Henry Abbott and the Taking of Fredericksburg
"That's a God awful cannonade," Alley yelled over the din.
"Doesn't appear to be doing a damn thing," Abbott answered as he squinted into the smoke that covered the river. "Every time the big guns stop the Rebs come out to dispute."
"They are damn sure dug in," Alley noted.
"Abbott get your boys together we're crossing in the pontoon boats!" George Macy yelled.
"Time to meet the beast," Alley reflected.
"Well it appears likely that Holmes will survive this one," Abbott forced a smile as he shook Alley's hand. "See you on the other side, dear friend."
The boats slid roughly into the water as the men of the Twentieth crawled in. The men who didn't row fired at the Confederate soldiers who had now come out of their hiding places to dispute the amphibious assault. As bullets knocked splinters into the boat Lieutenant Alley stood on the gunwale. "Row boys, row!" Alley yelled as he stood defiantly for all to see. "Don't flinch boys, we'll soon be across and then we'll strike." It wasn't the ocean wave, nor was there a spermaceti at the end of the short voyage, but the men were the same and the danger was greater, Alley reflected. "Heave boys we're almost on them!"
"Push it across men," Abbott called in a calm voice to the rowers in his boat. He knew Brandon Lane was waiting for him across the river. A minie' ball crashed into the oar next to him. "You are right Brandon we are no longer friends...give me your best shot, for I will no doubt give you mine!" He yelled as he shook his fist at the opposite bank. "Calm yourself Henry," an inner voice soothed his brain. "War isn't for vengeance," the voice continued. "You are here for your men, they need to see your quiet confidence...you are the heart and soul of the regiment...remember your place."
"Pull men...pull," Abbott drew his sword.
"Rack zee ores men!" Dreher shouted as he stood recklessly in the middle of his boat. "Vee vill punish zem vhen ve land. Rack zee oars!"
The boats were rowed across the river under the protection of a rapid and continuous artillery fire, but because of poor communication and some disorganization the protective fire ended before the pontoons began their assault. The Mississippi riflemen, discovering the pontoon movement, commenced firing, killing many of the men in the boats. The pontoons which represented the assault from at least three regiments were rowed across quickly and the men rushed upon the houses on the lower plain and quickly cleared them of the Confederate sharpshooters. The Twentieth held the bank in order to disperse a possible counter attack from Barksdale's men in the town.
By taking the houses nearest the river, the firing was silenced for a time, and the bridge was completed. It was already late afternoon, and only a narrow strand of land by the river had been gained. From the time the first Union detachment had landed, they had been constantly fired upon by Barksdale's riflemen. The men from Mississippi occupied the higher ground and the whole upper part of the city.
It was now necessary to keep the crowded men on the west bank moving forward so as not to become targets for the Confederate riflemen in the upper town. Orders were sent to begin the clearing of the upper town. The Army of the Potomac would remain at a standstill until this advance force could control the city.
"Macy! Captain Macy!" an aide to Colonel Hall came running past the reclined men of the Twentieth.
"Over here, Lieutenant!" Macy yelled as he stood up on the embankment that provided a shelter to his regiment.
"Colonel Hall wants you to move up...I'll lead you to him, Sir!"
"On your feet men!" Macy drew his sword, "We're going in!"
The men moved quickly up embankment to the first line of houses. Bodies clad in blue and gray were strewn across the street where Colonel Hall stood with his staff officers. "Did you think I forgot about you, George?" Hall saluted.
"No, Sir, I knew you hadn't forgot about us," Macy smiled as he returned the salute.
"You need to clear these streets, George," Hall's demeanor became deadly serious. "The Rebs are dug in solid, and we've lost a lot of men just getting here," he waved his sword at the many men who were strewn about. "I found this fellow here, damned Reb citizen...he's not going to like it but he will guide you up these streets."
Macy looked at the man. The man spit in his direction. "George my orders here are to bayonet any male you find up there. Kill them...kill them all!"
"Kill all males?" Macy questioned.
"Kill the sons of bitches!" Hall seethed. "Make sure your entire command understands ...don't bring me any gawd damned prisoners! The Nineteenth Massachusetts and the Forty-second New York will be on your flanks. The Seventh Michigan will act as your skirmishers, they'll lead you down the street. Be careful of where there at, we don't need any killing of our own men."
"Yes, Sir," Macy replied.
Macy studied the situation quickly. "No way to move the regiment up in a line," he mused. "Form column by companies!...Company I to the front!" he yelled. "Captain Abbott, your company will have the van. Take this here Reb sympathizer with you. He'll lead the way."
"I ain't a gonna lead you bastards anywhere," the man spat in Macy's face.
"We've got orders to bayonet all males," Macy replied. |
"You see what you boys have done to my house?" he pointed to a burning building near where they were standing. "You think I'm gonna help ya? You can go straight to Hell."
"Sir, you don't have any choice," Abbott drew his sword. "We are going up that street, with or without you, don't make much difference. But if we leave you here it will because you are dead," Abbott moved up close to the defiant man. "I'll split your head with this sword!"
"No sense getting yourself killed, Man!" Alley stepped forward. "You've done your part, nobody will hold it against you, now lead on!"
"Gawd dammit...gawd damned Yankees!" the man turned and began walking up the smoky, burning street.
"Company I...Forward!" Abbott yelled.
Fire leapt from the windows of the nearest river-front house leading to the street where Company I would enter the fabled city. Smoke fueled by intermittent winds swept across the men as they crowded forward. Abbott squinted as the smoke blistered his eyes. "Thanks Leander, I didn't want to kill the son of a bitch."
In an instant a sharp report echoed in the smoking burning street and the guide collapsed in a heap. "Damned Yankees," he gasped his last breath.
"Snipers!" Alley yelled.
"Here comes a new bunch, Lieutenant!" the sergeant quickly reloaded as he lay hidden behind the blacken stucco frame of a burned out house.
"All of ya, reload quickly, and defend every house!" Lieutenant Lane Brandon yelled to his men. "Don't let them have anything! Guard this intersection like it was your home you was defending back in Mississippi. Cause if these bastards ever get to Mississippi, you have seen a good taste of what they'll do to our homes!"
"Sir," an aide from Colonel Humphreys came running up to Brandon, "the Colonel says we's gonna have to pull on outa here when night falls!"
"Hell, there ain't no sense in leaving when they haven't taken it. They've thrown shot and shell at us all day long, and haven't budged us a bit. Makes no sense, us leaving now!"
"Just the same, Sir, thet's what the Colonel said to tell ya!"
"Well you've told me, Lieutenant, now you go back and tell the colonel what I told you!"
"Tell him just like that...just like what you said?"
"Tell him me and my men will leave when the Yankees push us outa here...and you tell him that will be when Hell freezes over! I ain't leaving!"
"Sir," the hidden sergeant called out. "Sir that new group is advancing."
In the waning daylight hours platoons of blue clad men moved up the slope to the thickest part of the city. The men entered the streets and were met by a fire that came pouring down from the houses on either side. As the Twentieth Massachusetts approached an alley they noticed the men of the Seventh Michigan crouched down along the entire length of the muddy passageway. "Whose in charge here?" Captain Macy yelled down the alley.
"I am Captain, I'm Captain Hunt, Seventh Michigan.
"Sir...you are suppose to be our skirmishers! "We need to get up the road...clear the damned streets!"
"Captain...we aren't going any further. We already tried that intersection!" Hunt yelled as he pointed at the intersection to the west with his sword. "We left twenty of our men up there! We aren't going back...you can't live there!"
"We've been ordered!" Macy was furious. "You've been ordered!"
"We aren't going forward...that's suicide!"
"Hunt you and your regiment can go to Hell! Captain Abbott, take your first Platoon forward!"
"Yes, Sir!" Abbott stepped out in front of the stalled regiment. "First Platoon, Forward!" Twirling the sword on his finger Abbott lead his men forward. "Hold your fire men, until you have a target to shoot at," Abbott walked calmly forward.
"He's sure to get himself kilt," Private Pond pointed at Abbott's calm gait.
"He's always like that," Alley assured.
"Captain Abbott don't scare worth a damn."
"Here they come, Sir!" the reclining sergeant yelled to his commander standing in the intersection.
"As soon as they step into this intersection lay it on them!" Lieutenant Brandon screamed. "Don't shoot until you hear me give the order, and then pour it to them!"
Brandon retreated to a brick building on the south west corner of Caroline Street. It was getting dark, he could hear the shouts of orders coming from the now hidden enemy progressing up the street that led to the river. "I'll wait until they are sufficiently out into the intersection," he thought to himself. The smoke drifted lazily into the cross streets where it was whipped in tight circles from the breeze coming up the street leading to the river. There they were, the dark uniformed men, coming from the unlit street. He noticed the gaunt man in front walking confidently, twirling his sword calmly on his finger. The man stepped quickly over two fallen Yankees. He turned to the men who were following him.
"Spread out quickly when you reach this intersection!"
The voice sounded familiar. "Just a little bit further...and then we'll take you," Brandon whispered.
The dark men entered the intersection and began to spread out. "Give em Hell! Brandon yelled as he fired his revolver toward the gaunt man.
A bullet ripped through Captain Abbott's coat as the intersection was illuminated by the fire of Lieutenant Brandon's men. "Fire!" Abbott yelled, but most of his men had fallen. "Fall back!" he yelled. He looked quickly around to see if Alley was still there.
"You still with us, Mr. Pond?" Alley questioned as he felt the gash in his side.
"That was too close," Pond answered as blood dripped from his head into his eyes.
"Looks like you tried to catch one," Alley looked carefully at Pond's head as he pulled the young private back into the darkness of the side street.
"Sir, are you alright?" Pond noticed Alley was holding his side.
"Just a nick, Mr. Pond...just a nick," he had thought about his statement at Antietam. His normal response in tough places had been that the ball that would kill him had not yet been forged. He decided he wouldn't mention it this time.
"You all right?" Abbott walked up to where Alley and Pond were retreating.
"That intersection is going to be tough," Alley's demeanor reflected the seriousness of the situation.
"We've got to take it," Abbott replied as they met Captain Macy.
"What have we got up there?" Macy questioned.
"Sizable group...all hidden," Abbott replied.
"Hollow square work?" Macy asked.
"That will work better than anything else that we can use," Abbott replied as he noticed Alley holding his side. "Lieutenant...report to the hospital...take care of that wound!"
"Captain, this wound is nothing. I'll be alright!" Alley's nature showed that he wasn't going to argue and that he wouldn't leave unless he received a direct order. He knew that order would not come from his commanding officer. "just a damned scratch!"
"Form Square!" Macy ordered.
"Vee take zee left," Dreher motioned his company into the formation facing south. The remnants of Company I would take the head facing west and Company A would face north as they entered the intersection.
"Let's take that damned intersection!" Macy yelled. "Let's go Captain Abbott...lead the way!"
Abbott moved to the front of the formation, again twirling the sword on his finger he walked forward into the intersection.
"That fellow has grit, I'll give him that," Lieutenant Brandon mused as the sword twirling officer led the three sided Union formation into the intersection. "I never seen a fellow face death in such a nonchalant manner." The formation moved resolutely. Brandon knew that his defense of the intersection would be much tougher to carry out. "Pour it on men!" he yelled as he fired his revolver into the packed formation to his front. The intersection once more became illuminated as the Confederate forces along Caroline Street filled the intersection with lead.
"Easy men...hold fast!" Macy ordered.
"Take em boys!" Abbott yelled as the men fired back at the windows and doors of the buildings that surrounded the intersection.
"Charge bayonets!" Dreher screamed as a bullet crashed into his body.
The three-sided formation fired a volley at the unseen enemy, and once more the intersection erupted. Captain Dreher slumped to the ground, bleeding profusely, his company scattering the Rebel riflemen in the buildings to his front.
"Fall back!" Brandon yelled above the din. "Sergeant, have the men fall back, we'll regroup on the next intersection," he pointed toward the next intersection to the west.
"Fall back to Princess Anne Street!" the sergeant screamed.
"We have prisoners!" a private ran by Brandon.
"Take them with you!" Brandon then turned to fire his revolver into the smoke covered intersection.
"Reform!" Macy yelled. "Reform men! they're running for it!"
"We need to stay after them George!" Abbott yelled.
"We will, we just need to stay organized. The hollow square worked well, but we need to get organized."
"Keep up the scare?" Alley asked as he walked up to Abbott. "Looks like you had a close call," Alley fingered a gash on Abbott's neck.
"Just a nick...nothing but a scratch," Abbott replied angrily.
"How are you doing Mr. Pond?" Alley smiled at the soot covered private.
"I don't mind tellin' ya Sir, I don't like facin' up to the beast."
"I don't know any of us that does," Alley answered. "I don't know Sir, Captain Abbott strolls around this here intersection like it was his back yard or somethin'."
"How did it make you feel...seeing Captain Abbott like that?"
"Felt like I was in good hands...like I wasn't out here by my self."
"That's how he makes me feel too, Mr. Pond."
Lieutenant Brandon reached Princess Anne Street and immediately began deploying his men to meet the next attack. "Sir...Lieutenant Brandon...I've got orders from Colonel Humphreys," the orderly was out of breath. "He's says it's too dark to continue. He's says to pull back now!"
Brandon looked around at the dark smoke covered intersection. "Damn them," he muttered. Look what they did to this town."
"Yes, Sir...but we've got to pull back...Colonel's orders," the orderly implored.
"Lieutenant Brandon," the sergeant called out.
"Yes Sergeant?" "Sir, these prisoners here Sir, they say they are with the Twentieth Massachusetts."
"Twentieth Massachusetts?" Brandon questioned. "You fellows," he directed his attention to the blue clad men who were sitting next to a torn wall. "You fellows are with the Twentieth Massachusetts?"
"Yes, Sir," one of the men answered.
"Whose that officer who led you boys out into the intersection back there?"
"Captain Abbott...no finer man in either army," another man answered defiantly.
"That's Abbott!" Brandon glared. "Is Holmes with him?"
"Captain Holmes is sick with the dysentery, he's not with us today."
"Just like Little, twirling that sword...I should have recognized him, he used to do the same thing with his riding crop."
"Sir, we best get outa here...Colonel's orders," the orderly reminded.
"Abbott isn't going to run me out of this town!" Brandon seethed. "Form the platoon! Fix bayonets! We'll see who runs who out of here!"
"Sir...what about your orders?"
"You take these here Massachusetts fellows back to Colonel Humphreys and you tell him that Hell hasn't quite yet froze over!"
"Fall in!" Brandon yelled as his men came running from the nooks and crannies that surrounded the Princess Anne intersection. "Attention! Men we are going to run those boys from Massachusetts on back to the river. We'll charge bayonets. Hit them quick before they know what's happening. When they start running, send a volley after them. Don't pursue, it's too dark for that. We'll reform in the Caroline Street intersection! At the quick step March!...Charge bayonets!"
"My God, here they come!" a blue clad soldier yelled. "Form square!" Macy yelled. Don't run, we'll just have to take this damned intersection again if you run!"
"Fire!" Abbott yelled to his men at the head of the square. Fire belched forth as the Twentieth tried to regain their nerve. Bullets ricocheted in many directions as the gray clad men stumbled over falling bodies.
"Give them the bayonet!" Brandon screamed as he raced in front of his men, his sword raised and pointed at his adversary.
Blue clad men fell back, unnerved by the surprise attack. "Come back Abbott, twirl your sword now!" Brandon screamed as the Twentieth fell back. "Show me how brave you are now, Little!"
"You men halt!" Macy yelled.
"Get back in line!" Abbott screamed.
"I'm purely ashamed of you!" Alley screamed.
"Stop zis nonsense men," Captain Dreher stood leaning heavily on his sword in front of the retreat. He had organized the wounded men in a line that stretched across the street that halted the rout. "Ve must now go back and take zee intersection, no?"
"Thank God for Dreher," Macy mumbled. "Captain Abbott, take your platoon and secure that intersection!"
"Yes, Sir," Abbott sighed.
"Lieutenant Brandon!" a forceful voice called out in the darkness.
"Over here, the Lieutenant is slightly wounded!" the sergeant yelled.
"Lieutenant, I'm Captain Baldwin from General Barksdale's staff," the captain bent over the winded lieutenant. "You've done a commendable job here son, but I'm here to order you to fall back to the hills to the west, or arrest you and take the men back with me."
"I'll take them, Captain."
The men of the One Hundred and Sixteenth Pennsylvania had moved to the vicinity of the Lacy House.
They watched with deep interest at the dreadful scene being played in the city across the river. They could see many blue clad troops huddled on the west bank of the river. Smoke rose from the burning city and the flames leapt about. Every few minutes a lightning storm erupted at various intersections showing the progress of General Howard's lead platoons.
"Thet's what's awaitin' us," Corporal Slavin said as he stared at the burning city.
"I hope they leave some fer us," Daniel McCarty replied.
"I think we'll prob'ly git our snoot full of them before this deed is done," Sergeant Farley responded. "We'll be crossing thet river tomorrow, and it'll be our turn to pitch in."
Source: "Charge of Lances" by Patrick McDonald
This page last updated 02/16/02
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