Reports of Col. D. K. McRae, Fifth North Carolina Infantry, commanding Garland's brigade, of the battles of Boonsborough and Sharpsburg.
SEPTEMBER 3-20, 1862.-The Maryland Campaign.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XIX/1 [S# 27]
Camp on Wright's Farm, October 18, 1862.
MAJOR: In obedience to orders calling for a report of the part taken by this brigade in the battle of the 14th at South Mountain, I have the honor to report that, under the command of Brigadier-General Garland, this brigade occupied the right of the turnpike leading from Middletown to Boonsborough, just below the Mountain House, toward the former place, on the morning of the 14th about sunrise. From the turnpike at this point a road runs along the ridge for about 1 miles, and at the end of this distance is intersected by a road which, passing from the direction of Middletown, runs parallel with the base of one of the mountains of the range, and at the point of intersection with the ridge road turns off in a southwesterly direction toward Sharpsburg, and from this road several wagon roads lead down the mountain into the valley below on the Sharpsburg side of Boonsborough. Midway between this intersecting road and the turnpike, and at nearly right angles with the latter, runs what is known as the old Sharpsburg road. Near and to the left of this latter road General Garland, early in the morning, had posted the Thirteenth North Carolina Regiment, under the command of Lieut. Col. Thomas Ruffin, jr., and the Twentieth North Carolina, under the command of Col. Alfred Iverson. I was ordered, with the Fifth North Carolina, to move farther to the right, and to take position near to the left of the intersecting road I have before mentioned. The Twelfth North Carolina, commanded by Capt. S. Snow, and the Twenty-third, Col. Daniel H. Christie, were moved up and halted upon my left along the ridge road. At General Garland's request, I went forward with him to reconnoiter for a position. Immediately in front of the ridge road were stubble and corn fields, and, for about 40 paces to the front, a plateau, which suddenly broke on the left into a succession of ravines, and, farther beyond and in front, a ravine, of greater length and depth, extended from the road which ran along the base of the mountain far out into the field, and, connected with the ravine on our left, formed natural parallel approaches to our position. Between and beyond these ravines to our right was a dense growth of small forest trees and mountain laurel, through which this intersecting road ran for some distance, and on the mountain side to the top this growth was continued. General Garland and I had been but a few moments in the field when our attention was directed to persons moving at some distance upon this road, and, apprehending that the enemy might be preparing to make a lodgment upon the mountain side, he ordered me to advance a body of 50 skirmishers into the woods to our right oblique front, to go as far as possible and explore. This was done, and they had not passed 50 steps from where we then stood when they encountered the enemy's skirmishers and the fight commenced.
This was about 9 a.m. I was then ordered to take out my regiment to their support, which I did. We found the growth very thick, so much so that it was impossible to advance in line of battle. The enemy's skirmishers had advanced almost to the very edge of the woods nearest us, and, as we appeared at the edge, a sharp skirmish fire ensued, with much more effect on our side than on that of the enemy, as we lost no men and several of the enemy were seen to fall and 1 taken prisoner; but at this moment I found that the raw troops on my right, who had never been under fire, had had no drill, and had but few officers, were breaking in some confusion, the rest of the line remaining firm. I immediately hastened back and rallied those retreating at our first position, and at General Garland's suggestion recalled the regiment back to that point. I then stated to General Garland my belief that the enemy had massed a very large force in those woods, and were preparing to turn our right, and suggested that he might be dislodged or his position discovered by shelling the woods, when General Garland informed me that Captain Bondurant's battery, which had previously been put in position, had been so severely pressed by the enemy's sharpshooters that it had been necessary to withdraw it. He then passed to the left, and in a few moments intelligence was brought me that this useful and brave officer had received a mortal wound and was no more, and that the command of the brigade had devolved upon me. I felt all the embarrassment which this situation was calculated to inspire. The brigade numbered scarce 1,000 men. I was satisfied that the enemy, largely superior in numbers and having the advantage of position, was immediately in our front and on the right, and was preparing a heavy movement against us. Previous to this time the Twenty-third North Carolina had been advanced into the field in front of the ridge road, under cover of some piles of stone which afforded shelter to his men, and from this point they had been, with great coolness, pouring a constant and destructive fire into the enemy as they attempted to pass from the woods into the ravines or to advance upon our position. It was by the fire of this regiment that General Reno was killed and a portion of his staff wounded, the fact having been reported to me at the time of its occurrence. Most gallantly for an hour and a half did this regiment, from this advanced position, harass the enemy and retard his movements. The Twelfth North Carolina had been ordered forward to the support of the Fifth, but a large portion of this regiment, led by its captain commanding, had fled the field early in the fight, and he has not since reported for duty, that I am aware of. By this time the Thirteenth and Twentieth had been ordered up from the left, and both had engaged the enemy from their respective positions. As the operations of the Thirteenth were conducted altogether beyond my observation, I forward herewith the report of Lieutenant-Colonel Ruffin, setting forth its action.
As soon as I saw the condition of things, I dispatched Captain Halsey, General Garland's assistant adjutant-general, to Major-General Hill, with instructions to state to him that the force at my command was wholly inadequate to maintain the position, and very soon thereafter Col. C. C. Tew, of Brig. Gen. George B. Anderson's brigade, reported to me with two regiments. Though ranking me, this officer declined to take the command; but, concurring with me as to the extreme danger which menaced us, he offered to make such disposition of his forces as I would suggest. At my request, he was about to take position on the left of the Thirteenth, connecting with it and prolonging our lines in that direction; while we were making these arrangements, Colonel Tew received orders from General Anderson to move off to the left. I immediately sent Captain Wood, of General Garland's staff, to communicate this fact to General Hill, to explain to him my situation, and to request re-enforcements, and, in anticipation of their arrival, I ordered Colonel Ruffin to move to the left, and keep his connection with Colonel Tew. I then hastened to the right, intending, if time allowed, to move the Fifth North Carolina to the left and fill with it the space vacant in the line, but I found that, under my previous order, this regiment had already been advanced into the field on the right of the Twenty-third, and it was dangerous to withdraw it.
During this time the situation of affairs had not been quiet. The enemy had planted a battery immediately in front of the Twentieth North Carolina, and had opened a fierce fire, when Colonel Iverson dispatched a company under Captain Atwell (a brave officer, who afterward received a mortal wound at Sharpsburg) to flank this battery. This was executed in gallant style. The gunners were destroyed, and there is but little doubt that this battery of four pieces was for the day abandoned. Unfortunately, the smallness of our numbers did not allow us to push this advantage by a charge upon the enemy's line. The object of the enemy was now clearly ascertained and reported to me by Colonel Iverson and others, confirming my own observations, and this object was hastened to completion. The position now stood thus: The Fifth, on the extreme right, was nearest to the intersecting road, which was threatened. It was advanced into the field, sheltered in some degree by a fence which ran perpendicularly to its line. Next, in the field, under cover of the piles of stone, was the Twenty-third. Back on the ridge road, to the left and rear of the Twenty-third, was the Twentieth. This regiment could not be advanced with the others because of the exposed position, and because this would discover to the enemy at once the vacuum in our line. Between this and the Thirteenth was the open space of 250 to 300 yards, which I had been so anxious to fill. The enemy, having now filed through the succession of ravines and formed in three lines, approached under entire cover toward the brow of the plateau in our front, and, with a long-extended yell, burst upon our line, surrounding the Twentieth on both flanks, and passing to the rear of the Twenty-third. The distance was so short that no opportunity was given for more than a single fire, which was delivered full in the enemy's face, and with great effect, for his first line staggered and some of his forces retreated. A portion of the Twenty-third received his advance upon their bayonets, and men on both sides fell from bayonet wounds; but the enemy's strength was overpowering, and could not be resisted. The Twentieth and a portion of the Twenty-third, finding themselves surrounded, were compelled to retreat, and this they did, under a severe fire, down the mountain side. With the aid of Colonels Iverson and Christian I rallied the men as soon as possible, and, obtaining a courier from Colonel Rosser, of the cavalry, I communicated with General Hill. At Colonel Rosser's request, I occupied an adjacent height, with remnants of the Twentieth and Twenty-third, to support a battery which he proposed to put in position. Colonel Christie reported to me that many of his men had fired off most of their ammunition, and having neither courier nor aide (for I did not see either Captains Halsey or Wood after the morning until late in the evening, though both endeavored to return), I had no means of communicating with the ordnance officer, whose locality was also unknown to me. Subsequently Lieutenant Haywood reported to me, but his ammunition was at such a distance that it could not be reached before night.
About this time I received an order from General Hill to occupy the position I then held, which was done during the remainder of the day.
When I took command of the brigade, I placed the Fifth under the command of Capt. Thomas M. Garrett. When the enemy charged upon the front and flank of the Twentieth and Twenty-third, this officer found his regiment, with the right of the Twenty-third, cut off, so that he was obliged to make his way out by moving off to the right and rear. This was done for a short space in some confusion, but Captain Garrett ordered his flag to be placed upon the ridge road, and was endeavoring to make a rally there, when his color-bearer was shot down, and he was compelled to fall back farther down the hill. He did, however, rally the regiment, and, passing out to the turnpike, reported to General Hill, when this regiment was assigned to a position, which it occupied the remainder of the day.
Notwithstanding the disadvantage of position, the absence of artillery support, and the injurious effect produced by the death of its general, who had possessed in the warmest degree the confidence and affection of the troops, and the great superiority of the enemy's numbers (a prisoner taken early reported the force in our front at sixteen regiments, naming many of them), this brigade maintained its ground for more than three hours, and inflicted heavy loss on the enemy, destroying his cannoneers, compelling him to abandon his guns, killing his general officer, and so intimidating him as to prevent pursuit, and the consequent passage of his force into the valley between us and Sharpsburg, which was evidently his first intention.
A list of casualties has been heretofore reported.
I am, very respectfully, major, your obedient servant,
D. K. McRAE,
Colonel, Commanding Brigade.
HEADQUARTERS GARLAND'S BRIGADE,
October 20, 1862.
MAJOR: I submit the following report of the action of this brigade in the battle of September 17, near Sharpsburg:
The brigade was moved from its position, on the Hagerstown road, to the support of Colquitt's, which was then about engaging the enemy on our left front. This was about 10 o'clock. We moved by the left flank, until we reached a point near the woods, when line of battle was formed and the advance begun. Some confusion ensued, from conflicting orders. When the brigade crossed the fence, it was halted and formed and again advanced. Coming in sight of the enemy, the firing was commenced steadily and with good will, and from an excellent position, but, unaccountably to me, an order was given to cease firing--that General Ripley's brigade was in front. This produced great confusion, and in the midst of it a force of the enemy appearing on the right, it commenced to break, and a general panic ensued. It was in vain that the field and most of the company officers exerted themselves to rally it. The troops left the field in confusion, the field officers, company officers, and myself bringing up the rear. Subsequently several portions of the brigade, under Colonel Iverson, Captain Garrett, and others, were rallied and brought into action, rendering useful service. I refer to their general reports for their conduct.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
D. K. McRAE,
Colonel, Commanding Brigade.
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