Captain Jesse M. McDonald
In June of 1861, a small group of boys from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia formed a volunteer corps of soldiers soon to be formally known as Company E, Phillip's Legion Georgia Infantry. To North Georgians, the group was far better known as the "Blue Ridge Rifles."
The Dahlonega newspaper ,The Mountain
Signal, described them as a company numbering about eighty and made up of the best citizens: "No company from the state is better qualified for destructiveness, as they have been from their earliest boyhood used to the rifle and shut one eye when they shoot, and everytime they pull the trigger a man will fall."
One of these boys was 3rd Lieut. Jesse Marion McDonald,who was promoted to Captain of the Rifles on June 29, 1864. Throughout the war McDonald wrote to his sweetheart, Sarah Ann Thomas, back in Dahlonega. His grandaughter Marion Boatfield of Dahlonega, still has many of these letters.
During the time of the 1862 Maryland Campaign, they had nothing to eat but apples and green corn, leading the soldiers to jokingly refer to their time in the state as the "Green Corn Campaign." Like most of the Confederate army their clothes were tattered and many were barefooted.
That September, General Robert E. Lee had moved the Southern army into Maryland hoping to gain new recruits and fresh supplies on the way north. Lee split his army into three groups an an attempt to capture 12,000 Union troops at Harper's Ferry. Lee did not know that General George McClellan's Union army was advancing rapidly behind him. During this campaign, the Blue Ridge Rifles
(aka Company E, Phillips Legion Infantry Battalion) were a part of General Thomas F. Drayton's Brigade, General David R Jones Division of Longstreet's Corps.
On September 14, the Blue Ridge Rifles were in camp at Hagerstown, Md when orders came to fall in and march south to help General D H Hill block the South Mountain Passes at Turner's and Fox's Gaps. These gaps, located just above the small hamlet of Boonsboro, Md. were under attack by two full Federal Corps (Reno's IX Corps and Hooker's I Corps). Failure to hold these passes would permit McClellan to split Lee's Army in
After a forced march of about 10 miles, the Blue Ridge Rifles arrived with their unit at Turner's Gap around noon. They were personally escorted one mile south to Fox's Gap by General D H Hill who hoped to use them to stem the effects of the Federal's rout of General Samuel Garland's North Carolina Brigade there earlier that morning. Shortly after the Legion arrived at Fox's Gap the Federal's launched a massive assault on the Confederates. There was little time to set up a line of defense, and they (Drayton's Brigade) were forced to retreat off the mountain.
During the night, the Confederates anxiously awaited a Union attack because they were too few in number to defend their postion. On the morning of the 15th, after a tense night, the Union soldiers prepared to attack again when they heard cheers rolling up the valley from
Harper's Ferry. A Union soldier jumped on a wall and yelled, "Hey, Johnny Reb, What's the cheering for?" A Confederate soldier replied, "Harper's Ferry has surrendered!" The Union army did not attack again that day. Shaken and exhausted with many of their comrades captured or killed, the Blue Ridge Rifles bivouacked on the night of the 16th south of Sharpsburg, where General Lee regrouped his army.(Drayton's Brigade lost 622 men killed, wounded and captured at Fox's Gap, seven of these were from the Rifles)
On the morning of the 17th, Confederate forces were spread in a semi-circle along the east side of the Potomac River. The battle of Antietam (called Sharpsburg in the south) started before 6 AM with the mist still rising off the ground. After a vicious day long battle, the entire Southern army recrossed the Potomac River back into
Virginia to recover.
A letter dated Nov. 12 from Culpepper, Viirginia, written by Private A.J. "Jack" Reese of the Blue Ridge Rifles, said, "The too (sic) Blackwell boys are with us and James Robberts. They were taken prisoners at South Mountain, Maryland, and was not killed as we thought they was."
In 1864, the Blue Ridge Rifles would have ended their enlistment period, but chose not to disband and re-enlisted for the duration of the war.
In 1866, Captain Jesse Marion McDonald married Sarah Ann Thomas and bought the Thomas farm, located behind the Consolidated Gold Mine. The property remained in the family until 2001 when it was acquired by Lumpkin county to be used as a park. The McDonald home still stands and the county hopes to utilize it as a museum in the future. There are also many descendents of the brave men of the Blue Ridge Rifles still living in Lumpkin, County.
Capt. McDonald is the grandfatherof Blanche McDonald Crowe
Source: The Dahlonega Nugget, Dahlonega, Georgia. June 26, 1997, "The
Blue Ridge Rifles of 1861 and the Maryland Campaign"
Edited for clarity and accuracy by Kurt Graham -
Texans in the Civil War
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