William Guthrie and the Bloody Battle of South Mountain

As a young man, William James Guthrie lived in the area of Lowndes county that would be cut into Berrien County in 1856, and later into Lanier County. Many of the Guthrie family connection still live in Ray City and Berrien County, Georgia.  By 1860 William Guthrie had moved his family to Clinch County, where in 1862 he joined the Clinch Volunteers, Company G, 50th Georgia Infantry Regiment.  His brother, Samuel Guthrie, joined the 54th Georgia Regiment.

In the fall of 1862, the 50th Georgia Regiment suffered horrific casualties in the Maryland Campaign.  William Guthrie was killed September 14, 1862 at South Mountain near Boonesboro, Maryland. That was the day on which the 50th Georgia Infantry Regiment, and the rest of Drayton’s Brigade, was slaughtered at Fox’s Gap in the Battle of South Mountain.  The 50th GA Regiment suffered a casualty rate of 86% that bloody day, with 194 killed or wounded out of an effective force of about 225 men.  In Company I, the Berrien Light Infantry,  Mathew Hendley and Elisha B. Herring were among those killed; Richard P. Connell was mortally wounded; William Hartley and James H. Tison were missing in action; Lewis Marshall and Lemuel Gaskins were wounded and captured;  Randall McMillan was wounded.

By 3:00PM  Drayton’s Brigade arrived on the field. Drayton had initially deployed his brigade in an inverted L-shaped formation at the gap. The 550 men in his two South Carolina units were in the Old Sharpsburg Road facing south and the 750 soldiers in the three Georgia units were posted facing east at a stone wall overlooking a deep ravine some 200 yards east of the Wood Road. At 4:00PM Col. Drayton ordered his three veteran regiments to attack the Federals to the south. His two new regiments, the 50th and 51st Georgia, moved into the sunken road, also facing south to offer support. What Drayton did not know was that Orlando Willcox’s 3,600 man IX Corps division had arrived on the field and was massed ready to launch an attack just beyond the forest to the left front. The Federals charged northwest into the woods and pushed the Phillips Legion out of the woods into Wise’s field. Willcox’s Federals quickly reached the edge of the woods facing the 50th Georgia in the Old Sharpsburg Road. The 30th Ohio of Cox’s division had also charged forward south of Wise’s field and, in conjunction with Willcox’s troops now at the eastern edge of Wise’s field, forced the 3rd SC Battalion to spin 90 degrees and drop into the “protection” of the Ridge Road. To the east the 800 man 17th Michigan regiment of Willcox’s division, which had been sent by Willcox to get behind the Confederate’s left (eastern) flank, had moved into the field behind the Georgians. Having gained the rear of the enemy, the 17th Michigan changed their front facing south and charged the Georgians, stopping about 20 yards from the road and began to fire into the Confederates in the road. Most of the 350 casualties suffered by the two Georgia regiments occurred in the road in front of you, in a span of time lasting less than five minutes. The Federals had now almost surrounded Drayton’s men. The 45th Pennsylvania and the 46th New York were pouring in volleys from the east side of Wise’s field. The 30th Ohio was firing from the south end of the field and other elements of Cox’s division were working through the woods to the west. Meanwhile the 17th Michigan had moved around behind the Confederate left (eastern) flank and was charging up the fields north of the Old Sharpsburg Road. By 5:00Pm the last of Drayton’s Brigade was driven from the field. The entire brigade suffered a staggering 51% loss. –http://friendsofsouthmountain.org/foxsgaptrail.html

Old Sharpsburg Road, South Mountain, Maryland, GA

Old Sharpsburg Road, South Mountain, Maryland, GA

As terrible as the Confederate losses were at South Mountain, they were just a “bloody prelude” to the battle fought three days later at Antietam, September 17, 1862.  The remnants of the 50th Georgia Regiment experienced that day from the vantage point of the Lower Bridge over Antietam Creek, afterwards known as “Burnside’s Bridge.”

Antietam bridge, looking across stream. Sept. 1862. Gardner, Alexander, 1821-1882, photographer.

Antietam bridge, looking across stream. Sept. 1862. Afterwards known as Burnside’s Bridge. Gardner, Alexander, 1821-1882, photographer.

On the morning of September 17, 1862, this bridge was defended by the 2nd and 20th Georgia of Toombs’ Brigade and the 50th Georgia of Drayton’s Brigade. The 20th Georgia was on the high wooded bluff immediately opposite this end of the bridge; and the 2nd and 50th Georgia in open order, supported by one Company of Jenkins’ S.C. Brigade, continued the line to Snavely’s Ford. One Company of the 20th Georgia was was on the narrow wooded strip north of this point between the creek and the Sharpsburg Road. Richardson’s Battery of the Washington Artillery was posted on the high ground about 500 yards northwest and Eubank’s (Va.) Battery on the bluff north of and overlooking the bridge. The Artillery on Cemetery Hill commanded the bridge and the road to Sharpsburg.

At 9 A.M. Crooks Brigade of the Ninth Corps, moving from the ridge northeast of the bridge, attempted to cross it but failed. Soon after, the 2nd Maryland and 6th New Hampshire, of Nagle’s Brigade, charging by the road from the south were repulsed. At 1 P.M. the bridge was carried by an assault of Ferrero’s Brigade and the defenders, after a vain effort to check Rodman’s Division, moving by Snavely’s Ford on their right flank, fell back to the Antietam Furnace Road and reformed on the outskirts of the town of Sharpsburg.

Antietam, Md. Confederate Dead by a Fence on the Hagerstown Road, Antietam, Maryland,
Alexander Gardner, photographer,
September 1862.

Antietam, Md. Confederate Dead by a Fence on the Hagerstown Road, Antietam, Maryland

According to the National Park Service, Antietam was the bloodiest one day battle in American history: 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after twelve hours of savage combat on September 17, 1862. The Battle of Antietam ended the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia’s first invasion into the North and led to Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. =http://www.nps.gov/ancm/index.htm

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4 Comments

  1. Joey Gee said,

    August 6, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Actually it was actually South Mountain/Fox’s Gap/Boonsbourigh where the 50th GA was shot up. When they got to Sharpsburg they had already suffered 80% casualties at the previous battle. The remnants were placed to the right of Toombs GA brigade and served in support of them when Burnside crossed that afternoon.

  2. John Mc said,

    April 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Joey is correct. Also, the picture is one taken along the fence of the Hagerstown Pike north of the West Woods and between there and the Miller Cornfield.

  3. April 17, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    Joey and John,
    thanks for reading and for your comments. The article has be revised to reflect your corrections.

    Jon

  4. Charlene Zeigler Taylor said,

    September 10, 2013 at 3:05 am

    LOVE LOVE LOVE ALL YOUR POSTS!!! ENJOY THEM TREMENDOUSLY!!!! PLEASE KEEP UP THE AMAZING WORK!!!! THANK YOU!!!!


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