This September 14th marks the 160th anniversary of the Battle of South Mountain, three days before and a few miles away from the dreadful Battle of Antietam. South Mountain gets swallowed up in the greater horror that followed, but it was a horror in itself. The fighting took place in three mountain passes; Crampton’s Gap was the southernmost of them.
Few or no civilian accounts of the Battle of South Mountain survive—which makes it all the more remarkable that we have a published description of the fighting, written by an African American man who witnessed the battle, along with his family, when he was five years old. Archie Ridout was the son of an African Methodist Episcopal circuit preacher, Rev. Daniel Ridout, whose house is marked on contemporary battlefield maps. But until this year, Archie’s biography of his father, published in 1891, was unknown to Civil War historians.
When I was writing my book Black Antietam: African Americans and the Civil War in Sharpsburg, I was astonished to find Archie’s account, which was filled with vibrant anecdotes about the Ridout family’s adventures during the Civil War. It’s rare to have a significant firsthand narrative by a black writer about the Civil War period, especially concerning something other than slavery. The Ridouts were a free family.
Their ordeal at Crampton’s Gap began when the invading Confederates camped all around their house during the Maryland Campaign of September 1862. Soldiers traipsed in and out of the Ridout kitchen, pestering Archie’s mother. There were both friendly and hostile interactions. For example, Rev. Ridout barely made it home across South Mountain because of the Confederate pickets, and during the battle a Confederate cavalry officer tried to shoot him at point-blank range.
A Black Experience
Archie Ridout’s account vividly reveals a family living through a terrible time, including the distinctively African American aspects of their experience: the bigotry, hate, and extra dangers they faced, and the extra care they had to take just to survive. Issues like this were what inspired me to write Black Antietam, which tells the whole Ridout story and is full of similar ones. As we remember these battle anniversaries, it’s a good time to think about the important Civil War stories that are less often told.
You can buy Black Antietam directly from the publisher, online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or in person from local merchants including Antietam Mercantile, the Sharpsburg Pharmacy, the Sharpsburgh Museum of History, Antietam National Battlefield, the Washington County Arts Council shop (Hagerstown), and the Curious Iguana (Frederick, MD).
 D. Archie Ridout, The life of Rev. Daniel A. Ridout, late member of the Baltimore Annual Conference, of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Wilmington, DE: J. Miller Thomas, 1891); text reprinted in Emilie Amt, Black Antietam: African Americans and the Civil War in Sharpsburg (The History Press, 2022), Appendix A, pp. 115-20.