The Confederate Defense at Crampton’s Gap

On the morning of September 14th, 1862, the 2nd Virginia Cavalry and the 12th Virginia Cavalry under the command of Colonel Thomas Munford occupied the entrance to Crampton’s Gap, near Burkittsville. They were deployed along Mountain Church Road. General JEB Stuart who was en-route to Harper’s Ferry met with General Wade Hampton and Colonel Munford. Stuart took Hampton’s Brigade and left Colonel Munford at Crampton’s Gap. Closer to the actual gap was Chew’s Battery under the command of Captain Roger Chew. Munford’s total force was roughly around three hundred men.

Located in Pleasant Valley, north of Gapland, was the 10th Georgia Infantry detached from General Paul Semmes’ brigade, who were on picket duty. The brigades of General Lafayette McLaws and General Richard Anderson were scattered throughout Elk Ridge, Pleasant Valley, and south of Crampton’s Gap upon South Mountain in accordance to Special Orders Number 191. These two divisions were besieging Harper’s Ferry and protecting the back door that led to Harper’s Ferry.

General Paul Semmes was left to guard the rear of the two Confederate divisions located in Pleasant Valley and Maryland Heights, via Elk Ridge. General Semmes, looking at the situation, felt confident that if a Federal force emerged in the Catoctin Valley, east of his position, they would attack Brownsville Pass since it was the major mountain pass that led directly to Harper’s Ferry. General Semmes’ brigade consisting of the 53rd Georgia, 15th Virginia, and the 32nd Virginia had been located at Brownsville on the night of September 13th and the morning of the 14th. Brownsville is situated at the western base of South Mountain a few miles south of Crampton’s Gap. Semmes also had the 1st North Carolina Artillery, Richmond Fayette Artillery and the Magruder Light Artillery in reserve.

Before noon, Colonel Munford watched the landscape in the distance become filled by a blue tide marching and getting closer and closer to Burkittsville. General Semmes, who was at Brownsville Pass, also made the same observation and as a precaution, he ordered the 10th Georgia Infantry and Colonel William Parham’s brigade consisting of the 6th, 12th, and the 16th Virginia infantry regiments and two guns from the Portsmouth Light Artillery to Crampton’s Gap. Two other regiments from Parham’s Brigade were on picket duty. The 61st Virginia Infantry was posted at Soloman’s Gap and the 41st Virginia Infantry was posted at the crest of Crampton’s Gap. Parham’s total manpower for the on coming battle was roughly around 300 men. His brigade numbered no more than 600 men upon entering Maryland.

As noon approached, the 96th Pennsylvania Infantry led the advance of the Union Sixth Corps, and filed off the main road into the fields east of Burkittsville. Within minutes, skirmishers were deployed and they were hit with artillery fire from both Brownsville Pass and Crampton’s Gap. This forced the skirmishers back and then skirmishers from the 2nd Virginia Cavalry were deployed. Those Confederate soldiers were pushed back, fighting every inch of the way, and in some cases the fighting was from yard to yard in Burkittsville.

Union artillery soon came up and began firing at the Confederate artillery, but several of the shots had fallen short of their target. Several accounts from Union soldiers stated that the artillery from atop Brownsville had shells dropping every which way. Chew talked about how his guns recoiled badly and that his own Blakeley Rifle became disabled, and was removed from the battlefield. Soon the two naval guns of the Portsmouth Artillery had arrived and were deployed by Chew’s Battery.

As the shots of the skirmish rang out, the 12,500 soldiers of General William Franklin’s Sixth Corps were ordered to bivouac and fix their rations. Earlier General Franklin had received strict orders to punch through Crampton’s Gap, cut off the Confederate forces in Pleasant Valley via Rohrersville, and if practical, relieve the garrison at Harper’s Ferry. Franklin needed time to study the situation beyond South Mountain and did so by communications with General George McClellan.

The Confederate battle line ran parallel with Mountain Church Road. The 2nd Virginia Cavalry and a portion of 16th Virginia Infantry took to the open fields opposite of the intersection of Gapland and Mountain Church Roads. The rest of the 16th Virginia Infantry, 12th Virginia Infantry, the 12th Virginia Cavalry, 6th Virginia Infantry and two companies of the 10th Georgia Infantry deployed along Mountain Church Road. Chew’s Battery and the two guns from the Portsmouth Artillery were deployed further up along Gapland Road, to the east of Crampton’s Gap.

Around 4:30 in the afternoon, Colonel Joseph Bartlett of Franklin’s Sixth Corps found himself planning the attack. Bartlett was the Second Brigade commander of the First Division. With skirmishers deployed, Bartlett had his own brigade deployed to the north of Burkittsville with General Newton following behind. To Bartlett’s left was the New Jersey Brigade commanded by Colonel Alfred Torbert. Deployed to the left of Torbert, and the main road leading into Burkittsville were two regiments of the Vermont Brigade commanded by General Brooks. At 5:30pm, all at once the Union lines moved forward.

Within minutes, the small Confederate force was no longer able to hold their positions along Mountain Church Road and began falling back toward Crampton’s Gap. Cobb’s Brigade, who had been ordered to Crampton’s Gap, arrived and the initial thought was that the Confederate force had pushed the Federals back into Burkittsville, but the scene would prove differently. With permission from General Howell Cobb, Colonel Munford ordered Cobb’s infantry regiments to deploy where he needed the reinforcements the most. Colonel Munford ordered the 15th North Carolina troops down Arnoldstown Road, where they took position along the stone wall overlooking Whipp’s Ravine. The 24th Georgia Infantry was ordered into Whipp’s Ravine, followed by Cobb’s Legion Infantry and bringing up the rear was the 16th Georgia Infantry.

As Cobb’s brigade was taking position, remnants of Parham’s command ran through the line of the Georgian soldiers. It then became reality that Parham’s line had just broke and the men were fleeing up South Mountain. Cobb’s men saw the advancement of Torbert’s men and quickly fired into them, but it was already too late. Torbert managed to get on the flank of Cobb’s men and Lieutenant Jefferson Lamar, commanding Cobb’s Legion Infantry Battalion knew he was surrounded on all sides but one. Within minutes, Lt. Colonel Lamar was wounded, and after ordering his men to fall back a bullet struck him in the chest.

The men of Cobb’s brigade fell back to Padgett’s Field and began to flee into Pleasant Valley. General Howell Cobb tried to prevent as many of his soldiers from fleeing and began to desperately rally his men to reform their line behind the stone wall. The 24th Georgia still held its position until the soldiers of the New Jersey Brigade came charging up Gapland Road. The Confederate right flank was in danger. Cobb, still holding the stone wall, was temporarily relieved with two guns that were coming up the mountain from Pleasant Valley.

As the main assault was at its climax, two guns from the Troup Artillery under the command of Lieutenant Henry Jennings deployed at the intersection. The twelve-pound howitzer named the “Jennie” was pointed down Arnoldstown Road while the other cannon, a six-pounder named the “Sallie Craig,” was pointed down Gapland Road towards Burkittsville. This was the last defensive position that stood between Franklin and Harper’s Ferry.

As the Federal forces were fired upon by a two gun section of the Troup Artillery, they quickly fell back, but only briefly. Soon Torbert’s New Jersey Brigade was again turning the Confederate right flank. Being hit from the right flank and also from the front, the Confederate defenders were being pushed and had no other option but to retreat off of South Mountain into Pleasant Valley. Here General McLaws had a defensive line drawn up from those brigades on Elk Ridge, including Kershaw’s South Carolina Brigade. During the retreat, the howitzer named “Jennie” was shot up so badly that it was abandoned along Gapland Road. Franklin, satisfied with his gains for the day, ordered the Union soldiers to bivouac on the battlefield as dusk approached.


Brownsville Pass

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.