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 (1861-1865) Civil War Battles (Eastern Theater)
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NYGiant
home  USA
Posts: 715
Joined: 2021
Battle of South Mountain.
9/14/2022 9:31:52 AM
General Robert E. Lee’s exhausted Confederate forces hold off the pursuing Yankees by closing two passes through Maryland’s South Mountain, allowing Lee time to gather his forces further west along Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg.

After the Second Battle of Bull Run, Virginia, in late August 1862, Lee decided to invade Maryland to raise supplies; he also hoped a decisive win would earn the South foreign recognition. As he moved, he split his army into five sections while the hungry Rebels searched for supplies. A copy of the Confederate plans accidentally fell into Union hands when the orders were left in an abandoned campsite outside of Frederick, Maryland. McClellan now knew that Lee’s force was in pieces, but he was slow to react.

As Lee moved into western Maryland, he left detachments to guard Crampton’s Gap and Turner’s Gap through South Mountain. If McClellan had penetrated the passes, he would have found Lee’s army scattered and vulnerable. South Mountain, a 50-mile-long ridge, contained several passes, but Crampton’s Gap and Turner’s Gap were the most important. The National Road ran through Turner’s Gap to the north, and Crampton’s Gap connected western Maryland to Harpers Ferry, Virginia.




The Union troops drove the Confederates away at Crampton’s Gap, but were initially unable to expel the Confederates from Turner’s Gap. However, the Rebels did retreat the next morning. Union losses for the day amounted to 2,300 dead and wounded, including the death of Major General Jesse Reno. The Confederates lost 2,700.

These engagements were a mere prelude to the Battle of Antietam. Although costly, they allowed Lee time to assemble his scattered bands at Sharpsburg.

https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/north-and-south-clash-at-the-battle-of-south-mountain
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This is a nice battlefield to visit, usually as a side trip to a tour of the battle of Antietam. One can walk part of the Appalachian Trail between Turner's Gap and Fox's Gap, and appreciate the terrain. It is not a difficult hike.

Recently, I have been able to tour that part of the battlefield where Meade attacked on the Union right. This property has just been preserved by the state of Maryland and is about to be interpreted.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5837
Joined: 2004
Battle of South Mountain.
9/15/2022 2:19:57 PM
NYGiant,

Dramatic events, these South Mountain battles.

Some contend that Little Mac moved much more quickly than the folklore of the Civil War would have us believe.

The stakes were obviously high : Lee taking outrageous risks, and the Union in real peril after Second Mannassas.

The 2,700 confederate casualties you allude to contained a significant proportion of prisoners; in terms of killed and wounded, I believe the yankees took the heavier punishment : they were attacking head on and suffered accordingly.

In one of those two gaps, a very small confederate force fought a Thermopylae type battle, deployed in a narrow space and selling their lives dearly. When the yankees overran this force, they threw the dead southerners into a well. This strikes me as atypical in terms of normal treatment of enemy dead in that war.
I might investigate the story and see if it’s hyperbole.

Lee knew he’d been beaten that day, yet still chose to concentrate for a real stand up fight at Antietam .

What possessed him to take such a stupefying risk ?

Regards, Phil


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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
NYGiant
home  USA
Posts: 715
Joined: 2021
Battle of South Mountain.
9/15/2022 2:57:30 PM
Hi Phil,


There is an active group of historians who are busy at work rehabilitating McClellan's reputation. The best book on this is "Too Useful to Sacrifice", by Steven Stotelmyer. He makes an excellent case that the AoP and McClellan moved pretty briskly towards the invading foreign Army. For instance, he writes down the actual miles that various Corps marched each day or over several days.

He also makes the point that armies march on roads. And that the road network in Western Maryland narrows as one approaches Frederick and then pans out, making the city of Frederick a bottleneck.

Not only were the Union attacking head on at South Mountain, they were attacking uphill.

I've read about that well too. I believe it is near the Reno Monument and is now capped shut.

Several reasons why Lee might have concentrated at Antietam have been discussed at a few Conferences and tours I have gone on.
1. He was intent on making a thrust into Pennsylvania, only a few miles away. This move was stopped because Hooker camped astride the Hagerstown Pike. Some believe that even after crossing the Potomac Lee wanted to go to Pennsylvania but was deterred by the report he received about the Battle of Shepherdstown.

2. He had the advantage of high ground.

3. He was awaiting the rest of his army.

The person who started all this talk about McClellan being slow was probably Stanton, and to a certain degree, Lincoln. Recall that McClellan was Lincoln's opponent in the 1864 election.

Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5837
Joined: 2004
Battle of South Mountain.
9/15/2022 3:22:16 PM
Hi NYGiant,

A few years ago I attended a weekend conference which featured the Maryland Campaign.

If memory serves me, a pro McClellan expert by the name of Tom Clemens (?) gave a couple of lectures, and I was captivated and convinced by his delivery.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
NYGiant
home  USA
Posts: 715
Joined: 2021
Battle of South Mountain.
9/15/2022 3:48:59 PM
Tom has done tremendous work regarding the Maryland Campaign, and preserving the Antietam battlefield.

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