On September 14, 1862, Robert E. Lee's opportunistic first invasion of the North was turned back at the gaps of South Mountain near Boonsboro, Maryland. The fighting was desperate and for the numbers engaged rather bloody. It has become just a footnote in history, but it was here that the Confederacy reached it's high tide.
South Mountain by Rick Reeve
South Mountain by Rick Reeve depicting the wounding of General Garland
Monday, April 11, 2011
From Fort Sumter to South Mountain
Bombardment of Fort Sumter, Currier and Ives
With the 150th Anniversary of the first shots of the war less than 24 hours away, I would like to take a look at those who were involved with this climatic event in U.S. history and how they were involved in the Battle of South Mountain. Below are the two men that fired, or had least ordered, the first shots of the war for the respective sides and how they were involved here at South Mountain.
Lt. Colonel George S. James, 3rd South Carolina Battalion: In 1862, Lt. Colonel George S. James would find himself commanding his South Carolinian's during the afternoon fighting near the Daniel Wise cabin at Fox's Gap. James would keep his men in position in the Ridge Road that bordered the western boundary of Wise's South Field. Despite pleas from his second in command, Major William Rice, that holding the position was untenable, James kept his men in the road fighting off Union infantry on three sides. As the fighting wound down and the dead and wounded of his regiment littered the ground, James would be mortally wounded. With his wounded, what was left of his regiment disintegrated and fled down the mountainside. James was left on the field and it is unclear whether the wound killed him instantly or if he lingered, dying early the next morning. Now rewind to April 1861. James, who had been a lieutenant in the 4th US Artillery, now was a captain commanding Battery C, 1st South Carolina Artillery of the South Carolina State Army (later Confederate States Army). On April 12, with a signal gun ready to fire, Captain James was given the order to fire. The honor of firing this first shot was presented first to Roger Pryor, a Virginia congressman, but he respectfully declined. With the time for the signal gun to set off this tinderbox fast approaching, James jumped at the chance to set off it off. At 4:30 A.M. April 12th, 1861, Captain George S. James would fire the first shot of the war that would change the United States forever. The report from the gun was so loud that citizens of Charleston were woken out of their peaceful slumbers and quickly gathered to see the spectacle of the bombardment. It would seem ironic that in Robert E.Lee's first invasion of the north, James would be the thousands killed during the campaign. One could imagine his death as punishment for sparking a war that had already killed tens of thousands and would kill thousands more. He would initially be buried with his men at Fox's Gap before the creation of the Washington Confederate Cemetery in Hagerstown, Maryland. His body would never be identified so here he now sleeps for eternity, an unknown among unknowns.
Brigadier General Abner Doubleday: At Fort Sumter, Abner Doubleday was a captain when Confederate forces fired on the fort in April 1861. He was the second in command to Major Robert Anderson. When the bombardment came, Anderson ordered no reply to be fired to help conserve what little ammunition was available at the fort. During the opening bombardment, Doubleday was in one of the casemates in which the garrison of the fort had been making the powder charges. The opening guns hit this area and fortunately, the powder did not ignite. After a brief rest for breakfast, Doubleday was ordered to man take command of the first detachment to man the guns. Doubleday's guns would be pointed at Cummings Point. Doubleday himself aimed the first gun directly at a floating battery. Doubleday recounts:
"In aiming the first gun fired against the rebellion, I had no feeling of self-reproach. . . . The United States was called upon not only to defend its sovereignty, but its right to exist as a nation."
Doubleday's first shot for the Union would come at 7 A.M. on April 12, 1861. He recalls its effect, " My first shot bounded off from the sloping roof of the battery opposite without producing any apparent effect." Doubleday would surrender with the garrison in the afternoon of the next day.
A year and a half later, Doubleday was now a brigadier general commanding a brigade in the First Corps of the Army of the Potomac. At the Battle of South Mountain, Doubleday's brigade would be in support of Walter Phelp's brigade that was advancing against the mountain spur to the immediate right of Turner's Gap. During this assault, the division's commander, John Hatch, was severely wounded and command fell to Doubleday. He would command the division for the remainder of this battle and at the Battle of Antietam three days later. Doubleday would command a division at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. At Gettysburg, he would briefly command the First Corps after its commander, John Reynolds, was killed. After the battle, Doubleday would be assigned to the defenses of Washington, D.C. for administrative purposes. He would command a portion of the defenses during Jubal Early's raid into Maryland in 1864. He would remain in the army after the war and retire in the 1870's.