South Mountain Maryland
Please note: This page has a number of small images. Each has a larger, clearer version that can be viewed by clicking the small image.
Army of Northern Virginia entered Maryland beginning on September 4th,
1862. The 17th S.C. Inf. was reported to have been in Frederick,
Maryland on September 7th, 1862. They marched from Frederick, Maryland
to Middletown, Maryland and then to Funktown, Maryland which is just outside
Hagerstown, Md. During this march they passed over Turner's Gap which
was to become a very unhealthy place to be for the 17th S. C. Inf. The
image at the right is Turner's Gap from near Middletown, Maryland on U.S. 40
(National Pike). The image at the top left is and overview of South Mountain
from near Middletown, MD.
The early days of the, Maryland Campaign, consisted of lots of marching and a number of skirmishes. But these skirmishes were destined to turn into a pivotal battle. This battle forced Lee into a show down at Sharpsburg/Antietam a few days later. Lee had left a three forces to guard the three mountain passes on South Mountain (image above left) while he prepared to face the Union Army in what was hoped to be a show of the Confederacy's ability take the war to the enemy.
development has taken its toll and continues to threaten the historical value
of this great battlefield some things about the crest of this low mountain remain
the same. One building that still stands and serves more or less the same
purpose it did at the time of the Civil War is the Mountain House (image on
right). At the time of the battle it was a inn. Today it is a restaurant,
and based on old photos, I am sure the contestants of this battle who marched
by it would still recognize it. This
was used as the headquarters of Gen. D. H. Hill during the battle. Across
from the restaurant stands a stone chapel. This chapel was named
for the owner of the inn across from it. Dahlgren Chapel was NOT standing
at the time of the battle an no longer has regular services. It is still
used for weddings and other special occasions (image on left). The photo
is included for the purpose of locating the road that the 17th South Carolina
Infantry crossed during their attempted to drive the Pennsylvania Reserves back
from the crest of the mountain. There are a number of historical markers
near the chapel. Today the Appalachian Trail runs through the chapel's
property. A trail marker is shown on the image by a red arrow. Dahlgren
Road is on the north side of Alt. U.S. Hwy. 40 beside the chapel. Traveling
west on U.S.40 it is hard to see this road until to late to turn. This
road was known as Frosttown Road at the time of the battle.
When it became apparent that the Confederate forces on South Mountain were facing overwhelming numbers and were going to loose the crest before Lee could consolidate the rest of his army, Gen. Lee ordered Gen. Longstreet to return to the mountain and aid Rode's Brigade. Longstreet brought with him Evans Brigade which included D Company of the 17th S.C. Infantry (unit the Lathans were in) along with the Brigades of Kemper and Garnett. The exhausted 17th S.C. Inf. arrived at the crest of the mountain shortly before dark (this from the scribbling of Pvt. Samuel Boston Lathan). They left the National Pike (U.S. 40), marched into the woods, lined up, and came under almost immediate fire (again from Pvt. Samuel Boston Lathan). The S.C. troops tried to advance down the mountain and force the Union troops away from the pass (see map image on left). This failed. To make matters worse the 17th S.C. penetrated the Union line further than the other S.C. Regiments and found themselves flanked by Pennsylvania Reserves (map again). They were subjected to almost point blank fire from the Pennsylvanians, suffered significant casualties (including Pvt. Samuel Boston Lathan) and fled back to the crest where they managed to hold the their line until they could escape to Sharpsburg during the hours of darkness. A description of Pvt. Samuel Boston Lathan's wounding is included on his biographical page. My Great-Grandfather, Sgt. William James Lathan, was in the same company and went through this same battle.
The mountain is fast filling up with modern homes, both for vacationers and permanent residences. However, if one compares the map above which was in part taken from ancient Army Topographical Engineers maps to the what is present today it is still very similar and, to this former Infantryman... chilling. The image on the right is of Frosttown/Dahlgren Road today. According to Pvt. Lathan's writings and orders of battle the 17th S.C. Inf. was lined up in the trees to the left and slightly ahead of this position. What appears to be a "woods road" extends some distance to the front and both that road and Frosttown/Dahlgren Road are still lined with rock walls as shown in Civil War maps. The 17th, according to Pvt. Lathan, pushed forward some ways crossing the road and into what he described as a small corn field. This area is where his wounding took place. The image on the left shows what the right end of the line would have seen (less the modern home) as they started their counterassault.
A number homes that
were standing at the time of the battle are still standing. One is the
O'Neal home (on the left below). Pvt. Samuel Boston Lathan mentioned in
his account of being
wounded that he was carried by a Union doctor's orderlies to a spot
nearer the road and then to a nearby barn. This house and barn (image
below right) is obviously old but
repeated attempts to contact the owners have failed. The house has
a marker next to the door that states it is on a list of "Historical Places".
This area was all farm land at the time of the battle and there were surely
a number of barns in the area. This particular barn and house is about
1/4 of a mile down the mountain from the turn in the road. Perhaps one
day I'll be able to confirm its age.
As darkness came the Confederate troops retreated from the mountain. Evans Brigade, including the 17th S.C. Infantry were the rear guard. Sometime that night they marched through Boonsboro, MD (image on the right). Boonsboro is still a small town. They would have turned left at the traffic light (not there at the time). Then came... Antietam.
image below right is of a harvested and chopped cornfield. This cornfield
is a few hundred feet south of the turn on Frosttown/Dahlgren Road. On
the chilly day I took the picture I allowed my mind to wander back to my days
as a soldier. What would it be like to be exhausted and then face a exponentially
superior force in mortal combat on that field. Would I have lived?
Even with a modern automatic rifle could I have lived? Fortunately, I'll
never have to know the answer to that question.