- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2006

The Old Sharpsburg Road turned west off the National Pike in Frederick County, Md., and crossed South Mountain into Washington County at a place called Fox’s Gap.

Forming a crossroads at this location on the crest of the mountain is the famous Appalachian Trail, extending about 2,150 miles from Maine to Georgia. Archaeological artifacts such as arrowheads and other stone implements of war suggest this area was an Indian battleground more than 8,000 years ago.

During the War Between the States, Americans also found Fox’s Gap a formidable, challenging battlefield. Here on Sept. 14, 1862, Brig. Gen. Samuel Garland Jr., one of the Confederacy’s most promising young officers, ended his earthly trials and tribulations. On this rugged sandstone terrain, while fighting for the Southern cause, Garland also found eternal relief from overwhelming grief.

Cadet, lawyer

Samuel Garland Jr., born Dec. 16, 1830, at Lynchburg, Va., was the only child of Maurice H. and Caroline M. Garland. His maternal great-grandmother was a sister to the third president of the United States, James Madison. After losing his father, a respected Lynchburg lawyer, young Samuel was placed in a private school at the age of 10 .

At 14, he attended Randolph Macon College. One year later, he entered the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. While at the institute, he established a literary society and was chosen its first president.

Cadet Garland graduated third in the class of 1849, and that October, he began studying law at the University of Virginia. After receiving a law degree, he followed in his father’s footsteps, starting a private practice in Lynchburg.

In 1856, the young lawyer married Elizabeth Campbell Meem in one of the most spectacular weddings ever celebrated in his hometown.

After John Brown’s unsuccessful raid on Harpers Ferry on Oct. 17, 1859, Garland organized the Lynchburg Home Guard, which eventually became Company G, 11th Virginia Infantry.

Local residents gave him a sword beautifully etched with a floral design and inscribed: “Presented to Capt. Samuel Garland Jr., First Commandant, by the Home Guard, Lynchburg, Va., May 31st, 1860.”

Death wish?

Gov. John Letcher on May 8, 1861, commissioned Garland a colonel in command of the 11th Virginia. The next month, after five years of marriage, Elizabeth Garland died in an influenza epidemic. Just two months later, the Garlands’ infant, “Little Sam,” also died of the flu.

Garland rose rapidly in the Confederate ranks, earning a reputation for what one fellow soldier called “being calm under fire with reckless disregard for his own safety.” Comrades attributed his courage to a “death wish,” a desire to join his departed wife and son.

Garland led the 11th Virginia with bravery at the Battle of First Manassas. After being painfully wounded in the elbow in May 1862 at Williamsburg, he refused to leave the field, earning a promotion to brigadier general. As a new brigade commander, he fought with honor at the battles of Seven Pines, Gaines Mill and Malvern Hill.

The invasion

Early in September 1862, Gen. Robert E. Lee decided to carry the war into the North, hoping to pull Federal troops away from Richmond while giving Virginia farmers time to gather what remained of their ravaged, trampled crops. Lee planned to feed his Army of Northern Virginia off the rich harvests of Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Once across the Potomac and into Maryland, Lee divided his army of 40,000 veterans. With Gen. James Longstreet’s corps, he would march north to Hagerstown, leaving Gen. D.H. Hill’s troops at Boonsboro (spelled Boonsborough in those days) at the base of South Mountain to protect their rear while sending Stonewall Jackson westward to capture the Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry.

Somehow a copy of the Confederate invasion plans — Orders No. 191 — fell into the hands of the cautious Gen. George B. McClellan, commanding the 70,000-strong Union Army of the Potomac. In turn, a Confederate spy notified Lee that the disposition of his troops had been revealed to the numerically stronger enemy.

Lee then attempted to pull together his divided army at a defensive location somewhere west of South Mountain and near the Potomac River. He sent a message to Jackson to speed up operations at Harpers Ferry and march double-quick to the vicinity of Sharpsburg. Orders also were forwarded to Hill to stall the pursuing Federals in the gaps on South Mountain.

Fox’s Gap

On an unseasonably warm Sunday — Sept. 14, 1862 — McClellan’s soldiers advanced along the National Pike toward South Mountain. “I do not remember ever to experience a feeling of greater loneliness,” Hill would remark as the long blue-clad columns advanced toward his position.

The National Pike crossed the mountain at Boonsboro Gap, better known as Turner’s Gap, where stood a travelers rest simply called the Mountain House. From Turner’s Gap (Hill’s headquarters) one mile south in the wooded range was Fox’s Gap, where Garland’s boys soon would “see the elephant.” Crampton’s Gap lay another five miles south.

Hill ordered Turner’s and Fox’s gaps to be blocked “at all costs” to give Lee time to unite his scattered divisions near Sharpsburg. Col. Thomas T. Munford, commanding a small force of Confederate cavalry, gave orders to “Hold the post at all hazards” at Crampton’s Gap.

At 9 a.m. on the day of the battle, Hill sent Garland’s Brigade to defend Fox’s Gap. Garland placed his North Carolina regiments (5th, 12th, 13th, 20th and 23rd) at a strong defensive position behind a stone wall. Just after getting settled, Garland’s force of about 1,000 was struck by Union Gen. Jacob Cox’s division, three times their strength.

One regiment facing Garland’s thin ranks was the 23rd Ohio Infantry, Lt. Col. Rutherford B. Hayes commanding. Hayes was wounded that morning but survived to become the 19th president of the United States. Another member of the 23rd Ohio at Fox’s Gap was Sgt. William McKinley, who became the 25th president of the United States.

The odds of two future presidents serving in the same regiment brings up another strange coincidence: Sam Garland’s father, Maurice H. Garland, died at the age of 57 on Sept. 14, 1840. Twenty-two years later to the very day, Sept. 14, 1862, Samuel Garland was killed on South Mountain. Thirty-nine years later to the very day, on Sept. 14, 1901, a man who had faced Garland on South Mountain, President McKinley, died from an assassin’s bullet.

Fatal shot

As the firing increased on the mountain, one officer of the 13th North Carolina shouted at Garland, “It is my duty to be here with my regiment, but you could better superintend your brigade from a safer position!” His words were still hanging in smoke-filled air as a Union bullet tore through Garland’s body, knocking him from his horse.

To protect him from further harm, four comrades carried Garland north along a steep mountain road to Turner’s Gap. Some reports say the 31-year-old general died on the front porch of the Mountain House. After a closer examination of Garland’s body, a staff member discovered, “A random shot struck him near the center of the back, and passing through the body came out two-inches above the right breast, the ball lodging in the breast of his coat.”

Evening shadows were moving on South Mountain about as fast as McClellan’s legions, forcing a Confederate withdrawal. Late in the day, Union Gen. Jesse Reno, commander of the 9th Corps, was mortally wounded by a North Carolina bullet and carried from the field.

In the North, the costly struggle would be known as the Battle of South Mountain, but Southern folks would always call it the Battle of Boonsboro. Hill’s forces in retreat had no reason to lower their heads.

Their heroic stand on the mountain slopes gave Lee much-needed time to deploy the remainder of the Army of Northern Virginia on good defensive ground near Sharpsburg. Three days later, the bloodiest single-day battle of the war was fought there — the Battle of Antietam, known in the South as the Battle of Sharpsburg.

Wagons retreat

Garland’s body was placed in a rough wooden coffin constructed by John Christian Brinning, a native of Wurttemburg, Germany. The 49-year-old cabinetmaker and undertaker resided in Boonsboro with his wife, Catharine, and 12 children. It is believed that Brinning also embalmed the body of the fallen Virginian, whom Hill described as “that pure, gallant and accomplished Christian soldier.”

With the Army of the Potomac slowly working through the mountain passes, it was decided to move Garland’s body to the nearest railroad station to be taken home. The closest rail depot was 13 miles away at Hagerstown, but there was a major problem: In 1862, this railroad ran only toward Pennsylvania, not south toward Lynchburg.

The quick-removal idea was scrapped when orders came “for the wagons and teams of the whole division to retreat immediately, and with all possible speed, cross the Potomac by the way of Williamsport.” Hill’s wounded would be taken back to Virginia, but the remainder of the army would march rapidly to join Lee at Sharpsburg.

Yankee cavalry

Around 10 p.m. on Sept. 14, Confederate wagons rolled down the mountain along the National Pike into Boonsboro — one ambulance wagon bearing the remains of Gen. Samuel Garland Jr. When the wagons passed through town, approximately 500 wounded Rebel soldiers were taken aboard.

Two weeks later, from camp in Winchester, Va., one of Garland’s staff wrote of that terrifying journey, “We traveled all that night, a good portion of the way over rough roads, until within a mile or so of Williamsport, our team was dashed into by a company or two of Yankee cavalry.”

The “Yankee cavalry” had escaped from Harpers Ferry just hours before Jackson’s capture of the town. Close to 1,200 in number, those mounted troops were headed for the more secure soil of Pennsylvania.

Col. Benjamin F. Davis of the 8th New York Cavalry reported that the Confederate wagon train coming from Hagerstown on the Valley Turnpike (U.S. 11 today) toward Williamsport consisted of close to 80 wagons and “some were filled with Confederate wounded and otherwise disabled, from the South Mountain battlefield.”

Davis also noted that one of the wagons contained the body of a “Confederate Brigadier.” This would have been Garland, the only Southern brigadier general killed at South Mountain. The wagons were taken into custody at this point and escorted by the Union cavalry north to Pennsylvania.

Crossing the river

Apparently, Davis showed compassion for the enemy wounded, as some wagons, including Garland’s, were allowed to reach Williamsport. “We lost a number of wagons, and some valuable stores by the [Union cavalry] raid, but resumed the march and reached Williamsport without further interruption,” one Rebel wagoner remembered.

Garland’s remains crossed over the river at Williamsport, but the exact route the wagon train took from Boonsboro to the riverfront town remains a matter of speculation.

Lee thought highly of Samuel Garland. When informed that his brave brigadier had fallen in battle, Lee chose his aide-de-camp to personally escort the body home. Once again, the exact route is unknown, but after crossing the Potomac, the wagon with Garland’s body separated from the others and was driven straight to Lynchburg.

On Sept. 19, 1862, five days after the battle at South Mountain, Garland’s remains were interred in the Presbyterian Cemetery in Lynchburg. Perhaps a personal death wish had been granted, for the noble son of Virginia could be at rest with his wife, Elizabeth, and son, Little Sam.

Cabin is hospital; dead left in a well

Much of the land in the area of Fox’s Gap was cleared in 1862, farmed by a 60-year-old mountaineer named Daniel Wise. With his son, John, and daughter, Matelda, Wise acquired a deed for his homestead in 1858 for $46.96.

The original 75-acre tract was purchased in 1792 by German-born Frederick Fox. The mountain pass got its name from him. During the Battle of South Mountain, Daniel Wise and his family took refuge in a church near the foot of the mountain. When smoke had cleared, the aging farmer returned to find his log cabin surrounded by graves and in use as a hospital. Fifty-eight Confederate bodies were in his 60-foot-deep dry well.

At first, it was falsely reported that “Old Man Wise” had put the bodies in the well and had been paid $1 a body for burial expense, as the ground was too rocky to penetrate with pick or shovel. Later, evidence surfaced to prove that the dead Rebels had been dumped in the well by what was described as “a drunken Federal burial detail.”

Ten years after the battle, all 58 remains were removed from the hand-dug well and reinterred in a Confederate cemetery in Hagerstown. Daniel Wise’s little cabin was demolished in 1919.

Richard E. Clem is a cabinetmaker in Hagerstown, Md., and frequent contributor to this page.

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