SEPT. 14TH, 1862

South Mountain, Md., Sept. 14, 1862. 1st, 6th and 9th Army Corps. The battle of South mountain was a preliminary engagement to the greater battle of Antietam. About noon on the 13th the Union army reached Frederick City. The 12th corps stacked arms on the same ground occupied by Confederate Gen. D. H. Hill the preceding evening. Soon after halting, some of the soldiers found a paper which proved to be an order from Gen. Lee to Hill, directing the movements of his division. The lost despatch-"Special Orders, No. 191"-was taken to Gen. McClellan, who learned from it the intentions of the Confederate commander and the position of his forces. At that time Lee's army was west of South mountain and was stretched out over a distance of 25 miles. The greater part of Jackson's corps was in the vicinity of Harper's Ferry, McLaws was at Maryland heights; Walker was on the Virginia side of the Potomac, D. H. Hill's division was at Boonsboro, and the remainder of Longstreet's command was at Hagertown. The order directed Longstreet to proceed to Boonsboro, where he and Hill were to be joined by Jackson, as soon as the capture of Harper's Ferry was effected. Soon after the lost despatch fell into McClellan's hands orders were issued for a movement having for its object the piercing of the Confederate center, before Lee's orders could be carried out, and the destruction of the army in detail.

South mountain lies along the western side of the Catoctin valley, and from Middletown, in the valley, it is easily crossed at four different places. Crampton's gap, the southernmost pass, is on the road leading from Jefferson to Keedysville; six miles north is Turner's gap, on the Middletown and Boonsboro road; a little way south of Turner's is Fox's gap, on the road that runs to Sharpsburg, while north of Turner's gap is the Braddock pass, on the road leading to Hagerstown. The 6th corps, commanded by Maj.-Gen. W. B. Franklin, was directed to seize and hold Crampton's gap, while the remainder of the army was to direct its attention to Turner's and Fox's gaps, but especially the former. Franklin moved at an early hour on the 14th and upon arriving at the pass found the enemy strongly posted on each side of the road, at a point where it ran through a narrow defile, giving them superior advantages in position. The advance was near the base of the mountain, drawn up behind a stone wall, with open fields in front, and 8 guns were stationed on an elevation to the left of the road. Slocum's division was pushed forward through the little village of Burkittsville to attack the right of the enemy , the 1st Md. battery was placed in position in the rear and to the left of the village; Smith's division was drawn up in reserve east of the village, from where he could support Slocum or protect the batteries as the occasion might require Slocum advanced steadily with Bartlett's brigade in front, closely supported by Newton's and Torbert's. As soon as the enemy's position was determined the skirmishers were withdrawn and Bartlett's whole line became engaged. Two regiments of Newton's command were then thrown to Bartlett's right and the rest of the supporting force to his left, and a charge was ordered. Meantime Ayres' battery had been planted to the left of the reserves, and the two batteries kept up an uninterrupted fire until the enemy was driven from his position. As soon as Slocum ordered the charge Franklin directed Brooks' brigade of Smith's division to advance upon the left of the road, and dislodge the Confederates in the woods on Slocum's flank. The movement was admirably executed, after which Brooks moved forward in line with Slocum to the very crest of the mountain. Crampton's gap was in possession of the Union forces. The enemy was completely routed, abandoning 1 piece of artillery and throwing away haversacks, blankets and arms in the flight. Prisoners to the number of 400 were taken and 3 stands of colors were captured.

At Turner's gap the fighting was more severe. On the afternoon of the 13th Lee learned that the Federals were moving by that route and D. H. Hill was instructed to hold the gap. In obedience to this order Hill first sent the brigades of Garland and Colquitt to guard the pass, but after an examination of the ground he concluded that a larger force would be necessary and ordered up the rest of his division from Boonsboro. At the same time Longstreet was directed to march from Hagerstown to Hill's support. The action on the morning of the 14th was commenced by a reconnaissance of Pleasonton's cavalry, supported by Cox's and Willcox's divisions of the 9th corps and Benjamin's and Gibson's batteries. Turner's gap is so narrow that a small force with artillery could hold it against an army. Fortunately for the Union forces a road ran along the crest on either side of the pass, and it was to these roads the Federal commanders turned their attention as a means of gaining the enemy's flanks. Cox's division took the old Sharpsburg road to the left, with Scammon's brigade in advance, the 2nd brigade keeping in close supporting distance. About half a mile from the summit, at Fox's gap, the enemy opened on Scammon with artillery, forcing him to leave the road and turn further to the left. The 23rd Ohio, commanded by Col. R. B. Hayes, was sent through the woods to the left of the road to gain the crest and attack the enemy on the flank. The movement was successful and Hayes gained a strong position, to drive him from which all efforts of the Confederates were futile. At the same time the 30th Ohio, Col. Hugh Ewing, moved up to a position on the right of Hayes in the face of a galling fire from a Confederate battery. The 12th Ohio, Col. C. D. White's regiment, drove in the enemy's skirmishers and charged up the slope in the center, driving the enemy from behind a stone fence at the point of the bayonet. Willcox's division was first ordered by Gen. Pleasonton to move to the right of the main pike, with a view of turning the Confederate left, but before the movement could be executed the order was recalled by Gen. Burnside, and Willcox took up a position near Cox. Toward noon there was a lull in the fighting, and during this temporary cessation of hostilities, which lasted about two hours, Meade's division of the 1st corps was steadily working its way up the road to the right of the gap, where a solitary peak completely commanded the Confederate position. Hill discovered this movement and brought all his available artillery to bear on Meade, but with little effect. Meade brought forward Cooper's battery and placed it on a ridge where it could reply to the Confederate guns, while the main body of the division pressed on toward the summit, Seymour's brigade leading the advance. Seeing that his efforts to check Meade with artillery were vain Hill sent three brigades of infantry to seize and hold the peak. The lines met near the crest and a fierce combat ensued, each side taking all possible advantage of such natural defenses as the slope of the mountain afforded. Seymour finally drove in the Confederate left and gained the crest, while the other two brigades of the division, under Magilton and Gallagher, made a courageous advance and the enemy was driven from the mountain. When darkness fell the Union troops held the gap and every position commanding it. Longstreet arrived upon the field about 4 p.m., but too late to turn the tide of battle. Nothing was left for the Confederates but to retreat, which was done during the night.

At Crampton's pass the Federal loss was 113 killed, 418 wounded and 2 missing. The Confederate loss was reported as being 62 killed, 208 wounded and 479 missing, but Gen. Franklin, who was in command of the Union forces, reported that his men buried 15O of the enemy's dead and took charge of over 300 wounded who had been left on the field. The Union loss at Turner's gap was 325 killed, 1,403 wounded and 85 missing. The estimated loss of the enemy was about 2,000 killed and wounded and 1,500 prisoners. Many of the prisoners, however, were among the wounded. Gen. Jesse L. Reno was killed and Col. Thomas F. Gallagher, who commanded a brigade in Meade's attack on the right, was severely wounded. The Confederates lost Gen. Samuel Garland.

Source: The Union Army, vol. 6


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