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   Fox's Gap

Battle of South MountainCourtesy of the CIvil War Trust
Fox's Gap 

General RenoThe Reno Monument may be used as a reference point to understand where combat occurred in the Fox's Gap area. The front of the monument faces north.

General McClellan sent his army's right wing under General Ambrose Burnside to pound the Confederate rear guard at the approaches to Boonsboro (Turner's and Fox's Gaps).

Fifty yards west of the present Reno Monument is the site of farmer Daniel Wise's cabin (now gone). By late morning, the area around Wise's cabin became the scene of a severe struggle as Cox's men cleared the last remnants of Garland's brigade from the gap. At this point, according to the general himself, D.H. Hill orchestrated one of the most successful bluffs of the war. Near the far edge of the woods, to the north of the Reno Monument, Hill posted artillery and a line of dismounted staff officers, couriers, teamsters, and cooks feigning infantry support. The charade worked. Cox, convinced that a large force of Confederates was in his front, pulled back his men to await reinforcements.

Although they had gained Fox's Gap and were clear to advance on Confederate General D.H. Hill's headquarters at Turner's Gap , Cox's Ohioans remained in their defensive positions south of Fox's Gap. Hill sent two regiments of Confederate General George B. Anderson's Brigade to replace Garland's scattered forces. These men were supported by Bondurant's artillery battery of four guns. Anderson's men fired from one position and then quickly moved to another and fired again. The Rebels called this "bushwhacking." This tactic, along with the Confederate artillery support, had the effect of further convincing General Cox that he faced a large force of the enemy and that he should await reinforcement by the rest of the IX Corps.

By midday Fox's Gap had become a "no man's land" with both sides taking pot shots at each other whenever the situation allowed.

By 4 pm the rest of Reno's men arrived and made their final assault from the east. By this time the Confederate defenders at Fox's Gap were the men of Brigadier General Thomas Drayton's Brigade. They were part of General Longstreet's Corp and had marched that morning 11 miles from Hagerstown, Maryland. Unaware of the Union advance from the east, Drayton's men formed up in the Sunken Road (Reno Monument Road) to face Cox's men across an open, four-acre expanse called Wise's Field. As Drayton's men advanced to the southern end of Wise's Field, they were attacked on their left flank by the IX Corp's advance. Outnumbered at least four-to-one, Drayton's men fought valiantly but were overwhelmed by the Union assault. Lieutenant Colonel James commanded the 3rd South Carolina Infantry Regiment as a part of Drayton's Brigade, his severely outnumbered men made a last desperate stand that afternoon.

The Confederates fell back to the stone walls that lined the roads running north and south through Fox's Gap. They now faced east to confront the IX Corp's attack. In the field north of the present Reno Monument, the raw, untested recruits of the 17th Michigan received their baptism by fire in the field that now bears their name. The 17th advanced across the field and charged the stone wall defended by Drayton's men. At the same time, across the sunken road in Wise's Field, the 45th Pennsylvania charged toward the Rebels behind the walls near Wise's cabin. The men of the 45th suffered 136 casualties (21 killed, 115 wounded), more casualties here than in any other battle the 45th participated in during the entire war.

The mid-morning combat at Fox's Gap saw one of the rare instances of actual hand-to-hand combat; the Confederates also fared poorly. Union battle accounts mention Confederate dead stacked like cord wood in the Sunken Road and piled behind the stone walls surrounding Wise's cabin. Drayton's brigade suffered 50% casualties (killed, wounded, and missing). The IX Corp's attack sent the remaining Confederate defenders scattering down the western slopes of South Mountain.

As before, there was nothing to stop a Federal advance on Turner's Gap. At twilight, Union General Jesse Lee Reno arrived on the field to congratulate his troops and assess the situation. Impatient with a perceived delay to march on Turner's Gap, Reno rode north to reconnoiter. Unfortunately for Reno, General John Bell Hood's Texas Brigade rushed down from Turner's Gap and made the last Confederate attack of the day. Reno was mortally wounded in the melee. Darkness finally ended the fighting at Fox's Gap. Around 11 pm Hood's Texans withdrew to Boonsboro, leaving the IX Corps in possession of the field.

The surviving IX Corps veterans erected the Reno Monument on September 14, 1889. The Wise cabin was suddenly and unexpectedly demolished in 1919 by the owner. Its loss as a significant South Mountain landmark was greatly felt in the community. Until the mid 1960's Wise's field was an open expanse much as it had been at the time of the battle. On September 13, 1986, a metal marker was raised to commemorate the 17th Michigan Infantry. On September 11, 1993, a stone monument was placed in honor of General Garland. The Appalachian Trail passes along the northern edge of the 17th Michigan field. The 17th Michigan Field and the site of the Wise cabin are owned by the Appalachian Trail Conference. The ten acres directly south of the Reno Monument is owned by the Central Maryland Heritage League. If you visit the site please feel free to walk the ground, but remember, relic hunting is strictly forbidden.

                                                                                                   

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