The Blue's Gap Affair
Meanwhile, the same day, Colonel Dunning of the 5th Ohio, led a detachment of Landers Brigade on a surprise attack on Blue’s Gap or Hanging Rock Pass (Map 4, Pos. 1), where a Rebel force of cavalry and infantry had made it a stronghold between Romney and Winchester. The main road from Winchester to Romney passes through this rather narrow and vertical pass located about 14 or 15 miles from Romney. 700 militia and a small artillery force under Colonel Munroe held it, and Captain Sheets’ company of cavalry comprised of 56 men. The 7th was represented by a detachment led by Major Casement and although they never fired a gun they were there for reserve in case needed. It was a horrendous march in the worst conditions imaginable. The men left Romney at midnight on the 5th and returned the next morning. The detail was assigned as follows: six companies each from the following regiments- 4th, 5th, 7th, and 8th Ohio; 1st West Virginia; 14th Indiana; Daum’s Battery and one section of Baker’s Parrot guns. Accompanying them was Ringgold’s Cavalry, the Washington Cavalry, and three companies of the I st West Virginia Cavalry. Because of the large number of men on extended picket duty and the great number of men on the sick list the actual number of men available for this operation was limited.
The report filed by Colonel Dunning fully describes the action at and around Blue’s Gap:
“The command assembled about 11 PM, and by 12:30 o’clock the column was in motion for its destination of Blue’s Gap. The fall of snow, with the disagreeable cold night, rendered it difficult for the troops to march, but by seven o’clock in the morning we reached a hill within about a mile of the gap. On this hill the Parrot guns were planted, and from it the enemy could be seen preparing to burn the bridge. I then ordered the Fifth Ohio to advance by double quick. The order was responded to by a shout, and in a few minutes the advance of the regiment was on a bluff near the bridge, and with a few shots compelled the Rebel force to the gap. The column was then ordered to advance rapidly on and over the bridge, and the Fifth Ohio was deployed up the mountain to the left and the Fourth Ohio to the right. A sharp action then ensued, first on the left of the gap and then on the right. Our forces pressed on, driving the enemy from the rocks and trees, behind which they had taken position, and to the top of the mountain to the left they were found in rifle pits. A charge was ordered, but before bayonets could be fixed the Rebels had left their pits and were fleeing down the mountain in haste to the back of the gap. At this time the detachments of infantry pressed through the gap and the victory was complete. The cavalry was then ordered to charge, which was done promptly, but the enemy had by this time scattered in the mountain, rendering this charge of little avail.
The enemy left behind them two batteries of artillery, the caisson, ammunition, wagons, and ten horses; also their tents, camp equipage, provisions, and correspondence- Seven prisoners were taken and seven dead bodies were found on the field. Not one of my men were either killed or wounded. Finding the mill and the hotel in the gap were used for soldiers quarters, I ordered them burned, which was done; but I am sorry to say that some of the straggling soldiers burned other unoccupied houses on their return march. The force of the Rebels was stated by Negroes and citizens at from 800 to 1,000, but their papers show that rations were drawn for 1,800 men.
We marched to the gap, fought the battle, and returned to camp within 5 hours, bringing with us prisoners, cannon, and other captured articles.
S.H. Dunning, Commanding Fifth Ohio
The Blue’s Gap affair brought hardship to the Seventh, the elements being extremely dangerous. The march back to Romney was very disabling to the point where many men were unable to continue with the rest of the detachment. These men were later brought in by dog sled and horseback over the next 48 hours, many with frostbite and exhaustion
Jackson was fearful of Federal movement to support General Lander’s Brigade. General A. S. Williams, with his Brigade, left Frederick, Md. enroute to Hancock at 5 am the morning of the 6th. Reaching Hancock with his command on the 8th, he assumed control of the city, while General Lander removed to Romney. This made Jackson nervous. Anticipating further reinforcements Jackson decided to break camp and relocate.
On the next day Jackson communicates from Headquarters at Unger’s Store the following concerning the surprise at Blue’s Gap:
“Major: Though on the 4th instant Bath and all that part of Morgan County east of the Big Cacapon River was recovered from the enemy, and their stores at Bath and at the mouth of the Big Cacapon River, as well as those opposite Hancock, fell into our hands, and the railroad bridge across Big Cacapon River was destroyed by our troops, yet on the 7th the enemy surprised our militia at Hanging Rock Pass (Blue’s Gap), distant 15 miles from Romney, drove back our troops from their fortifications, burned their huts, captured 2 pieces of artillery (one a 4-pounder rifled, the other a 4 pounder smooth bore); the limber of rifled piece was saved, but both caissons lost, as soon as they had accomplished this and burned the buildings of Colonel Charles Blue, near by, killed his live stock, leaving it on the ground, they returned to Romney.