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The Battle of Fox Gap-14 September 1862

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The Battle of Fox Gap-14 September 1862

I recently started playing Scourge of War again.  I’m thinking about doing the complete Antietam campaign.  For a warm up match, I decided to play the Battle of South Mountain (Fox Gap).
For those unfamiliar with the Antietam Campaign, the Battle of Fox’s Gap was fought on 14 September 1862, several days before the more famous battle at Antietam. The battle was the first major engagement between McClellan and Lee during this campaign and resulted from Lee’s actions early in his invasion of Maryland.  During that invasion,  Lee used the Shenandoah Valley as the invasion route for his army  However, the Union garrisons at Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry did not evacuate.  This forced Lee to divide his army to clear his intended lines of supply and communication down the Shenandoah Valley.  Against the normally sluggish McClellan, such a division of forces was a minor risk.  However, in this case, a copy of Lee’s orders detailing his dividing the confederate army was unknowingly lost by the Confederates and subsequently recovered by Union troops.  Armed with this intelligence, McClellan uncharacteristically began to aggressively press forward against Lee.  By 13 September, Lee, perceiving McClellan’s threat to his widely divided forces recalled them and prepared to retreat back across the Potomac River to the safety of Virginia.   Between the two armies lay South Mountain, a 2,150 foot tall mountain that is part of the northern extension of the Blue Ridge Mountain range.  Lee ordered the single nearby confederate division under D.H. Hill to hold the mountain until the dispersed confederate forces could reunite.

Military movement across the mountain in this area is largely restricted via one of five passes.  The southernmost gap lies along the banks of the Potomac River and the rail line that runs along the bank. Further north lies the second pass, known as  Crampton’s Gap. The next gap to the north is Fox’s Gap, through which the Old Sharpsburg road passes through.  Just north of Fox’s gap the mountain is crossed by the National Road through Turner’s Gap.  The northern most pass in this part of the mountain is Orr’s Gap.  Because of the need to quickly prevent the junction of the Confederate Forces and to relieve Harper’s Ferry, the Union Forces moved to seize Crampton, Fox, and Turner’s Gap, which lay astride the likely lines of communication between Lee and his separated forces and offered the quickest path to relieving the besieged Union army at Harper’s Ferry.

Sources: Sources

For this battle, I will be playing the role of General Jesse Reno, the commander of the US IX Corps.  I'm going to play this using the courier system and giving orders only to my division commanders, which will then execute them.  The game rates the various division commanders according to their experience, ability, command, control, leadership and style.  What that means in game terms is that my orders will both be delayed, and may be imperfectly followed.  Additionally, couriers can be captured, so the orders may not be received at all.

The IX Corps consist of 4 divisions, as laid out below

Division #Troops/Brigade Commander           Experience     Ability          Command     Control    Leadership    Style
1st               3267/2BDE          BG O. WILLCOX       Seasoned      Average       Competent    Good         Competent   Balanced
2nd              3244/2BDE          BG S. STURGIS       Veteran         Competent    Good           Good          Good          Balanced
3rd               2812/2BDE          BG I. RODMAN        Volunteer      Competent   Competent    Competent Good           Balanced
Kanawha      2948/2BDE          BG J. COX               Irregulars      Mediocre      Average        Average     Competent   Defensive

The scenario starts with the 1st and Kanawha divisions already in contact with the confederate forces.  2nd and 3rd divisions are approximately 10 minutes to the rear along the Old Shapsburg Road.  The US has one hour before nightfall to secure Fox's Gap.  Additionally, the CSA forces may be reinforced.  These forces will likely come from either the west along the Old Sharpsburg Road, or from the north. along a trail that runs along the ridge of the mountain from Turner's Gap  (and today is part of the Appalachian Trail).

My plan is to have 1st and Kanawha division remain in contact but not attack until the 2nd and 3rd Divisions are brought up.  The 3rd Division will move to the Union right and then attack NW to cut the trail from Turner's Gap as well as remove the CSA artillery batteries that are situated near the trail and hitting Union forces coming up the Old Shapsburg Road.  The 2nd division will attack with the 1st Division west to Fox Gap.  The 2nd will attack through the juncture of the 1st and Kanawha division, while the 1st division will angle off to the NW, supporting both the 3rd Division attack towards the trail, and the 2nd Division attack towards Fox Gap.  The Kanawha Division will tie down CSA forces facing south of Fox Gap. When the 3rd Division attack begins to advance, the Kanawha division will guard the left flank from CSA forces  coming up from the west.  If the opportunity arises, the Kanawha will also attack from the south towards Fox Gap.  However, because of the inexperience of the commander, I am reluctant to have the division engage in heavy offensive operations, particularly in the heavy woods  to the south and west of Fox Gap.


To help orient readers to the battlefield views, I am including images of the right, center, and left flanks of the 1st Division, and the center of the Kanawha Division at the start of the game.  The white house in the images is the Wise farmhouse, and it marks the approximate position of Fox Gap.  The Confederate artillery battery that will be the focus of the 3rd Division assault appears on Image 1, on  the cleared field near the woodline.
Image 1. 1st Division Right Flank

Image 2. 1st Division Center

Image 2. 1st Division Left Flank

Image 1. Kanawha Division Center

By 1750, both  1st  Kanawha Divisions are heavily engaged.  Despite the order to the Kanawha Division to not attack, the 11th Ohio charges a confederate regiment at the Wise house and is repulsed.  A subsequent countercharge by the confederates sends them retreating to the rear.  Meanwhile, the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Division reaches a stone wall on the eastern edge of the field (upper right in the image below)

Image 5. 141750 Oct 1862 Wise House looking Northeast

At 1752, the lead elements of the 2nd Division are coming up the Old Sharpsburg road.   It will still be about 10 minutes before I can get them into action.  From my position in the center of the Union line, a confederate regiment appears to be retreating or routing from the Kanawha Division's attack. Because of this possible success, I send a courier to General Cox, directing him to probe towards the Wise house.  This will hopefully exploit his success there by keeping the pressure on the confederate forces facing south, while Sturgis and Willcox prepare their attacks.  I'm still a little worried about the Kanawha division holding the left flank, as it is "in the air", and the woods on the left are a perfect cover for a CSA strike against my left.

Meanwhile, on the Union right, the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Division is shooting it out with several confederate regiments and the artillery battery.  The 1st Brigade is nowhere to be seen.  I'm going to have to track it down.

Image 6. 141755 Oct 1862 Wise House looking Northeast

Much to my surprise, General Willcox  deployed the 1st Brigade as a reserve on the right at the bottom of the hill.  At about the time I discovered this, the confederates did also, sending two regiments down the hill and flanking the 2nd Brigade, whose unsupported right flank was in the air.  The 1st Brigade should be able to recover the situation, if Willcox gets them out of column and into a counter attack.  Of course, the attack will be uphill, but it doesn't look the the two confederate regiments are supported, and their artillery will have difficulty in supporting them in those woods.  However, to relieve pressure on my right, at 1757 I send an order to General Sturgis to attack towards the Wise house, despite having only one of the 2nd Division's two brigades properly formed up.

Image 7. 141755 Oct 1862


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