When Samuel Garland fell at South Mountain, the Confederacy lost a promising general and a proven leader.
By James K. Swisher
In the years following the Civil War, the loss of outstanding young leaders in that fratricidal conflict had an immeasurable effect upon state and local affairs. The war had rapidly expanded to a point where the relatively small number of professionally trained military officers could not provide all the leadership needed for the armies of both North and South. This leadership vacuum was filled by community leaders from hundreds of towns and villages.
As the size and organizational demands of the armies increased, it was natural that West Pointtrained officers advanced rapidly to the rank of general. Thus, large numbers of company and regimental leadership positions came to be held by citizen-soldiers. In the military tradition of the day, company, regimental and brigade commanders were expected to lead from the front, resulting in extremely high casualty rates among field-grade officers.
In the postwar years, many small towns or cities suffered from a very real loss of leadership. Prospective governors, mayors, attorneys, businessmen and educators lay dead on the various fields of battle.
The problem was well typified in the small, central Virginia town of Lynchburg, which provided eight officers of general rank to the Confederate armies, only four of whom survived. A sad example was the life, career and death of Brig. Gen. Samuel Garland, Jr.
Garland was born into a well-known and prosperous Virginia family in Lynchburg on December 16, 1830. His father, Maurice H. Garland, was the youngest of four prominent brothers. Judge James Garland, the eldest, lived to be the oldest presiding judge in the state. Another brother, General John Garland, was a career U.S. Army officer whose daughter married future Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet. General Garland’s sister-in-law became the wife of future Union commander U.S. Grant. Samuel Garland, Sr., the third brother and young Samuel’s namesake, was a partner in the law firm of which Maurice H. Garland was also a member. The elder Samuel accumulated considerable wealth from land speculation in Mississippi and constructed a large, Federal-style mansion on a hill in Lynchburg, which became known as Garland’s Hill.
After the death of his father, young Samuel maintained a close relationship with his mother. While at boarding school, Garland kept a daily diary that he submitted to his mother for weekly review. At age 14, he enrolled as a student at Randolph Macon College. A maternal uncle was president of the school and could closely supervise his studies. One year later, when his uncle accepted the presidency of Vanderbilt University, Samuel persuaded his mother to allow him to attend Virginia Military Institute in Lexington.
As a cadet, young Garland compiled an outstanding record in both academic and military studies. He was the founder and first president of the VMI Literary So-
ciety. During his second year, Garland was ranked first in a class of 35 and was deemed outstanding in French. In his junior term he was appointed first sergeant of the cadet corps and seemed destined
for a responsible position his senior year. But when a new demerit system was instituted, Garland resigned his rank and, in a respectfully correct letter to the superintendent, forcefully explained that he was opposed to any system that required one cadet to assign demerits to another. Thus, Garland held no rank his senior year, but still graduated second in his class.
Upon graduation Garland considered a military career, but on the advice of his uncles he enrolled instead in law school at the University of Virginia. Two years later he received a bachelor of laws degree, having again achieved an outstanding academic record. At the age of 21, Garland returned home to Lynchburg to practice law with the firm of Garland and Slaughter, where his father had been a member and his uncle was a senior partner.
Garland courted Elizabeth Campbell Meem, the daughter of businessman John G. Meem, and married her on May 15, 1856. Their wedding was said to have been one of the most brilliant in Lynchburg memory. They purchased a house at 303 Madison Street on Garland’s Hill, and the annual dress balls held there were a high point of Lynchburg society. During the first year of the war, tragedy struck when both Elizabeth and Sammie, their 4-year-old son, died in an influenza epidemic. Grief-stricken, the shattered Garland returned to Lynchburg for Elizabeth’s funeral. Although he found some solace in his strong religious beliefs, he seldom smiled after his crushing loss.
On April 23, 1861, Garland left Lynchburg as captain of the Lynchburg Home Guard. He led the company to Richmond, where the unit was mustered in as Company G of the 11th Virginia Infantry. The 11th Virginia included four Lynchburg militia companies and six units from the surrounding area. Colonel Jubal Early of Franklin County was appointed commanding officer. Four days after arrival, Early was promoted and, partially as a reflection of Company G’s high state of readiness, Garland was appointed colonel in his place.
Garland led the regiment to Manassas, where it was assigned to the brigade of Maj. Gen. James Longstreet. The regiment was delegated to guard Blackburn’s Ford, and three days before the First Battle of Manassas, the 11th was involved in heavy fighting to hold the crossing. Garland was commended by Longstreet for “coolness and energy under fire.” After the battle, Garland was given the responsibility of organizing and implementing the collection of weapons left behind on the battlefield. The 11th Virginia then marched north and was involved in a minor action at Dranesville. Following the Dranesville skirmish, the regiment distinguished itself in rear-guard service and repelled several Union cavalry charges. Again, Garland was cited for “displaying great coolness,” and in February 1862 General Joseph Johnston recommended Garland for promotion to brigadier general.
In the spring of 1862, the regiment was incorporated into the newly formed brigade of Maj. Gen. Daniel Harvey Hill. Hill’s brigade was detailed to Williamsburg in May and became heavily engaged in stabilizing the Confederate line on the peninsula. The 11th Virginia was a major part of the successful action there, and Garland was praised by Hill for refusing to leave the field and for continuing to lead his regiment after being wounded.
Brigadier General Jubal Early was seriously wounded during the Battle of Williamsburg and required several months to recuperate. As a result of Garland’s three previous citations and his record of efficient administration, he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and assigned command of Early’s brigade, which consisted of the 24th and 38th Virginia, the 5th and 23rd North Carolina, the 2nd Florida and the 24th Mississippi regiments.
After the retreat up the peninsula, Garland experienced his first major battle as a brigade commander at Seven Pines. Garland’s brigade, in concert with that of Brig. Gen. George B. Anderson, was ordered to assault some earthworks adjacent to the Williamsburg Road. The two brigades advanced through heavy woods containing 3-foot-deep pools of water. The brigades were also halted by extensive abatis and became intermingled; but under the leadership of their commanders they lay down under the obstruction and returned such a heavy fire that the Union defenders evacuated the position. Such frontal assaults were costly, and Garland’s brigade of about 2,200 men suffered 740 casualties. Garland’s horse was killed under him, and he commandeered an artillery horse that was wounded twice.
After Robert E. Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia, Garland and his brigade were engaged in the Seven Days’ campaign east of Richmond as Lee attempted to drive the enemy away from the Confederate capital. At the Battle of Gaines’ Mill, Garland scouted the Union right flank and found it open. He felt the flank could be turned if the soldiers could advance through Union artillery fire. He returned to the lines and sought Hill’s permission to attack. Hill agreed, and assigned Anderson’s brigade to support Garland. The two brigades advanced rapidly through strong artillery fire and fell heavily on the open flank. The Union troops were forced to abandon the position with the loss of many prisoners and several guns. A few days later, at Malvern Hill, Garland’s brigade took part in the hopeless charge on the Federal position. A mistake in command keyed a signal for a frontal assault by Hill’s entire division. Garland reported: “We were returning to our old positions under the impression that the infantry assault had been canceled due to insufficient artillery support. Suddenly two of [Maj. Gen. John] Magruder’s brigades on our right charged out of the woods and up the slope. This was the signal to Harvey Hill who immediately sent in his whole division.” All five of Hill’s brigades suffered heavily, with Garland’s already weakened unit losing 844 additional casualties.
During and after the battles around Richmond, Lee evaluated his subordinates and found many lacking. Several were transferred; others left the army. But Garland’s reputation was growing. He was considered outstanding in an army that was well known for the quality of its brigade commanders.
After Union General George McClellan retreated down the peninsula to Fort Monroe, Lee determined to carry the war north, away from the Confederate capital. During the Second Battle of Manassas, Garland’s brigade was positioned in Fredericksburg to shield Richmond from Federal troops. Following Maj. Gen. John Pope’s defeat at Second Manassas, Hill’s division marched hard to join Lee’s army for the crossing of the Potomac into Maryland.
Lee determined to split the army into several parts. Several divisions were dispatched under Lt. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson to capture Harpers Ferry with its 11,000 garrison troops and abundant supplies. Hill’s division was sent to the small town of Boonesboro, near South Mountain. The mountain served as a shield between the widely scattered Confederate army and the Union army advancing from Washington. Hill was ordered to coordinate the defense of the passes on South Mountain in concert with Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry. There were two major openings in South Mountain, Turner’s Gap and Fox’s Gap. Turner’s Gap presented a good defensive position, but Fox’s Gap was wide and could be flanked by several avenues of approach. Hill assigned one brigade to Turner’s Gap and sent Garland’s brigade to hold Fox’s Gap.
Garland formed a line in Fox’s Gap astride the old Sharpsburg Road with his brigade of about 1,200 men. Barely had he established his position when he was attacked by two brigades of the IX Union Corps under Brig. Gen. Jacob D. Cox. On the left, the newly arrived 13th North Carolina became involved in a heavy firefight with Union troops. As the North Carolina regiment began to waver under pressure, Garland rode up to the action. Colonel Thomas Ruffin of the 13th shouted, “General, why are you here?” Garland replied, “I may as well be here as yourself.” Ruffin answered, “No, it is my duty, but you should lead your brigade from a safer position.” At that moment Ruffin was hit in the hip, and as he went down Garland also fell, hit in the center of the back by a bullet that passed through his body and exited two inches above his right breast. Captain Don Halsey, his aide, rushed forward. Garland’s last words to him were, “I am killed. Send for the senior colonel.”
Garland’s remains were escorted home to Lynchburg by his cousin and aide-de-camp Lieutenant Maurice Garland. By order of the City Council, his body was to lie in state in the Lynchburg Courthouse for a period of 24 hours. On Friday, September 19, 1862, Garland’s funeral was conducted at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, with interment following at Lynchburg’s Presbyterian Cemetery. Garland was buried in the Meem family plot alongside his wife and young son. By resolution of the Lynchburg City Council, all business establishments were closed, all churches were ordered to toll their bells, and all soldiers then in the city were detailed to march in the procession. Almost the entire population of the city attended the ceremony for the much admired citizen who, in the words of The Lynchburg Virginian, “hated war, but excelled at it.” *