Battle of Maryland Heights

After Action Report

(Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Vol. 37, pages 180-183)

Tenth West Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment

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Report of Major General Franz Sigel, Commanding The Reserve Division.

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, MD
July 7, 1864 – 6 a. m.
(Received 12:20 p.m.)

Yesterday the enemy advanced closely to our lines on the north, and intended an attack with one brigade of infantry against our left, where our lines were the weakest. His attack was frustrated by a counter attack from our right. The enemy showed an extensive line from the Potomac to Elk Ridge Mountain. Besides his skirmishers no large columns were visible. There were about 3,000 infantry in our front. Five thousand more were reported moving against us from Antietam Creek. During yesterday 600 of General Stahel’s cavalry advanced against the enemy from Pleasant Valley, through Solomon’s Gap, and met the enemy on the west side of Elk Ridge Mountain, about five miles from here. For today I ordered General Stahel with his whole cavalry, and with the 200 artillery armed as infantry, and four pieces of artillery from Pleasant Valley, to move to Rohrersville. Our lines on the north of our position are engaging the enemy now. An immense train of the rebels was yesterday in sight near Shepherdstown. Prisoners taken were of the Twelfth Georgia Regiment.

F. SIGEL, Major-General.

ADJUTANT-GENERAL U. S. ARMY

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Excerpt From “Major General Thomas Maley Harris” by H.E. Matheny

“General Weber’s staff advised him he could not hold Harper’s Ferry and he retreated to Maryland Heights on the evening of July 4, after burning the railroad and pontoon bridges.

The Confederates were doing some bridge burning of their own. General Early knew his stay in the Lower Shenandoah Valley was temporary and ordered his men to do as much destruction as possible to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The bridges at the mouths of Patterson’s Creek and the South Branch, the bridge at Back Creek, as well as the trestling of the Opequon and Rattling Bridges were destroyed. In addition, much track, station platforms, and culverts were torn up.

When the 10th West Virginia Infantry and other foot soldiers arrived at Sandy Hook, exhausted by the forced march, they occupied positions on Maryland Heights. The Union Cavalry stopped at Wevertown but was soon sent to Point of Rocks to harass the enemy at the crossing. About 7,000 of the Southern forces occupied Martinsburg and began reorganizing for the push to Harper’s Ferry. The supplies they had expected to find at the abandoned quartermaster depot had been removed by the Union troops which was a great disappointment to them as they were needed to continue the raid.

Generals Rodes and Ransom crossed the Potomac July 5, and began maneuvering for battle. The Union guns on Maryland Heights opened on them and the Confederate commanders soon saw it would be impossible to hold Harper’s Ferry, even if they succeeded in capturing it, and withdrew most of their troops from the dangerous position, leaving roving patrols in the area to hold the Union Army on the Heights.

President Lincoln called on Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts for 100 day men to help stop Early, and ordered General Hunter back to the Valley of Virginia, a place he had been trying to reach for some time. Two thirds of General Sigel’s army was composed of these nearly useless summertime soldiers and as he could only rely on his 10th West Virginia and 23rd Illinois Infantry, he refused to leave the safety of Maryland Heights.

General John McCausland’s Mounted Infantry, with other troops, were on General Sigel’s immediate front towards Sharpsburg, and four divisions were on the opposite side of the river. Colonel Harris had his brigade entrenched on Maryland Heights with four other regiments of infantry and two battalions of the 5th New York Heavy Artillery.

General Sigel predicted the Southern Army would attack from the Maryland side of the river which proved correct for early on the 6th they began firing from there. The battle continued for thirty six hours, almost without interruption, but the artillery duel was a battle of harassment for it became evident the move was a time gathering feint to permit the Confederates to harvest as many supplies as possible for their impoverished army.

When General Early left the Upper Shenandoah Valley he detailed wagons and a guard to wait for a shipment of shoes previously ordered for his men. By the evening of July 7, the supply train arrived in camp and his barefoot soldiers were issued shoes. Later that night, Early retreated. General Rodes led his men through Crampton’s Gap to Jefferson, General Breckinridge through Fox’s Gap, and General Ramseur, with the supply trains, through Boonesboro Gap. General William Lewis’ brigade moved the night before, destroying the railroad bridges and stores left at Harper’s Ferry that they could not use.

Early on the 8th, General Stahel noticed the absence of Confederate troops in the vicinity but would not move from the safety of the fortifications without more information. When he learned the enemy was moving on Boonesboro, or Frederick, he sent Colonel Mulligan toward Point of Rocks by the way of Jefferson with his men and a company of cavalry. That pleased Colonel Harris who always disliked trench warfare.

General Stahel, with the rest of the army, was ordered to leave the, protection of Maryland Heights and follow the Confederate forces in the direction of Boonesboro by way of Pleasant Valley, but for some unknown reason he spent the night in Pleasant Valley instead of following orders, and was of little assistance.”

Tenth West Virginia Infantry
Battle of Maryland Heights
2 Killed, 5 Wounded, 0 Missing – Total Casualties 7

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Updated 28 March 2010