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Col Thomas H Ford's Official Report

Report of September 1862 of Harpers Ferry

[author biography]

SEPTEMBER-, 1862.

SIR: I have the honor to report that on the 5th instant I was ordered by Colonel Miles, commandant at Harper's Ferry, to the command of Maryland Heights, directly opposite Harper's Ferry.

On the evening of the same day I assumed the command of the troops there stationed, consisting of the Thirty-second Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry, under command of Maj. S. M. Hewitt; a squadron of Rhode Island cavalry, under command of Major Corliss; three companies of the First Maryland Potomac Home Brigade, under command of Major John A. Steiner; two companies of the First Maryland Cavalry, under command of Captains Russell and Grafflin, and Captain Eugene McGrath's battery of New York Heavy Artillery, numbering in all about 1,150 men.

Immediately upon my arrival at the heights, assisted by Major Steiner and Captain McGrath, I made strict examination of the situation of the defensive preparations, and found that no fortifications had been made so as to enable us to resist a superior force, the eastern and northern slope of the mountain being open and easy of access for any number of troops through Solomon's Gap. I found that at Solomon's Gap a battery of artillery might be placed in position so as to repel almost any force. I at once made application for a battery of artillery, in order to enable me to command that position, and, after continuous efforts for several days to obtain the battery, was overruled by Colonel Miles and gave up that mode of defense. Strict examination was then made of the top of the mountain, at a point familiarly known as "Lookout", and my judgment was convinced that, if I could procure a section of artillery, I could made a stand at that point, and probably prevent the enemy from ascending the mountain, either on the eastern or northern slope through the gap; but, after making a second appeal for guns to man that position, I was told by Colonel Miles that if I and Captain McGrath had our way, we would have all the artillery at Harper's Ferry on Maryland Heights. Being foiled in my efforts, I abandoned this project as a means of defense.

On the 11th instant the enemy in large numbers encamped in Pleasant Valley, directly opposite Solomon's Gap, and drove in our pickets stationed there, shelling them out from the valley below. I immediately re-enforced the pickets at the lookout by one company of the Thirty-second Ohio Volunteer Infantry, commanded by Captain Hibbets, and two companies of the Potomac Home Brigade, commanded by Captain Brown and Lieutenant Bridge. Early on the following morning it was ascertained that the enemy's pickets were stationed at Solomon's Gap, and that our pickets were driven back about 2½ miles, to a church on the Rohrersville road. Having been re-enforced by a battalion of the Thirty-ninth new York, under the command of Major Hildebrandt, and one company of the One hundred and eleventh New York, and the One hundred and twenty-sixth New York, under command of Colonel Sherrill, I immediately ordered Colonel Sherrill, with his regiment, and Major Hewitt, with five companies of the Thirty-second Ohio Volunteer Infantry, to the top of the mountain, to re-enforce Captains Hibbets and Brown, who were already there, whilst Captain Crumbecker, of Thirty-second Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and two companies of the One hundred and twenty-sixth New York were left to guard the eastern slope of the mountain, and Major Hildebrandt, with a portion of his battalion and two companies of Thirty-second Ohio Volunteer Infantry, were placed in position to defend Captain McGrath's heavy artillery, of two 9-inch columbiads and one 50-pounder rifled piece.

Brisk skirmishing commenced along the entire line about 3 o'clock p. m., and was continued until darkness closed the scene, with varied success, at times our forces driving them down the mountain slope, with great slaughter, and then in turn being driven back. During the night both armies slept on their arms within speaking distance of each other, and certainly not more than 100 yards apart. It was apparent to all that on the morning of the 13th the decisive battle would be fought. I immediately made a pressing call for re-enforcements from the opposite side of the river, assuring Colonel Miles that at least three regiments must be sent to my relief during the night, or all must be lost in the morning, as the enemy were then on the mountain in ten times our number. So anxious was I to obtain re-enforcements, that, in addition to sending couriers twice to headquarters, I sent Major Hewitt, at 11 o'clock at night, for the purpose of impressing Colonel Miles with the importance of having re-enforcements at once.

Colonel Miles reiterated to Major Hewitt just what he said in his letter to me during the evening-"that re-enforcements should be on the heights by the break of day in the morning;" that he did not wish to remove troops at night, lest he might create a panic among the remaining troops at Bolivar Heights. Notwithstanding these assurances, I did not receive re-enforcements until 9 o'clock, at which time Colonel Downey's battalion of five companies arrived.

On the morning of the 13th, about 6.30 o'clock, the battle commenced, with great fury, on the top of the mountain, about a mile from the lookout, and 400 or 500 yards from a slight breastwork, thrown up two days before by Captain Whittier, of the Potomac Home Brigade. Our forces were driven back, after two hours' hard fighting, to the breastworks, where they made a most obstinate and determined resistance. At this point the gallant Colonel Sherrill, of the One hundred and twenty-sixth New York (in command of the forces at the time), fell, severely wounded, and was carried from the field. This produced a panic, particularly in his own ;regiment, many of them leaving the field in confusion and disorder. The residue of the troops, either hearing or imagining from the general backward movement that and order to retreat had been give, commenced a precipitate retreat down the mountain; the enemy in the mean time taking possession of our fortifications and the lookout (having driven us by this time, about 11 o'clock in the day, a distance of 2 miles) on the top of the mountain. At this critical juncture Colonel Miles and his aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Willmon, arrived on the heights, and witnessed for themselves the consternation among the troops, when I was making an effort to reorganize and induce the troops to return to the field, in which Colonel Miles and his aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Willmon, joined with great spirit and energy, but as fast as we forced them up one mountain path they returned by another, until all seemed to be lost. But after the efforts of Lieutenant Willmon, assisted by my aide-de-camp, Major Steiner, Adjutant Pearce, Lieutenants Bentley and Patterson, for one and a half hours, partial order was restored, and a portion of the troops returned to the field.

Colonel Miles acknowledged that he had been misled by his scouts and informers as to the number of the enemy in Pleasant Valley and at the entrance at Solomon's Gap, and told me repeatedly, both in private and in the hearing of his own aide-de-camp and others, that if my troops gave way again I must immediately withdraw my forces from Maryland Heights to Bolivar Heights, on the opposite side of the river. I have forgotten to mention that on the arrival of Colonel Downey with his battalion, he was immediately sent up the west side of the heights with his command, in addition to four companies under command of Captain Palmer, of the Thirty-second Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

Colonel Downey with his command made their way, thought all opposition, almost, if not entirely, to the lookout, on the top of the mountain; and although they arrived at the heights too late, yet during the after part of the conflict the gallant young colonel, with his entire command, aided with grant forethought, courage, and coolness, saving to us many valuable lives, and harassing the enemy at every point where he attacked them. At about 12 o'clock Colonel Sammon, with seven companies of his regiment (One hundred and fifteenth New York), arrived on the heights. Five companies, under the command of the colonel. were placed in position to support Captain McGrath's battery, and the remaining two companies were sent to the mountain top, under command of the lieutenant-colonel. This regiment behaved well, all its officers and men maintaining to the last the various positions assigned them. Severe skirmishing continued at all points on the mountain until 3.30 o'clock, when it was discovered that the enemy were advancing upon us in great force from the front and right, whilst at the same moment an entire brigade of the enemy were about to turn our left flank. In obedience to the positive orders of Colonel Miles, I ordered the guns to be spiked and dismounted and the forces withdrawn to the opposite side of the river, all of which was done in good order. I have been unable to ascertain accurately the number of killed and wounded in the engagements, but, from the best information that can be obtained, our loss in killed, wounded, and missing was about 160 men; whilst that of the enemy (from information obtained from themselves and from our own observations) must have been between 600 and 700 in killed and wounded. Captain McGrath, throughout the entire engagement, proved himself every inch a soldier, and it is unnecessary for me to say that as an artillerist he has few equals and no superiors. Under his well-directed fire, shot and shell spread dismay and death on every side of the enemy. Of Colonel Sherrill I have only to say that he is a true soldier and a gallant man; also his adjutant, whom I do not know; and many other officers of his regiment behaved well, whose names i have never known.

The Thirty-second Ohio, under command of Major Hewitt; the Thirty-ninth New York, under command of Major Hildbrandt; a detachment of the Potomac Home Brigade, under command of Major John A Steiner; a detachment of the First Maryland Cavalry, under command of Captain Russell, officers and men, all aided with great courage and coolness, and too much credit cannot be awarded them. Major Corliss, of the Rhode Island cavalry, was withdrawn from the heights early in the engagement by order of Colonel Miles.

Instances of individual courage were numerous, but space forbids that I should enumerate them in this report.

On the 7th instant, whilst the enemy were crossing in great force at Point of Rocks, Captain Russell, with 50 cavalry, attacked them, killing 3 and taking 17 prisoners; among the number was a captain and a lieutenant.

On the evening before the general engagement, Captain Banning, with four companies, all under command of my aide-de-camp, R. H. Bentley, attacked and captured the enemy's pickets within full view of the enemy's camp, and brought them to my headquarters as prisoners of war.

All of which is respectfully submitted.

THOS. H. FORD,
Colonel, Commanding Third Brigade

Brigadier General JULIUS WHITE.

[Inclosure.]

CAMP MILES, MARYLAND HEIGHTS, MD.,
September 9, 1862.

SIR: In accordance with orders received from your headquarters, I yesterday, with 50 men, proceeded to reconnoiter the country along the Potomac eastward and toward Frederick City.

At Petersville I met and captured one of the enemy's cavalry, and his horse. At the time he was dressed in citizen's clothes, and was evidently reconnoitering the road. At Jefferson I also captured a sergeant-major, of the Twelfth [?] Louisiana Regiment. From Jefferson I struck across the country and came out on the Great Western turnpike, about 3 miles west of Frederick. I then came upon the enemy's pickets, and pursued them to within about 1½ miles of Frederick city. I captured there 13 of the enemy and 9 horses. One of the men captured was a Joshua Fluharty, a deserter from Captain Grafflin's company (H), First Maryland Cavalry. At the time of his desertion he held the position of first sergeant in Captain Grafflin's company. When captured he held the position of regimental bugler in one of the enemy's regiments Another (Wheeler) was also a deserter from Captain Grafflin's company (H), First Maryland Cavalry. Among the captured were, I believe, one captain and one lieutenant.

I saw two columns marching, one from the Potomac on to Frederick, and the other marching from Frederick City out toward Baltimore or Washington.

The enemy evidently has no supply trains. I could see only a very few wagons, not more than enough to supply transportation for officers, sick, and wounded.

He has but few tents. Soldiers could be seen sleeping on the side-walks and cellar-doors about the streets.

Most respectfully, your obedient servant,

C. H. RUSSELL,
Captain, Commanding Company 1, First Maryland Cavalry.

[Addenda.]

HEADQUARTERS THIRD BRIGADE,
September 12, 1862.

COLONEL: Our forces, consisting of 400 infantry, under command of Major Hildebrandt, and 50 cavalry, under Captain Russell, are now fighting at Solomon's Gap. The rebels have thrown thirty shells and wounded several men. The rebels are attempting to pass thought the gap, and our men are resisting.

THOS H. FORD,
Colonel, Commanding Third Brigade.

HEADQUARTERS THIRD BRIGADE,
September 12, 1862.

COLONEL: Our forces from the lookout report that the enemy are advancing toward Sandy Hook with infantry, artillery, and cavalry. Our forces are still fighting at Solomon's Gap.

THOS H. FORD,
Colonel, Commanding Third Brigade.

HEADQUARTERS THIRD BRIGADE,
September 13, 1862.

Colonel MILES: The One hundred and twenty-sixth New York has given way and straggling through the woods. All of our forces are falling back.

THOS H. FORD,
Colonel, Commanding Third Brigade.

HEADQUARTERS THIRD BRIGADE,
Maryland Heights, Md., September 13, 1862.

Colonel DIXON S MILES,
Commanding Division:

The enemy are extending their lines from the top of the mountain down to the river.

THOS H. FORD,
Colonel, Commanding Third Brigade.

[SEPTEMBER 13, 1862.]

Colonel DIXON S MILES,
Commanding Division:

I cannot hold my men. The One hundred and twenty-sixth all run, and the Thirty-second Ohio are out of ammunition. I must leave the hill unless you direct otherwise.

THOS H. FORD,
Colonel, Commanding Third Brigade.

Source: OFFICIAL RECORDS; Series 1, Volume 19, Part I (Antietam - Serial 27), Pages 541 - 546

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