The Battle for Turner’s Gap

On September 14, 1862, several battles erupted on South Mountain. The Union army, commanded by Major General George McClellan had caught up with the rear of the Confederate army, commanded by General Robert E. Lee. Much of the fighting during the morning of September 14, was concentrated around Fox’s Gap, one mile to the south of Turner’s Gap and the National Road. By the afternoon, reinforcements from both armies began making their way toward South Mountain. By evening, the battles of Brownsville Gap, Crampton’s Gap, Fox’s Gap, Turner’s Gap and Frostown Gap would erupt.

Alfred Colquitt in Uniform
Confederate Colonel Alfred Colquitt, shown here as a major general.

Guarding the eastern approach to Turner’s Gap, situated along the National Road, was a brigade of Confederate infantry commanded by. His brigade consisted of 13th Alabama Infantry, 6th Georgia Infantry, 23rd Georgia Infantry, 27th Georgia Infantry, and the 28th Georgia Infantry. They had been posted east of Turner’s Gap, since the evening prior the Battles of Catoctin Mountain came to an end. Supporting Col. Colquitt was Captain John Lane’s Battery of Lieutenant Colonel A. S. Cutt’s Battalion, who positioned his guns at Turner’s Gap overlooking the National Road.

While Col. Colquitt remained in his position, several miles east at Frederick, Maryland, the Union I Corps, under the command of Major General Joseph Hooker, left their camp along the banks of the Monocacy River at 6:00 a.m. By 1:00 p.m., Maj. Gen. Hooker’s corps had reached Middletown, Maryland. There, he was ordered to attack Turner’s Gap. Marching his men to the small town of Bolivar, Maj. Gen. Hooker moved his corps to the right, along Mt. Tabor Road, and came near the small area called Frostown. Here, Maj. Gen. Hooker would attack the Confederate left flank holding the mountain ridge north of Turner’s Gap.

Union Brigadier General John Gibbon

While Maj. Gen. Hooker’s corps was deploying, Brigadier General John Gibbon’s Fourth Brigade of Brigadier General John P. Hatch’s First Division was ordered back to the National Road and attack Turner’s Gap. Brigadier General Gibbon’s brigade consisted of the 19th Indiana Infantry, commanded by Colonel Solomon Meredith. Commanding the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry was Colonel Lucius Fairchild, and the 6th Wisconsin Infantry was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Edward S. Bragg. The 7th Wisconsin Infantry was commanded by Captain John B. Callis. Brigadier General Gibbon’s brigade would hold the extreme left flank of the I Corps. The last of fresh troops, part of Major General Jesse Reno’s IX Corps was located a mile to the south, ready to attack Fox’s Gap.

By 3:00 p.m., Gibbon’s Brigade were positioning themselves into a battle line just east of Bolivar. Supporting Gibbon’s Brigade was a section of artillery from Battery B, Fourth U.S. Artillery, commanded by Lieutenant James Stewart. Brigadier General Gibbon deployed his brigade on both sides to the National Road. In front, the 19th Indiana Infantry was on the left of the National Road, and were in battle line formation. Supporting them was the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry, who were deployed in columns. The 7th Wisconsin Infantry was located on the right side of the National Road and deployed in a battle line, while the 6th Wisconsin Infantry was in support, deployed in columns.

Map showing the positions of Gibbon’s Brigade and Colquitt’s Brigade.

Colonel Colquitt had his brigade deployed along the National Road, at the base of South Mountain leading into Turner’s Gap. His left flank was held by the 28th Georgia Infantry, commanded by Major Tully Graybill. To their right and left of the National Road was the 23rd Georgia Infantry, commanded by Colonel W. P. Barclay. Located on the right side of the National Road was Lieutenant Colonel J. M. Newton’s 6th Georgia Infantry. Positioned next to them was the 13th Alabama Infantry, commanded by Colonel Birkett D. Fry. Holding the right the flank was the 27th Georgia Infantry, commanded by Colonel Levi B. Smith. Four companies of skirmishers from  the 28th Georgia Infantry, commanded by Captain W. M. Arnold, were positioned just east of Fox’s Gap that joined the National Road.

By 5:00 p.m., as part of a coordinated assault on Frostown Gap and Fox’s Gap, Brig. Gen. Gibbon ordered his men forward. Captain W. W. Dudley’s company of the 19th Indiana Infantry moved to the left and deployed as flankers. They would hold the extreme left flank of Gibbon’s brigade. Company B, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry deployed skirmishers in front of the 19th Indiana Infantry, while Company K, 6th Wisconsin Infantry deployed in front of the 7th Wisconsin Infantry.  

Upon seeing Gibbon’s brigade moving forward, Col. Colquitt sent a dispatch to Major General Daniel H. Hill asking for reinforcements. Major General Hill responded, saying that he had none and that Col. Colquitt would need to defend Turner’s Gap with the forces he had on hand. This was due to Maj. Gen. Hooker’s assault on Frostown Gap to the north of Col. Colquitt’s position, and Major General Jesse Reno’s IX Corps attacking Fox’s Gap to his south.  Additional Confederate reinforcements were needed in those areas in order to keep the Union army from breaking through South Mountain.

Captain Lane’s artillery opened on Gibbon’s brigade as they began moving forward. As Gibbon’s brigade moved forward, Lt. Stewart’s two gun section followed behind until their rifled cannon were in range of the Confederate guns. The skirmishers of Captain Arnold concealed themselves within the wood line. They opened on the advancing skirmishers of the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry and 19th Indiana Infantry. Many of the Confederate skirmishers took up in the whitewashed house that was located at the intersection of the National Road and Fox’s Gap Road.

Lieutenant Stewart’s guns quickly silenced the Georgians, but they fell back and took up position just west of the intersection, using stone fences to reform their skirmish line. As the Georgian skirmishers quickly went back to work, they managed to hold back the 19th Indiana Infantry. Company G, of the 19th Indiana Infantry managed to quickly wheel left and begin gaining ground. Captain Clark, the company commander, managed to dislodge Arnold’s skirmishers, capturing 14 Confederates.

southmountain 180
The Iron Brigade Field, South Mountain State Battlefield. This is where the 6th and 7th WI Infantry moved as the right flank. A series of boulders in this field also provided protection to those Union men while many leaped frogged through the field.

While Brig. Gen. Gibbon’s left flank engaged, his right flank moved forward. They entered a cornfield that covered about half of a mile. The 7th Wisconsin Infantry followed behind the 6th Wisconsin Infantry skirmishers, who were in their front, 100 yards ahead. Once they moved out of the cornfield, they came to an open field. There, the 23rd Georgia Infantry and the 28th Georgia Infantry opened fire. These two Georgia regiments were well concealed behind a stone fence that was at the bottom of a ravine, which made a perfect breastwork.

The 7th Wisconsin Infantry quickly formed their battle line, with their left situated on the National Road, and their right stretched across the field, where their right flank rested near the woods. The Georgians kept up their fire.

While Col. Colquitt’s left flank was situated behind a natural breastwork, his right flank was still coming under fire. The 19th Indiana Infantry, along with the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry slowly began to dislodge the Confederates. At the same time, Brig. Gen. Gibbon’s right flank was starting to get bogged down. To complicate matters, Brig. Gen. Gibbon was losing daylight.

southmountain 183
The Iron Brigade Field, looking east toward Bolivar.

As the 19th Indiana Infantry and the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry continue to hit Col. Colquitt’s right flank, it began to give way. That part of Col. Colquitt’s brigade was in a more exposed position, and they were slowly being driven back. Finally, the 19th Indiana Infantry managed to break Col. Colquitt’s right flank. The 27th Georgia Infantry, followed by the 13th Alabama Infantry, and the 6th Georgia Infantry were forced to retreat further up South Mountain. As Col. Colquitt’s right flank was giving up ground, this allowed Brig. Gen. Gibbon’s left flank to support the two Wisconsin regiments that formed the right flank. The 23rd Georgia Infantry began receiving fire from it’s right. But, still using the stone fence as a breastwork, the Union fire wasn’t enough to break Colquitt’s left flank.

Map showing the final assault by the Iron Brigade on Colquitt’s position just as nightfall was coming.

The 7th Wisconsin Infantry kept a heavy fire upon the 23rd Georgia Infantry. Receiving support from the their left flank, the 7th Wisconsin Infantry began another advance. They were quickly hit with musketry from the 28th Georgia Infantry. This drove the 7th Wisconsin Infantry back. They were getting fired upon by the Confederates from their front, flank, as well as their rear.

The 6th Wisconsin Infantry was brought into action, and they quickly formed up on the right flank of the 7th Wisconsin Infantry. As the 6th Wisconsin Infantry moved forward, they were hit by fire from the 28th Georgia Infantry. As daylight was fading, Col. Bragg ordered his 6th Wisconsin Infantry to advance by wings. The right wing of Col. Bragg’s regiment fired into the Confederates. While they reloaded, he then advanced his left wing, who quickly fired into the Confederates. He then advanced his right wing and continued this leapfrog movement. Col. Bragg gained a considerable amount of ground.

Now, with twilight upon the battlefield and darkness setting in, Brig. Gen. Gibbon ordered his brigade to cease fire. Gibbon’s brigade was withdrawn from the battlefield with the exception of the 6th Wisconsin Infantry, who would sleep under arms that night. Brigadier General Gibbon’s losses were 37 killed, 251 wounded, and 30 missing. Colonel Colquitt’s losses were 110 killed, wounded, or missing. Colonel Colquitt attended to his wounded and managed to evacuate many of them.

Although Gibbon’s brigade was unable to break through the Confederate battle line, they earned the nickname “The Iron Brigade.” At one point during the attack, Maj. Gen. McClellan, observing the battlefield, saw Gibbon’s brigade and complimented on how they stood their ground, saying that Gibbon’s men stood like iron. The Iron Brigade was also known as the “Black hats” as they proudly wore their dress Hardee hats, with their dress frock coats and white gaiters.

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.”

The Christmas Gift at Fredericksburg, Virginia 1862

While researching for a Christmas program, I came across this interesting letter published in the Waynesboro Village Record shortly after the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia. The Pennsylvania unit being referred to could be one of two regiments that fought in the afternoon portion of the battle at Fox’s Gap. The 45th Pennsylvania which hit Philip’s Georgian Legion head on in Wise’s Southfield or it could be the 100th Pennsylvania. More than likely it was the 45th PA. The Georgian Legion that the Confederate soldier says he is from is that of Philip’s Legion.

Waynesboro Village Record: February 13, 1863

Singular Incident

Summary: A sentimental account of a conversation that occurred between a Union soldier and Confederate soldier during a brief interlude from the fighting at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Over the course of the interaction, the soldiers discovered that they shared a strange bond, one that extends beyond the fact that they have fought in the same battles.

Our correspondent T., writing from the Ninth Army Corps, apposite Fredericksburg narrates the following, which occurred on Christmas day, while the writer was out on picket with his company.

After partaking of a Christmas dinner of salt junk and hard tack, our attention was attracted by a rebel picket who hailed us from the opposite side of the river: “I say, Yank, if a fellow goes over there will you let him come back again?,”

Receiving an affirmative answer, he proceeded to test the truth of it by paddling himself across the river. He was decidedly the cleanest specimen of a rebel I had seen. In answer to a question, he said he belonged to the Georgia Legion. One of the boys remarked, “I met quite a number of your boys at SouthMountain.” “Yes, I suppose so–if you were there,” said the rebel, while his face grew very sad. “We left very many of our boys there. My brother, poor Will, was killed there. It was a hot place for a while, and we had to leave it in a hurry.” “That’s so, Georgia, your fellows fought well there, and had all the advantage, but the old Keystone boys were pressing you hard. By the way I have a likeness here (taking it out of his pocket) that I picked up on the battle field the next morning and I have carried it ever since.” He handed it to the rebel, who, on looking at it, pressed it to his lips, exclaiming “my mother! my mother!” He exhibited considerable emotion at the recovery of the picture, but on regaining his composure, he said, that his brother had it in his possession, and must have lost it in the fight.

He then asked the name of the one to whom he was indebted for the lost likeness of his mother, remarking “There may be better times soon, and we may know each other better.” He had taken from his pocket a small pocket bible in which to write the address, when Alex—, who had taken no part in the conversation, fairly yelled, “I know that book! I lost it at Bull Run!” Thar’s whar I got it, Mr. Yank,” said the rebel–and he handed it to Alex. “I am much obliged to you, Georgia Legion, for I wouldn’t part with it for all the Southern Confederacy.” I was a little curious to know something further of the book, so I asked Alex to let me see it. He passed it to me. I opened it, and on the fly leaf saw written in a neat lady’s hand: “My Christmas Gift to Alex—, Dec 25th, 1860. Ella.” “Well, Alex,” said I, “it is not often one has the same gift presented to him a second time.” “True, Captain; and if I could but see the giver of that to-day, there’s but one other gift that I would want.”–“What’s that, Alex?” “This rebellion played out, and my discharge in my pocket.”

The boys had all been busily talking to our rebel friend, who, seeing a horseman approaching in the direction of his post, bid us a hasty good-bye, and made as quick a trip as possible across the Rappahannock. Night came on, and those not on duty lay down on the frozen ground, to dream of other Christmas nights, when we knew not war.