Voices of the Maryland Campaign: September 14, 1862

South Mountain Battle
A 1864 depiction of the morning’s fight at Fox’s Gap.

From 9 a.m. until the sun set behind the hills, the day-long Battle of South Mountain raged. Federal troops first struck up the mountain at Fox’s Gap. By the end of 13 hours of fighting, the motley assortment of Confederate units assigned to defend the gap barely held on, but their position seemed untenable. The same could be said of the Southerners protecting Turner’s Gap–they seemed to be driven at all points, but somehow still clung to the gap itself.

At the southernmost gap, William Franklin’s Union Sixth Corps routed the Confederate defenders. The fighting there drowned out the Confederate bombardment this day of Harpers Ferry. For Robert E. Lee, the wheels seem to have come off of his campaign. The Army of the Potomac struck his divided army and now seemed on the verge of defeating it piecemeal. With his head sunk low, Lee ordered what seemed to be unthinkable–the retreat of his army from Maryland.

Nearly 5,000 soldiers fell in the fighting on the rugged, boulder-strewn slopes of South Mountain on Sunday, September 14. For one soldier, in particular, his wound that day at Fox’s Gap became just one piece of his life’s story. Lt. Col. Rutherford B. Hayes commanded the 23rd Ohio Infantry at Fox’s Gap and received a gruesome wound while leading his men forward. Here are some of his recollections of the fight.

Rutherford B. Hayes ably commanded the 23rd Ohio Infantry at South Mountain.

Our men halted at a fence near the edge of the woods and kept up a brisk fire upon the enemy, who were sheltering themselves behind stone walls and fences near the top of the hill, beyond a cornfield in front of our position. Just as I gave the command to charge I felt a stunning blow and found a musket ball had struck my left arm just above the elbow. Fearing that an artery might be cut, I asked a soldier near me to tie my handkerchief above the wound. I soon felt weak, faint, and sick at the stomach. I laid down and was pretty comfortable…

I was told there was danger of the enemy flanking us on our left, near where I was lying. I called out to Captain Drake, who was on the left, to let his company wheel backward so as to face the threatened attack. His company fell back perhaps twenty yards, and the whole line gradually followed the example, thus leaving me between our line and the enemy…

The firing continued pretty warm for perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes, when it gradually died away on both sides. After a few minutes’ silence I began to doubt whether the enemy had disappeared or whether our men had gone farther back. I called out, “Hallo Twenty-third men, are you going to leave your colonel here for the enemy?” In an instant a half dozen or more men sprang forward to me, saying, “Oh no, we will carry you wherever you want us to.” The enemy immediately opened fire on them. Our men replied to them, and soon the battle was raging as hotly as ever. I ordered the men back to cover, telling them they would get me shot and themselves too. They went back and about this time Lieutenant Jackson came and insisted upon taking me out of the range of the enemy’s fire. He took me back to our line and, feeling faint, he laid me down behind a big log and gave me a canteen of water, which tasted so good. Soon after, the fire having again died away, he took me back up the hill, where my wound was dressed by Dr. Joe. I then walked about half a mile to the house of Widow Kugler. I remained there two or three hours when I was taken with Captain Skiles in an ambulance to Middletown–three and a half miles–where I stopped at Mr. Jacob Rudy’s.

Jacob Rudy’s home still stands today on Middletown’s Main Street.


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