South Mountain by Rick Reeve

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

Thursday, March 29, 2012

"With their usual gallantry": Hood's Division stems the tide at Fox's Gap

While going into battle at dusk on September 14th, Brigadier General John Bell Hood's division of would go into line of battle and, as General Hood stated in his report that he ordered his division, "to move forward with bayonets fixed..." and this movement towards Fox's Gap helped stem the tide of Union infantry that had all but destroyed the brigade of Thomas Drayton and was advancing unopposed in the growing darkness. The timely counterattack by Hood saved the Confederate foothold on the mountain and allowed the Confederates to withdraw towards the hills around Sharpsburg.

At the outset of the Maryland Campaign, General Hood would find himself marching at the rear of his division, under arrest for insubordination as a result of a dispute over the rightful ownership of captured Union ambulances following the Second Battle of Manassas/Bull Run between Hood and Brigadier General Nathan Evans. Hood was ordered to Culpepper for court martial but, General Lee rescinded that order and Hood remained with the army as it marched into Maryland. As a result of his arrest, according to Hood in his post-war memoirs, his division,upon it's arrival in Hagerstown would demonstrate a certain degree of insubordination and Hood advised his subordinates that the issue of his arrest would be decided in a short time.

Hood's prediction would come true on September 14th. Reports of a heavy Union presence threatening the division of D.H. Hill at the mountain gaps on South Mountain would cause the "main body" of the army to stir out of its encampments near Hagerstown and onto the National Pike in a forced march to the relieve of Hill's division. Surely, as the men of James Longstreet's command marched towards South Mountain, they heard the distant thunder of cannon and the sharp crack of musketry as Hill's division found itself in a stubborn fight for survival and all knew that deadly work was ahead and quickened the pace.

Longstreet's command would begin arriving at the base of the mountain in early to mid-afternoon after a dust-filled and exhausting march. Hood's division would begin ascending the mountain at about 3:30 pm and Hood, still at the rear of his division, faintly heard the cry's from his Texas brigade demanding of General Lee, "Give us Hood!". Coming upon  General Lee as his division walked by his headquarters, Lee called Hood into a meeting. Lee requested that Hood show regret for his dispute with General Evans and Hood politely declined, both attempts by Lee for the admittance of guilt. Seeing that he would get nowhere with Hood, Lee promptly released Hood from his arrest to re-take command of his division and the matter of the ambulance dispute would be settled at a later date.

Hood quickly mounted his horse and rode to the summit, amid the cheers of his division, and reported to General Longstreet, who was then placing his command into defensive positions on either side of the National Pike. Hood was ordered to deploy his division on the left of the pike with his right resting near the pike. From this position, Hood witnessed "the advance of McClellan's long lines" that had the evident appearance of forcing the Confederates from the mountain. Remaining in this position for a short time, Hood was ordered by Longstreet to shift his division to the South of the pike to shore up the Confederate line there. At this time, Drayton's brigade was heavily beaten back and the Union 9th Corps was across Fox's Gap. Hood quickly put his men on the move down the Wood's Road, described by Hood as nothing but a "pig path".

Hood's counterattack, Union positions (blue) are generalized.
Hearing the distinct shouts of the Union advance and fighting through remnants of Drayton's brigade, Hood order his division to deploy.  The alignment of Hood's battle line is up for debate, but from research, it is assumed that Hood deployed his division with Colonel Evander Law's brigade on his left and Colonel William Wofford's brigade on the right facing in a Southeasterly direction. Hood ordered that his division fix bayonets and when the Union troops were within 75 to 100 yards, the order to charge was given. Meeting little resistance from the Union lines, Hood's division regained a foothold near Fox's Gap and brought the fight to a close, remaining in position until about midnight when it was ordered to cover the army's retreat off the mountain. It is also to note, that a bullet fired by Hood's men may have been the fatal bullet the took the life of Major General Jesse Reno of the 9th Corps. As the Confederates withdrew towards Sharpsburg, Hood's division along with cavalry would supply the army with a determined rear guard.

 Arriving near Sharpsburg, Hood's division would first go into position on the Confederate left and would fight a severe skirmish for possession of the East Woods on the 16th. Hood would get his division pulled from the line and into position in an area  a few hundred yards to the rear of the Dunker Church where it would remain until called into action, delivering a heavy blow Union forces advancing down the Hagerstown Pike and in return suffering heavily for it.

Hood's hard-fighting division would suffer roughly 50 casualties, the majority in Evander Law's brigade, during its attack at dusk on September 14th. While this attack is not as famous or severe as that which would occur at Antietam on the 17th, it allowed the Confederates to keep a hold on the mountain long enough for night to come and another day to be bought for the reduction of Harper's Ferry by Stonewall Jackson.


John Bell Hood. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of of the records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Series 1, Volume 19 (part 1), pg. 922.

John Bell Hood. Advance and Retreat: Personal experiences in the United States and Confederate Armies. Hood Orphan Fund, G.T. Beauregard: New Orleans, LA. 1880  pgs. 38-41.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Tim!

    Paul (your NPS predecessor) and I used to discuss the position of Bondurant at the time of Hood's arrival. Luvaas (in the War College Guide) places the battery about where the "nt" in "remnants" appears on your map, facing southeast down the road. The area just to the west (between the "nt" and the Wood Road) is somewhat depressed, making it a great sheltered spot for the horses and limbers (which Luvaas also points out in his book).

    But who's to say? Bondurant's guns moved around so much that day...we'll probably never be able to place them at a specific spot at a specific time.

    Nice point about Reno, too -- the first time I came into that field from the NW corner, reached the crest, and saw the line of sight and distance to the Reno Monument, I was immediately willing to bet that a volley or stray shot from Hood's men caught him.