Three Gaps, One Battle
The purpose of this paper is to set the historical record straight regarding the nature or character of the Battle of South Mountain. Do the events of September 14, 1862, occur as separate battles on South Mountain, or are they actually part of a single battle of South Mountain. It has been recently asserted by some historians that the true Battle of South Mountain should only include the engagements at Turner’s Gap and Fox’s Gap. The claim has been made that Crampton’s Gap and South Mountain are well documented as two wholly separate battles and that only in recent times has the Battle of Crampton’s Gap been absorbed into the Battle of South Mountain. Related to this interpretation of the events on South Mountain are several additional assertions regarding the combat at Crampton’s Gap. Among them are the allegations that the “Battle” of Crampton’s Gap was the direct response of General George B. McClellan’s finding of the “Lost Orders,” that Crampton’s Gap was the sole clear-cut campaign victory and strategic pivot of the Maryland Campaign, that Crampton’s Gap was the strategic catalyst that led to the battle of Antietam three days later, and that Crampton’s Gap was the pivotal battle of the pivotal campaign of the American Civil War.[i]
While on the surface these historical allegations may seem to warrant merit, they are in fact bald assertions with little or no historical basis to back them up. In the process of exploring this topic we will of course take a look at the historical record. We will also take a look at current military doctrine to determine just what constitutes a “battle,” and then apply that definition to South Mountain. After this examination it will become evident that the classification of Crampton’s Gap as a battle separate and distinct from South Mountain simply is not supported by the facts. Once this tenet of separation, for lack of a better term, is shown to be unwarranted the other claims regarding the engagement at Crampton’s Gap are likewise shown to be just as fallacious.
However you may choose to classify it, the combat on South Mountain occurred on Sunday, September 14, 1862. The South Mountain range, a continuation in Maryland of Virginia’s Blue Ridge, is situated approximately halfway between Frederick and Hagerstown. Three primary passes cross the mountain: Turner’s Gap on U.S. Alternate Route 40, Fox’s Gap, one mile south, on the Reno Monument Road, and five miles farther south, Crampton’s Gap on the Burkittsville Road. The troops involved in the combat that day belonged to Union General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac and Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. On the Union side General Ambrose Burnside assaulted Turner’s Gap and Fox’s Gap with General Joseph Hooker’s I Corps and General Jesse Reno’s IX Corps. The VI Corps, under General William Franklin attacked Crampton’s Gap. The passes at Turner’s and Fox’s Gap were defended by Confederate General Daniel Harvey Hill's Division. Later in the day Hill was reinforced by elements of General James Longstreet’s Command. The defense of Crampton’s Gap ultimately devolved upon General Lafayette McLaws; however, during much of the day, McLaws was positioned on Maryland Heights participating in the Confederate siege of Harpers Ferry.
The combat on South Mountain did not occur in a vacuum. It was an integral part of the Maryland Campaign of 1862. This campaign, which started on September 4, 1862, when Robert E. Lee began crossing the Potomac River into Maryland, represented the first movement into the North by Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. While encamped in the outskirts of Frederick, Maryland, General Lee embarked upon a movement to capture the Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry. This operation, and the method of accomplishing it, set the stage for the events on South Mountain and affected the whole campaign. Three days after South Mountain the Maryland Campaign of 1862 climaxed at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862.
Adherents of the tenet of separation often state as fact their belief that Crampton’s Gap and South Mountain are well documented as two wholly separate engagements, or “battles,” that the linking of the two battles are merely literary and administrative conveniences that have only been employed in recent times.[ii] It has been alleged that all campaign documents support this tenet of separation. In support of this premise it has been asserted that the participants of the engagement at Crampton’s Gap set it apart from South Mountain and recorded it as such in their after action reports. However, an actual inventory of the available Union reports reveals otherwise. Between pages 374 and 415 in Volume IX Part I of the “Official Records of the War of the Rebellion” one will find twenty-three reports that describe the engagement at Crampton’s Gap. These are military “after action” reports written and filed shortly after the event. The men writing the reports ranged in rank from Major General to Colonel. The organizational level covered in the reports ranges from army corps to individual regiments. The experience and training of the participants range from West Point graduates to civilian soldier volunteers. Consequently, there are a wide variety of terms used by the participants to name the “battle.” Indeed, out of the twenty-three reports there are six that call the engagement “the Battle of Crampton’s Pass.” There are five reports that use no name at all; they simply record the movements and events of the unit involved. Of those left, four use the term “engagement,” three refer to it as the “action on the 14th”, two use the term “operations,” one simply calls it “the battle of the 14th instant,” one refers to the unit being “employed on the 14th instant,” and one refers to it as “the storming of Crampton’s Pass.” Out of the twenty-three then, only six (nearly one-quarter) use the terminology “the Battle of Crampton’s Pass.” It is interesting to note that four of the participants used the term “engagement.” This terminology would evolve into the modern definition of a tactical action related to a “battle.”[iii]
The commander of the Ninety-sixth Pennsylvania Infantry, Colonel Henry L. Cake, applied this modern terminology for his regiment’s actions to both South Mountain and Antietam, “I have the honor to submit the following report of the engagements of the 14th and 17th instant.” In his report Colonel Cake did not make use of the name of Crampton’s Pass at all, writing instead “The enemy retired to the South Mountain through Burkittsville.”[iv] Obviously, the claim that all the participants of the engagement at Crampton’s Gap set it apart from South Mountain is not supported by the historical record.
To further confuse the issue, if one actually goes to the Official Records, one will see these after action reports labeled as “Reports…of the Battle of Crampton’s Pass.” While on the surface this may seem to lend credence to the tenet of separation, it should be remembered that these Official Records were compiled by government bureaucrats some years after the war. The label of “Battle of Crampton’s Pass” does not necessarily denote a military definition as much as it does a bureaucratic convention for assigning a specific geographical place to an engagement.
It has also been alleged that General McClellan recorded the two engagements as distinct battles in his after action report. And indeed, a cursory reading of General McClellan’s report in the Official Records might lead one to accept the premise. In McClellan’s formal report of the Maryland Campaign, dated October 15, 1862, there is a list of casualties titled, “Tabular Statement of Casualties in the Army of the Potomac in the battles of South Mountain and Crampton’s Pass, on the 14th of September, 1862.” On the surface this would seem to prove the point. However, General McClellan did not compile the casualty report. It was written by Brigadier General Seth Williams, Assistant Adjutant General, Army of the Potomac. We need to note that Williams casualty list totals to an aggregate of 2,325 for the two “Battles.” However, in another more contemporary report written by General McClellan, dated September 29, we find, “At South Mountain our loss was 443 killed, 1,806 wounded, and 76 missing; total, 2,325.” It is important to note that McClellan’s sum for the total number of casualties exactly matches William’s total for the two “Battles” on September 14. Clearly then, we have a case where a staff officer, a military bureaucrat, has separated the two engagements to expedite record keeping (These statistics were later incorporated into the formal report). On the other hand, the commanding general, George B. McClellan, the person responsible for employing his troops to carry out his strategy, makes no such bureaucratic distinction. In a less formal and more immediate report, McClellan clearly refers to the total casualties as being the result of the Battle of South Mountain, not the Battle of South Mountain and the Battle of Crampton’s Pass.[v]
On March 2, 1863, General McClellan testified before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War regarding his operations in Maryland the year before. In his testimony before that congressional committee we find further evidence that General McClellan made no distinction between Crampton’s Gap and the Battle of South Mountain. When asked to give a statement about the principal events of the Maryland Campaign, McClellan responded with a description that as a matter of record, included the events of September 14, 1862. McClellan’s testimony included the statement that on that fateful day he gave orders for a pursuit, “throwing the main force by the Hagerstown Road. Franklin’s corps, on the left, was ordered to attack and carry Crampton’s Pass…The Battle of South Mountain occurred on Sunday, and being successful at all points, gave us possession of the Mountain range, and of the debouches into the Hagerstown Valley.” In the final analysis, the assertion that General McClellan recorded the engagements at Crampton’s Gap and South Mountain as distinct battles proves to be just as unwarranted as the claim that all the participants also set them apart. [vi]
Now we will focus on the allegation that only in recent times has Crampton’s Gap been absorbed into the South Mountain Battlefield. To do this we will take a look at a sampling of Nineteenth Century historical literature. In his book “The Decisive Conflicts” published in 1867, just two years after the end of the Civil War, historian J. Watts DePeyster had this to say about South Mountain: “The three simultaneous and victorious engagements known as the Battle of South Mountain (Sunday, September 14, 1862), the forcing of Turner’s Gap, to the right or north, by Hooker; of Fox Gap, in the center, by Reno, and of Crampton’s Gap, to the left or south, by Franklin, is one of the brightest pages in the checkered history of the Army of the Potomac.”[vii]
In 1882 Francis W. Palfrey published his well known “The Antietam and Fredericksburg.” Chapter two was simply titled “South Mountain.” At the beginning of the chapter Palfrey wrote, “We left McClellan at Frederick, on the 13th…he determined…to move his left by Burkittsville, to and through Crampton’s Pass, while his centre and right marched by Middletown to Turner’s Pass…It must be remembered that the South Mountains are a continuous range of hills, and not detached heights.” A few pages later we find, “as the Union left carried its pass much earlier than the Union right, the action at Crampton’s Gap may as well be described first…The action at Turner’s Gap was on a larger scale, took longer to decide, and was more costly.” Palfrey was clearly treating the separate “actions” as parts of a single battle.[viii]
Southern Historian William Allen wrote an article in 1886 for the Southern Historical Society entitled the “First Maryland Campaign.” In that article Allen wrote, “It is not our purpose to discuss the Battle of South Mountain, about which much might be said…General D.H. Hill, aided later in the day by General Longstreet was able to hold the mountain passes at Turner’s Gap…Meantime the Federals had gained possession of Crampton’s Gap.” As with Palfrey, Allen was also grouping both Turner’s and Crampton’s Gaps as being part of the Battle of South Mountain.[ix]
Willis J. Abbott, in his book “Battlefields and Campfires,” published in 1890, had this to say about the events of September 14, 1862, “So much for the fighting at Turner’s Gap. On the same day another Union column pushed its way through the Confederate lines at Crampton’s Gap, six miles to the southward. The two battles, though separated by six miles of rugged and impassable mountain peaks, are generally classed together and called the Battle of South Mountain.”[x]
Shortly before his death in 1885, George B. McClellan, former commander of the Army of the Potomac during the Maryland Campaign, was in the process of writing an article for “The Century Magazine.” Although the completion of the article was cut short by his death, McClellan had finished portions of it, including his introduction. Published posthumously under the title “From the Peninsula to Antietam,” McClellan’s article began with these introductory words, “It is not proposed to give in this article a detailed account of the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam.” McClellan’s introduction is relevant for what it does not say. Conspicuously absent is the name of Crampton’s Gap, for McClellan, and the general public of his day, it was implicitly understood that the engagement at Crampton’s Gap was part of the Battle of South Mountain.[xi]
1867, 1882, 1885, 1886, 1890…one may, or may not agree with what these Nineteenth Century historians and personalities wrote, but one cannot dispute when they wrote it. Clearly then, the engagement at Crampton’s Gap has been considered a part of the Battle of South Mountain for quite a long time and the allegation that they are separate battles, only recently linked together, does not stand. In reality there exists a considerable body of nineteenth century historical literature that links the engagement at Crampton’s Gap to the Battle of South Mountain. Ironically, after sampling the historical literature it seems that the tenet of separation, the notion that the Crampton’s Gap engagement should be set apart from the Battle of South Mountain, is the “recent idea.”
|Monument of the 137th Pennsylvania Volunteers.|
That the engagement at Crampton’s Gap was part of the Battle of South Mountain was also understood by the veterans who fought in the battle. At the Antietam National Battlefield, on Cornfield Avenue, stands a monument dedicated to the men of the One Hundred Thirty-seventh Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Although officially dedicated well after the conflict on September 17, 1904, the monument memorialized the actions of the regiment in the Civil War. On the front of the monument is a cast iron plaque which list the battles in which the regiment participated. At the head of that list reads the following, “South Mountain (Crampton’s Pass) MD.” One certainly cannot question what the veterans of the Maryland Campaign chose to memorialize.[xii]
This does not mean that one will not find references to “The Battle at Crampton’s Pass” in the historic record. In addition to the after action reports cited in the text there are casualty reports, regimental histories, and other books that make reference to the "battle” of Crampton’s Gap. It needs to be noted that historians, government bureaucrats, and statisticians tend to misuse the term “battle” when writing about military combat, especially historians. To them, as well as many laymen, the word is commonly used to describe any fighting between any numbers of troops belonging to two opposing armies. The word “battle” can, and often does, mean many things to many people.
Since the Battle of South Mountain was a military operation it must be defined in military terms. In the true military sense, according to accepted doctrine, there exists a hierarchy of terms that are used to define military operations. The main terms we will be dealing with in this paper are “ Strategy, tactics, campaign, battle, and engagement.” Strategy is defined as the art and science of developing and employing armed forces to secure national goals or military objectives, usually one and the same. Tactics is the employment of units in combat; these units are used to carry out strategy. A campaign seeks to achieve strategic goals through battle. A battle consists of a set of related engagements. An engagement is defined as a tactical conflict between opposing forces. The military issue here is should Crampton’s Gap be considered a separate battle in the Maryland Campaign or one of the engagements that make up the Battle of South Mountain. The question remaining should then be, is there a strategic goal in the Maryland Campaign that requires a battle to implement that goal, a battle consisting of several engagements. In order to truthfully answer this question we need to look at General McClellan’s strategic campaign objectives.[xiii]
Military campaigns seek to achieve strategic goals in a particular theater of war. Regardless of whatever else you may think of him, General George B. McClellan was a professional soldier capable of formulating clear, concise, strategic goals for a military campaign. McClellan had three clearly stated campaign objectives when he embarked upon the Maryland Campaign of 1862 in the eastern theater of operations. These objectives were to provide a defense of the Federal Capital and Baltimore, “prevent the invasion of Pennsylvania,” and force the Confederates out of Maryland and back into Virginia.[xiv]
By the time McClellan entered the city of Frederick on September 12, it was becoming clear to him that campaign objective number one had already been accomplished. His military intelligence indicated that the Confederates were moving away from the Federal Capital, not towards it; therefore, the defense of Baltimore and Washington was becoming a moot point. What was puzzling to McClellan at this time was that the information he was receiving indicated that the enemy was moving away in two different directions.
In fact McClellan had known Lee’s army was divided as early as 10:00 AM on Friday, September 12, when he telegraphed General-in-chief Henry W. Halleck, “I feel perfectly confident that the enemy has abandoned Frederick moving in two directions… On the Hagerstown & Harpers Ferry roads.” General McClellan’s second campaign objective was utmost on his mind this day, September 12th, as he confided in a letter to his wife, “From all I can gather secesh is skedadelling & I don’t think I can catch him unless he is really moving into…[Pennsylvania] in that case I shall catch him.”[xv] Here then, in these two communications, we find evidence that more than one full day prior to the finding of the “Lost Orders” General George B. McClellan knew that Lee’s army was divided and that he was intent upon vigorously pursuing Robert E. Lee in order to engage him in battle. [xvi]
An event occurred on September 12 that was to alter McClellan’s operational plans. On that day General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck disrupted McClellan’s campaign strategy by ordering him to assume command of the garrison at Harpers Ferry. McClellan had originally suggested withdrawing the Harpers Ferry forces but Halleck had stubbornly insisted they stay. By doing so General-in-Chief Halleck not only upset McClellan’s plans, but also unwittingly threw a very large monkey wrench into Robert E. Lee’s campaign plans as well. Lee had assumed the Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry would withdraw when the Confederates moved into Maryland. When they did not, Lee had to devise a plan to remove them as these Federal forces represented a threat to his proposed line of communication in the Shenendoah Valley. The operational plan Lee devised involved dividing his army, and sending part of it to invest Harpers Ferry, while continuing with the “main body” further northwest into Maryland. Lee intended to reunite his army after Harpers Ferry had been invested, and presumably continue on into Pennsylvania. Hence the origin of Special Orders No. 191, the infamous “Lost Orders,” that detailed the movements of Lee’s Army during the Harpers Ferry operation.[xvii]
What is important to our investigation is that General McClellan’s second campaign objective was altered by General-in-Chief Halleck, and McClellan was now duty bound to move on Harpers Ferry as well as prevent a Confederate incursion into Pennsylvania. This duality of purpose is reflected in his correspondence later that day with President Lincoln. At 9:00 P.M. on September 12, 1862, McClellan informed Lincoln, “If Harper’s Ferry is still in our possession I think I can save the garrison if they fight at all. If the rebels are really moving into…[Pennsylvania] I shall soon be up with them.”[xviii]
As stated previously, McClellan already knew that the Confederate army was moving in two different directions, towards Hagerstown and Harpers Ferry. His campaign goal had been altered to include the relief of Harpers Ferry as well as the pursuit of Robert E. Lee. Therefore, his orders for September 12th involved positioning his troops for a two-column movement to accomplish these goals. The IX Corps, lead element of Burnside’s right wing, occupied Frederick, Maryland, on September 12. These troops were logically situated for a movement west on the National Road in pursuit of the Confederates through the Catoctins and South Mountains towards Hagerstown. What troops were available on September 12 for McClellan to send to the relief of Harpers Ferry? A look at a situation map for September 12 will provide the logical answer. General Franklin’s VI Corps was located about twelve miles south of Frederick near the Potomac River at the town of Licksville, and as such these were the nearest troops to Harpers Ferry.[xix]
McClellan’s orders for September 12, 1862, reflect the logistical choices available to him. At 5:45 p.m. the following order was sent to General Franklin, “The general commanding directs you to march at daylight to-morrow morning to Buckeystown and there await further orders, ready to move either to Frederick, or Harper’s Ferry, as may prove necessary.”[xx] At 6:15 P.M. the following was sent to Burnside, “The commanding general directs that you move to-morrow morning at daylight and mass your troops at Frederick.” This was followed by further orders to Burnside at 11:00 P.M., “…you will move with your command…and obtain possession, if possible, of the pass by which the National road passes through the Catoctin range of Mountains…The general desires you to learn, if possible, the condition of affairs in the direction of Harpers Ferry.”[xxi]
Consequently, the movements of the Federal army on September 13 were a direct result of the orders issued on September 12, 1862. As historian Joseph L. Harsh has noted, regarding movements on the 13th, “These operations…brought the Federals by evening to the foot of South Mountain at both Turner’s and Crampton’s Gaps...And they were conceived before and pursued independently of the Federal discovery of a copy of S.O. 191 left behind in Frederick.” McClellan himself, in his October 15 after action report stated, “On the 13th…it was soon ascertained that…the enemy’s forces…had marched out of the city on the two previous days taking the roads to Boonsboro and Harpers Ferry, thereby rendering it necessary to force the passes through the Catoctin and South Mountain ridges and gain possession of Boonsboro and Rohersville before any relief could be extended to…Harpers Ferry.”[xxii]
Battle of South Mountain
In all likelihood, due to McClellan’s strategic goals and his rapid pursuit of Lee, the Battle of South Mountain still would have occurred on September 14, 1862, as a two column movement towards Rohersville and Boonsboro by way of Crampton’s and Turner’s Gaps, even without the notorious “Lost Orders.”
Perhaps no other document of the Civil War has generated so much mystery, controversy, and misinformation than Robert E. Lee’s “Special Orders No. 191.” These orders, known as the “Lost Orders” in the North, and the “Lost Dispatch” in the South, were issued on September 9, 1862. As stated previously, General Lee, in order to eliminate the threat of the Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry, had divided the Army of Northern Virginia into several sections and sent them by different routes towards Harpers Ferry and Hagerstown. The orders detailed the movements of these segments of Lee’s army for the operation against Harpers Ferry. Four days later, on September 13, 1862, a copy of these “Lost Orders” was found in a field near Frederick and presented to General George B. McClellan.
Old legends die hard. The finding of the Lost Orders holds a revered place in the mythology of the Maryland Campaign; consequently, this document has been greatly used and touted by many historians to explain both the failure of Lee’s campaign, and the inexplicable rapidity of McClellan’s movement through Maryland. Dr. Joseph L. Harsh has called the event “one of the most dramatic episodes and spinable yarns of the war,” and has argued that the finding of these orders has been accorded disproportionate importance. Indeed, the finding of the Lost Orders have become accepted by many as the turning point of the campaign, and recently argued by a few as the turning point of the entire Civil War.[xxiii] This misplaced significance has generally been accepted because the finding coincided with a dramatic reversal of fortune for Robert E. Lee. A reversal that began before the orders were found, starting on the evening of September 12 and continuing through the morning of the 13th, after McClellan entered Frederick and set in motion the movement to the foot of South Mountain.[xxiv]
In reality, the finding of the Lost Orders reinforced the military intelligence that General McClellan already had gathered which told him that Gen. Lee's army was divided. However, it did provide the reason for that division, the operations against Harpers Ferry. Much has also been written regarding General McClellan and the Lost Orders, what they did tell him and what they did not, and what opportunities they presented him, both real and imagined, but what is important for us to consider is that the information in the “Lost Orders” did not materially affect the movements of the Union army on September 13, and it was those movements that logistically set the stage for the Battle of South Mountain on September 14, 1862.[xxv]
Based upon what he knew at the time Gen. McClellan did formulate a plan that pursued his military objectives and, unknown to McClellan, promised the opportunity to inflict severe damage on Generals McLaws and D. H. Hill. General McClellan’s military intelligence indicated to him that the Confederate operation against Harpers Ferry had not yet been completed. This meant that Lee’s army’s was still divided. This would allow the Federal commander the tactical option of interposing his forces between Lee’s divided segments and engaging the enemy “in detail.” In the true military sense to “Defeat in Detail” is to concentrate overwhelming combat power against separate parts of a force rather than engaging the entire enemy force at once.[xxvi] The problem that General George B. McClellan faced was that he did not know exactly where all those separate enemy forces were located. The Lost Orders were very ambiguous when it came to the location of the “main body” of Lee’s army. The document simply stated, “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.” It was implicit in the order that the main body was General James Longstreet’s Command and that Longstreet was followed by a rearguard consisting of D.H. Hill’s Division. Obviously Jackson, Walker, and McLaws were still investing Harpers Ferry, but where was Longstreet, Hagerstown or Boonsboro?[xxvii]
It must be borne in mind that knowledge of the Confederate’s divided forces was in itself of limited usefulness to McClellan. Rightly or wrongly, McClellan’s military intelligence led him to believe that Lee’s “main body” consisted of somewhere between 50,000 to 60,000 men. It has been estimated that McClellan had about 65,000 troops in the Frederick area on September 13. This could hardly be considered “overwhelming” force. Moving Franklin’s VI Corps to Frederick would provide an additional 19,000 men; however, it would cost an additional day’s delay and postpone the relief of the garrison at Harpers Ferry, and we need to remember that the relief of Harpers Ferry was a direct order from General-in-Chief Halleck..[xxviii] However, if Franklin could force Crampton’s Gap, add the Harpers Ferry garrison to his own troops, and then move north up Pleasant Valley towards Boonsboro to join Burnside, McClellan would then have the overwhelming force necessary to defeat the Confederate main body in detail. To do this Franklin would have to force Crampton’s Gap, neutralize Confederate General Lafayette McLaw’s forces on Maryland Heights, relieve the garrison at Harpers Ferry, and then march north up Pleasant Valley towards Boonsboro to join in on the Union attack against the Confederate main body. An ambitious plan, some would say too ambitious, but yet that is exactly what McClellan officially ordered Franklin to do. McClellan’s actions on the 13th set up one of the greatest ironies of the Maryland Campaign, General George B. McClellan, noted in the popular imagination as being overly cautious and timid, initially hazards less than overwhelming force against the Confederate “main body” on a plan that some would call overly ambitious, in order to save time and move swiftly.
It is extremely interesting to note that while McClellan’s official orders to General Franklin would cover his campaign goals while still obeying Halleck’s order to relieve Harpers Ferry, McClellan gave Franklin discretionary power to change his orders if Franklin chose to do so. After laying out Franklin’s four-fold objectives of taking the pass, attacking McLaws, relieving Harpers Ferry, and moving northwards up Pleasant Valley, McClellan then stated to Franklin “My general Idea is to cut the enemy in two & beat him in detail.” Before ending the order McClellan added, “Knowing my views and intentions you are fully authorized to change any of the details of this order as circumstances may change, provided the purpose is carried out- that purpose being to attack the enemy in detail & beat him.” McClellan told Franklin twice what his purpose was, to attack the enemy in detail. Franklin was free to change his orders in any manner if it contributed to attacking Lee in detail. Was McClellan giving Franklin a way of disregarding Halleck’s order and assisting in the attack on Lee’s main body? Perhaps, we shall never know. However, we do know that McClellan could not directly disobey an order from Halleck, but he could give a subordinate discretionary power to disregard that order if, in that subordinates opinion, circumstances on the ground warranted it.[xxix]
McClellan also had to consider the Lost Orders taken in the context of the topography of the theater of operations. South Mountain was still a wall, despite the Lost Orders, a barrier that screened the movements of the Army of Northern Virginia. Beyond that mountain wall was Pleasant Valley, which provided an enemy excellent tactical movement between Boonsboro, Rohrersville, and Maryland Heights. The Lost Orders made no mention at all of defending the passes through South Mountain and this may have led McClellan to initially believe that he could move into Pleasant Valley with little or no opposition. If the Confederate main body was at Boonsboro, McClellan’s tactical flexibility was limited by only moving a single column. If he moved a single column in either direction towards Turner’s Gap or Crampton’s Gap (the back door to Maryland Heights and Harpers Ferry) he risked an enemy flanking movement. If McClellan attempted to move on Harpers Ferry alone he would have the Confederate main body on his right flank. If he moved solely on Turner’s Gap he could well find some of the Confederates investing Harpers Ferry on his left flank. The possibility therefore existed that any Federal force moving through one or the other mountain passes in a single column could fall prey to a flank attack by the enemy. Although divided, Lee’s army could still become a “vise” in which McClellan could be exposed to a Confederate pincer movement in Pleasant Valley.[xxx]
Therefore, McClellan finally settled on an operational plan that he hoped would allow him to engage the Confederate main body, beat it in detail, and accomplish his 2nd campaign goal of preventing a Confederate movement into Pennsylvania. This operational plan would entail a coordinated attack by two columns, one moving west towards Turner’s Gap on the National Road and the other moving towards Harpers Ferry by way of Crampton’s Gap. To dispel any doubt that it was to be a coordinated attack, all we have to do is once again look to McClellan’s orders to Franklin, “If you find the pass held by the enemy in large force make all your dispositions for the attack & commence it about half an hour after you hear severe firing at the pass on the Hagerstown Pike, where the main column will attack.” Furthermore, once inside Pleasant Valley Franklin’s movements were to depend upon the outcome of the main attack at Turner’s Gap. In theory, once Franklin had destroyed McLaws and relieved the garrison at Harpers Ferry (or having used his discretionary power to ignore any one, or both, of these objectives), he was to “return by Rohrersville on the direct road to Boonsboro, if the main column has not succeeded in its attack.” If Burnside’s attack was a success, then, and only then, was Franklin to move to Sharpsburg or Williamsport to cut off the enemy’s retreat. At this point we need to ask what part of Lee’s Army was Franklin expected to operate against by the direct road to Boonsboro? The obvious answer is Lee’s “main body.”[xxxi]
In addition, this coordinated tactical movement would avoid falling prey to an enemy flank attack in Pleasant Valley, officially allow for the relief of the garrison at Harpers Ferry, and still, it was hoped, prevent the enemy movement into Pennsylvania. If the Confederate main body was at Boonsboro, and if all his subordinates lived up to his expectations, McClellan had a good chance of being able to combine forces and attack Longstreet on the front with Burnside, on the flank with Franklin, and beat him in detail. If the main body were at Hagerstown, McClellan would be in excellent position to interpose his forces between Hagerstown and Harpers Ferry and prevent Jackson from joining Longstreet. This would still allow McClellan to move on Hagerstown and, it was hoped, defeat Longstreet in detail. Either way, this plan would address McClellan’s second campaign objective of preventing the Confederate movement into Pennsylvania, and Halleck’s last minute orders to relieve the garrison at Harpers Ferry.[xxxii]
This plan of action by General McClellan would result in three engagements at three mountain passes, Turner’s Gap, Fox’s Gap, and Crampton’s Gap. These engagements would occur on the same day, on the same mountain, and for the same coordinated purpose. This operational plan would result in the Battle of South Mountain.
Proponents of the tenet of separation have often attempted to use a boxing metaphor to illustrate their assertion that Turner’s Gap and Crampton’s Gap are two distinct battles.[xxxiii] In this metaphor McClellan is likened to a boxer smashing into Lee’s rearguard at Turner’s Gap with his powerful right while he delivers a knock out blow with a left hook at Crampton’s Gap. The fallacy with the metaphor however, is that both hands belong to the same man, George McClellan, and they are delivered for the same purpose, to defeat Robert E. Lee in “detail.”
As expressed in the lexicon of current military doctrine, the issue before us is should Crampton’s Gap be considered a separate battle in the campaign or one of the engagements that make up the Battle of South Mountain. By definition it should be the latter. In addition to the same day, same mountain, same purpose, we should add same commander. McClellan gave the orders for the attacks on Turner’s and Crampton’s Gaps and they had a similar purpose. As Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Anastas, a former professor of Military History at West Point, explained to me, the combat at Turner’s Gap, Fox’s Gap, and Crampton’s Gap “were tactical actions designed to produce a desirable operational outcome.” When the definitions of current United States military doctrine are applied, in the 1862 Maryland Campaign, South Mountain is a Battle, and Fox’s, Turner’s, and Crampton’s Gaps are engagements in that battle.[xxxiv]
If this controversy over Crampton’s Gap were a case in a Criminal court of law, all that would be necessary to acquit the case would be that I show a “reasonable doubt.” If it were a lawsuit in a civil court, I would be required to show that the “preponderance of evidence” supports my claim. I think I have been able to do both. The tenet of separation is not supported by all the campaign documents. The allegation that only in recent times has Crampton’s Gap been absorbed into the South Mountain Battlefield has no legs to stand on. In reality there exists a considerable body of nineteenth century historical literature that links the engagement at Crampton’s Gap to the Battle of South Mountain.
The lynchpin of the tenet of separation is the allegation that the battles on South Mountain were fought independently by autonomous wings of McClellan’s army for wholly distinct campaign objectives. But yet there is ample evidence to show that the Battle of South Mountain was a coordinated action involving a two column attack for the purpose of pursuing the same clearly stated campaign objective. Proponents of the tenet of separation often attempt to describe the combat at the northern gaps as mere tactical actions while portraying Franklin’s actions at Crampton’s Gap as a strategic operation exclusively triggered by the lost orders.[xxxv] The inference being that only Franklin was conducting his “battle” with some kind of operational intent. Besides the fact that McClellan’s movements to the mountain passes were set in motion a full day before the Lost Orders were found, such statements illustrate a fundamental illiteracy regarding basic military doctrine. Tactics involve the employment of military forces to carry out strategy. We have seen that the Battle of South Mountain was the result of General McClellan’s strategic campaign goals, all three engagements were tactical actions as a result of an operational plan related to his strategic goals. All three tactical actions were meant to produce a desirable operational outcome. McClellan was not attempting to force the gaps and beat Robert E. Lee in detail simply for the sake of forcing the gaps and beating him in detail. Beating Lee in detail was a means to an end, and that end involved McClellan’s campaign objectives of preventing a Confederate incursion into Pennsylvania and forcing Lee out of Maryland.
Ironically, proponents of the tenet of separation often state that Crampton’s Gap and South Mountain are well documented as two wholly separate engagements. Yes they are, and once again, such a statement belies a layman’s lack of understanding of true military doctrine. Indeed, the combat at the gaps of South Mountain are well documented as wholly separate engagements, engagements in a battle, a battle in a campaign, the Maryland Campaign of 1862. Crampton’s Gap is, and always has been, a part of the Battle of South Mountain.
The next item to examine is the allegation that Crampton’s Gap was the “direct” or “primary” response to the finding of the Lost Orders.[xxxvi] The term “direct” implies an immediate action without intervening conditions. “Primary,” in its simplest definition, means something that occurs first. The term may also mean first or best in degree of importance. In its most basic definition “secondary” is defined as one step removed from the first, not primary.[xxxvii] We now need to establish a chronology of McClellan’s communications of September 13 regarding the Lost Orders so that we may establish just what was General McClellan’s primary response, and what was his secondary response.
It is generally accepted as fact that the Lost Order was found on the morning of September 13, 1862, and presented to McClellan at his headquarters sometime shortly before noon. McClellan then retired to his headquarters tent to take stock of the situation and evaluate the document. That General McClellan did not immediately strike his tent and move westward, as many critics claim he should have, may be explained by the fact that there were many unanswered questions raised by the Lost Orders. Quite properly he determined to have as many of these questions as possible answered before moving the bulk of his army forward.[xxxviii] McClellan had a transcript of the Lost Orders prepared and then sent to General Alfred Pleasonton, commander of the Union cavalry. At 3:00 P.M. the transcript was sent with the following orders, “The following order of march of the enemy is dated September 9. General McClellan desires you to ascertain whether this order has thus far been followed by the enemy.” McClellan had turned over a copy of the Lost Orders to the cavalry, the chief intelligence gathering arm of the army, to find out what they could regarding the authenticity of the document.[xxxix]
Sometime later General McClellan confided his newfound discovery to a visiting subordinate officer, Brigadier General John Gibbon. Gibbon, who commanded a brigade in General Hooker’s I Corps, had stopped by to visit McClellan after his arrival in Frederick. Gibbon’s conversation with McClellan appears to have occurred sometime between mid to late afternoon on the 13th. Gibbon, seated in General McClellan’s headquarters tent, recalled that McClellan took a folded paper from his pocket and said, “Here is a paper with which if I cannot whip ‘Bobbie Lee,’ I will be willing to go home…I will not show you the document now but there is the signature and it gives the movement of every division of Lee’s army.” It is also curious to note that at this juncture, mid to late afternoon, McClellan states to Gibbon, “Tomorrow we will pitch into his centre and if you people will only do two good hard day’s marching I will put Lee in a position he will find hard to get out of.” This indicates that McClellan, on the afternoon of September 13, 1862, may have thought the “main body” was still in Hagerstown, 25 miles (two days march) west of Frederick.[xl]
At 6: 20 P.M., more than three hours after the dispatch to Pleasonton, orders were sent to General William B. Franklin, commander of the VI Corps. McClellan had gathered such information as he could expect to acquire in a timely fashion and had finalized his plans for the movement on the 14th. In this lengthy missive McClellan lays out his discoveries and his plans to his subordinate officer. The length of this dispatch has been cause to suggest special significance regarding the Lost Orders by some historians, but there is a simple reason that makes this dispatch the longest of McClellan’s campaign communications, McClellan was going to accompany General Burnside to Turner’s Gap. He was not going to be to be at Crampton’s Gap, therefore he had to be as clear and specific as possible to General Franklin, and that simple fact necessitated a lengthy dispatch. Ironically, McClellan makes no mention at all of possessing the plans of the Rebels, or of having found an enemy order of march, or of having any kind of paper which will allow him to defeat General Lee. McClellan simply states to Franklin, “I now have full information as to movements and intentions of the enemy.” McClellan does admit to Franklin that he has received information from his signal officers and from General Pleasonton. During the Maryland Campaign McClellan wrote few dispatches and, as Stephen W. Sears has observed, the dispatch to Franklin is the closest thing we have prior to the Battle of South Mountain that represents a description of an operational plan; a plan that called for a coordinated action involving a two column attack with the expressed purpose of beating Lee in detail. But what is germane to the main argument at this point, the primacy of this dispatch, is its timing, 6:20 P.M., almost three and one half hours after the dispatch to Pleasonton.[xli]
McClellan telegraphed General-in-Chief Halleck at 8:45 P.M. and 11:00 P.M. Basically McClellan recapped the days events and tried to sooth Halleck’s unwarranted fears regarding a Confederate movement on the Federal Capitol. McClellan explicitly informed Halleck of his discovery by stating, “An order of Genl. R. E. Lee addressed to Genl. D. H. Hill which has accidentally come into my hands this evening the authenticity of which is unquestionable.” McClellan ended his dispatch to Halleck with the prophetic statement, “Unless General Lee has changed his plans I expect a severe general engagement tomorrow.” This indicates that sometime between his afternoon conversation with Gibbon, and the evening’s dispatch to Halleck, McClellan had received information, presumably from Pleasonton, which by day’s end led him to believe that the Confederate main body was at Boonsboro. As we now know the engagement McClellan anticipated would become the Battle of South Mountain.[xlii]
Lastly, sometime around midnight, General McClellan telegraphed Abraham Lincoln. In this brief missive to the President McClellan states his belief that he thinks “Lee has made a great mistake and that he will be severely punished for it.” McClellan also admits, “I have all the plans of the Rebels.”[xliii]
At this juncture the question becomes, what was McClellan’s primary response to the Lost Orders and what was his secondary response? A strict interpretation of the definition would lead to McClellan’s orders to General Pleasonton, as being the first, or “primary” response. However, I think we are looking beyond a simple definition based on chronological order. We are concerned with degree of importance. It gets down to whether it was more significant to determine the authenticity of the Lost Orders, or to inform a subordinate officer of his duties regarding a forthcoming engagement. I think the former is more important in degree, because it is partly upon the intelligence gleaned from Pleasonton that the latter is based. Therefore McClellan’s dispatch to Pleasonton is the primary response to the Lost Orders. McClellan is in essence telling Pleasonton, “Here, go out and see if there is any truth in this.” McClellan went the extra mile and even provided Pleasonton with a copy of the document (this in the days before copy machines). After McClellan confirms that indeed the Lost Order is authentic, partly due to Pleasonton’s intelligence, he finalizes his orders to Franklin (he doesn’t even mention the Lost Orders to Franklin). The one follows the other. By cause and effect, McClellan’s 6:20 P.M. dispatch to Franklin is then, at the most, a secondary response.
Now it is time to focus attention on the last three allegations regarding the engagement at Crampton’s Gap. All three allegations are related in that they deal with the aftermath of the Battle of South Mountain. These assertions state that the battle of Crampton’s Gap was the sole clear-cut campaign victory and strategic pivot of the Maryland Campaign,[xliv] the battle of Crampton’s Gap was the strategic catalyst to the battle of Antietam,[xlv] and that Crampton’s Gap was the pivotal battle of the pivotal campaign of the Civil War.[xlvi]
Although the Battle of South Mountain did not turn out exactly the way McClellan planned, it did accomplish the second of McClellan’s objectives; it prevented a Confederate incursion into Pennsylvania. Conversely, the Battle of South Mountain prevented General Robert E. Lee from achieving one of his primary campaign objectives, that selfsame movement into Pennsylvania. On Friday, September 12, the day that Lee had intended for the Harpers Ferry operation to be completed, his advanced pickets were actually posted in Pennsylvania, just north of the Mason-Dixon Line, at the small hamlet of Middleburg (the modern village of State Line, Pa.) some five miles north of Hagerstown.[xlvii]
It was the Battle of South Mountain that forced Lee to start a retrograde movement in Maryland, sending Longstreet’s command from Hagerstown back to Boonsboro on September 14, 1862.[xlviii] By day’s end this battle forced Robert E. Lee to abandon his campaign north and start a retreat back into Virginia. Because his campaign objectives had drastically changed, South Mountain could be considered a “strategic pivot” for Robert E. Lee. The Battle of South Mountain allowed General McClellan to concentrate on his third objective, the expulsion of the Confederate Army from Maryland. In this sense the battle may be considered a “strategic pivot” for McClellan as well. But to make the allegation that the “battle” of Crampton’s Gap was the sole clear-cut campaign victory and strategic pivot of the entire Maryland Campaign belies a misunderstanding of both the tactical and strategic situations by the end of the day on September 14, 1862.
The only thing “clear-cut” about General Franklin’s actions on the 14th is that by day’s end he occupied Crampton’s Gap. Franklin may have won the gap, but he failed to attack McLaws, failed to relieve the garrison at Harpers Ferry, and failed to move into Pleasant Valley. How can one out of four objectives be considered a “clear-cut” victory? A true victory on Franklin’s part would have resulted in his movement north up Pleasant Valley to join in on Burnside’s attack against the “main Body.” In spite of Franklin’s inaction, Burnside did manage to win the heights above Turner’s Gap with Hooker’s I Corps and win Fox’s Gap with Reno’s IX Corps. Due to a tenacious resistance by Confederate General D. H. Hill in the morning, and the addition of troops from Longstreet’s Command in the afternoon, Robert E. Lee managed to stalemate Burnside’s forces and prevent them from advancing through the northern passes. But what would have been the tactical situation for Lee if he had been faced with a flank attack from Franklin at Boonsboro concurrent with Burnside’s advance? If anything, Franklin’s actions on September 14 are a “clear-cut” failure on his part to carry out McClellan’s intentions “to cut the enemy in two and beat him in Detail.”
Although McClellan’s plans did not go as intended, they did produce a tactical draw which resulted in a strategic victory for him. The engagements at all three gaps, the Battle of South Mountain, accomplished General McClellan’s second campaign objective and it opened up the possibility of achieving the third, the expulsion of Robert E. Lee from Maryland. Taken together then (as it should be), it was a combination of the engagements at the three gaps, the Battle of South Mountain, that was a clear-cut campaign victory and strategic pivot for General McClellan.
McClellan’s third campaign objective of forcing the Confederates out of Maryland would be accomplished with the Battle of Antietam. This brings up the next allegation, that the battle of Crampton’s Gap was the strategic catalyst (and by inference the sole cause) to the battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. To debunk this allegation we will need to establish a chronology of the events that did lead to the Battle of Antietam.
Sometime before 8:00 P.M. on the evening of September 14, 1862, General Robert E. Lee begrudgingly made the decision to abandon his campaign in Maryland. This decision was made below Turner’s Gap at a hastily arranged war council at Lee’s headquarters on the eastern outskirts of Boonsboro, Maryland. In attendance were Generals D. H. Hill and James Longstreet. The council was later joined by Brigadier General John B. Hood, fresh from the engagement at Fox’s Gap. Lee said little, except to ask what were “the prospects for continuing the fight.”[xlix] The picture of the situation that the three generals painted for Lee was not very reassuring at all. The enemy was in great force with commanding positions on both flanks of Turner’s Gap. In the morning the Federal artillery would be able to bring a murderous crossfire on the area. Furthermore, it was almost certain that when hostilities resumed the Federal army would be streaming through the passes at both Fox’s and Turner’s Gaps. In short, the Confederate position was untenable. Consequently, as a result of this war council, Robert E. Lee made the decision to not only withdraw his troops from Maryland, but to also abandon the Harpers Ferry operation as well.[l]
At 8:00 P.M. on the night of the 14th, two dispatches, one to General “Stonewall” Jackson, the other to General Lafayette McLaws were sent out. Jackson was ordered to leave Harpers Ferry and march to Shepherdstown to cover the crossing of the “main body.”[li] General Lee simply informed McLaws that, “The day has gone against us and this army will go by Sharpsburg and cross the river. It is necessary to abandon your position tonight.”[lii] It is important for our argument to note that General Lee was not informed of the Confederate disaster at Crampton’s Gap until 10:00 P.M. Therefore, when Robert E. Lee made the decision to abandon the Confederate campaign in Maryland, and the operation at Harpers Ferry, it was a full two hours before he had learned of events at Crampton’s Gap.[liii]
This is not to say that the engagement at Crampton’s Gap had no effect on events preceding the Battle of Antietam, it certainly did. The information of the Confederate downfall at Crampton’s Gap caused Lee to alter his plans somewhat. General Lee decided that he would interrupt his own return to Virginia with a temporary halt at Keedysville, Maryland, to protect McLaws flank from a Federal attack. Lee intended for the stand at Keedysville to distract the Union Army long enough to cover General McLaws’ withdrawal.[liv] However, Lee’s halt at Keedysville would prove to be brief. By dawn of the 15th Lee was able to determine that the position around Keedysville was not a good position to defend from a tactical standpoint. Therefore General Lee decided not to pause at Keedysville, but rather to move on to the area of Sharpsburg where the ground was better suited for providing a defensive position.[lv]
On the way to Sharpsburg, sometime shortly after 8:00 A.M. on September 15, 1862, General Lee received a dispatch from General Jackson. This dispatch, a little over twelve hours old was dated, “September 14, 1862, 8:15 p. m.” In this missive Jackson declared to Lee, “Through God’s blessing, the advance which commenced this evening, has been successful thus far, and I look to him for complete success tomorrow.”[lvi] If Jackson’s dispatch was true, and if Jackson chose to disregard Lee’s order to withdraw from Harpers Ferry, then the possibility existed that Harpers Ferry was about to fall on this day, September 15th. At this point the strategic picture began to change for Robert E. Lee. Harpers Ferry might be captured soon and that meant there was a chance Jackson might reunite with Lee. Once his army was together the campaign might be renewed and Lee need not withdraw back into Virginia.[lvii]
On the morning of September 15, 1862, Robert E. Lee, still intending to withdraw back into Virginia and still hoping that his stay in Maryland would distract Union attention from Lafayette McLaws on Maryland Heights, formed his defenses at Sharpsburg and awaited developments. He did not have to wait long. At noon Robert E. Lee received official word of the surrender of the garrison at Harpers Ferry. A dispatch from Jackson, dated “Near 8:00 A. M. September 15, 1862,” proclaimed in triumphant tones, “Yesterday God crowned our army with another brilliant success in the surrender at Harper’s Ferry.”[lviii]
At this juncture, midday on September 15th, Robert E. Lee made a decision that once again changed the strategic objective of his campaign. Indeed, Lee chose to stay in Maryland, reunite his army, and return to an active campaign. Consequently, this decision would result in the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. Now we need to ask the question what was the strategic catalyst to the Battle of Antietam, Crampton’s Gap or the fall of Harpers Ferry? The campaign was abandoned as a result of the engagements at Turner’s and Fox’s Gap, the withdrawal from Maryland was temporarily halted because of the engagement at Crampton’s Gap, the campaign was resurrected because of the operation at Harpers Ferry. When Lee stopped at Sharpsburg on the morning of the 15th he was more than likely awaiting news that McLaws had successfully passed back into Virginia. It is highly unlikely that news of that event would have caused Lee to stay in Maryland. Without a successful completion of the Harpers Ferry operation there would have been no reason to stay in Maryland, no renewed campaign, and no Antietam as we know it today. Therefore, the allegation that Crampton’s Gap was the strategic catalyst to the Battle of Antietam proves to be just as false as the other allegations.
Although a chronology of events from the evening of September 14, 1862, through the afternoon of September 15, 1862, reveals just what was the true strategic catalyst to the Battle of Antietam, several statements by none other than Robert E. Lee himself have been used as evidence to back up the Crampton’s Gap allegation.[lix] Proponents of the tenet of separation often herald the “fact” that Lee thrice stated it was Crampton’s Gap that provided the strategic catalyst for Antietam. While on the surface these statements seem quite plausible, after all there seems to be no primary source more reputable than General Robert E. Lee, closer scrutiny of these statements will reveal that even Robert E. Lee was human, and capable of stretching the truth a bit. Furthermore, as will be shown, one of the statements is taken out of context.
The first passage often used to support the strategic catalyst allegation of Crampton’s Gap comes from a letter by Lee to President Jefferson Davis. This letter, dated September 16, 1862, states, “Learning later in the evening that Crampton’s Gap (on the direct road from Fredericktown to Sharpsburg) had been forced, and McLaws rear thus threatened, and believing from a report from General Jackson that Harpers Ferry would fall next morning, I determined to withdraw Longstreet and D. H. Hill from their positions and retire to the vicinity of Sharpsburg, where the army could be more easily united."[lx]
The main flaw in this passage is General Lee’s explanation of the decision to march to Sharpsburg. Lee has telescoped events out of chronological order. Lee implies to Davis that he knew of the imminent fall of Harpers Ferry close to the very hour Jackson was writing the dispatch. This dispatch would not arrive until morning on the following day. Since General Lee learned of the engagement at Crampton’s Gap at 10:00 P.M. on September 14, and did not get Jackson’s dispatch until sometime after 8:00 A.M. on September 15, he could not have learned that Crampton’s Gap had fallen and believed Jackson’s report about Harpers Ferry at the same time. The statement simply is not accurate.
In addition to errors of commission, there are errors of omission as well. Lee made no mention in his letter to President Davis regarding his intentions on the night of 14th to abandon the campaign and return to Virginia. Likewise he failed to state that his first plan had been to halt at Keedysville. Furthermore, Lee did not describe the halt at Sharpsburg as a stand to confront the pursuing enemy but simply makes mention of its convenient location for reuniting his army. And in spite of what Lee thought, the “direct road” from Frederick to Sharpsburg, the “Old Sharpsburg Road,” passed through Fox’s Gap, not Crampton’s.[lxi] As Dr. Joseph L. Harsh has explained, this letter to President Davis represents an attempt by Lee to shape the truth in order to “put the best possible face on the calamities that had befallen the Army of Northern Virginia.”[lxii]
There are similar errors by Lee in the next passage that is often used to support the Crampton’s Gap allegation, but they are trivial compared to the egregious way the passage is used in support of the tenet of separation. The passage is an excerpt from Robert E. Lee’s after action report, dated August 19, 1863, “Information was also received that another large body of Federal troops had during the afternoon forced their way through Crampton’s Gap, only 5 miles in rear of McLaws. Under these circumstances, it was determined to retire to Sharpsburg, where we would be upon the flank and rear of the enemy should he move against McLaws, and where we could more readily unite with the rest of the army.”[lxiii] There is an error of omission in this passage as it is used to support the allegation of Crampton’s Gap being the strategic catalyst to the Battle of Antietam because the passage is taken out of context. What are the “circumstances” Lee refers to? There is a sentence preceding this passage that will answer the question, “The effort to force the passage of the mountains had failed, but it was manifest that without re-enforcements, we could not hazard a renewal of the engagement, as the enemy could easily turn either flank.” It is after this sentence that Lee speaks of the additional information regarding Crampton’s Gap, which in the context of the passage cited was another mountain pass. Taken in context then, it is the forcing of all three mountain passes, the Battle of South Mountain, that make up the “circumstances” Lee refers to in his report.
The last statement by Robert E. Lee that is used to support the Crampton’s Gap allegation is part of a conversation Lee had with William Allan on February 15, 1868. At this time both men were on the staff of Washington College at Lexington, Virginia, Lee as president and Allan as a professor. Lee, who usually refrained from discussing military matters, was somewhat upset by recent comments by D. H. Hill regarding the Lost Orders. This prompted Lee to talk about the Maryland Campaign. Sometime after the conversation, Allen sat down and penned a memorandum of as much of the conversation as he could remember. In this “Memoranda of a Conversation with Gen. R. E. Lee,” we find, “This night Lee found out that Cobb had been pressed back from Crampton’s Gap, and this made it necessary to retire from Boonsboro Gap, which was done next morning and position at Sharpsburg taken.”[lxiv]
For the uninitiated the reference to “Cobb” makes note of one of McLaws brigade commanders, Brigadier General Howell Cobb. It was Cobb that attempted the last Confederate stand at Crampton’s Gap on September 14. In this conversation we find the same errors as with the two previous citations, no mention of the decision to abandon the campaign before the news from Crampton’s Gap, the telescoping of events out of chronological order, no mention of Keedysville, and no mention of the surrender of Harpers Ferry. Add to this the fact that it is one man’s recollection of an impromptu conversation with another man (angry and agitated over D.H. Hill’s comments) regarding events six years in the past and the veracity of the statement begins to crumble.[lxv]
In order to refute the validity of the last allegation of the tenet of separation, the assertion that Crampton’s Gap was the pivotal battle of the pivotal campaign of the war, we need to first examine the Maryland Campaign of 1862 and its place in the American Civil War. After that has been explored we may then look at the true pivot, or turning point of the campaign.
The Battle of Gettysburg, in early July 1863, has traditionally been referred to as the "High water mark of the Confederacy." Although it certainly was the high water mark of the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee’s movement north in the late summer of 1862 better fits the metaphor for the Confederacy as a whole. The Confederate States of America seemed to be on the verge of achieving independence. At no other time in the war would so many military, political, and diplomatic conditions be as favorable for achieving that independence and, at no other time in its short history would the Confederacy instill so much fear in the North, with armies advancing victoriously in both the East and the West.[lxvi]
Once he was established in Maryland, Lee planned to draw the Federal army westward through the South Mountain passes, extend their lines of communication, and fight a successful battle on ground of his choosing. It was hoped that a defeated and demoralized North could then be brought to the negotiating table to sue for peace. There also existed a slight chance that a decisive victory by Robert E. Lee would bring about European recognition of the Confederacy and perhaps diplomatic mediation in any future peace talks. One victory on Northern soil in the autumn of 1862 could have done more to further the cause of Southern independence than a string of victories in the South.
The fourteen days between Lee’s entry into Maryland on September 4, 1862, and his retreat back into Virginia on the night of September 18, 1862, represents one of the most important time spans in American history. Had Lee’s strategy been completely successful, it is very likely that the late 19th century would have seen at least two independent nations between Canada and Mexico. Of course that didn’t happen, due in large part to the Battle of Antietam, on September 17, 1862. Although considered by some historians to be a tactical draw, the Battle of Antietam became a strategic victory for the North for several reasons. Because Lee withdrew with his army back into Virginia on the next day it was perceived in the North as a victory. It provided a much-needed boost to Northern morale. It proved that the Army of Northern Virginia was not invincible, as it had appeared in the late summer of 1862. More importantly, after the close of the Maryland Campaign, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This action by President Lincoln produced a drastic change in national policy, both in the North and the South. Overnight the nature of the war changed from a political struggle for Southern Independence to a moral crusade against slavery. European recognition for the Confederacy, because of the Emancipation Proclamation, would never again be possible. No foreign Government would want to be seen on the world stage as supporting a war to preserve the institution of slavery. The quick and decisive victory Lee had hoped for when he first crossed the Potomac did not materialize
In this sense the Maryland Campaign of 1862 can indeed be considered a “pivotal” event in the American Civil War. Whether or not September 1862 represents a true point of no return for the South is open to much debate, and certainly not within the scope of this paper. The Maryland Campaign unquestionably closed the door on foreign mediation, but we cannot forget that it would still require three more years of bloody warfare to arrive at war’s end, and there were other events along the way that may be argued just as pivotal.
Nonetheless, the question before us now becomes if the Maryland Campaign was a turning point in the war, what was the turning point of the Maryland Campaign? As demonstrated, the answer certainly is not the “battle” of Crampton’s Gap all by itself. The answer is the Battle of South Mountain, all three gaps included. Prior to South Mountain, General Lee held the initiative, he was proactive. After South Mountain the initiative had passed to General McClellan and Lee became reactive to McClellan’s movements. A change in the momentum of the campaign had occurred; it had passed from one side to the other.
Oddly enough, after the Battle of South Mountain all General McClellan had to do to accomplish his third campaign objective, forcing the Confederates out of Maryland, was fight Lee to a standstill, and that is exactly what he did on September 17, 1862. Regardless of what one might think about General McClellan the fact remains that he thwarted Robert E. Lee’s movement north of the Potomac River with the Battle of South Mountain and forced Robert E. Lee back across that river with the Battle of Antietam. This makes the Battle of Antietam another clear-cut campaign victory for General George B. McClellan. A victory President Lincoln was able to use to change the course of the war.
In conclusion, the revisionist opinion that the engagement at Crampton’s Gap on September 14, 1862, represents a battle unto itself has no legs to stand on, in either the historical or the military context. Crampton’s Gap is, and always has been, a part of the Battle of South Mountain. Furthermore, Crampton’s Gap was not the primary response of General McClellan’s finding of the “Lost Orders,” Crampton’s Gap was not the sole clear-cut campaign victory and strategic pivot of the Maryland Campaign, Crampton’s Gap was not the strategic catalyst to the Battle of Antietam, and Crampton’s Gap, most certainly, was not the pivotal battle of the pivotal campaign of the Civil War. To attempt to make it so simply denies the historical record.
It is estimated that over 54,000 Americans participated in the Battle of South Mountain. Casualties for South Mountain have been placed at over 5,000 killed, wounded, or missing. These numbers are often rendered meaningless by the 23,000 casualties three days later at Antietam. We need some other yardstick by which to measure the human sacrifice of the Battle of South Mountain. I ask the reader to consider this: American casualties at Omaha Beach during the invasion of Normandy, D-Day, June 6, 1944, totaled 5,221 killed, wounded, and missing.[lxvii]
The Battle of South Mountain may well indeed be the turning point of the Maryland Campaign of 1862, and the campaign quite possibly a pivotal event of the war, however, a fulcrum with half of the lever removed doesn’t work. Take away Antietam and the Maryland Campaign ceases to become a pivotal event of the Civil War. The Union victory at South Mountain is counterbalanced by the Confederate victory at Harpers Ferry. Take away Harpers Ferry and there is no reason for South Mountain. Take away South Mountain and there is no Antietam. The important point to remember is that the campaign is inter-related. Any one part, South Mountain, Harpers Ferry, or Antietam, taken out of context without the others renders the events of September 1862 in Maryland an empty exercise in rhetoric. Furthermore, in this writer’s opinion, entering into speculative revisionist debates over which gap on South Mountain or which battle in the campaign is more important does a serious disservice towards, and diminishes the sacrifice of, all those Americans who gave that “last full measure of devotion” anywhere on Maryland soil in the autumn of 1862.
[i] Reese, Timothy J., Letter September 24, 2002, Letter November 30, 2002, Letters May 8, 2000, Letter June 2003, Sealed With Their Lives, p. vii, and High-Water Mark, p. 34.
[ii] As will be shown in the text the substitution of “engagement” for “battle” is inaccurate in the true military sense of the terms. These terms, often misused by historians, have different and distinct military definitions that are germane to the argument against separation.
[iii] Franklin, William B., Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, (hereafter referred to as O.R.) Vol. 19 Part I, p. 374, Slocum, Henry W., ibid., p. 380, Torbert, Alfred T.A., ibid., p. 382, Collet, Mark W., ibid., p. 384 (this report dated September 16, 1862, is misidentified as being a report on the battle of Antietam), Buck, Samuel L., ibid., p. 384, Brown, Henry W., ibid., p. 385, Hatch, William B., ibid., p. 387, Bartlett, Joseph J., ibid., p. 388, Jackson, Nathaniel J., ibid., p. 390, Seaver, Joel J., ibid., p. 390, Adams, Alexander D., ibid., p. 392, Cake, Henry L., ibid., p. 393, Newton, John, ibid., p. 396, Myers, George R., ibid., p. 397, Pinto, Francis E., ibid., p. 398, Town, Gustavus V., ibid., p. 399,Smith, William F., ibid., 401, Ayres, Romeyn B., ibid. P. 403, Hancock, Winfield S., ibid., p. 405, Brooks, W.T.H., ibid., p. 407, Irvin, William H., ibid., p. 409, Corning, Joseph W., ibid., p. 414, and Babcock, Nathan S., p. 415. The terms, “battle, action, operation, and engagement” were used loosely and interchangeably by military officers in the Civil War. As will be shown later in the text, “engagement” would become the correct modern military terminology for a tactical action related to a battle.
[iv] Cake, Henry L., ibid., p. 393.
[v] McClellan, George B. O.R. Vol. 19 Part 1, p. 34, and page 181.
[vi] McClellan, Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 1, p. 440.
[vii] DePeyster, J. Watts, The Decisive Conflicts, p. 45.
[viii] Palfrey, William F., The Antietam and Fredericksburg, p.27 and pp. 31-32.
[ix] Allen, William, “First Maryland Campaign,” Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XIV, p. 107.
[x] Abbott, Willis J., Battlefields and Campfires, p. 61.
[xi] McClellan, George B., “From the Peninsula to Antietam,” Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, p. 545.
[xii] Schildt, John W., Monuments at Antietam, p. 141.
[xiii] Dupuy, Trevor N., Understanding War, pp.64-65 and United States Department of the Army, Operational Terms and Symbols, p. 2-2 and p. 2-5. Additional information regarding military operations provided by Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Anastas, U. S. Army (Retired). Mr. Anastas has an MA in History from Duke University and MMAS (Master of Military Art and Sciences) from the Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. From 1983 through 1986 Lieutenant Colonel Anastas served on the staff of the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, as an Associate Professor in the Department of History. Mr. Anastas currently works as a Senior Military Analyst for Northrop Grumman.
[xiv] McClellan, O.R. Vol. 19 Part I, p. 25.
[xv] McClellan to Halleck, Telegram, September 12, 1862, 10 am, as found in Sears, Stephen W., The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan, (herein after referred to as “Papers”), p. 448, and ibid., McClellan, Letter Dated September 12, 1862, p. 449
[xvi] This is not a misprint!
There has been a fair amount of misinformation published regarding McClellan’s command status and his movement out of Washington in the days prior to the Battle of South Mountain. A few words of explanation are in order. Traditionally, McClellan’s movement out of the Federal Capitol, beginning on September 7, has been portrayed as overly cautious and slow. The Union army’s rate of march has usually been given as only six miles a day, in truth, at various times during the Maryland Campaign before the Battle of South Mountain there were many units marching in excess of ten miles a day (the brigade of Walter Phelps, First Division, I Corps, marched 18 miles on September 12, 1862). The six-mile a day rate has its origin in testimony delivered by General-in-Chief Halleck before a Military Commission established to investigate the Harpers Ferry debacle. A commission that Ezra Carman, the noted historian of the Maryland Campaign, described as, “organized…to condemn McClellan.” It was Halleck who testified that, “General McClellan…marched only six miles per day, on average.”
There are also many unanswered questions and great ambiguity associated with General McClellan and his command status between September 2, when McClellan is charged with the defense of the Union Capital, September 7, when he establishes his headquarters at Rockville, Maryland, and September 11, when McClellan moves his headquarters from Rockville, to Middlebrook, Maryland, and pursues an active campaign. Questions and issues that are beyond the scope of this paper.
[xvii] Regarding General Lee’s proposed movement into Pennsylvania we have two statements by Lee to President Jefferson Davis which support a Confederate incursion into that state. On September 4, Lee wrote “I propose to enter Pennsylvania (O.R. Vol. 19 Part II, p. 592),” and on September 9, “I shall move in the direction I originally intended, toward Hagerstown and Chambersburg (O.R. Vol. 19 Part II, p. 603).”
See also Alexander, Edward P., Military Memoirs of a Confederate, p. 225, “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.”
[xviii] McClellan to Lincoln, Telegraph, September 12, 1862, 9:00 p.m., Papers, p. 452.
[xix] McClellan, O.R. Vol. 19 p. 40.
[xx] Marcy, R. B., O.R. Vol. 51 Part I, p. 822. There were several reasons for placing Franklin at Buckeystown. If for some unexplained reason the garrison at Harpers would manage to escape, or if McClellan received definite news that it had fallen rendering its relief a moot point, Franklin would be positioned so as to move to Frederick and reinforce McClellan. If McClellan had to carry out Halleck’s orders and move to the garrison’s relief Franklin would be well positioned to also do that.
[xxi] Ibid., p. 823.
[xxii] Harsh, Joseph L., Taken at the Flood, p. 230, and McClellan, O.R. Vol. 19 Part I, p. 26.
[xxiii] Reese, High-Water Mark, p. 16.
[xxiv] Harsh, p. 252. As Dr. Harsh further stated regarding the significance of the Lost Order and its impact on the Maryland Campaign, “Lee’s fortunes in the Maryland campaign did not turn because the enemy found his orders. Lee lost the initiative, first, because he underestimated the rate and character of the advance of the Federal army, and second, because he attempted to accomplish too much with the limited resources available to him.”
[xxv] Harsh, p. 252, Pleasonton, Alfred, O.R. Vol. 19 Part I, pp. 209-210, and Colquitt, Alfred H., ibid., p. 1052. As a result of McClellan’s orders on September 12, 1862, there were three engagements the following day. These engagements on September 13, west of Frederick, Maryland, ultimately resulted in the expulsion of the Confederates from the Middletown Valley. By early evening Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart’s forces had been pushed back to Turner’s Gap. Stuart was closely pursued by Union General Alfred Pleasonton’s Cavalry. As Pleasonton reached the eastern foot of South Mountain below Turner’s Gap he ordered a force of dismounted cavalry to move up the right of the National Road towards Turner’s Gap. This resulted in some “skirmishing” with the enemy. The Confederates encountered were those of Colonel Alfred Colquitt’s Brigade, sent to the gap earlier in the day by D.H. Hill at the request of Stuart.. These actions occurred independent of the Lost Orders. Even without his prior knowledge of the Lost Orders, Pleasonton would still have requested infantry support from Burnside for operations on the following day. General Jacob D. Cox’s Kanawha Division would still have been at the foot of South Mountain on September 14. McClellan, because of Halleck, would still have been duty bound to relieve Harpers Ferry, and Franklin still would have been ordered towards the vicinity of Crampton’s Gap, and in one form or another there still would have been a Battle of South Mountain on September 14.
[xxvi] Anastas, Kevin, “Overwhelming Force” is a military term much used in the present. It is often referred to as “the Powell Doctrine” because General Colin Powell advocated using overwhelming force in the first Persian Gulf War. Although there is no formal Civil War era definition for the term, it is a concept as old as warfare itself. By the nineteenth century several “rules of thumb” and “attack ratios” had developed. If the friendly force was attacking an enemy in prepared positions they needed a ratio of at least 3:1. To succeed in attacking an enemy on open ground a ratio of 2:1 was preferred. These ratios would have been very much on the mind of General McClellan as he pursued the Confederate “main body.”
[xxvii] A transcript of Lee’s Special Orders No. 191, as presented to McClellan, can be found in O.R. Vol. 19 Part I, pp. 42-43.
[xxviii] Harsh, p. 239.
[xxix] A full transcript of McClellan’s orders to Franklin can be found in Sears, Papers, pp. 454-455.
[xxx] Harsh, p. 239.
[xxxi] In addition to his orders to Franklin, evidence that McClellan’s attack at South Mountain on the 14th was a coordinated movement between two of his army corps is found in his March 2, 1863, testimony before the Joint Committee, p. 440, “The object of throwing Franklin in that direction was to facilitate the attack on the main pass, and to place him in position to afford relief to Harper’s Ferry as promptly as possible.”
[xxxii] Some critics have charged that perhaps I place too much emphasis on General McClellan’s stated campaign objectives. These critics maintain that McClellan may have been endeavoring to frame events in a more favorable public light, what the modern cynic would call “spin.” Perhaps there is an element of truth in this, however, McClellan’s contemporary correspondence with his wife certainly had no other audience in mind. In this correspondence we find a repeated concern of McClellan’s over catching up to the enemy, of the enemy’s intentions of moving into Pennsylvania, and of McClellan’s hope of giving Lee “a good lesson.” I think it is safe to assume that McClellan certainly would have preferred to give Lee his “lesson” before he entered Pennsylvania, and that consequently, his stated campaign objectives, as recorded in October 1862, certainly represented his frame of mind a month earlier in September 1862. See Papers, pp. 449-450.
[xxxiii] Reese, p. 34.
[xxxiv] Anastas, Kevin.
[xxxv] Reese, p. 34 and p. 36.
[xxxvi] Reese, Letter, November 30, 2002, “The text implies that McClellan’s response to S. O. 191 must be measured exclusively by army movements on the National Turnpike…The text however utterly ignores his primary response to the Lost Order, namely injection of his left wing, Franklin’s Sixth Corps, through Crampton’s Gap…” Letters May 8, 2003 and June 2003, “Crampton’s Gap and South Mountain…the former as the direct response to the famed ‘Lost Order.’” (italics mine)
[xxxvii] The American Heritage Dictionary
[xxxviii] This is not to suggest that McClellan did nothing as some historians declare.
Several historians, among them Francis Palfrey, Stephen Sears and James McPherson, have made the claim that September 13th slipped away without any Federal troops moving from their camps. Both Sears and McPherson speculate on what might have happened had the situation been reversed and a similar lost order presented to Robert E. Lee. Of course Lee would have had his whole army on the move at once! This speculation evinces the stereotype of the overly cautious and timid George B. McClellan failing to take advantage of the “legendary” opportunity provided by the Lost Orders to destroy Lee’s army. But such statements belie a lack of understanding of the logistical situation around Frederick on September 13, 1862.
The Union I Corps spent much the 13th on the march from Ridgeville and New Market to its camp near “Jug Bridge” on the banks of the Monocacy River two miles east of Frederick. It would take all day for the I Corp to arrive at Jug Bridge; indeed some regiments did not get there until after dark! The area around Jug Bridge was a busy congested place on the morning of the 13th, not only were the lead elements of the I Corps arriving, but the lead elements of the IX Corps were making preparations to leave that place and march westward through Frederick. One army corps was arriving while another army corps was departing.
It was the movement of the IX Corps through Frederick on the Old National Road that created the logistics which allowed the Lost Orders to be found. The XII Corps was moving towards Frederick when the lead elements were forced to yield the “right of way” to the IX Corps. In the front of the XII corps was the Twenty-seventh Indiana Regiment which was forced to halt in a field on the outskirts of Frederick. The story of the finding of the Lost Order is beyond the scope of this paper, but it is accepted by most historians that while thus halted it was a soldier of the Twenty-seventh that found the document. The II Corps, moving northeast from Urbana, paralleled the XII Corps, arrived later and eventually passed through Frederick. As we already know the VI Corps was moving from Licksville to Buckeystown on this day, Saturday, September 13, 1862. Federal troops did not need to move as a result of Lost Orders, they were already moving.
It is always interesting to speculate on what Robert E. Lee might have done. In fact not even Robert E. Lee could move his army through Frederick in a day. It took two days, with Jackson beginning the movement out of Frederick on September 10, and D.H. Hill following on the 11th. Most historians agree that Lee’s army was smaller than McClellan’s, but yet George B. McClellan is criticized for not moving his whole army through Frederick in pursuit of Lee.
And what of the IX Corps? Just thirty-five minutes after the order to Pleasonton, McClellan sent the following dispatch to Jacob D. Cox commanding the Kanawha Division, “General McClellan directs me to say that it was the intention for you to proceed direct to Middletown, and desires that you will march to that place and support General Pleasonton.” Orders also went out through the chain of command to Orlando Wilcox and Sam Sturgis to move their divisions into the Middletown Valley. Consequently these two divisions, after Braddock Heights and Middletown were cleared of enemy forces, completed their march at night! A night march during the Civil War was a rare occurrence and certainly was not the hallmark of an overly cautious and timid commander.
[xxxix] Marcy, R. B., O.R. Vol. 51 Part I, p. 829, see also Harsh, pp. 238-239.
[xl] Gibbon, John, Personal Recollections of the Civil War, p. 73. Boonsboro certainly qualifies as the geographical center between Hagerstown, Maryland, and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. The afternoon timing is derived from the fact that Gibbon also makes mention that “our cavalry was in contact with the enemy in the direction of Middletown.” As previously mentioned, there were three engagements in the Middletown Valley on September 13, 1862. These actions were the taking of the pass over the Catoctin Mountains at Braddock Heights, a Confederate rear guard action east of Middletown, and a final rear guard action just west of Middletown. Most sources agree that by 2:00 P.M. on the 13th the pass at Braddock Heights had been won by the Federals and that by 5:00 P.M. the Confederates had been forced to retire from Middletown. This then places Gibbon’s comments at mid to late afternoon.
[xli] McClellan, Papers, p. 454, and Sears, ibid., p. 434.
[xlii] McClellan to Halleck, Papers pp. 456-457. It has never been satisfactorily explained why McClellan mistakenly reported the timing of the finding of the Lost Order to Halleck. It is certainly safe to assume that by late evening Pleasonton had reported his “skirmish” with Colquitt at Turner’s Gap. Pleasonton was convinced that “the enemy would defend his position at Turner’s Gap with a large force.” This may have led General McClellan to suspect that Confederate main body was indeed at Boonsboro, not Hagerstown, and that the die was cast for a severe engagement.
[xliii] Reese, “Perspectives,” America’s Civil War, p. 18.
[xliv]Reese, Letter November 30, 2002, “Crampton’s Gap, the sole clear-cut campaign victory,” High-Water Mark, p. 38, and Letter May 8, 2003, “Crampton’s Gap battlefield (Gathland State Park) constitutes the strategic pivot of the 1862 Maryland Campaign.”
[xlv] Reese, Letters May 8, 2003, and June 2003, “Crampton’s Gap and South Mountain…the former as the direct response to the famed ‘Lost Order’ and strategic catalyst to Antietam.”
[xlvi] Reese, Letter September 24, 2002, “Crampton’s Gap…the pivotal battle of a pivotal campaign,” and High-Water Mark, p. 60.
[xlvii] Lee, O.R. Vol. 19 Part II, p. 605.
[xlviii] In yet another example that all campaign documents do not underscore separation between Crampton’s Gap and South Mountain, there is a communication from General Robert E. Lee to General Lafayette McLaws on Maryland Heights (O.R. Vol. 19 Part 2, p. 608). It is dated “Hagerstown, September 14, 1862” and reads, “General: General Longstreet moves down this morning to occupy the Boosborough Valley, so as to protect your flank from attacks from forces coming from Frederick, until the operations at Harper’s Ferry are finished. I desire your operations there to be pushed on as rapidly as possible, and, if the point is not ultimately taken, so arrange it that your forces may be brought up the Boosborough Valley.” This communication suggests coordination of forces and unity of operational intent on Lee’s part as well as McClellan’s on September 14, 1862.
[xlix] Longstreet, James, From Manassas to Appomattox, p. 227.
[l] Carman, Ezra, “The Maryland Campaign,” p. 507, and Harsh, Sounding the Shallows, pp. 181-187.
[li] Carman, Ibid.
[lii] Chilton, R.H., O.R. Vol. 51 Part II, pp. 618-619.
[liii] Carman, ibid., Harsh, p. 291, and Hartwig, D. Scott, “Robert E. Lee and the Maryland Campaign,” Lee the Soldier, p. 345. It is interesting to note that neither Harsh nor Hartwig cite Carman (a source both authors frequently rely on), instead both historians independently construct the 10:00 P.M. time frame from primary source material provided by Colonel Thomas T. Munford, one of the participants of the engagement at Crampton’s Gap.
There is another primary source that verifies the fact that General Lee learned about Crampton’s Gap after the war council at Boonsboro. In his Military Memoirs of a Confederate, p. 232, Edward Porter Alexander, Lee’s Chief of Ordinance during the Maryland Campaign, wrote the following, “Lee was now halted at the foot of the mountain…Hill made a report of the situation…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 possesion of Crampton’s Gap…”
I do not wish to belabor the point, but one of the chief underpinnings of the tenet of separation is that Crampton’s Gap, and Crampton’s Gap alone, caused Robert E. Lee to abandon his campaign in Maryland. See Reese, Sealed With Their Lives, p. vii, p. 170, p. 248, and High-Water Mark, p. 54, and p. 59.
A careful analysis of the sources, both primary and secondary, has shown just the opposite. It was the action at the northern gaps that caused Lee to abandon his campaign in Maryland. Ironically, as the main narrative will show, the news of the fall of Crampton’s Gap, hours later, would cause Lee to stay in Maryland a bit longer.
[liv] Harsh, Sounding the Shallows, pp. 181-182, and Hartwig, p. 346
[lv] Harsh, Taken at the Flood, p. 301. It is interesting to note that Hartwig, p. 346, stated the following as the reason for the temporary stand at Keedysville, “A note from Munford reached army headquarters at Keedysville with the news that McLaws could negotiate his way over Elk Mountain with only great difficulty. The position at Keedysville thus became a less attractive point from which to provide support for McLaws.” Hartwig cites Carman, p. 518, as his source for the statement. When we go to Carman we find both the note from Munford and the fact that Sharpsburg provided a better defensive position as reasons for abandoning the position at Keedysville.
[lvi] Jackson, Thomas J., O.R. Vol. 19 Part I, p. 951.
[lvii] Harsh, p. 302, and Hartwig, p. 346.
[lviii] Jackson, O.R. Vol. 19 Part I, p. 951.
[lix] Reese, Letter September 24, 2002, Letter November 30, 2002, and High-Water Mark, pp. 52-53.
[lx] Lee, O.R. Vol. 19 Part I, p. 140.
[lxi] Harsh, pp. 340-341. As Harsh has noted, Lee’s statement that Crampton’s Gap, “on the direct road from Fredericktown to Sharpsburg” possibly indicates that Lee, in spite of his frequent study of maps, “may have labored in some ignorance of Maryland geography.” It is Fox’s Gap that might loosely be described as on the direct road from Frederick to Sharpsburg (after all it was called the Old Sharpsburg Road). Crampton’s Gap, on the contrary, lay in the direction of Harpers Ferry. Once past Fox’s Gap the Old Sharpsburg Road took a path towards Keedysville and veered of to Porterstown and then to Sharpsburg. Actually the more direct path out of Frederick in 1862 would have been on the National Road west to Boonsboro and then south on the Boonsboro Sharpsburg Road, roughly equivalent to today’s Route 34. Suffice it to say that the nineteenth century road system of southern Washington County Maryland has confused many a traveler, including Robert E. Lee.
[lxii] Harsh, pp. 339-341.
[lxiii] Lee, O.R. Vol. 19 Part I, p. 147
[lxiv] Allan, William, “Memoranda of a Conversation with Gen. R. E. Lee, held Feb. 15, 1868,” Lee’s Lieutenants, Vol. 2 p. 721, and more recently published in, Lee the Soldier, p. 8.
[lxv] It is interesting to note that although William Allan recorded the passage, he chose not to use it in his post war histories, nor did he separate Crampton’s Gap from South Mountain. In 1886, in an article for the “Southern Bivouac” Allan wrote, “Lee gained a day by the fight at South Mountain, and this proved to be enough to secure the fall of Harper’s Ferry. Before he reached Sharpsburg next morning Harper’s Ferry had fallen, and orders had been issued for the reunion of the Confederate army.” In an address read before the Military Historical Society of Massachusetts on December 10, 1880, Allan stated, “Lee had held the passes for a day, long enough as it proved to ensure the fall of Harper’s Ferry.” By the time he published his 1892 book, “The Army of Northern Virginia in 1862,” Allan was following a somewhat truer time line than Robert E. Lee. On page 362 we find, “Finding his position no longer tenable at Turner’s Gap, and learning that Crampton’s Gap in McLaws rear had been forced, Lee withdrew Longstreet and Hill during the night of the 14th, and directed their retirement towards Sharpsburg.”
[lxvi] Mitchell, Decisive Battles of the Civil War, p. 64, “Gettysburg is usually refereed to as ‘the high-water mark of the Confederacy” but the late summer of 1862 is the only period in the war when her armies were advancing victoriously in both the east and the west.” and Gallagher, Gary W., Antietam: Essays on the 1862 Maryland Campaign, p. vii, “Others have argued that Antietam rather than Gettysburg deserves recognition as the dividing line where Confederate fortunes shifted irrevocably toward defeat. Advocates of this view insist that never were so many political, diplomatic, and military elements aligned so favorably for the Confederacy.”
[lxvii] Exact figures for the Battle of South Mountain will never be known. Many of the Confederate units did not compile records until after the Battle of Antietam; consequently, no completely accurate records of Confederate casualties for South Mountain exist. The number of 54,000 is taken from Carman, p. 503 (26,000 for I and IX Corps; and 13,000 for Hill and Longstreet) and from Reese, Sealed With Their Lives, p. 262, (12,800 for VI Corps) and pp. 299-300 (2,292 for Confederate forces at Crampton’s Gap). An accurate listing of Union Casualties can be found in the O.R. Vol. 19, Part 1, p. 34 and p. 181 (443 KIA, 1,806 WIA, and 76 MIA, aggregate 2,325). Confederate Casualties come from Carman, p. 505 (248 KIA, 1013 WIA, and 662 MIA, 1923 aggregate Turner’s and Fox’s Gaps) and from Reese, p. 302 (873 aggregate Crampton’s Gap). The casualty figures for D-Day come from The D-Day Encyclopedia, p. 138 (552, KIA, 2,766 WIA, and 1,903 MIA).
Steven R. Stotelmyer is a native of Hagerstown, Maryland. As a child he played among the monuments at Antietam National Battlefield during many family picnics to that area. After a stint in the U.S. Navy he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree from Frostburg State College and a Master of Arts from Hood College. He is currently employed by a civil engineering firm in Frederick, Maryland. Always interested in local history, especially South Mountain and Antietam, Mr. Stotelmyer helped form the Central Maryland Heritage League in 1989. The league gained a modest amount of success in preserving some of the lands of the South Mountain Battlefield. From 1989 through 1994 Mr. Stotelmyer served as a volunteer at the Antietam National Battlefield. In 1992 he published The Bivouacs of the Dead: The Story of Those Who Died at Antietam and South Mountain, Toomey Press, Baltimore Maryland. Mr. Stotelmyer currently serves as a part-time volunteer and historical consultant for the South Mountain State Battlefield.