Thursday, September 20, 2012

September 14, 1862: Battle of Crampton's Pass

On September 14, 1862, the Southern forces were fighting Federal troops at Turner's Gap, Fox Gap and Crampton's Pass in South Mountain in Maryland.  Jacob Cole, of Company A in the 57th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the 15-year old battle veteran from Paterson, felt he was marching in the most beautiful part of Maryland.  Cole and his unit marched through flower decorated hills toward Crampton's Pass, but as they reached South Mountain, the reality of war returned. 
Cole wrote, "Singular experiences come to a soldier sometimes from what to him is usually ordinary causes, to see men lying around dead in every shape and in every degree of repulsiveness, torn to pieces, black and bloated, is nothing to a man of battle.  Yet, such a sight coming in an unexpected manner or out of time has all the shock natural to such an experience.  The soldier will sleep soundly amid the dead and the groans of the wounded and dying companions.  It will not keep him awake on the battlefield, but let him lay down among the dead at the hospital, and he is likely to feel cold chills creeping over him.  He will be restless, will rise and seek companionship.  So at South Mountain.  A soldier is climbing through the woods with head down, slowly dragging his weary limbs after him, when suddenly his thoughtless sight rests upon the form of a dead soldier with bulging eyes and swollen face lying directly at his feet. The shock stuns him, the blood rushes to his heart, and his lip quivers.  When he turns out and goes on, he instinctively looks back to see if the man has moved.  Of such stuff are mortals made." 
A special correspondent of the Philadelphia Press filed this report, "Col. [Joseph Jackson]Bartlett's Brigade first attacked the enemy, and, after expending all its ammunition, was relieved by the First New Jersey, under the command of Col. [Alfred T. A.] Torbert.  Perceiving that no impression was being made on the enemy, who largely outnumbered us, and were pouring grape and canister into our ranks, Col. Torbert ordered a charge, which was promptly responded to by the 4th [NJ Regiment] under Col. [William B.] Hatch, in a splendid manner; they charged across a ploughed field at least 500 yards, in the face of heavy enemy fire, and drove the enemy back into the woods to the entrance of the pass.  The other regiments of the brigade followed closely with them; the enemy were completely routed and fell back to the top of the mountain, where there was a heavy reserve of them, five to ten thousand, under the command of Gen. Thomas Cobb.  The Jersey troops continued in their pursuit up the steep slope of the mountain, killing large numbers of the enemy, including many general and field officers, among whom were Gen. [Paul J.] Semmes and Lt. Col. Lamar.  The charge was one of the most brilliant of the war, maintained against an enemy outnumbering us five to one, and in a position almost impregnable by nature...Gen. [Henry Warner] Slocum, who commands our division, was ever in the thickest of the fight, waving his cap and cheering the men on.  Col. Torbert, who commands the New Jersey Brigade, distinguished himself upon the occasion for  his skill and bravery, and the courage with which he led the brigade into action."

[According to the Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army 1789-1903 by Francis Heitman, Brigadier General Paul J. Semmes, Confederate States Army, did not die at Crampton's Pass.  He died on July 10, 1863 from wounds received in battle at Gettysburg, PA.]
Theodore Carhart, of Warren County, NJ, of Company D, 1st NJ Regiment, wrote to his brother, "At Crampton's Pass, on the 14th of September, we had six men wounded, and I think the loss in the Brigade was about 100, all wounded more or less.  That was one of the grandest affairs we have ever been in.  Our Brigade was brought up to support [Brigadier General John] Newton's Brigade of our Division, which was about breaking or falling back.  The rebels were on one side of stone fence, and they were on the other, and both at the foot of a large and steep mountain.  Well, when we came up, we charged over the fence, up the mountain and above them, entirely from their whole position.  They had a whole battery on the top of the hill playing down on us as hard as they could all the time, until they saw that they could not break our lines, then they up and got out of that.  We killed and wounded about 500 and captured over 1,000 prisoners.  The war cry was 'REVENGE FOR KEARNY.'  They said they thought we were perfect fiends, and bullet proof at that, the way we came hooting and hollering, and so few falling.  They did not know either that we had been marching all day before we made the charge."  
The 1st NJ Regiment stayed at the pass to bury the dead, until ordered to join in a new battle near Antietam Creek at Sharpsburg, Maryland.
Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards   

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