During the day of July 9th, at Middletown, General George Meade issued orders for his army to cross the SouthMountain range located along the South Mountain Battlefield and concentrate in the valley. The First, Sixth and Eleventh Corps would march through Turner’s Gap. The Third and Fifth Corps would march through Fox’s Gap. The Second and Twelfth Corps would march through Crampton’s Gap. That evening Meade would establish his headquarters near the Devil’s Backbone, located along the Antietam Creek.
Confederate General JEB Stuart positioned himself east of Funkstown, and was attacked early in the evening by Union General John Buford’s Union Cavalry. General Stuart was pushed back toward Funkstown. This would set the stage for the Second Battle of Funkstown.
As July 10th, 1863 dawned, the air was very humid and hot. A light drizzle would fall upon the rich fields of agricultural produce. Shortly after dawn, General Stuart was alerted of a large Union force working its way toward Funkstown, via the National Road. This Union force was that of General John Buford and his cavalry division. General Buford dismounted his cavalry near Boonsboro. Following behind General Buford was General Judson Kilpatrick’s Cavalry Division and the Union Sixth Corps, under the command of General John Sedgwick.
Funkstown is located east of the Antietam Creek and is where the National Road and the Baltimore Road intersect. To the east of Funkstown, were several farms, open fields and wooded areas, as well as a ridge. Funkstown is also just to the southeast of Hagerstown. For Stuart, he would have to contest this Union force to buy Confederate General Robert E. Lee time to complete his defenses of Hagerstown and Williamsport.
Examining the layout of his cavalry, General Stuart quickly realized that he needed reinforcements. Colonel Vincent Witcher and his 34th Virginia Cavalry Battalion were dismounted across the National Road, and were supported by Captain Roger Chew’s Battery. Positioned along the Baltimore Road was artillery support from Manley’s Battery A of North Carolina Artillery, which arrived after the fighting had begun. As the rest of Stuart’s force deployed, he would eventually have General Grumble Jones and General Fitzhugh Lee on the left, and Colonel Milton Furguson, Colonel John Chambliss, and General Beverly Robertson’s brigades of cavalry on the right, forming a crescent shaped defense. General Jones held the extreme left, occupying the open areas along Beaver Creek Road. Needing additional support to plug in the gaps, Stuart sent word for infantry support.
Upon arriving near Funkstown, General John Buford deployed his division near Stover’s Woods. General Wesley Merritt’s Brigade was deployed on the right with Devin’s and Gamble’s brigades in reserve. Buford’s artillery deployed Lieutenants Calef’s and Graham’s Batteries behind Merritt on the National Road. At around eight in the morning, the Battle of Funkstown began as Merritt’s troopers moved out and the Union batteries opened. Merritt’s dismounted troopers moved forward along the high ravine with Gamble’s troops to his left, along the National Road. Devin’s troopers were moving to the left of the National Road and east of the Antietam Creek.
The fighting in the fields south and east of Funkstown were very hot as the morning wore on. Troopers of Fitz Lee’s brigade skirmished with Merritt’s brigade and soon the Union artillery forced them back. Chew’s Battery limbered and redeployed closer to Funkstown. At one point during the battle, General Buford felt a tug on his uniform coat. As he inspected his garment, he saw several holes in it made from Confederate bullets.
Earlier in the morning, General Stuart had sent a courier seeking infantry support and by one o’clock in the afternoon the courier had found General George T. Anderson and his Georgia brigade. Colonel William White was commanding the brigade, and was under orders to guard the stone arch bridge that spanned the Antietam Creek. He also had a regiment on detach duty, his own 7th Georgia Infantry, and told the courier that he was under orders by General Law. Colonel White and the courier rode across the bridge to find Stuart. After a brief discussion, Colonel White rode back to bring up the Georgia Brigade. Moving behind White’s Georgians was Paul Semmes’ Brigade, under the command of Colonel Goode Bryan. General Kershaw’s South Carolina Brigade was moved to the stone bridge, where the Georgia Brigade was in position and held in reserve.
Under heavy artillery fire, General Fitzhugh Lee ordered Colonel White to bring his men up and deploy. White’s Georgia boys found the landscape difficult. Obstructions such as stonewalls, wooden fences, and farm buildings had but stalled his advancing line. To make matters worse, they were receiving heavy fire from the dismounted cavalry troopers and their artillery. Colonel Bryan deployed to the left of White.
Buford’s men had fought all morning, and by the mid afternoon were running low on ammunition. Needing reinforcements, General Buford rode to find General Albion Howe’s Second Division of Sedgwick’s Corps. General Howe told Buford he was under orders not to engage in an all out battle with the enemy. General Howe began communications with General Sedgewick, and finally obtained permission to send out reinforcements to Buford. General Howe ordered Colonel Lewis Grant and his Vermont Brigade to take up position where Buford’s men were located.
At a little past three in the afternoon, the Vermont Brigade arrived, and began to deploy skirmishers. The 5th and 6th Vermont Infantry were ordered to a wooded crest that was occupied by portions of Buford’s troopers. Seeing the Confederate infantry moving toward the crest, the Vermonters managed to beat the Confederates from taking the ground. Soon the 5th Vermont, holding the left closest to the National Road, and the 6thVermont, holding the right close to the Baltimore Pike, extended their skirmish line almost two miles.
Due to the skirmish line stretching so far with so few men, a gap soon opened on the left flank of the 5th Vermont Infantry, near the Antietam Creek. Two companies of the 2nd Vermont Infantry were ordered to fill the gap, while the rest of their regiment was held in reserve. The 3rd and 4th Vermont Infantry regiments were ordered to support the 3rd New York Battery under Captain William Harn.
Soon the Confederate artillery began shelling the Union line. Thinking that an infantry attack would soon follow, Colonel Grant ordered the 3rd Vermont Infantry forward, to the right of the 6th Vermont, becoming the extreme right of Vermont’s skirmish line. The 4th Vermont Infantry was ordered to be positioned between the left of the 6th Vermont Infantry and the right of the 5th Vermont Infantry. Eight companies of the 2nd Vermont Infantry were held in support of the 3rd New York Battery.
Soon the Confederate infantry began to move forward against the Union line. The Confederate infantry had to move across open fields, and the stone walls proved to be deadly for them, forcing them to stop, climb over, and then reform their lines. A member of the 59thGeorgia recalled his position “Was on high ground, with not so much as a twig to protect it from the murderous fire in the front and the heavy converging fire from the right.”
The Vermonters did not yield one inch of ground and forced the Confederate infantry back after a fierce contest. The Confederate infantry reformed their battle line and began to move forward. One regiment was sent across the Antietam Creek to threaten the Union left flank.
Seeing this, Colonel Grant ordered the remaining companies of the 2nd Vermont Infantry forward, extending the Vermonter’s skirmish line even further. The Confederate advance was repulsed. The fighting was so intense at Funkstown that at one point the Vermonters had gone through their ammunition and more had to be brought up by stretchers to re-supply them.
After the battle, many of the Vermonters wrote letters telling about their ordeal. One Union soldier wrote “Mr. Johhny Rebs thought he was going to crush our thin picket line but the whistling minnies from our accurate rifles came most too thick and close for their courage to stand. With a few more Vermonters we could have annihilated the whole crew.” Colonel Grant stated “As the center of the enemies lines went back in confusion, some of our men jumped upon a fence, and, tauntingly calling them cowards, told them to come back, that there was nothing there but militia.” Taunting the Confederates would prove deadly as nine Federal soldiers fell dead, and 59 fell wounded.
Funkstown was also one of the only battles, since the closing of the Battle of Gettysburg, where infantry fought against infantry. The Vermonters had won the day, however the fighting that took place during the day bought the Confederate army more time. Many soldiers of the Sixth Corps saw the Vermonters fight, and saw first hand their display of gallantry.
The town of Funkstown lost the most. Much of the rich agriculture and produce was destroyed by the battle. The town itself became a vast hospital, and several homes were hit by the destructive Union artillery. The Union casualties for the Battle of Funkstown were as follows: Buford’s Division lost 99 troopers in the fight; the Vermonters lost 97 men. The Confederates had lost about 183 men, with more than half of that number from Stuart’s cavalry.
As night fell the Vermonters began to dig in. Private Cutler recalled “We dug holes out with our bayonets and piled dirt up in front of us to cover ourselves, for we expected as soon as daylight came they would commence to pop away at us but they did not so we got up and walked around in sight of them and their batteries.”