Report of Brig. Gen. Cadmus M. Wilcox, C. S. Army, Commanding Wilcox's Brigade.
DECEMBER 11-15, 1862.--Battle of Fredericksburg, Va.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXI [S# 31]
HEADQUARTERS WILCOX'S BRIGADE,
December 24, 1862.
SIR: I beg to submit herewith a brief report of the part borne by my brigade in the battle at Fredericksburg on the 13th instant.
Since the arrival of the division in the vicinity of Fredericksburg, on the 23d ultimo, the brigade has been on the left of the division and the extreme left of the army, and from that time till within a few days of the battle nothing of interest occurred, my command being occupied only in constructing in part one or two batteries on our front and picketing on the canal in front of the house of Dr. Taylor, and thence on the Rappahannock above, some three-fourths of a mile.
The enemy's camps were visible on the far side of the Rappahannock upon our arrival, and increased perceptibly for several days afterward. It was not long before the enemy were seen to be engaged in constructing batteries at various points on the heights beyond the river, and immediately on its banks. New batteries daily appeared, till at length, extending from a point a mile above Falmouth, at convenient intervals, they reached Fredericksburg, and thence even down the river some 3 or 4 miles. On a great part of this line there were two tiers of bat-teries--one on the first bank of the river and the other on heights--commanding a level plateau in rear of this bank. Most of the guns of these various batteries could be made to bear both upon the city of Fredericksburg and on our batteries that crowned the heights on this side of the Rappahannock. The lines of the enemy's batteries following the inflections of the river, enabled them to dispose of their pieces so as to enfilade most of the streets of the town; even those at right angles were alike exposed.
The two armies continued thus confronting each other on the opposite banks of the river, each constructing batteries, and the hostile pickets in full view and in close proximity. The batteries scarcely fired a gun, and the pickets, by mutual and tacit understanding, refrained entirely from the use of their rifles. This condition of affairs continued from day to day, till at length each party, perhaps, became impatient from delay and eager for the fray.
On the morning of the 10th, nothing unusual appeared upon my part of the line. The enemy's batteries and our own were as inactive as before. The pickets were neither stronger nor weaker. The day passed off quietly, and at dark there was nothing to indicate, to the closest observer on my front, that the enemy was preparing for or meditating an attack. Nothing occurred in the early part of the night to give warning of the intended attack; but about 4.30 a.m. our signal guns were fired, upon hearing of which all were aroused and the command placed under arms. Little before the dawn of day, musketry was heard in the direction of and in Fredericksburg, and after that the fire of the enemy's batteries began. Repairing to the front to my line of pickets before it was clear day, I learned that there was none of the enemy's infantry anywhere visible. The enemy's batteries continued to fire with much spirit, and, as far as I could see, entirely concentrated upon the town of Fredericksburg. Many women and children, in great fright, with husbands and servants, were fleeing from their homes at this early hour to escape the enemy's terrible shells and cannon balls.
Soon after it was clear daylight, I moved my brigade up to the front and formed it in line of battle, under cover of the forest and near the edge of an open field fronting the river and the town, my left resting upon the river 150 yards to the left of Dr. Taylor's house, and then extending to the right across the road on the right of Dr. Taylor's leading into the town, and thence along the base of the hill, upon which Lane's battery to the rear was placed, crossed a deep ravine, and then bearing slightly to the rear of the Whitworth gun of Lane's battery, and then, crossing another ravine, reached to Huger's battery. The right of my line, four regiments, occupied this line and the fifth was held in rear of the center of this line. General Wright's brigade was on my right flank. The battery of Captain [J. W.] Lewis, attached to the brigade, was in position on a hill opposite to the ford between Falmouth and Fredericksburg. The brigade remained in this position all day, quiet spectators of the enemy's fiendish and furious bombardment of Fredericksburg. Many shot and shell were thrown into the woods occupied by my men, inflicting but a trifling loss, killing 1 and wounding 2 men of the Eleventh Alabama Regiment.
In the afternoon it was known that the enemy had succeeded in his efforts to throw pontoon bridges over the river, and that both in the town and below several bridges were being used by them for crossing over the troops. Late in the evening, Captain Lewis, seeing a column of the enemy's infantry advancing to cross the upper pontoon bridge, gave the order to his battery to fire upon them. This was instantly done, and with such effect as to drive over half of it back under cover of some houses. Later in the evening the battery again fired upon artillery and cavalry that were in sight, and soon drove them off and out of view. This battery had orders to waste no ammunition and to fire only when damage could be inflicted upon the enemy. The brigade slept under arms in line of battle, strong pickets being thrown to the front. The artillerymen remained with their guns.
During Friday, the 12th, the brigade remained under arms and in position. Shot and shell from the enemy's batteries fell at times near them, but without inflicting any loss. Lewis' battery at various times during the day fired at the enemy's batteries while crossing the river. About 3 p.m., a column of infantry (one brigade) came in sight. Shot and shell were thrown upon the head of this column, causing much confusion in their ranks and forcing them to change their course and take shelter beyond houses. Later in the day the battery fired upon cavalry crossing the ford. In each case damage was done the enemy, as his ambulances were seen to leave the field with wounded. Again all slept under arms (the night of the 12th), with strong pickets in our front.
The early morn of the 13th was dark and much obscured by a dense fog. At length, the rising sun dissipating the mist, about 8 a.m. musketry was heard on our right. This fire quickened and artillery was also heard in the same direction. The rapidity and quantity of the musketry fire indicated that a general action had begun. The firing at length began to approach nearer us. The right of our left wing had become engaged, and the firing still continued, extending toward our left, reaching as far as its center, and here it remained for a long time, approaching no nearer our position. The firing had now become general. Musketry, artillery, and the bursting of shell are heard, varying at times in quantity and rapidity, but without any entire cessation, till dark. At times it would appear to be more intense far to our right, and then again the center and the left of center would seem to be the point where the enemy were concentrating their heaviest forces and making the most vigorous efforts to force our line. More artillery appeared to be used on this day than I had ever known before. Frequently during the continuance of the battle I counted as many as fifty shots per minute. During this long and intensely exciting day my brigade remained in line of battle, ready to meet any advance of the enemy or to hasten to any point of the line that might need support. The battery of Captain Lewis lost no opportunity of firing upon the enemy's infantry and cavalry when in easy range. In all, it fired 400 rounds.
The brigade lost to-day 1 killed and 8 wounded; Lewis' battery 1 killed and 2 wounded. Although the brigade lost but few men by the enemy's artillery, and none by the musket, it would seem to be almost incredible that the loss should have been so inconsiderable; for, from a point near a mile above Falmouth, on a commanding height, there was a six-gun battery of rifle pieces that enfiladed my line. Lower down and nearer, on the slope of this hill, was a second battery that had the same fire upon them; and yet nearer and immediately on the banks of the river, and to the right of the two batteries above referred to, was another; and then again, on a very commanding hill in rear of Falmouth, near the house of Miss Scott, was a battery of more than twenty pieces that bore upon us, and these of the heaviest rifle pieces; and down the river were one or two other batteries that could throw shot and shell far beyond our line. In these batteries there could not have been less than fifty pieces that bore upon us.
The night of the 13th, we were under arms like the two previous nights, strong pickets being in our front. During the night our pickets were heard to fire frequently in the direction of Fredericksburg.
The morning of the 14th was foggy, and when it had been scattered by the rising sun nothing was seen of the enemy in our front save his distant line of cavalry vedettes, as usual. The 14th passed off quietly--some few artillery shots during the day, and at intervals a little firing between the pickets.
The night of the 14th and the day of the 15th passed off with little or no firing. The night of the 15th was dark, windy, and rainy, and the morning of the 16th foggy. When the fog disappeared it revealed the fact that the enemy had recrossed the river, nothing remaining on this side but a few of the wounded, the unburied dead, and a few of the infantry pickets whom they had failed to relieve. These delivered themselves up to my command as prisoners.
My command now returned to their camp, having been under arms since the morning of the 11th.
The lists of casualties having bean previously forwarded, it will suffice in this report to state that the loss in my command was 15 killed and wounded. Of this number 3 were killed.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
C. M. WILCOX,
Brigadier-General, Commanding, &c.
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