Report of Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws, C. S. Army,
Commanding McLaws Division.
Battle of Fredericksburg, Va.
December 11-15, 1862
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXI [S# 31]
Camp near Fredericksburg, Va., December 30, 1863.
Maj. G. MOXLEY SORREL,
My division occupied the front of defense from Hazel Run along the ridge of hills to the right and through the point of woods extending into Mr. Alfred Bernard's field, one brigade being in reserve. The brigade on the left had an extended rifle-pit at the foot of the main ridge, from the left of the Telegraph road to a private road near Mr. Howison's barn. The next brigade had rifle-pits along the foot of the hills in front of its position, and others on the crest of the hills. The right brigade constructed rifle-pits and breastworks of logs through the woods, with abatis in front of them. The crests of the hills were occupied by the batteries of Captain [John P. W.] Read, one 10-pounder Parrott, one 12-pounder howitzer, one 3-inch rifle; Captain [B.C.] Manly, three 6-pounders, one 3-inch rifle, two 12.pounder howitzers; Captain [H. N.] Ells, one 30-pounder Parrott; Captain [Miles C.] Macon, two 10-pounder Parrotts and two 6-pounders; [Capt.] R. L. Cooper, three 10-pounder Parrotts; [Capt. Henry H.] Carlton, two 10-pounder Parrotts; [Capt. John L.] Eubank, one 3-inch rifle; [Capt. E. S.] McCarthy, two 3-inch rifles; [Capt. James] Dearing, one 10-pounder Parrott; [Capt. H. M.] Ross, three 10-pounder Parrotts, and, in addition, there was a number of smooth-bore pieces placed along the hills, to be used should the enemy advance near enough for their effectual range. One brigade was constantly on duty in the city to guard the town and defend the river crossings as far down as a quarter of a mile below Deep Run Creek. Two regiments from General Anderson's division picketed the river bank above the town, reporting to the brigadier-general in charge of the brigade on duty in the city. The orders were that two guns should be fired from one of my batteries in a central position, which would be the signal that the enemy were attempting to cross. These were the positions of my command and the orders governing them up to the 10th instant. On that day the brigade of General Barksdale, composed of the Mississippi troops, were on duty in the city.
About 2 a.m. on the 11th, General Barksdale sent me word that the movements of the enemy indicated they were preparing to lay down their pontoon bridges, and his men were getting into position to defend the crossing. About 4.30 o'clock he notified me that the bridges were being placed, and he would open fire so soon as the working parties came in good range of his rifles. I gave the order, and the signal guns were fired about 5 a.m.
I had been notified from your headquarters the evening previous (the 10th instant) to have all the batteries harnessed up at daylight on the 11th, and I had given orders that my whole command should be under arms at the same time.
General Barksdale kept his men quiet and concealed until the bridges were so advanced that the working parties were in easy range, when he opened fire with such effect the bridges were abandoned at once. Nine separate and desperate attempts were made to complete the bridges under fire of their sharpshooters and guns on the opposite banks, but every attempt being attended with such severe loss from our men--posted in rifle-pits, in the cellars of the houses along the banks, and from behind whatever offered concealment--that the enemy abandoned their attempts for the time and opened a terrific fire from their numerous batteries concentrated along the hills just above the river. The fire was so severe that the men could not use their rifles, and the different places occupied by them becoming untenable, the troops were withdrawn from the river bank back to Caroline street at 4.30 p.m. The enemy then crossed in boats, and, completing their bridges, passed over in force and advanced into the town. The Seventeenth Mississippi, Colonel [John C.] Fiser, and 10 sharpshooters from Colonel [J. W.] Carter's regiment (the Thirteenth), and three companies of the Eighteenth Mississippi Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel [William H.] Luse, under Lieutenant [William] Ratliff, were all the troops that were actually engaged in defending the crossings in front of the city. More troops were offered, but the positions were such that but the number already there could be employed. As the enemy advanced into the town our troops fell back to Princess Anne street, and as the enemy came up they were driven back, with loss. This street fighting continued until 7 p.m., when I ordered General Barksdale to fall back and take position along and behind the stone wall below Marye's Hill, where it was relieved by the brigade of Brig. Gen. Thomas R. R. Cobb and retired to their position--on the right of my line of defense, in the woods of Mr. Bernard. Lieutenant-Colonel Luse, with his regiment (the Eighteenth Mississippi), who occupied the river bank below the town, drove back the enemy in their first attempt to cross the river, and kept them in check until about 3.30 p.m., when two regiments (the Sixteenth Georgia, Colonel [Goode] Bryan, and Fifteenth South Carolina, Colonel [W. D.] De Saussure) were sent to his support. It was then deemed advisable and the whole force was withdrawn to the river road, where they remained until daylight the next day, when they rejoined their brigades, excepting the Sixteenth Georgia, which retook its position in the general line of defense. These regiments performed their duties under a severe and destructive fire from the enemy's guns posted along the hills just above the river on the opposite side.
Early on the morning of the 11th, a battalion of the Eighth Florida Regiment, numbering about 150 men, was put in position to the left of Colonel Fiser and in easy range of the enemy above the upper bridge, then being rapidly constructed by them. This battalion was commanded by Captain [David] Lang, and while under his direction it acted gallantly and did good service. Captain Lang proved himself a gallant and efficient officer, but he was severely wounded about 11 a.m., and the battalion then rendered but little assistance. I call your attention to the special report of Lieutenant-Colonel Fiser on the subject, and to that of Captain [A. R.] Govan in relation to the conduct of three companies of the same regiment, which were on duty with the right of Colonel Fiser's regiment, and also to the indorsement of Colonel Humphreys on the special report of Captain Govan.
The brigade of General Barksdale, I consider, did their whole duty, and in a manner highly creditable to every officer and man engaged in the fight. An examination of the positions they held shows that no troops could have behaved more gallantly.
On the night of the 11th, the Eighteenth and Twenty-fourth Georgia Regiments and Phillips' Georgia Legion, of Cobb's brigade, relieved General Barksdale's command, behind the stone wall, at the foot of Marye's Hill, Phillips' Legion on the left, the Twenty-fourth Georgia in the center, and Eighteenth Georgia Regiment on the right, occupying the entire front under the hill. During that night the scouts took 15 prisoners.
On the 12th instant, close and heavy skirmishing was kept up, but no real attack was made.
On the 13th, skirmishing commenced at early dawn, the enemy shelling in that direction until about 11 o'clock, when the advance of the enemy drove in our pickets, and his columns approached the left of the line by the Telegraph road and deployed to our right? planting their stands of colors along our front. Before their deployment was completed, our fire had so thinned their ranks that the survivors retreated, leaving their colors planted in their first position. Soon another column, heavier than the first, advanced to the colors, but were driven back with great slaughter. They were met on retiring by re-enforcements and advanced again, but were again repulsed with increased loss. About I p.m., General Kershaw was directed to send two regiments from his brigade to the support of General Cobb, who reported that he was getting short of ammunition. The Sixteenth Georgia Regiment was sent forward at the same time. Not long after this, General Kershaw was directed to take his whole brigade. Just as his command was moving, he was ordered to hasten forward in person and assume command of the position under Marye's Hill, as General Cobb had been wounded and disabled. The South Carolina regiments were posted--the Second and Eighth, Colonel [J. D.] Kennedy and Captain [E. T.] Stackhouse commanding, in the road doubling on Phillips' Legion, Colonel [B. F.] Cook, and the Twenty-fourth Georgia, Colonel McMillan, and the Third and Seventh South Carolina, Colonel [James D.] Nance and Lieutenant-Colonel [El-bert] Bland, on the hill to the left of Marye's house. The Seventh was afterward moved (on a call from the Fifteenth North Carolina Regiment for re-enforcements) to the right and front of Marye's house, the three left companies being on the left of the house, the Fifteenth South Carolina, Colonel De Saussure, in reserve at the cemetery. The Third Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Rice, was posted at Howison's Mill, to resist any attack that might have been made up Hazel Run. The Eighth and Seventh Regiments arrived in time to assist in repelling a heavy assault made on the left at 2.45 p.m. The Third and Seventh Regiments suffered severely while getting into position, especially the former. Colonel Nance, Lieutenant-Colonel [W. D.] Rutherford, Major [Robert C.] Maffett, Captains [R. P.] Todd, [John C.] Summer, and [W. W.] Hance were shot down in succession, Cap,in Summer killed, the others more or less dangerously wounded, leaving the regiment under the command of Capt. John K. G. Nance, assisted by Lieutenant [A. E.] Doby, aide-de-camp to General Kershaw. Colonel Nance, although badly wounded, declined being removed at the time, and continued to encourage and direct his men, and after he was removed back to Marye's house ordered that his regiment take a new position, where the men would be less exposed, and sent directions to have them resupplied with ammunition.
In the mean time the enemy deployed in a ravine which was between us and the city, and distant about 300 or 400 yards from the stone wall, and advanced with fresh columns to the attack at intervals of not more than fifteen minutes, but they were repulsed with zeal and driven back with much loss on every occasion. This continued until about 4.30 p.m., when the enemy ceased in their assaults for a time, and posting some artillery in front of the town on the left of the Telegraph road, opened on our position, doing but little damage. The batteries on Marye's Hill of Colonel Walton were at this time silent, having exhausted their ammunition, <ar31_581> and they were being relieved by others from Colonel Alexander's battalion. Taking advantage of the lull, the Fifteenth South Carolina Regiment, Colonel De Saussure, was brought forward from the cemetery and posted behind the stone wall, supporting the Second South Carolina Regiment. The enemy in the mean while formed a strong column of attack, and, advancing under cover of their own artillery fire and no longer impeded by ours, came forward along our whole front in the most determined manner, but they were repulsed at all points. The firing ceased as night came on, and about 7 o'clock our pickets and those of the enemy were posted within a short distance of each other. About 6 p.m. the Third South Carolina Regiment was brought from the hill and posted on the left of Phillips' Georgia Legion, when it was relieved by General Kemper with a portion of his brigade, about 7 p.m., and was then ordered in reserve by General Kershaw, because of its previous heavy loss.
The body of one man, believed to be an officer, was found within about 30 yards of the stone wall, and other single bodies were scattered at increased distances until the main mass of the dead lay thickly strewn over the ground at something over 100 yards off, and extending to the ravine, commencing at the point where our men would allow the enemy's column to approach before opening fire, and beyond which no organized body of men was able to pass.
On the 14th, the enemy were in position behind the declivities in front, but the operations on both sides were confined to skirmishing of sharpshooters.
On the 15th, it was discovered that the enemy had constructed rifle-pits on the edge of the ravine, but nothing of interest occurred during the day. Cobb's brigade was relieved by that of General Semmes on the night of that day, against the wishes, however, of Colonel McMillan, commanding Cobb's brigade, who objected to relinquish such an honorable position.
On the 16th (Tuesday morning), as the fog lifted, it was discovered that the enemy's pickets were withdrawn, and scouts being sent out reported that the enemy had retired across the river, removing their bridges. The town was reoccupied by two regiments from Kershaw's brigade, and a number of prisoners, arms, &c., were taken.
Captain [G. B.] Cuthbert, of the Second South Carolina Regiment, with his company of sharpshooters, was thrown out on the edge of Hazel Run, and did good service in annoying the flank of the enemy as their columns advanced to the attack. His loss was considerable. When General Kershaw's brigade was sent to the front its place along the main line of defense was occupied by the brigade of Brigadier-General Jenkins, a regiment from which occupied the right flank of the troops at the foot of Marye's Hill along Hazel Run, and was of essential service. The lieutenant-general was, however, overlooking the movements of all, and every order was issued under his supervision. The presence of himself and the general-in-chief inspired the troops and rendered them invincible. The very great enthusiasm and ardent desire for the enemy to advance, which existed and was evident among all officers and men, could not be surpassed, and when it was discovered on the 16th that the enemy had retired, there was a universal expression of disappointment.
The artillery along the heights, under the supervision of Col. H. C. Cabell, chief of artillery, and his subordinate, Major IS. P.] Hamilton, opened fire on the enemy's left flank, whenever their columns advanced, with such effect as to always force them to retire in disorder, or to incline to their right under shelter of ravines and rising ground; forced one of the enemy's batteries to retire, which had come forward on the right, and was of material assistance in checking the advance of their troops, which were threatening the center. I refer you to the special report of Colonel Cabell in reference to the operations of the artillery.
The country and the army have to mourn the loss of Brig. Gen. Thomas R. R. Cobb, who fell while in position with his brigade, and was borne from the field while his men were repulsing the first assaults of the enemy. He had but lately been promoted to a brigadier, and his devotion to his duties, his aptitude for the profession of arms, and his control over his men I have never seen surpassed. Our country has lost a pure and able defender of her rights both in the council and the field.
My aide-de-camp, Capt. H. L. P. King, was killed on Marye's Hill, pierced with five balls, while conveying an order to Brigadier-General Cobb. He was a brave and accomplished officer and gentleman, and had already distinguished himself during the operations in front of Fredericksburg, as he had done in all the other engagements when on duty.
Lieut. Thomas S. B. Tucker, my other aide-de-camp, was badly wounded while bearing one of my orders. He has always been noted for his daring and gallantry.
The services of my adjutant-general, Maj. James M. Goggin, were important and distinguished, as they have been always.
My thanks are due to the other members of my staff, Major [A. H.] McLaws and Major [John F.]Edwards, for their assistance. To Lieut. Alfred Edwards, ordnance officer, who was active and efficient in supplying ammunition to the troops, and to Lieut. D. G. Campbell, of the engineers, who had been engaged day and night (frequently all night) in strengthening the different positions, and on all occasions was very devoted and prompt in the discharge of his duties.
Colonel McMillan, of the Twenty-fourth Georgia, who succeeded to the command of the brigade when General Cobb was disabled during the first assaults of the enemy on Marye's Hill, behaved with distinguished gallantry and coolness.
General Barksdale commanded his fine brigade as it should have been commanded, and added new laurels to those gained on every other previous battle-field.
I call attention to the conduct of General Kershaw, who, after the fall of General Cobb, commanded the troops about Marye's Hill, composed of his own brigade and that of General Cobb. He possesses military talents of a high order, and unites with them that self-possession and daring gallantry which endears him to his command, and imposes confidence which but increases as the danger grows more imminent.
My inspector-general, Major [E. L.] Costin, was particularly active and distinguished in leading troops into position and carrying orders frequently under the hottest fire, and for his close attention to all his duties.
The brigade of General Semmes was not actually engaged, but under his supervision the position he commanded was strongly fortified, and his men were well prepared and eager for the fight under his leadership.
Surgeon [John T.] Gilmore, chief surgeon of the division, had his field hospital in readiness, and his arrangements were so complete that there was no detention or unnecessary suffering of the wounded, and those who could not remain in camp were sent at once to the hospitals in Richmond.
The loss in killed, wounded, and missing in my command was as follows:
KILLED WOUNDED MISSING TOTAL Kershaw's Brigade 39 333 1 373 Barksdale's Brigade 29 151 62 242 Cobb's Brigade 32 198 4 234 Semmes' Brigade --- 4 --- 4 TOTAL 100 686 67 853
I inclose reports of the several brigade commanders with those of their respective regimental and battalion commanders, excepting General Barksdale, who, receiving leave of absence, went away without rendering his report; those of his regimental commanders are, however, inclosed.
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