Part 10: Civil War Diary, Monthly Column, Emmitsburg News Journal
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.
Three days after the Confederates began to cross the Potomac River near Williamsport during the morning of June 18th, General Joseph Hooker, commanding General of the Army of the Potomac, ordered a signal station to be built at Crampton’s Gap on South Mountain to observe the Confederate forces in Maryland. General Hooker also ordered the cavalry 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 assist in taking possession of the mountain gaps on South Mountain. General Heintzelman’s force consisted of 1,600 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.
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, another 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 was 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 6:00 am. 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, 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 rifled 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 cavalrymen 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 passing through Williamsport in 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 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 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, proving 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.
On June 28th, newly appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac General Meade issued marching orders to his Corps Commanders to march northward into 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.”
By June 29th, the First Corps was encamped in Emmitsburg followed by the Eleventh Corps that was encamped at Mount Saint Mary’s College. On June 30th, the First Corps marched through Emmitsburg to Marsh Creek and the Eleventh Corps would then march into Emmitsburg with a portion of the Third Corps that was headquartered near Emmitsburg at Bridgeport along the Monocacy River.