The Battle of South Mountain
This important battle was fought over a seven mile stretch of the South Mountain Range immediately prior to the Battle of Antietam. The Confederate objective was to delay the Union advance for a day or so while the scattered divisions of their army could reunite to face the Union forces. The first action occurred at Fox's Gap. Union troops coming from the east tried to round the right flank of the main Confederate forces posted at Turner's Gap. The second phase opened later as a different wing of the Union Army drove Confederates out of Crampton's Gap. The third phase began late in the day with a combined Union assault on both Fox's and Turner's Gaps. This self-guided auto tour begins at Gathland State Park, which was the scene of the Crampton's Gap action. It moves north through Fox's Gap and ends at Washington Monument State Park, which is near the scene of the Turner's Gap action. The tour is 12 miles long and takes 30 to 45 minutes to complete.

Crampton's Gap
A handful of Confederate troops from McLaw's Division defended this gap against overwhelming odds. At noon on the 14th, General William B. Franklin approached the gap from the east with the entire Union VI Corps. Franklin's orders from McClellan were to clear the gap and go on to relieve the besieged garrison at Harpers Ferry. Like McClellan, Franklin overestimated his enemy's numbers and spent more time than was necessary positioning his men for the assault. When he finally did attack, the Confederates fought hard but were forced to withdraw westward into Pleasant Valley. Upon reaching the top of the gap, Franklin halted his forces and remained there until he joined McClellan at Antietam on the 17th. Thus he was not of much help to Harpers Ferry, which surrendered to Jackson on the 15th.

  Gapland Road
(Called Burkittsville Road during the Civil War) Franklin positioned his men on either side of this road to prepare for the assault. One division was massed in the fields south of the road (to your right as you descend toward Burkittsville) and two divisions to the north (your left).
  Burkittsville.
This little hamlet appears today much the way it did when the battle was fought. Wounded troops from both sides were treated at the two churches located on Main Street following the engagement. President Lincoln passed through Burkittsville in October of the same year returning from a visit to McClellan's army at Antietam.
  Mountain Church Road
The main thrust of Franklin's assault on Crampton's Gap came from the fields east of this road (your right). The Confederates' initial defense position was on the west (left) behind the stone walls. Confederate artillery at Brownsville Gap, a mile to the south, raked the Union ranks. The Union forces pushed the Confederates up the slope, through the gap and into Pleasant Valley on the other side of the mountain.
 

Reno Monument Road
(Called the Sharpsburg Road during the Civil War). The initial Union assault on South mountain swept up the slopes to the south (left) of this road on the morning of the 14th, before the action at Crampton's Gap. Shortly after dawn, and advance detachment from General Jesse Reno's IX Corps ha marched northwestwardly from Middletown toward the main Confederate forces at Turner's Gap. When it reached the little settlement of Bolivar, it turned southwestwardly down Bolivar Road. Its artillery stopped at Bolivar and began dueling with Confederate artillery on the mountain. Upon reaching the Sharpsburg road (now Reno Monument Road) the detachment turned northwestwardly again and assaulted Fox's Gap in an effort to turn the Confederate right flank.

Fox's Gap
Confederate General D.H. Hill, who commanded the troops at Turner's Gap, dispatched General Samuel Garland's brigade south to meet the Union flank attack. Garland's men fought with Jacob Cox's Kanawha Division of the Union IX Corps on the eastern slope. Two future United States Presidents were with the Kanawha Division, Lieutenant-Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes and Commissary Sergeant William B. McKinley.

The action at Fox's Gap has been described as being as hot as any action of the entire war. Slowly, Garland's smaller force fell back toward Turner's Gap. Garland was mortally wounded. By the time the Kanawha Division reached the summit just south of Fox's Gap, the men were too fatigued to press on. The action dropped off. Later in the day, when the rest of the IX Corps arrived at Fox's Gap, the assault was renewed while Hooker's I Corps attacked Turner's Gap. General Reno was killed late in the day at Fox's Gap as his troops slowly pushed the Confederates back. Fighting continued in this sector until 10 p.m. A monument to Reno marks the spot of his death.
  Moser Road
This steep mountain road takes you behind Confederate lines and parallels the confederate withdrawal from Fox's Gap. Driving over the rough terrain will give you an appreciation for the difficulty the troops on both sides must have had fighting through here.
  Mountain House and Turner's Gap
Turner's Gap was the main Union objective during the battle because the National Road, which passed through it, led to Boonsboro and Hagerstown. Lee's lost orders indicated that McClellan would find pieces of the divided Confederate Army in those areas. Mountain House, a wayside tavern still in operation (under the name South Mountain Inn), was a key landmark in the gap. At one point in the battle, General Hill stood near the tavern to watch the Union forces massing in the valley below him. This sight made a strong impression upon him. Long after the war, he commented, "It was a grand and glorious spectacle, and it was impossible to look at it without admiration. I had never seen so tremendous an army before and I did not see one like it afterward."
 

Monument Road
The third and final stage of the battle occurred to the east (right) of this modern road. The terrain is very hilly and the roads primitive. It is not recommended that you try to explore the area. While the IX Corps renewed the push on Fox's Gap, General Joseph Hooker's I Corps attacked Hill's left here at Turner's Gap. Even though Hill's men had been reinforced by General D.R. Jone's Brigade, the Confederates were still outnumbered. Union forces succeeded in securing the Hagerstown Road north of Turner's Gap, but the determined Confederates held on to the main prize, Turner's Gap. Because it was only a matter of time before the superior number of Union troops succeeded in taking the gap, General Lee ordered Hill to withdraw late in the evening ending the Battle of South Mountain.

 

The Outcome
Thus, by the night of September 14 McClellan's army had possession of the three passes. The confederates had held McClellan off for one more day. Nevertheless, had he pushed on quickly, the Union general could still have hit Lee's army before it was reunited. McClellan's failure to push on is one of the greatest missed opportunities in American history.

Union losses at South Mountain were 436 killed and 1908 wounded. Confederate losses are not known. The stage was set for the Battle of Antietam on the 17th.

Of the 28,000 Union soldiers engaged in the Battle of South Mountain, 1,800 were reported killed, wounded and missing. Of the 18,000 Confederates, 2,800 were lost.

 

 


 

 

 





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