish, and General Lee’s audacity as a great soldier was never crowned more brilliantly.”

As we descended the mountain, we could see in the distance clouds of dust rising above the trees on the several roads leading to this point. Such an ominous sight made us feel that in a few hours a battle would be fought. I have never known how the 6th, 16th and 41st regiments were placed along the base of the mountain. I only know that the 12th was where the road diverged, right and left at the base. We were deployed eight feet apart; in order to extend our line as far as possible. We were behind a rail fence, with just enough distance from the road to lie down at full length, and rest our rifles on a low rail, where good aim could be taken. I suppose we were in position nearly as hour before the enemy’s advance column appeared in our front. About two hundred yards distant was another rail fence, a freshly fallowed field lying between us. We had strict orders not to fire until the enemy was in good rifle range. For fully ten or fifteen minutes after arriving at the point mentioned, they hesitated to make a charge on us. Finally a great cheering, as if greeting some welcome reinforcements, swelled along the line, and over the fence they clambered, and started for us at double quick time. When they had advanced about fifty yards, a deadly rifle fire hurled them back, leaving a line of killed and wounded. By the time they reached the point from which they started, another volley was poured into them. From these two opposite points, a desultory fire was kept for some time. Then another great cheering (more fresh troops) and over the fence they came again. I was in the act of firing my rifle when the cheering commenced [sic] ; and, seeing an officer with his hat lifted on the point of his sword, as he mounted the fence, I took deliberate aim, but the smoke of my rifle prevented my seeing what effect it had. I do know, however, that they moved only a few feet before they doubled back, and kept up their fire from behind the fence.

In the meantime, a battery of artillery in our rear was delivering a plunging fire of shot and shell into their ranks. Their force outnumbered our own so greatly that while we were holding them back in our front, they had lapped around our right and left for some distance ; when at a given signal they made a desperate rush upon our line. Though we popped our rifles as rapidly as possible, it seemed evident that we would soon be overwhelmed. When they were about twenty yards distant I was shot in the left arm, about three inches below the elbow, the bullet passing between the two bones, then through the elbow joint, and lodged in the muscle of the arm. I do not know whether it was the excitement, or what, but I felt no more pain at the time than if a brush had hit me; but the blood trickling to my finger tips, and the utter uselessness of or inability to move the arm, made me realize that it was broken, and before the enemy reached the fence I pulled myself into the road.

At this moment Cobb’s Georgians came to our relief, and enabled all who could, to escape, for they halted the enemy at the fence from which we had, only a few minutes before, been firing at them. While lying in the wheel rut of this road, with the Yankee guns not more than ten feet to my left, my face resting on my blood covered hand, I could not help thinking of the shocking sights seen after the battle of Manassas, for should a battery of artillery or a squadron of cavalry move I would be ground or trampled into an unrecognizable mass.

For fully ten minutes the bullets were hissing near my ears, and as soon as the enemy crossed over this road I held my shattered arm in my right, and took refuge in an old cooper shop near the roadside, where a number of Federal soldiers were making good use of several barrels of fresh cider. I passed by them, and seated myself on the back sill, feeling quite faint from the loss of blood. I was not there more than a minute when one of the number brought me a tin cup of the cider, addressing me as “Johnnie.” He seemed very much interested in my condition, and insisted on going with me to have my wound attended to. I was utterly amazed at this mark of kindness, and I soon followed him over the field, where many evidences of the effectiveness of our fire was seen. About midway my eyes rested on the finest canteen I had ever seen, and I hardly thought it would be violating the Tenth Commandment if I asked him to appropriate it for my use, and this he did most cheerfully.

I was taken to five operating “field” hospitals before a surgeon could be found, who could spare the time from their great number of wounded, to attend to me. In an apple orchard, near a brick house, about one mile in the rear of the battlefield, a very noble and kindly disposed Federal surgeon, about sixty years old, with a sharp knife ripped my sleeve open, and cut it off about two inches below the shoulder. Then for the first time I knew the course of the bullet heretofore mentioned. He wished me placed under the influence of chloroform, as it would be exceedingly painful to extract the bullet so firmly embedded in the muscles. I objected to this, and told him I preferred to stand the pain. An incision about two inches long was made through the ligaments, and fastening the forceps on the bullet, they failed to remove it, until the fourth or fifth effort. When it yielded to his strong arm, the blood flew in all directions. He crammed a bunch of lint into the opening. The next minute everything turned pitch dark and I lost consciousness for several minutes. When I recovered, this kind doctor was bathing my face in cool water, and had such a sympathetic countenance that I felt he was a friend. He remarked, in a pleasant manner, “Young man, you stood the operation bravely, but you pinched my leg blue.” After placing the bullet in a pan of water to wash off the blood, he handed it to me with the remark, “You can now see why that bullet was so difficult to remove.” The point was turned back like a brim of a “rough and ready hat.” My arm was neatly bandaged and I remained sitting, with my back resting against a tree in the apple orchard. The Union soldier who accompanied me from the battlefield had remained by me, and as it was about sundown he brought me a small bowl of corn meal gruel, which refreshed me very much.

 A little while later who should come up but one of my company comrades, W. C. Smith, who had been slightly wounded in the shoulder. He informed me that Thomas Morgan and George Bernard, of the Petersburg Rifles, and Charlie Pritchard, of my company, were wounded and fellow prisoners, but I did not see them until next day. I laid on the upper porch floor of the brick house that night, on a bed of loose straw, brought by this kind Federal soldier, who also brought a canteen of fresh water, which proved a great blessing, for my thirst was insatiate, and I could not sleep. On the same porch floor with me were six or seven wounded Federal soldiers, two of whom died before daybreak. Next morning my soldier friend brought me another bowl of gruel and a cup of coffee. About 10 o’clock all the wounded who were able to walk were marched to Burkettsville [sic], and a church was converted into a hospital.”

During his stay in Burkittsville, Brown would find himself in very crowded conditions as surgeons worked feverishly to tend to the wounded. From here, he can clearly hear the distant rumbling of artillery and musketry as intense fighting takes place at near Sharpsburg. He also, successfully, fends off the surgeon’s knife as he is told the his arm must be amputated. He manages to remove himself from the hopsital and into the care of a private citizen who tends to his wound and saves his arm, for the time being. Eventually, he recovers enough to be placed on a train in Frederick and taken to Fort McHenry in Baltimore where he is paroled and awaits exchange. After being exchanged and sent to Richmond, his wound is not fully healed and becomes rather infected. After a quick surgery by a family doctor, fragments of clothe and bone are taken out of the wound. Luckily for Brown, he receives an honorable discharge from the Confederate Army due to the nature of his wound, his elbow being crooked. He would work in a Richmond hotel for the remainder of the war, witnessing its fall in the Spring of 1865.

Brown, Phillip F.  1917.  Reminiscences of the War of 1861 – 1865. Richmond, VA: Whittet & Shepperson Printers. Google Books: Phillip F. Brown

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