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South Mountain Civil War History

The South Mountain Area during the 1863 Pennsylvania Campaign

John A. Miller


Today, most people think of South Mountain and the military operations during the Maryland Campaign of 1862 as the only actions that took place on South Mountain during the Civil War. The battles of Turner's Gap, Fox's Gap and Crampton's Gap were all fought on September 14th, 1862 as Union General George McClellan's Army of the Potomac closed in on General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Three days later, a bloody battle took place along the Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg.

South Mountain is a mountain range that covers three states. Near Hillsboro, Virginia South Mountain is known as Short Hill Mountain that covers an area between Hillsboro and Leesburg and follows to the Potomac River. South Mountain then extends into Maryland at Knoxville and crosses into Pennsylvania at Blue Ridge Summit and ends at Dillsburg as a series of small hills near the Susquehanna River outside of Harrisburg covering a distance of more than seventy miles.

South Mountain consists of several mountain gaps and passes. Typically the definition of a mountain pass is a location in a range of mountains that is lower than the surrounding peaks. A mountain gap travels between mountain peaks. During the Civil War the Armies waging campaigns into Maryland and Pennsylvania used many South Mountain Gaps and Passes. Crampton's Gap is located where Arnoldstown and Gapland Roads intersect. Fox's Gap is located on the old Sharpsburg Road known as Reno Monument Road. Turner's Gap is located on the old National Road between Middletown and Boonsboro.

Also on South Mountain toward the northern section of Maryland, Wolf's Tavern Pass connects the Thurmont area to the Smithsburg and Cavetown area. Raven Rock Pass is located on a section of roadway that once traveled from Hagerstown to Westminster. The Pennsylvania side of South Mountain consists of three main mountain passes that were used extensively during the Pennsylvania Campaign. Monterey Pass connects Emmitsburg and Waynesboro with the Fairfield Road that leads through Fairfield Pass. From Chambersburg to Gettysburg one must travel through the Cashtown Gap.

General Lee learning from the mistakes of the Maryland Campaign wanted to concentrate his army at Chambersburg. In Pennsylvania, General Lee could gather as much livestock, food and supplies as he needed to carry out the war for another year. South Mountain acted as a natural barrier dividing the Confederate Army from the Union Army. With this natural barrier there developed several key strategies. With Chambersburg being the concentration point of the Confederate Army, Lee could guard the rear of his army if he needed to retreat or attack General Hooker on the eastern side of South Mountain.

General Hooker in return needed to protect Washington and he too used South Mountain to do just that. General Hooker also knew if he crossed over South Mountain, he could harass the rear of Lee's Army and if necessary attack Lee in Northern Maryland or Pennsylvania. However, on June 27th, General George Meade took command of the Army of the Potomac and he didn't like the lay out of the army and felt that the best way to defend Washington and Baltimore was to hit General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia head on.

On June 28th, General Meade issued his marching orders to march northward to Emmitsburg, Taneytown and Union Mills. He wasn't sure of General Lee's intentions as far as attacking York and Baltimore or swinging back down the valley and maybe attacking Frederick and on to Washington. The worst possible scenario for General Lee would be to make a stand at South Mountain in Pennsylvania. By ordering the Union Army northward, General Meade would have control of every road leading to Baltimore, Frederick or even Washington. South Mountain played a very big role in the army's advance into Pennsylvania.

South Mountain was very important not only for communication but also because control of the gaps and mountain peaks meant control of the area. Both armies felt the need to obtain and protect their positions by using these mountain gaps and peaks. Because of this troops often encamped at such places playing the role of communication and observation. These types of instances happened quite often, especially when campaigns were waged nearby. Communication was major factor that played a crucial role along South Mountain. Both armies had several ways of communicating and delivering orders.

The Signal Corps used South Mountain during the Pennsylvania Campaign. The Signal Corps communicated with each other through Myer's Wig Wag System. Albert J. Myer, in 1856 drafted this system that used flags and each movement of the flag represented the number 1,2 or 3. They could communicate with each other by waving these flags in a series of codes. Situated on the highest and clear point they would translate or send out messages. They used two types of signal flags. One flag would be red with a smaller white square in the center, while the second was all white and a smaller red square in the center. Each movement of the signal flags represented a letter. The signalmen would wave these flags while the intended party who was observing these flags would look through a telescope calling out the numbers and another man would write the numbers down. Then they would decipher what the message was.

Another way of communication was by telegraph. The armies had what was called a Flying Telegraph battalion or company. They would set up near the signal corps or where they could best serve the commanders. From there they would set up a station and run wires to the telegraph pole to tap into the telegraph line. This meant messages could be sent faster than having a courier ride several miles and hand deliver that same message. The wagon carried a huge battery to give it the electricity needed to operate.

The Pennsylvania Campaign

On June 15th, 1863, the first portions of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia were crossing the Potomac River near Hagerstown, Maryland. At this time the Union Army under General Joseph Hooker could not pinpoint General Lee's exact location, as he had used South Mountain as cover to screen his movements. In order to find the Confederate Army's location, General Hooker needed to seize the mountain passes at South Mountain. But unknown to General Lee, Union scouts had seen his movements in Maryland as early as June 17th. Because of this General Hooker started to develop a plan of attack.

As General Jenkin's Cavalry crossed the Potomac River on the 15th of June, Confederate General Richard Ewell ordered the 1st Maryland Cavalry to Frederick and destroy the iron railroad brigade at Monocacy. The Marylander's crossed South Mountain at Tuner's Gap and entered Frederick where they were met by heavy resistance from Federal Cavalry. After a spirited skirmish, the Marylander's occupied Frederick. After it was known that cavalry could not destroy the iron brigade, Gilmore pulled his Maryland Cavalry back. The Marylanders crossed Turner's Gap moving toward Boonsboro and made it safely at Hagerstown.

During the morning of June 18th, General Hooker requested that a signal station be built at Crampton's Gap on South Mountain. General Hooker also asked for cavalry support that was near Harper's Ferry to seize all mountain gaps from Maryland Heights to Boonsboro. General Robert C. Schenck received General Hooker's request to spare a portion of his artillery, infantry, and cavalry, to seize and hold the South Mountain passes, as well as holding Maryland Heights and the passage via Sandy Hook. This is in preparation of the Union Army entering Maryland.

On June 19th, General Hooker ordered General Samuel P. Heintzelman who was at Poolesville to help seize the mountain gaps on South Mountain. General Heintzelman's force consisted of 1600 infantry, one battery and five troops of cavalry. Realizing that his line would be stretched too thin, General Heintzelman wrote to General Hooker and asked him if General Schenck's forces at Harper's Ferry could hold South Mountain as the mountain range was in the Middle Department under his command. General Hooker was forced to operate without General Heintzelman's support and manpower.

Thinking that a battle would be fought at or near Harper's Ferry, Chief Engineer General Gouverneur K. Warren wrote to General Hooker about preparing the Army of the Potomac for battle with these deployment ideas:

1. The whole of Lee's army is reported to be on the Potomac, above that place, part of it across the river, and threatening an advance upon Harrisburg.

2. There we can protect Washington as well, and Baltimore better than here, and preserve our communications and routes of supply.

3. It is the shortest line to reach Lee's army; will enable us to operate on his communications, if he advances; to throw overwhelming forces on either portion of his army that he allows the river to divide; and is too strong a position for him to attack us in, even if we make heavy detachments.

4. It will enable us to pass South Mountain without fighting for the passes, if we wish to move upon him, and will thus destroy any advantages these mountains would give as a protection to his right flank.

5. It will prevent Lee from detaching a corps to invade Pennsylvania with, as it would expose the rest of his army to our attack in superior force.

6. These opinions are based upon the idea that we are not to try and go round his army, and drive it out of Maryland, as we did last year, but to paralyze all its movements by threatening its flank and rear if it advances, and gain time to collect re-enforcements sufficient to render us the stronger army of the two, if we are not so already.

A view of Monterey Gap from Waynesboro, Pa.

On June 22nd a skirmish erupted at Monterey Pass near the Mason and Dixon Line of South Mountain as Company D of the 14th Virginia Cavalry of General Albert Jenkins' Brigade ran into an armed militia of Captain Robert Bell's 21st Pennsylvania, Captain David Conaughy's Home Guard and a detachment of 1st Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry under Captain Samuel Randall. Confederate skirmishers scoured the woods on foot on each side of the Emmitsburg and Waynesboro Turnpike. When the Federal cavalry left, the Confederates reached Monterey Springs and continued firing at several bodies on horseback to enter Fairfield at dusk. This was the first fight that took place on South Mountain during the Pennsylvania Campaign.

On June 23rd and 24th, General Hooker requested to have more Federal troops in possession of South Mountain and Hooker's orders were being carried out by General French, as Union scouts were overlooking and watching the Hagerstown Valley as well as Pleasant Valley. During the early hours of June 25th, General John Reynolds ordered General Oliver O. Howard to send a brigade of infantry along with a battery of rifled guns to report to General Stahel and his cavalry at Crampton's Gap.

On June 26th, General Oliver O. Howard's 11th Corps began to occupy the mountain gaps along South Mountain. His headquarters was located at the Cookerly farm outside of Middletown. General Howard posted one brigade at Crampton's Gap, one at Turner's Gap, and another brigade on the road to Burkittsville and the final brigade on the Hagerstown Road. During the evening General Howard sent a dispatch to General Reynolds that stated that no Confederate force reported to have been seen at Crampton's Gap. General John Reynolds led his 1st Corps to Jefferson, Maryland and would proceed to Middletown the following day.

General Julies Stahel reported to General Reynolds through a dispatch that the whole Confederate Army had passed through Hagerstown and was now in Pennsylvania. General Anderson's Division of General A.P. Hill Corps had passed through Boonsboro on the 25th at around 6 a.m. He also reported that General Ewell's Corps had passed through Hagerstown and was heading toward Harrisburg. He had about 25,000 troops along with sixty-six pieces of artillery. A portion of General Ewell's Corps was seen in Smithsburg with at least sixteen pieces of artillery. He then reported that a small band of Confederate cavalry was located in Boonsboro, but soon moved on.

General Stahel's deployment was stretched all across South Mountain. He had one brigade and a section of artillery posted at Crampton's Gap as well as a brigade and two sections of artillery from General Howard's Corps. He had one regiment at Turner's Gap and one brigade and two sections of artillery at Middletown.

During the morning of June 27th, General Birnery was ordered by General Reynolds to send one infantry brigade and a battery of rifle guns to Crampton's Gap to relieve the forces of General Howard once he arrived in the neighborhood of Jefferson and Burkittsville. While General Howard's men at Crampton's Gap were waiting to be relieved, Colonel William D. Mann commanding the 7th Michigan Cavalry occupied Turner's Gap and sent patrols throughout the valley toward Hagerstown. He reported that four hundred Confederate cavalry and three pieces of artillery were in the area of Jones' Crossroads. Most of the Confederate forces had left Hagerstown and were concentrating their efforts at Chambersburg and fortifying the area. Some of Colonel Mann's scouts reported that large quantities of supplies were being sent back to Virginia. Colonel Mann wanted to send a small force toward Jones' Crossroads and requested one mountain howitzer to accompany them.

General Adolph Von Steinwehr commanding the 11th Corps' Second Division sent a dispatch to General Reynolds at Middletown that his scouts had seen 5, 000 of Stuart's Cavalry that passed through Williamsport during the afternoon. This may be part of the cavalry force that was foraging the farms of Pennsylvania and returning the goods to Winchester. These foraging excursions happened throughout the Pennsylvania Campaign. In preparation of any Confederate advance toward Frederick, General Steinwehr deployed his force at Turner's Gap. Colonel Charles R. Coster's Brigade was deployed near Turner's Gap; Colonel Orland Smith's Second Brigade occupied the summit of Turner's Gap with one regiment connecting to Colonel Coster's First Brigade. The artillery was left with the Colonel Coster's First Brigade and if necessary were to be brought up in a half hours time. He also had outposts scattered all over South Mountain. Washington Monument was used because of the view of the valley below.

During the afternoon, General Oliver O. Howard occupied Turner's Gap and sat up his headquarters at the Mountain House. General Howard also reported that he saw no threat of the Confederate Army in or around Boonsboro or the Valley. Colonel Smith had Captain Buchwalter of the 73rd Ohio Infantry operate the signal station at Washington Monument. Captain Buchwalter noted that one can clearly distinguish the roads leading from Boonsboro to Hagerstown, Sharpsburg, and Shepherdstown, and did not see any troops moving upon them, except the Union cavalry.

Lt. Colonel Asmusse who served as the 11th Corps Chief of Staff reported that Confederate cavalry was driving cattle and horses through the valley toward Williamsport. He also noted that pickets were set in the fields outside of Hagerstown, Maryland. The headquarters of the Army of the Potomac moved to Frederick, and an attempt was made to open communication between Frederick and the station on Sugar Loaf Mountain, which proved unsuccessful due to the unfavorable condition of the atmosphere. A station of observation was established at Middletown, and communication opened from there to another point of observation at South Mountain Pass, and the results were reported to Generals John F. Reynolds and Oliver O. Howard.

During the Pennsylvania Campaign, Cole's Cavalry separated and each company was to act as an independent organization. On June 27th, Lieutenant William A. Horner asked permission to take a dozen men and go through the Confederate lines to see what was going on. After some debate Captain Albert Hunter, commanding Company C of Cole's Cavalry allowed a dozen of his troopers to go on reconnaissance. On June 28th, they left Boonsboro and traveled to Waynesboro over South Mountain to the small town of Fountain Dale that sits along the eastern side of South Mountain. Seeing a detachment of twenty-five Confederate soldiers from Pegram's Artillery Battalion foraging for horses, Lieutenant Horner ordered his detachment to charge. During this small skirmish, many of the Confederate soldiers were captured and all of the horses taken were recovered.

On June 28th, newly appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac General Meade issued his marching orders to his Corps Commanders to march northward Pennsylvania. Lt. Colonel Rufus R. Dawes of the 6th Wisconsin Infantry wrote about the Union advance toward Pennsylvania: "We left South Mountain in great haste on the 28th and marched to Frederick through a drizzling rain as usual. Next day we moved from Frederick to Emmitsburg, Md., and today we came here, where we are having a muster for pay. I don't think I ever before saw at this time of the year such a long continued, misty, drizzling storm as we have been marching through since we crossed the Potomac. General Meade as commander of the army was a surprise." Lieutenant William Wheeler of the 13th New York Battery also reflected on the movements of the Army of the Potomac. "The artillery took a road for itself that day, in order not to be encumbered by the infantry, and we made a march of about thirty miles to reach Jefferson City, where we camped in long, wet grass, exposed to a heavy rain storm. The next morning my Battery marched with one brigade to Burkettsville, which lies at the foot of South Mountain, and was the scene of the battle of that name in last September. We passed through Frederick after nightfall, and did not see the place; the next day we marched to Emmitsburg and rested there, preparatory to the approaching conflict."

On June 29th, the Federal cavalry and Battery A of the 2nd U.S. Artillery under John Buford moved toward Pennsylvania investigating the Confederate forces in the area. General Buford left Middletown and took the National Pike to Boonsboro, Maryland where he then took the road to Smithsburg; from there he traveled up to Monterey Pass. As General John Buford stood at the opening of Monterey Pass through South Mountain, overlooking the Cumberland Valley, he saw the dust in the background toward the mountains in the Greencastle area. At this time it was evident to General Buford that a major battle would soon erupt in south-central Pennsylvania. Unfortunately for General Lee, his army was spotted; this was the downside of using a mountain to screen his movements.

General Wesley Merrit and his cavalry were ordered near Mechanicstown, Maryland, after being ordered to guard Harman's Pass on the Catoctin Mountain and watching Wolf's Tavern Pass upon South Mountain. These soldiers were the Army of the Potomac's U.S. Cavalry. The U.S. Cavalry was to guard and to protect the roadways and communication lines in the vicinity of Mechanicstown. Its duty was also to guard the Army of the Potomac's supply wagons consisting of an aggregating ten thousand four hundred. General Merritt controlled the mountain passes. A dispatch came to General Merrit on July 2nd to move forward with the wagon train to Emmitsburg, Maryland. General Merrit then received orders to meet with General Kilpatrick on the battlefield of Gettysburg that night.

Very late on July 3rd and during the early morning hours of July 4th, General Lee instructed the full retreat of his army. General Lee issued the orders for a retreat with the importance of doing so in perfect order. General A. P. Hill's Corps would lead the way by withdrawing from its position after dark. General A. P. Hill's Corps was to proceed on the Fairfield road through the mountain passes of Fairfield and Monterey. General Longstreet's Corps would then follow. General Richard Ewell's Corps brought up the rear of the Confederate Army. General John Imboden was ordered to lead the wagon train of wounded through South Mountain at Cashtown Pass to Chambersburg and then onto Williamsport.

General Lee ordered the two key passes at Monterey and Fairfield to be secured for the Confederate retreat. These two passes provided the shortest distance back to the Potomac River. If the Union would take possession of these mountain passes, General Lee would be forced to take an unfamiliar route, possibly cutting off their retreat. General Lee could not afford to take such a risk.

While General Lee was preparing for the return to Virginia, General Meade ordered General French who was at Frederick to send a detachment of men to Turner's Gap and hold South Mountain in case General Lee would try to cross and attack Frederick. General French ordered General William H. Morris to take his Second Brigade and to take possession of South Mountain and the mountain gaps from Turner's Gap to Crampton's Gap. General Morris' command was also to report any movements of the Confederate Army in the valley marching toward Hagerstown. Morris deployed his command along the mountain passes and waited for any Confederate advance.

On July 4th, the Union Cavalry was ordered to begin harassing General Lee's Army as it retreated. Union General Judson Kilpatrick's Cavalry Division was order to seize and destroy the Confederate wagon train that traveling through the mountain passes upon South Mountain. The first mountain pass that was hit by the Union Cavalry was Monterey Pass.

Monterey Pass is located in the southeastern portion of Franklin, County Pennsylvania on South Mountain and is made up of two geographical mountain peaks. Mount Dunlap is 1,760 feet above sea level and Monterey Peak is 1,420 above sea level. The Monterey Pass area extends into four counties and is divided by two states along the Mason and Dixon Line. Franklin and Adams Counties make up the Pennsylvania side while Frederick and Washington Counties make up the Maryland side. Situated in the middle of Monterey Pass is the community of Blue Ridge Summit.

The battle of Monterey Pass was the second largest battle in Pennsylvania and was the only battle fought on both sides of the Mason and Dixon Line taking place in four counties. Being a direct route to the Potomac River, Monterey Pass was used by the bulk of the Confederate Army during it's withdraw from Gettysburg.

On the evening of July 4th, 1863, one of the most confusing battles of the Civil War occurred during the retreat from Gettysburg known as the battle of Monterey Pass. General Robert E. Lee had given the order to retreat from Gettysburg. During this retreat General Ewell's Confederate wagon train took the road leading over Jack's Mountain from Fairfield.

At around 9:00 p.m. near Fountain Dale, Pa. the Union cavalry under the command of General Kilpatrick came in contact with the Confederate 1st Maryland cavalry under Captain George Emack, who had a small detail guarding the approach to Monterey, re-enforced by one cannon from Captain William Tanner's Battery that was loaded with two rounds of ammunition.

Darkness set in during a blinding rainstorm. The Confederates wearing gum blankets were mistaken as Union troops by Kilpatrick's cavalry as they made their way from Fountain Dale. Knowing that their identity was withheld, the order came to fire the cannon. As the confusion subsided, the Confederates charged, pushing the Federals back until they reached the Federal artillery that was near Fountain Dale. After gaining the eastern summit at the Monterey House, Pennington's Battery deployed and began shelling the enemy's wagons.

Fairfield Pass is located a few miles southeast of Monterey Pass on the old Maria Furnace Road that is no longer traveled. Modern day Furnace Road replaced the old road. It was where the Fairfield Road followed the western side of Jacks Mountain and then entered the western side of Pine Mountain near the eastern side of Wildcat Rocks and turns into the Devil's Racecourse. Pine Mountain stands nearly 1400 feet above sea level while Wildcat Rocks stands at 1500 feet above sea level. The Devil's Racecourse is a term that was used to describe a portion of the Pennsylvania side of the old Maria Furnace Road that was straight and ran between Buzzards Roost and Monterey Peak. Closer to Raven Rock is the other portion of the Devil's Racecourse.

The 1st Michigan Cavalry under Lt. Colonel Peter Stagg was sent upon a road leading to Fairfield Pass near Pine Mountain to head off the Confederate wagon train coming out of Fairfield. Lt. Colonel Stagg's portion of the 1st Michigan Cavalry traveled eastward toward Fairfield Gap, he ran into Confederate soldiers belonging to the 5th North Carolina Cavalry and two companies of the 11th Virginia Cavalry under the command of Captain A. J. Ware that were protecting the rear of General Ewell's wagon train and guarding Fairfield Pass. Captain A. J. Ware commanding the Bath County Squadron (Company F, 11th Virginia Cavalry) was ordered to scout the enemy's movements coming from the direction of Emmitsburg Pike.

As Captain Brevoort's squad led Lt. Colonel Stagg's advance they took on a few Confederate prisoners as they headed westward toward Monterey Pass from the old road. During the advance, the Confederate's brought up a cannon belonging to Mooreman's Battery and fired grape and canister at them. Captain Brevoort, seeing the cannon ahead, ordered his men to follow the side of the road. When the cannon fired it missed the front portion of Captain Brevoort's column, but injured many that brought up the rear.

In the same weather conditions as Monterey, Captain Wells' squadron of the 1st Michigan Cavalry was ordered to dismount and be deployed as skirmishers. Fighting raged for three hours as the 1st Michigan Cavalry fought their way through the Confederate battle lines. As the Confederates held their ground, Lieutenant Colonel Stagg against superior numbers ordered Captain William Elliott's squadron to charge the Confederates.

In leading the charge, Colonel Stagg's horse was killed, and the falling horse seriously injured Colonel Stagg. Captain Elliott was mortally wounded and Lieutenant James S. McElhenny and twenty men of Captain Elliott's squadron were killed during the fight. Captain Ware's men charged the 1st Michigan Cavalry back toward the Emmitsburg Pike.

By 3:30 a.m. the Union cavalry reached the road where Ewell's wagon train was located, capturing and destroying 9 miles worth of wagons, taking 1,360 prisoners and a large number of horses and mules as they moved on to Waterloo and ended at Ringgold. During the battle of Monterey Pass, General Kilpatrick ordered Lieutenant Colonel Addison Preston and his 1st Vermont Cavalry to cross over South Mountain and attack the wagon train at the western base of the mountain. As Lieutenant Colonel Preston passed through Raven Rock Pass, no wagons were seen in Smithsburg. Colonel Preston headed toward Lietersburg and engaged Confederate forces, destroying a large number of wagons and capturing a large number of prisoners. From there Lieutenant Colonel Preston headed to Ringgold where he came upon General Kilpatrick.

Operating behind Confederate lines at Ringgold, Maryland, General Kilpatrick was in a dangerous situation. He had to get to Turner's Gap in order to seek safety. General French had re-enforcements already at Tuner's Gap and General John Buford was heading in the same direction. Following South Mountain due southward, he pressed on to Smithsburg. Fearing a possible attack from the direction of Emmitsburg, General Kilpatrick sent scouts into the areas of South Mountain protecting his cavalry near Raven Rock Road.

On July 5th, during the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg, Union cavalry had destroyed many bridges that spanned across the Potomac River. Cole's Cavalry destroyed the bridge at Harper's Ferry and detachments of General William French's force destroyed the bridge at Falling Waters. This would slow General Lee's Army crossing into Virginia. General French also stated that the layout of General Lee's Army in the valley reminded him of the previous Maryland Campaign that was waged a year before. General William French was in possession of the mountain passes on South Mountain and could harass General Lee using Crampton's Gap to delay their arrival to the Potomac River, which was flowing very high due to the weather conditions. Fearing that Confederate cavalry under General JEB Stuart was covering General Lee's flanks, General Stuart's Cavalry passed through Emmitsburg during the dawn hours.

As General JEB Stuart entered Emmitsburg, a sharp skirmish developed and seventy Union soldiers were taken prisoner. Stuart learned of the action at Monterey Pass and traveled to Creagerstown, where he then met up with the rest of his column in Graceham. He learned that the road needed to get across the Catoctin and South Mountains were guarded by General Wesley Merritt's troops at Harman's Pass. After the battle of Gettysburg, General Merritt was ordered to guard the same mountain passes as he did before the battle of Gettysburg.

Raven Rock Pass.

Stuart's men traveled back toward Emmitsburg stopping at Franklinville.  Cutting his way through the Catoctin and South Mountains via Emmitsburg Gap on through Harbaugh Valley, Stuart made his way to Deerfield. Near Deerfield, General Stuart divided his cavalry at the intersection at Zion Church. General Stuart sent Colonel Ferguson on the lower road that was a direct route to Smithsburg. General Stuart and Colonel Chambliss traveled the upper road that took them through Raven Rock Pass and back on the old Hagerstown Road.

Colonel Ferguson's Brigade was making its way toward Smithsburg using Raven Rock Pass and upon emerging from South Mountain, saw General Kilpatrick's Cavalry commanding the approach to Smithsburg. General Kilpatrick had deployed his cavalry on three hills. General Custer's Brigade and Pennington's guns held the hill on the left. Colonel Huey's Brigade and Fuller's Battery held the hill known as Gardenhour's Hill at the center of General Kilpatrick's deployment. To General Kilpatrick's right on Goat Hill was Colonel Nathaniel Richmond's Brigade with Elder's Battery.

Colonel Ferguson would attack the right of General Kilpatrick's line while General Stuart and Colonel Chambliss's Brigade would try to dislodge Kilpatrick from the left branching off from the main road. Soon both cavalry forces began to engage between Smithsburg and Raven Rock Pass. Fuller's Battery opened fire on Stuart's Cavalry. Griffin's Battery was placed on the high ground known as Nicodemus Hill and began to open fire. During the exchange of cannon fire, a lone shell hit a home in Smithsburg. The shell is still lodged in the side of the brick house today. Stuart's and Kilpatrick's Cavalrymen dismounted and fought a hard battle until dusk. Seeing Stuart's troopers on the move, General Kilpatrick thought that General Stuart ordered a withdraw from the field. Seeing this Kilpatrick, carrying baggage from the previous day's battle ordered his command to withdraw from the field. Kilpatrick using the western base of South Mountain pulled his forces to Boonsboro.

During the evening of July 5th, General Meade issued orders for the Army of the Potomac to begin its removal from the battlefield at Gettysburg the next morning. The 6th Corps followed the rear of the General Lee's Army as it continued its withdraw from Gettysburg. The 1st Corps, 3rd Corps and the 6th Corps would march to Emmitsburg, taking the direct road to Mechanicstown, Lewistown and Hamburg before reaching Middletown. The 5th Corps and the 11th Corps would march on the Taneytown Road, through Emmitsburg, Creagerstown, Utica and Highknob Pass and to Middletown. The 12th Corps and the 2nd Corps and the Artillery Reserve would march toward Taneytown to Middleburg, and Woodsboro, through Frederick to Middletown.

Colonel F. Hecker of the 82nd Illinois Volunteers recalled his regiment's march to Emmitsburg. Near midnight, the road conditions and blinding darkness forced his regiment to encamp near a small creek north of Emmitsburg that night. By 3:30 a.m., the line of march continued. Upon reaching Emmitsburg in the afternoon, the 82nd encamped there for the night before passing through. Before sunrise on July 7th, the march to Middletown continued via Creagerstown and Utica Post Office. This was a distance of 30 miles. The regiment arrived at Middletown around 10:00 p.m. that night in a rainstorm.

By July 6th, the majority of the Union Army was in motion marching over Catoctin Mountain or marching to Frederick. General William H. Morris had established his headquarters at Bolivar. He wrote to Lieutenant William F. A. Torbert, Acting Assistant Adjutant to General Meade, explaining what it would take to hold Crampton's, Fox's and also Turner's Gap. He suggested that four regiments would be enough to defend South Mountain if General Lee was to send his army over the mountain gaps.

General Morris was worried about the openness of the woods, stating that if Lee would send infantry through the woods and take possession of the heights, the Confederates would have an advantage. With the ground having a stony character it made throwing up entrenchments extremely difficult in many places. However, stonewall breastworks could be made and cut timber would also help to strengthen the position. General Morris asked for an engineer company to come forward with the necessary tools to assist his troops in defending the mountain gaps. General Morris had two regiments at Turner's Gap except for two companies that were sent to Fox's Gap as well as two pieces of artillery and one regiment at Bolivar. He also dispatched Colonel Kitching's Regiment along with two pieces of artillery to Crampton's Gap. Morris also looked at the approaches of the mountain gaps and was impressed with the circuitous that artillery would be able to sweep the enemy but for short distances. Because of this, Morris requested more infantry instead of artillery feeling that it would be an unnecessary risk to have more artillery posted along the mountain gaps.

General John Buford reached Turner's Gap where General Morris was stationed. General Buford ordered a small group of signal corpsmen to begin observation from a top the Washington Monument. From here they could see the whole valley and report any movements to General Buford.

On July 7th, a party of signal officers, under charge of Captain William J. L. Nicodemus, arrived from Washington, for the purpose of working in conjunction with the signal corps of this army. Captain Nicodemus opened a line of communication between Frederick and South Mountain Pass. General French ordered Captain Nicodemus to report to General Meade. Upon seeing General Meade, Captain Nicodemus was ordered to detach his men and begin operating from South Mountain and Maryland Heights to begin communicating with Frederick and South Mountain. The detachment was deployed as follows: Lieutenants Charles Herzog and Thomas P. Rushby to Maryland Heights, Lieutenant Fisher to Crampton's Pass while Captain Daniels, and Captain Denicke along with Lieutenants William J. Galbraith, Briggs, Denicke, Swain, and S. Cary Tuckerman were sent to the front to establish observation stations in Boonsboro Valley.

At 6:00 p. m. Captain Nicodemus left Frederick with Captain Denicke and Lieutenants Denicke, Galbraith, Briggs, and Swain, arriving at Turner's Gap at 3:00 in the morning. Upon entering Turner's Gap, their mission was to open communication by signals for the advance of the Army of the Potomac that was near Middletown. Captain Nicodemus ordered Lieutenant Galbraith to stay at Turner's Gap to open an intermediate station between Frederick and Washington Monument, at which point the detachment of signalmen were ordered to report to Captain Daniels. As the rain fell and darkness settled in there was no sign of Captain Daniels so the detachment laid down till daylight.

On July 8th, Captain Nahum Daniels arrived at the Mountain House at 8:00 in the morning, and as soon as the weather would permit they would begin to send signals. During the morning a detachment of signalmen were ordered to open up a signal station on a hill outside of Boonsboro. In the afternoon, general headquarters moved to Middletown. Turner's Gap and Boonsboro would also serve as communications for General John Buford and his cavalry division along with General Kilpatrick's Cavalry Division.

The Washington Monument. First built in 1827 and was in ruins by the time of the Civil War.

Captain Ernst A. Denicke and Lieutenant C.F.M. Denicke opened a station at Washington Monument early in the morning around 9:00. The first thing that needed to be done was to cut away the timber that obstructed the view near the monument. The Confederate forces marching toward Williamsport were observed from the Washington Monument by Captain Ernst A. Denicke and Lieutenant C.F.M. Denicke and this information was soon relayed to headquarters. At around 3:00 in the afternoon, Lieutenant C.F.M. Denicke was ordered to Frederick and assist Lieutenant Galbraith in opening communications with the stations upon South Mountain. Lieutenant Swain was ordered to open a station at Boonsboro while Lieutenant Briggs opened a station upon Elk Mountain. Captain Daniels opened a station near the Hagerstown Pike, about 1 mile beyond Boonsboro.

The Confederate cavalry under General JEB Stuart was ordered by General Lee to attack and stall General Meade's movements as they were holding the western approach of South Mountain Pass. Five Confederate cavalry brigades and artillery fought against the elements of the Union 1st and 3rd Cavalry Divisions and infantry at around 10:00 in the morning. General Stuart's role was to buy General Lee time and to keep General Meade from getting his army into position and surrounding General Lee's Army as they were concentrating their forces around Williamsport and Hagerstown.

At about 10:30 a.m. the Confederate artillery began to shell the signal stations that were popping up along South Mountain and in Boonsboro. As the engagement of Boonsboro was warming up, Signal Corpsman Captain Denicke reported by signal the movements of the Confederate cavalry that were reported to General John Buford. Every movement of Stuart's Cavalry was seen from the station at Washington Monument. Henry Brown of the Battery K, First U.S. Artillery was on one of the four guns deployed by his horse artillery. He took time to write home saying "It was the severest fight we have had." After the battle of Boonsboro, his detachment was getting fresh horses and also a new battery.

General Buford held the road while General Judson Kilpatrick's Cavalry Division rested east of Boonsboro. As the fight at Boonsboro became very intense, General Kilpatrick's Division came to assist General Buford. By nightfall, General Stuart withdrew his cavalry several miles to Funkstown. Generals Buford and Kilpatrick stayed near Boonsboro to rest their cavalry without food or supplies. Boonsboro was one of a series of cavalry battles fought around Funkstown, Hagerstown, and Williamsport. The Army of the Potomac was moving from Frederick toward South Mountain.

General Meade made his headquarters at Middletown. Lieutenant William A. Roebling wrote "The roads over the mountains from Frederick were frightful" on Catoctin Mountain. The next mountain being South Mountain must have been a dreadful site to the men dressed in blue.

A section of Battery F, 4th U.S. Artillery under the command of 2nd Lieutenant S. T. Rugg was posted at Crampton's Gap. Near to the north of Turner's Gap the 140th New York Volunteers under the command of Colonel Gilbert G. Prey encamped on the western side of South Mountain. They were ordered to throw up breastworks, which they did from stones that were noted to be in abundance. The 140th stayed in position until July 10th when they were ordered to march on the National Pike toward Hagerstown.

Union General John Newton was protecting the eastern route to Turner's Gap. Fearing that a much larger Confederate force might attack, he wrote a dispatch to General S. Williams. General Newton, unsure of the strength of Turner's Gap, stated that he had about twenty-four pieces of artillery and 3,300 infantry. He was going to leave 1700 members of the Vermont Brigade behind since they were not issued rations and had been on the march for most of the day.

General Newton was unsure of the importance of Tuner's Gap. As he continued to report to General Williams, if Turner's Gap required more troops to defend, then General Williams would have to send them. General Newton thought that if Turner's Gap was worthy of being held for the Union pursuit of General Lee's Army, and then more infantry was needed. He remembered the battle of Crampton's Gap from the year before when he engaged Confederate troops there that were small in number and how the Union forces pushed them out from the gap. General Williams replied to General Newton's dispatch. He told General Newton that the 11th Corps was ordered to Turner's Gap and that the 6th Corps would be on hand in support if it was needed.

During the day, General Meade issued the marching orders that were to be carried at out 5:00 a.m. on July 9th, as follows: The 6th Corps would move out of Middletown through Turner's Gap to Boonsboro followed by the 11th Corps and the Artillery Reserve. The 1st Corps was to take possession of Turner's Gap. The 5th Corps followed by the 3rd Corps would cross over South Mountain at Fox's Gap. The 12th Corps was ordered to move to Rohrersville followed by the 2nd Corps. The Engineer Battalion was ordered to encamp with General Meade who was planning on having his headquarters at the Mountain House.

Crampton's Gap from the west.

On July 9th, headquarters of the Union Army moved to Turner's Gap. General Meade used the Mountain House as his headquarters as the Army of the Potomac closed behind Lee's Army. He ordered a signal station to occupy Turner's Gap, communicating, through others at Middletown and Crampton's Pass, with Maryland Heights. Weather conditions that day were reported to be smoky and signaling was unpractical. This line, appearing of little importance on account of telegraphic facilities, was abandoned the same day, and its officers ordered to more active duty in the front.

On July 10th, the general commanding and his staff removed to bivouac near Beaver Creek crossing, west of Boonsboro. In the evening, communication was opened from general headquarters, through the Washington Monument station, with headquarters of the 2nd and 12th Corps, near Bakersville: 3rd and 5th Corps near Antietam Bridge, and the 1st and 6th Corps near Beaver Creek crossing, on the Hagerstown pike. On this day the officer who accompanied General Neill on his expedition from a point selected by him on Franklin's Cliff, South Mountain Range, near Leitersburg, discovered the numbers and position of the enemy in and around Hagerstown, and sent the information to General Neill and by orderly to General Meade.

The station on the hill near Boonsboro was removed, while another line of communication was opened with Lieutenant Tuckerman on the left of the Union communication line, with Captain Denicke on Washington Monument, and Captain Stone on Sharpsburg pike, near General French's headquarters. The signalmen received orders to report all important messages by telegraph to General Meade and Colonel Myer. Captain Denicke to opened communication lines with Bakersville, waving white flags at the base of the Washington Monument.

In his diary on July 10th Captain Alonzo Clapp of the 122nd New York Infantry wrote: “Marched from Middletown through south mountain pass on a good Pike, 8 miles to Boonsboro. And went to the front in line of battle in support of a battery. There was a "right smart" cavalry and flying artillery fight 2 or 3 miles in our front late at night. The rebs are in force between here and Williamsport & Hagerstown & there is a fair prospect of a fight tomorrow. Marched from Boonsboro on the Hagerstown Pike about 5 miles and went into line of battle near the front on ground occupied by the rebs this morning. There was a brisk skirmishing and some spirited cavalry firing during the day. Serg't Trowbridge tried to force himself by me when I was stationed at a well. My sword being rusted-in saved his head.”

Following the days of the Union Army holding South Mountain, General Lee marched his Army of Northern Virginia to Williamsport. On July 11th, by direction of the assistant adjutant-general, a signal telegraph line was ran between general headquarters and those of General John Sedgwick, on the Hagerstown pike, 5 miles in the distance. No communication was had by flag signals on this day due to the and heavy thick haze. The officers attached to their respective commands made two reconnaissances toward Hagerstown for Generals Howard and Kilpatrick. General Lee's Army began entrenching a line to protect the river crossings at Williamsport and waited for General Meade's Army of the Potomac to advance.

On July 11th, a small group of Federal soldiers led by Captain William G. McCreary went to Black Rock, a bare and elevated rock on the South Mountain Range between Boonsboro and Smithsburg. A reconnaissance of the area was made. With most of the action occurring in the Hagerstown and Boonsboro area, the observation team went back into the valley. They came back to Black Rock the next day to open communication, but failed to do so and by July 13th the observation personnel moved onto Funkstown.

On July 12th, a party was sent to open a line of signals between general headquarters and the brigade of General Neill, near Leitersburg, but the attempt failed by reason of the thickness of the atmosphere. Because of the weather, observations were hard to make. The observation station in Middletown was also closed keeping the line from Elk Mountain and Washington Monument open.

The signal telegraph wire was extended to General Sedgwick's new headquarters at Funkstown, and another ran to General Slocum near Four Corners. Both lines worked with slight interruptions until the night of the 14th, when they were withdrawn. Flag signals were set up between the headquarters of the 5th Corps and as well as others in the vicinity and a station of observation was built in Hagerstown.

General Meade reached the Confederate Army on the 12th and by July 13th, skirmishing was heavy along the lines as Meade positioned his forces for an attack. In the meantime, the river fell enough to allow the construction of a new bridge, and Lee's Army began crossing the river after dark on the 13th.

During the retreat from Gettysburg, both armies relied and depended on the mountain gaps on South Mountain. General Lee used Fairfield Pass, Monterey Pass and also Cashtown Gap because it was the shortest route back to Virginia. Because of this, General Meade feared a direct pursuit would lead to another major battle along the Mason and Dixon Line on South Mountain. General Meade instead used South Mountain to shield his own army and was hoping to cut off General Lee's retreat via South Mountain near Boonsboro. However, General Lee had a one-day head start. This allowed him to reach the Potomac River and take up a defensive plan of attack, allowing his army time for the Potomac River to recede so they could safely cross into Virginia. After General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac River, General Meade began to pull his forces back from Williamsport.

On July 13th, all signal communication previously established was continued. Two officers were sent to make a telescopic reconnaissance from Elk Mountain. On July 14th, General Meade issued marching orders to his Corps commanders. By the end of the day all signal operations and observation stations were discontinued.

On the July 15th, the troops carried out their marching orders. The 12th and 2nd Corps would march to Pleasant Valley, encamping there for the night. The 3rd Corps was to march to Brownsville, encamping in Pleasant Valley near Harper's Ferry. The 5th and 1st Corps would march on the Boonsboro Road to the Sharpsburg Road crossing over South Mountain at Fox's Gap to Burkittsville and encamping for the night at Berlin. The 6th and 11th Corps along with the Artillery Reserve would march through Turner's Gap to Middletown and on to Berlin.

These orders would take two days to complete with Union encampments surrounding Pleasant Valley, Burkittsville and Rohrersville. The Army of the Potomac would keep moving onward toward Berlin and Harper's Ferry preparing to cross the Potomac River and would continue to pursue General Lee in Virginia.

South Mountain played a major role during the Confederate retreat and the Union pursuit to the Potomac River. Without this significant mountain range there would have likely been another major battle fought in the surrounding communities. Mountain ranges such as South Mountain were also vital in establishing communications for the armies of both sides.

Primary Sources

  • War Diary of Lieutenant Herman Schuricht Co. D 14th Virginia Cavalry
  • Ironton Register, December 22, 1887 Narrow Escapes Interesting War Experiences NO. 58 by Joseph A. Lesage, Co. G., 1st W.Va. Cavalry.
  • United States War Department. War of the Rebellion. A Compilation of the official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. 128 Volumes. Washington D.C. 1880-1901.
  • The letters of Lt. Colonel Rufus R. Dawes 6th Wisconsin Infantry Bivouac in Pennsylvania on Marsh Creek near Gettysburg June 30, 1863.
  • Letter from Lieut. William Wheeler, Thirteenth New York Battery
  • Goodbye for this time. Henry W. Brown Horse Artillery, Battery K, First U.S. Letters are the property of John Proctor and Henry Brown
  • Alonzo Clapp's War Diaries; For 1862, 1863, 1864 & 1865

Emmitsburg Area Historical Society

  • Archives of Cole's Cavalry
  • John A. Miller papers
  • Thurmont Scrapbook

Secondary Sources

  • Brown, Kent Masterson. Lee, Logistics and the Pennsylvania Campaign. Retreat from Gettysburg. University of North Carolina Press, 2005.
  • Driver, Robert J. First and Second Maryland Cavalry C.S.A., Rockbridge Publishing, Howell Press, Charlotteville, Virginia.
  • Hatch, Thom. Clashes of Cavalry, The Civil War Careers of George Armstrong Custer and JEB Stuart. Stackpole Books, 2001.
  • Martin David G. Gettysburg July 1st. Combined Publishing, Conshohocken, Pa. 1995.
  • Miller, John A. The Battle of Monterey Pass, Pennsylvania's Second Largest Battle. Rowan Printing, Blue Ridge Summit, 2008.
  • Schidt, John W. Roads from Gettysburg. Burd Street Press, 1998 second edition.
  • Shue, Richard S. Morning at Willoughby Run. Thomas Publications, Fairfield, Pa. 1998.
  • Wittenberg, Eric J., Petruzzi, J. David., Nugent, Mike. One Continuous Fight, The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, July4-14, 1863. Savas Beatie, New York and California, 2008.

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