In an earlier post, "Who Lost South Mountain: Lee or Stuart?", I gave a critical examination of Stuart's actions on September 13. I suggest that post should be read prior to this post since much of the material from that post will not be included here yet is extremely relevant.
Lee left Hill at Boonsboro on September 11 as he and Longstreet continued towards Hagerstown. As stated in Special Orders #191,--- General DH Hill’s division will form the rear guard of the army, pursuing the road taken by the main body. The reserve artillery, ordnance, and supply trains, &c., will precede General Hill. Lee expected Hill to catch any Union troops that escaped from Harpers Ferry or Martinsburg. Hill's position at Boonsboro was ideal for this interception. Hill penned in Battles & Leaders, "I was directed to distribute my five brigades so as not only to protect the wagons and guns, but also to watch all the roads leading from Harper's Ferry, in order to intercept the federal forces that might make their escape before Jackson had completed the investment of that place."(1)
In addition, Lee relied on Hill to aid Stuart with infantry if Stuart requested it. In a September 12 letter to Stuart, Lee wrote, "if you find the enemy intends more than a reconnaissance, and is too strong for your cavalry, Gen. Hill can reinforce you with a brigade of infantry and some artillery...if there is a prospect of drawing the force you mention under Reno, within reach of Hill, so that he can strike at them with his whole force, do so. Keep Hill advised of any movements affecting him."(2)
It seems evident that at no point did the thought of fighting to hold the South Mountain gaps cross Lee's mind. Hill was in a rear-guard position, NOT a position to offer or accept battle. Stuart (in theory) was screening and reconnoitering. If Stuart needed support he was to call upon Hill for it. Eventually Stuart did ask for reinforcements but he did not keep Hill informed about any movements affecting him. Due to Stuart’s ineptitude, as well as Lee’s “audacity”, for all intents and purposes, the Maryland Campaign was lost on September 13. From there on out, it was a matter of survival for the Army of Northern Virginia, and Hill was to become its unlikely savior.
On the afternoon of September 13, Stuart was tasked with slowing or repulsing any Union advance toward South Mountain. Hill, who was ordered by Lee "to dispose of my troops so as to prevent the escape of the Yankees from Harper's Ferry...and also to guard the pass in the Blue Ridge near Boonsborough", believed Stuart was competent enough to handle this assignment without infantry and thus kept his troops near Boonsboro rather than in the mountain’s gaps. However, an unforeseen cavalry engagement between Stuart and Pleasanton caused Stuart to revise his thinking and he "sent a dispatch to me [Hill] saying that he was followed by two brigades of Federal infantry, and asking me to send him a brigade to check the pursuit at South Mountain". Hill sent two brigades, Colquitt and Garland, and kept the remaining three brigades near Boonsboro.(3)
When Colquitt arrived he found Stuart being pushed down the west side of the mountain by Pleasanton. George Grattan, a staff member of Colquitt's, observed that "Colonel Colquitt had a conference on the road-side with General Stuart, at which I, as his aide, was present, and heard what General Stuart said in regard to the advance of the enemy. My distinct recollection is that General Stuart reported that there were no troops following him but cavalry and that Colonel Colquitt would have no difficulty in holding the pass with his brigade. I remember that Colonel Colquitt requested that two companies of Calvary might be left with him for picket duty, but General Stuart thought it unnecessary, and declined to leave them." Near nightfall, and catching sight of the Confederate infantry, Pleasanton halted his advance. Without conducting reconnaissance, Pleasanton's pause caused Stuart to believe Colquitt could hold National Pike with no difficulty.(4)
With nightfall, Grattan recollected Colquitt's "brigade was ordered to move for the night back to the top of the mountain, and pickets were sent out in advance, and also on the two narrow mountain roads leading from the Mountain House at the pass; one to the right and south at Fox's Gap, and the other to the left and north to a narrow pass over the South Mountain...[however] Colquitt became satisfied that there was a very large force in his front, and he sent a courier with a note to General Hill, giving this information [that] he saw the whole Middletown Valley lighted with camp-fires far in excess of what would have been necessary for the two brigades of cavalry which General Stuart had reported as the only troops following him...[and] these camp-fires continued to increase as the night advanced."(5)
Once Hill received this information from Colquitt he sent a note to Lee informing Lee that the situation at South Mountain was turning into a Situation. Around midnight Hill also ordered Ripley to find Stuart in order to obtain all the information Stuart had about the terrain of the gaps. Stuart wrote he was surprised by Hill's lack of "information concerning roads and gaps in a locality where General Hill had been lying for two days with his command" and that he "cheerfully" provided Ripley with the information and a map. Stuart, furthermore, stated "his [Hill's] troops were duly notified of the advance of the enemy."(6)
The hours 'after midnight' and 'before daylight' on September 14 are a further illustration of Stuart's communication fumbles. Prior to dawn, Stuart had posted some cavalry at Fox's Gap but neglected to tell Hill or Colquitt. Had he informed either men of this, Stuart would have found there already was a force there AND that his assumption of a limited Union force in front of them was in reality the Union army. Having this knowledge, Stuart may not have whisked off to Crampton's Gap but instead would have stayed with Hill at Turner/Fox Gaps, as he was ordered to do so by Lee.(7)
After midnight and prior to sunrise on September 14, Hill was in a pickle. Due to Stuart's pathetic performance, Hill was not yet even aware that he was in a jam. Based on the information Ripley had relayed to Hill from Stuart, Hill made no changes to his division's location. Stuart had given him no reason to. Until Hill could make a personal reconnaissance and assess the situation for himself, Colquitt's brigade remained at Turner's Gap and Garland's brigade nearby on the western side of the mountain. Hill's other three brigades remained on the roads west of South Mountain yet tasked with the objective of preventing the escape of Union troops from Harpers Ferry and guarding the wagon and artillery trains in Boonsboro.(8)
Next Up---Hill at Dawn on September 14
1.Battles & Leaders North to Antietam, 1956, pg 560.
2.To Antietam Creek by D. Scott Hartwig, 2012, pg 296.
3.Official Reports Vol 19 Part I, pg 1019
Battles & Leaders North to Antietam, 1956, pg 590.
4.“Battle of Boonsboro Gap or South Mountain” by George Grattan in SHSP 39, 1914, pg 34.