On the 13th, I was ordered by General Lee to dispose of my troops so as to prevent the escape of the Yankees from Harper's Ferry, then besieged, and also to guard the pass in the Blue Ridge near Boons-borough. Major-General Stuart reported to me that two brigades only of the Yankees were pursuing us, and that one brigade would be sufficient to hold the pass. I, however, sent the brigades of Garland and Colquitt, and ordered my other three brigades up to the neighborhood of Boonsborough.
An examination of the pass, very early on the morning of the 14th, satisfied me that it could only be held by a large force, and was wholly indefensible by a small one. I accordingly ordered up Anderson's brigade. A regiment of Ripley's brigade was sent to hold another pass, some 3 miles distant, on our left. I felt reluctant to order up Ripley and Rodes from the important positions they were holding until something definite was known of the strength and design of the Yankees. About 7 o'clock they opened a fire upon our right, and pushed forward a large force through the dense woods to gain a practicable road to our rear. Garland's brigade was sent in to meet this overwhelming force, and succeeded in checking it and securing the road from any further attack that day. This brilliant service, however, cost us the life of that pure, gallant, and accomplished Christian soldier, General Garland, who had no superiors and few equals in the service. The Yankees on their side lost General Reno, a renegade Virginian, who was killed by a happy shot from the Twenty-third North Carolina. Garland's brigade was badly demoralized by his fall and the rough handling it had received, and, had the Yankees pressed vigorously forward, the road might have been gained. Providentially, they were ignorant of their success or themselves too much damaged to advance. The Twentieth North Carolina of this brigade, under Colonel Iverson, had attacked a Yankee battery, killed all the horses, and driven off the cannoneers. This battery was used no more that day by the Yankees. Anderson's brigade arrived in time to take the place of the much-demoralized troops of Garland. There were two mountain roads practicable for artillery on the right of the main turnpike. The defense of the farther one had cost Garland his life.
It was now intrusted to Colonel [T. L.] Rosser, of the cavalry, who had reported to me, and who had artillery and dismounted sharpshooters. General Anderson was intrusted with the care of the nearest and best road. Bondurant's battery was sent to aid him in its defense. The brigade of Colquitt was disposed on each side of the turnpike, and that: with Lane's battery, was judged adequate to the task. There was, however, a solitary peak on the left, which, if gained by the Yankees, would give them control of the ridge commanding the turnpike. The possession of this peak was, therefore, everything to the Yankees, but they seemed slow to perceive it. I had a large number of guns from Cutts' artillery placed upon the hill on the left of the turnpike, to sweep the approaches to this peak. From the position selected, there was a full view of the country for miles around, but the mountain was so steep that ascending columns were but little exposed to artillery fire. The artillerists of [A. S.] Cutts' battalion behaved gallantly, but their firing was the worst I ever witnessed. Rodes and Ripley came up soon after Anderson. Rodes was sent to the left, to seize the peak already mentioned, and Ripley was sent to the right to support Anderson. Several attempts had been made previous to this, by the Yankees, to force a passage through the woods on the right of and near the turnpike, but these were repulsed by the Sixth and Twenty-seventh Georgia and Thirteenth Alabama, of Colquitt's brigade.
It was now past noon, and the Yankees had been checked for more than five hours; but it was evident that they were in large force on both sides of the road, and the Signal Corps reported heavy masses at the foot of the mountain. In answer to a dispatch from General Longstreet, I urged him to hurry forward troops to my assistance. General Drayton and Col. G. T. Anderson came up, I think, about 3 o'clock, with 1,900 men, and I felt anxious to beat the force on my right before the Yankees made their grand attack, which I feared would be on our left. Anderson, Ripley, and Drayton were called together, and I directed them to follow a path until they came in contact with Rosser, when they should change their flank, march into line of battle, and sweep the woods before them. To facilitate their movements, I brought up a battery and made it shell the woods in various directions. Anderson soon became partially and Drayton hotly engaged, but Ripley did not draw trigger; why, I do not know. The Fourth North Carolina (Anderson's brigade) attempted to carry a Yankee battery, but failed. Three Yankee brigades moved up, in beautiful order, against Drayton, and his men were soon beaten and went streaming to the rear. Rosser, Anderson, and Ripley still held their ground, and the Yankees could not gain our rear.
Affairs were now very serious on our left. A division of Yankees was advancing in handsome style against Rodes. I had every possible gun turned upon the Yankee columns, but, owing to the steepness of the acclivity and the bad handling of the guns, but little harm was done to the "restorers of the Union." Rodes handled his little brigade in a most admirable and gallant manner, fighting, for hours, vastly superior odds, and maintaining the key-points of the position until darkness rendered a further advance of the Yankees impossible. Had he fought with less obstinacy, a practicable artillery road to the rear would have been gained on our left and the line of retreat cut off.
Colonel[J. B.] Gordon, the Christain hero, excelled his former deeds at Seven Pines and in the battles around Richmond. Our language is not capable of expressing a higher compliment.
General Rodes says:
The men and officers generally behaved well, but Colonel Gordon, Sixth Alabama; Major [E. L.] Hobson, Fifth Alabama, and Colonel [C. A.] Battle, Third Alabama, deserve especial mention for admirable conduct during the whole fight. We did not drive the enemy back or whip him, but with 1,200 men we held his whole division at bay for four hours and a half without assistance from any one, losing in that time not more than half a mile of ground.He estimates his loss at 422 out of 1,200 taken into action, but thinks that he inflicted a three-fold heavier loss on the Yankees Colonel [B. B.] Gayle, of the Twelfth Alabama, was killed, and Colonel [E. A.] O'Neal, Twenty sixth Alabama, and Lieutenant-Colonel [S. B.] Pickens, of the Twelfth, severely wounded.
Major-General Longstreet came up about 4 o'clock with the commands of Brig. Gens. N. G. Evans and D. R. Jones. I had now become familiar with the ground, and knew all the vital points, and, had these troops reported to me, the result might have been different. As it was, they took wrong positions, and, in their exhausted condition after a long march, they were broken and scattered. Our whole left was now fairly exposed, and the Yankees had but to push down to seize the turnpike. It was now dark, however, and they feared to advance. All the available troops were collected behind a stone wall, to resist an approach upon the turnpike from the left. Encouraged by their successes in that direction, the Yankees thought that it would be an easy matter to move directly up the turnpike; but they were soon undeceived. They were heroically met and bloodily repulsed by the Twenty-third and Twenty-eighth Georgia Regiments, of Colquitt's brigade. The fight lasted for more than an hour after night, but gradually subsided as the Yankees retired. General Hood, who had gone in on the right with his two noble brigades, pushed forward his skirmishers and drove back the Yankees.
We retreated that night to Sharpsburg, having accomplished all that was required--the delay of the Yankee army until Harper's Ferry could not be relieved.
Should the truth ever be known, the battle of South Mountain, as far as my division was concerned, will be regarded as one of the most remarkable and creditable of the war. The division had marched all the way from Richmond, and the straggling had been enormous in consequence of heavy marches, deficient commissariat, want of shoes, and inefficient officers. Owing to these combined causes, the division numbered less than 5,000 men the morning of September 14, and had five roads to guard, extending over a space of as many miles. This small force successfully resisted, without support, for eight hours, the whole Yankee army, and, when its supports were beaten; still held the roads, so that our retreat was effected without the loss of a gun, a wagon, or an ambulance. Rodes' brigade had immortalized itself; Colquitt's had fought well, and the two regiments most closely pressed (Twenty-third and Twenty-eighth Georgia) had repulsed the foe. Garland's brigade had behaved nobly, until demoralized by the fall of its gallant leader, and being outflanked by the Yankees. Anderson's brigade had shown its wonted gallantry. Ripley's brigade, for some cause, had not been engaged, and was used with Hood's two brigades to cover the retreat. Had Longstreet's division been with mine at daylight in the morning, the Yankees would have been disastrously repulsed; but they had gained important positions before the arrival of re-enforcements. These additional troops came up, after a long, hurried, and exhausting march, to defend localities of which they were ignorant, and to fight a foe flushed with partial success, and already holding key-points to further advance. Had our forces never been separated, the battle of Sharpsburg never would have been fought, and the Yankees would not have even the shadow of consolation for the loss of Harper's Ferry
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of of the records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Series 1, Volume 19 (part 1), pgs. 1019-1022.