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1862 September 17: Victory at the Battle of South Mountain

September 21, 2012

From The Hudson North Star of September 17, 1862, comes this lengthy report on the Battle of South Mountain, sometimes known as the Battle of Boonsboro Gap, which was fought September 14, 1862.  It was part of Robert E. Lee’s Maryland Campaign.

Once again, we are meeting a lot of generals for the first time in this article.

This image is at the head of the column that the following article appeared in:

Three Miles beyond Meddertown.1 }
Sept. 14, 9:40 P.M. }

To H. W. Halleck, General in Chief.

After a severe engagement, the corps of Gen. Hooker [Joseph Hooker] and Gen. Reno2 have carried the right, commanding the Hagerstown Road, by storm.  The troops behaved magnificently ;  they never fought better.

Gen. Franklin [William B. Franklin] has been hotly engaged on the extreme left.  I do not know the result, except that firing indicates progress on his part.

The action continued till after dark and terminated, leaving us in possession of the entire west.  It has been a glorious victory.

I cannot tell whether the enemy will retreat during the night, or appear in increased force in the morning.

I regret to add that the gallant and able Gen. Reno is killed.2

Major General


The Star says, at 9 A.M. to-day, the engagement at Burnside’s [Ambrose E. Burnside] position had not been renewed.  He was then in in [sic] disputed possession of an advantageous crest of the mountain, from which he drove the enemy the night before.  The firing that commenced at day break to-day was an attack of the enemy on Franklin’s corps on the road to Harper’s Ferry.  No direct communication was had with that corps at 9 o’clock this morning.

The telegraph operator at Point of Rocks reports that Franklin was heavily engaged this morning, some miles in front of him.  The operator says the division or an army corps that yesterday morning occupied Hagerstown was not in yesterday’s action, though it hastily retreated its steps in order to be in the fight to-day.

Neither Sumner’s [Edwin V. Sumner] army corps nor Couch’s3 division was in action yesterday, though both are doubtless supporting Franklin to-day, as they were in position to do so yesterday.

The army corps of Fitz-John Porter passed through Frederick to-day at 8 o’clock A. M., and were to have arrived on the battle field at noon.

Rebels, who were in the fight say that Beauregard [P.G.T. Beauregard] expected to join them to-day with an army corps of 40,000 strong.  We have no idea that any such expectation can be realized.

Burnside’s position, won from the enemy in the battle of yesterday, commands the only road leading from Hagerstown to the position where Franklin is, we believe, fighting to-day hence its great importance.  Its loss will prove most damaging to the enemy.

GREEN CASTLE, Pa., Sept. 15.

The cavalry force which left Harper’s Ferry at 8 o’clock, arrived here to-day at one o’clock, numbering about 1,600.  White,4 it seems, was completely surrounded at Harper’s Ferry.  The cavalry obtained permission to cut their way out.  After obtaining a guide, they started and succeeded in making their way around the enemy without being discovered.  On reaching Williamsport Road, they discovered a train of empty wagons, which they captured.  It belonged to Longstreet’s ammunition train which had just left Hagerstown.  After supplying that division with ammunition, the wagons being still about half full.  Most of them appeared to be wagons taken from Pope’s [John Pope] army at Centreville.


The following dispatch is from the American:


News that reaches here from the front coming throughout a variety of sources, is all of a gloriously encouraging character.  Our troops have been driving the enemy ever since they left Frederick, and yesterday fought them for four hours in a general engagement, defeated them, and sent them flying in rapid retreat to get out of Maryland.

About seventy-five prisoners were captured at the same time, some of them having formerly lived in this vicinity.  Col. McClure, with other officers, had considerable trouble to keep the crowd from hanging these double dyed traitors on their way to prison.  Capt. Palmer, to-day, proceeded to Hagerstown and found the rebels had gone and I learn is now in pursuit of them with a large body of cavalry and infantry joined him to-day.  The cavalry that came through with the state troops at Harper’s Ferry could hold out till to-day, and that if reinforcements came up before noon they would be safe.  A dispatch reached here that McClellan defeated and routed Longstreet and Hill yesterday with great slaughter and that the rebels were flying in every direction to get out of Maryland.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 13.—An officer slightly wounded in battle yesterday, who arrived here late to-night, represents that the fight took place 3 or 4 miles west of Middletown, Frederick Co., at the foot of the first mountain.  The enemy was strongly posted, but out men with the most determined courage, drove them up the mountain through a strip of woods, cornfield, etc.  On the open ground the rebels made occasional stands behind walls and fences, but were driven thence to the top of the mountain and over into the valley, when, it being night, our troops were called from further pursuit.

Not one of our men faltered.  This point of contest was maintained by our troops of the centre.

Two Colonels were among the rebel slain found on the field this morning.

The battle was fought principally with infantry on our part, it being impracticable to bring artillery into full play.—Gibbons,5 however, with much toil succeeded in getting a battery upon the mountain to the right of the infantry, and did execution.

A captured rebel Lieutenant said it was their intention to mass all their forces to-day.

Hatch5 is represented as having been wounded in the leg.

HARRISBURG, Sept. 15.—Governor Curtin [Andrew C. Curtin] has postponed the draft until the 25th inst.

Stragglers from the rebel army are scattered all along the road to Williamsport, where the enemy is no doubt crossing the Potomac.

Citizens who left Chambersburg and other places in the Cumberland Valley, are returning to their respective homes.

NEW YORK, Sept. 15.—The citizens of Brooklyn to-night presented Admiral Foote [Andrew H. Foote] with a beautiful sword.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15.—Five refugees from Richmond were examined by the Provost Marshal yesterday.  They left Richmond last Friday, and state that the southerners are jubilant over the idea that they would take Washington.  Lee was to have taken Washington before Monday.  There were few troops in Richmond save those in hospitals and convalescent.  They understood there were but three regiments on the Jame River.

The rebels claim to have a large force at Chattanooga, Tennessee.

All business except that connected with army movements was being vigorously conducted.

Refugees from Frederickburg say there was a very small force there.

Gen. Stoneman [George Stoneman] has been assigned to the command of Kearney’s [sic: Philip Kearny] division.

3 o’clock A. M.

To Maj. Gen. Halleck—

SIR:  I am happy to inform you that General Franklin’s success on the left was as complete as that on the centre [sic] and right and resulted in getting possession of the Gap, after a severe engagement on all points of the line.

The troops, old and new, behaved with the most steadiness and gallantry, carrying with but very little assistance from our own artillery, very strong positions deemed by artillery and infantry.  I do not think our loss was very heavy.

The corps of Generals D. H. Hill and Longstreet [James Longstreet] were engaged with our right.  We have taken a considerable number of prisoners.  The enemy disappointed during the night.  Our troops are now advancing in pursuits.  I do not know where he will next be found.

(Signed)       Geo. B. McClellan,
Major General.

September 15. 1862

To H. W. Halleck, Commander-in-Chief—,

I have just learned from Gen. Hooker in the advance who states that the information is perfectly reliable that the enemy is making for the river in a perfect panic, and General Lee stated last evening that he much admit that he had been shockingly whipped.

I am hurrying forward to endeavor to press their retreat to the uttermost.

Signed,      Geo. B. McClellan.

September 15, 10 A. M.

Information this moment received completely confirms the rout and demoralization of the Rebel army.  Gen. Lee is reported wounded and Garland7 killed.

Gen. Hooker alone has over 1,000 more prisoners—700 being sent to Frederick.

It is stated that Lee gives his loss at 15,000.

We are following up as rapidly as the men can move.

Signed,      Geo. B. McClellan.
Major General.

1. This should probably be Middletown, which is in Frederick County, Maryland.
2.  Jesse Lee Reno (1823-1862) graduated from West Point and was a career military officer. He served in the Mexican War and then served at several arsenals and with ordnance. In the fall of 1861 he took command of the 2nd Brigade in the Burnside Expedition. In July 1862 he took command of a division in the Army of the Potomac and he fought his friend, Stonewall Jackson, in the Second Battle of Bull Run. He was killed in battle on September 14, 1862, during the Battle of South Mountain.
3.  Darius Nash Couch (1822-1897) graduated from West Point and was a career military officer, serving in the Mexican War, garrison duty at both Fort Monroe and Fort Pickens, in the Seminole Wars, and from 1853 to 1854 he conducted a scientific mission for the Smithsonian Institution in Mexico.  He resigned his commission in 1855 and worked as a merchant and then copper fabricator.  At the beginning of the Civil War, he was appointed colonel of the 7th Massachusetts Infantry, and in August 1861 was promoted to brigadier general. Couch served in the Peninsula and Fredericksburg campaigns of 1862, and the Chancellorsville and Gettysburg campaigns of 1863.
4.  Julius White (1816-1890) was a A lawyer before the war. He received a commission as colonel of the 37th Illinois Infantry in September 1861. At the Battle of Pea Ridge (March 7, 1862), he led a brigade of two Illinois regiments. In June 1862 he was promoted to brigadier general and during the Second Battle of Bull Run his “Railroad” brigade was posted in West Virginia, on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. When Robert E. Lee invaded Maryland, White retreated to Harper’s Ferry and joined Colonel Dixon S. Miles’ garrison there. White outranked Miles, but he followed military protocol and let Miles retain command. Miles, however, proved to be incapable of mounting an effective defense and ran up the white flag. Miles was mortally wounded and White had to carry out the formal surrender. For surrendering, White was brought before a court of inquiry, but acquitted.
5.  John Porter Hatch (1822-1901) graduated from West Point and was a career military officer, serving in the Mexican War, in Oregon Territory, and on the frontier. When the Civil War broke out, Hatch was ordered back East and assigned to George B. McClellan’s cavalry. In September 1861 he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers. Hatch’s brigade made a series of daring raids on enemy positions near the Rapidan and Rappahannock rivers, which earned his brigade the nickname “Iron Brigade.” After incurring the wrath of General John Pope for two failed cavalry raids, he was reassigned to the infantry. He commanded a brigade, and assumed division command after General Rufus King fell ill the evening before the Second Battle of Bull Run. Hatch led the division there and at the Battle of South Mountain, where he was shot in the leg. Hatch received the Medal of Honor in 1893 for his gallantry under severe enemy fire at the Battle of South Mountain.
6.  John Gibbon (1827-1896) was a career United States Army officer who served in the Mexican War (without seeing combat) and in the Indian Wars. In 1862, he was appointed brigadier general of volunteers and commanded (Rufus) “King’s Wisconsin Brigade.” Gibbon ordered them to wear white leggings and distinctive black Hardee hats. The hats earned them the nickname the “Black Hat Brigade.” He commanded the brigade during their strong uphill charge at the Battle of South Mountain, where General Joseph Hooker exclaimed that the men “fought like iron.” From then on, they were known as the “Iron Brigade.” (Yes, there were two Iron Brigades.) Gibbon led the brigade for the last time at the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862), where he personally manned an artillery piece in the bloody fighting at the Cornfield. Gibbon was promoted to command a division at the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862), where he was wounded.
7.  Samuel Garland, Jr. (1830-1862) graduated from the Virginia Military Institute and then law school at the University of Virginia. When the Civil War began, he was commissioned colonel of the 11th Virginia Infantry and saw action at the First Battle of Bull Run, and Williamsburg before being promoted to brigadier general. He also fought in the Seven Days Battles and the Second Battle of Bull Run. Garland was killed in battle while defending Fox’s Gapdied at during the Battle of South Mountain on September 14, 1862. He was a brother-in-law of James Longstreet.

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