This Day In History: The Battle of the Mountain Is Fought In The American Civil War

On this day the Battle of the Mountain was fought between the Yankees and the Rebels in 1862.  The Confederate army under General Robert E. Lee had pressed north into Maryland. However, they had been forced onto the retreat by the larger Union army. The Yankees had harassed the Confederate for many miles and to make matters worse the Rebels supply lines are at breaking point. The exhausted Confederate beat back the pursuing Yankees by blocking passes through Maryland’s South Mountain, and this allowed the Confederate army regroup and to reorganize along Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg.

After the 2ND Battle of the Battle Run, in Virginia, in the fall of 1862, Lee was in desperate need of supplies and he advanced into Maryland to raise much-needed provisions for his men. Many Rebels were starving. Lee knew that his men had to be fed if not the army would disintegrate. They were brave men but not even they could resist hunger. If they did not get supplies for the Rebel forces’ then the common soldiers would simply go home. So Lee decided to divide his forces so that they could gather supplies over a wide area, even he was breaking a cardinal rule- never divide your forces in enemy territory.

At Sharpsburg, Lee divided his army into four distinct sections as the hungry Rebels searched for food.  For reasons that are not entirely known the plans for the Confederate Army fell into the hands of Union scouts. One report states that the plans are simply forgotten and left at an abandoned Confederate camp. The Union General McClellan was shown the plans and he discovered that Lee’s forces were divided- this was a great opportunity to destroy the Confederate army.  However, McClellan was a cautious man, indeed an over-cautious general, and he was slow to react and take advantage of this piece of luck.

General Robert E Lee

Lee moved to the west of Maryland and he left some units to guard his rear at Crampton’s Gap and Turner’s Gap. Now if McClellan seized the passes he could have descended on Lee’s scattered forces and annihilated the Rebels.  There were major roads that traversed these passes, unlike other passes. The Union troops defeated the Confederates at Crampton Pass but they were unable to defeat them at Turner’s Pass. The Rebels did eventually retreat but only after inflicting heavy casualties on the Union. The Yankees lost some 2,300 killed and wounded the Confederates suffered even higher casualties, possibly as high as 3,000. However, the Rebel forces at the passes allowed the Confederates to reorganize and regroup. These battles and skirmishes were to prove only a prelude to the bloody Battle of Antietam. The Rebels staunch defense at the passes possibly saved Lee’s army.

These engagements were a mere prelude to the Battle of Antietam. Although costly, they allowed Lee time to assemble his scattered bands at Sharpsburg. The Rebels and the Unions were to clash at Antietam Creek in one of the bloodiest battles of the war.