Fox’s Gap Battlefield at South Mountain, Maryland

M.A. Kleen

The deaths of two opposing generals underscore the fierce fighting that occurred in the shadow of southern Maryland’s idyllic mountain scenery.

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The battle for Fox’s Gap, part of the larger Battle of South Mountain, was fought on September 14, 1862 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Jesse L. Reno and Confederate forces commanded by Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill in Frederick and Washington counties, Maryland during the American Civil War. The battle was a Union victory, with Confederate forces abandoning the mountain pass and retreating toward Sharpsburg.

After General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia destroyed the Union Army of Virginia at the Second Battle of Manassas, Lee saw an opportunity to invade Maryland, threaten Washington, DC, and possibly influence European powers to recognize Confederate independence. Lee divided his army and sent one wing to capture Harper’s Ferry, Virginia and the other into…

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Brother Generals: Hancock and Armistead

Presidential History Blog

Few ties are as strong as the military bands of brotherhood.

The Gist of the Matter

Two soldiers, close friends for years, had the unlikely distinction of meeting (sort of) for the last time at Gettysburg. One fought for the Union, one for the Confederacy. One died in battle. The other nearly became President of the United States.

Winfield Scott Hancock

Almira Hancock penned a biography of her husband shortly after his death.

General Winfield Scott Hancock.

Winfield Scott Hancock (1824-1886) was a Pennsylvanian of a solid middle class background, named for a hero of the War of 1812. He had a West Point education (Class of 1844), graduating mid-class, assigned to the infantry, and then proving his soldierly mettle mostly as a quartermaster. In private life, he married Almira (Russell) in 1850, and had two children who predeceased him. He received various assignments and promotions and, once the Civil…

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Great Crusade

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Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is will trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

 

D-Day 70th anniversary

Grant vs. Lee in Summary

Lt. Colonel Theodore Lyman, an aide to Major General George Meade, summarized the Overland Campaign with this simple observation:

“It is a rule that, when the Rebels halt, the first day gives them a good rifle-pit; the second, a regular infantry parapet with artillery in position; and the third a parapet with an abatis in front and entrenched batteries behind. Sometimes they put this three days’ work into the first twenty-four hours”

Meade and his staff (LOC)

Grant’s strategic plan for the campaign seemed simple enough, but with overly-intricate movements combined with unrealistic time schedules, Lee was able to beat Grant to key strategic points throughout the campaign.

Cold Harbor Reconsidered

“I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made.”  – US Grant

 

With that observation in his best-selling memoir… Grant started the historical firestorm around the second-to-last battle of the Overland Campaign.  Through the years and volumes documenting every facet of the war, Cold Harbor has come to symbolize the carnage and suffering endured by the fighting men.  Writers have elevated the battle to the conclusive example of obsolete tactics brutishly utilized during an ill-conceived campaign.   Images of doomed soldiers pinning name tags to their uniforms and ranks of men mowed down in place haunt students of the Civil War.     But does the Battle of Cold Harbor truly measure up to the perception of needless slaughter?

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Battlefield historian Gordon Rhea… takes this and other misconceptions to task in his multi-volume study of the Overland campaign.  The facts simply do not support the popular reputation of June 3, 1864 being a day of unspeakable slaughter.  Grant’s forces suffered between 5,500-6,000 casualties- making it only the 5th bloodiest day of that Summer.  Every day of the Wilderness battle saw more casualties- Spotsylvania stands as one of the bloodiest battles of the war.  Rhea smartly points out that there were bloodier days in the two years preceding the Overland Campaign.   What happened to our Remembrance?

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*NPS Richmond

The Summer of relentless combat… that marked the Overland Campaign took a drastic toll on the Army of the Potomac.  The soldiers remembering June 3, 1864 were tired and weary of combat- particularly massed frontal assaults against entrenched Confederates.  “Fog of War” is a concept bordering on cliche, but clearly, the judgement of many of the battle’s participants was clouded.  Grant’s own recollection of the day only solidified the  misapprehensions and flawed narrative.

June 3, 1864

Three days of indecisive movements by Union forces… allowed Robert E. Lee’s army to strengthen its positions near Bethesda Church and New Cold Harbor.  The delay muted the Federal assaults of June 1-2.   The troops in blue knew exactly what awaited them the following day.  The carnage of Grant’s Overland campaign had taken its toll.

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Jefferson Truitt was one of the Union soldiers… who knew exactly what was going to happen on June 3rd.  The all-to-familiar pattern could again be seen; Confederates controlled the thoroughfares to Richmond, and Union troops would try bludgeon them open.  War-weary troops began pinning names to their uniform coats for easier identification; many penned one final diary entry- “Killed at Cold Harbor.”   Jefferson Truitt, and his regiment, the 62nd PA. were due to leave the service on July 1.  He had survived the bloodiest conflicts of the war: Malvern Hill, Antietam, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania…  now, with just weeks to serve, he would meet his end near the intersection of Old Church and Walnut Grove roads.

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America and Protests

Martin Luther King, Jr. would not recognize so-called “social justice warriors” of today.

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals…”

Nonviolence is the weapon

“The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.”

Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. I am not unmindful of the fact that violence often brings about momentary results. Nations have frequently won their independence in battle. But in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace.”

Memorial Day Tribute

Thomas Jefferson Truitt enlisted in… Company D of the 62nd Pennsylvania Volunteers on July 24, 1861.  He was a carpenter working near Kellersburg in Armstrong County PA.  His father, Anderson, died suddenly in October of 1860, leaving the family deep in debt and without a steady income.  To make ends meet, the widowed Sarah Caldwell Truitt was forced to sell pieces of the family farm and work odd jobs.  The outbreak of the war in 1861 rallied the young men of Armstrong County to the Finlay Cadets.  It also provided Jefferson and his younger brother David the opportunity to assist their family financially.

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1837-1864

Truitt served with distinction… as the company’s color sergeant.  On July 1, 1862 at the battle of Malvern Hill, he rescued the 62nd PA’s flag from capture by securing it inside his uniform coat.  For his valor, Truitt received a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant.  Marching with the 62nd from  Antietam Creek to Fredericksburg, Manassas to Gettysburg, Truitt survived the fiercest fighting of the war.  With its three-year enlistment set to expire, the 62nd soldiered on through the unprecedented carnage of the Overland campaign in the Summer of 1864.  Jefferson Truitt was killed June 3, 1864 at the Battle of Bethesda Church, Virginia, just one month before he was due to be mustered out of service.

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Last Full Measure

Heroism is more than just… exploits on the battlefield.  Ordinary citizens, like Jefferson Truitt, display heroism by putting their lives on hold to serve their country.  The causes, justifications, and implications are immaterial to the sacrifices made by citizen soldiers.  Calling these people heroes does not make a political statement, nor is it a rallying cry for more conflict.  Wars can be pondered and debated without applying undue scrutiny to the brave men and women who fought them.  Publicly doubting the heroism of fallen soldiers on Memorial Day is not reasonable discourse.  His patriot grave is proof that Jefferson Truitt was a hero.

Facts in Five- Memorial Day

Memorial Day by the numbers:

  • The roots of Memorial Day can be traced to Athens and the Funeral Oration of Pericles–  honor those who have fallen, follow their example of citizenship
  • The commemoration was originally made by the Grand Army of the Republic as Decoration Day-  flags were to be placed on all the graves of fallen Union soldiers
  • The first Decoration Day was celebrated by 27 states in 1868
  • By 1890, every state in the Union observed the holiday in some way… it was not a Federal holiday until 1971
  • The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1922. 

Events at Arlington National Cemetery

Confederacy and Freedom

For too long defenders of Confederate heritage… have associated it with freedom and individual rights for all whites. The specter of the conquering Yankee invading the homeland to oppress the yeoman and steal his acre was the rallying cry.  Policy makers in the Confederacy used this propaganda to dupe poor whites  to defend the landed gentry- a social order built on the aristocracy of chattel slavery.  Jefferson Davis and ilk had no interest in expanding opportunity for the thousands of men who volunteered for this abhorrent cause- they were cannon fodder.

Talk of opportunity and liberty were contrary to the Confederate cause… the slave owning power structure needed poor whites to stay right where they were.  The egalitarian dreams of Thomas Jefferson had no place in the CSA- and the leadership expressed it openly- The Declaration of Independence was a threat to the south.  Far from a “second American Revolution,” the American Civil War was an authoritarian power grab by an entrenched group of oligarchs.

 

Confederate propaganda from Georgia said it best…

“Thanks to Mr. Jefferson we have made a mistake … and pushed the love of democracy too far … vulgar democracy and licentious freedom is rapidly supplanting all the principles of constitutional ‘liberty’! When shall the American people perceive that all our difficulties arise from the absurdities of deciding that the ‘pauper’ and the ‘landholder’ are alike competent to manage the affairs of a Country, or alike entitled to vote for those who shall?”  Athens Southern Watchman 1857

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Jefferson’s feelings on slavery and liberty also alienated our apostle of liberty… from these slave owning aristocrats…

“The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it …The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and moral undepraved by such circumstances [under slavery]. And with what desecration should the statement be loaded, who permitting one half of the citizens to trample on the rights of the other, transforms those into despots and these into enemies, destroys the morals of one part and the amor patriae of the other.”  Notes on the State of Virginia  1782