The 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Shepherdstown

The Battle of Shepherdstown, also known as the Battle of Boteler's Ford, took place September 19–20, 1862, in Jefferson County, Virginia (now West Virginia), at the end of the Maryland Campaign of the American Civil War.  The battlefield encompassed the ford, a cement mill, kilns, the river and a high bluff.

After dusk on September 18, 1862 General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac River from Maryland back into Virginia at Boteler’s Ford.  This was the day after the deadliest single day battle in US history, the Battle of Antietam, which would produce over 22,000 casualties.  General Lee left behind a rear guard of two infantry brigades and 45 guns under his chief of artillery, Brigadier General William N. Pendleton, to hold Boteler’s Ford.

Shortly before dusk on September 19, Union Brig. Gen. Charles Griffin sent 2,000 infantry and sharpshooters from Maj. Gen. Fitz-John Porter's V Corps across the Potomac River at Boteler's Ford.  They attacked the Pendleton's rearguard, capturing four artillery pieces before being recalled. Pendleton reported to General Lee that Federals were now on the Virginia side of the river, and that he had lost part of his artillery.  General Porter pushed elements of two divisions across the Potomac to establish a bridgehead. Maj. Gen. A. P. Hill's "Light Division" marched 5 miles back towards Shepherdstown and counterattacked under fire from Union artillery across the river on the Maryland hills. Porter, receiving reports that his infantry on the (West) Virginia side was badly outnumbered, ordered a withdrawal. However, the colonel of the inexperienced 118th Pennsylvania (the "Corn Exchange" Regiment) refused to retire until orders were received through the proper chain of command, and his regiment became isolated. As the Confederates approached, the Union regiment panicked, with men scrambling down the steep cliffs and crossing the ford and a nearby dam. Several men drowned in their attempt to reach safety, and the regiment reported 269 casualties out of 737 men. 

The Battle of Shepherdstown was the last bloodshed of the 1862 Maryland Campaign. Casualties for the Union were 363 and Confederates were 291.   


* All photographs are courtesy of the West Virginia State Archives
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