The Battle of Monterey Pass: Foot Troops at the Pass

Not too many people realize that the infantryman played a very vital role during the Battle of Monterey Pass. It was due to the arrival of the infantry that forced Union General Judson Kilpatrick and his cavalry division to abandon the fight at Monterey Pass, thus securing Monterey Pass for the main Confederate Army to safely begin its march back to Virginia. During the Confederate Army withdraw, several thousand infantrymen bivouacked at Monterey Pass. But to the newer enthusiasts learning about Civil War history, it may be confusing for that person to grasp what the role of the infantry was or perhaps, what did he wear. It is simple questions like this, the the newer Civil War enthusiasts are afraid to ask in front of a group. So who was the infantryman? What did he wear? And how did he play a major role during the Battle of Monterey Pass or the Confederate withdrawal from Gettysburg? I’m going to give a brief summary of the basic infantryman.

The infantry was the most important aspect of the army, making up most of the army and serving on the front line of the battlefield for both the Confederate and Union Armies. Marching and fighting drill were part of the daily routine for the Civil War soldier. Leisure activities were similar in both armies and most of it was spent writing letters home. Free time consisted of card games, reading, pitching horseshoes, or team sports such as the fledgling sport of baseball. Sickness and disease was the scourge of both armies and more men died of disease than in battle because the sanitation conditions in camp were very poor.
Organization of the Confederate and Federal Armies during the Pennsylvania Campaign consisted of an infantry corps, which was commanded by a major general and was made up of two to five infantry divisions. A division was commanded by a major or brigadier general and consisted of three to five brigades. One brigade was commanded by a brigadier general and was made up of three to five regiments. A colonel commanded the regiment which could have up to ten companies, while battalions commanded by a major or lieutenant colonel were made up of four to seven companies. One infantry company was commanded by a captain and usually had about 64 to 100 men.

Each portion of the army, whether it was a corps, or a regiment had a structured command staff. For example, the command staff for an infantry regiment was one colonel who commanded one lieutenant colonel, one major, one adjutant, one quartermaster, one surgeon, two assistant surgeons, and a chaplain. Regimental non-commissioned officers consisted of a sergeant major, quartermaster sergeant, commissary sergeant, hospital steward, and two principal musicians. Whereas a company consisted of one captain who commanded one first lieutenant, one second lieutenant, one first sergeant, four sergeants, eight corporals, two musicians, and one wagoner. Company officers were elected in most volunteer units.

Both the Confederate and Union armies had their own specialty departments that often worked with the infantry and their commanders. They consisted of a Quartermaster Department, an Engineer Corps, and Signal Corps as well as supply wagons that were organized by the quartermaster into wagon trains. The artillery and cavalry also supported the infantry in their own organizational structure as needed.

The infantryman of the Civil War wore a variety of uniforms made of kersey, a woolen and cotton weave material known as jeans-cloth, woolen flannel, cotton, cassimere and satinette materials. His uniform consisted of a forage cap, French influenced kepi or slouch hat for protection from the weather and sun. He was issued a jacket and trousers from the clothing bureau depot system. His under garments were a military issue shirt or a civilian style shirt and a pair of under drawers. He would have also worn wool or cotton knitted socks and brogans or boots.

The soldier’s accouterments were the same in both armies. The infantryman would have worn a leather waist belt that carried his percussion cap box and scabbard for his bayonet. If the cartridge box was not worn around the shoulder by a sling, then it would have been worn on the soldier’s belt. He would have been issued a haversack carrying the rations, tin cup, fork, knife and spoon combination, as well as a tin plate, and a canteen. In addition to leather, the Confederate Government had accouterments produced in painted linen or canvas, and also relied on imported goods from Europe, mainly England.

Infantry soldiers were also issued a knapsack to carry an extra pair of clothes including socks, shirts, under garments and other personal items, such as a blanket, ground cloth, shelter half, camp needs, and his great coat if it was during the cold weather season. Some soldiers preferred to wear a blanket roll that was worn around the body instead of a knapsack. Valuable items would have been rolled inside of the blanket roll and tied off with a piece of leather or rope to keep them from falling out while the soldier was on the march. He was issued a rifled or a smoothbore musket made by numerous manufacturers, and both armies used a variety of small arms. The Springfield was a common infantry small arm used by the Union Army. The Enfield (from England) and Richmond (copied from the Springfield) rifled muskets were common in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

Also included in the infantry were sharpshooter units. They were armed and uniformed the same as that of an average infantryman. Their weapon of choice was that of the two-band Enfield rifled musket and when they were in short demand, the regular three-band Enfield would be used. For a sharpshooter, the conditions at Monterey Pass would have made his job extremely hard to accomplish. During the day, a sharpshooter may have judged distances based on the following. I found this listed on the Authentic Campaigner web site and found it to be very useful:

2,000 yards: Infantry will appear as a black line
1,200-1,500 yards: Ranks of infantry can be distinguished
1,000 yards: The lines of heads and legs are visible
800 yards: The upper outline of men can be distinguished
600 yards: Men are distinctly visible, but color can not be determined. Head dress can be recognized
400 yards: The ornaments on headdress can be seen, and colors are distinguishable
200 yards: The men’s heads are visible
100 yards: The line of the men’s eyes are visible
80 yards: Men’s eyes are distinct
25 yards: The whites of the eyes are visible

On July 4th, during the Confederate withdraw from Gettysburg, there were several infantryman assigned to guard General Richard Ewell’s wagon train. They consisted of roughly one hundred and twenty-five men from the 1st North Carolina Sharpshooter Battalion, and at least fifty men from an Alabama unit. These infantrymen served as the provost guard, and with them were several Confederate soldiers under arrest, four of which were to be condemned to death upon arrival in Virginia. Among the wagon train were Confederate infantrymen from Ewell’s Corps that were wounded during the Battle of Gettysburg. As the advance of the wagon train cleared South Mountain, it would slowly make its way to Hagerstown. When the rear of the wagon train was set in motion it was here where the infantrymen would play anessential role in helping to defend the mountain pass known as Monterey Pass.

During the Battle of Monterey Pass, as the Confederate cavalry and artillery were holding back Kilpatrick’s cavalry, the 1st North Carolina Battalion of Sharpshooters and the Alabamians provided much needed reinforcements, as well as support. As Kilpatrick’s cavalry broke through the Confederate battle line and began destroying wagons, two pieces of artillery were turned toward the road where the wagons were coming from. The 3-inch ordinance rifles threw several rounds of case-shot at the oncoming infantrymen. The provost guard, realizing that a heavy engagement lay ahead, asked the Confederate prisoners if they would redeem themselves and throw themselves into the fight. All of which did, including those four that were to be condemned to death.

Pushing further toward the main intersection of Maria Furnace, Mentzer Gap and the Emmitsburg and Waynesboro Turnpike, the infantrymen got into the fight. Upon their arrival at the tollhouse, the 1st North Carolina Sharpshooters were supported with additional artillery. This additional support gave them the opportunity to dig in and establish breastworks. This resistance forced Kilpatrick to withdraw from Monterey Pass, and the infantrymen secured the area for the main Confederate Army.

From July 5th through the midmorning of July 6th, the infantrymen from General A.P. Hill’s Corps entered Monterey Pass from Fairfield Gap, with General James Longstreet’s Corps coming up from the east via Fountain Dale, converging on Monterey Pass at the same time. Longstreet’s Corps would take the lead down South Mountain into Waynesboro. Followed behind Hill’s Corps was General Richard Ewell’s Corps. The muddy roads and mountain terrain made the march extremely difficult. Their bluish gray, gray, and butternut uniforms made from jeans-cloth, tattered from the hard campaign in Pennsylvania, were now covered with mud and soaking wet from the heavy rain. Any soldier who wrote about the march from Gettysburg through Monterey Pass summarized their experiences as “Mount Misery or Mount Quagmire.” Their words will always be remembered and told; the difficulties that they experienced will be admired for many years to come.

Photographs courtesy of the LOC
The first is the famed three Confederate prisoners captured at Gettysburg. It shows how the average Confederate soldier may have looked during the Pennsylvania Campaign.
The second shows a typical Union encampment during the early fall months.
I want to thank Lee Sherrill for the information on the 1st North Carolina Battalion of Sharpshooters.

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