Voices of the Maryland Campaign: September 11, 1862

Recent NARA Trip 153

Sugarloaf Mountain sticks out above the rolling landscape beneath it like a sore thumb, but its importance as a lookout station during the Civil War was undeniable

The Union Army’s prize this day was the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain, a high, isolated peak south of Frederick that presented its occupiers with a commanding view of the surrounding country, and of the enemy’s movements. Unfortunately for the Federals, by the time Stuart’s cavalry gave up the position, the Confederate infantry already shielded itself behind the mountain peaks to the west. 

Jackson’s force, in the van of Lee’s army as it executed Special Order No. 191, recrossed the Potomac River into Virginia at Williamsport, part of his wide sweeping maneuver to ensnare the Shenandoah Valley garrisons from the west. Lafayette McLaws, tasked with the capture of Maryland Heights, the key to Harpers Ferry, arrived in Pleasant Valley at the base of the heights.

McClellan’s movements this day were minimal, consolidating his arcing army in central Maryland. The capture of Sugarloaf Mountain opened him up to larger movements the next day, and by the end of September 11, McClellan’s lead corps–the Ninth–rested just eight miles shy of Frederick.

View from top of Sugarloaf

This image is from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, looking west. The Catoctin Mountains are the next rise of hills in the distance.

At this point, Lee’s foray into the Old Line State and McClellan’s chase was a week old. Despite the brief period of rest each army received, the campaigning of the previous two months began to tell again. Both commanders sought to chomp down on straggling in their ranks.

John Mead Gould recorded the day’s events in his diary, and the soaking miserable night the soldiers experienced.

September 11–Hot. Rained a trifle, enough to lay the dust. We moved about a mile ahead to the outskirts of Damascus which is the most shabby looking place I ever saw. We remained here till night, receiving a lot of hard bread and pork. At dusk the Brigade moved to the main road and pitched tents. It rained hard during the night. Our tents and rubber cloths saved us however. My old beast is assuming a houndish shape yet can hardly be betrayed into a run… The new regiments are suffering some for want of rations and experience. Their Field Officers are not up to the mark. All of the new Pennsylvania regiments are for nine months.

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