The Catoctin Mountain during the Pennsylvania Campaign

Emmitsburg News Journal, 2013

Following the Maryland Campaign and the engagements in September of 1862, the Catoctin Mountain was again visited by the Union army. On June 15th, 1863, the advance of the Confederate army crossed the Potomac River at Williamsport, Maryland. Three days later, General Joseph Hooker ordered the mountain gaps along the old SouthMountain battlefield to have a Union presence. Union General Robert C. Schenck received General Hooker’s request to spare a portion of his artillery, infantry, and cavalry, to seize and hold the SouthMountain passes, as well as holding MarylandHeights, and the passage via Sandy Hook.

On June 25 and 26th, the majority of the Union army began crossing the Potomac River at Edward’s Ferry in Maryland. The First, Third and Eleventh Corps would begin occupying the old South Mountain battlefield by June 26th and 27th. In addition, the Twelfth Corps would occupy Pleasant Valley, while the Second Corps occupied Knoxville on June 27th. The other Corps of the Army of the Potomac would be situated near Frederick.

On June 28th, after General Joseph Hooker’s resignation was complete, General George Meade was given command of the Army of the Potomac. Not liking the layout of the Union army, he issued orders for his army to concentrate at Frederick. Those Corps occupying South Mountain would march over the Catoctin Mountain to Frederick. Sergeant William Saxton of the 157thNew York described the scene as he crossed Braddock’s Gap. He recalled: “Today, I had another opportunity of seeing a large number of troops. Middletown lies between SouthMountain on the west and the Catoctin Mountains on the east. When we had arrived at the top of the Catoctin range we could look back for five or six miles and see into Middletown, and as far as we could see, forward and backward, the road was filled with marching soldiers of blue.”

After the Battle of Gettysburg, the Confederate army retreated through the SouthMountain range using Cashtown gap and MontereyPass in order gain access to the CumberlandValley and the Potomac River, near Williamsport.  General Meade would use several CatoctinMountain passes and gaps to protect Baltimore and Washington, while trying to head off the retreating Confederates. Hamburg Gap, High Knob, Shookstown, Braddock’s Gap, and JeffersonPass were all used by the Union army as they penetrated into the MiddletownValley. The recent downpours of rain made marching over the Catoctin Mountian miserable for the infantry. Wagons and artillery being pulled by horses and mules tore up the roads leading over the mountain for which the infantry was to follow.

The Eleventh Corps was the first to ascend the CatoctinMountain. At 3:30 a.m. on July 7th, the Eleventh Corps pressed ahead of the Union army. Their destination was the town of Middletown. Marching for several hours from Emmitsburg, the Eleventh Corps marched down Old Frederick Road to Creagerstown, and then to Utica, where they turned westward and marched to the Catoctin Mountain, crossing over at High Knob Pass. High Knob was a steep, rocky, narrow road which the artillery and wagons found difficult to move upon. The horses, as well as the men, were completely exhausted. The advance of General Carl Schurz’s Third Division reached Middletown at around 8:00 p.m. that evening.

Lieutenant Colonel Dobke was among Schurz’s Division and recalled: “The heaviest march of the campaign was executed, marching 32 miles from Emmitsburg, and arrived at 10 p. m. at Middletown, a distance of 34 miles, through the open fields, taking a narrow pass road over the mountains in a circuit. Toward night the rain descended in torrents, amid which men and beasts sank down, tired to death, most of the soldiers without any shoes, barefooted, or shoes so ragged or torn that they did not deserve the name.”

The roads were so badly tore up from the heavy rains, that the Second and First Divisions were forced to take Old Frederick Road almost to Frederick, and march westward, passing through ShookstownPass. As midnight passed, they traveled through Shookstown and to the National Road, where the First and Second Divisions continued their march to Middletown. The Eleventh Corps covered more ground than any other army corps in the Army of the Potomac. The rear of the Eleventh Corps arrived at Middletown before 11:00 a.m. on the 8th of July.

Before daylight on the morning of July 7th, the soldiers of the Sixth Corps rested in the rain at Emmitsburg after arriving from Fairfield. Colonel Thomas Neill’s Brigade remained at Fairfield, following the rear of the Confederate army. The lead elements of the Sixth Corps began marching early in the morning, while the rear of the Sixth Corps started off at 11:00 a.m. The divisions of Sedgwick’s corps marched all day, passing through Franklin Mills, Mechanicstown (modern day Thurmont), and following the road directly to Catoctin Furnace. Upon reaching Lewistown, the Sixth Corps took the fork in the road that led to the right, which would take them toward HamburgPass. As darkness approached road conditions began to deteriorate, as the wind and rain picked up in intensity. The climb up the CatoctinMountain on a narrow road, which was nothing more than a path, was a tough one. Upon reaching the top many of the men renamed the pass as “Sedgwick’s Pass” and others called it “MountMisery.”

Nelson Hutchinson noted that, “The darkness was intense…nothing could be seen. Mounted officers could not see the men in the ranks. You could not see who was beside you, if anyone was there. We had to make way for the artillery. They got stuck, while we ended up scattered in the woods.” General Wright noted, “In consequence of the severe storm and extreme darkness, which rendered farther progress impossible.” The artillery was eventually forced to turn around, unhitching the horses and unlimbering the cannon, and head back down the mountainside.

The next day, the Sixth Corps continued its line of march at 5:00 a.m. Many of the men still had to march over the CatoctinMountain, but the weather that morning would brighten up the men, as rays of sunshine broke through the clouds. This allowed the uniforms and blankets to dry. The soldiers even found a mountain creek and quickly began cleaning themselves, as well as their uniforms. General Joseph Bartlett’s brigade was the first of the Sixth Corps to arrive at Middletown around nine o’clock that morning, covering eight miles.

On July 7th, the First Corps marched into Emmitsburg, where they were met by the Sisters of Charity who shared the food that was contained in several of their wagons. Many of the men were dirty, not having bathed in several days. The cold rain during the evening would not change that feeling, and some of the officers even dismounted, washing their feet in the streams with a dirty handkerchief, as such was the case of Colonel Charles Wainwright. After spending a few hours bivouacked at Emmitsburg, the First Corps marched onward to HamburgPass.

Upon marching through Lewistown, many young girls sang out “Battle Cry for Freedom” where members of the 13th Massachusetts complemented them. At Lewistown, as the Union troops marched toward the CatoctinMountain, the heavy rains and muggy weather became hard on the men. Many Union troops were forced to march without shoes, leaving their feet bruised and blistered. The road conditions gradually improved and quartermaster wagons were able to get through. The roadway to Hamburg was congested, and the march was going at a slow pace. Henry Kieffer noted that the CatoctinMountain got “steeper and steeper, while the darkness was deeper and deeper.”

Colonel Wainwright was alerted about the road conditions leading to HamburgPass and he diverted his artillery reserve toward Frederick, taking Shookstown Road, and crossing the CatoctinMountain at ShookstownPass. His artillery horses were doubled up in order to pull the cannon up the steep mountain.

At six o’clock in the morning on July 8th, the Third Corps resumed their line of march toward Frederick. As the Third Corps neared Lewistown, the soldiers began marching toward HamburgPass, where they found the road badly tore up. The route was promptly changed, and they marched to FrederickCity. The 141st Pennsylvania brought up the rear of the Corps and noted that the country side was a vast “sea of mud.” The march was a hard one, as the soldiers carried their guns with the muzzles pointed toward the ground, their blanket rolls were soaking wet, and because of that, made heavier, and those who chose to carry their knapsacks found them bulky. The march halted at 10:00 p.m. that night with the Third Corps resting on the road to Middletown, just outside of Frederick.

After the drenching storm had passed, the first rays of sunlight shone brightly through the clouds during the morning of July 8th, when the Twelfth Corps marched through Frederick, toward Middletown via Braddock’s Gap.

On July 8th, the Fifth Corps began marching toward the CatoctinMountain. At 6:00 a.m. the Fifth Corps marched through Emmitsburg and took the Old Frederick Road, passing through Creagerstown. They encamped near Utica, five miles north of Frederick, at around 6:00 p.m., covering a total distance of about twenty-miles. The march and encampment was a miserable one. The rain kept falling in torrents and the men were soaked to the bone. With marching orders being light, the soldiers did not have many conveniences such as their shelter tents since those items were packed in the quartermaster wagons.

At daybreak on July 9th, the Fifth Corps broke camp and began its march to High Knob Pass. The road leading to High Knob is narrow and very steep. The Fifth Corps finally made it to Middletown at around 4:00 p.m. By nightfall, the Fifth Corps was encamped near SouthMountain. Also during the day, the Second Corps began moving toward Crampton’s Gap, after leaving Frederick. The weather was hot and the march was slow. The soldiers passed through a small horizon of the CatoctinMountain, passing through the small town of Jefferson and Burkettsville.

Although no battle occurred on the CatoctinMountain during the days following the Battle of Gettysburg, the experiences written by those men detail an experience that they would not soon forget.


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