Picketing the Catoctin Mountain and the Fight North of Frederick – The Fight at Quebec Schoolhouse – The Braddock’s Gap Fight – The Fight at Jefferson Pass
On September 13th, as the advance of Union army was marching upon the eastern base of the Catoctin Mountain many cavalry skirmishes erupted as they collided with the rear guard of the Confederate army. These skirmishes are some of the first major actions to take place in Maryland, as detachments of the Confederate cavalry, supported by artillery, guarded the approach to the Middletown Valley via the Catoctin Mountain. The Union cavalry was under orders to probe and locate the rear of the Confederate army.
On September 12th, 1862 Colonel Thomas Munford and his 2nd Virginia Cavalry, along with the 12th Virginia Cavalry were ordered to guard the Catoctin Mountain pass of Jefferson. Supporting them was Chew’s Battery. The 2nd Virginia Cavalry and the 12th Virginia Cavalry were part of General Beverly Robertson’s Cavalry Brigade. The other units that made up Robertson’s brigade were separated and acting independently. The 6th Virginia Cavalry was left at Centerville, the 17th Virginia Cavalry Battalion was on detached duty in western Virginia moving toward Berkley, and the 7th Virginia Cavalry was ordered to Harper’s Ferry.
During the early morning hours of September 13th, General Alfred Pleasanton ordered the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Rush’s Lancers, under the command of Colonel Richard H. Rush, and a section of artillery to move from the Monocacy River to report to General William Franklin, whose 6th Corps was marching toward Jefferson. The 9th New York Infantry under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Edgar A. Kimball was ordered by General Isaac Rodman to support Rush’s Lancers. Soon afterward, the remnants of the brigade that the 9th New York was part of, was ordered out.
General John Park, the Chief of Staff for General Ambrose Burnside, ordered the remainder of Colonel Harrison S. Fairchild’s 1st Brigade of General Isaac Rodman’s 3rd Division, General Jesse Reno’s 9th Corps to reinforce the 9th New York Infantry. The other infantry regiments that made up Fairchild’s Brigade were the 89th New York Infantry commanded by Major Edward Jardine, and the 103rd New York Infantry commanded by Major Benjamin Ringold. Fairchild’s Brigade also consisted of a battery of naval howitzers under the command of Captain James Whiting, which was Company K, 9th New York Infantry.
On September 13th, the Lancers moved out along the Jefferson Road. When they were approximately five miles west of Frederick, and a mile east of Jefferson they came upon a few Confederate soldiers. Early in afternoon, Rush’s Lancers were waiting for their infantry support to come up. Colonel Munford’s picketing force saw Union infantry marching upon three roads. Munford noted “The enemy advanced on Jefferson by the Point of Rocks road, on the main road from Poolesville, and by a road over a gap which intersects the road leading to Middletown about 1 1/2 miles from Jefferson.”
Upon arriving at the eastern base of the Catoctin Mountain, it was reported that a small Confederate force was positioned to the front with artillery near the ridge, blocking Jefferson Pass. Colonel Munford, seeing the Union force, began falling back toward Jefferson. Chew’s Battery was also reported as calmly limbering their guns and moving out toward Middletown. Colonel Fairchild confirmed that Munford’s force had left their position, noting “Company B, of the Ninth New York Volunteers, was thrown forward to reconnoiter on the left, and reported the enemy as having left the position they had occupied the previous night with three guns and a small cavalry force, and the road clear.”
Upon withdrawing, Colonel Munford ordered the 2nd Virginia Cavalry to hold back the Union troopers, while he and the 12th Virginia Cavalry dashed for Burkittsville in order to protect and keep the roads open. There, along the Catoctin Mountain, the mounted and dismounted cavalrymen were used as sharpshooters while hiding in a ravine covered with brush.
The 9th New York Infantry followed behind Rush’s Lancers, and within a few minutes, they deployed skirmishers. Company B took to the left of the road while three companies (C, H, and I) went to the right into the thickly vegetated woods. Within minutes, the Confederate skirmishers of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry under the command of Captain Holland fired. Private Charles Johnson of the 9th New York Infantry reported that he had heard at least a half a dozen shots. While the other companies of the 9th New York were held back in the reserve, Private David Thompson noted “Far up on the mountainside ahead of us we could see, in the fields confronting the edge of the woods that crowned the ridge, the scattered line of Rush’s Lancers, their bright red pennons flattering gaily from their spear heads.”
Within seconds, the mounted Confederate troopers charged into Rush’s Lancers, forcing them back. While this was going on, the 9th New York located in the woods, became entangled and finally reached the summit of Jefferson Pass. Seeing the Confederate mounted force ahead, and not realizing that a handful of dismounted Confederates were near, the Union soldiers began to scramble for a few minutes, resulting in a handful of Confederate soldiers being taken as prisoners.
By then the rest of the 9th New York Infantry was ordered into the woods. During the same time, Colonel Rush asked Colonel Fairchild for additional support. Colonel Fairchild detached two companies of the 103rd New York to support the skirmishers of the 9th New York that was engaged in the woods. The three New York companies were again pushing forward, and began descending the Catoctin Mountain into a cornfield just east of Jefferson.
As Rush’s men began their reorganized advance, the 103rd New York went to support Captain Haseltine’s company of lancers, who were skirmishing with Confederates near the road leading to Middletown. In the book “Annals of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry,” by Samuel Levis Gracey, he remembered that they “Came across a body of dismounted rebel cavalry in the wood. Although largely outnumbering his small force, he drove them into confusion, and made some prisoners. The enemy were armed with carbines, though our men only had the lance and their pistols, by one determined charge they succeeded in dislodging the enemy.” Not able to hold, the 2nd Virginia Cavalry began to fall back.
Union troops of the 9th New York Infantry filled the streets of Jefferson. The naval guns of Company K were brought up and posted, but never saw action during the Jefferson Pass fight. In a line of battle, Colonel Fairchild was situated west of Jefferson with the 89th New York Infantry, and remained there until after sunset when orders came from General Jesse Reno for the brigade to return to Frederick. The next morning at 3:00 am, the brigade would be put into motion and arrive at Middletown by midmorning.
Toward the evening hours Munford took position along the Mountain Church Road and waited for the Union follow up to come, which never occured. General Paul Semmes, who had a brigade posted at Brownsville brought them forward to Brownsville Pass, which overlooked Burkittsville. During the same time, General Semmes ordered Colonel William Parham’s small brigade to Crampton’s Gap. Union General William Franklin arrived at Jefferson that same evening with the advance of the 6th Corps.
By the end of September 13th, all focus was shifting ever so quickly to South Mountain. There along that mountain ridge, the first major Civil War battle would be fought in Maryland. Although the Battle of South Mountain hosted a larger number of soldiers and casualties, the actions of September 13th, 1862 deserve recognition and are just as important. The Union cavalry with horse artillery, supported by infantry had done its job. South Mountain was a consequence of those actions just as Antietam was a consequence of the Battle of South Mountain.