During the afternoon of September 14, 1862, South Mountain came under heavy attack as the Union army tried to push through the mountain. Fighting would erupt at Frostown Gap, Turner’s Gap, Crampton’s Gap and Brownsville Pass, with much fighting taking place also at Fox’s Gap located along the Old Sharpsburg Road. But by afternoon, reinforcements from both armies began fighting for control of South Mountain and its gaps.
For Union Major General George B. McClellan, commanding the Army of the Potomac, wanted to seize the opportunity and attack a divided Confederate army, commanded by General Robert E. Lee. General Lee’s Confederate army was divided into several sections with ⅔ of it besieging Harper’s Ferry or occupying Pleasant Valley and Crampton’s Gap and Brownsville Pass. Other elements were located near Hagerstown, while Major General D. H. Hill was protecting the rear of the Confederate army. The only natural barrier standing between the Union army and the Confederate army was South Mountain.
Frostown Gap is located one mile north of Turner’s Gap and is considered to be part of the Battle of Turner’s Gap. As Turner’s Gap is situated along the National Road, the Union army I Corps during the afternoon, sidestepped Turner’s Gap in favor of moving around it to the north at Frostown. This area is very rugged with steep gorges and hills. Not an ideal location for a battle.
Confederate Major General Daniel Harvey Hill commanded Confederate troops at Fox’s Gap and Turner’s Gap with his headquarters located at the Mountain House. During the morning, his biggest worry was about the battle that claimed the life of Brigadier General Samuel Garland who fell at Fox’s Gap. With concerns of a Union break through there, he sent Brigadier General George B. Anderson’s Brigade to hold the Union back at Fox’s Gap which arrived just in time as Garland’s Brigade had broke.
Brigadier General Robert Rodes’ Brigade was ordered up to South Mountain to occupy Brig. Gen. Anderson’s position at Turner’s Gap along with Brigadier General Roswell Ripley’s Brigade who would be ordered to Fox’s Gap along two other Confederate infantry brigades. Major General Hill knew it would be a matter of time before Federal troops attacked Turner’s Gap or try and move to the north through Frostown.
On the morning of September 14, Brig. Gen. Rodes was ordered to Turner’s Gap. His brigade arrived at around noon. There, Brig. Gen. Rodes met with Maj. Gen. Hill. Major General Hill fearing that an attack might come from his left, ordered Rodes’ Brigade to take the higher ground north of Turner’s Gap. After remaining there for a short while, Brig. Gen. Rodes was ordered to move his brigade northward another ¾ of a mile to where the ridge overlooks Frostown.1
Brigadier General Rodes deployed his brigade along the ridgeline covering a total distance of almost one mile. The rocky nature along with the steep gorges made it difficult for Rodes’ Brigade to deploy. The 12th Alabama Infantry commanded by Colonel B. B. Gayle would hold the right flank of Rodes’ Brigade as well as giving Captain John Lane’s Georgia Battery support. Colonel Gayle had several companies of his regiment deployed as skirmishers further down Frostown (Dahlgren) Road. To their left was 26th Alabama Infantry, commanded by Colonel E. A. O’Neal and they were positioned to the left of Frostown (Dahlgren) Road, positioned near the Rent Farm. To their left was the 3rd Alabama Infantry, commanded by Colonel Cullen A. Battle. They were positioned near the O’Neal House. To their left was the 5th Alabama Infantry, commanded by Major E. L. Hobson positioned near the Haupt House, with skirmishers positioned several hundred yards forward. The 6th Alabama Infantry, commanded by Colonel John B. Gordon held the left flank of Rodes’ Brigade on both sides of Frostown Road. The 6th Alabama Infantry was also positioned near the Widow Main’s House. There, Colonel Gordon warned Widow Main about the oncoming battle and refused to leave. 1,200 men total would defend this ridgeline from the Union army attack. Brigadier General Rodes’ right flank was supported by one cannon of Captain Lane’s battery, and later would be reinforced by other Confederate brigades positioned nearer Turner’s Gap.2
By 1:00 p.m., Major General Joseph Hooker’s I Corps had reached Middletown, Maryland after leaving their camp near Frederick. Major General Hooker was ordered move to Bolivar, a small community near the eastern base of South Mountain. At Bolivar, there was a crossroad and Maj. Gen. Hooker moved his corps along Mount Tabor Road, right of the town. From there, they would march toward Frostown.
Arriving at the Frostown Road intersection, Maj. Gen. Hooker began deploying his corps. Brigadier General John P. Hatch’s First Division would attack the Confederate positions located on the southern ridge of South Mountain with Brigadier General James Ricketts Second Division held in reserve. Brigadier General George Meade’s Third Division would deploy to the right of the Frostown Road stretching several hundred yards past the Gaber (Gaver) Farm.
A series of steep hills led to the first upper ridge of South Mountain, followed by a gorge and up another steep hill to the second the ridge. The landscape was mostly open farm land with some wooded areas where the Brig. Gen. Meade’s right flank would be position. Moving forward up a steep hill and through a deep ravine or gorge would prove to be a challenge. Once in the gorge, is another very steep mountain bank, in which would take you to the main ridge of South mountain.
By 2:00 p.m., Brig. Gen. Meade’s division was in place. Brigadier General Truman Seymour’s First Brigade formed Brig. Gen. Meade’s right flank. Brigadier General Seymour’s Pennsylvania Reserves brigade consisted of the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves commanded by Colonel Hugh W. McNeal, the 1st Pennsylvania Reserves, commanded by Colonel R. Biddle Roberts. The 2nd Pennsylvania Reserves was commanded by Captain James N. Byrnes. Commanding the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves was Colonel Joseph W. Fisher and the 6th Pennsylvania Reserves was commanded by Colonel William Sinclair.3
Forming the center, was Colonel Thomas F. Gallagher’s Third Brigade. Four Pennsylvania Reserves made up this brigade. The 9th Pennsylvania Reserve was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Robert Anderson. Commanding the 10th Pennsylvania Reserves was Lieutenant Colonel Adoniram Judson Warner. The 11th Pennsylvania Reserves was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Samuel M. Jackson. Commanding the 12th Pennsylvania Reserves was Captain Richard Gustin.
And forming the left flank of Brig. Gen. Meade’s division was newly promoted Colonel Albert L. Magilton Second Brigade. The 3rd Pennsylvania Reserves was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Clark. Major John Nyce commanded the 4th Pennsylvania Reserves. Commanding the 7th Pennsylvania Reserves was Colonel Henry Bolinger. The 8th Pennsylvania Reserves was commanded by Major Silas M. Baily.4
By 3:30 p.m., Captain James Cooper’s Battery of four rifled guns deployed between Brig. Gen. Seymour’s brigade and Colonel Gallagher’s brigade. Confederate skirmishers were positioned just west of the Frostown Road and were ordered to stall Hooker’s advance. One of Captain Lane’s guns was located to the right flank of Rodes’ Brigade and tried to throw shells on Meade’s advance, but could do little damage due to the range and mountainous terrain. That gun was replaced by additional Confederate infantry from Evans’ South Carolina Brigade and Kemper’s Virginia Brigade, although they would engage protecting the Confederate right flank closer to Turner’s Gap.5
By 5:00, p.m., 275 men from the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves, known as the 1st Pennsylvania Rifles or Bucktails, commanded by Colonel Hugh W. McNeal deployed as skirmishers. They began moving forward up the high hill toward Frostown Road. They were supported by the 2nd Pennsylvania Reserves and four companies from the 1st Pennsylvania Reserves. Following behind them was the rest of the Brig. Gen. Seymour’s brigade.6
Brigadier General Seymour observed the two ridges, divided by the gorge and Brig. Gen. Meade determined that the first more northern ridge could be taken. He would concentrate heavily on taking that ridge. Brigadier General Seymour recalled “On a prominent hill on his extreme left, and on our right of the road alluded to above, the rebels had posted a regiment, the Sixth Alabama. A brisk fire was opened upon our skirmishers by this regiment, and by a battery on the mountain to our left. The exposure was great, and numbers fell under the accurate fire of the shell from these guns, but the enemy was rapidly driven, the hill won, and many prisoners taken. Looking to the left, an extended field of corn led directly to the main position on the mountain itself. The First, Second, and Fifth changed direction, and, supported by the Sixth in column of companies, continued the attack. A few volleys were fired, bayonets were leveled, three hearty cheers given, and the whole line moved quickly up the hillside with an impetus that drove the enemy from cover and gave us the crest in time to anticipate a fresh brigade which was advancing to support their line, but which then turned in retreat.”7
Colonel Gallagher’s Third Brigade began deploying for the battle ahead. The 9th Pennsylvania Reserves deployed on the right, The 11th Pennsylvania Reserves formed the center. On the left flank was 12th Pennsylvania Reserves. Following behind on reserve, was the 10th Pennsylvania Reserves. Colonel Gallagher once fully deployed quickly moved forward. Lieutenant Colonel Anderson, second in command of the brigade recalled “Our brigade now began to move obliquely to the right and front under a severe fire of artillery posted on the mountain, but which did very little, if any, damage.”8
Lieutenant Colonel Anderson noted “Moving on, we soon met the enemy, posted at the base of the mountain and sheltered by a stone wall. The firing immediately commenced on both sides. Our line moved steadily on, not once giving way or faltering. The enemy were driven from their shelter, and steadily pursued up the mountain till the summit was nearly gained by our men, when, all our ammunition having been expended.”9
Brigadier General Rodes having his left flank extended to cover two ridges divided by a steep gorge, came under heavy fire ordered the 6th Alabama Infantry to move forward to cover his left flank. Colonel Gordon moved under heavy fire charged, and drove back part of Seymour’s brigade. Stabilizing his left flank, Brig. Gen. Rodes now had to protect his right flank which was coming under attack by Brig. Gen. Meade’s two remaining brigades.
Colonel Gallagher’s brigade began pushing into the gorge. The 9th Pennsylvania Reserves on the right will eventually gain a stonewall that protected some of Rodes’ men. This pushed the Confederates back toward the O’Neil house. The 10th Pennsylvania Reserves came onto the left of the 9th Pennsylvania Reserves and continued to push the Alabamians. The 11th and 12th Pennsylvania Reserves began to come under heavy fire when they entered the gorge. Colonel Gallagher was trying to penetrate between the flanks of the 3rd and 5th Alabama Infantry.10
Colonel Gallagher’s brigade moved through the gorge and began climbing the mountainside. Using a cornfield, Brig. Gen. Seymour was hitting Brig. Gen. Rodes’ left flank, and he began gaining the mountain ridge. Brigadier General James Ricketts sent Brigadier General Abram Duryee to assist Brig. Gen. Meade’s right flank, but would not engage as darkness was setting on the mountain.11
While Gallagher’s and Seymour’s brigades were attacking, Colonel Magilton’s brigade held the left of Meade’s division. They moved and hit Rodes’ right flank and Brigadier General Nathan Evans’ South Carolina Brigade. As Colonel Magilton’s troops were moving up the mountain, two brigades of Brigadier General Ricketts’ were already in the fight. The Confederates held their line, but eventually Rodes’ left flank collapsed. With night setting in, the Confederates would hold their positions until close to midnight when they quietly retreated off of South Mountain.12
An interesting story about the Pennsylvania Bucktails during the battle for Frostown was recalled in 1867. It was about the one shot that took out two Confederate soldiers, killing them both. “A band of Rebels occupied a ledge on the extreme right, as the Colonel approached with a few of his men. The unseen force poured upon them a volley. Col. Hugh McNeil, on the instant, gave the command:”Pour your fire upon those rocks!”The Bucktails hesitated, it was not an order they were accustomed to receive; they had always picked their men.”13
“Fire!” thundered the Colonel; “I tell you to fire on those rocks!” The men obeyed. For some time an irregular fire was kept up, the Bucktails sheltering themselves, as best they could, behind trees and rocks. On a sudden McNeil caught sight of two rebels peering through an opening in the works to get aim. The eyes of the men followed their commander, and half a dozen rifles were levelled in that direction.”
“Wait a minute,” said the Colonel;”I will try my hand. There is nothing like killing two birds with one stone.”
“The two rebels were not in line, but one stood a little distance back of the other, while just in front of the foremost was a slanting rock. Col. McNeil seized a rifle, raised it, glanced a moment along the polished barrel; a report followed, and both the rebels disappeared. At that moment a loud cheer a little distance beyond rent the air. “All is right now,” cried the Colonel;”charge the rascals.”
“The men sprang up among the rocks in an instant. The affrighted rebels turned to run, but encountered another body of the Bucktails and were obliged to surrender. Not a man of them escaped. Everyone saw the object of the Colonel’s order to fire at random among the rocks. He had sent a party around to the rear, and meant thus to attract their attention. It was a perfect success.”
“The two rebels by the opening in the ledge were found lying there stiff and cold. Col. McNeil’s bullet had struck the slanting rock in front of them, glanced, and passed through both their heads. There it lay beside them, flattened. The Colonel picked it up, and put it in his pocket.”
Brigadier General Rodes’ losses were 61 killed, 157 wounded and 204 missing. Brigadier General Meade losses were high. He lost 95 killer, 296 wounded, and 1 missing.
Official Records: (Rodes) Series 1, Vol 19, Part 1 (Antietam – Serial 27) , Pages 1033 – 1039
Deployment of Rodes’ Brigade from a map housed at South Mountain State Battlefield. I helped to put this map together.
O.R. Meade’s report
Since Brig. Gen. Meade was promoted to divisional command, on the day the Battle of South Mountain, some resources state Col. Henry C. Bolinger was in command of the brigade. However, on September 14 Colonel Albert Lewis Magilton succeeded Meade for command of the brigade. http://antietam.aotw.org/officers.php?officer_id=899&from=results
O.R. :Series 1, Vol 19, Part 1 (Antietam – Serial 27) , Page 271
O.R. Series 1, Vol 19, Part 1 (Antietam – Serial 27) , Page 272
O.R. Series 1, Vol 19, Part 1 (Antietam – Serial 27) , Pages 274 – 275
O.R. Gallagher: Series 1, Vol 19, Part 1 (Antietam – Serial 27) , Pages 273 – 274
Anecdotes, Poetry and Incidents of the War: North and South, 1860-1865, New York , NY. 1867. pg 339 Frank Moore, editor.