Advancing the Gap: Hatch’s Division during the Battle of South Mountain

During the afternoon of September 14th, 1862, General McClellan, who was commanding the Army of the Potomac knew that the Confederate Army was divided, and he wanted to pounce each individual portion before it had time to concentrate. Standing in McClellan’s way were two things. The first was South Mountain, a mountain range that divides Frederick and Washington Counties, or Eastern Maryland from Western Maryland. The second was a meager Confederate force of about 1,500 defending the mountain gaps from Frostown to Fox’s Gap. Seven miles further to the south was another 1,500 Confederate soldiers guarding the backdoor to Harper’s Ferry at Crampton’s Gap and Brownsville Pass. With both of these issues facing McClellan, he knew he had to act now.

Thinking that Turner’s Gap would be heavily defended, McClellan decided he would side step it and move his army through Fox’s Gap to the south, and Frostown to the north of Turner’s Gap. Here McClellan would face a major obstacle. Confederate General Daniel H. Hill had already sent a brigade under General Samuel Garland to Fox’s Gap and another brigade under Colonel Alfred Colquitt below Turner’s Gap on the National Road. North of Turner’s Gap, Hill had ordered General Robert Rodes’ Alabama Brigade to occupy the area that the Virginians and South Carolinians would later become engaged in. To make matters worse, in the Middletown Valley McClellan’s army was in view of the Confederate artillery that had massed at the summit of Turner’s Gap under the command of Captain John Lane. Eventually, more artillery support arrived as Lieutenant Colonel Allen S. Cutts’ Artillery Battalion arrived and deployed on the heights of Turner’s Gap. To attack such a position would almost be suicide.

During the mid afternoon, the Union 1st Corps under the command of General Joseph Hooker arrived at Bolivar, a town with a distinct crossroad. Bolivar is located between Middletown and South Mountain. Taking the Mount Tabor Road on the right from Bolivar, he would soon send his Corps into battle where a small force of Confederate soldiers guarded the area. After marching on Mount Tabor Road, General John Gibbon’s Brigade, already known by that time as the Iron Brigade for their assault at Manassas a few weeks before, was recalled and ordered to hit the Confederate defenses along the National Road. As Hooker advanced on the small hamlet of Frostown, he would soon be in position to hit the small Confederate force under General Robert Rodes, who was being reinforced by other brigades of Confederate infantry at that time.

Using Frostown Road, Hooker’s Corps deployed. General George Meade and his division deployed to the right of Frostown Road, while General John Hatch deployed to the left of Frostown Road. Situated in the center, and held in reserve was the division under General James Rickett’s. As General Hatch’s division began to climb the rugged mountainside Private Uberto A. Burnham of the 76th New York, Hofmann’s Brigade recalled: “The mountain was quite steep. When we were about half-way up we halted a few minutes to rest. The sun had gone down behind the mountain. We were marching in the shadow. The sun lighted up the valley behind us. It was a beautiful sight, with farm houses, grain fields, orchards, groups of staff officers, and columns of troops in motion, but I cannot say I enjoyed the scene. I felt the importance of the big task before us.”

Private Burnham continued: “A little further up the mountain was a comparatively level place planted with corn, which had been fenced in. I saw the skirmishers go in the field, and thought they would perhaps find some of the enemy there, but they did not. I saw their bright uniforms going over the fence on the further side. Three women came down the side of the mountain on horseback by a diagonal path and passed in front of the regiment.”

As Hatch’s boys in blue were ascending the mountain, the men noticed that the eastern side of the mountain was cleared to the summit where it turned into a wooded area about 200 yards wide. From there a cornfield appeared, then another wooded area, and from there a wide path to Turner’s Gap was revealed. This was the area that General Hatch’s Division was to take possession of.

General Hatch, being newly appointed deployed his division. Covering his left flank was General Walter Phelps’ First Brigade, who commanded the following regiments: the 22nd New York Infantry, 24th New York Infantry, 2nd United States Sharpshooters, 30th New York Infantry, and the 84th New York Infantry. To their right was General Marsena Rudolph Patrick’s Third Brigade which consisted of the 21st New York Infantry, 23rd New York Infantry, 35th New York Infantry, and the 80th New York Infantry. Held in reserve, in the rear of Hatch’s Division was the Second Brigade under General Abner Doubleday, who commanded the 56th Pennsylvania Infantry, 76th New York Infantry, 7th Indiana Infantry, and the 95th New York Infantry.

General Marsena Patrick’s Third Brigade deployed and held the right of Hatch’s Division. General Patrick sent out the 21st New York ahead of his brigade. Upon deployment, General Hatch ordered the rest of General Patrick’s Brigade to ascend South Mountain. The 35th New York deployed to the left, overlooking the road, and without unslinging their knapsacks, climbed the mountain. Soon before reaching the summit, the 35th New York lost site of the 21st New York, and the 80th New York was ordered to plug the hole. The 23rd New York supported the 35th New York during the deployment. By this time Colonel Phelps arrived in support of the line.

Upon deployment, Colonel Phelps noted that the woods and the nature of the ground gave them protection from Lieutenant Colonel Cutts’ Artillery Battalion, which was posted and firing on his left. From there Colonel Phelps moved forward, marching toward the summit where the road was located. As they moved forward, Colonel Phelps requested that General Patrick deploy his skirmishers. As Phelps moved, the ground gave him cover, thus he was unobserved by General Richard Garnett’s Confederate Brigade. Garnett’s brigade was posted behind a fence and cornfield, with artillery behind them in an open field, on higher ground.

General John Hatch followed Phelps just as the battle had begun, and ordered the men forward during a deadly fire. Soon a bullet struck General Hatch and he was removed from the field where General Abner Doubleday took command. Phelps’ men continued to the top and began to engage the Confederates. Phelps’ advance continued until he stopped in an area where an abrupt rise of ground gave his men shelter. Once there, the 84th New York (14th Brooklyn) advanced to the left to hit the right of Garnett’s Brigade, where the 8th Virginia Infantry was posted, hitting the Confederate ranks with great musketry. During the deployment of Phelps’ Brigade, the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters were detached and ordered to preceed up a steep ravine, where they rendered valuable service.

While Patrick’s and Phelps’ brigades were in the beginning phases of the battle, the 21st New York under the command of Colonel William F. Rogers charged up the hill and took possession of a fence near the cornfield, where they began picking off the Confederate cannoneers. Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Burr Gates, commanding the 80th New York Infantry was ordered by General Patrick to support the 35th New York, which by that time, was thrown forward near the road as skirmishers. The road was in site and orders came for the 80th New York to support the 21st New York, which was already charging up the mountain toward the cornfield. Skirmishers were again deployed until the rest of the 80th New York was in place. Soon a volley from the New Yorkers poured into the Virginians, who were now lying behind a fence by the cornfield. The 14th New York came onto line and engaged in the battle, helping to push Garnett’s Confederate soldiers back.

As Hofmann’s Brigade came to the summit in support of Phelps and Patrick, their officer’s ordered the knapsacks to be unslung, and just then came a clash of musketry. The officers soon ordered bayonets to be fixed, and forward at a charge they went. When this occurred the Confederate troops began to fall back through the wooded area, taking position in the open field. The Union line came to the edge of the woods, to an old rail fence and halted. Private Burnham recalled: “The broken fence was about knee high, but seemed to give some protection.”

The Union troops pushed the Confederates back through the field to the stone fence where the Confederate soldiers held that position, and soon Hatch’s boys occupied the open fields on the mountaintop. Phelps’ Brigade held that position until General James Rickett’s Division arrived, and Phelps’ pulled back to a more supportive role.

Darkness came long before the firing had ceased. During the night after the battle died down, Union troops slept on their arms, ready for any attack that may come. But such an attack never came, as the Confederate forces fell back from the heights of Tuner’s Gap and began to march toward Boonsboro, where they were ordered to begin their march to Sharpsburg. The fighting that took place at Frostown was fought on some of the most rugged mountain terrain in the area. Those men, officers, and enlistees alike, all mention the treacherous rocky terrain.

Defending the Gap: Garnett’s and Kemper’s Evening Fight at South Mountain

During the afternoon on September 14th, 1862, Union General Joseph Hooker’s First Corps was about to attack a small band Confederate soldiers on the heights north of Turner’s Gap, in an area known as Frostown Gap. As Rodes’ Alabamians saw the long line of blue in the distance, they knew a major fight was about to occur. At the town of Bolivar, west of Middletown, General Hooker filed off of the National Road to the left, taking Mount Tabor Road. With Hooker’s Corps was the divisions of General George, General John Hatch, and General James Ricketts.

As Hooker’s men were marching to the north, Confederate soldiers, after a very fatiguing march from Hagerstown, arrived at Turner’s Gap. Once there they followed a side road, modern day Dahlgren Road, northward to where Rodes was positioned. One brigade in particular was that of General George Pickett under the command of General Richard Garnett. General George Pickett was still recuperating from the wounds he received during the Battle of Gaine’s Mill. Garnett’s Brigade consisted of the 8th Virginia Infantry under the command of Colonel Eppa Hunton, the 18th Virginia Infantry under the command of Major George C. Cabell, the 19th Virginia Infantry under the command of Colonel John Strange, the 28th Virginia Infantry under the command of Captain William Wingfield, and the 56th Virginia Infantry under the command of Colonel William D. Stuart.

As Garnett’s Brigade reached the mountain summit above Turner’s Gap, Garnett deployed his brigade as follows: the 8th Virginia to the right, next to them, on their left is the 18th Virginia, in the center is the 19th Virginia Infantry, to their left is the 28th Virginia Infantry, and to the extreme left was the 56th Virginia Infantry. According to General Garnett, the right of his brigade, which was the 8th Virginia Infantry “rested in a thick woods, which descended quite abruptly in front, and my left in a field of standing corn.” As the evening continued, General Kemper’s Brigade moved to the left of Garnett’s men and to the right of Garnett was Jenkins’ Brigade. Together these brigades would try and stop Hatch’s Division from gaining control of Turner’s Gap.

Upon reaching the top, Colonel Hunton’s 8th Virginia Infantry was thrown into the line of battle, about 50 yards from Union troops who were maneuvering around boulders in the woods. While forming their battle line, the Bloody Eighth Virginia, with only thirty-four men, took on overwhelming musket fire from the men in blue. The 8th Virginia returned fire and stalled the advancing Union troops. The 8th Virginia kept it hot, maintaining their ground until the rest of Garnett’s Brigade had begun to fall back. Seeing the danger with no reinforcements to his left or right, Colonel Hunton fell back to the rear by a fence and prepared to make a stand there until orders came to fall back.

While the 8th Virginia was fighting, Major George C. Cabell commanding the 18th Virginia Infantry recalled forming a battle line under the same circumstances. The Union skirmishers quickly got to work and right behind them was the main Union battle line. Getting into position, the 18th Virginia fired, forcing the Union skirmishers back to the main body. The deadly fire from the Confederates forced many Union troops to fall back and take refuge behind trees and rocks. From there the Union soldiers were able to pour deadly fire into the Confederate battle lines, while being shielded from any return fire. After about forty-five minutes other regiments in Garnett’s Brigade began to fall back, leaving the 18th Virginia Infantry and the 8th Virginia Infantry to fend for themselves.

Soon orders came to fall back and as they did so, the 18th Virginia Infantry halted in a ravine about 100 yards to the rear of the position they had just occupied. The 18th Virginia Infantry was ordered to the edge of the woods and across a fence some 200 yards distant. With the ground being uneven and covered with bushes and briars, the 18th Virginia Infantry soon became scattered.

Holding the center of Garnett’s Brigade was the 19th Virginia Infantry. Captain Brown recalled that the sun had just began setting behind the mountain when the 19th Virginia formed their battle line. There, in an open field, many Union troops had taken refuge behind a stone fence and they poured a deadly fire into the Confederates. Within an hour, the soldiers of the 19th Virginia were being thinned out, and soon over a third of the men were unable to fight. Colonel Strange was eventually hit and left on the field as the 19th Virginia Infantry began to fall back. Captain Brown said that Colonel Strange yelled out to his men to stand firm and “he commanded with that coolness and daring that is found only in the truly brave.”

Next to the 19th Virginia Infantry was the 28th Virginia and they fought in the same manner as the rest of the brigade did. The 56th Virginia became detached from Garnett’s Brigade in order to render assistance to General Kemper’s Brigade, plugging a gap between the left of Garnett’s Brigade and the right of Kemper’s Brigade. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when the 56th Virginia formed their line.

As Colonel Stuart repaired the gap between the two brigades, the 56th Virginia Infantry was positioned in a cornfield. It was reported by Colonel Montgomery Corse of the 17th Virginia Infantry that Union infantry was approaching. After some time had passed Union soldiers began making an appearance on their right flank. To meet that threat, Colonel Stuart adjusted his regiment’s alignment. As darkness began to fall upon the battlefield, and seeing that the 28th Virginia had retreated back and the firing began to die down, the 56th Virginia fell back to a stone wall. With the stone fence protecting them, no longer would the 56th Virginia be forced to make a stand in an open field and cornfield.

Kemper’s Brigade consisted of the 1st Virginia Infantry under the command of Major William H. Palmer, Major Arthur Herbert’s 7th Virginia Infantry, Major Adam Clement’s 11th Virginia Infantry, Colonel Montgomery D. Corse’s 17th Virginia Infantry, and Colonel William Terry’s 24th Virginia Infantry. Upon deployment the 24th Virginia Infantry held the right of Kemper’s Brigade, to their left was the 17th Virginia, followed by the 1st Virginia, and holding the left was the 24th Virginia.

During the Battle of South Mountain Kemper’s Brigade was more or less held in reserve. From the position Kemper was in, and hearing the firing on his right from Garnett’s Brigade, when Garnett began to fall back so did Kemper. For Kemper, the main portion of the Battle of South Mountain had occurred to his right, and as a result Kemper’s Brigade did not see much action with the exception of those who were his skirmishers. Colonel Montgomery D. Corse of the 17th Virginia Infantry recalled that his regiment, once taking position, was under fierce shelling of a Union battery 600 to 800 yards away. Colonel Corse ordered Lieutenant Lehew’s company forward and to deploy as skirmishers into the woods in directly in front of them.

According to Private David Emmons Johnston “the brigade was in a body of open timber, among stones and large boulders with some fallen timber along the line, behind which, lying down, the men took shelter as best they could; the enemy occupying a skirt of woods with a strip of open land between their position and ours. For two or more hours the battle raged, or until darkness fell, the enemy making repeated but unsuccessful efforts to dislodge our men.”

After darkness fell upon the battlefield, several shots were still being fired into the darkness as Union troops were slowly advancing on the Confederate’s position. By midnight orders were given to the Confederate troops that were occupying this area of South Mountain to fall back. Kemper’s Brigade as well as Garnett’s Brigade stood their ground nobly, and as a result they kept Union General John Hatch’s Division from breaking through and getting behind the Confederate battle lines drawn near Turner’s Gap in an area known as Frostown Gap.

Defending the Gap: South Carolina’s Role at Turner’s and Frostown Gaps

Early in the morning on September 14th, 1862, the Confederate defenses at South Mountain would be tested by a portion of the Union Army under the command of General George McClellan. The night before, just below Turner’s Gap on the National Road a brigade of Georgians under the command Colonel Alfred Colquitt took position at the eastern foot of South Mountain. Meanwhile at Fox’s Gap, Colonel Tom Rosser’s 5th Virginia Cavalry and two guns from Major John Pelham’s battery took position in an open field near a stone wall. Early in the morning Garland’s North Carolina Brigade was sent to Fox’s Gap. To reinforce Turner’s Gap, General Robert Rodes’ Alabamians were placed on the extreme Confederate left defending Turner’s Gap in an area known as Frostown. Their line spanned over two miles across the ridge of South Mountain to Turner’s Gap.

By noon Fox’s Gap looked as though it was going to be lost as the North Carolina troops were overwhelmed, but luckily two regiments from General George B. Anderson’s Brigade arrived, providing much needed reinforcements. During the next few hours the brigades of General Thomas Drayton and Colonel George Anderson were ordered to Fox’s Gap.

Up until this point all efforts were directed toward Fox’s Gap, until the evening when the Battle of South Mountain shifted to Turner’s Gap. As more Confederate reinforcements arrived from Hagerstown on a very long, forced march, they were sent to the left to protect any flanking movement from the Union Army, and to reinforce Rodes’ Brigade. Among the reinforcements to enter the Battle of Turner’s Gap were two brigades of Virginians and two brigades of South Carolinians.

By evening, Union General Joseph’s First Corps was in position and ready to attack. Union General George Meade’s Division would attack the extreme left where General Robert Rodes’ was positioned, while Union General John Hatch would attack the right towards Turner’s Gap. As Confederate reinforcements arrived at Turner’s Gap, General Nathan Evans’ Independent Brigade of South Carolina troops arrived, reinforcing the Alabamians that were being overwhelmed. Connecting to Evan’s Brigade was Kemper’s Brigade of Virginians, and to the right of Kemper was another brigade of Virginians under General Richard Garnett. Connecting Garnett’s Brigade to Colquitt’s Brigade was that of Jenkins’ South Carolina Brigade under Colonel Joseph Walker.

As Hooker’s Corps advanced, Evans’ Brigade arrived at the summit of Turner’s Gap just before dusk, where it was ordered to support Rodes’ Brigade to their left. Evans’ Brigade was made up of the 17th South Carolina under Colonel Fitz W. McMaster, the 18th South Carolina under Colonel William H. Wallace, the 22nd South Carolina under Major Miel Hilton, the 23rd South Carolina under Lieutenant E. R. White, and the Holcombe Legion under Colonel Peter F. Stevens. Colonel Stevens was ordered to take the brigade up a long and narrow road and report to General Rodes. Climbing the mountain, the enemy was seen below and the Holcombe Legion was ordered out as skirmishers. “From thence we were ordered to the left, climbing the mountain side in full view of the enemy to our right and in range of one of his batteries on a plateau to our right rear.” The skirmishers were soon driven in, battle lines were formed, and the fighting began.

Evans wrote about this portion of the battle: “On my arrival at the summit of the mountain, the skirmishers of the enemy were met, supported by several of his batteries that commanded my position. I directed Colonel Stevens, commanding brigade, to push over the summit and engage the enemy, then firing on General Rodes’ troops, retiring. Colonel Stevens soon became engaged with a much superior force, two columns of the enemy advancing rapidly upon his small command.”

Positioning themselves in the woods on Rode’s right, they quickly began to take on heavy fire. The South Carolinians began to ascend down the mountain toward the Union troops, but were met with an even greater resistance. The 23rd South Carolina Infantry met the retreating pickets of the Holcombe Legion. Captain Durham ordered the regiment to lie down, and as the Union troops advanced, the 23rd South Carolina Infantry soon fired into them. They held that position until the enemy almost surrounded them. The 23rd South Carolina was ordered to fall back to where the 22nd South Carolina was positioned.

The 17th South Carolina was ordered to move to the left, and the 23 and the 22nd South Carolina Infantry were driven back, but very quickly rallied. After engaging the Union troops for about a half an hour, the South Carolinians were ordered to fall back about thirty yards, creating havoc and some confusion. While the other South Carolina troops fell back, the 17th South Carolina moved forward, hitting the Union line while the rest of their force was still behind them. Meade’s troops poured deadly fire into them at almost point blank range. The 17th South Carolina fell back about 300 yards and reformed their battle line.

As the fighting ensued, the 18th South Carolina witnessed the skirmishers slowly being overwhelmed, and at the same time realized that Rodes’ Brigade to their left was also on the verge of being overwhelmed. Orders were issued for them to assist Rodes’ men and soon after Union troops pressed Rodes’ right and the 18th South Carolina, seeing that they may be cut off, fell back to the 22nd South Carolina’s position.

As darkness began to fall on the mountain, the two brigades of Virginians began to retire. Evans wrote: “The position [was] held until the troops on my right had retired, leaving my brigade nearly surrounded by the enemy. I then directed my troops to retire, firing, to the east side of the mountain, which was done in good order.” Eventually the 18th South Carolina retired and soon the enemy occupied the mountain. General Rodes was, at the same time, forced back. The 17th South Carolina was ordered to support the left of Jenkins’ Brigade, but was unable to do so due to the darkness. Fighting a retreating battle, Evans’ Brigade reassembled on the turnpike, and threw the Holcombe Legion on picket.

While Evans’ troops were hotly engaged supporting Rodes’ men, on the extreme right of the Confederate battle line was the Jenkins’ Brigade. Jenkins’ Brigade consisted of the 1st South Carolina under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Livingston, the 2nd South Carolina Rifles under Colonel Robert A. Thompson, 5th South Carolina under Captain Thomas C. Beckham, the 6th South Carolina under Captain E. B. Cantey, five companies of the 4th South Carolina Battalion under Lieutenant W. T. Field, and the Palmetto Sharpshooters under Captain A. H. Foster.

Jenkins’ Brigade arrived at the foot of the mountain, and began their ascent when they were ordered to throw up a line near the modern day South Mountain Inn. Meanwhile Garnett’s Brigade made their way to the left, up toward Frostown. About ten minutes later they were ordered to advance up the mountain and take up position at the foot of the hill. Soon the 1st South Carolina, the 6th South Carolina, and the 5th South Carolina advanced up the hill to a stone wall where they engaged until dark. Jenkins’ Brigade suffered three killed and 29 wounded during the fight at South Mountain.

With the Confederate troops barely holding on, the Battle of South Mountain subsided. General Robert E. Lee decided to concentrate his army, ordering all troops off of South Mountain, and instead heading in the direction of Boonsboro. As the troops marched off of South Mountain to the Mountain House, Jenkins’ Brigade was ordered to guard the rear. The 2nd South Carolina Rifles were ordered down the National Road, and were to throw out skirmishers, maintaining their location until four in the morning. Jenkins’ Brigade was ordered by the cavalry under the command of General Fitzhugh Lee to rejoin their command at Sharpsburg.

Around midnight, an order was given from General Robert E. Lee to scout the battlefield to determine if Union troops still occupied the area. Lieutenant Dubose of the 18th South Carolina, who was on picket duty at the time, was given the task. As the lieutenant and his detail moved closer to the battlefield, the lieutenant left his company and made his way into the darkness. All of a sudden a shot rang out. The small detail, fearing that Dubose may have been captured, retired very slowly and upon reaching their command, reported that Lieutenant Dubose became a prisoner of war.