South Mountain by Rick Reeve

South Mountain by Rick Reeve
South Mountain by Rick Reeve depicting the wounding of General Garland

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Boonsboro's Washington Monument: A Witness to War

On a clear July morning, Independence Day to be exact, citizens of Boonsboro, Maryland and nearby communities gathered in the town square to embark on an endeavor only reserved for those with a means to create. To the rolling of the drum and patriotic music, they marched up the to a rocky knoll where they would build a free-standing stone monument to the one of the founding fathers of the United States, George Washington. Built to a height of 30 feet, half on July 4th and half later in the fall, this stone monument would be the first of its kind completed in honor our first president and ,unlike the monuments of the grand architect's, this one was built by the hands of private citizens who felt it was their duty to do so.

Fast forward to 1861 and the monument that these patriotic citizens built had fallen into ruin from neglect and vandalism. And as the monument went, so did the country. The country that George Washington had fought to had begun destroying itself and the patriotism that had built this monument had turn from a local sense of pride in one's country to a regional hatred for their countrymen.

For the better part of a year, the monument lay in ruin among the quiet countryside of western Maryland. That would all change in September 1862 when Robert E. Lee pushed his Army of Northern Virginia, fresh off a summer of victories, across the Potomac River and into Maryland as part of a massive Confederate offensive in both the Eastern and Western Theatre's of the war. Only days after entering Maryland, Confederate forces began marching up the National Pike and crossed South Mountain just a mile from the monument. Some of these Confederates, the division of Major General Daniel H. Hill, would be encamped nearby at Boonsboro and on the 13th, Confederate cavalry is being pushed back from the Catoctin's Mountain gaps and Confederate infantry support is moving up to hold the vital gap Turner's Gap on South Mountain. The stage for the Battle of South Mountain had been set.

Throughout the next day, tides of men and the rain of hot lead and shrapnel poured across the mountainside, first at Fox's Gap, then Frostown, Turner's, and Crampton's. The fight that would have the most impact on the monument would occur just below at the Frostown Gap where the Pennsylvania Reserves would do battle with the tenacious Alabamian's of Robert Rodes' brigade. When Confederate reinforcements under James Longstreet arrived, a most peculiar incident occured involving the monument. Confederate artillery commander E. Porter Alexander recalled:

"I was riding with Gen. Lee when we came within a mile or two of the fight & some one 
discovered a small party of people on what seemed to be a sort old tower on the mountain
about a mile north of the pass. There were some indications that it might be a signal party of 
the enemy sending messages of our approach,&, itching to have some personal part in a fight,
I suggested to Gen. Lee that I might take a few men & go recapture it. He approved & had 
eight men sent with me from some brigade, I forgot whose. I got in cover of some woods &
then struck up the mountain side &, after a hard, hot climb, at last got up & around the
tower (which seemed to have been built originally for a windmill) before the party on it
knew of my approach. But they were plainly all natives of the vicinity attracted by the firing & 
up here to see the battle. I quite disgusted at the peaceful character of my capture & left
them seeing that the position gave no valuable view of the enemy's ground..."

View from monument. Antietam is on the left. 
Reminiscent of US congressmen and other dignitaries following the Union Army to the battlefield at Bull Run, these endeavoring citizens of possibly Zittlestown and Boonsboro had climbed up to the monument to watch the coming battle. With night falling over the battlefield, the monument had witnessed the first great battle of Northern soil. The following day, with Confederate infantry pulling out of the area, Union signal men were sent to the monument to establish a signal station. This was an excellent position because one can see into basically three states from one point. This is pointed out in the official report of Major Albert J. Myer, the chief signal officer for the Union Army, "From this point, the forces of the enemy were visible near Sharpsburg and thence to Shepherdstown. The line of battle beyond Antietam, then just beginning to form, was seen and a full report of this . . . sent to General McClellan."

Signal station similar to the one that would be constructed around the monument.
Following the 1862 Maryland Campaign, the monument's signal station was broken down as the armies moved back into Virginia. The next monument wouldn't see again until the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign when another signal station was erected atop the ruins of the monument watching the movements of the Confederate Army during its retreat. The stations was established on July 9th and immediately began reporting on troop movements and strengths. The station reported on the construction of earthworks near Hagerstown and the fighting that took place outside of Funkstown on July 10th. It remained in use until after Lee pulled his army back across the Potomac. The following year, in 1864, the monument again witnessed a Confederate invasion when Jubal Early took the 2nd Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia on an invasion that reached the gates of Washington, D.C. Following this final invasion, the monument would sink back into the quiet country side. 

Restored monument 1880's.
Following the war, the monument again was left to neglect and vandals. The monument was not forgotten however. In the late 1870's, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows of Boonsboro funded and sponsored a preservation drive to restore the monument to it's former glory. Work was officially began in 1882. The monument was deconstructed and built in the exact manner as the original builders did, using free-standing stone. To help "reinforce" the structure, the Odd Fellows had the outside of the monument stuccoed to help prevent any destructive forces from the exterior into the openings between the stones and weakening the interior. The monument was rebuilt to its original height of 30 feet, a road was cut to the monument to allow for easier access, and a steel observation platform was added. This platform added additional weight to the structure and increased its height by about 15 feet (as seen in photo at left).  The monument was re-dedicated on August 18, 1882 before a crowd of 3,000 people, including the governor of Maryland.



 Despite the best efforts of this preservation work, the monument would, again, become neglected and open to vandalism. Weather also took a toll. The steel observation deck was struck by lightning and created a crack down the side of the monument. As a result, the steel structure had to be removed. The stucco began to wear down, weakening the structure even more and as a result, the stones crumbled to the ground. It would remain in this condition for the better part of the next 30 years. 

Front view of monument 1910's
The next effort to restore the monument began in 1916. The Washington County Historical Society, lead by President and state Senator Harvey S. Bomberger, hatch plans to purchase the monument and the one acre of land surrounding it. To help build interest and show importance in the restoration of this monument, Bomberger published and article in The Patriotic Marylander entitled "Maryland's Mountain top monument to Washington" detailing the history of the monument and putting forth his justification for restoring the monument. It can be read here.  Bomberger's efforts caught the eye of the Daughters of the American Revolution and to help bolster more support for the monument, Isabel S. Mason wrote a poem dedicated to the monument entitled, "The First Washington Monument." In its entirety:
Of old thou stood, a watcher lone,
Upon the silent height;
Strong as the Heart of Valley Forge,
That watched in frozen night.
For in thee glowed the pulse that timed,
The march of Freedom's feet;
Fed by the flood of hero blood,
It ne'er shall cease to beat.

The hands, within whose sturdy veins
The patriot thrill coursed free;
Raised up thy sentinel form to him
Who wrought for liberty. 
Those hands are stilled, but, oh, the throb
Hath never ceased to rest;
It vibrates down the path of Time,
And echoes in each breast.

Though shattered once by storm and age,
Yet nature wove thee round,
A flowery, fragrant memory,
Embraced thee from the ground.
The fair, wild blossoms kissed thy form,
The birds sang o'er thy stone;
The star's in nights emblazoned flag
Kept watch with thee alone.

And now, once more thy form shall stand,
Grim Veteran of the past;
Like Liberty, though crushed to earth,
It must arise at last.
From when the thrill of grateful love,
Shall o'er us cease to steal;
'Twill be because our Soul is dead, 
And hearts have ceased to fell.

Crack in monument. Dynamite had been placed in this crack at one point.
This poem was also published in The Patriotic Marylander as well as local newspapers. With the local effort on track, the preservation effort was taken to the national level. At the behest of their constituents, a Maryland Congressman appealed for a $2,500 appropriation to assist in the restoration of the monument. The historical society managed to purchase the monument and land in 1920 but its preservation efforts became stalled. Following collapse of the stock market and the onset of the Great Depression, the historical society could not afford to preserve the monument on its own. With the help of Bomberger, a state senator, the Washington County Historical Society deeded the monument over to the State of Maryland in the early 1930's. With this move, the restoration of the monument could become a reality. 

The monument created a great opportunity for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to restore the monument and provide a park for the public to use. The CCC had been busy restoring the walls of Fort Frederick outside Big Pool, Maryland. As a result, several men from this camp were taken up to the monument and it was completely removed. It was to be rebuilt from the ground up using all the modern tools to built it. Instead of building it of free-standing stone, the CCC would place mortar the stones making the monument even more structurally sound then previous efforts. It would take nearly 2 years for the monument to be rebuilt but once it was finished, it was built to last. 

Rebuilding the monument.

For 184 years, the monument has stood as a testament to the patriotic feelings that the everyday citizen has for their country. It also stands a simple monument built to the memory of George Washington and all the revolutionaries who sacrificed all so that freedom could be achieved. It survived the countries greatest trial despite already being in ruins. Today the monument serves as the focal point of Washington Monument State Park which is also the home of South Mountain State Battlefield.




Thursday, November 10, 2011

Captain James Bondurant and the Jeff Davis Artillery

Providing the only immediate artillery support to the Confederate defenders at Fox's Gap, Captain James Bondurant and his Alabamians of the Jeff Davis Artillery helped keep back the Union onslaught despite the Confederate defenders being stretched thin.

The Jeff Davis artillery was organized in Selma, Alabama in May 1861 under the command of Captain James T. Montgomery and was sent east where it was assigned to the brigade of Jubal Early at Manassas. James Bondurant would rise to command of the regiment following the resignation of Captain Montgomery and his election as the new Captain of the Battery.

Captain Bondurant
James William Bondurant was born in Buckingham County, Virginia in 1835. Shortly before the war, his family migrated to Alabama. When war broke out, he enlisted as a sergeant in Montgomery's JEff Davis Artillery. He would eventually rise to command of the battery and lead it through some of its most horrific fights. Bondurant would lead the battery in fighting at Seven Pines, Mechanicsville, and Gaines Mill suffering numerous dead and wounded.

Following the Confederate "victories" on the Peninsula, Bondurant's battery remained in Richmond with the division of Daniel Harvey Hill as the remainder of the Army of Northern Virginia moved north to deal with the Army of Virginia under John Pope. Pope was ultimately defeated at the Battle of Second Manassas/Bull Run setting the stage for the Confederate invasion of Maryland.

Bondurant moved with his battery northward to join up with the Confederate forces massing at Leesburg in preparation for the inevitable advance across the Potomac. The battery crossed the Potomac with the rest of D.H. Hill's artillery on September 4, 1862. The unit would enter Frederick on 6th and remain here until the 10th. On the 10th, the Confederates moved out of Frederick in an effort to capture the vital transportation hub of Hagerstown and to capture the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry that was sitting just miles from the proposed supply and communication route for the Confederate advance into Pennsylvania. Attached to Samuel Garland's brigade of Hill's Division, Bondurant's battery went into camp near Beaver Creek outside Boonsboro, MD on the 13th to await developments. The wait would not be long. Word reached General Hill at Boonsboro, that Union infantry and cavalry were pushing back Confederate troopers holding Braddock's Gap on the National Pike. Hill ordered Alfred Colquitt's brigade to take up defensive positions at Turner's Gap and Garland's brigade to move in the direction of South Mountain in close support.

On the morning of the 14th, Hill was on a personal reconnaissance down what was called the Wood's Road by locals in the direction of Fox's Gap when he heard noises to his front. Believing this was the Union Army crossing the mountain, Hill quickly turned to go back to his Turner's Gap when he came under artillery fire. Bolster in his belief he was being outflanked, Hill returned to his headquarters at Turner's Gap to find Garland and Bondurant's battery coming up the mountain. He immediately ordered them to Fox's Gap and to hold at all cost. Arriving at Fox's Gap, Garland found that he noises were in fact the 5th Virginia Cavalry who were posted there by J.E.B. Stuart. Quickly, Garland deployed his line and Bondurant was deployed in a field to the south of the Daniel Wise Cabin with the support of the 90 men of the 12th North Carolina under Captain Shugan Snow.

Just before 9 A.M., the men of Bondurant's battery and Bondurant himself could vaguely see the movement of blue shadows in the woods to their immediate front. Bondurant's men and guns were fully exposed in the field where they were deployed and their only escape route was to their immediate rear along a mountain road leading back to Fox's Gap. After some time, several Union soldiers appeared in a valley that had allowed the Union men to advance uncomfortably close to the battery and Confederate infantry, who had their arms stacked believing that action was not soon at hand. Bondurant requested the skirmishers be sent out to ascertain what was going on in the woods to his front. The infantry commanders in immediate support of the battery refused to oblige Bondurant's request because orders had not come down from General Garland.

Rebuffed not once, but twice, Bondurant decided he was to meet coming Union attack himself. Almost immediately, a Union line appeared with in yards of the batteries right flank and began to quickly advance against the unsupported battery. A Union volley cut the silence and the Battle of South Mountain had begun. Amazingly, no men from Bondurant's battery fell during this initial volley. Garland, hearing the firing, quickly appeared and ordered the the infantry to advance to meet this line and ordered Bondurant to commence firing. Bondurant, with the situation in hand, ordered his battery to change front to the right to meet this Union threat. Unfortunately, his battery could only fire one gun at a time from this position and he ordered each gun to fire once then withdraw. Firing point-blank into the Union line throwing it into confusion. Each gun successfully got one round off before withdrawing to their waiting limbers and caissons in the road. Bondurant withdrew his battery all the way back to a position near the Daniel Wise cabin before re-deploying and opening up a steady barrage against the Union forces. Bondurant's men would hold this position for the better part of the morning and would witness the disintegration of General Garland's brigade and the removal of General Garland's limp body from the field.

Just before 11, a portion of General George B. Anderson's brigade, under Colonel C.C. Tew had arrived on the field and with the help on Bondurant's battery, they held back the Union assault and managed to maintain a slim foothold on Fox's Gap and the vital intersection.  During the course of the late morning action, a Union battery began raining shells down on Bondurant's position. To protect his men and guns, Bondurant was forced to move a section of his battery to the crest of Wise's North Field just east of the Woods Road. 

During the mid-day lull of the battlefield, Asa Cook's Massachusett's battery deployed a few hundred yards from the summit at Fox's Gap and opened fire on Confederate batteries to the right at Turner's Gap. Unknown to them, less then two hundred yards away, Captain Bondurant had his men quietly loading canister. After the Union battery fired a few rounds, Bondurant unleashed his guns on the surprised Union artillerymen. Fearing for their lives, some of the Union artillerist ran from their guns and others sought out cover wherever they could find any. Bondurant's battery had a devastating effect on the Union battery killing and wounding several men and horses. The batteries fire also stirred up a panic within the ranks of General Orlando Willcox's division that was deploying astride the Old Sharpsburg Road. Taken in the flank by the shell and canister of the Confederate, the infantrymen panicked before eventually sorting themselves out and seeking cover from the artillery fire.

This devastating fire from Bondurant's guns made them a target for Union commanders. Orders quickly came from General Jesse Reno, commanding the 9th Corps, to General Willcox to "silence the the enemy's battery at all cost." Just as the Union infantry began it's advance, Confederate infantry from General Thomas Drayton advanced out of the Old Sharpsburg Road and a bloody standoff ensued. During this savage fighting, the section of Bondurant's guns that had remained at the Daniel Wise Cabin withdrew and rejoined the section in Wise's North Field. The climactic moment of the battle for Fox's Gap had arrived.

From the North Field, Bondurant's battery continued supporting Drayton's infantry to the best of their ability. Bondurant's men, in position in the northwestern corner of Wise's North Field, rained shot and shell down on the Union infantry pressing Drayton's men. From their left, a new threat emerged from the woods in the form of the 17th Michigan Infantry that fell on the flank and rear of Drayton's brigade. Their primary mission was to silence Bondurant's guns but their advantage over the Confederate infantry quickly became the more relevant attack. Bondurant, seeing that the battle was out of control for the Confederates, unleashed canister on the Michigan men in a vain attempt to halt their advance but the tactic was to no avail. Bondurant was forced to withdraw from the battlefield and Drayton's men were left without artillery support. Fortunately for the Confederates, John Bell Hood's division arrived to shore up the sagging Confederate hold on Fox's Gap.

Bondurant pulled his men back down the mountain to the reserve trains to replenish their ammunition but upon arriving, they found that the armies artillery ammunition had been depleted drastically due to the severe fighting of the day. Bondurant ordered his men to get what they could and after doing so, they greatfully settled down for some much needed rest. The Jeff Davis Artillery had been in action for the better part of 10 hours on September 14th and amazingly, not a single man was lost despite the battery being in close proximity to the main battlelines. The battery would go on to fight and ,suffer heavily, at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the 1864 Overland Campaign, and the Siege of Petersburg. The battery would surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1862 only able to muster 1 officer and 26 men.