Hood Stems The Tide: The Evening Phase of the Battle of Fox’s Gap

During the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of South Mountain, September 14, 2012, I led several tours of Fox’s Gap. I broke Fox’s Gap down into three phases, morning, afternoon and finally I ended the 150th with the evening phase. The tours I led had more than 100 participants and was one of the highlights of my career in Parks. Going through my notes from the state of Maryland, I came across the notes of my final tour that I gave as a Historian at South Mountain and I wanted to share these notes with my followers and friends. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed researching this topic.

The Texas Brigade was organized on October 22, 1861, in Richmond, Virginia. It was initially commanded by Brig. Gen. Louis T. Wigfall. After February of 1862, Wigfall resigned command of the brigade and in early March Colonel John Hood was promoted to brigadier general and placed in command. Because of his daring leadership the brigade adopted the name of Hood’s Texas Brigade, despite his brief service of only six months as commander.

The Texas Brigade pulled out of Richmond on August 7, 1862. Reflecting on what would become the Campaigns at Manassas and Maryland, John Stevens of the 5th Texas Infantry reflects on the hardships of company. “August the 7th – we left Richmond on this campaign. In all these days we have never changed our clothes, for the reason that we have had no chance to do so-no chance to draw new clothing and clothing as all old soldiers will tell you, we could not carry any extra with us. One blanket, gun and accoutrements, haversack and canteen was all that any soldier could afford to carry. Now for nearly two months we have worn the same shirt, pants and jacket-sleeping on the ground, anywhere we could find a place, and the opportunity to lie down. Dust, mud, hot weather, rain and sunshine, we take it as it comes. Also the wading of creeks and rivers—the water often waist deep—no chance to clense ourselves from the unavoidable accumulation of filth.”

J.B. Polley also confirms the same feelings – “It [Hood’s Division] marched light, each man having by this time learned what weight he could comfortably carry, and therefore, dispensing with all superfluities. Still, we could not reduce the weight to be carried less than about thirty-six pounds. A gun weighed about ten pounds, the cartridge box, cap-box, bayonet and the belts and straps to which these hung, another ten, and the roll of the blanket and tent, or oil-cloth, still another ten. Add to these the weight of the haversack, in which not only provisions but under-clothing and many other necessities were carried, and the total, on a fair estimate, was never less than thirty-six pounds, and often went a little beyond forty. A canteen full of water weighed at least three pounds… “

By late August, the Texans fought at Manassas, Virginia, were they faced off again against the 5th New York. Alfred Davenport’s “Camp and Field Life of the Fifth New York Volunteer Infantry” wrote about that battle. “And the men were receiving deadly volleys from an unseen enemy on their left and rear, at close quarters, as well as on their front, into their faces, by Hood’s brave but ragged barefooted, half-starved Texans…”

As General Robert E. Lee moves northward toward the Potomac River, the Second Manassas Campaign has already taken a toll of the Texans. John Stevens of the 5th Texas wrote, “Now, remember this is about the 6th or 7th of September, and we have been out of Richmond a full month and we have on the same clothes: pants, jacket and shirt, nothing more…We also have some kind of head cover, either an old piece of a hat or an old cap and if we have not worn them out, we have some sort of footwear, in the shape of old army shoes, butt many of us are bare- footed.”

As the Confederate army beings to concentrate in Frederick, a Frederick resident recalled his experiences with the Confederate army. “They are on the broad grin all the time. Oh! they are so dirty! I don’t think the Potomac river could wash them clean; and ragged! — there is not a scarecrow in the cornfields that would not scorn to exchange clothes with them; and so tattered! — there isn’t a decently dressed soldier in their whole army. I saw some strikingly handsome faces though; or, rather, they would have been so if they could have had a good scrubbing. They were very polite, I must confess, and always asked for a drink of water, or anything else, and never think of coming inside of a door without an invitation.”

General John B. Hood would find himself marching at the rear of his division, under arrest for insubordination as a result of a dispute over the rightful ownership of captured Union ambulances following the Second Battle of Manassas/Bull Run with Brigadier General Nathan Evans. Hood was ordered to Culpepper for court martial but, General Lee rescinded that order and Hood remained with the army as it marched into Maryland. As a result of his arrest, according to Hood in his post-war memoirs, his division, upon its arrival in Hagerstown would demonstrate a certain degree of insubordination and Hood advised his subordinates that the issue of his arrest would be decided in a short time.

On September 9, General Lee issued his famous Special Orders No. 191 that divided his army into several sections. The Texas Brigade would be ordered to march to Hagerstown with General James Longstreet’s Wing of the army. J.B. Polley recalled marching toward Hagerstown: “The three days’ rations issued to the division on the 13th [September] included no meat, and were therefore the sooner exhausted. No clothing or shoes had been furnished it since it left Richmond, and in a month and a half of hard marching and harder fighting hundreds of the men had become ragged and barefooted, while lack of provisions forced them to subsist on green corn and green apples.”

The Battles of the Catoctin Mountain on September 13 was a sign of things to come the following day. By dawn of September 14, the first shots of the Battle of South Mountain were fired at Fox’s Gap. Throughout the day, the Union army that managed to catch up with Lee’s Confederate army tried desperately to penetrate South Mountain and punch through the mountain gaps in order to destroy each divided element of the Confederate army. By the afternoon, the Union army had come close to breaking through Fox’s Gap. Finally, Hood’s Division was ordered to move to Fox’s Gap and hold the Union army back until after nightfall.

Hood’s Division would begin ascending the mountain at about 3:30 pm and Hood, still at the rear of his division, faintly heard the cry’s from his Texas brigade demanding of General Lee, “Give us Hood!” Lee requested that Hood show regret for his dispute with General Evans and Hood politely declined both attempts by Lee for the admittance of guilt. Seeing that he would get nowhere with Hood, Lee promptly released Hood from his arrest to re-take command of his division and the matter of the ambulance dispute would be settled at a later date. Hood quickly mounted his horse and rode to the summit, amid the cheers of his division, and reported to General Longstreet, who was then placing his command into defensive positions on either side of the National Pike. Hood was ordered to deploy his division on the left of the pike with his right resting near the pike.

From this position, Hood witnessed “the advance of McClellan’s long lines” that had the evident appearance of forcing the Confederates from the mountain. Remaining in this position for a short time, Hood was ordered by Longstreet to shift his division to the South of the pike to shore up the Confederate line there. The 35th Mass Infantry had just pulled out from the woods when Hood was advancing.

Before arriving in force, four members from the Hampton Legion Infantry were ordered ahead to scout. Stephen Welch recalls: “A call was made for three volunteer skirmishers. Under one of the Lieutenants, we pushed ahead and on reaching the crest or the mountain we saw a line of blue coats not 30 yards from us. Fortunately they did not see us, so taking deliberate aim we fired and withdrew. It had some effect of astonishing them and as soon as possible they fired us in return, doing no damage, however. Not being ranked in line of battle we four lay down and the yanks fired over us.”

Hood ordered his division to deploy with Colonel Evander Law’s brigade on the left and Colonel William Wofford’s brigade on the right (facing in a Southeasterly direction from the tree line near Wise’s Northfield). Then the order to fix bayonets was given and when the Union troops were within 75 to 100 yards, the order to charge was given. Sometime around 7pm, shots range out from the woods and mass confusion began setting on the soldiers in blue. As the 35th Mass was pulling back, skirmishers of the 51st Pennsylvania had advance and this caught the attention of Hood. When Hood’s men fired, the shots went over the heads of the Pennsylvanians, but struck down many Massachusetts men including their colonel.

The 35th Mass fired and soon “Cease fire” is given as they struck the skirmishers of the 51st PA. Hood would stand off with BGen Edward Ferrero’s Brigade of the IX Corps recalled “[We] was unexpectedly fired upon from the woods by a large force of the enemy. The sudden fire produced the utmost confusion in one of my new regiments. It quickly recovered, however, reforming under a severe fire. My command then advanced, and after a long and hard fight, lasting until 9 p. m., drove the enemy from their position and occupied the field. We retained possession of the battle-field during the night, having our whole force on guard, momentarily expecting a renewal of the attack.”

Major General Jesse Reno moved forward in the South Field to observe the Confederate activity. Captain Gabriel Campbell of the 17th Michigan Infantry observed the following: “The twilight was growing dusky….about 50 yards where I met General Wilcox, I encountered General Reno and four of five members of his staff riding quietly to the front. Reno, who was about half the length of his steed in advance was leaning forward peering steadily through his field glass to reconnoiter for himself. I stood and watch. Just as I reached the end of the fence there was a sudden fosilade, about five or six shots….at once commotion among the Reno horsemen, dismounting and catching of someone.” Thomas Parker of the 51st Pennsylvania recalled, “Thus passes away the army’s brightest stars, as a gentleman, a friend and a soldier.”

By midnight, the Confederate army had fallen back toward Boonsboro. J.B. Polley of the 4th Texas: “…on the morning of the 15th, and Hood’s division, assisted by artillery and cavalry, forming the rear guard, and holding the Federals in check until the other troops of Longstreet’s command marched quietly to their destination west of Antietam Creek. This was no easy task.”

Six days after the Battle of Antietam, General Ambrose Burnside issued General Orders No. 17 officially announcing the death of Jesse Reno. “BY the death of this distinguished officer, the country loses one of its most devoted patriots, the army one of its most thorough soldiers. In the long list of battles in which General Reno has fought in his country’s service, his name always appears with the brightest luster, and he has now bravely met a soldier’s death while gallantly leading his men at the Battle of South Mountain.”


Rediscovering Colonial America: The Fort Necessity Campaign – 1754

This year marks the 260th Anniversary of Braddock’s Defeat on July 9, 1755, during the Battle of Monongahela located in western Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. Most of those who live in Frederick and Frederick County, have likely heard the name Braddock, as Braddock Heights was named after him. There are signs located along the National Road, one at Frederick, near the Route 40 mall, that describes his movements toward modern-day Pittsburgh to take out a French fort there called Fort Duquesne. However, before we get to that part of the story, we need to discuss some of the events that took place prior to Braddock’s defeat as he was ordered to take the Forks of the Ohio.

First, why were the Forks of the Ohio so important? The Ohio Country was an area of land investments called the Ohio Company in the wilderness of western Pennsylvania, which encompassed all of Ohio, parts of western Virginia, and western Maryland. In 1747, Lancaster Treaty was signed by the colony of Virginia and the Iroquois Indians. This would allow Virginia to trade and prospect legally in the Ohio Country. The Ohio Company was created in 1748 by Thomas Lee and Lawrence and Augustine Washington. It wasn’t long afterward, that the French showed an interest in the Ohio County. Virginia Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie was concerned about the French taking control of the area called the Forks of the Ohio, where modern Pittsburgh, PA is located. The forks were in reference to the Allegheny River and the Monongahela River coming together and forming the Ohio River.

The Ohio Valley was the central key in the Ohio Company. Control of the Ohio Valley and the rivers was of big interest to several colonies, as well as the French. Whoever controls the valley would control the flow of goods in North America. Prior to 1753, Governor Dinwiddie had asked the British government numerous times for support by giving governors in the colonies the powers to stop the French incursions into the Ohio Valley by means of militia. This would protect the investments of the Ohio Company.

In October of 1753, a young 21 year old George Washington, a major in the Virginia militia was ordered by Dinwiddie to head west to the Ohio Country. He was to deliver an ultimatum to the French who were building a series fortifications along the Allegheny River. The French were being warned that they were encroaching on lands that were claimed by several of the colonies, including the colony of Virginia. By December, Washington was at French Fort Le Boeuf, meeting with the French official. Washington also saw signs of the French massing troops for a possible movement to the Forks of the Ohio in the Spring.

The French paid no attention to the ultimatum and Washington returned to Williamsburg, Virginia, arriving there in January of 1754.  While Washington’s negotiation with the French failed, Governor Dinwiddie ordered a small detachment of Virginia militia under Captain William Trent to the Forks of the Ohio to build Fort Prince George. The fort was to protect the lands and employees of the Ohio Company. As Dinwiddie prepared his next movement, he viewed the French response as an act of aggression that was suitable for military action.

Dinwiddie also began mobilizing troops for a push into the wilderness to protect the lands of the Ohio Company. Any colonials that signed up would have a small investment with Ohio Company. On March 2, Governor Dinwiddie ordered Washington to begin recruiting for the Virginia regiment in an attempt to move to the Forks of the Ohio. By March 20, Major Washington received his Lieutenant Colonel commission and was ordered to take the men he recruited, and move out as soon as possible.  Washington was tasked with helping to resupply the English fort on the forks.

On April 2, Washington began moving out of Alexandria, Virginia with about 120 colonial soldiers. Colonel Joshua Fry remained behind with the majority of the Virginia Regiment. Moving westward, Washington entered Winchester, Virginia on April 10. There, he spent several days, lessening the load of his wagon train. He knew that once he got past Wills Creek (Cumberland, MD), the wagon would cause problems, as roads were not established beyond that point.

Eight days later, after arriving at Winchester, Washington began moving westward toward the mountains. He arrived at Wills Creek on April 20, 160 miles from the Forks of the Ohio. While in route to Wills Creek, Washington learned of the surrender of the fort that he was to be resupplying. Stunned, Washington didn’t want to believe it. But the couriers were correct as the unfinished fort at the Forks of the Ohio surrendered on April 17, without firing a single shot at the French. The colonials stationed there fled to safety but the French then quickly began building Fort Duquesne in its place.

On April 23, Washington held a council of war. He was told by traders and friendly Indians that a large French force was occupying the forks. Washington decided to move forward to the forks. By April 25, Washington moved out of Wills Creek and began cutting in roads for the wagons and artillery to use by Colonel Fry.

By May 7, Washington made twenty miles. If Washington came under attack, there were no reinforcements that could come to aid in time. Colonial troops from North Carolina and British Regulars from New York and South Carolina were on the move. The Regulars from South Carolina, under the command of Captain James Mackay, would eventually converge at Wills Creek in late May early June.

On May 12, Washington learned that Colonel Fry, with the other half of the Virginia Regiment, was at Winchester. Washington also learned that the troops from North Carolina, under Colonel James Innes, were not far behind Colonel Fry. Plus, Maryland might raise 200 men for the expedition. By May 24, Washington was at Great Meadows, a natural opening in the wilderness. Five days later, a small stockade fort would be built on its location.  This fort would be known as Fort Necessity, a fitting name for the fort that was to store supplies. The actual fort was finished on June 3.

Late in the day on May 27, Washington learned of a small French and Canadian force led by Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville, who were encamped near his position. The French officer had orders to deliver a similar warning that Washington, a few months prior, had given the French. At dark, Washington, along with forty colonials, left Great Meadows to find the French.

Jumonville Glen
Jumonville Glen

At dawn on May 28, Washington met with Half-King, an Indian ally, and began planning an attack. The French camp was soon surrounded and then a shot was fired, sparking the first battle of what became known as the French and Indian War. Fifteen minutes later, when the smoke cleared, 13 Frenchmen were dead and 21 were captured. Washington’s casualties were one man killed and two or three wounded. Among the dead Frenchmen was Jumonville, who the French say was a diplomat. During the fight, the Frenchmen escaped and reported the action to their superiors at Fort Duquesne. Washington quickly fell back to Fort Necessity.

On May 31, Washington learned that Colonel Fry had died at Wills Creek, and that he was to assume command of the Virginia regiment. By June 6, Washington had expected a French attack, but so far none came. Three days later, the remainder of the Virginia regiment had made it to Fort Necessity. Washington also became aware that Captain Mackay, with the South Carolina Regulars, was at Wills Creek. By June 12, Captain Mackay arrived with his troops, and since he was a regular British soldier, he felt that he should assume command.  However, Washington, as Lieutenant Colonel and acting commander of the Colonial forces, felt that the command was his. Captain Mackay ended up encamping away from the colonials.

While, Washington and his regiment worked on opening a road west of the Great Meadows, the South Carolina troops remained behind. Hearing of a large French force moving eastward, Washington falls back once more to Fort Necessity, where he arrives July 1.The next day, Washington improved the fort by adding small earthworks around the fort.

Fort Necessity
Fort Necessity

By July 3, some 600 French and 100 Indians made their presence known and began surrounding the fort. Washington fell back to the earthworks for cover, as the French were at the woods edge. As the battle began unfolding it also began to rain, turning the ground into a wetland. Firing was kept up till 8:00 p.m. when French commander Captain Louis Coulon de Villiers requested a truce. The truce was to discuss terms of Washington’s surrender. Near midnight, the terms were signed by both Washington and Captain Mackay. Due to a translation error, Washington was now viewed as an assassin for the killing of Jumonville.

By morning of July 4, the colonials and British troops marched out of Fort Necessity marched back to Wills Creek. Washington returned to Virginia in mid July and gave his report to Dinwiddie. Washington was not blamed for the Fort Necessity surrender. Washington eventually resigned from the Virginia regiment when it was reorganized, and he would receive a demotion in rank.

Now that war was coming, Britain and France began sending more troops to North America. British Major General Edward Braddock would be ordered to America with two regiments of troops for a campaign to take the Forks of the Ohio in 1755. The French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Years War, would become the first official World War.

Alberts, Robert. A Charming Field for an Encounter. National Park Service, Washington D.C. 1975.
Axelrod, Alan. Blooding at Great Meadows, Running Press, Philadelphia, PA. 2007. Trudel, Marcel. The Jumonville Affair, Eastern National, 2002 edition.
Washington, George. memory.loc.gov/ammem/gwhtml/gwseries1.html
Additional Resources:
Mount Vernon:www.mountvernon.org
Fort Necessity National Battlefield: http://www.nps.gov/fone/index.htm