[History of Fox Gap, Maryland]     [Settlement History]     [The Wise Cabin]     [The Battle of South Mountain]

                                                                                                                      
History of Fox Gap, Maryland
Fox Gap’s history is written in footsteps. From the quiet padding of moccasins, through the tramping of mountain farmers and great armies, to the bootsteps of modern hikers, centuries of humanity have passed along or over the mountain here.  Those feet have left behind a long, complicated, and significant history preserved in the mountaintop’s rocky soil.

 

 Settlement History

  Evidence from the local archaeological record in Frederick and Washington counties suggests Native Americans discovered the pass in the mountain ridge at Fox Gap over 8,000 years ago, during what archaeologists call the Early Archaic period.  Stone tools from that era, and many others that date to later times, have been found at trailside encampments used by the first Marylanders as they traveled west and east through the gap between the Catoctin and Antietam valleys. Generations of Native People blazed a trail that was followed by the earliest Euro-American visitors
This area was first referred to as "Foxes Gap" in a letter dated Sept. 10, 1792.  The Fox family, John, Christiana, their son Frederick first came to the area later named for them in the early 1751.  They were immigrants from the Hesse Cassell area of Germany.  Frederick Fox became the earliest documentable claiment of the lands that would later become the Wise farmstead.  Frederick was one of at least five siblings.  As recorded in the Fredercik County courthouse, Frederick Fox received a patent deed dated to June 11, 1792 for a 75-acre tract of land called, ironically, "Fredericksburgh".  He continued to purchase adjacent land through 1805, eventually owning the Fredericksburgh tract at Fox's Gap to the area that later would become known as Turner's Gap.  After the death of his wife in the early 1800's, Fox moved from Frederick County to Warren County, Ohio with six other families.  The land he sold at that time for $1000 included the land that later became the Wise farmstead.
In 1858, Daniel Wise and his children acquired a deed to part of this property for only $46.96.  They established a small farm here, clearing a four-acre field, raising some hogs and cattle, and building a small solidly built log cabin (demolished in 1919). Like most mountain families, very little personal history  undoubtedly very much like most of their neighbors here on the Blue Ridge; small-time subsistence farmers.  

The Wise’s are distinguished from other local 19th century families by what could be an important economic consideration and by an accident of history and geography.  There is a tantalizing but fragmentary reference in an 1850 census to Daniel Wise as a potter, and he may possibly have been a member of a very famous family of earthenware potters (who spelled their name Weis) from Hagerstown and Shepardstown.  If that’s true, there may be evidence of it in the archaeological deposits associated with his house. Of course, the other circumstances that set the Wise clan apart were the sad and violent events of September the 14th, 1862.

 

The Wise Cabin
As seen in the historic images, the Wise House was a modest, one and a half story, side gables, rectangular, whitewashed log structure.  On the facades that are visible in the images, the fenestration of the east gable wall included a single window on the first floor located towards the northeast corner of the building, and a square garret window in the gable wall just north of its centerline.  The fenestration on the front or west facade included a doorway near the building's northeast corner and a window near its northwest corner. At some later date, what appears to be a second window was cut in the wall within two feet of the doorway, positioned near the center of the facade. 

 

 

 

 

Tne image looking towards the Wise House from a point in the field on the north side of the old Sharpsburg Road also suggests that at the time it was taken, the roof and a chimney at the east gable wall was being replaced/rebuilt.  The physical size of the dwelling suggests that the structure has a simple interior layout-a rectangular single-pen or a hall and parlor floor plan. These photographic details give tantalizing hints as to the cabin's age and construction phases.  The Wise House may not even have been built as a dwelling originally, at all, but as a small log barn or stable that the Wise family converted to a single-family house.  So when was the Wise House built?  Without any archaeological data, a best guess might be ca. 1844-1862.  

 

The Battle of South Mountain at Fox's Gap
For much of its history, Fox Gap has been a quiet route of travel between the Antietam and Catoctin valleys, and a sleepy mountain farm.  Indeed, the gap would certainly be just another anonymous Appalachian backwater where a road happens to cross the mountain were it not for the events of a single day that affords it at least a mention in every history of the American Civil War.  On September the 14th, 1862, a modest (by Civil War standards) but desperate engagement was fought here between elements of the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac as a prelude to  the war’s bloodiest single day at Antietam. 
In the late summer of 1862, the Army of Northern Virginia flushed with a recent victory at the battle of Second Manassas, invaded the North. General Robert E. Lee moved his 50,000-man army through Frederick and over Turner’s Gap just north of here to Boonsboro. Here he divided his army sending half south to take the armory at Harpers Ferry and half north to begin an invasion of Pennsylvania.  The Army of the Potomac, under George McClellan, got wind of Lee’s movements and set out in hot pursuit. On September the 14th, approximately 20,000 men of the Union vanguard attempted to wrest control of the mountain gaps from about 10,000 men of the Confederate rear guard, and cross the mountain to entrap the separated portions of Lee’s army. The Confederates fought a furious delaying action to hold off the federals for a full day, and allow Lee’s army to reunite near Sharpsburg, where the Battle of Antietam was fought three days later.  Nowhere was the fighting on the 14th bloodier or more decisive than in the fields and garden of the Wise farm, here in Fox Gap. Thousands of men fought a daylong battle here, and by the time the Confederates were finally driven out of the gap at nightfall, there were hundreds of fatalities, including a general from each army.  The battle constitutes an important part of the archaeological record at Fox Gap.
It was at the Battle of Fox Gap that two generals lost their lives, Union General Jesse Reno and Confederate General Samuel Garland.  A monument to Gen. Reno was placed at Fox Gap not long after the war.  A monument to the Confederate troops and Gen. Garland was not in place until the late twentieth century.

The period from September 13th 1862, through the Battle of Antietam on September the 17th and Lee’s subsequent retreat back into Virginia is one of the most important weeks in American history. Had Lee’s invasion been completely successful, it is very likely that the late 19th and 20th centuries would have seen two independent nations between Canada and Mexico. Had the Union army caught Lee unaware in the  Antietam Valley, the war would have likely ended by late 1862, and Gettysburg would be a sleepy little Pennsylvania farm town with an unremarkable history. Of course, those things didn’t happen. 

The Battle of the South Mountain, while modest by the scale of the American Civil War, was extremely important. The one day delay it forced in the Union advance gave Lee’s army time to reunite and avoid a nearly certain and complete destruction in 1862, and so allowed the rebellion to continue for three more very bloody years. Fox Gap is a quiet place now, but it’s importance in the history of our country is hard to overestimate.

Early picture of the Reno Monument at Fox's Gap.  The monument can be seen in the pasture on the right side of the Old Sharpsburg Road.