South Mountain by Rick Reeve

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

Monday, January 10, 2011

Fighting Colonels: Frostown Gap

The Frostown Gap, as I've discussed in recent weeks, was strategically and tactically important because any troops in control of that gap could advance on the flank and into the rear of any military organization posted at Turner's Gap along the National Pike. While the most notable fighting occurred below Turner's Gap and around Fox's Gap, the fighting around Frostown was just as important, and just as heavy. The regiments engaged here would rely heavily on the leadership of their commanding officers.

Colonel John B. Gordon, commanding 6th Alabama Infantry: Probably the most well known regiment of Robert Rodes' brigade during the Maryland Campaign, Colonel Gordon and his men were the first to engage the Pennsylvania Reserves during the fight at Frostown Gap. Positioned on the left flank of the brigade. Prior to the fighting, a comical exchange to place between Gordon and the Widow Main, a "spartan" of a woman who lived on what would soon become a battleground. Gordon warned the Widow that fighting would commence soon and asked for her to take herself and her children to the safety. The woman refused saying the she would rather die than leave her home at the hands of the rebels. With concealed laughter from his men and staff, Gordon left the woman as an embarrassed man. Gordon would throw out a strong skirmish line that would slow the advance of two regiments of Pennsylvanians. His main line was positioned behind a stonewall and in a tree line bordering an open field to their front. When the reserves pushed back the skirmish line, Gordon's main line unleashed a devastating volley the stunned the Union men and caused the advance to halt for a brief time. Events elsewhere would force Gordon to withdraw from his strong position back a gorge where Rodes' was attempting to rally his brigade and make a final desperate stand. The rock on which this final stand would rest would be Gordon's regiment, having remained intact and in the words of General Rodes was an "excellent regiment" and one which Gordon had "kept constantly in hand and had handled in a manner that I have never heard or seen equaled during this war." Gordon's men would hold the line while others crumbled and as they lay exhausted and low on ammunition, the "fresh" (having just completed a forced march from Hagerstown) brigades of James Kemper, Nathan Evans, and Richard Garnett. Gordon's men would hold the extreme left of the new Confederate line and would blast away several Union advances as they attempted to capture Turner's Gap from the north. John Gordon and his Alabamians nearly held off the Pennsylvania Reserves by themselves as the approached and turned the Confederate flank and John Gordon proved to superiors how cool he was under fire. The regiment would be tested again three days later at Antietam, but the fight at Frostown earned them a reputation as hard fighters.

Colonel Hugh W. McNeil, commanding 13th Pennsylvania Reserves (1st Rifles): Commanding the "Bucktails", Colonel McNeil's regiment would make the first contact with Confederate forces at Frostown Gap. Taking into battle about 300 man, the majority of his regiment is deployed as skirmishers to feel out for the Confederate forces and the remainder are in a supporting role. When skirmishing breaks out, McNeil pushes his men against the the southern skirmishers routing them. Upon advancing on the Confederate mainline, the battle turns into a slugfest with the 13th Reserves duking it out with Colonel Gordon's 6th Alabama. For nearly an hour, the two sides hammered each other with musketry. When reinforcements arrived to support McNeil and his men, the colonel gave the order to charge breaking the Confederate line and sweeping up the mountainside capturing several Confederate wounded and stragglers. Only nightfall kept McNeil's regiment and the remainder of the division from advancing any further. Expecting a renewed fight in the morning, McNeil's men would sleep on their arms that night. The next morning, a reconnaissance found the Confederates had retreated. McNeil and his regiment then were ordered forward in pursuit of the retreating rebels. Colonel McNeil would be killed in a sharp skirmish on the 16th, just hours before the bloody Battle of Antietam.

1 comment:

  1. Tim
    Thanks for shedding more light on this important part of the South Mountain battlefield