Report of Maj. Gen. Darius N. Couch, U.S. Army, Commanding Second Army Corps.
DECEMBER 11-15, 1862.--Battle of Fredericksburg, Va.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXI [S# 31]
HEADQUARTERS SECOND ARMY CORPS,
Camp near Falmouth, Va., January --, 1863.
Lieut. Col. J. H. TAYLOR,
Chief of Staff and Assistant Adjutant-General.
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the Second Army Corps between December l0 and 16:
During the night of December 10, General Hancock was directed to send two regiments from Colonel Zook's brigade to protect the working parties who were throwing bridges over the Rappahannock, opposite the city of Fredericksburg, and where this corps was to cross.
At 8 a.m. on the 11th, the command was massed under cover in rear of where the bridges were being constructed, and was held in readiness for crossing, in obedience to orders from Major-General Sumner, commanding right grand division. At the same time I received directions from the major-general commanding right grand division to send a brigade to report to Brigadier-General Woodbury, of the engineers. The brigade commanded by Col. N.J. Hall, of Howard's division, was detailed for this purpose. Nothwithstanding the heavy artillery fire on the town, the enemy were not dislodged.
It was then decided to send over the troops in boats. Lieutenant-Colonel Baxter, Seventh Michigan Regiment, followed by the Nineteenth and Twentieth Massachusetts, crossed the river in the pontoon boats, seized the buildings occupied by the enemy's sharpshooters, took a number of prisoners, and advanced into the town. This was a gallant affair. It should be stated that the engineer troops, who were to use the oars in crossing the troops, could not be made to do their duty. The bridges were rapidly completed, but the lateness of the hour (4.30 p.m.) prevented the crossing of more than Howard's division before dark. General Howard commanded in Fredericksburg that night.
At sunrise on the 12th, French's and Hancock's divisions were crossed and assigned positions in the streets running parallel to the river. TheNinth Corps occupied the left of the city; scarcely an inhabitant was found remaining; very little property was maliciously destroyed, the troops taking tobacco, flour, and other eatables, wherever found; order and discipline reigned. The enemy fired a few shot and shell at intervals, but without serious damage.
In rear of the town the ground is a broken plain, traversed about midway by a canal or ditch, running from right to left. Across this plain, some 600 yards from the outer edge of town, commences the first rise of hills on which the enemy had erected his batteries. Two roads cut the plain nearly at right angles with the canal--the one a plank road, leading to Culpeper, to the right; the other, to the left, the Telegraph road leading to Richmond.
At 8.15 on the morning of the 13th, the following order was received:
HEADQUARTERS RIGHT GRAND DIVISION,
Near Falmouth, Va., December 12, 1862.
Commanding Second Corps d Armee:
General: The major-general commanding directs me to say to you that General Willcox has been ordered to extend to the left, so as to connect with Franklin's right. You will extend your right so far as to prevent the possibility of the enemy occupying the upper part of the town. You will then form a column of a division for the purpose of pushing in the direction of the Plank and Telegraph roads, for the purpose, of seizing the height in rear of the town. This column will advance in three lines, with such intervals as you may Judge proper, this movement to be covered by a heavy line of skirmishers in front and on both flanks. You will hold another division in readiness to advance in support of this movement, to be formed in the same manner as the leading division. Particular care and precaution must be taken to prevent collision with our own troops in the fog. The movement will not commence until you receive orders. The watchword will be "Scott."
Very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
J. H. TAYLOR,
Chief of Staff and assistant Adjutant-General.
P. S.--The major-general commanding thinks that, as Howard's division led into the town, it is proper that one of the others take the advance.
General French was at once directed to prepare his division for the advance, and General Hancock to follow with his division in the same order of attack. The distance between the successive lines was to be about 200 yards. The divisions were sent into action as came their turn in order of march.
At 9.50 a.m. General French reported that he had made his dispositions, and General Sumner was signaled that all was ready. The fog that covered the town and heights commenced lifting. French commenced his movement by throwing out a strong body of skirmishers, under command of Col. (now Brig. Gen.) J. S Mason, Fourth Ohio.
The division moved out of the city by two parallel streets, running into the Plank and Telegraph roads, and at 12.10 p.m. became engaged. General Kimball's brigade was in front, and by its subsequent conduct showed itself worthy to lead. It was followed in succession by the brigades of Col. J. W. Andrews, First Delaware, and Colonel Palmer, One hundred and eighth New York. As has been stated, the troops debouched from the town by two streets leading into the Plank and Telegraph roads. The ditch or canal heretofore mentioned was impassable, except at the bridges. A little beyond it the ground rises, forming a cover, behind which the troops were able to deploy. The rise or crest is about half way between the outer edge of the city and the foot of the heights which were to be carried. The intermediate ground was obstructed here and there by houses and garden fences. This plain was swept by a converging artillery and musketry fire of the enemy. Over it Mason went with his skirmishers, followed by Kimball and the balance of French's division, working nearly up to the stone wall at the foot of the heights, behind which the enemy sought shelter. To support his advance, General French had a section of Arnold's battery, soon joined by the other two sections. Hancock followed with his division in the order of Zook's, Meagher's, and Caldwell's brigades, and, pressing on, came up with the advance of French, and, joining it, pushed on with determination.
At this moment (1 p.m.) I ordered Hancock and French to carry the enemy's works by storm. Seeing shortly that this could not be done, the men falling by hundreds, Howard was directed to move his division to the right of the Telegraph road, and turn the enemy's left, the ground presenting some favorable features for such an attack. Nearly at the same instant both Generals Hancock and French sent urgent requests for re enforcements, and Howard was recalled and ordered in on the Telegraph road, Colonel Owen's brigade being pushed up to the front, followed by Hall's brigade, Sully being in support. Brigadier-General Willcox, commanding Ninth Corps, had now sent in Sturgis' division on our left.
About 2 p.m. Hooker came on the ground with Butterfield's corps, Whipple's division relieving Howard's, on the latter being ordered to the front, in the duty of holding the right of the town.
The following dispatch was received from General Sumner about 3 p.m.:
HEADQUARTERS RIGHT GRAND DIVISION, ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
December 13, 1862--2.40 p.m.
Hooker has been ordered to put in everything. You must hold on until he comes in. By command of Brevet Major-General Sumner:
W. G. JONES,
Lieutenant, Aide-de-Camp, &c.
The Second Corps held its ground, many of the regiments out of ammunition, relying upon the bayonet. Our batteries on the left bank of the river aided our efforts.
About 4 p.m., in the absence of General Hooker, I directed General Humphreys, who, I presumed, had orders to co-operate, to move forward his division. He twice led his men forward with great gallantry, but was unsuccessful in effecting a lodgment, and retired.
At 4.15, Hazard, with his battery of light 12-pounders, was ordered forward to within 300 yards of the enemy's line, for the purpose of breaking up that part of the line which was delivering so destructive a fire on the Ninth Corps. The duty was bravely done. Captain Frank, First New York Artillery, was soon after effectively sent in on Hazard's left by Major-General Hooker, who came up.
Lieutenant Thomas' battery (c), Fourth U.S. Artillery, was in action for a short time on the left, doing good service. Kirby's battery was held in readiness to act at a critical period, only one section being in action.
Early in the afternoon, Major Doull, of General Hunt's staff, brought over two rifled batteries, Waterman's and Kusserow's, and placed them in the position selected by Capt. C. H. Morgan, chief of artillery of the corps. Here the batteries did most excellent service. Pettit's, Owen's, and King's batteries were in position on the left bank of the river.
Night came on, leaving every part of the field taken by us during the day still in our possession. Although the Second Corps had failed in its object, it has never, from the glorious days of Fair Oaks to Antietam, shown such determined courage as in this day's fight against stone wall, rifle-pits, and enfilading batteries.
There were many that straggled away from the field, leaving' their comrades to bear the brunt of battle. Of those who thus dishonored their names and country nothing more need be written. Too much, however, cannot be said in praise of those who did their duty so well, and whose unflinching bravery and determination have added new honor to the corps and to the army, and compelled the admiration of all brave men.
General Butterfield commenced relieving my command at 8 p.m., some of the regiments not being withdrawn till I o'clock on the following morning. The surgeons, aided by the ambulance corps, brought in the wounded, and established hospitals throughout the city. The divisions bivouacked in the streets, near the river. As on the preceding night, no fires were allowed. Much privation was endured by the troops without murmuring.
My thanks are due to Brigadier-General Willcox, Brigadier-General Butterfield, then commanding the Fifth Corps, and Brigadier-General Whipple, for their hearty co-operation in carrying out my wishes when in temporary command of the city.
The desperate, stubborn fighting was done by Hancock's division and most of French's. The former lost 2,000 men, the latter 1,200. Howard, coming up late, lost 700 men, besides 150 on the 11th. He did well the part assigned to him.
These generals of divisions seconded my efforts, and gave me good counsel. Their soldierly reputations are too well established to require any commendation from me. I respectfully ask the attention of the general commanding to their elaborate reports, together with those of the brigade and regimental commanders, and that of the chief of artillery. These give the names of many' brave men who laid down their lives for the honor of their country, and also record the names and services of some of those living, who deserve a soldier's reward for their valor and devotion.
Lieutenant Cushing, topographical engineers, staff of Major-General Sumner, was with me throughout the battle, and acted with his well-known gallantry. Capt. C. H. Morgan, Fourth Artillery, chief of artillery, rendered invaluable service. Maj. F. A. Walker, assistant adju-tant-general, and Lieutenant Burt, aide-de-camp, served me, as in former battles, with ability and bravery. Lieut. J. N. Potter, aide-de-camp, and Lieutenant Wetmore, Sixth New York Volunteer Cavalry, served courageously and to my satisfaction in this their first battle with me. Lieut. J. S. Schultz, corps quartermaster (slightly wounded), and Capt. J. C. Smith, commissary, were untiring in their labors.
Dr.. J. H. Taylor, medical director of the corps, was unceasing in his devotion to the wounded. His department was well organized, and the surgeons of the corps generally labored zealously. The ambulance corps was efficient. Lieutenant Parker, a brave young officer, of General Hancock's staff, was severely wounded while carrying a message for me.
On the 14th and 15th we remained in the city inactive, but exposed to the shell of the enemy, which, however, did but little harm.
On the night of the 15th, having received orders from Major-General Sumner to recross the river, the Second and Ninth Corps were withdrawal from the town, and, with the exception of the pickets, were on the left bank of the river at 1 a.m. on the 16th.
I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
D. N. COUCH,
Major-General, Commanding Second Corps.
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