As a prelude to the Battle of Antietam I would like to talk a little about the Battles on South Mountain which runs north/south between Sharpsburg and Frederick in Western Maryland. No I didn't mistype Battles. This particular day, September 14, 1862, is more appropriately considered Battles because there were actually three passes over South Mountain where fighting took place, Turner's Gap, Fox's Gap and Crampton's Gap.
See americancivilwar.com/statepic/md.html for a map of the area.
After coming out of a victory at the Second Manassas in Virginia, Confederate General Robert E. Lee decided to take the war into the north. By doing so he hoped to gain recognition from England and France which would establish their Southern independence and Lee thought that if they could take control of the area around Washington the Union would be ready end the war. However, things did not go the way Lee had hoped.
Beginning on September 4, Lee's army crossed into Maryland at White's Ferry and by September 7 converged on Frederick. Meanwhile, Union General McClellan resumed command of the Union army and sent forces to the Washington area as protection while he searched for General Lee.
September 11: Confederate General D. H. Hill and his troops guarded the passes to South Mountain while General Longstreet was at Hagerstown, MD.
September 11 and 12, General Jackson captured the garrison at Martinsburg and moved towards Harper's Ferry.
September 13: General McClellan reached Frederick and was handed General Lee's Confederate Order 191, which had been discovered by some of his troops. This order laid out in detail Lee's plan for the invasion.
September 13 - 15: General Jackson sealed off the southern exit from Harper's Ferry and General McLaws, on Maryland Heights, sealed off the northern exit. General Walker's division on Loudon Heights completed the cordon around the Union division in the town. Seeing no way out 12,000 Union troops surrendered on September 15.
September 14: Federal I and IX Corps captured Turner's Gap forcing the Confederates to retreat.
September 14: Federal IX Corps captured Fox's Gap forcing the Confederates to retreat.
September 14: Part of General McLaws' Confederates delayed General Franklin's Federal VI Corps at Crampton's Gap.
September 15: After the fall of Harper's Ferry, General Lee decided to make a stand along Antietam Creek at Sharpsburg.
Accessed 8/28/2002, available from www.civilwarhome.com/Antietamevents.htm: Internet
Battles on South Mountain:
The battle at Turner's Gap began at 9:00AM on Sunday, September 14 and lasted all day. General D. H. Hill's Confederate division of 5,000 held off assaults of elements from two Union army corps at Turner's Gap. Between 9:00 am and 3:00 pm they stood alone and then with the help of General Longstreet's men held the ground until 11:00 pm when General Lee ordered them to withdraw and regroup. Hill pulled his men together to ready themselves for the move to Sharpsburg, Maryland. Because of Hill, disaster to Lee's army was averted.
Accessed 8/28/2002, available from www.fsmsb.org/turnersgap.html: Internet.
Federal troops in General Reno's IX Corps opened the battle at Fox's Gap at 9:00 am. The fighting here was so intense that one of the war's rare instances of hand-to-hand combat resulted. Confederate General Garland, who had been sent by General Hill to defend the Gap was killed at mid morning and most of his brigade scattered down the western slope of the mountain. By 4:00 pm the rest of General Reno's men made their final attack from the east and overwhelmed what was left of the Confederates under General Drayton's Brigade. Drayton's men fell back and fierce fighting claimed 50% of their forces, killed, wounded and missing. At twilight, General Reno arrived to assess the situation and in his impatience to march towards Turner's Gap he rode to reconnoiter. While so doing, Confederate General Hood's Texas Brigade made its last assault during which General Reno was mortally wounded. By 11:00 pm General Hood's men withdrew and left the field to the Federal IX Corps. Two future presidents, Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley, fought at this battle, both serving with the 23rdOhio Volunteer Infantry. Rutherford Hayes severely wounded was taken to Middletown and later recovered. McKinley survived the battle but was assassinated on September 14, 1901 exactly thirty-nine years later.
Accessed 8/28/2002, available from www.fsmsb.org/foxsgap.html: Internet.
Accessed 10/2/2005, available from www.cmhl.org/bsm.html: Internet.
General McClellan ordered General Franklin's VI Army Corps to push through Crampton's Gap and relieve the Federal garrison at Harper's Ferry thus driving a wedge between the widely separated halves of Lee's army. Instead of immediately marching on September 13, Franklin ordered his men to bed down for the night and pursued his march first thing in the morning. Arriving in Burkittsville at noon the VI Corps prepared its noon meal while General Franklin and his subordinates argued over which side of town to attack. At 4:00 pm the Federals met Colonel Parham's Virginia brigade at the base of the mountain. After fierce fighting the Confederates retreated to Brownsville in Pleasant Valley at twilight. On the morning of September 15, a Confederate battle line was placed across Pleasant Valley in order to confront the Federal troops. But after hearing that Harper's Ferry had surrendered did not attack. By not continuing the fight against the Confederates neither that day nor the next, Franklin allowed time for evacuation of the Confederates. Learning of this General Lee decided to continue the Maryland campaign and moved on to Sharpsburg.
Accessed 8/28/2002, available from www.fsmsb.org/cramptonsgap.html: Internet.
Following are statistics of the battles:
September 14, 1862
Considering the advantage of size that McClellan had you have to wonder sometimes why the war went on for as long as it did.
The following is a tribute to General Reno written on September 20, 1862.
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion [Volume] XIX/1 - Page 423
Mouth of Antietam, Md., September 20, 1862.
The commanding general announces to the corps the loss of their late leader, Maj. Gen. Jesse L. Reno. By the death of this distinguished officer the country loses one of its most devoted patriots, the army one of its most thorough soldiers. In the long list of battles in which General Reno has fought in his country's service, his name always appears with the brightest luster, and he has now bravely met a soldier's death while gallantly leading his men at the battle of South Mountain. For his high character and the kindly qualities of his heart in private life, as well as for the military genius and personal daring which marked him as a soldier, his loss will be deplored by all who knew him, and the commanding general desires to add the tribute of a friend to the public mourning for the death of one of the country's best defenders
By command of Major-General Burnside:
Accessed 8/28/2002, available from www.americancivilwar.com/statepic/md/md002.html: Internet.