The Battle Of Fredericksburg
General E.P. Alexander
Paper No. 2 - (Conclusion)
Saturday, the 13th, at length dawned through the heavy mist, and the Confederate army stood to its arms gazing into the muffled valley, and listening for the well-known sounds which would tell where the first blow was to be given and taken. For some time there was nothing to indicate the enemy's intentions; but at length there came faintly through the fog, confused words of command, among which, "Forward! Guide Centre," could be distinguished, and it was evident that lines of battle were being formed on the Federal left. During the night, the concentration of the Confederates had been completed by the arrival of D. H. Hill's and Early's divisions, the former from Port Royal, and the latter from Skenker's mill. On the evening of the 12th, General Burnside had ordered that the attack should be made in force by Franklin's grand division on the Confederate right at Hamilton's crossing, and General Lee seems to have anticipated such action, as he concentrated in that immediate vicinity the whole of Jackson's corps. On the morning of the 13th, however, as Franklin was preparing to put his whole force in the blow he was about to strike, the orders were modified by rather vague directions from Burnside to send "One division, at least, to seize, if possible, the heights near Hamilton's crossing, taking care to support it well and keep its line of retreat open," and to hold the rest of his command "in position for a rapid movement down the Richmond road." General Sumner, who had previously been ordered to await the success of Franklin's attack, before moving upon the positions in his front, was this morning ordered to "form a column of a division for the purpose of pushing in the direction of the Telegraph and Plank roads, for the purpose of seizing the heights in the rear of the town," and "to hold another division in readiness to support this movement." Franklin designated for his attack Meade's division, supported by Gibbons on its right and Doubleday's in reserve, making the whole of the first corps, and when, at 10 A.M., the melting of the fog exposed the plain to view, three long lines of battle and clouds of skirmishers were visible, already moving slowly across the plain, while his numerous batteries opened a tremendous fire upon the Confederate lines. a while the only reply was from a section of Stuart's horse artillery under Lieutenant John Pelham, of Alabama, who approached close, upon the enemy's left flank with only two guns, and so punished his lines of battle that the advance was checked until Pelham could be driven off, an operation which it took four batteries an hour to accomplish. The whole army were spectators of the unequal combat, and General Lee's expression, "the Gallant Pelham," was ever afterward accorded to him as a well earned soubriquet. On his withdrawal, at last, with empty ammunition chests, Meade again moved forward and soon joined battle along his whole line. A portion of his force struck a considerable interval in A. P. Hill's line (which was in front), where a swamp separated Lane's and Archer's brigades, and penetrating that, and turning the flanks of these two brigades, gained a temporary success. Gregg's brigade, posted in the second line in rear of this interval, was completely surprised by this force advancing through the dense forest and General Gregg himself was killed while beating down his men's muskets to stop the firing upon what he mistook for a Confederate brigade. The true state of affairs, however, was scarcely sooner discovered than it was set to right. Colonel Hamilton succeeded to the command of Gregg's brigade. General Early who was in reserve a short distance in rear came "crashing through the woods" with three brigades of his division: Lawton's under Atkinson, Trimble's under Hoke, and Early's under Walker. The advance of the enemy was beaten back, and after some severe fighting in the woods they were driven out and back across the field to the shelter of the railroad embankment. Here Meade was reinforced by Gibbon's division, supported by `Doubleday's, a short distance in rear, and a determined stand was made. The three brigades, however, under Walker, Hoke and Atkinson, assisted by two regiments of Archer's brigade, and two of Brockenborough's -- scarcely seven thousand men all told, promptly and gallantly charged this greatly superior force, and after a short but sharp action, in which some were even killed with the bayonet, Meade and Gibbons were utterly routed and Doubleday was borne back under the protection of the batteries along the Bowling Green road. Four regiments of Atkinson's command (*) continued the pursuit within fifty
(*) These regiments were the Thirty-first Georgia, Colonel Evans, the Thirty-eighth Georgia, Captain McLeod; Sixtieth Georgia, Colonel Stiles, and Sixty-first Georgia, Colonel Lamar, and averaged 340 men each. They captured over 200 prisoners and inflicted great slaughter upon the enemy while losing themselves forty-eight killed, and 309 wounded. Colonel Atkinson was severely wounded and fell into the enemy's hands. Colonel Evans succeeding to the command. Footnote continued on p.447 .......... Captain Lawton, Brigade-Adjutant, also fell into the enemy's hands mortally wounded while leading a regiment with distinguished gallantry, though already partly disabled by the falling of his horse which had been killed under him.
yards of the guns, even causing some of them to be abandoned by the cannoneers, and only retired on being attacked in flank by Birney's division of Stoneman's corps, which had been hurried up to Meade's assistance. The Confederate line then withdrew to its original position, leaving heavy pickets on the railroad track, and the Federals desisting from the offensive, no further infantry engagement occurred on this part of the field. During these operations of the infantry, the artillery firing on each side had been unusually heavy and murderous. The Federals not only had ample space to bring into action at close range every gun on the south side of the river, but their heavy rifles on the north bank were used with great accuracy in spite of the long range. One hundred and seventy casualties were caused by this artillery fire in a single division (D. H. Hill's), which was held in reserve and entirely concealed from the enemy's view. The Confederate position was so densely wooded throughout that the guns used had to be concentrated in a very few positions and the loss among them was consequently very severe. Meanwhile on the Confederate left, Sumner essayed to carry out his orders, and events fell out as follows: He selected the long promontory since known as Marye's Hill as the point of his attack. It will be seen from the map that this is the extremity of a plateau, some forty feet high, which borders the canal and terminates in a bluff over Hazel run. The Telegraph road runs along the foot of the declivity, and is here sunken some four feet below the level of the bordering gardens and revetted with stone. The ground in front is cut up with fences, the canal, and a deep cut of the unfinished Fredericksburg and Orange railroad, and was swept by the fire of nine guns of the Washington Artillery on the hill, besides which two thirty-pound rifles and about a half dozen field pieces on Lee's and Howison's hills were able to fire over the approaches to the right flank of the position, while two of Maurin's guns on the left swept the Plank-road from the city to a brick tan-yard which bordered it and the canal. This road and the Telegraph road crossed the canal (which was about twenty feet wide and four feet deep), by two bridges some 200 yards apart opposite the left of the position. Below these bridges the crossing of the canal could be effected without the discovery of the Confederates. It is hard to imagine what induced the enemy to select this portion of the line as his point of attack. The distance to be traversed under fire was not so great as would have been necessary elsewhere, but the fire was much more intense. Some slight protection was offered by the intervening houses and fences, but it is very questionable whether the confusion incident to the passage of such obstacles, under a heavy fire, and the great propensity of the men to halt and fire from the cover afforded by them, do not more than compensate for the advantage gained. Four hundred yards north of the Telegraph road the opportunity afforded the enemy at this time was far greater. The guns on this part of the line were in pits, in the plain, not upon the crest, and consequently did not command the approaches. Only Parker's two howitzers at Stansbury's house could have fired upon a line within two hundred yards of the canal, and the infantry defence would have been made without any advantage of ground in its favor, and on a plain well swept by an enfilading fire from above, and a direct fire from below Falmouth. Moreover, even if the crest south of Marye's had been carried, any further advance would have received an enfilade fire from Lee's hill and a severe direct fire from the high hills between the Plank-road and Hazel run, where Rhett's rifle battery was already in position and fortified, while a successful attack a few hundred yards north of this road could have been pushed with very little fire in the flank against wooded hills which gave no positions for artillery, and requiring much more time to be reached by reinforcements. I am very far from wishing to imply that even such an attack, or indeed any other, could have succeeded against the Confederate army in its splendid temper at that time, or to underrate the positive difficulties the enemy would have met even at this point, but simply to criticise very briefly what should perhaps be called his choice of evils. The topography of the situation was well known to him, for a large Federal force had occupied Fredericksburg for many weeks in the summer previous, and his balloons now enabled him to discover every disposition for defence. The attack was preceded by an increase of the artillery fire which had been directed upon the Confederate position during the whole morning, and it was now poured in from every available gun. The honor of the assault which is popularly but erroneously attributed to Meagher's Irish brigade,(*) was assigned to the second corps under Couch, who designated French's division to lead and Hancock's to follow. The formation of each division was ordered to be "brigade front with intervals of two hundred paces." French's brigades was in the following order, viz: Kimball's, Andrews's, Palmer's, Hancock's, Zooks's, Meagher's and Caldwell's. The strength of the column was nine thousand men. At the foot of the hill against which this column was to move, and behind the stone revetment of the telegraph road already described, lay three regiments of Cobbs's brigade, and in a ditch on their left, between Telegraph and Plank roads, was one regiment of Ransom's brigade, the whole under the command of Gen. T.R.R. Cobb. On the crest of the hill at intervals on a front of about four hundred yards were the nine guns of the Washington artillery under Colonel Walton. Two hundred yards behind the guns and sheltered by the slope of the hill was Cooke's brigade of Ransom's division. Four hundred yards in rear of this, lay the remaining three regiments of Ransom's brigade under General Ransom, who was specially charged with the care of the position, and behind the infantry Moseley's battery of six guns was held in reserve. The whole force numbered about six thousand muskets, of which about two thousand were in the front line. About 12 o'clock M., General Longstreet ordered Colonel Alexander to throw a hundred shells down the streets of the city and towards
(*) Meagher's official report, to be found in the Rebellion Record, Vol. VI., Doc. page 80, exhibits the following facts. This brigade formed the second line in the second column of assault. General Meagher marched it to the shelter of the hill across the canal whence the assault was made, and gave the order for the charge, but at the same time being too lame to accompany it further on foot, be returned to the city for his horse which he had left there. He had hardly mounted when the fragments of the brigade joined him, having been already repulsed. During the course of the day General Meagher marched his remnants (two hundred and eighty rallied out of twelve hundred who went in action), across the river where he remained until next morning. Ten officers were killed and wounded in the five regiments of this brigade.
the bridges, which was scarcely commenced by Moody's, Rhett's and Parker's batteries when the assaulting column issued from the town preceded by a cloud of skirmishers and moving by the flank down the Telegraph and Plank roads crossed the canal.
No sooner did their columns appear than the eleven guns of Walton and Maurin, which bore upon their advance, opened a murderous fire on them, in the face of which, however, they crossed the canal and took shelter behind the rising ground between it and Marye's hills. Here for a while they remained hidden from the Confederate view, while several batteries, advanced to the edge of the city, opened a severe cannonade to aid those on the Stafford side in extinguishing the Marye's Hill guns. Very soon, however, the advancing standards of the infantry column were again visible ascending the slope, and three of them were planted at its crest about 175 yards from the Confederate line and about opposite its centre. As it had crossed the canal on the Telegraph and Plank road bridges, opposite the Confederate left-flank, the Federal column must have inclined to its left before assaying to deploy as it now attempted to do on the line marked by its flags. It seemed also from its manner of deployment to have been "right in front," which threw it still farther towards the Confederate centre, which was certainly unfortunate for it. Had its formation been in "double column on the centre," and its deployment directly to its front after crossing the bridges, it would have found better and less exposed ground to advance upon, and would have much overlapped the Confederate left. As it was, no sooner did the deployment on the line of the flags begin than the artillery, disregarding the fire of the enemy's batteries, poured a storm of canister down the slopes, and the infantry, hitherto silent, opened so deadly a fire that the ranks were entirely swept away before the deployment was completed, and the flags were left standing alone and waiving over but a line of killed and wounded, while the Confederates jeered at their discomfitted foes, and shouted, "set them up again."
On this repulse of French's division the battle lulled for perhaps twenty minutes, during which only the sharpshooters on both sides engaged and the Confederate artillery exchanged compliments with the Federal batteries on the edge of the city. It was during this interval that a ball from a sharpshooter mortally wounded the gallant and Christian patriot, General T. R. R. Cobb. He fell under a locust tree hanging over the Telegraph road from the yard of Stevens's house, a small wooden building immediately in front of the stone wall. The fatal shot came from a house some hundred and fifty yards in front and to the left, and which was occupied by the Federal skirmishers. Captain Wallace of the Second South Carolina regiment, afterwards dislodged them by devoting a whole company to pouring a constant fire upon the windows. Seeing that the enemy was preparing for another assault, General Ransom at this time ordered Cooke's brigade to move forward to the crest of the hill, on the line of the batteries, and the movement was just commenced, when Hancock's division, with what had been rallied from French's, mounted the hill, and passing over French's fatal line of flags pushed more gallantly for its goal.
Confident of his position and desirous of making his fire most fatal, Colonel Miller, of the Eighteenth Georgia regiment, who had succeeded to the command of Cobb's brigade, checked the fire of the infantry until Hancock's foremost ranks were within one hundred yards, when the murderous muskets were again turned on the line already roughly used by the guns on the hill. At the same time Cooke's brigade reached the crest above, where three regiments halted while one moved down into the Telegraph road, and all joined in the fire, which fast broke into fragments the Federal assault. The second and third lines were soon mingled with the first in confusion, then all were scattered in clusters to the shelter of houses and fences, and in twenty minutes, these coverts being probed by shells, the bloody field was again deserted.
In these attacks the Confederate loss was slight, while the loss of the Federals was very severe. French lost nearly 50 per cent. of his command, and Hancock lost two thousand and thirteen out of five thousand and six led into action. The body of one man, supposed to have been an officer, was found after the battle within twenty yards of the Confederate line. Others were scattered at various distances up to one hundred yards, at and beyond which the ground was so thickly strewn that from the base of the hill it seemed in places to be carpeted with blue. The failure of this assault is, in the first place, probably entirely due to the fact that the assaulting column stopped to fire, for its numbers were certainly four times as great as the numbers of those who drew trigger against them. The stopping to fire may have been partly the device of the division commanders, but the very disposition of the bodies left on the field indicated the evil influence of the intervening houses and fences on the morale of the advance. At the corners of every house lay a group of bodies, and probably the spot most thickly strewn on the field was a small space behind a high board fence, through which the rebel bullets passed easily, and from behind which the enemy could not fire in reply. The wounded had been removed from the place, but the dead left on the spot would have nearly formed a double rank of the length of the fence.
For a while the conflict again dwindled to an engagement of sharpshooters and artillery, and even the artillery firing was much slackened, for the guns on the Stafford Hills had damaged their own friends by shells falling a little short of their mark, and their fire was partially discontinued or diverted to other points, and only the guns in the city fired upon Marye's Hill. Meanwhile both parties reinforced their fighting lines and prepared for another struggle.
On the death of General Cobb, General Kershaw was ordered with two regiments to reinforce and take command of the position in the Telegraph road, and he now arrived with the Second South Carolina regiment. Colonel Kennedy and the Eighth South Carolina, Captain Stackhouse, which regiments, numbering some 700 men, were posted in the road, doubling on Philips's Legion and the Twenty-fourth Georgia. Brigadier. General Cooke had also been severely wounded during the last attack, and Colonel Hall, of the Forty-sixth North Carolina, had succeeded to the command of the brigade, and he now moved his own regiment from its position on the hill to join the Twenty-seventh North Carolina in the Telegraph road. General Ransom also brought forward the three remaining regiments of his brigade, and posted two of them near the crest of the hill in rear of the line of batteries, while the third, the Twenty-fifth North Carolina, under Lieutenant-Colonel Bryson, advanced down the slope into the Telegraph road after firing a few rounds from the crest at the enemy, who at that moment made his third effort with Howard's division. This division advanced from the lower part of the city, crossing the canal near the railroad, and in proceeding to join Hancock and French, was exposed to the artillery on Lee's and Howison's Hill, which took heavy tell from its columns. After joining the remnants of the preceding attacks, still sheltered in the valley, and firing from the ridge, this division also sought to snatch the coveted prize, but, like its predecessors, after being allowed to advance a short distance, it received a fire which it could not face, and fell back in confusion to the shelter of the slope.
General McLaws now relieved the remainder of Kershaw's brigade from their position in front of Lee's Hill, and dispatched three regiments to General Kershaw, and posted the fourth, the Third South Carolina battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Rice, at the mill on Hazel Run, to protect the right flank of the position. General Jenkins also advanced, for the same purpose, a regiment down the right bank of Hazel Run, where Captain Cuthbert's company of the Second South Carolina had already been doing fine service all day, but with considerable loss. Meanwhile the enemy, with a pertinacy worthy of a better fate, brought forward Sturgis's and Getty's divisions of the Ninth corps from below the mouth of Hazel Run. Their advance exposed their left flanks to a raking fire from the artillery on Lee's Hill, which, with good ammunition, ought to have routed them without the aid of infantry. As it was, some single shots were made, which were even terrible to look at. Gaps were cut in their ranks visible at the distance of a mile, and a long cut of the unfinished Orange Railroad was several times raked through by the thirty-pound Parrott which enfiladed it from Lee's Hill while filled with troops. In spite, however, of the artillery fire, these divisions pressed forward and essayed an attack from the left flank of the beaten divisions still sheltered in the valley. As the leading lines of these divisions pressed forward in the assault, the three remaining regiments of Kershaw's brigade reached the crest of the hill over the Telegraph road. Here one regiment, the Fifteenth South Carolina, Colonel De Saussure, was halted behind a low graveyard wall, as a reserve and support to the batteries, while the Third South Carolina, Colonel Nance, and the Seventh South Carolina, Lieutenant-Colonel Bland, moved down the slope to the yard of Marye's house, where they rendered valuable assistance in repelling the attack, the Third taking position in front of the house and the Seventh in rear. All of the movements detailed as occurring on the slope of this hill during the whole day took place under a murderous fire.
The artillery on the north bank, though checked by the danger of hitting the Federal lines, still kept up a slow but very accurate fire. A number of guns from the suburbs of the town also swept the face of the hill, with case shot and canister, while innumerable sharpshooters kept up a fusilade more deadly than that of a line of battle. The accuracy and the weight of this fire may be imagined from a few illustrations. Early in the morning, Captain H. L. King, a gallant aid of General McLaws, while carrying an order to General Cobb, fell dead on this hill, pierced with five balls. A member of the Twenty-fifth North Carolina, who came a little behind his regiment, when descending this slope, fell dead and rolled to the bottom, perfectly riddled by the storm of balls directed at him.
On the left of the Plank-road, where there was but little fire from sharpshooters, Major Latrobe, of General Longstreet's staff, and Lieutenant Landry, of Maurin's battery, removed a gun out of its pit to fire at a body of the enemy standing behind a hill. By the time that three shots could be fired the gun was disabled, and four out of six cannoneers were killed or wounded.
The Third South Carolina, while fighting in front of Marye's house, lost in succession, in a very short while, six commanding officers, and suffered a loss of one hundred and sixty-seven out of four hundred present. On the cessation of this attack the Third South Carolina, which had perhaps been unnecessarily exposed in meeting it, was moved at the suggestion of Colonel Nance (who still lay wounded on the field) to a road a short distance in rear and to the left, where it was able to find shelter and still fire upon the enemy. At the same time the Seventh South Carolina moved to the right, and in front of Marye's house, to the support of the Fifteenth North Carolina. It formed behind a slope, where, in the subsequent fighting, it would load, march in line to the crest, fire, and fall back to reload.
On the repulse of Sturgis's and Getty's divisions, Burnside, who was looking on from the Phillips house, and receiving particulars from his balloonists and couriers, ordered Hooker to cross the river with the Fifth corps, which was still in reserve, and to "carry that crest." Accordingly the dense columns of this corps, which had heretofore been mere spectators of the stirring scene, now poured down toward the pontoon bridges, while General Hooker in person hurried across to examine the position. On the Confederate side the Fifteenth South Carolina, from the cemetery, and the Sixteenth Georgia, Colonel Bryan (the remaining regiment of Cobb's brigade), joined the force behind the stone wall. There were now eleven regiments in the Telegraph road and the ditch on its left, numbering some 3,500 muskets, and forming four ranks along most of the front. Sheltered in various ways on the slope and ridge above were six other regiments, numbering about 2,500 men. Behind the declivity in their front were the remains of the five divisions which had made assaults, numbering, however, probably not more than fourteen thousand men; for Meagher's and Andrews's brigades, and probably some others, had retreated into the town on being repulsed. This was, however, an ample force for offence, and its commanders diligently rallied and reformed it, and made a fresh effort to dislodge their foes without waiting for the Fifth corps. This effort, made about 4 P.M., was favored by an accident for a few minutes, and resulted in a near approach to the Confederate line and one of the bloodiest repulses of the day. At half-past 3 P.M., the Washington Artillery having expended nearly all of its ammunition, and having one gun disabled and many men killed and wounded, Colonel Walton requested that his battalion (the Washington Artillery) should be relieved by a portion of Alexander's battalion.
Woolfolk's battery of four guns, with a section of Jordan's under Lieutenant Smith, and three guns under Captain Moody, were accordingly moved up in a ravine close in rear of the Washington Artillery, which now vacated the pits, and cleared the way for their advance at a gallop. It happened that the Washington Artillery was just seen to leave its pits as the enemy began his advance, and supposing it to indicate a general retreat of the Confederate line, and rejoicing to be rid of the canister and shell, the Federals cheered and pressed forward boldly, pouring in at the same time a tremendous fire. Meanwhile the relieving artillery, debouching from the ravine, was delayed for a few precious moments by the leading gun being upset in the narrow road and blocking the column. It was promptly righted, however, and deploying rapidly into the pits, the guns came into action in time to catch the enemy's lines, already checked and staggering under the terrific infantry fire poured into him at such close quarters by the dense ranks behind the wall and on the hill. When these nine fresh guns, with chests full of canister, added their missiles to the storm he faced, the halting lines speedily broke--many who had lain down and commenced to fire took to their heels to regain the shelter of the Valley--and the plateau was again deserted.
General Hooker seems to have been a witness to this attack, and was so discouraged by its result, that he galloped back across the river and tried to dissuade Burnside from making any further effort upon the position. The latter, however, insisted, and preparations were therefore reluctantly made by Sumner to carry out the order. Humphrey's division was designated for the assault, and it was ordered to advance with empty muskets, and rely solely on the bayonet. Its attack was preceded by an increased cannonade from additional batteries posted upon the suburbs of the town, and from two guns which had been previously advanced by hand to the crest of the slope within two hundred yards of the Confederate line. This was continued until after sundown, but it was effectively replied to from Marye's Hill, and accomplished nothing. At length when twilight had already begun to obscure the scene, Humphrey's division moved forward. Its attack was more judiciously planned than any of the preceding, in that it relied upon the bayonet, but the Confederate position was now defended by the fire of six ranks of infantry in the road and on the slope, besides a respectable artillery force, and the contest was very nearly such as will in future be seen between the bayonet and the breech-loader. The result augurs badly for the long vaunted supremacy of the bayonet. Humphrey's charge was undoubtedly gallantly made, for the division lost 1,700 out of 4,000 men in ranks, but they did not approach within seventy-five yards of the Confederate position. In fact, the Confederates never even suspected this feature of the assault until it appeared in the northern accounts of the battle. A little cheering and words of command were heard and at the same time a heavy musketry fire was opened from the Federal lines, probably by the supporting force. Infantry and artillery immediately replied with all their power. Through the smoke and twilight the assaulting column was scarcely seen in its dark uniform, and this fire was maintained until after dark, when about 6 P. M. it gradually died out on both sides, and the bloody day was over. A short time before this attack Kemper's brigade, of Pickett's division, had been sent to General Ransom and placed in reserve a short distance in rear--some apprehension being felt of a night attack with the bayonet. Immediately after this assault General Ransom relieved the Twenty-fourth North Carolina, of his brigade (which had now been in its narrow ditch for two days), with a fresh regiment. At the same time pickets were thrown out in front of the line of battle, and these advancing at first too far, were fired upon by the enemy still holding the crest of the plateau. It was supposed for a moment that the enemy were making another charge, and the Confederates springing to their arms, opened a sharp fire of both small arms and artillery before the mistake was discovered. After this, however, the night passed off quietly. Ammunition was replenished and the wounded cared for. The Third South Carolina was relieved, on account of its heavy losses, by a Virginia regiment of Kemper's brigade, the remainder of the brigade being moved to the crest of the hill over the Telegraph road. The three remaining guns of Maurin's battery were relieved by Moody's and Jordan's pieces, till then in reserve, and four of Moody's and Woolfolk's guns, which had relieved the Washington Artillery, having exhausted their ammunition were relieved by a battery under Lieutenant Branch. It was proposed also to relieve Cobb's brigade, which had been in the Telegraph road now for forty-eight hours, but Colonel McMellan and his gallant command claimed the privilege of remaining.
As has been seen, the obstinate contest at Marye's Hill had absorbed not only the whole of Sumner's force, except perhaps one division of the Ninth corps, but also Hooker's reserve, leaving no force available for operations on other portions of Sumner's front. Along the rest of Longstreet's line, therefore, hostilities were limited to distant sharpshooting and artillery practice, except in General Hood's front, where a handsome little affair occurred about three o'clock in the afternoon. A small force of the enemy, apparently a brigade, and without any very definite object, found its way up the wooded ravine of Deep Run as far as the railroad where it surprised the flank of General Pender's picket line and captured an officer and fifteen men of the Sixteenth North Carolina, Colonel McElroy, and enfilading the position of the regiment, along the railroad track, which here ran through a cut, compelled it to fall back to a ditch two hundred yards in the rear, and on the flank of some artillery under Captain Latimer. Here it halted and with the artillery opened fire upon the enemy who now formed their line of battle along the railroad track, apparently preparing to attack the battery. General Law, of Hood's division, who was supporting Pender's flank, perceiving this sortie, rapidly advanced his brigade to the support of the battery, and selecting two new regiments which had never been under fire before, the Fifty-seventh North Carolina, Colonel Godwin, and the Fifty-fourth, Colonel McDowell, he led them in a charge upon the enemy, though in superior force and excellently posted in the railroad cut. Colonel McElroy joined in the charge with his regiment and it was most gallantly executed, the Fifty-seventh leading and the others supporting. The enemy poured a severe fire upon them for a while from which the Fifty-seventh especially suffered severe loss, but the advance was unchecked and the Federals not liking the prospect of close quarters soon abandoned their position and retreated across the field towards their batteries.
The whole object of the charge was accomplished when the railroad cut was regained, and to pursue it farther was an unnecessary expenditure of blood, but the Confederate officers had not learned at that time the necessity of economizing their men, and the men, in this case, were fighting their first battle with an ardent emulation of their veteran comrades who were spectators of the charge. Without halting at the railroad cut, whence the enemy had retreated, they pushed boldly across the level plain and pursued him within three hundred yards of his guns, along the line of the Bowling Green road. During this advance, a force of the enemy opened an oblique fire upon it from the ravine of Deep Run, but the Fifty-fourth and a portion of the Fifty-seventh changed front to the left, and soon silenced them. The Fourth Alabama also advanced in front of Latimer's guns at this time to support the charge, but was not engaged. Having more than accomplished his object, General Law at length withdrew his small force to the railroad, which position was afterwards held unmolested by various parts of Hood's division, until the enemy recrossed the river.
As the conflict on Saturday had been continued with such pertinacity until restrained by night, its renewal was confidently expected on the morning of the 14th, and it seems that it was indeed only averted by the urgent entreaties of General Sumner, and after a column of assault had been already formed. Disgusted at the failure to carry the position, General Burnside had determined to undertake the business himself, and was about to lead in person the Ninth corps, formed in a close column by regiments. It would certainly have been an interesting tactical experiment to have tried the effect of thirty-six lines, where the usual formation of three lines had so signally failed; but there is little room to doubt that its failure would have been far more signal and bloody than any of the preceding.
A large column closed in mass passes such obstacles as encumbered the path of this column with difficulty at the best, and when such a mass is once thrown into confusion order can hardly be restored to such a mixture of commands. Moreover, if the fire the day before had been too hot to face when distributed over a brigade front, now that its whole force would have been concentrated upon a regimental front, the head of the column must have dissipated rapidly in the infantry fire, while its body could never have held together in the converging storm of shell and canister which would have torn through its whole length.
The Confederates had no intimation at the time of the desperate onset prepared for them, though expecting one somewhere, and prepared for it everywhere. The morning was again obscured by the smoky mist, and when it at length melted away General Burnside had abandoned all aggressive intentions and his heavy column had been dispersed by his own command, while still concealed in the friendly fog.
During the night the enemy barricaded the principal streets of the city and established batteries in them, prepared rifle pits at various points and also loop-holed several houses for sharpshooters, from which he kept up an annoying fire during the whole day, as well as from his artillery on the opposite shore. A line of battle was sheltered behind the slope between the Telegraph road and the canal, and he evidently invited an attack. As General Lee's non-acceptance of this challenge has been loudly criticised, it may not be amiss to remark that sufficient reasons against his attacking can be discovered in any map of the battle-field. The operation would have been something like assaulting a superior force in the "Covered Way," of a permanent fort with a wet ditch. Moreover, if General Lee had a fault it certainly was not an indisposition to take the offensive when opportunity offered. On the afternoon of the 15th, General Jackson did plan and prepare an assault with his whole corps upon the Federal left, but his initial step developed such strength in the enemy's position that it was at once abandoned. The canal, the city and the raking batteries about Falmouth and below Fredericksburg rendered an advance by Longstreet even more difficult. The Sabbath was accordingly passed by each army in simply inviting an assault from its adversary. The Confederate artillery were ordered to reserve their ammunition entirely for the enemy's infantry, and consequently submitted quietly to the enemy's practice and only fired occasionally when a moving column would come in eight. The sharpshooting was active, however, on both aides, and the Confederates made particularly good use of the upper stories of Marye's house, which gave a view of many little nooks in which the Federal pickets and reserves sought shelter. During his assaults of the previous day hundreds of the enemy's bravest men had fallen wounded so far in the front and under such a terrible fire that their friends were unable to remove them. During the night the litter-bearers carried off all within their picket-lines, but a great number were still alive and lying where they fell during the whole Sabbath. They were in full view of both lines, being scarcely a hundred yards distant from each other, and their piteous groans and cries for water were plainly audible to the Confederates, and certainly moved many a heart with pity. General Burnside must have been fully aware of this state of affairs, for it is a consequence of every unsuccessful charge, and it is difficult to conceive why he made no effort to relieve the wretched sufferers. A flag of truce would have at once procured their delivery on his picket line, or the privilege of sending his litter-bearers and surgeons for them, but it was never sent--perhaps because the fact of his having to resort to this means of getting his wounded would have implied less success than he was disposed to claim.
One noble act of humanity to the abandoned and dying, however, was performed by a brave South Carolina Sergeant, whose name I regret not to be able to record, and who was afterwards killed at Chickamauga, for it is more worthy of commemoration than the bravest deed in the heat of action. Touched by their sad cries, the Sergeant begged permission from General Kershaw to show a white handkerchief and go out on the field with some canteens of water and at least relieve the thirst of a few. This, General Kershaw was compelled to refuse, lest it should be interpreted as a flag of truce. The Sergeant then begged so earnestly for permission to go without showing any signal and run the risk of being shot, that, honoring his noble motives, General Kershaw at length consented, though fully expecting to see him killed as soon as he showed himself in front of the wall, for the sharpshooters were so prompt and accurate in their fire that there was great danger that he would be shot before the enemy could perceive his motives. Collecting some canteens of water from his comrades, however, he boldly stepped over the wall and advanced towards the nearest group of the prostrate forms which strewed the ground. Two or three shots were fired, which narrowly missed him; but he did not hesitate, and. walking quietly on, soon commenced to distribute the water to all who were yet alive. Seeing the unhoped-for succor, many who were lying in silent despair beckoned and cried to him from all directions, and he, collecting their canteens, made several returns to the road to get them filled by his comrades before ceasing his humane task. During the following night some of the cannoneers from Jordan's battery also carried water to the nearest wounded, but the slight relief which these efforts afforded availed but little, even to those whom it reached. When, on the 16th, the enemy retreated across the river, and the Confederate surgeons were able to examine the ground, but one of the wounded was still alive.
The Sabbath having passed quietly, and it being known in the Confederate lines that the Eleventh corps, under Siegel, was marching rapidly to join Burnside, a renewal of the attack was confidently expected on Monday morning. Accordingly the Confederate position was strengthened during the night of the 14th by rifle-pits connecting the guns on Marye's hill, and by several new pits for artillery; from two of which, a short distance south of Stansbury's house, a part of the low ground along the canal could be enfiladed. Jenkins's and Kemper's brigades were removed from Marye's hill to Pickett's front during the night. Kemper was replaced by Ransom's brigade and Jenkins by Cooke's and the Sixteenth Mississippi and part of the Forty-sixth, of Featherstone's brigade. Colonel McMillan and Cobb's brigade were also relieved, though much against their wishes, by General Semmes's brigade. A brilliant aurora illuminated the night and much facilitated the work upon the entrenchments, but the morning of the 15th was again obscured by the fog. This cleared away, however, about 8 A.M., but, to the great disappointment of the Confederates, it revealed no signs of an attack.
The enemy's situation was unchanged, except that his riffs pits and fortifications in the suburbs of the city had considerably increased during the night. The supplies of ammunition sent from Richmond had at length been received, and the guns on Marye's Hill were now allowed to dispense a little of it among the sharpshooters, who had been so annoying the day before. The new pits near Stansbury's house were occupied by two twelve pounders under Captain Moody, and when the fog cleared up, they opened a raking fire upon the enemy's troops sheltered behind the slopes in front of Marye's Hill, which soon drove thom from their positions. At first, a number ran for shelter to the city, but the sharpshooters and guns on Marye's Hill punished these fugitives so severely, that the remainder took refuge in collars and nooks wherever they could be hid, and did not dare to disclose their whereabouts by firing a shot. A brick tanyard on the canal, which had been loop-holed and extremely annoying on Sunday, was also demoralized and silenced at an early hour by a single well-aimed shell, which took off a sharpshooter's head, and during the rest of the day the Confederate line was entirely free from all annoyance, while the artillerists amused themselves by dispersing the many little knots of gazers who had hitherto been able to assemble in the enemy's lines with impunity when out of musket range.
In the afternoon of the 15th, a flag of truce was sent into Jackson's line by General Franklin or one of his corps commanders, asking permission to remove the wounded who had fallen on the 13th between lines. As there was no evidence of its having the sanction of General Burnside, the request was returned by General Lee, to be sent through him, and on its reception from him, it was granted. This truce was only requested, however, on the front below Deep Run, and did not prevail on Longstreet's line, which continued to shell the enemy moderately until dark.
A largo force of the enemy appeared during the day on the plateau near the Philips house, and it was supposed to be, and probably was, the newly arrived Eleventh corps, under Siegel. It was still expected, therefore, that Burnside would renew the offensive on the next day, and work upon the Confederate position was accordingly continued all night. The night was cloudy, intensely dark, and windy, and the wind blew directly toward the Federal lines, so that no noise within them could be heard by the Confederate pickets, and during the latter hours of the night it rained. Providentially favored by this weather, General Burnside during the night crossed his whole army to the Stafford side. It is needless to say how bitter was the disappointment of the whole army at this indecisive termination of the struggle.
On the morning of the 16th, the enemy's pickets not being visible, General Kershaw sent out scouts, who soon reported that the town was evacuated. Three regiments were at once despatched to take possession of the town, one from Jonkins's brigade, which had relieved Cooke's during the night, one from Kershaw's and one from Semmes's brigade. These regiments advancing into the city picked up four hundred prisoners and found two hundred and fifty thousand rounds of small-arms ammunition abandoned by the enemy; very acceptable but very meagre leavings for so large an army. On the field of battle, however, there were picked up fifty-five hundred stand of arms, principally rifled muskets--a very desirable acquisition--and also two flags, one an embroidered guidon of the Sixty-Ninth New York, of Meagher's brigade, the other a large red and white flag, with the figure 1 in the centre.
The enemy fired a few shells from his heavy batteries on the Stafford side at some of the moving bodies of the Confederates, one of which killed one man in the Third South Carolina battalion at Howison's Mill, but this firing lasted only a few minutes and before the day was over the pickets were again amicably established in their old positions on the opposite banks of the river and the battle of Fredericksburg finished.
The advance of General Jackson's picket force on the morning of the 15th caught two hundred and ninety of the enemy who had failed to cross for some reason and his ordnance officer also collected forty-four hundred small arms abandoned on his position of the field. The total capture of small arms was therefore near ten thousand. The casualties in Longstreet's corps were as follows:
Aggregate Anderson's Division 11 12 92 4 40 16 143 159 McLaw's Division 11 89 50 641 1 67 62 797 859 Pickett's Division 3 2 48 1 2 52 54 Hood's Division 4 50 7 178 12 11 240 251 Ransom's Division 3 77 30 425 33 502 535 Washington Artillery Bat'n 3 1 23 1 26 27 Alexander's Artillery Bat'n 1 10 11 11 Total 18 234 102 1,421 5 120 125 1,771 1,896
The casualties in Jackson's corps were twenty-six officers killed and one hundred and ninety-five wounded; three hundred and eighteen men killed and twenty-three hundred and fifty wounded; eighteen officers and five hundred and eight men missing--making a total loss in this corps of three thousand four hundred and fifteen, and in both corps an aggregate of five thousand three hundred and eleven, of whom probably six hundred were captured. General Burnside at first admitted a loss of but eight or nine thousand, but later reports fixed it more accurately at twelve thousand three hundred and twenty-one, of whom probably a thousand were missing. Nearly two-thirds of this loss fell upon the divisions which made the attacks upon Marye's hill. Fully twenty-seven thousand infantry had been thrown against this position, and they had the support of about fourteen thousand more near at hand and the assistance of very many guns.
The force that made the defence has been shown to have scarcely exceeded six thousand muskets and twenty guns, and I have also endeavored to set forth fully the disadvantages under which the attacking force labored. The infantry in the Telegraph road fired during the 13th an average of fifty-five rounds per man, and the guns on Marye's hill fired about twenty-four hundred rounds from eleven pits.
Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. X. Richmond, Va., Oct. And Nov., 1882. Nos 10-11.
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