September 16, 2012

'Officers and Men Alike Were Heroes': Lancaster at South Mountain

Location: Middletown, MD 21769, USA
The Battle for Fox's Gap, in which the 45th Pennsylvania participated.
(Library of Congress)
Corresponding to Friday's 150th anniversary of the Battle of South Mountain, here are some words and images of those Lancasterians involved in the assaults that succeeded in knocking Confederates off their lofty defensive positions and opening the way for McClellan to strike at Lee's scattered army.  Judging solely by number casualties, the Battle of South Mountain, which took place on September 14, 1862, in three different gaps in the mountain range, actually probably was more significant for the people of Lancaster than the Battle of Antietam a couple days later, reflecting the key roles several Lancaster companies played.

Hat belonging to Col./Brig. Gen. Thomas Welsh
(Richard Abel Collection)
Specifically, seven companies recruited in Lancaster County could count the day's attacks among their proudest moments of the entire war.  All participated in the assaults on two nearby gaps, Turner's and Fox's, along the National Road as it shot west from Frederick.

South of the National Road at Fox's Gap, a brigade under Col. Thomas Welsh of Columbia had deployed at the base of a hill whose crest Confederate artillery and infantry occupied.  Welsh's command included his old regiment, the 45th Pennsylvania, of which Companies B and K were recruited in Marietta and Columbia, Lancaster County.

The regiment's soldier-correspondent to the Columbia Spy, who I think I determined to be Corp. George H. Stape of Company K, picked up the story in a letter dated September 15 published on October 4:
We remained under a terrible fire from the Rebel artillery and infantry for five hours on that day, and after having charged up a hill, we succeeded in driving them away in total confusion.  After we had shot away all our cartridges we went at them with the bayonet, and soon had great heaps of dead Rebels in our front.  Our own loss was terrible.  Behind us lay our dead and wounded, literally covering the ground.  Not a man in this great old Regiment faltered.  Our wounded comrades fell shouting "Forward!"--not even a man left the ranks to bear off the wounded; all felt the great responsibility resting on them, and determined to conquer or die.  Officers and men alike were heroes!  You should have heard the shouts of victory echoing through the old mountain as the Rebels fled in terror down the hill!  

Chaplain William J. Gibson
45th Pennsylvania
(R. Abel Collection)
Both Companies B and K lost two men killed in the action and about ten-fifteen men wounded to various degrees of severity. Word of the battle and its accompanying casualty list reached Lancaster fairly rapidly thanks to the efforts of the regiment's chaplain, William J. Gibson.  A complete list of killed and wounded for the entire regiment was printed in the September 20 Columbia Spy

On the northern end of the advance, the Pennsylvania Reserves had the task of moving up a steep, rocky mountain ridge to push the Confederates off the top.  Lancaster County sent six companies as part of the division: Companies B (Lancaster), D (Safe Harbor), and E (Lancaster), 1st Pennsylvania Reserves, Co. G of the 2nd Penna. Reserves (Hempfield), and Co. K of the 5th Penna. Reserves (Columbia).  All belonged to the brigade of Truman Seymour, who occupied the Union line's northernmost position and had the task of charging up the mountain and turning the Confederate left flank.

A soldier-correspondent in Company K, 5th Pennsylvania Reserves, who wrote under the pseudonym "Orderly" (I'm sure it wouldn't be too much work to figure out who this is) gave an account of the assault for the September 27 Columbia Spy, which included:
Adj. Calvin Budding
45th Pennsylvania
Wounded in battle
(R. Abel Collection)
The Reserves, after marching 18 miles, came up with the extreme left of the rebel army, on the mountain top, at 5 o'clock P.M.; the position was a strong one.  The 5th, 1st and Bucktails drove the enemy from rock to rock and hill to hill.  The Rebels took advantage of stone walls, into which many of them were burrowed.  I passed over the battle field this morning; it seems almost incredible that the enemy was driven from a position almost impregnable.  The hills were covered with the dead and wounded.  Amongst them could be found officers of every grade.  You can have an idea of the consummate courage of the brave boys of the 5th, and the manner in which they were handled, when I state that they, the 1st and the Bucktails charged the enemy and drove them over three hills, a mile at least.  After the battle Col. Fisher gave the order "centre dress stack arms," which was done in as perfect order as on dress parade.  Company K suffered severely.  John a. Hogendobler was killed almost instantly, the ball passed through his body and entered the breast of Sergeant Wells, fracturing the bone.  I think he will recover.  Thomas Bennett, two fingers off, and shot through the legs; Patrick Summers was shot through the thigh--doing well, as is also Bennett;* Nicely was shot in the calf of leg; Dan'l Gohn shot in the finger.  I have many incidents to relate but must defer them.  Lieut. Caldwell commanded in the action.  Gen. Hooker, ("fighting Joe,") and other Generals complimented our boys very highly for their courage.
John Hogendobler was buried to the rear of a small log house on the battle field, and a head-board placed in the ground with the name of Company, Regiment, and late residence on nit; the grave is about twenty-five yards north of the house, by a large rock and fence.
* Since died in hospital at Frederick. 
With the passes through South Mountain cleared, the stage was set for the Battle of Antietam. 

Additional References:

No comments:

Post a Comment