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Chapter 12: Boonsboro or South Mountain, and Harper's Ferry

  • Choice of moves.
  • -- interior lines. -- policy of invasion. -- across the Potomac. -- affairs in Washington. -- McClellan succeeds Pope. -- Lee's Proclamation. -- organizations and strength. -- Harper's Ferry garrison. -- orders no. 191. -- the army Scatters. -- the lost order. -- Lee warned. -- battle of Boonsboro or South Mountain. -- Longstreet Arrives. -- the retreat. -- Crampton's Gap. -- Franklin attacks. -- Jackson before Harper's Ferry. -- preparations for assault. -- bombardment and surrender. -- borrowed wagons. -- paroles and colors. -- casualties.

The enemy having taken refuge within lines impregnable to assault, Lee had no alternative but to take the offensive elsewhere. He could not afford to sit down before Washington and await the enemy's pleasure.

There were two openings for offensive operations, each with some chances of success. The safest would have been to withdraw behind the Rappahannock, where he might occupy a strong line with one-half of his forces, under Jackson, while the other half, under himself and Longstreet, was sent by railroad to Chattanooga via Bristol. At the time, in Tennessee, the Confederates were conducting two campaigns aimed at Louisville; the design being to drive the Federals from Kentucky. Kirby Smith, with an army of about 15,000, from Knoxville, had opened the road through Cumberland Gap, and on Aug. 30 had won a victory over a Federal force at Richmond, Ky., and on Sept. 2 had occupied Lexington. Bragg, with about 30,000 men, from Chattanooga had moved northward up the Sequatchie Valley, and, crossing the Cumberland Mountains, was, on Sept. 5, at Sparta, Tenn., turning the Federal position at Murfreesboro, where Buell was in command with about 50,000 men.

Such a movement by Lee would have been utilizing our ‘Interior Lines,’ the one game in which the Confederacy had an advantage over the Federals. On a small scale it had been [221] played both at Bull Run and in the Richmond campaign; the troops from the valley in both cases leaving the Federal armies opposite them, and quickly doubling on the point of attack.

Opportunities to do the same upon a larger scale were repeatedly offered between the Confederate armies before Richmond and those about Chattanooga. One had already occurred in the summer just passed. On May 30, Beauregard had evacuated Corinth with 52,000 men, and withdrawn to Tupelo, Miss. He was not followed, and the Federal army under Halleck of 100,000, was dispersed in different directions from Arkansas to Cumberland Gap. Beauregard was allowed two months of idleness and rest. It would have been possible to bring 20,000 of his veterans to Richmond by the 26th of June to reenforce Lee for the Seven Days Campaign. With their assistance McClellan should have been destroyed. Then the Western troops could have returned, and, if necessary, carried large reenforcements with them. Now a second opportunity was offered for similar strategy. Others were offered later, as we shall see, whenever one of the Confederate armies, from any cause, was free from the prospect of an early attack by its opponent.

On this occasion, the joint campaign of Bragg and Smith in Kentucky, and the Maryland campaign, both failed. Had we utilized our interior lines, one of them at the least should have been made sure. It was hoped, indeed, when the campaigns were entered upon, that the Southern sympathies of the Marylanders and Kentuckians would cut real figures in the struggle by bringing thousands of recruits to the Confederates, but this hope proved vain in both cases. There had been already enough observation of the war to destroy its romance, and to make the most careless realize what a grave step one would take who shouldered a musket under the Starry Cross. Many sympathized with our cause, and wished us well. But few were willing to abandon homes and take sides before we had shown ourselves able to remain in their States for at least a few weeks.

And this, in the case of Maryland, wasutterly out of the question for the simple reason that there was no railroad communication possible; and no army large enough to meet the Federal army, could support and supply itself by wagon-trains from Staunton, [222] nearly 150 miles away, for any length of time. Whenever, therefore, we crossed the Potomac going northward, we were as certain to have to recross it coming southward, in a few weeks, as a stone thrown upward is certain to come down.

Vicinity of Harper's Ferry

In a letter to President Davis, on Sept. 2, Lee gave as reasons for the invasion of Maryland that it would relieve the Confederacy from the presence of hostile armies on her soil; and that the position of the army would be favorable for reaping the fruits of a victory, if one could be gained. Mr. Davis approved, and the campaign was made; but no victory was gained, nor is it easy to see where and how the chances of pursuit would have [223] been improved, had it been. Apparently Kentucky might have offered more favorable ones.

After a rest of a day, on Sept. 4, with Jackson in the lead, the army was put in motion for the fords of the Potomac, near Leesburg. With the reenforcements which had joined, Lee had now about 55,000 men, all in fine spirits and with their cartridge boxes full, but otherwise not in the best condition. The different divisions were still only associated, not formed, into corps, and in the matter of shoes, clothing, and food the army was, upon the whole, probably worse off during this brief campaign than it had ever been before or ever was again. About one-half of the small-arms were still the old smooth-bore muskets of short range, and our rifled cannon ammunition was always inferior in quality. The lack of shoes was deplorable, and barefooted men with bleeding feet were no uncommon sight. Of clothing, our supply was so poor that it seemed no wonder the Marylanders held aloof from our shabby ranks. For rations, we were indebted mostly to the fields of roasting ears, and to the apple orchards. Such diet does not compare with bacon and hardtack for long marches, and, before the campaign was over, the straggling from all causes assumed great proportions. Brigades were often reduced nearly to the size of regiments, and regiments to the size of companies. On Sept. 5 the army began to cross the Potomac, and on Sept. 7 the advance reached Frederick.

It is now to tell of events in Washington City. There was great alarm when Pope, with the combined armies of Virginia and the Potomac, fell back within the fortifications, almost in a state of rout. Col. Kelton of Halleck's staff, sent to find out the actual state of affairs, reported that there were 30,000 stragglers upon the roads. It was said that the money from the Treasury was being shipped to New York, and that an armed naval vessel, with steam up, was kept near at hand in the Potomac. Pope, making a virtue of necessity, applied to be relieved from command. There was no formal order relieving him until Sept. 5, when he was sent to the Northwest, where there were some Indian disturbances; but he was deprived of his army on Sept. 2, when McClellan was assigned to the defense of Washington, and the command of all the troops [224] engaged in it. As this included the whole of both armies, Pope was left without a man. Yet neither Lincoln nor Halleck had confidence in McClellan, and there was great reluctance to use him. Only the day before he had been instructed that he ‘had nothing to do with the troops engaged in active operations under Gen. Pope, but that his command was limited to the immediate garrison of Washington.’ At that time Pope himself had already been adjudged incompetent, and the decision would surely have been made to place Stevens in command had he been alive.

But the death of Stevens, and the disorderly retreat of Pope's forces within the fortifications, had demoralized the government. McClellan alone was supposed to have the confidence of the army. It was the day of his triumph, and one of humiliation to both Lincoln and Halleck.

Yet McClellan was out of place. He would have been an excellent chief of staff, but was unfit for the command of an army. He was as utterly without audacity, as Lee was full of it. His one fine quality was his ability to organize and discipline. He constructed a superb machine, which, being once constructed, would fight a battle with skill and courage if only let alone. McClellan, during the Seven Days, let it alone, absenting himself as if by instinct. Never but at the battle of Sharpsburg was he present on any field, and his presence, by keeping Porter's corps out of the action, made a drawn fight of what would otherwise have been a Federal victory, as will duly appear.

So now, Sept. 2, while Lee's army is resting on the field of Ox Hill, McClellan begins to reorganize the 120,000 troops at his disposal within the lines of Washington. It is quick and easy work, for his own old army composes two-thirds of it. By Sept. 7, when Lee's army is concentrated about Frederick, McClellan had six corps in the field, holding a line covering Washington.

Lee, perhaps unfortunately, was not then seeking an action. He had issued a proclamation to the people of Maryland, and for a few days he wished to observe its effect. It told the Marylanders, briefly, that the liberty of free choice between the Union and the Confederacy had been denied them by the United [225] States, and that he had come to assist them in regaining their rights, and would respect their decision. It took but a short while to show that very few had any interest in the matter. When our troops forded the Potomac, the bands playing ‘Maryland, my Maryland,’ there was great enthusiasm, but it was confined to the invaders. The invaded were conspicuously absent, attending to their daily occupations, and evidently not ambitious to offer their fertile and prosperous fields for the movements and conflicts of armies.

I think the only real effect of that proclamation was subjective, or upon Gen. Lee himself. Necessarily, in it he was compelled to appear as a deliverer who had come to free the Marylanders from a yoke. A few days later, as will be seen, there was an opportunity for him to avoid a great risk of grave disaster by withdrawal into Virginia, without serious loss of men or impairment of prestige, and with richer booty in prisoners, guns, and ammunition than he had ever gathered from a battle-field.

In his decision to stand his ground and fight, his attitude as deliverer probably had a large share.

The organization and strength of the two armies is given on pages 226 and 227. As before noted, the Confederate organization into corps was slowly developing. What is here given is what was reached at the close of the campaign. In its earlier stages, there was much independence of action by some divisions. This independent communication with headquarters, it will presently be seen, resulted in a mishap — the loss of an order of prime importance to the issues of the campaign. It is but an illustration of how gravest results hang on care in most trifling details.

It was Lee's plan to draw the Federal army away from Washington before delivering battle. To do this he contemplated an advance into Pennsylvania west of the Blue Ridge. This plan was frustrated by the Federal forces at Harper's Ferry and Martinsburg, continuing to hold their positions after Lee had crossed into Maryland. As they were exposed to capture, he had expected them to withdraw. McClellan had desired to withdraw them, but Halleck objected that there was then no way by which Miles could withdraw. McClellan then suggested that Miles should cross the river and occupy Maryland Heights, where he [226]

Organization, army of Northern Virginia, Sept., 1862

1st Corps Longstreet'sMcLawsKershaw, Semmes, Cobb, Barksdale5
Anderson, R. H.Wilcox, Armistead, Mahone, Pryor, Featherstone, Wright4
Jones, D. R.Toombs, Drayton, Garnett, Kemper, Jenkins, Anderson, G. T.4
Walker, J. G.Walker, J. G. Ransom2
EvansEvans, Hood, Law3
Reserve ArtilleryWashington Artillery, Lee's Battalion10
Total 1st Corps5 Divisions21 Brigades, 28 Batteries, 112 Guns28
2d Corps Jackson'sEwellLawton, Trimble, Early, Hays7
Hill, A. P.Branch, Archer, Gregg, Pender, Field, Thomas7
JacksonWinder, Jones, J. K., Taliaferro, Starke6
Hill, D. H.Ripley, Garland, Rodes, Anderson, G. B. Colquitt4
Total 2d Corps4 Divisions19 Brigades, 24 Batteries, 100 Guns24
ArtilleryPendletonPendleton's Reserve, 58 Guns12
CavalryStuartHampton, Lee F., Robertson, 14 Guns3
Aggregate2 Corps, 10 Divisions43 Brigades, 284 guns, 55,000 Men67


1st CorpsKingPhelps, Doubleday, Patrick, Gibbon4
HookerRickettsDuryea, Christian, Hartsuff2
MeadeSeymour, Magilton, Gallagher4
2d CorpsRichardsonCaldwell, Meagher, Brooke2
SumnerSedgwickGorman, Howard, Dana2
FrenchKimball, Morris, Weber3
5th CorpsMorellBarnes, Griffin, Stockton3
PorterSykesBuchanan, Lovell, Warren3
HumphreysHumphreys, Tyler, Allabach2
6th CorpsSlocumTorbert, Bartlett, Newton4
FranklinSmith, W. F.Hancock, Brooks, Irwin3
CouchDevens, Howe, Cochrane4
9th CorpsWillcox, O. B.Christ, Welsh2
BurnsideSturgisNagle, Ferrero2
RodmanFairchild, Harland1
CoxSeammon, Crook3
12 CorpsWilliamsCrawford, Gordon3
MansfieldGreeneTyndale, Stainrook, Goodrich4
CavalryPleasantonWhiting, Farnsworth, Rush, McReynolds, Davis4
Aggregate6 Corps, 19 Divisions54 Brigades, 300 Guns, 97,000 Men55

[228] could defend himself, but the suggestion was not adopted by Miles, who felt himself obliged by his orders to hold the village itself. As Lee could not advance freely into Pennsylvania with Miles's force so close in his rear, he determined to capture the Harper's Ferry garrison. Discussing the matter with Longstreet, the latter advised against it, saying that it would require a wide separation of our divisions, with rivers between them, which would be dangerous so near the enemy. Lee, however, believed that it was possible to capture Harper's Ferry and reunite his army before McClellan could fully apprehend his plans.

As Jackson took the same view, the enterprise was committed to him, and a carefully drawn order was prepared, ‘No. 191,’ detailing the march of each division. Jackson, with his corps (except D. H. Hill's division) was ordered via Williamsport to drive the Federals from Martinsburg into Harper's Ferry, which he would then attack from the south. Walker's division was to cross the Potomac below Harper's Ferry and occupy Loudon Heights. McLaws, with his own and Anderson's divisions, was to move by the most direct route and possess himself of Maryland Heights, overlooking Harper's Ferry, whence he could with artillery, and even with musketry, command the town.

Longstreet, with the two divisions of D. R. Jones and Evans, was to march to Boonsboro and await the return of the forces from Harper's Ferry. Finally, D. H. Hill's division was to act as rear-guard at Turner's Gap in South Mountain.

On Sept. 10, the army marched at daylight. On the road Longstreet was ordered to continue his movement to Hagerstown, while D. H. Hill, leaving two brigades in Turner's Gap, came on to Boonsboro. This change was caused by the collection of a force of Pennsylvania militia at Chambersburg. It was not formidable, as the regiments refused to leave the State, yet its formation materially affected the course of events. For it will be seen that this separation of Longstreet by 13 miles from D. H. Hill, caused the loss of the position at Turner's Gap. The loss of that gap brought on at Sharpsburg the battle which would otherwise have probably been fought upon the mountain.

Meanwhile, there had occurred the mishap already referred to, which gave to McClellan an opportunity rarely presented to a [229] general. An official copy of Lee's order No. 191, addressed to D. H. Hill, fell into McClellan's hands on Sept. 13 soon after his arrival at Frederick.

The incident occurred from our unsettled organization. D. H. Hill's division had been attached to Jackson's command upon its crossing the Potomac. No order should have issued from Lee's office for Hill. Jackson so understood it, and, with his usual cautious habit, on receipt of the order, with his own hand made a copy for Hill, and sent it. This copy Hill received and carefully preserved, and produced it after the war, when the matter was first inquired into. But Lee's office had also prepared an official copy for Hill, and this copy serving as a wrapper to three cigars was picked up by a private soldier of the 12th corps in an abandoned camp near Frederick. When found, it was promptly carried to McClellan, reaching him before noon on the 13th. Its importance was recognized, and its authenticity proved by the fact that the different Confederate divisions had all pursued the roads assigned them in the order. Already McClellan had learned of the crossing of the Potomac by Walker at Point of Rocks, and by Jackson at Williamsport, but he had not understood the object. There had been fear that it might mean a dash at the lines about Alexandria. Now the whole situation was explained. Lee and Longstreet with only 14 brigades were about Boonsboro. McLaws and Anderson with 10 brigades were between Harper's Ferry and Crampton's Gap, eight miles south of Turner's Gap. Jackson, with 14 brigades, was southwest of Harper's Ferry, and Walker, with two brigades, was southeast of it, across the Shenandoah. By all the maxims of strategy Lee had put it in the power of McClellan to destroy his army. He had not only divided his force into four parts and scattered them, with rivers and mountains between, but he had scattered more than was necessary. There was no need to place Longstreet as far away even as Boonsboro. A safer movement would have been to unite Longstreet with McLaws and Anderson at Crampton's Gap, that it might be more securely held, and the capture of Maryland Heights be expedited, and that the distances separating his forces should be the least possible.

McClellan's opportunity was obvious. It was to take quick [230] advantage of the separation and move in between the parts. Then to overwhelm each in detail. This could be done by forcing the bulk of his army through Crampton's Gap. This move would have the further advantage of most speedily relieving Harper's Ferry. But just as Pope had lost his campaign by moving directly upon Jackson, as he supposed, at Manassas Junction, instead of upon Gainesville, where he would have been between Jackson and Lee, here McClellan lost his campaign by moving directly after Lee upon Turner's Gap. Even that he did with deliberation strangely out of place for the occasion. By night marches, over good roads with a good moon, he might have attacked and carried both Turner's and Crampton's gaps by sunrise on the 14th, for each was then held by only cavalry and a single brigade of infantry.

Fortunately for Lee, a citizen of Frederick whose sympathies were with the Confederate cause, was accidentally present at McClellan's headquarters during the afternoon of the 13th and heard expressions of gratification at the finding of the order, and learned of directions being given for a vigorous advance the next morning. With full appreciation of its importance he made his way through the Federal lines, and brought the information, after dark, to Stuart, who at once sent it on to Lee, then in camp at Hagerstown. Four brigades of Hill's division were at different points, from two to five miles west of Turner's Pass. They were ordered back, and barely arrived in time to save it from being seized by the enemy. Meanwhile, too, Jones's and Evans's divisions were ordered to march in the morning to reenforce Hill, and Lee and Longstreet returned with them to Turner's Gap.

It was between three and four o'clock when they reached the scene of action, after an oppressively hot and dusty march of 14 miles. There were eight brigades in the column, Toombs being left at Hagerstown to protect the trains. Hill had already had severe fighting. Turner's Pass was flanked upon each side by secondary passes within a mile, through each of which roads reached the crest, and cross-roads connected both with the main pike. On the right Garland's brigade had been attacked at 7 A. M. by a superior force; Gen. Garland, an officer of great [231] promise, had been killed, and his brigade driven back in confusion, but the enemy did not follow up, and Anderson's brigade arrived in time to hold the position. D. H. Hill never failed to get good fighting out of his veteran division, and from 7 A. M. to 3 P. M., without support, he held the Gap successfully. But two corps of the enemy, the 1st and 9th, comprising 18 brigades and 18 batteries, were attacking it and gradually outflanking Hill's positions. By 3 P. M. they had occupied ground on the Confederate left which assured their final success in spite of all that could be accomplished by the eight tired brigades newly arrived. These, however, began to climb the hills from the west in support of Hill's five brigades, now much reduced by their long conflict. Hill, in his report, says: —

‘Had Longstreet's division been with mine at daylight in the morning, the Yankees would have been disastrously repulsed, but they had gained important positions before the arrival of reenforcements. These came up, after a long, hurried, and exhausting march, to defend localities of which they were ignorant, and to fight a foe flushed with partial success and already holding key points to farther advance. Had our forces never been separated, the battle of Sharpsburg never would have been fought.’

On the arrival of the head of Longstreet's column, Evans was sent to the left to support Rodes, and Kemper, Jenkins, and Picketts were sent to the right at the foot of the mountain, by a rough road, to meet a force of the enemy said to be crossing the mountain in that direction. After marching a mile and a half, the report having been found to be erroneous, they were called to hasten to the top of the mountain by obscure by-roads and across fields, and on reaching the top they were at once sharply engaged. Longstreet writes:—

‘They were put in as they arrived to try to cover the right of Rodes and Evans, and fill the intervening space to the turnpike. As they marched the men dropped along the road as rapidly as if under severe skirmish. So manifest was it that nature was exhausted that no one urged them to get up and try to keep their ranks.’

Before their ranks could be formed they were under fire, and the action was kept up until darkness finally called its truce upon the field.

At this time both Lee and Jackson were disabled, and [232] compelled to ride in ambulances. On Aug. 31, Lee, in reconnoitring Pope's lines, had dismounted, and was holding his horse by the bridle when an alarm of Federal cavalry had startled the party, and the general's horse had jerked him to the ground, fracturing some of the bones of his right hand. It now was carried in a sling, and he could not handle his reins. Jackson at Frederick had been presented with a fine horse, but the animal was not well broken and had reared up and fallen over, bruising him so that he, too, was an invalid.

Lee was now halted at the foot of the mountain, and thither Longstreet and Hill repaired as the firing ceased. Hill made a report of the situation. Darkness had saved the Confederate line from serious disaster. The tired troops and trains could not be allowed to rest, but must at once be put in motion to the rear. At first Lee designated Keedysville as the point at which the troops would halt; but later news reached him that the enemy had also gotten possession of Crampton's Gap and he changed the order, and directed that the new position should be at Sharpsburg, behind the Antietam River, distant from Turner's Gap about 10 miles. D. H. Hill's troops were first withdrawn, and were followed by the rest of the infantry and artillery. Fitz-Lee's brigade of cavalry and Hood's and Whiting's brigades of infantry acted as rear-guard to the column.

My reserve ordnance train, of about 80 wagons, had accompanied Lee's headquarters to Hagerstown, and had also followed the march back to Boonsboro. I was now ordered to cross the Potomac at Williamsport, and go thence to Shepherdstown, where I should leave the train and come in person to Sharpsburg. The moon was rising as I started, and about daylight I forded the Potomac, unaware of having had a narrow escape from capture, with my train, by Gregg's brigade of cavalry. This brigade had escaped that night from Harper's Ferry, and crossed our line of retreat from Boonsboro. It had captured and destroyed the reserve ordnance train, of 45 wagons of Longstreet's corps.

It is now necessary to describe what took place at Crampton's Gap, where McClellan should have gone in person, as that position was the key-point of the whole situation. Only Franklin's [233] corps of nine brigades was sent there. They might have marched on the 13th from their position, three miles east of Jefferson, but did not until the 14th. Having only about 10 miles to go, they arrived in the forenoon, and at once deployed and formed for attack. The Gap offered fairly good positions for defence of its eastern outlet, had there been troops enough to hold its flanks; but the task imposed upon McLaws, with his four brigades and Anderson's six, was beyond his strength. To protect his own rear, and to prevent the escape from Harper's Ferry of the 13,000 men to be besieged there, while he captured the heights above them and cannonaded them into a surrender, it was essential that he should occupy Pleasant Valley. This lay between the Blue Ridge (here called South Mountain) on the east, and Elk Ridge (or Maryland Heights) on the west. The protection of his rear required him to hold in force Crampton's Gap in the Blue Ridge, and to observe Brownsville Gap, about a mile south of it, and also Solomon's Gap in Elk Ridge opposite on the west. At Weverton, where the Potomac breaks through the Blue Ridge, five miles from Crampton's, he had to protect against an advance from the direction of Washington, and at Sandy Hook, where the road from Harper's Ferry comes around South Mountain into Pleasant Valley, he had to guard against an attack by the whole garrison of Harper's Ferry. Besides this, he had to send a force along Elk Ridge strong enough to defeat the intrenched brigade which held the extremity, overlooking Harper's Ferry, and to hold it while his guns bombarded the town. There was thus one point to be attacked, two others to be observed, and three to be defended against large forces. The two most important points, —Crampton's Gap and Sandy Hook, —were over five miles apart. Considering the proximity of the immense Federal force, McLaws and Anderson were within the lion's mouth, and that they ever got out of it was no less due to good management, than it was to good luck on their part, and mismanagement by the enemy.

Holding Crampton's Gap were only Munford's cavalry and Mahone's brigade of infantry, under Parham. Cobb's brigade and part of Semmes's were near in reserve. From noon on the 14th until near five o'clock there was sharp skirmishing and [234] artillery fire, while the enemy deployed Slocum's division on his right and Smith's on his left. Having, by then, gotten the measure of their enemy, and deployed lines which outflanked him upon both sides, a handsome charge was made by four brigades, — Bartlett's, Newton's, Torbert's, and Brooke's. Of course, there could be no effective resistance. The whole Confederate line was overwhelmed and driven back in confusion. The reserve endeavored to rally the fugitives, but the small force — only about 2200 men in all — were so far outflanked by the Federal lines that no stand could be held until darkness put an end to the Federal pursuit, the whole Gap being now in their possession.

The battle was well contested, as shown by the losses inflicted upon the enemy, 531 killed and wounded. The Confederates were fortunate to get off with a loss as reported by Franklin of only 400 prisoners and 450 killed and wounded left upon the field, and a single gun.

In the scattered condition of McLaws's command, he was now in great danger. His one chance of safety was in an early surrender of Harper's Ferry to afford him an outlet for escape. He acted promptly and with good judgment. Drawing the brigades of Kershaw, Wilcox, and Barksdale from the forces on South Mountain, with the remnants of Semmes, Cobb, and Mahone, he threw a line of battle across Pleasant Valley about a mile and a half below Crampton's Gap, with its left flank upon Elk Ridge, and its right upon South Mountain. Here he made a bold front on the morning of the 15th against Franklin and his whole corps. Of course, Franklin, about 12,000 strong, could have run over him, and was under orders, too, to do so. Franklin was preparing to undertake the work, when, about eight o'clock, heavy firing which had been going on for over two hours at Harper's Ferry, suddenly ceased. Franklin correctly interpreted this to mean that Miles, at Harper's Ferry, had surrendered, and he abandoned his proposed attack. This was a gross blunder. It lost an easy opportunity to defeat six of Lee's brigades. One can but wonder if McClellan had communicated to Franklin a copy of Lee's order No. 191, for, with the knowledge of the situation given by that order, it seems impossible that the latter could [235] have remained idle so near a divided enemy for two whole days, as he now did on the 15th and 16th, receiving, meanwhile, no orders from McClellan.

McClellan either did not himself appreciate the value of the opportunity chance had given him, or did not choose to let Halleck know it. His letters to them seem vague and noncommittal. He cannot be held blameless for Franklin's small performance in view of the opportunity.

Let us now turn to Harper's Ferry. Jackson, with his three divisions under Jones, Lawton, and A. P. Hill, marching from Frederick on Sept. 10, had much the longest march to make, about 62 miles, nearly double those of McLaws and Walker. He made it, however, in good time, his marches being on the 10th, 14 miles; on the 11th, 20 miles; on the 12th, 16 miles; and on the 13th by 11 A. M., 12 miles, which brought him to the Harper's Ferry pickets. The other commands reached their destinations about the same time, and the next morning, signal parties opened wigwag communication between all.

McLaws had had some fighting to get in position on South Mountain, for it had been held by a brigade and two batteries under Col. Ford. Ford did not make a good defence and was afterward court-martialled and dismissed.

During the forenoon of the 14th, Walker, on Loudon Heights, reported six rifled guns in position, but Jackson ordered him not to open fire until McLaws was ready Jackson, before opening fire, intended to demand a surrender, and to allow time for noncombatants to be removed. Before this could be done, however, the sounds of battle at Turner's and Crampton's gaps admonished him of the importance of hours, and, about 4 P. M., McLaws being prepared, a heavy cannonade was opened and kept up during the rest of the afternoon. Its effect, however, was more moral than physical. The rifled ammunition of the Confederates was decidedly inferior to that of the enemy, many of their shells failing to burst, or bursting prematurely, or tumbling; and even the smooth-bore shells often burst near the guns. The part of the town near the rivers was within effective range of McLaws and Walker, but Bolivar Heights, where the most of the Federal force was located, was beyond it. [236]

Meanwhile, Jackson arranged a direct assault upon Bolivar Heights. Ten of Walker's rifles were brought across the Shenandoah, about four miles above the town, and found good positions to take in rear the Federal left from spurs near the river. A. P. Hill's infantry, on Jackson's right, worked down the river bank over ground the Federals had thought impassable, and found lodgment in rear of the Federal line; and Hill's artillery established several batteries on the very ridge held by the Federals, and in easy range. On the left, near the Potomac, Jones's division drove off Federal outposts and also established batteries in effective range on commanding hills.

Opposite the centre, Ewell's division under Lawton was moved up near the works, and its smooth-bores posted for direct fire. All was ready by the morning of the 15th, and Jackson had the game in his hands. The Federals, indeed, were naturally depressed. Their affair on Maryland Heights, with McLaws, had been discouraging, and now they saw guns being posted to command all of their positions. Col. Davis, with about 1200 cavalry, got permission to make his escape during the night. The road to Sharpsburg, on the north bank of the river, was unguarded, save by a picket some four miles out. The cavalry crossed on the pontoon bridge and made its escape, riding by the picket at a gallop in the moonlight. On their march to Hagerstown they had the luck to meet Longstreet's reserve ordnance train, as already told, and burned 45 wagons of ammunition. This train had a guard, but, unfortunately, it was concentrated at the rear, where alone was danger apprehended.

Before sunrise on the 15th, Jackson opened all his guns from seven points, and prepared to storm the Federal lines after a severe cannonade. His new positions gave effective enfilade fire at fair ranges. Lt. Binney, of Miles's staff, writes in his journal: —

‘We are surrounded by enemy's batteries; they open from Loudon Mountain and Loudon farm, Maryland Heights, Charlestown road, Shepherdstown road. Nothing could stand before such a raking cannonade. Col. Miles was everywhere, exposing himself to danger with the bravest, encouraging his artillerists, and met with many narrow escapes from the bursting shells of the enemy. At 8 A. M. our battery officers [237] report their ammunition exhausted. Gen. White meets Col. Miles on the crest of heights and consults. . . . The white flag is exhibited, the artillery stops firing for about 15 minutes, when the enemy again open with a terrific cannonade. . . . Col. Miles and Lt. Binney, aidede-camp, started down the eastern slope of the heights, where every inch of ground is being torn up by the enemy's fire. Col. Miles took Lt. Binney's hand and remarked, “Well, Mr. Binney, we have done our duty, but where can McClellan be? The rebels have opened on us again! What do they mean?” Immediately after a shell passed us, striking and exploding immediately behind us, a piece of which tore the flesh entirely from his left calf, and a small piece cutting his right calf slightly. Lt. Binney immediately tied his handkerchief above the knee and called for assistance, put him in a blanket, and, obtaining six men, dragged him to an ambulance and sent word to Gen. White.’

Col. Miles only survived for a day. A military commission which reported upon the circumstances of the surrender severely criticised it as premature. It may be said, however, that the immediate necessity for surrender was, not to escape the fire of the artillery, which was so much in evidence, but the charge of the infantry which was about to follow.

The actual casualties of the Federals were 217. The total number surrendered was about 12,500. Jackson, in his official report, says:—

‘In an hour the enemy's fire seemed to be silenced, and the batteries of Gen. Hill were ordered to cease their fire, which was the signal for storming the works. Gen. Pender had commenced his advance, when the enemy again opening, Pegram and Crenshaw moved forward their batteries, and poured a rapid fire into the enemy. The white flag was now displayed, and, shortly afterward, Gen. White (the commanding officer, Col. D. S. Miles having been mortally wounded), with a garrison of about 11,000 men, surrendered as prisoners of war. Under this capitulation we took possession of 73 pieces of artillery, some 13,000 small-arms, and other stores. Liberal terms were granted to Gen. White and the officers under his command in the surrender, which, I regret to say, do not seem from subsequent events to have been properly appreciated by their Government.’

It is interesting to inquire why this criticism? The official reports contain two documents which may explain. The first is a letter from Gen. White to Gen. D. Tyler at Annapolis, as follows:1 — [238]

‘general: I have the honor to state that, after capitulating at Harper's Ferry, I was allowed by Gen. A. P. Hill, commanding at that post the forces of the enemy, some 24 wagons for the transportation of officers' baggage, after my pledge to return them to the enemy's lines. I respectfully request, therefore, that the quartermaster be directed to forward them back.’

Tyler, however, instead of returning them, forwarded White's letter to Halleck's office, calling it a ‘strange arrangement,’ and asks ‘shall the wagons be returned, and how?’ What Tyler saw ‘strange’ in it is not clear; but the tone of the letter suggests that difficulty was made, which is confirmed by Hill's report that ‘the wagons which were loaned to carry off the private baggage of the officers were not returned for nearly two months, and not until repeated calls had been made for them.’

The second document, by Lt. Bacon, adjutant of D'Utassy's brigade, concerns the paroling of the Federals.2

A difference arose between Col. D'Utassy and Gen. Branch, in charge of the details, as to the meaning of the words ‘will not serve against the Confederate States until regularly exchanged.’ A pass to the brigade, allowing it to cross the bridge, was refused until the matter was adjusted. D'Utassy claimed that they might go West and serve against the Indians. The question was referred to Gen. A. P. Hill who refused to admit that understanding. This was about 9 P. M. About 6 A. M. Lt. Bacon reports that he —--

handed the muster-rolls to Gen. Hill at his headquarters and asked a pass for the brigade. Hill asked if the brigade was paroled. I replied, evasively, “I thought so.” He then sat down and wrote a pass, upon which we immediately crossed the river, thus giving them the slip.

‘Upon the announcement of the surrender, Col. D'Utassy ordered the colors of all the regiments of our brigade to be conveyed to his headquarters. This was done, and two hours were spent in removing the various colors from their staffs and packing them in the Colonel's private trunk. The Adjutant General of Gen. Gregg made several demands on me for the colors, where I was engaged on the hill turning over the arms. I informed him that they had been sent to our brigade headquarters. He left, but shortly returned, saying that he could not find them. I said I regretted it but could not aid him, that he must see my [239] Colonel. These flags are now in my Colonel's private trunks in this city. These are the simple facts which on my honor as a gentleman I certify to.’

A military commission which investigated found nothing that called for censure in these matters, and per contra had a complaint of its own, as follows: —

‘During the week previous to the evacuation of Maryland Heights a Lt. Rouse of the 12th Va. Cav., who had been engaged in a raid upon a train from Harper's Ferry to Winchester a short time before, was captured and brought into Harper's Ferry. He escaped while on the way to the hospital, he pretending to be sick, but was retaken. He was paroled, but returned in command of some rebel cavalry on the morning of the surrender. The attention of Gen. A. P. Hill was called to the fact that Lt. Rouse was a paroled prisoner, but no attention was paid to it. Lt. Rouse, on being spoken to about it, laughed at the idea of observing his parole.’

The casualties of the campaign are shown in the following table: —

Casualties, siege of Harper's Ferry, Sept. 13-15, 1862

Sept. 13. McLaws's Div., Md. Hgts.35178213
Sept. 14. McLaws's Div., Crampton's Gap62208479749
Sept. 14. Mahone's Brig., Crampton's Gap892127227
Sept. 14-15. A. P. Hill's Div., Bol. Hgts.36669
Sept. 14-15. Walker's Div., Loudon145
Total Fed., Crampton's Gap1154162533
Total Fed., Harper's Ferry4417312,52012,737

The casualties given in Mahone's brigade include those of the battle of Sharpsburg, which was not reported separately. No reports were made by the Confederate cavalry.

The Confederate casualties at Boonsboro are not reported separately, except Rodes's brigade, which reports: killed 61, wounded 151, missing 204, total 522. It was most severely [240] engaged of any, except, possibly, Garland's, which was routed when he was killed. Garland's losses for the whole campaign are given as: killed 86, wounded 440, total 526.

Livermore's Numbers and losses in the civil War estimates the totals for the two armies at South Mountain, as follows:—


1 O. R. 27, 801.

2 O. R. 27, 552.

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