The Fight that Never Came; Weverton Pass during the Maryland Campaign

Weverton is an area that is seldom known for Civil War history. The South Mountain Pass of Weverton is a forgotten mountain pass or water gap depending on how you classify it, played an important role during the Siege of Harper’s Ferry. Today, Weverton is accessible via the Appalachian Trail and Weverton Heights has a wonderful view of the water gap as the Potomac River flows away from Harper’s Ferry. There are no interpretive signs at Weverton, but there is one itinerary marker at Crampton’s Gap that describes the Confederate movements in the southern portion of Pleasant Valley, with a small mention of Weverton.

In the 1820’s, Weverton was founded by Casper Wever, who was the Chief Construction Engineer for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. He was also a specialist of masonry arch bridges, a topic that I covered in a previous blog posting. With the Potomac River that could power a mill and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal running along side of the Potomac River, Weverton had huge possibilities for profit. However, the community of Weverton was never incorporated due to collapsing land sales and being so close to the Potomac River, it was subject to flooding.

On July 15th, 1861, the Herald of Freedom & Torch Light ran a piece by Alfred Spencer about the citizens of Weverton celebrating the raising of the “Stars and Stripes” during a Union Pole Raising ceremony. Members of the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment and the brass band of the 9th New York Infantry stationed at Sandy Hook came to Weverton and held a celebration to the Union. The small community and the Union soldiers celebrated the day with patriotic music and festivities. This would suggest that the community of Weverton was loyal to the Union. During the celebration, three cheers to the Union and the Constitution were given during the Start Spangle Banner.

During the American Civil War, Weverton was vital in the protection of Harper’s Ferry. The main road that led through Weverton would take you through Pleasant Valley or into Frederick, Maryland, and then on to Washington or Baltimore. After the Battle of Gettysburg, Weverton saw movements of the Army of the Potomac after July 15th as they prepared to cross into Virginia. During the summer and fall of 1864, Weverton was close to Camp Remount that was situated one mile south of Brownsville. However it was in September of 1862 during the Maryland Campaign, that Weverton saw the most action when it witnessed a portion of General Richard Anderson’s Division encamping in the area guarding the main route into Harper’s Ferry and preventing any escape from occurring with the besiege of the garrison.

On September 4th, 1862 the first wave of the Confederate Army had forded the Potomac River crossing into Maryland. Lee would continue to ford the Potomac River for the next three days. On September 7th, 1862, acting on a rumor that a large Confederate force was making its way toward Harper’s Ferry via Weverton, Colonel Dixon Miles and his staff was ordered to go to Sandy Hook and Weverton for reconnaissance. Colonel Miles was also ordered to dispatch the 8th New York Cavalry, with a small detachment of Cole’s Cavalry, to patrol the area. Upon returning they reported that they had a brush with the Confederate Army.

On September 10th, General McLaws, carrying out his orders as prescribed in Special Orders Number 191, was to take possession of Maryland Heights. As long as the garrison at Harper’s Ferry remained active, Lee’s invasion may be threatened and his supply line into the Shenandoah Valley might be cut off. General McLaws’ Division, along with General Richard Anderson’s Division proceeded toward Burkittsville. General Anderson’s Division would not act as one unit, but rather the brigades of his division would act more independently.

As September 11th, dawned the men found the day cloudy, and foggy with a light drizzle that fell upon them. After meeting with some friendly residents of Burkittsville, McLaws decided to march over South Mountain at Brownsville Pass and traveled to Pleasant Valley. Brownsville Pass is about one mile to the south of Crampton’s Gap. Pleasant Valley is about two or three miles wide between South Mountain and Elk Ridge, an extension of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Potomac River runs through the southern tip of Pleasant Valley and the Cumberland Valley lies to the north.

On September 12th, General Joseph Kershaw and his South Carolina Brigade along with General William Barksdale and his Mississippians were to march to Soloman’s Gap on Elk Ridge, and from there take the road that led directly to Maryland Heights. Colonel William Parham, commanding General Mahone’s Brigade, was ordered to guard the rear of Kershaw’s Brigade. General Howell Cobb’s Brigade was ordered march across Pleasant Valley and keep in communication with General Kershaw, and if needed, give assistance to General Lewis Armistead’s Brigade and Featherston’s Brigade under the command of Colonel Carnot Posey. General Ambrose Wright’s Brigade and two pieces of artillery were ordered to take possession of a portion of Elk Ridge that overlooked Weverton, while General Roger Pryor’s Brigade took possession of Weverton. Colonel Alfred Cumming of Wilcox’s Brigade was to march down South Mountain and take possession of the cliffs overlooking Weverton. General Paul Semmes’ Brigade, as well as other units and artillery, were positioned at Brownsville. General Semmes’ was ordered to guard the rear of McLaws in case of any Federal threat coming to the relief of troops at Harper’s Ferry. Brownsville Pass was the direct route to Maryland Heights. General Semmes’ also ordered the 10th Georgia Infantry to set up pickets, guarding Crampton’s Gap, the Rohrersville Road and other hooks leading from Harper’s Ferry. By the end of the day, Generals Armistead and Cobb were ordered to move up the valley and form a line of battle across the valley guarding Sandy Hook. A few skirmishes and engagements were fought on Elk Ridge, but the Union troops moved back toward Harper’s Ferry.

By September 13th, General Cobb’s Brigade was ordered to take possession of Sandy Hook. General Kershaw had taken possession of Elk Ridge. General McLaws had not heard anything from Generals Jackson or Walker and could only wait. McLaws heard rumors of a Union force, but that proved only to be fictitious.

On September 14th, the situation was dire for those at Harper’s Ferry. During the night of the 13th, General John Walker’s Division took Loudoun Heights, and soon School House Ridge would be occupied by General Thomas Jackson. There was thought to be a road on Maryland Heights, but that road was nowhere to be found by the Confederates so the soldiers of Kershaw’s Brigade had to cut in a road for the artillery. By 2:00 p.m., four guns opened up and the siege of Harper’s Ferry had begun.

To their east, on South Mountain, the rumbles of a battle were heard. Since General Paul Semmes felt that Brownsville Pass would be where the Union troops would come to the aide of Harper’s Ferry, he had concentrated most of his artillery, along with his infantry at Brownsville. General Semmes was able to send out his own 10th Georgia Infantry from Soloman’s Gap to assist Colonel Munford and his cavalry. Colonel William Parham, commanding Mahone’s Brigade, was also ordered to Crampton’s Gap. Semmes was taking a big chance, still believing that Brownsville was the targeted area for Franklin’s Corps, his gamble would not pay off.

By evening, the Union 6th Corps under General William Franklin pressed Crampton’s Gap with orders to occupy Rohrersville, splitting McLaws from the rest of the Confederate army, and, if practical, try to relieve the garrison at Harper’s Ferry. Franklin’s Corps smashed through Crampton’s Gap, but upon seeing a portion of McLaws’ and Anderson’s divisions deployed, decided not to press on, fearing the surrender of Harper’s Ferry was imminent. Also assisting McLaws troops was soldiers from Hampton’s Legion. General Wade Hampton was ordered by General JEB Stuart to cover McLaws’ front at Weverton. While the fight at Crampton’s Gap was dying down, Generals Wright and Pryor were kept in position, guarding Weverton Pass.

The next day, McLaws was still in possession Maryland Heights and the southern portion of Pleasant Valley. Weverton was under Confederate occupation until two in the morning. McLaws, seeing that the C&O Canal was full of water, ordered General Pryor at Weverton to cut the canal just above a culvert. Just above Lock 31 at Israel’s Creek, General Pryor cut the canal, draining all the water out. Pryor also broke the canal lock, temporarily disabling the canal.

As the day went on, Lee, fearing that McLaws might be cut off from the main army, ordered McLaws to abandon Weverton and cross the Potomac River into Virginia. But McLaws was doubtful that the river crossing was a good idea since Franklin’s Corps lay to the north and he was fearful that other Union troops lay to the east of South Mountain. McLaws prepared to do battle and drew up a defensive line.

At Brownsville, the turnpike forked. The right fork went to Soloman’s Gap and the left fork went to Weverton. At Garrett’s Mill the road again divides one mile north of Weverton. The right fork took you directly to Sandy Hook and the left fork continued to Weverton. With Anderson on the right at Weverton, and the balance of McLaws division on the left, they were ready to meet the Union threat. Without direct orders, Union General William Smith and his division moved forward toward the Confederate line in Pleasant Valley. A portion of General Winfield Hancock’s Brigade of Smith’s Division came down the Brownsville Pass skirmishing with remnants of Munford’s Cavalry.

There at Brownsville, Smith’s Division with General Winfield Hancock and General William Iverson’s Brigades came down Brownsville Road. Smith’s Division at Garrett’s Mill took the right fork, and marched upon the road that led directly to Sandy Hook. Realizing that he had advanced so far from Franklin’s main line, General Smith halted his division and marched back, giving up any ground he had gained. With the surrender of Harper’s Ferry, the threat to defend the lower passes on South Mountain via Brownsville or Weverton and those situated on Elk Ridge were eliminated.

During the morning of the 16th, as fog hovered the area, McLaws moved his wagons and troops into Harper’s Ferry. The fog masked the sounds of moving vehicles. Franklin’s Corps sat idle until the next morning, when they were ordered toward Sharpsburg. Retracing Smith’s movements down the valley, General Darius Couch’s Division moved forward to Sandy Hook. Once at Garrett’s Mill, General Albion P. Howe was ordered to Weverton while the brigades of General John Cochrane and General Charles Jr. Devens continued to Sandy Hook. After arriving, General Couch was ordered to Antietam. The soldiers moved back to Rohrersville, arriving at Antietam on the 18th of September.


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