Women Soldiers at South Mountain

One subject that is seldom discussed is the role that women had during the Civil War, including those few cases where a woman would enlist as a man. During my research of the Battle of South Mountain that occurred on September 14th, 1862, I have come across five women soldiers that were disguised as men. Adding to that there were a few other women, although not engaged at South Mountain, who would fight at Antietam. According to the book “They Fought Like Demons” by Deanne Blanton and Lauren Cook, there were a total of eight known cases of women soldiers at Antietam.

Mary Galloway joined up with the rear of the Army of the Potomac just days before Antietam and would be later cared for by Clara Barton when a bullet struck her neck. Another woman who traveled through South Mountain was Sarah Edmonds, acting as a currier. Sarah Edmonds wrote the book “Nurse and Spy in the Union Army” which was published in 1865, and it focused on her adventures in the army and describe the Maryland Campaign simply as “The brilliant and triumphant victories at South Mountain and Antietam, which more than counterbalanced the disastrous campaign of Pope, and which sent a thrill of joy throughout the North.” If Elvira Ibecker, known as Charles Fuller of Company D of the 46th Pennsylvania wasn’t discovered a month after enlistment in 1861 she might have fought at South Mountain.

So who were the women that fought at South Mountain? Well, I was able to find the names of five women who are confirmed to have been combatants during the “Bloody Prelude” to Antietam. The Battle of South Mountain nowadays has been summed up by three mountain gaps, even though there were five gaps that were fought over. You have Brownsville and Crampton’s Gaps to the south near Harper’s Ferry, and Fox’s Gap, Turner’s Gap and Frostown Gaps to the north. All five mountain gaps cover a ridge stretching about 10 miles.

The Battle of South Mountain erupted during the morning when Union forces of Colonel Eliakim Scammon’s 1st Brigade attacked a brigade of Confederate infantry under the command of General Samuel Garland at Fox’s Gap. After a few hours of hard fighting, some of which was hand to hand, a portion of General George Crook’s 2nd Brigade arrived with the 30th Ohio, making the advance in Wise’s Southfield. Held in reserve was that of the 28th Ohio which would later fight against Drayton’s Brigade.

In the 28th Ohio was Catherine Davidson who was disguised as a man. The 28th Ohio was positioned behind the 30th Ohio in southeast corner of Wise’s Southfield. As Drayton’s men positioned themselves, members of the 30th and the 28th Ohio would face off with portions of the 15th South Carolina during the late afternoon in what would be the total destruction of Drayton’s Brigade. Catherine survived the Battle of South Mountain only to be wounded three days later at Antietam.

Several resources state that Ida Remington fought at South Mountain. Apparently South Mountain was Ida Remington’s first major battle of the Civil War and she later fought at Antietam. Ida spent most of her career as a soldier serving as an officer’s servant until September of 1863, when she was detected as a female and was jailed.

During the afternoon hours of September 14th, General Joseph Hooker’s First Corps took Mount Tabor Road at the base of South Mountain, at Bolivar, side stepping Turner’s Gap. During Hooker’s march north toward Frostown, General John Gibbon’s Brigade was ordered back to Bolivar. At Bolivar, Gibbon’s men were to attack Confederate positions at Turner’s Gap. Confederate Colonel Alfred Colquitt had his brigade of Alabamians and Georgians positioned at the base of South Mountain.

As Gibbon’s (Iron) Brigade marched westward through the fields along the National Pike, they were hit with shells from Cutt’s Artillery Battalion that was positioned on the heights north of Turner’s Gap. Rebecca Peterman was serving in the 7th Wisconsin Infantry during the Battle of South Mountain. The 7th Wisconsin Infantry formed a line of battle on the north side of the National Road. Their skirmishers were thrown out and then a fight quickly ensued. After a heavy skirmish, the 7th Wisconsin Infantry reformed their line of battle with their left flank touching the National Road and their right touching the wood line. The fight was brutal, but the Iron Brigade never broke through the main Confederate battle line, as Colquitt’s men held their position behind a stonewall.

Rebecca Peterman’s role during the Battle of South Mountain is unknown. Besides being a drummer boy, she is credited as having participated in the Battle of Antietam. So who is Rebecca Peterman? Rebecca “Georgianna” Peterman enlisted in the 7th Wisconsin Infantry in the fall of 1862, at the age of sixteen. Once, when asked why she enlisted, she stated that she wanted to see what war was really about. She enlisted for two reasons. The first was because she wanted to be near her brother and cousin. Her cousin is credited with having given Rebecca the idea of enlisting. It took about two weeks for her own brother to realize that she was in uniform. Rebecca was known to be an adventurous country girl who lived in Ellenboro, Wisconsin and the sound of war was exciting to her, thus creating her second reason. Even after her brother died in late 1862, she stayed in the ranks for another two years.

So how did Rebecca manage to keep from being detected? She had a small, boyish, build, with some masculine features. From a distance she could pass as a young boy of sixteen. Some resources even stated she was better looking as a soldier than a young girl. Rebecca not only participated in battles and camped with her company, she also scouted and picketed. During battle she was known to be one of the most gallant soldiers and Frances Clayton who served with Peterman even stated “she was a good fellow.” Rebecca was eventually wounded above the temple but survived.

Though there is a discrepancy with service records, Elizabeth Niles also passed through South Mountain in some capacity. Some records state that Elizabeth served with the 4th New Jersey Infantry, which fought at Crampton’s Gap. While other records show that she fought alongside her husband Martin, who served with the 14th Vermont Infantry. Most resources state that Elizabeth and Martin Niles were on their honeymoon when the war broke out. Elizabeth cut her hair and served beside her husband in 1862 through the war. The records for her husband point in the direction that both served in the 14th Vermont, which means that she would have come through South Mountain during the Army of the Potomac’s pursuit Lee’s army in July of 1863.

Another name that appears to have marched through South Mountain during the Maryland Campaign is that of Nellie K., who served with the 102nd New York Infantry, part of General Mansfield’s Twelve Corps.

Although not a common topic among Civil War buffs, the fact of the matter is that one can not deny that female soldiers came through South Mountain and in some cases fought at South Mountain. Research is on-going to find more names to add to those who fought at South Mountain that are women. As I find those names, this blog posting will be updated. Unfortunately, the armies kept no “official” records of women in the ranks, so this makes researching the topic very slow. Nevertheless, these women risked certain punishment if they were found in the ranks from both the army as well as the community in which they came from, and they deserve to be recognized for their service to their country.

Photographs LOC


Outline of Events on South Mountain 1861-1864

1861: Maryland Elections

November – Major Stone who was the provost-marshal for the areas of Woodsboro, Myersville, Wolfsville, Emmitsburg, Mechanicstown, and Wolf’s Tavern sent troops of infantry and cavalry for the protection of pro-Union voters.

1862: The Maryland Campaign and Stuart’s Chambersburg Raid

September 13 – Confederate General D.H. Hill guarded the rear of Lee’s Army on South Mountain.

September 14 – The Maryland Campaign: The battles of Turner’s Gap, Frostown Gap, Fox’s Gap, Brownsville Pass and Crampton’s Gap.

September 17 – Washington Monument is used as a signal corps station and observation point during the battle of Antietam.

October 11 – Stuart’s Chambersburg Raid: Confederate General JEB Stuart’s cavalry passes through Cashtown Gap after it leaves Chambersburg. Thinking that Stuart was returning to the Potomac River via Williamsport, Union Captain Benjamin F. Fisher was ordered to open Washington Monument for observation in order to pinpoint Stuart’s location.

1863: Mountaintop News

March 6 – It was reported in the Waynesboro Village Record that Samuel Wade of Co. A, 77th Regiment P. V., was shot near Buena Vista Springs (on South Mountain, near Monterey Pass) while trying to escape from the Provost Guard, who had arrested him earlier. Though serious, the piece relates, Wade’s wounds are not life threatening.

1863: The Pennsylvania Campaign

June 15 – The Confederate Army begins it’s invasion, crossing the Potomac River near Williamsport, Maryland.

June 18 – Union Major General Joseph Hooker requested that a signal station be built at Crampton’s Gap on South Mountain, as well as requesting cavalry support from Harper’s Ferry to seize all mountain gaps from Maryland Heights to Boonsboro. General Robert C. Schenck fulfills Hooker’s request.

June 19 – General Hooker ordered General Samuel P. Heintzelman, who was at Poolesville, to help General Schenck seize the mountain gaps on South Mountain. General Heintzelman’s force consisted of 1,600 infantry, one battery of artillery and five troops of cavalry.

June 22 – A skirmish erupted at Monterey Pass near the Mason and Dixon Line of South Mountain between a portion of the 14th Virginia Cavalry and Captain Robert Bell’s 21st Pennsylvania, Captain David Conaughy’s Home Guard and a detachment of 1st Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry under Captain Samuel Randall.

June 23 – 24 – General William French was in charge of the South Mountain operations as Union scouts were overlooking and watching the Hagerstown Valley and Pleasant Valley while the Confederate Army concentrates in Pennsylvania.

June 25 – General John Reynolds ordered General Oliver O. Howard to send a brigade of infantry along with a battery of rifled guns to report to General Stahel and his cavalry at Crampton’s Gap.

Union General Julies Stahel reported to General Reynolds through a dispatch that the whole Confederate Army had passed through Hagerstown and was now in Pennsylvania. General Anderson’s Division of General A.P. Hill Corps had passed through Boonsboro around 6am.

June 26 – General Oliver O. Howard’s 11th Corps began to occupy the mountain gaps along South Mountain. General Howard posted one brigade at Crampton’s Gap, one at Turner’s Gap, another brigade on the road to Burkittsville and the final brigade on the Hagerstown Road. During the evening General Howard sent a dispatch to General Reynolds that stated that no Confederate force was reported to have been seen at Crampton’s Gap. General John Reynolds led his 1st Corps to Jefferson, Maryland and would proceed to Middletown the following day.

Union General Stahel’s deployment was stretched all across South Mountain. He had one brigade and a section of artillery posted at Crampton’s Gap as well as a brigade and two sections of artillery from General Howard’s Corps. Stahel had one regiment at Turner’s Gap and one brigade and two sections of artillery at Middletown.

June 27 – After arriving in the area of Jefferson and Burkittsville, General David Birnery was ordered by General Reynolds to send one infantry brigade and a battery of rifled guns to Crampton’s Gap to relieve the forces of General Howard. While General Howard’s men at Crampton’s Gap were waiting to be relieved, Colonel William D. Mann, commanding the 7th Michigan Cavalry occupied Turner’s Gap and sent patrols throughout the valley toward Hagerstown.

During the afternoon, General Oliver O. Howard occupied Turner’s Gap and established his headquarters at the Mountain House. At midnight Hooker’s resignation is finally accepted.

June 28 – Skirmish at Fountain Dale in Pennsylvania near the base of South Mountain. General Joseph Hooker is relieved of command and General George Meade takes his place. Meade issues orders to withdraw from South Mountain and head northward.

June 29 – The Federal cavalry and Battery A of the 2nd U.S. Artillery under John Buford moved toward Pennsylvania, investigating the Confederate forces in the area. General Buford left Middletown taking the National Pike to Boonsboro and headed to Smithsburg. From there he traveled up to Monterey Pass and saw Confederate infantry marching in the Cumberland Valley.

General Wesley Merrit and his cavalry, stationed near Thurmont, Maryland were ordered to guard Harman’s Pass on the Catoctin Mountain and monitor Wolf’s Tavern Pass on South Mountain.

July 4 – Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered the two key passes of Monterey and Fairfield on South Mountain to be secured for the Confederate withdraw from Gettysburg. The Confederate wagon train of wounded will go through Cashtown Gap.

July 4 – 5 – The battles of Monterey Pass and Fairfield Gap occur as Union cavalry under General Judson Kilpatrick is ordered to harass the retreating Confederate Army. The 1st Vermont is ordered from Monterey Pass to head to Leitersburg via Raven Rock Pass on South Mountain to disrupt the Confederate wagon train, making the battle of Monterey Pass the only battle to be fought on both sides of the Mason and Dixon Line.

July 5 – The battle of Smithsburg occurs between General Stuart’s Cavalry and Kilpatrick’s Cavalry.

The majority of Lee’s Infantry marches through Monterey Pass.

July 6 – The last of General Lee’s main army crosses South Mountain at Monterey Pass.

The Union Army begins its pursuit of General Lee. General John Buford reaches Turner’s Gap where General Morris was stationed. General Buford ordered a small group of signal corpsmen to begin observation from the top of Washington Monument.

July 7 – A party of signal officers under the charge of Captain William J. L. Nicodemus arrived from Washington for the purpose of working in conjunction with the signal corps of the Federal Army. Captain Nicodemus opened a line of communication between Frederick and (Turner’s Gap) South Mountain Pass.

July 8 – Captain Ernst A. Denicke and Lieutenant C.F.M. Denicke opened a signal station at Washington Monument early in the morning around 9:00am.

The Confederate cavalry under General JEB Stuart was ordered by General Lee to attack and stall General Meade’s movements as they were holding the western approach of South Mountain Pass.

Elements of the Eleventh Corps guard Turner’s Gap.

July 9 – The headquarters of the Union Army is moved to Turner’s Gap. General Meade utilizes the Mountain House as his headquarters as the Army of the Potomac closed behind Lee’s Army. He ordered a signal station to occupy Turner’s Gap, communicating through others at Middletown and Crampton’s Pass, with Maryland Heights.

July 10 – General Neill’s expeditions from a point on Franklin’s Cliff, South Mountain Range, near Leitersburg, discovered the numbers and position of the enemy in and around Hagerstown.

July 11 – A small group of Federal soldiers led by Captain William G. McCreary went to Black Rock, a bare and elevated rock on the South Mountain Range between Boonsboro and Smithsburg. A reconnaissance of the area was made. With most of the action occurring in the Hagerstown and Boonsboro area, the observation team went back into the valley.

July 14 – General Meade issued marching orders to his corps commanders. By the end of the day all signal operations and observation stations were discontinued. Lee’s Army had crossed the Potomac River.

July 15 – The 12th and 2nd Corps marched to Pleasant Valley, encamping there for the night. The 3rd Corps marched to Brownsville, encamping in Pleasant Valley near Harper’s Ferry. The 5th and 1st Corps would march on the Boonsboro Road to the Sharpsburg Road crossing over South Mountain at Fox’s Gap to Burkittsville and encamping for the night at Berlin. The 6th and 11th Corps along with the artillery reserve marched through Turner’s Gap to Middletown and on to Berlin.

1864: Early’s Maryland Campaign and the Burning of Chambersburg
July 6 – The Confederate 1st Maryland Cavalry skirmishes with elements of Mean’s Loudoun County Rangers, the 8th Illinois Cavalry, and a section of artillery.

July 7 – Confederate forces under General John C. Breckinridge encamped at the western base of South Mountain in Rohrersville.

General Robert Rodes skirmishes with elements of Federal forces on the road to Crampton’s Gap and encamped near Crampton’s Gap that night.

July 8 – Confederates with the 1st Maryland Cavalry skirmishes with elements of Mean’s Loudoun County Rangers, the 8th Illinois Cavalry, and a section of artillery at Turner’s Gap.

Breckinridge marches over South Mountain at Fox’s Gap while General Jubal Early and General Stephen Dodson Ramseur marched through Turner’s Gap and encamped near Middletown that evening. Further to the south, General Robert Rodes marched through Crampton’s Gap and encamped near Jefferson that evening.

July 9 – Major John B. Burt, an Aid-de-Camp wrote a dispatch to Major Schultze that Confederate troops were fortifying South Mountain near the old battlefield. He stated that two of his men were in a Confederate camp at Wolfsville on South Mountain. The Federal scouts stated that about fifty Confederate infantrymen were on picket duty and that they were part of a chain of pickets that stretched across South Mountain from Boonsboro to Monterey Pass.

July 10 – Confederate cavalry foraged South Mountain from Monterey to Frederick, stealing horses, and creating much alarm.

Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence scouted the area on South Mountain at Black Rock Bridge. Reports were of Confederate cavalry and a section of artillery moving along the Westminster and Baltimore Pike, moving from the direction of Boonsboro. The Westminster and Baltimore Pike was a roadway that led from Hagerstown over South Mountain at Wolf’s Tavern and over the Catoctin Mountain through Emmitsburg, continuing to Westminster.

July 29 – 30 – Various elements of Union cavalry units guarded many of the northern passes on South Mountain.

July 31 – The 11th West Virginia Infantry Battalion, General Duffie’s First Cavalry Division and Second Brigade, and the First Infantry Division were encamped in the fields surrounding Wolfsville.

August 1 – Union Lieutenant Ellis reported from High Rock that the town of Chambersburg had been burned.