Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Cavalry at South Mountain
During the opening phases of the Maryland Campaign, cavalry on both sides played a critical part. Major General James Ewell Brown Stuart's Cavalry Division of the Army of Northern Virginia played the role of covering Lee's army has it moved through the Maryland countryside and to keep Lee informed of enemy movements into the area. Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton, commanding the Army of the Potomac's Cavalry Division, took on the job of breaking through the cavalry screen of J.E.B. Stuart had send back intelligence on the movements of Lee's Army. The two sides clashed repeatedly as Lee pulled his army westward to deal with Harper's Ferry and secure his line of communication and supply. The cavalry did not play a real big role in the fight on South Mountain, but some units did participate in some of the most severe fighting of the war.
5th Virginia Cavalry, Colonel Thomas Rosser commanding: In the fight at Fox's Gap, this cavalry regiment covered the extreme right flank of Samuel Garland's infantry brigade. It was supported by a section of Stuart's Horse Artillery under Major John Pelham. In the early morning hours of the 15th, as General Stuart moved with his cavalry division in the direction of Harper's Ferry, Rosser and his regiment were ordered to take and hold Fox's Gap, covering the flank of the Confederate infantry at Turner's Gap. Stuart failed to inform General Daniel H. Hill that he had posted the 5th Virginia at Fox's Gap that morning. As Hill completed his morning recon in the direction of Fox's Gap, he heard the sound of hoofbeats, wagon wheels, and orders being shouted. He quickly returned to his headquarters at Turner's Gap and ordered Garland to take his brigade with all haste to Fox's Gap. Luckliy a friendly fire situation was avoided when Garland found Rosser and his regiment. The Virginians would assist in the 5th North Carolina's fight againts the 23rd Ohio in the early minutes of the fighting and as Garland's line began to falter, Rosser's men came under fire from the 11th Ohio which eventually forced Rosser to abandoned his position. The Virginians were out of the fight by 11 o'clock that morning. Casualties for the regiment are unknown.
2nd Virginia Cavalry, Lt. Colonel Richard Burks commanding: In the fight at Crampton's Gap, this regiment would be one of several undersized regiments that made up a rag-tag force of infantry and cavalry under Thomas Munford that would be the initial roadblock against the advance of the Union 6th Corps. In the overall picture of things, Lt. Colonel Burks would be in command of the regiment, but Captain Thomas Holland would be in charge of the deployment of the regiment, which number barely 200 troopers. It would go into line behind a stonewall along the Mountain Church Road at the eastern base of the mountain. It was posted on the right flank of Munford's line and was opposed the Vermont Brigade, specifically the 4th Vermont. The Virginians stalled the 4th Vermont's advance and annoyed the left flank of Henry Slocum's division as it advanced towards the mountain. Eventually, the pressure from the Vermonters became to much to hold back and the Virginia's fled up the mountainside. As the Vermonter's pursued, many of the Virginian's halted to return fire making the woods a nightmare for the men from Vermont. Eventually, the regiment regrouped in Pleasent Valley the night of the 14th and early morning of the 15th. The casualties for the regiment were surpisingly light, according the Colonel Munford, suffered only 1 man killed and 2 wounded.
12th Virginia, Colonel Asher Harman commanding: This regiment was also posted at Crampton's Gap under the command of Colonel Munford. It consisted of only 75 troopers. It would be posted near the center between two infantry regiments of Colonel Parham's infantry brigade in Munford's line. When this first line collapsed, the regiment retreated back up the mountain and managed to put up a picket line along the Arnoldstown Road. When the infantry brigade of Howell Cobb arrived to reinforce the confederate positions, the Virginian's abandoned this second line and retreated back into Pleasant Valley and headed in the general direction of Boonsboro. Casualties for this regiment are unknown.
There were really no Union cavalry units actively engaged on September 14. There a few that were escorts for Union commanders.
2nd New York Cavalry (Companies A,B,I, and K), Captain John Naylor commanding: Cavalry escort for Major General Joseph Hooker, commander Union 1st Corps
Company G, 1st Maine Cavalry, Captain Zebulon Blethen commanding: Cavalry escort for Major General Jesse Reno, commander 9th Corps. Of interest, Corporal Charles Goodwin of this company assisted General Reno down the mountainside following the general's wounding.
Company B and G, 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Captain Henry P. Muirheid commanding: Cavalry escort for Major General William Franklin, commander Union 6th Corps.
1. Timothy J. Reese, Sealed with Their Lives: The Battle for Crampton's Gap. (Baltimore: Butternut & Blue, 1998).
2. William T. H. Brooks. O.R., War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies Vol. 19, part 1. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1887).
3. Brian Downey. http://www.aotw.org/. [Accessed November 3, 2010]