Rutherford B. Hayes Month
Hayes & the Civil War
Part II: The Battle of South Mountain
Hayes called his years of military service during the Civil War the best years of his life. This five-part series in honor of his birthday will visit four locations associated with Hayes’ service to the Union.
The Battle of South Mountain, Maryland, took place on September 14, 1862, and included fighting at Crampton Gap, Turners Gap and Fox Gap. Hayes’s Regiment was part of Brigadier General Jacob Cox’s Brigade under Union Maj. Gen. Jesse Reno’s Division.
Hayes was initially a Major of the 23rd Ohio Volunteers. Originally sent to what is now West Virginia, the division is then sent to Maryland in early September 1862 due to Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s invasion. As it relates to Hayes, an interesting thing happens before the Battle of South Mountain on September 6, 1862. There is an incident between Hayes and Major General Jesse Reno “involving men of the 23rd taking straw from wheat stacks for forage and bedding” as they move west through Maryland.
But Reno’s Divisions and in fact most of Major General George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac continued to move west from Frederick and then Middletown, MD and meet Confederate forces at Fox, Crampton and Turners Gap, Maryland between Middletown and Boonsboro. A total of 28,000 Union troops battle 18,000 Confederate troops during the Battle of South Mountain.
It is at this battle that Hayes receives his most serious injury during the war. Shot in the arm, he continues fighting and leading his men until he is eventually forced to stop. His brother in law Dr. Joe Webb, the 23rd attending physician tends to the wound on the battle field before Hayes is sent to the home of Jacob Rudy in nearby Middletown, MD, to recover. Reno is actually killed in battle. The Battle of South Mountain is a Union Victory and Confederate forces are forced west. General McClellan’s Army however does not pursue and it sets up the Battle of Antietam a few days later on September 17.
Hayes writes in his diary, online at the Hayes Presidential Center, on September 18 (four days after being injured) a lengthy description of the battle, his injury and the transport to Middletown. It is a fascinating account. Here are just a few small excerpts:
Here he discusses what happened shortly after he was first struck: “… a few moments after I first laid [lay] down, seeing something going wrong and feeling a little easier, I got up and began to give directions about things; but after a few moments, getting very weak, I again laid [lay] down. While I was lying down I had considerable talk with a wounded [Confederate] soldier lying near me. I gave him messages for my wife and friends in case I should not get up. We were right jolly and friendly; it was by no means an unpleasant experience.”
Then while lying on the ground injured and hearing the fighting subside, he recalls: “…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.”
In his diary he also notes that he telegraphed a few people that day including Lucy. In the days that followed, he would write letters to his mother and Uncle Sardis for example. Some of those letters are also available at the online Dairy and Letters of Rutherford B. Hayes at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center. It should be noted that once Lucy found out he was injured she traveled to DC and then Maryland and couldn’t find her husband. It took a while for her to actually get to his bedside.
For a more text-book description of the entire Battle of South Mountain, click here for the Civil War Preservation Trust’s (CWPT) battle summary and here for link to Turners Gap and Fox Gap battlefield map. And click here for a further summary of the battle from the National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program.
I visited two Battle of South Mountain sites, Fox Gap and Turners Gap, in July. At Fox Gap there are historical markers and two monuments to Maj. Gen. Jesse Reno and Confederate General Samuel Garland, both killed in the battle. It was sort of moving to look down the mountain or across this field and imagine an advancing Union army at this now quite crossroads of rural Maryland. At Turners Gap there are a series of historical markers near the South Mountain Inn and the Dahlgren Chapel (erected 1881) describing the battle. The Inn, then called Mountain House, witnessed the battle that day nearly 150 years ago.
Reno Monument at Fox Gap
Field at Fox Gap
Appalachian Trail at Fox Gap
Markers at Turner Gap
Chapel at Turner Gap
South Mountain Inn at Turner Gap
The nearby Washington Monument was used after the battle as a look-out post for the Union Army. Check out my previous post on the Washington Monument here. And as I left, I drove through historic Middletown, MD and past the home where Hayes recuperated. There is a nice summary of Civil War sites in Middletown here at the Historical Marker Database.
Turners Gap looking East from Washington Monument
The South Mountain Battlefield, located along the Appalachian Trail, is in a new fight against nearby development. It was listed as one the 10 most endangered Civil War battlefields in 2009 by the Civil War Preservation Trust. Read about the entire list here and how you can help.
Hayes finishes his recuperation in Ohio but rejoins the 23rd Ohio Infantry Volunteers in late November, 1862, camped for the winter near what is now Charleston, WV. The 23rd, after fighting in Maryland, had been sent back to western Virginia. (West Virginia was not officially a state of the Union until 1863 but moves to succeed from Confederate Virginia began in 1861.)
Part III: The Battle of Buffington Island
Raise the Rutherford! is a continuing, slightly humorous series to raise awareness of Rutherford B. Hayes and erect a statue of him in Cincinnati.
The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center
Including the Dairy and Letters of Rutherford B. Hayes
Civil War Preservation Trust
National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program
Central Maryland Heritage League
Historical Marker Database