This is just a narrative of the morning phase of the Battle of South Mountain at Fox’s Gap. I will be posting more about the Battles of South Mountain throughout the fall and winter months.
During the night of September 13th, General JEB Stuart had sent Colonel Tom Rosser’s 5th Virginia Cavalry and two pieces of artillery from Major John Pelham’s 1st Stuart’s Horse Artillery to Fox’s Gap. At approximately 8:00 am in the morning on September 14th, as General Samuel Garland’s Brigade made their down the Woods Road to Fox’s Gap they were unaware of Stuart’s Cavalry occupying the extreme Southern end of Fox’s Gap. The Confederate soldiers soon began to occupy the stonewalls along Ridge Road. Pelham and Rosser connected with the 5th North Carolina under the command of Colonel Duncan McRae. Next to the 5th North Carolina was the 12th North Carolina under the command of Captain Snow. Next to them was the 23rd North Carolina under the command of Colonel D. H. Christie.
The Kanawha Division under the command of Brigadier General Jacob Cox was encamped near Middletown, Maryland when reveille was sounded. At 6:00 am in the morning, the Kanawha Division arose and began to march. Colonel Eliakim Scammon’s 1st Brigade was the first to march with Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes’ 23rd Ohio Infantry in the advance. Striking the old Sharpsburg Road and veering left on an old mountain road known as Loop Road, Scammon’s Brigade began to climb the rocky hillside. Marching was rough as they marched through the very thick, dense mountain vegetation.
Hayes’ was dismounted when the 23rd Ohio came to the clearing of an open field, his men could see a long line of Confederate soldiers from North Carolina under the command of General Samuel Garland. To the extreme right tucked away in the corner, were the 5th Virginia Cavalry and a section of two guns that belonged to Major John Pelham’s Horse Artillery. At about 10:00 am, as Hayes and his 23rd Ohio appeared in the open field, they were fired upon by Pelham’s two guns as well as the rifles of the 5th North Carolina. Pelham was only able to fire two shots before he limbered up and fell back to the west of South Mountain after the arrival of the 11th Ohio Infantry. After a few volleys from the Confederate guns, Hayes as well as many other members of the 23rd Ohio were hit.
Desperately trying to reorganize his line and advance them again, the wounded Hayes was pulled off the field while the battle ensued. While Scammon’s Brigade occupied the left, Crook’s Brigade began to engage on the right. The 11th Ohio from Colonel George Crook’s 2nd Brigade came to the support of the 23rd Ohio. After forcing Pelham and the 5th Virginia from their positions, the 11th Ohio was ordered to charge across the open field just as the 5th North Carolina was beginning to break. Rifles were used as clubs and bayonets were used freely as the Union soldiers thrust their weapons behind the stonewall. The 12th North Carolina was ordered to support the 5th North Carolina, but with the lack of officers, once the Federal volleys began some men broke rank and ran. Others flocked to the flanks of the 5th North Carolina who were ordered to form their line on the original position. Once Rosser’s men fell back, the 5th North Carolina also fell back and reformed their lines at the base of South Mountain.
Bondurant’s Battery fired several shots at the advancing Union soldiers before falling back to another position. Captain James Bondurant ordered each gun to fire one round. As soon as the first gun fired, it was ordered limber up and fall back while the second gun fired. This was repeated until all four guns were off of the field and redeployed at their second position.
In the midst of this fight, the 12th Ohio Infantry under the command of Colonel Carr White formed their battle line. As they proceeded up the hill, several companies were ordered to fall to their knees and crawl very slowly up the rocky hill where the 23rd North Carolina was positioned. The Ohioans were within sixty yards of the Confederate battle line. They could hear the orders being given when suddenly a private yelled “Let’s charge!” The 23rd North Carolina had to form their line in the midst of confusion, and continued to move into the open field without hesitation. By the time the 23rd North Carolina stopped to form their line as ordered, the whole line of the Ohioans stood up, and as quickly as they stood their officers ordered them back down just as the 23rd North Carolina fired upon them. The officer’s then yelled forward, pushing up the hill as quickly as they could.
After the Confederate right flank began to break, the 23rd Ohio continued its charge supporting the 12th Ohio. Bayonets were used freely and this battle was only one of a few where this type of hand to hand combat was actually used. The 23rd North Carolina broke and began taking cover in the woods. The 12th Ohio Infantry, still on their heels soon became entangled in the thick mountain vegetation and their own battle lines broke formation.
As the fight ensued, two additional regiments from Garland’s Brigade deployed along the stonewalls of Fox’s Gap along Ridge Road. The 20th North Carolina Regiment under the command of Colonel Alfred Iverson took position next to the 23rd North Carolina. The 30th Ohio under the command of Colonel Hugh Ewing heard firing to their left and soon the domino effect occurred when a tide of Confederate soldiers appeared to their front.
The 36th Ohio from Colonel George Crook’s 2nd Brigade arrived on the field in support of the Union troops already in place. They broke off in order to support the 12th Ohio, moving in the direction of the 20th North Carolina. The 20th North Carolina resisted until the 36th Ohio got on both flanks. The firing was at close range and soon bayonets were once again being used. By then Bondurant’s Battery limbered back up and moved to Wise’s Northfield.
During the time that the fighting was raging against the 20th North Carolina, Lieutenant Crome was ordered to take two cannon up the hill. Crome found it very steep and difficult, and ordered his artillery detachment to manually pull and push the cannon up the hill. As soon as they got into position the cannoneers were being picked off by Confederate bullets from the 20th North Carolina. As soon as the third round of canister was fired, Lieutenant Crome was the only person left standing. As the 12th Ohio was pushing forward, a corporal helped Lt. Crome load the fourth round of canister into the tube. The corporal pulled the lanyard and was instantly killed by a bullet from the 20th North Carolina. Lt. Crome himself was wounded in the breast and his guns fell silent.
When the 13th North Carolina under the command of Lt. Colonel Thomas Ruffin arrived, General Garland was there to greet them. Garland directed them on where their position should be. Lt. Colonel Ruffin told General Garland that he should be in the rear of his brigade and Garland stated that he wanted to be with his men. During this exchange, a bullet hit Garland and he fell mortally wounded. The 13th North Carolina charged the Federal line pushing them back, about that time the arrival of General George B. Anderson’s Brigade came onto the field. They hunkered down in the sunken road to meet the Federal onslaught. By then the morning phase for Fox’s Gap began to die down as men were exhausted and getting low on ammunition.
A section of the 1st Kentucy Artillery consisting of two 20 pound Parrot Rifles were put in place at the southeast corner of Wise’s Southfield. The 36th Ohio supported by the 28th Ohio halted near the wood line. The 11th Ohio, 23rd Ohio, the 12th Ohio and the 36th Ohio all occupied the stonewalls that once gave protection to Garland’s Brigade.