Civil War Battlefield Preservation at South Mountain

Civil War Battlefield Preservation at South Mountain

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Battle of Fox’s Gap Preservation Effort

The Civil War Trust [CWT] has a remarkable opportunity to purchase the 45 acres of Wise’s Field at Fox’s Gap where a tremendous battle took place on September 14, 1862. The carnage during the fight for control of the gaps on Maryland’s South Mountain was a precursor to the Battle of Sharpsburg [Antietam] three days later. Through Federal matching grants the CWT needs to raise $112,500 by March 31, 2014 to preserve this Hallowed Ground.

The 50th Georgia’s baptism of fire came while fighting in Wise’s Field. There, the regiment suffered “an astonishing 86 percent casualty rate, more than it would experience in any other single battle of the war.” Two generals would be killed in action near this field – Confederate brigadier general Samuel Garland and Union major general Jesse Reno.

Angle Valley Press published Jim Parrish’s critically acclaimed Wiregrass to Appomattox: The Untold Story of the 50th Georgia Infantry Regiment in 2008. To support the CWT effort, Angle Valley Press will donate $5 for every copy of Jim’s book ordered through our website’s book order page. These books will all be signed by the author and come to you with free shipping/handling. All of the below excerpts come from Wiregrass to Appomattox as the Georgians found themselves surrounded on three sides at Wise’s Field.

At about 4 pm, the men in the green 50th and 51st Georgia regiments moved across Wise’s Field to a position along the Old Sharpsburg Road. As they executed the movement “they came under heavy fire from a portion of Brigadier General Orlando  B. Wilcox’s division.” Troops in the 79th New York and the 17th Michigan poured a horrendous enfilade fire into the Rebels.  

“In the sunken road [Old Sharpsburg Rd.] the dead and wounded piled up as volley after volley of enemy fire continued to rake the huddled Georgians.” The 50th Georgia’s lieutenant Peter McGlashan noted “‘the slaughter was horrible,’” while another officer referred to the spot as “‘a slaughter pen.’”  Then the 17th Michigan came out of the woods at charge bayonet and smashed into the 50th Georgia’s exposed left flank and rear. Lieutenant McGlashan described the carnage: “‘When ordered to retreat I could scarce extricate myself from the dead and wounded around me. A man could have walked from the head of our line to the foot on their bodies.’”

“One final tragic insult was heaped upon the many seriously wounded and dead from the 50th Georgia and 51st Georgia regiments as they lay in the Old Sharpsburg Road. Private George Hitchcock of the 21st Massachusetts described the horrible scene: “‘The sunken road is literally packed with dead and dying rebels who had held so stubbornly the pass against our troops who have resistlessly swept up over the hill. Here the horrors of war were revealed as [we] see our heavy ammunition wagons go tearing up, right over the dead and dying, mangling many in their terrible course. The shrieks of the poor fellows were heartrending.’”

Color Sergeant George Fahm from Thomas County, Georgia reflected on his good fortune to escape. He noted that the other eight members of the 50th Georgia color guard were shot down while “‘the flag, flag-staff, clothing, cap and blanket of the color bearer (myself) showed thirty-two bullet holes, and yet most strangely to relate, I did not receive a scratch in that battle.’”

The fighting on South Mountain continued until after dark. “That night, Robert E. Lee reluctantly decided to abandon his position on South Mountain and withdraw his troops before daylight the next morning. He would move west across Antietam Creek to a better defensive position along the heights around Sharpsburg.”

The stage was now set for an even bigger collision on September 17 at a small Maryland town named Sharpsburg. “All of the dead and many of the seriously wounded Confederates from South Mountain had to be left on the battlefield when Lee withdrew back to Sharpsburg. Those wounded who could not escape were captured and taken to Federal hospitals in the area. The hard and rocky soil made the gruesome job of disposing of Confederate dead a difficult one for Union burial details. In one instance, Federals unceremoniously dumped the bodies of fifty-eight Rebels into an unfinished well on Daniel Wise’s property. In 1874, the remains of 2,240 Southern soldiers were relocated to the Confederate Section of Rose Hill Cemetery at Hagerstown, Maryland. A plaque lists the names of those few soldiers who could be identified, but the vast majority are unknown.”

All above quotes from Wiregrass to Appomattox: The Untold Story of the 50th Georgia by James W. Parrish, 2008, Angle Valley Press,


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