The Battle for Turner’s Gap

On September 14, 1862, several battles erupted on South Mountain. The Union army, commanded by Major General George McClellan had caught up with the rear of the Confederate army, commanded by General Robert E. Lee. Much of the fighting during the morning of September 14, was concentrated around Fox’s Gap, one mile to the south of Turner’s Gap and the National Road. By the afternoon, reinforcements from both armies began making their way toward South Mountain. By evening, the battles of Brownsville Gap, Crampton’s Gap, Fox’s Gap, Turner’s Gap and Frostown Gap would erupt.

Alfred Colquitt in Uniform
Confederate Colonel Alfred Colquitt, shown here as a major general.

Guarding the eastern approach to Turner’s Gap, situated along the National Road, was a brigade of Confederate infantry commanded by. His brigade consisted of 13th Alabama Infantry, 6th Georgia Infantry, 23rd Georgia Infantry, 27th Georgia Infantry, and the 28th Georgia Infantry. They had been posted east of Turner’s Gap, since the evening prior the Battles of Catoctin Mountain came to an end. Supporting Col. Colquitt was Captain John Lane’s Battery of Lieutenant Colonel A. S. Cutt’s Battalion, who positioned his guns at Turner’s Gap overlooking the National Road.

While Col. Colquitt remained in his position, several miles east at Frederick, Maryland, the Union I Corps, under the command of Major General Joseph Hooker, left their camp along the banks of the Monocacy River at 6:00 a.m. By 1:00 p.m., Maj. Gen. Hooker’s corps had reached Middletown, Maryland. There, he was ordered to attack Turner’s Gap. Marching his men to the small town of Bolivar, Maj. Gen. Hooker moved his corps to the right, along Mt. Tabor Road, and came near the small area called Frostown. Here, Maj. Gen. Hooker would attack the Confederate left flank holding the mountain ridge north of Turner’s Gap.

John_Gibbon
Union Brigadier General John Gibbon

While Maj. Gen. Hooker’s corps was deploying, Brigadier General John Gibbon’s Fourth Brigade of Brigadier General John P. Hatch’s First Division was ordered back to the National Road and attack Turner’s Gap. Brigadier General Gibbon’s brigade consisted of the 19th Indiana Infantry, commanded by Colonel Solomon Meredith. Commanding the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry was Colonel Lucius Fairchild, and the 6th Wisconsin Infantry was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Edward S. Bragg. The 7th Wisconsin Infantry was commanded by Captain John B. Callis. Brigadier General Gibbon’s brigade would hold the extreme left flank of the I Corps. The last of fresh troops, part of Major General Jesse Reno’s IX Corps was located a mile to the south, ready to attack Fox’s Gap.

By 3:00 p.m., Gibbon’s Brigade were positioning themselves into a battle line just east of Bolivar. Supporting Gibbon’s Brigade was a section of artillery from Battery B, Fourth U.S. Artillery, commanded by Lieutenant James Stewart. Brigadier General Gibbon deployed his brigade on both sides to the National Road. In front, the 19th Indiana Infantry was on the left of the National Road, and were in battle line formation. Supporting them was the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry, who were deployed in columns. The 7th Wisconsin Infantry was located on the right side of the National Road and deployed in a battle line, while the 6th Wisconsin Infantry was in support, deployed in columns.

turnersmap
Map showing the positions of Gibbon’s Brigade and Colquitt’s Brigade.

Colonel Colquitt had his brigade deployed along the National Road, at the base of South Mountain leading into Turner’s Gap. His left flank was held by the 28th Georgia Infantry, commanded by Major Tully Graybill. To their right and left of the National Road was the 23rd Georgia Infantry, commanded by Colonel W. P. Barclay. Located on the right side of the National Road was Lieutenant Colonel J. M. Newton’s 6th Georgia Infantry. Positioned next to them was the 13th Alabama Infantry, commanded by Colonel Birkett D. Fry. Holding the right the flank was the 27th Georgia Infantry, commanded by Colonel Levi B. Smith. Four companies of skirmishers from  the 28th Georgia Infantry, commanded by Captain W. M. Arnold, were positioned just east of Fox’s Gap that joined the National Road.

By 5:00 p.m., as part of a coordinated assault on Frostown Gap and Fox’s Gap, Brig. Gen. Gibbon ordered his men forward. Captain W. W. Dudley’s company of the 19th Indiana Infantry moved to the left and deployed as flankers. They would hold the extreme left flank of Gibbon’s brigade. Company B, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry deployed skirmishers in front of the 19th Indiana Infantry, while Company K, 6th Wisconsin Infantry deployed in front of the 7th Wisconsin Infantry.  

Upon seeing Gibbon’s brigade moving forward, Col. Colquitt sent a dispatch to Major General Daniel H. Hill asking for reinforcements. Major General Hill responded, saying that he had none and that Col. Colquitt would need to defend Turner’s Gap with the forces he had on hand. This was due to Maj. Gen. Hooker’s assault on Frostown Gap to the north of Col. Colquitt’s position, and Major General Jesse Reno’s IX Corps attacking Fox’s Gap to his south.  Additional Confederate reinforcements were needed in those areas in order to keep the Union army from breaking through South Mountain.

Captain Lane’s artillery opened on Gibbon’s brigade as they began moving forward. As Gibbon’s brigade moved forward, Lt. Stewart’s two gun section followed behind until their rifled cannon were in range of the Confederate guns. The skirmishers of Captain Arnold concealed themselves within the wood line. They opened on the advancing skirmishers of the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry and 19th Indiana Infantry. Many of the Confederate skirmishers took up in the whitewashed house that was located at the intersection of the National Road and Fox’s Gap Road.

Lieutenant Stewart’s guns quickly silenced the Georgians, but they fell back and took up position just west of the intersection, using stone fences to reform their skirmish line. As the Georgian skirmishers quickly went back to work, they managed to hold back the 19th Indiana Infantry. Company G, of the 19th Indiana Infantry managed to quickly wheel left and begin gaining ground. Captain Clark, the company commander, managed to dislodge Arnold’s skirmishers, capturing 14 Confederates.

southmountain 180
The Iron Brigade Field, South Mountain State Battlefield. This is where the 6th and 7th WI Infantry moved as the right flank. A series of boulders in this field also provided protection to those Union men while many leaped frogged through the field.

While Brig. Gen. Gibbon’s left flank engaged, his right flank moved forward. They entered a cornfield that covered about half of a mile. The 7th Wisconsin Infantry followed behind the 6th Wisconsin Infantry skirmishers, who were in their front, 100 yards ahead. Once they moved out of the cornfield, they came to an open field. There, the 23rd Georgia Infantry and the 28th Georgia Infantry opened fire. These two Georgia regiments were well concealed behind a stone fence that was at the bottom of a ravine, which made a perfect breastwork.

The 7th Wisconsin Infantry quickly formed their battle line, with their left situated on the National Road, and their right stretched across the field, where their right flank rested near the woods. The Georgians kept up their fire.

While Col. Colquitt’s left flank was situated behind a natural breastwork, his right flank was still coming under fire. The 19th Indiana Infantry, along with the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry slowly began to dislodge the Confederates. At the same time, Brig. Gen. Gibbon’s right flank was starting to get bogged down. To complicate matters, Brig. Gen. Gibbon was losing daylight.

southmountain 183
The Iron Brigade Field, looking east toward Bolivar.

As the 19th Indiana Infantry and the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry continue to hit Col. Colquitt’s right flank, it began to give way. That part of Col. Colquitt’s brigade was in a more exposed position, and they were slowly being driven back. Finally, the 19th Indiana Infantry managed to break Col. Colquitt’s right flank. The 27th Georgia Infantry, followed by the 13th Alabama Infantry, and the 6th Georgia Infantry were forced to retreat further up South Mountain. As Col. Colquitt’s right flank was giving up ground, this allowed Brig. Gen. Gibbon’s left flank to support the two Wisconsin regiments that formed the right flank. The 23rd Georgia Infantry began receiving fire from it’s right. But, still using the stone fence as a breastwork, the Union fire wasn’t enough to break Colquitt’s left flank.

turnersmap1
Map showing the final assault by the Iron Brigade on Colquitt’s position just as nightfall was coming.

The 7th Wisconsin Infantry kept a heavy fire upon the 23rd Georgia Infantry. Receiving support from the their left flank, the 7th Wisconsin Infantry began another advance. They were quickly hit with musketry from the 28th Georgia Infantry. This drove the 7th Wisconsin Infantry back. They were getting fired upon by the Confederates from their front, flank, as well as their rear.

The 6th Wisconsin Infantry was brought into action, and they quickly formed up on the right flank of the 7th Wisconsin Infantry. As the 6th Wisconsin Infantry moved forward, they were hit by fire from the 28th Georgia Infantry. As daylight was fading, Col. Bragg ordered his 6th Wisconsin Infantry to advance by wings. The right wing of Col. Bragg’s regiment fired into the Confederates. While they reloaded, he then advanced his left wing, who quickly fired into the Confederates. He then advanced his right wing and continued this leapfrog movement. Col. Bragg gained a considerable amount of ground.

Now, with twilight upon the battlefield and darkness setting in, Brig. Gen. Gibbon ordered his brigade to cease fire. Gibbon’s brigade was withdrawn from the battlefield with the exception of the 6th Wisconsin Infantry, who would sleep under arms that night. Brigadier General Gibbon’s losses were 37 killed, 251 wounded, and 30 missing. Colonel Colquitt’s losses were 110 killed, wounded, or missing. Colonel Colquitt attended to his wounded and managed to evacuate many of them.

Although Gibbon’s brigade was unable to break through the Confederate battle line, they earned the nickname “The Iron Brigade.” At one point during the attack, Maj. Gen. McClellan, observing the battlefield, saw Gibbon’s brigade and complimented on how they stood their ground, saying that Gibbon’s men stood like iron. The Iron Brigade was also known as the “Black hats” as they proudly wore their dress Hardee hats, with their dress frock coats and white gaiters.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s