Battles: Maryland Heights

Minutemen of Attala Private Mike Hubbert wrote in his diary on Sept. 12, 1862:

“We went up [Elk Ridge] through Solomon’s Gap and advanced [south] in the line of battle some 4 or 5 miles down the top of the mountain driving in the Yankee pickets…We found great difficulty in advancing down the mountain on account of its thick forests…”

They had no water and no rations except green apples and green corn.

Kershaw, who was commanding both his South Carolina Brigade and the Mississippians because he was senior to Barksdale by date of rank, reported in the Official Records:

“…skirmishers were thrown well down the mountain to my right [west], while the column filed to the left along the ridge…Major [John M. Bradley of the 13th Mississippi] commanding skirmishers, reported an abatis across the line of march, from which he was fired upon by a picket…he soon overcame the obstacle…The natural obstacles were so great that we only reached a position about a mile from the point of the mountain at 6 o’clock p.m.

“Here [another] abatis was discovered, extending across the mountain, flanked on either side by a ledge of precipitous rocks. A sharp skirmish ensued, which satisfied me that the enemy occupied the position in force. I therefore directed Major Bradley to retire his skirmishers, and deployed my brigade in two lines, extending across the entire practicable ground on the summit of the mountain…Barksdale’s brigade immediately in rear. These dispositions being made, the approach of night prevented further operations.”

The Rebels had driven off the pickets and advanced skirmishers of a raw and newly-trained Union brigade—including the One Hundred Twenty-Sixth New York Infantry— commanded by Col. Thomas H. Ford of the Thirty-Second Ohio Volunteers.

McLaws, in his official report of Sept 12, concluded: “I then moved down [Pleasant] valley with the rest of the command, the inhabitants generally impressing it upon me that Maryland Heights was lined with cannon for a mile and a half. The main force was kept with the advance of Gen. Kershaw, of which I was constantly informed by [wig-wag flag signals] stationed on the [ridge].”

The next day, Saturday, Sept. 13, McLaws reported a sharp skirmish between Kershaw’s troops and the New York and Ohio outfits, across two abatis of heavy logs and sharp rocks.

Kershaw’s report on the day included that he had ordered Barskdale’s brigade to form down the left [east] face of Elk Ridge and attack the enemy in flank and rear while the South Carolinians hit them in their front on the ridge.

Kershaw said the Mississippians struggled through the rocks until 10:30 a.m. when the brigade’s 17th Mississippi Regiment “fired into a body of the enemy’s sharpshooters lodged in the rocks above them, and their whole line broke into a perfect rout.

“In their retreat the enemy abandoned and spiked three heavy guns, which were in position on the lower slope of the mountain toward Harper’s Ferry, and left considerable commissary stores, ammunition and a number of tents near the same place. The guns were left by me, as it was impossible to remove them without further time. Lt. Col. McElroy (of the 13th) was directed to destroy all the stores, &c., which he could not remove when he left his position.”

The Union brigade on the heights had escaped down a logging trail and across the Potomac River over a pontoon bridge. The colonel commanding the brigade, and the major commanding its New Yorkers, later were dismissed from the service for incompetence by order of President Lincoln.

With the Rebel occupation of the Heights commanding the town and its Union arsenal more than 200 feet below, McLaws discovered “the report concerning [Union] cannon along the heights proved to be false.”

But his brother, Major Abram Huguenin McLaws, who served as the division’s quartermaster, had discovered a way to get their own guns up there.

Major McLaws had found an old logging road that wound part way up to the Heights and, on Sunday, Sept. 14, the division’s engineers began cutting it the rest of the way.  By dragging rifled Parrott guns on sledges, and on ropes by hand where necessary, by 2 p.m. they had four artillery pieces overlooking the town.

“Fire was opened at once,” Gen. McLaws wrote in his official report, “driving the enemy from their works on the right side of Bolivar Heights and throwing shells into the town.”

Other Rebel artillery, including that of Stonewall Jackson’s troops on the Loudon Heights west of the town, also opened fire and continued shelling the Union troops in and around Harpers Ferry.

Soon, however, McLaws had other problems. The rest of Lee’s army was fighting the Federals at South Mountain to the northeast. McLaws was cut off from them by Union troops, some of whom now turned south to advance against him from the northern part of Pleasant Valley.

“The brigades of Generals Kershaw and Barksdale, excepting one regiment of the latter, and two pieces of artillery, were withdrawn from the heights,” McLaws recounted, “leaving the regiment and the two rifle pieces on the main height overlooking the town, and formed line of battle across the valley.”

The 13th Mississippi, commanded by Lt. Col. McElroy, was the regiment left by itself on the Maryland Heights, along with two Parrott guns.

The Union forces down in the valley drew within a few hundred yards of McLaws’s lines, but, their commander, Gen. William B. Franklin, fearing they faced superior numbers, halted and didn’t advance then any farther.

The 13th was still on the mountain on Monday, Sept. 15, when, McLaws later reported, “our artillery on Maryland Heights [began] firing on the enemy below as soon as light permitted. About 10 a.m. it was telegraphed to me from Maryland Heights that the enemy at Harper’s Ferry had hoisted a white flag and had ceased firing.”

Jackson’s Rebels then captured the town, and the Union forces confronting McLaws in the valley withdrew.

“The 13th Miss. Regt. still occupies the Maryland Heights,” Attala Minutemen Private Mike Hubbert recorded in his diary that afternoon, “but will cross the river in the morning.”

In his final report that evening, Gen. Kershaw concluded that “To Gen. Barksdale I am much indebted for his hearty cooperation and valuable assistance…I am much indebted to [the 13th’s] Major Bradley for his brave and efficient handling of our advanced skirmishers….”

The 13th recorded 8 killed and 55 wounded for the Maryland Heights campaign, according to independent historian Jess N. McLean.

An irritated Private Robert A. Moore of the brigade’s 17th Mississippi concluded in his diary “Kershaw’s and Barksdale’s Brigades doing the fighting and Gen. T.J. Jackson & his troops getting the credit.”

About Dick Stanley

Retired Texas daily newspaperman
This entry was posted in Albert Wymer Henley Diary, Barksdale's Mississippi Brigade, Battles: Maryland Heights, Gen. Lafayette McLaws, The Minute Men of Attala, The Spartan Band, William H. Hill Diary and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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