The most forgotten mountain pass occupied by the Confederate forces during the Battle of South Mountain is Brownsville Pass. Brownsville Pass connected Burkittsville to Brownsville and was considered the most direct route to Harper’s Ferry. During the Maryland Campaign of September 1862, Major General Lafayette McLaws’ Confederate division marched over South Mountain heading toward Harper’s Ferry.
On September 11th, Major General McLaws left a brigade under the command of Brigadier General Paul Semmes at the western base of South Mountain at Brownsville. During the evening of September 13th, General Semmes sent a small brigade under Colonel William A. Parham to Crampton’s Gap believing that a Union force would attack at Brownsville Pass since it was a direct route to Harper’s Ferry. General Semmes ordered a section of Manly’s 1st North Carolina Artillery to the top of Brownsville where they would encamp that night with the balance of his force encamping near Brownsville.
During the morning of the 14th, an artillerist witnessed a massive blue column moving into the town of Burkittsville. This was relayed to General Semmes and by 11:00 a.m., he realized the danger coming toward his front. The massive blue column was Union soldiers that were part of the 6th Corps under the command of Major General William B. Franklin. General Semmes immediately sent the 53rd Georgia Infantry, three pieces of artillery from the Richmond Fayette Artillery, and one piece of artillery from Magruder’s Light Artillery to Brownsville Pass while the remainder of his command stayed behind in reserve near Brownsville.
At approximately 1:00 p.m., Franklin’s Corps moved onto Crampton’s Gap. Fearing that this was a diversion and the threat would come to Brownsville Pass, five Confederate cannon open fired on Franklin’s men. Two hours later, the main assault on Crampton’s Gap began. During a flanking movement, Brigadier General William T. H. Brooks’ Vermont Brigade moved south of Burkittsville. During this maneuver, the Confederate artillery posted on Brownsville Pass bombarded the Vermonters with great effect. The infantry could not be of any use for fear of being surrounded on the eastern side of South Mountain at Brownsville Pass, and with the direct artillery fire, the Federals concentrated on Crampton’s Gap.
At 4pm, Colonel Joseph Bartlett commanding Slocum’s Division began his assault on Crampton’s Gap. By the time General Semmes realized his error in judgment, it was too late for the Confederate defenders at Crampton’s Gap. General McLaws sent portions of his division to Crampton’s Gap, but it was also too late. By dusk, General Franklin’s Corps had gained the mountain gap.
Today you can walk the Appalachian Trail to Brownsville Pass. The walk is about 45 minutes and the terrain is a bit rocky, but not too difficult to walk. There are no signs at Brownsville Pass, but you will notice the old road bed that cuts through the mountain. This road bed is Brownsville Pass.