Notes on Crampton's Gap and Antietam
By
Wm. B. Franklin, Major-General, U.S.V.

        BETWEEN the 2d and 6th of September, the Sixth Corps remained in camp near Alexandria and collected horses and transportation for ammunition and provisions, which were gradually disembarked. On the latter date it marched to Tenallytown, beyond Georgetown, D. C., crossing the Potomac by the Long Bridge, and beginning the Maryland campaign. Its daily marches thereafter, to the date of the battle of Antietam, were regulated by orders from General McClellan, who, in turn, was in direct communication with Washington. It appears from the telegraphic correspondence which was carried on between Halleck and McClellan, that while the latter believed that General Lee's object was the invasion of Pennsylvania, the former could not divest himself of the notion that Lee was about to play the Union army some slippery trick by turning its left, getting between it and Washington and Baltimore, and then taking each city by a coup-de-main.
        The following are extracts from some of General Halleck's dispatches:

SEPT. 9.---". . . I think we must be very cautious about stopping too much the forts on the Virginia side. It may be the enemy's object to draw off the mass of our forces, and then attempt to attack from the Virginia side of the Potomac."

SEPT. 11.--" I think the main force of the enemy's in your front; more troops can be spared from here."^

SEPT. 13.--"I am of opinion that the enemy will send a small column toward Pennsylvania, so as to draw your forces in that direction; then suddenly move on Washington with the forces south of the Potomac, and those he may cross over."

^ General McClellan states that he received the dispatch in this form, but as printed in the "Official Records," Vol. XIX., Pt. II., p. 253, the sentence reads: "If the main force of the enemy is in your front, more troops can be spared from here."--EDITORS.

SEPT. 14.---" Scouts report a large force still on Virginia side of the Potomac, near Leesburg, If so, I fear you are exposing your left flank, and that the enemy can cross in your rear."

SEPT. 16.---"I fear now more than ever that they [the enemy] will recross at Harper's Ferry, or below, and turn your left, thus cutting you off from Washington. . . ."

        On September 12th, Mr. Lincoln telegraphed General McClellan that he believed the enemy was recrossing the Potomac, and said, "Please do not let him get off without being hurt."
        These dispatches demonstrate that it was McClellan's duty as a subordinate to move slowly and cautiously in his advance, although he believed that the whole of Lee's army was in his front. And during the whole Maryland campaign his army was nearer Washington than was Lee's.
        On or before September 7th, General McClellan advised that Harper's Ferry should be evacuated via Hagerstown, so as to hold the Cumberland Valley against an advance toward Harrisburg, and on the 10th of September he asked that the garrison at Harper's Ferry should be ordered to join him. General Halleck in answer to the last request stated, " There is no way for Colonel Miles to join you at present; his only chance is to defend his works till you can open communication with him." Yet during the night of September 14th two regiments of cavalry marched out of Harper's Ferry to Hagerstown without meeting any enemy; and the whole infantry and field-artillery force of the garrison might have escaped before the 14th had General McClellan's advice of September 7th and 10th been followed. So the Sixth Corps moved by easy marches toward the Blue Ridge, under daily orders from the commanding general, and on the 14th of September fought the battle of Crampton's Gap, gaining the completest victory gained up to that time by any part of the Army of the Potomac.
        While Burnside and Hooker were forcing Turner's Gap to open the direct road to Hagerstown, I was ordered to move by Crampton's Gap, five miles farther south, and gain Rohrersville, in order to cut off McLaws and R. H, Anderson on Maryland Heights, and to relieve Harper's Ferry. About noon on the 14th of September, the head of my column, Slocum's din Munford's brigade of cavalry, comprising the 2d and 12th Virginia regiments, with Chew's battery and a section of the Portsmouth battery of naval howitzers, supported by two regiments of Mahone's brigade of R. H. Anderson's division, under Colonel William A. Parham. General McLaws had also posted the remainder of Mahone's brigade and the brigades of Semmes and Cobb of his own division within supporting distance, and ordered General Howell Cobb to take command and to hold the pass against us. With the remainder of Anderson's division and his own, General McLaws occupied Maryland Heights, distant five miles. I quote from my official report of the action which ensued:
        "The enemy was strongly posted on both sides of the road, which made a steep ascent through a narrow defile, wooded on both sides and offering great advantages of cover and position. Their advance was posted near the base of the mountain, in the rear of a stone-wall, stretching to the right of the road at a point where the ascent was gradual and for the most part over open fields. Eight guns had been stationed on the road and at points on the sides and summit of the mountain to the left of the pass. It was evident that the position could be carried only by an infantry attack. Accordingly, I directed Major-General Slocum to advance his division through the village of Burkittsville and commence the attack upon the right. Wolcott's 1st Maryland Battery was stationed on the left and to the rear of the village, and maintained a steady fire on the positions of the enemy until they were assailed and carried by our troops. Smith's division was placed in reserve on the east side of the village, and held in readiness to cooperate with General Slocum or support his attack as occasion might require. Captain Ayres's battery of this division was posted on a commanding ground to the left of the reserves, and kept up an uninterrupted fire on the principal battery of the enemy until the latter was driven from its position.
        "The advance of General Slocum was made with admirable steadiness through a well-directed fire from the batteries on the mountain, the brigade of Colonel Bartlett taking the lead, and followed at proper intervals by the brigades of General Newton and Colonel Torbert. Upon fully determining the enemy's position, the Skirmishers were withdrawn and Colonel Bartlett became engaged along his entire line. He maintained his ground steadily under a severe fire for some time at a manifest disadvantage, until reenforced by two regiments of General Newton's brigade upon his right, and the brigade of Colonel Torbert and the two remaining regiments of Newton's on his left. The line of battle thus formed, an immediate charge was ordered, and most gallantly executed. The men swept forward with a cheer, over the stone-wall, dislodging the enemy, and pursuing him up the mountain-side to the crest of the hill and down the opposite slope. This single charge, sustained as it was over a great distance, and on a rough ascent of unusual steepness, was decisive. The enemy was driven in the utmost confusion from a position of strength and allowed no opportunity for even an attempt to rally, until the pass was cleared and in the possession of our troops.
        "When the division under General Slocum first became actively engaged, I directed General Brooks's brigade, of Smith's division, to advance upon the left of the road and dislodge the enemy from the woods upon Slocum's flank. The movement was promptly and steadily made under a severe artillery fire. General Brooks occupied the woods after a slight resistance, and then advanced, simultaneously with General Slocum, rapidly and in good order, to the crest of the mountain. The victory was complete, and its achievement followed so rapidly upon the first attack that the enemy's reserves, although pushed forward at the double-quick, arrived but in time to participate in the fight and add confusion to the rout. 400 prisoners, from 17 different organizations, 700 stand of arms, 1 piece of artillery, and 3 stand of colors were captured." . . .
        The gun was a 12-pounder howitzer belonging to the Troup artillery attached to Cobb's brigade, and was captured by the 95th Pennsylvania, Colonel Gustavus W. Town, of Newton's brigade. General Cobb says it was "lost by an accident to the axle," but according to Colonel Town's report the artillerists fled before his advance, "merely disabling it temporarily by throwing off one wheel from the limber, which was left with the horses near at hand. Two of the colors were captured by the 4th New Jersey regiment, Colonel William B. Hatch, of Torbert's brigade, and one by the 16th New York, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Joel J. Seaver, of Bartlett's brigade. A fourth stand of colors, belonging to the 16th Virginia regiment, of Mahone's brigade, was taken by the 4th Vermont regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles B. Stoughton, of Brooks's brigade.
        No report appears to have made by Colonel Parham, who commanded Mahone's brigade, non commander, General R. H. Anderson' who was wounded at Antietam, but the reports of Generals Cobb and Semmes and Colonel Munford sufficiently indicate the effect of our advance upon the forces under their command. Munford, who had eight guns, his two regiments of cavalry dismounted, and Mahone's brigade, was driven from his position behind a stone-wall at the foot of the pass. Cobb now came to his support, dividing his brigade to the right and left, but too late to change the result. One regiment, the 10th Georgia, of Semmes's brigade, also joined in Parham's defense, while the remaining three regiments, with nine guns of Manly's, Macon's, and Page's batteries, were posted for the defense of Burkittsville Gap, about a mile below toward our left, where the artillery is described, in the Confederate reports, as having done "good service." General Cobb says:
        "As I was marching the last of the column, I received a message from you [McLaws] . . . that I must hold the gap if it cost the life of every man in my command. . . . Two of my regiments were sent to the right and two to the left to meet these movements of the enemy. In this we were successful, until the center gave way, pressed by fresh troops of the enemy and increased numbers. Up to this time the troops had fought well and maintained their ground against greatly superior forces. The 10th Georgia regiment, of General Semmes's brigade, had been ordered to the gap from their position at the foot of the mountain and participated in the battle with great courage and energy. After the lines were broken, all my efforts to rally the troops were unsuccessful."
        General Semmes, who hurried forward to offer his assistance to General Cobb, thus describes the scene he witnessed on the Confederate side of the crest:
        "Arriving at the base of and soon after commencing the ascent of the mountain at Crampton's Gap, I encountered fugitives from the battle-field and endeavored to turn them back. Proceeding farther up the mountain, the troops were met pouring down the road and through the wood in great disorder, where I found General Cobb and his staff, at the imminent risk of their lives, using every effort to check and rally them. I immediately joined my efforts, and those of my staff who were with me, to General Cobb's, and cooperated with him for a considerable time in the vain effort to rally the men."
        General McLaws moved Wilcox's brigade of R. H. Anderson's' and later Kershaw's and Barksdale's brigades of his own division, to the support of Cobb, but not in time to take part in the engagement. The report of General McLaws shows that he accurately appreciated the effect of our success in completely shutting up his command on Maryland Heights until the surrender of Harper's Ferry opened the door for him to cross into Virginia. Accepting the estimate of Mr. Thomas White, who was chief clerk in the adjutant- general's office at General Lee's headquarters, and had charge of the returns, the whole available force under McLaws was 8000 men, and mine, on the basis of the last returns, 12,300. Couch's division (7219 men) of the Fourth Corps did not reach the field of the 14th until the fighting was over, and was detached from my command early the next morning. But these figures are at least one-fifth, if not one-fourth, beyond the actual effective strength. General Cobb estimates the Confederate forces actually engaged at 2200. Mine can hardly have exceeded 6500; heavy odds, indeed, but so are stone walls and a steep mountain pass. My losses were 533. The losses in Parham's (Mahone's) brigade, spoken of as heavy, are not reported; those in Cobb's and Semmes's brigades are given as 749.
        At the end of the fight, after nightfall, the division of the corps which had borne the brunt of the fight (Slocum's), was, as it were, astride of the mountain. Of the other division (Smith's), the brigades of Brooks and Irwin were on the mountain, the reserve under Hancock being at the eastern base. Couch's division reported to me at 10 P. M. ^ Early the next morning, Smith's division was sent into Pleasant Valley, west of the Blue Ridge, to begin the movement toward Harper's Ferry. Couch's division was sent, by order of the commanding general, to occupy Rohrersville. Slocum was to support Smith.
        As I was crossing the mountain about 7 A. M., on September 15th, I had a good view of the enemy's force below, which seemed to be well posted on hills stretching across the valley, which is at this place about two miles wide. When I reached General Smith we made an examination of the position, and concluded that it would be suicidal to attack it. The whole breadth of the valley was occupied, and batteries swept the only approaches to the position. We estimated the force as quite as large as ours, and it was in a position which, properly defended, would have required a much greater force than ours to have carried. I am unable to give the numbers, but McLaws, in his report of the operations of the day, states that he formed the line across the valley with the brigades of Kershaw and Barksdale, except one regiment and two guns of the latter, and the "remnants" of the brigades of Cobb, Semmes, Mahone, and Willcox, which he afterward states were very small.
        The only force available for an attack would have been Smith's division of about 4500 men, Slocum's division being in no condition for a fight that day. Reading between the lines of General McLaws's report, he seems to have been disgusted that I did not attack before the court of inquiry on the surrender of Harper's Ferry shows that the white flag was shown at 7:30 A. M., on the 15th, and the firing ceased about one hour afterward, it is evident, therefore, that a fight between General McLaws's force and mine could have had no effect upon the surrender of Harper's Ferry. Success on my part would have drawn me farther away from the army and would have brought me in dangerous nearness to Jackson's force, already set free by the surrender. McLaws's supports were three and a half miles from him, while my force was seven miles from the main army.
        Later on that day the enemy withdrew from Pleasant Valley and Harper's Ferry toward Sharpsburg. Couch's division joined me, and the corps remained stationary without orders from McClellan until the evening of the 16th, when I was ordered to march the next morning to join the army and to send Couch's division to occupy Maryland Heights. Accordingly the corps started at 5:30 A. M., and the advance reached the field of Antietam at 10 A. M., about twelve miles distant from the starting-point.

^ In October, 1862, when Mr. Lincoln visited the army, he came through Crampton's Gap; he told me that he was astonished to see and bear of what we had done there. He thanked me for it, and said that he had not understood it before. He was in a respects very kind and complementary.---W. B. F.

    General Smith's division arrived first and was immediately brought into action in the vicinity of the Dunker Church, repelling a strong attack made by the enemy at this point. The details of the part borne by the corps in the battle are graphically given in the official reports.
        While awaiting the arrival of Slocum, I went to the right, held by Sumner. I found him at the head of his troops, but much depressed. He told me that his whole corps was exhausted and could do nothing more that day. It was lying in line of battle partly in a wood from which it had driven the enemy that morning. About three hundred yards in its front, across an open field, was a wood nearer the bank of the river, strongly held by the enemy. The corps had been driven back from an attack on this wood with great loss.
        When General Slocum arrived I placed two brigades of his division on General Sumner's left and was awaiting the arrival of his third brigade, which was to be in reserve. With the two brigades I intended to make an attack on the wood referred to, and General Sumner was informed of my intention. The two brigades were ready to move. Just as the third brigade arrived, General Sumner rode up and directed me not to make the attack, giving as a reason for his order, that if I were defeated the right would be entirely routed, mine being the only troops left on the right that had any life in them. Major Hammerstein, of McClellan's staff, was near, and I re- quested him to inform General McClellan of the state of affairs, and that I thought the attack ought to be made. Shortly afterward McClellan rode up, and, after hearing the statements of Sumner and myself, decided that as the day had gone so well on the other parts of the line it would be unsafe to risk anything on the right. Of course, no advance was made by the division.
        Later in the day General McClellan came again to my headquarters, and there was pointed out to him a hill on the right, commanding the wood, and it was proposed that the hill should be occupied by our artillery early the next morning, and that after shelling the wood, the attack should be made by the whole corps from the position then held by it. He assented to this, and it was understood that the attack was to be made. During the night, however, the order was countermanded. I met him about 9 o'clock on the morning of the 18th. He informed me that he countermanded the order because fifteen thousand Pennsylvania troops would soon arrive, and that upon their arrival the attack would be ordered. The troops, however, did not arrive, and the order was not renewed that day. On the 19th the corps entered the wood, expecting a fight, but the enemy had slipped off during the night.

Source:  Battles and Leaders of the Civil War

This page last updated 12/17/03

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