previous next

Chapter 15: the Maryland campaign.

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows, and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat.
As our columns approached Leesburg, “Maryland, my Maryland” was in the air, and on the lips of every man from General Lee down to the youngest drummer. Our chief could have safely ordered the ranks to break in Virginia and assemble in Fredericktown. All that they would ask was a thirty minutes plunge in the Potomac to remove some of the surplus dust, before they encountered the smiles of tie winsome lasses of Maryland. Yet he expressed doubt of trusting so far from home solely to untried and unknown resources for food-supplies. Receiving his anxious expressions really as appeals for reinforcement of his unexpressed wish, but warm to brave the venture, I related my Mexican War experiences with Worth's division, marching around the city of Monterey on two days rations of roasting-ears and green oranges, and said that it seemed to me that we could trust the fields of Maryland, laden with ripening corn and fruit, to do as much as those of Mexico; that we could in fact [200] subsist on the bounty of the fields until we could open communication with our organized base of supplies.

As factors in the problem, important as Lee's masterly science and Jackson's great skill, stood the fortitude and prowess of the Confederate soldiers, and their faith in the friendship and generosity of their countrymen. Hungry, sparsely clad, worn with continuous bivouac and battle since the 26th of June, proud of their record from the First to the honors of the Second Manassas, their cheery smiles and elastic step told better than words of anticipations of welcome from friends in Maryland, and of new fields of honor for their solid ranks,--of the day when they should be masters of the field and of a new-born republic.

Though a losing battle, the Union armies had made a splendid fight at Second Manassas. The stand at Ox Hill was severe; severe till the march of retreat, so that the Army of Northern Virginia should have held in profound respect its formidable adversary, seasoned by many bloody fields.

The policy of the Richmond government was defensive rather than aggressive warfare, but the situation called for action, and there was but one opening,--across the Potomac. General Lee decided to follow his success in its natural leading, and so reported to the Richmond authorities.

He was not so well equipped as an army of invasion should be, but the many friends in Maryland and the fields on the north side of the Potomac were more inviting than those of Virginia, so freely foraged. He knew from events of the past that his army was equal to the service to which he thought to call it, and ripe for the adventure; that he could march into Maryland and remain until the season for the enemy's return into Virginia for autumn or winter work had passed, improve his transportation supplies, and the clothing of his army, and do [201] that, if not more, for relief of our Southern fields and limited means, besides giving his army and cause a moral influence of great effect at home and abroad. He decided to make his march by the most direct route from Chantilly, where he had last fought, to the Potomac, and so crossed by the fords near Leesburg. Marching by this route, he thought to cut off a formidable force of Union troops at Winchester, at Martinsburg, and a strong garrison occupying the fortified position at Harper's Ferry.

To summarize the situation, we were obliged to go into Maryland or retreat to points more convenient to supplies and the protection of Richmond.

At Leesburg Lee learned that the Union troops in the Valley had left Winchester, and sent back orders to have the crippled and feeble soldiers wending their way to the army march through the Valley to join us in Maryland. Trains of supplies were ordered to move by the same route.

On the 5th and 6th the columns crossed the Potomac by the fords near Leesburg. Stuart's cavalry, coming up from the line near Alexandria and the Long Bridge, passed to front and right flank of the army. General McLaws's division, General J. G. Walker, with two brigades of his division, and General Hampton's cavalry brigade, including Colonel Baker's North Carolina regiment, joined us on the march. On the 7th our infantry and artillery commands came together near Frederick City.

Riding together before we reached Frederick, the sound of artillery fire came from the direction of Point of Rocks and Harper's Ferry, from which General Lee inferred that the enemy was concentrating his forces from the Valley, for defence at Harper's Ferry, and proposed to me to organize forces to surround and capture the works and the garrison.

I thought it a venture not worth the game, and suggested, as we were in the enemy's country and presence, [202] that he would be advised of any move that we made in a few hours after it was set on foot; that the Union army, though beaten, was not disorganized; that we knew a number of their officers who could put it in order and march against us, if they found us exposed, and make serious trouble before the capture could be accomplished; that our men were worn by very severe and protracted service, and in need of repose; that as long as we had them in hand we were masters of the situation, but dispersed into many fragments, our strength must be greatly reduced. As the subject was not continued, I supposed that it was a mere expression of passing thought, until, the day after we reached Frederick, upon going over to Headquarters, I found the front of the general's tent closed and tied. Upon inquiring of a member of the staff, I was told that he was inside with General Jackson. As I had not been called, I turned to go away, when General Lee, recognizing my voice, called me in. The plan had been arranged. Jackson, with his three divisions, was to recross the Potomac by the fords above Harper's Ferry, march via Martinsburg to Bolivar Heights; McLaws's division by Crampton's Gap to Maryland Heights; J. G. Walker's division to recross at Cheek's Ford and occupy Loudoun Heights, these heights overlooking the positions of the garrison of Harper's Ferry; D. H. Hill's division to march by the National road over South Mountain at Turner's Gap, and halt at the western base, to guard trains, intercept fugitives from Harper's Ferry, and support the cavalry, if needed; the cavalry to face the enemy and embarrass his movements. I was to march over the mountain by Turner's Gap to Hagerstown.

As their minds were settled firmly upon the enterprise, I offered no opposition further than to ask that the order be so modified as to allow me to send R. H. Anderson's division with McLaws and to halt my own column near the point designated for bivouac of General D. H. [203] Hill's command. These suggestions were accepted, and the order 1 so framed was issued.

It may be well to digress from my narrative for a moment just here to remark that General Lee's confidence in the strength of his army, the situation of affairs, and [204] the value of the moral effect upon the country, North and South, was made fully manifest by the nature of the campaign he had just entered upon, especially that portion of it directed against Harper's Ferry, which, as events were soon to prove, weakened the effectiveness of his army in the main issue, which happened to be Antietam.

In another and a very different way, and with even greater plainness, his high estimate of opportunity and favoring condition of circumstances existing at the time was indicated to the authorities, though of course not at that time made public. This was his deliberate and urgent advice to President Davis to join him and be prepared to make a proposal for peace and independence from the head of a conquering army. Fresh from the Second Manassas, and already entered upon the fateful Maryland campaign, he wrote the President this important letter:

Headquarters Near Fredericktown, Md., September 8, 1862.
His Excellency Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States, Richmond, Va.: Mr. President,--
2 The present position of affairs, in my opinion, places it in the power of the government of the Confederate States to propose with propriety to that of the United States the recognition of our independence. For more than a year both sections of the country have been devastated by hostilities which have brought sorrow and suffering upon thousands of homes, without advancing the objects which our enemies proposed to themselves in beginning the contest. Such a proposition, coming from us at this time, could in no way be regarded as suing for peace; but, being made when it is in our power to inflict injury upon our adversary, would show conclusively to the world that our sole object is the establishment of our independence and the attainment of an honorable peace. The rejection of this offer would prove to the country that the responsibility of the continuance of the war does not rest upon us, but that the party in power in the United States elect to prosecute it for purposes of their own. The proposal of peace would enable the people of the United States to determine at their coming elections whether they will support those who favor a prolongation of the [205] war, or those who wish to bring it to a termination, which can but be productive of good to both parties without affecting the honor of either.

I have the honor to be, with great respect, Your obedient servant, R. E. Lee, General.

And now I return to my narrative.

General Walker's division was on detached service at the time of the order, trying to cut the canal. He marched, however, at the appointed time, found Cheek's Ford under the severe fire of the enemy's batteries, and marched on up the left bank as far as the Point of Rocks, where he crossed and rested on the 11th. On the 12th he marched to and bivouacked at Hillsboroa; on the 13th, to the foot of the Blue Ridge and occupied Loudoun Heights by a detachment under Colonel Cooke.

Not satisfied with the organization of McLaws's column, I asked and obtained permission on the 10th to strengthen it by three other brigades,--Wilcox's, under Colonel Alfred Cumming; Featherston's, and Pryor's, which were attached to R. H. Anderson's division.

The different columns from Frederick marched as ordered, except in the change authorized for Anderson's division. It was a rollicking march, the Confederates playing and singing, as they marched through the streets of Frederick, “The girl I left behind me.”

Jackson recrossed the Potomac on the 11th, at Light's Ford, ordered A. P. Hill's division by the turnpike to Martinsburg, his own and Ewell's northwest to North Mountain Depot to intercept troops that might retreat in that direction from Martinsburg. General White, commanding the Union troops, abandoned Martinsburg the night of the 11th, having timely advice of Jackson's movements, and retreated to Harper's Ferry. On the [206] 12th, Jackson's troops came together at Martinsburg, found some stores of bacon and bread rations, and marched on the 13th for Harper's Ferry, where he found the Union troops in battle array along Bolivar Heights.

I marched across South Mountain at Turner's Pass, and bivouacked near its western base. General Lee ordered my move continued to Hagerstown. The plans of the Confederates, as blocked out, anticipated the surrender of Harper's Ferry on Friday, the 12th, or Saturday, the 13th, at latest. The change of my position from Boonsborough to Hagerstown further misled our cavalry commander and the commanders of the divisions at Boonsborough and Harper's Ferry into a feeling of security that there could be no threatening by the army from Washington.

D. H. Hill's division crossed by Turner's Gap and halted near Boonsborough. McLaws took the left-hand road, marched through Burkittsville, and halted for the night at the east base of the mountain, near Crampton's and Brownsville Passes.

Near Crampton's Pass on the west the mountain unfolds into two parallel ridges, the eastern, the general range of South Mountain, the western, Elk Ridge, opening out Pleasant Valley, about three miles from crest to crest.

Crampton's is the northern of the two passes, and about eight miles south of Turner's. One mile south of Crampton is the Brownsville Pass, and four miles from that the river pass, which cuts in between the Blue Ridge of Virginia and South Mountain of Maryland. Through the river pass the Baltimore and Ohio Railway, the canal, and the Fredericktown turnpike reach out to the west, and at the pass is the little town of Riverton. Between Riverton and Harper's Ferry was the hamlet Sandy Hook, occupied by about fifteen hundred Federal troops. Two roads wind through Pleasant Valley, one close under [207] South Mountain, the other hugging the foot-hills of Elk Ridge,--the latter rugged, little used.

Harper's Ferry, against which Lee's new movement was directed, nestles at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, on the Virginia side, under the towering cliffs of Maryland or Cumberland Heights. At Harper's Ferry the river cuts in so close under Maryland Heights that they stand almost perpendicularly over it. The crowded space between the heights and the river, filled by the railway, canal, and turnpike, was made by blastings from the southern extremities of Maryland Heights. Under the precipice the railroad bridge crosses the Potomac, and a pontoon bridge was laid a few yards above it.

McLaws marched over into Pleasant Valley on the 11th, through Brownsville Pass, near which and over Elk Ridge a road passes through Solomon's Gap of Elk Ridge. From the top of this gap is a rugged way along the ridge leading down to its southern projections and limits, by which infantry only could find foothold. That southern point is called Maryland Heights. Two brigades-Kershaw's and Barksdale's — under General Kershaw were ordered to ascend Elk Ridge, march along its summit, driving off opposition, and capture the enemy's position on the heights. General Semmes was left near the pass, over which the troops had marched with his own and Mahone's brigades, the latter under Colonel Parham with orders to send a brigade to the top of Solomon's Gap to cover Kershaw's rear. General Wright, of Anderson's division, was ordered with his brigade and two pieces of artillery along the crest ridge of South Mountain to its projection over Riverton. General Cobb was ordered with his brigade along the base of Elk Ridge, to be abreast of Kershaw's column. With the balance of his command, General McLaws moved down the Valley by the South Mountain road, connecting his march, by signal, [208] with General Kershaw's. Kershaw soon met a strong force of skirmishers, which was steadily pushed back till night. General Wright, without serious opposition, reached the end of the mountain, when R. H. Anderson sent another brigade-Pryor's — to occupy Weverton. On the 13th, Kershaw renewed his fight against very strong positions, forced his way across two abatis, along a rugged plateau, dropping off on both sides, in rocky cliffs of forty or fifty feet, encountered breastworks of logs and boulders, struggled in a severe fight, captured the position, the enemy's signal station, and at four P. M. gained possession of the entire hold. Cobb's brigade was advanced, and took possession of Sandy Hook without serious opposition. The column near South Mountain was advanced to complete the grasp against the enemy at Harper's Ferry. Up to this hour General McLaws had heard nothing direct from Generals Jackson and Walker, though from the direction of the former sounds of artillery reached him, and later a courier told that Jackson thought his leading division would approach at two o'clock that afternoon. During the day heavy cannonading was heard towards the east and northeast, and rumors reached McLaws of the advance of the enemy from Frederick, but the signal-parties and cavalry failed to discover movements, so the firing was not credited as of significance. The morning of the 14th was occupied in cutting a road for his artillery up to the point overlooking Harper's Ferry, and at two P. M. Captains Read and Carlton had their best guns in position over the town. But during these progressions the Confederates on other fields had been called to more serious work.

General McClellan, moving his columns out from the vicinity of Washington City on the 5th, made slow and very cautious marches to save fatigue of his men and at the same time cover the capital against unforeseen contingency; so slow and cautious was the march that he only covered forty or fifty miles in seven days. On the 12th [209] his Headquarters were at Urbana, where he received the following telegram from President Lincoln:

Governor Curtin telegraphs me, ‘I have advices that Jackson is crossing the Potomac at Williamsport, and probably the whole rebel army will be drawn from Maryland.’

The President added,--

Receiving nothing from Harper's Ferry or Martinsburg today, and positive information from Wheeling that the line is cut, corroborates the idea that the enemy is recrossing the Potomac. Please do not let him get off without being hurt.3

Elsewhere General McClellan has written of the 12th:

During these movements I had not imposed long marches on the columns. The absolute necessity of refitting and giving some little rest to the troops worn down by previous long-continued marches and severe fighting, together with the uncertainty as to the actual position, strength, and intentions of the enemy, rendered it incumbent upon me to move slowly and cautiously until the Headquarters reached Urbana, where I first obtained reliable information that the enemy's object was to move upon Harper's Ferry and the Cumberland Valley, and not upon Washington and Baltimore.

His army was organized: Right wing, under General Burnside: First and Ninth Corps; the Kanawha Division, under General J. D. Cox, was assigned with the Ninth Corps about the 8th instant.

Centre column: Second and Twelfth Corps, under General Sumner.

Left wing: Sixth Corps and Couch's division of the Fourth under General Franklin; Sykes's division, Fifth Corps, independent.4

Besides the despatches of the 11th and 12th, his cavalry under General Pleasonton, which was vigilant and [210] pushing, sent frequent reports of his steady progress. In the afternoon Pleasonton and the Ninth Corps under General Reno entered Fredericktown. This advance, by the National road, threatened to cut off two of Stuart's cavalry regiments left at the Monocacy Bridge. To detain the enemy till these were withdrawn, the outpost on that road was reinforced. Hampton retired his cavalry beyond Frederick and posted his artillery to cover the line of march, where he was soon attacked by a formidable force. To make safe the retreat of the brigade, a cavalry charge was ordered, under Colonel Butler, Lieutenant Meaghan's squadron leading. Colonel Moore, of the Twenty-eighth Ohio Cavalry, and a number of other prisoners were captured. This so detained the enemy as to give safe withdrawal for the brigade to Middletown, leaving Lieutenant-Colonel Martin's cavalry and two guns on guard at the gap of the Catoctin range of mountains.

Before withdrawing from Frederick on the 12th, General Stuart sent orders for the brigade under General Fitzhugh Lee to move around the right of the Union army and ascertain the meaning and strength of its march.

Following his orders of the 12th, General Pleasonton detached a cavalry brigade on the 13th and section of artillery under Colonel McReynolds to follow Fitzhugh Lee, and Rush's Lancers were sent to Jefferson for General Franklin's column. With his main force he pursued the Confederates towards Turner's Pass of South Mountain. Midway between Frederick and South Mountain, running parallel, is a lesser range, Catoctin, where he encountered Stuart's rear-guard. After a severe affair he secured the pass, moved on, and encountered a second force near Middletown. Reinforced by Gibson's battery, he attacked and forced the way to a third stand. This in turn was forced back and into the mountain at Turner's Pass. [211]

On that day McClellan's columns marched: Ninth Corps, to and near Middletown, eight miles; First Corps, to the Monocacy, eight miles; Twelfth Corps, to Frederick, nine miles; Second Corps, to Frederick, eight miles; Sixth Corps, to Buckeystown, seven miles; Couch's division, to Licksville, six miles; Sykes's division, to Frederick, eight miles.

At Frederick, General Lee's special order No. 191 was handed to General McClellan at his Headquarters with his centre (Sumner's) column.

How lost and how found we shall presently see, and see that by the mischance and accident the Federal commander came in possession of information that gave a spur, and great advantage, to his somewhat demoralized army.


Headquarters Army of Northern Virginia, September 9, 1862.

Special orders, no. 191.

The army will resume its march to-morrow, taking the Hagerstown road. General Jackson's command will form the advance, and, after passing Middletown, with such portion as he may select, take the route towards Sharpsburg, cross the Potomac at the most convenient point, and, by Friday night, take possession of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, capture such of the enemy as may be at Martinsburg, and intercept such as may attempt to escape from Harper's Ferry.

General Longstreet's command will pursue the same road as far as Boonsborough, where it will halt with the reserve, supply, and baggage trains of the army.

General McLaws, with his own division and that of General R. H. Anderson, will follow General Longstreet. On reaching Middletown he will take the route to Harper's Ferry, and by Friday morning possess himself of the Maryland Heights, and endeavor to capture the enemy at Harper's Ferry and vicinity.

General Walker, with his division, after accomplishing the object in which he is now engaged, will cross the Potomac at Cheek's Ford, ascend its right bank to Lovettsville, take possession of Loudoun Heights, if practicable, by Friday morning, Key's Ford on his left, and the road between the end of the mountain and the Potomac on his right. He will, as far as practicable, co-operate with General McLaws and General Jackson in intercepting the retreat of the enemy.

General D. H. Hill's division will form the rear-guard of the army, pursuing the road taken by the main body. The reserve artillery, ordnance, supply-trains, etc., will precede General Hill.

General Stuart will detach a squadron of cavalry to accompany the commands of Generals Longstreet, Jackson, and McLaws, and with the main body of the cavalry will cover the route of the army and bring up all stragglers that may have been left behind.

The commands of Generals Jackson, McLaws, and Walker, after accomplishing the objects for which they have been detached, will join the main body of the army at Boonsborough or Hagerstown.

Each regiment on the march will habitually carry its axes in the regimental ordnance wagons, for use of the men at their encampments to procure wood, etc.

By command of General R. E. Lee.

R. H. Chilton, Assistant Adjutant-General. Major-General D. H. Hill, Commanding Division.

2 Rebellion Record, vol. XIX. part II. p. 600.

3 Rebellion Record, vol. XIX. part i. p. 41. McClellan's official account.

4 Record, vol. XIX. part i.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Harper's Ferry (West Virginia, United States) (22)
Maryland (Maryland, United States) (12)
South Mountain, Va. (Virginia, United States) (10)
Martinsburg (West Virginia, United States) (8)
Frederick, Md. (Maryland, United States) (7)
Frederick (Virginia, United States) (6)
United States (United States) (5)
Middletown (Virginia, United States) (5)
Hagerstown (Maryland, United States) (5)
Washington (United States) (3)
Riverton, N. J. (New Jersey, United States) (3)
Pleasant Valley (Maryland, United States) (3)
Maryland Heights (Maryland, United States) (3)
Loudoun Heights (Virginia, United States) (3)
Leesburg (Virginia, United States) (3)
Jackson (Mississippi, United States) (3)
Fredericktown (Missouri, United States) (3)
Winchester, Va. (Virginia, United States) (2)
Urbana (Virginia, United States) (2)
Solomon's Gap (Pennsylvania, United States) (2)
Williamsport (Maryland, United States) (1)
Wheeling, W. Va. (West Virginia, United States) (1)
Shenandoah (United States) (1)
Sharpsburg (Maryland, United States) (1)
Sandy Hook, Md. (Maryland, United States) (1)
Richmond (Virginia, United States) (1)
Ox Hill (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
National (West Virginia, United States) (1)
National (Maryland, United States) (1)
Monterey (Virginia, United States) (1)
Mexico, Mo. (Missouri, United States) (1)
Maryland Heights (Missouri, United States) (1)
Lovettsville (Virginia, United States) (1)
Cumberland Heights (West Virginia, United States) (1)
Cornfield Point (Maryland, United States) (1)
Chantilly (Virginia, United States) (1)
Burkittsville (Maryland, United States) (1)
Buckeystown (Maryland, United States) (1)
Brownsville, Md. (Maryland, United States) (1)
Baltimore, Md. (Maryland, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
12th (4)
11th (4)
13th (3)
5th (2)
September 9th, 1862 AD (1)
September 8th, 1862 AD (1)
June 26th (1)
8th (1)
7th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: