Battle of South Mountain
Like human beings, places sometimes become larger than life. Some say that the great politicians, Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln, rested at the Mountain House while traveling as members of congress. In October 1859, John Brown made his raid on Harpers Ferry. According to one local resident, Edward Augenbaugh, he met a member of the John Brown group in the tavern at the Mountain House. His name was Captain John Cook. The Brown raid helped to ignite the fires of war. Little did those in the area realize the part Turner's Gap would play in the struggle that would become our nation's Civil War.
On Wednesday, September 10, 1862, those at Turner's Gap heard a great noise. Previously, large groups had lodged within the walls and on the spacious grounds of the Mountain House. But never had anyone seen anything that equaled that Wednesday morning scene.
There were soldiers, thousands of them. They were in all types of clothing. One could barely call them uniforms. Some were barefooted. Most had holes in their clothing. In fact they looked like scarecrows. And headgear, if you could call it that, had never been displayed in so many variations of fashion before. They were part of the Army of Northern Virginia of the Confederate States of America. On and on they came, all day, and way past dark.
Turner's Gap echoed with the sound of cheers. Those present heard the soldiers ring out, "Three cheers for General Jackson. General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson was marching his foot cavalry towards Harpers Ferry. After the main column passed General Daniel Harvey Hill passed through Turner's Gap with the rearguard. Gen. Hill pitched his headquarters tent in the vicinity of Boonsboro and for the next four days men in gray and butternut were all over the area.
On Saturday night, Confederate General Alfred Colquitt looked out from Turner's Gap to the east towards Middletown. The sight was amazing. Campfires were springing up all over the place The Union Army of the Potomac was getting close. They had reached Frederick, and now elements of the Ninth Corps were in the Middletown Valley. Gen. Colquitt informed Gen. Hill.
Sunday morning, September 14, 1862, Gen. D.H. rode up from Boonsboro to make his reconnaissance. From the heights surrounding Turner's Gap, Hill first viewed the Union army's advance. After Gen. Colquitt's report Hill had been informed on the 13th by Gen. J.E.B. Stuart that only two brigades of Union infantry were approaching the gap. Imagine Hill's surprise when on the morning of September 14, he observed "the vast army of McClellan spread out before me. The marching columns extended back as far as eye could see...It was a grand and glorious spectacle," Hill said, "It was impossible to look at it without admiration. I had never seen so tremendous an army before, and I did not see one like it afterward."
Until reinforcements could arrive from Hagerstown, the fate of the Army of Northern Virginia rested with Hill's lone division of 5,000 men. This would prove to be D. H. Hill's finest hour. From 9 am until 3 pm he held the northern gaps unaided against the combined assault of elements from two Union army corps. Later, with the help of Longstreet's exhausted troops, he continued to hold into the night. For one long, vital day he blocked an enemy drive that could have spelled disaster to Lee's army.
As darkness descended on the mountain, the wind carried the sounds of moans and groans from the wounded and dying. On the slopes around Turner's Gap were specks of light like giant fireflies. These lights belonged to the medical people seeking to aid the wounded. At 10 pm the Confederates departed the mountain. General Lee felt that the day had gone against him. He moved his army on to Sharpsburg.
On Monday September 15 there was more noise and excitement at Turner's Gap as men in blue uniforms pursued those who wore the gray. Gen. George B. McClellan sat on his horse, "Dan Webster," right by the Mountain House and watched his army march by.
For the next few months there were pitiful scenes passing though Turner's Gap as wagon after wagon passed through from Sharpsburg headed for Middletown and points east. These wagons contained the wounded who were being transported to hospitals. The jolting, jarring wagons did not have shock absorbers. The wounded had only straw and blankets for their beds. The trip was pure agony for many of the soldiers. Day after day, until late October these wagons passed through Turner's Gap.
Turner's Gap would see other Civil War notables pass through until the end of the war. Gen. Buford and Gen. Meade would pass through Turner's Gap while pursuing Gen. Lee after the Battle of Gettysburg. Gen. Jubal Early's men would march through Turner's Gap during the third, and last, invasion of Maryland by the Confederacy.
History of Turner's Gap
Arthur Nelson bought a tract of land on top of South Mountain which contained 575 acres. It must have been considered a bad deal for the tract was later called "Nelson's Folly." In 1750 it was sold to Robert Turner and, the depression where a mountain house was built, forever came to be known as Turner's Gap.
Robert Turner moved on and in 1769, six years prior to the War for Independence, the Mountain House was sold to Jacob Young who listed his occupation as innkeeper. The Mountain House is older than America, and was in business before the American Revolution. By 1781 the Mountain House was considered old.
President George Washington had a dream of a national Road to open the west. The National Pike was begun and reached the small town of Boonsboro, on the western base of Turner's Gap, in 1810. Ten years later the leg to Hagerstown was completed. Sometimes twenty stages a day stopped at the Mountain House seeking lodging and food. Folks moving west drove herds of cattle and sheep through Turner's Gap. For a short time Turner's Gap was the boundary line between civilization and wilderness.
July 4, 1827, the citizens of Boonsboro erected the first monument in the United States of America to honor the father of our country, George Washington. Washington's Monument was a laborious task, and a labor of love. After the dedication of the monument on our nation's fifty-first birthday, many of those attending stopped at the Mountain House for food and drink before returning to Boonsboro.
In 1897 the War Department erected six cast iron tablets which described the Battle of South Mountain. At that time a person could read them and not even have to get out of their horse drawn buggy. It wasn't too long before a different sound was heard speeding through the Turner's Gap. It was the sound of the automobile.
In 1987 (Almost 100 years after they were erected) the Central Maryland Heritage League in cooperation with the National Park Service had the Cast Iron tablets relocated to a safer position. Now the visitor to Turner's Gap can read the tablets without having to worry about being hit by a speeding automobile. At that time it is hoped the visitor will find a better place to come and visit. And perhaps in the quietness of the moment, "in the evening dews and damps," they will witness the march of history, and hear the sounds of days gone by. The whoops of the red men, the tramp of the settlers, the ring of axes as the land was cleared and the National Road was built. Perhaps the visitor can catch a glimpse of marching men, long columns of blue and gray, and officers such as Stonewall Jackson, D.H. Hill, John Buford, and George Meade.