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.”

Touring the Morning Phase of the Battle of Fox’s Gap

The morning phase of the Fox’s Gap Battlefield is in private ownership. I ask that any who is interested in touring this area of the battlefield contact me in order to give you this tour.

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The Loop Road and the near the position of the 5th Virginia Cavalry. 

During the morning hours of September 14th, as Garland’s Brigade of North Carolina Infantry made it’s way past the Daniel Wise cabin, situated on Ridge Road (Parts of Lambs Knoll Road follows the original Ridge Road), they were unaware that two guns of Stuart’s Horse Artillery and the 5th Virginia Cavalry were posted in this area. The photo shows where Loop Road came out onto Ridge Road, and where the cavalry was positioned. Rosser’s 5th Virginia Cavalry and Pelham’s two guns were driven back by the 11th Ohio Infantry, who was in support of the 23rd Ohio Infantry.

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Where contact is made.

This field shows where the 5th North Carolina Infantry was positioned. The trees in the center of the photograph was where they deployed. Upon seeing the 23rd Ohio emerge from the hillside (far tower), the 5th North Carolina marched across the fields and was driven back.

This is field where the 5th North Carolina came in contact with the 23rd Ohio. The 23rd Ohio came under heavy fire where their Lt. Colonel, future President Rutherford B. Hayes was wounded. Organizing his regiment, he was taken off the field. The 23rd Ohio Infantry pushed the 5th North Carolina back when the 12th North Carolina to their left was ordered to their support. The 5th North Carolina as well as those from the 12th North Carolina retreated westward off of South Mountain.

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Bondurant’s Field, looking at the position of the Jeff Davis Artillery

 

This is the field where Captain James Bondurant’s Alabama Battery was positioned. Behind them along the stonewalls of the tree line was where the 12th North Carolina was positioned. The artillerists watched from this field as the 5th North Carolina marched into a fire storm.

After the Jeff Davis Alabama Artillery pulled out, the field to their left was occupied by the 23rd North Carolina. The photograph above shows from their position where the 12th Ohio Infantry made their attack. The 23rd held it’s ground until bayonets were used and the 23rd Ohio Infantry attacked their right flank.

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The Stonewalls, very close to the North Carolina Monument. 

The 20th North Carolina took to the stonewalls pictured in this photograph. The 30th Ohio, under the command of Colonel Hugh Ewing heard firing to their left and soon the domino effect occurred when a tide of Confederate soldiers appeared to their front.

The 36th Ohio from Colonel George Crook’s 2nd Brigade arrived on the field in support of the Union troops already in place. They broke off in order to support the 12th Ohio, moving in the direction of the 20th North Carolina. The 20th North Carolina resisted until the 36th Ohio got on both of their flanks. The firing was at close range and soon bayonets were once again being used.

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Crome’s Field. Notice Middletown in the distance. 

In this field in the far corner, Crome’s two guns got into position to shell the Confederate lines. As soon as they got into position the cannoneers were being picked off by Confederate bullets from the 20th North Carolina. As soon as the third round of canister was fired, Lieutenant Crome was the only person left standing. Lt. Crome himself was wounded in the breast and his guns fell silent.

A section of the 1st Kentucky Artillery consisting of two 20 pound Parrot Rifles were put in place at the southeast corner of Wise’s Southfield. The 36th Ohio supported by the 28th Ohio halted near the wood line that once dotted the landscape.

The 13th North Carolina charged the Federal line pushing them back, and it was at this time that two North Carolina regiments from General George B. Anderson’s Brigade arrived on the field. They hunkered down in the sunken road to meet the Federal onslaught. By then the morning phase for Fox’s Gap began to die down as men were exhausted and getting low on ammunition.

Overview of the Battle for Fox’s Gap Morning Phase

This is just a narrative of the morning phase of the Battle of South Mountain at Fox’s Gap. I will be posting more about the Battles of South Mountain throughout the fall and winter months.

During the night of September 13th, General JEB Stuart had sent Colonel Tom Rosser’s 5th Virginia Cavalry and two pieces of artillery from Major John Pelham’s 1st Stuart’s Horse Artillery to Fox’s Gap. At approximately 8:00 am in the morning on September 14th, as General Samuel Garland’s Brigade made their down the Woods Road to Fox’s Gap they were unaware of Stuart’s Cavalry occupying the extreme Southern end of Fox’s Gap. The Confederate soldiers soon began to occupy the stonewalls along Ridge Road. Pelham and Rosser connected with the 5th North Carolina under the command of Colonel Duncan McRae. Next to the 5th North Carolina was the 12th North Carolina under the command of Captain Snow. Next to them was the 23rd North Carolina under the command of Colonel D. H. Christie.

The Kanawha Division under the command of Brigadier General Jacob Cox was encamped near Middletown, Maryland when reveille was sounded. At 6:00 am in the morning, the Kanawha Division arose and began to march. Colonel Eliakim Scammon’s 1st Brigade was the first to march with Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes’ 23rd Ohio Infantry in the advance. Striking the old Sharpsburg Road and veering left on an old mountain road known as Loop Road, Scammon’s Brigade began to climb the rocky hillside. Marching was rough as they marched through the very thick, dense mountain vegetation.

Hayes’ was dismounted when the 23rd Ohio came to the clearing of an open field, his men could see a long line of Confederate soldiers from North Carolina under the command of General Samuel Garland. To the extreme right tucked away in the corner, were the 5th Virginia Cavalry and a section of two guns that belonged to Major John Pelham’s Horse Artillery. At about 10:00 am, as Hayes and his 23rd Ohio appeared in the open field, they were fired upon by Pelham’s two guns as well as the rifles of the 5th North Carolina. Pelham was only able to fire two shots before he limbered up and fell back to the west of South Mountain after the arrival of the 11th Ohio Infantry. After a few volleys from the Confederate guns, Hayes as well as many other members of the 23rd Ohio were hit.

Desperately trying to reorganize his line and advance them again, the wounded Hayes was pulled off the field while the battle ensued. While Scammon’s Brigade occupied the left, Crook’s Brigade began to engage on the right. The 11th Ohio from Colonel George Crook’s 2nd Brigade came to the support of the 23rd Ohio. After forcing Pelham and the 5th Virginia from their positions, the 11th Ohio was ordered to charge across the open field just as the 5th North Carolina was beginning to break. Rifles were used as clubs and bayonets were used freely as the Union soldiers thrust their weapons behind the stonewall. The 12th North Carolina was ordered to support the 5th North Carolina, but with the lack of officers, once the Federal volleys began some men broke rank and ran. Others flocked to the flanks of the 5th North Carolina who were ordered to form their line on the original position. Once Rosser’s men fell back, the 5th North Carolina also fell back and reformed their lines at the base of South Mountain.

Bondurant’s Battery fired several shots at the advancing Union soldiers before falling back to another position. Captain James Bondurant ordered each gun to fire one round. As soon as the first gun fired, it was ordered limber up and fall back while the second gun fired. This was repeated until all four guns were off of the field and redeployed at their second position.

In the midst of this fight, the 12th Ohio Infantry under the command of Colonel Carr White formed their battle line. As they proceeded up the hill, several companies were ordered to fall to their knees and crawl very slowly up the rocky hill where the 23rd North Carolina was positioned. The Ohioans were within sixty yards of the Confederate battle line. They could hear the orders being given when suddenly a private yelled “Let’s charge!” The 23rd North Carolina had to form their line in the midst of confusion, and continued to move into the open field without hesitation. By the time the 23rd North Carolina stopped to form their line as ordered, the whole line of the Ohioans stood up, and as quickly as they stood their officers ordered them back down just as the 23rd North Carolina fired upon them. The officer’s then yelled forward, pushing up the hill as quickly as they could.

After the Confederate right flank began to break, the 23rd Ohio continued its charge supporting the 12th Ohio. Bayonets were used freely and this battle was only one of a few where this type of hand to hand combat was actually used. The 23rd North Carolina broke and began taking cover in the woods. The 12th Ohio Infantry, still on their heels soon became entangled in the thick mountain vegetation and their own battle lines broke formation.

As the fight ensued, two additional regiments from Garland’s Brigade deployed along the stonewalls of Fox’s Gap along Ridge Road. The 20th North Carolina Regiment under the command of Colonel Alfred Iverson took position next to the 23rd North Carolina. The 30th Ohio under the command of Colonel Hugh Ewing heard firing to their left and soon the domino effect occurred when a tide of Confederate soldiers appeared to their front.

The 36th Ohio from Colonel George Crook’s 2nd Brigade arrived on the field in support of the Union troops already in place. They broke off in order to support the 12th Ohio, moving in the direction of the 20th North Carolina. The 20th North Carolina resisted until the 36th Ohio got on both flanks. The firing was at close range and soon bayonets were once again being used. By then Bondurant’s Battery limbered back up and moved to Wise’s Northfield.

During the time that the fighting was raging against the 20th North Carolina, Lieutenant Crome was ordered to take two cannon up the hill. Crome found it very steep and difficult, and ordered his artillery detachment to manually pull and push the cannon up the hill. As soon as they got into position the cannoneers were being picked off by Confederate bullets from the 20th North Carolina. As soon as the third round of canister was fired, Lieutenant Crome was the only person left standing. As the 12th Ohio was pushing forward, a corporal helped Lt. Crome load the fourth round of canister into the tube. The corporal pulled the lanyard and was instantly killed by a bullet from the 20th North Carolina. Lt. Crome himself was wounded in the breast and his guns fell silent.

When the 13th North Carolina under the command of Lt. Colonel Thomas Ruffin arrived, General Garland was there to greet them. Garland directed them on where their position should be. Lt. Colonel Ruffin told General Garland that he should be in the rear of his brigade and Garland stated that he wanted to be with his men. During this exchange, a bullet hit Garland and he fell mortally wounded. The 13th North Carolina charged the Federal line pushing them back, about that time the arrival of General George B. Anderson’s Brigade came onto the field. They hunkered down in the sunken road to meet the Federal onslaught. By then the morning phase for Fox’s Gap began to die down as men were exhausted and getting low on ammunition.

A section of the 1st Kentucy Artillery consisting of two 20 pound Parrot Rifles were put in place at the southeast corner of Wise’s Southfield. The 36th Ohio supported by the 28th Ohio halted near the wood line. The 11th Ohio, 23rd Ohio, the 12th Ohio and the 36th Ohio all occupied the stonewalls that once gave protection to Garland’s Brigade.