The Battle of Fredericksburg
December 11th - 15th, 1862
- President Lincoln's Plan
- Summary of the 13th Massachusetts' Actions in the Battle
- Letter from the Battlefield; Charles Adams, Co. A
- George Jepson's Reminiscence of the Battle
- Reminiscence of David Sloss, Co. B
- Mannsfield; The Bernard House
- Sam Webster's Summary of the Battle
- Letter of Corporal George Henry Hill, Co. B
- Austin Stearns Memoirs
- John S. Fay's Memoirs
- Regimental Reports
- Report of Taylor's Brigade
- Letters of Charles E. Leland, Co. B
- Letters of Warren Freeman, Co. A
- Behind the Lines at Fredericksburg
- George Maynard Medal of Honor
- Letter of President Lincoln to the Army of the Potomac
I shudder to imagine the fear and dread experienced by the Union soldiers who charged Marye's Heights during the Battle of Fredericksburg. At the base of the hill was a sunken road behind a stone wall, where Confederate Infantry four rows deep fired repeated volleys into any Federals that approached. Artillery from the hill above covered the field and bodies were literally blown to bits during seven futile attacks against this impregnable position. The battle was a total disaster for the Army of the Potomac and its leader General Ambrose E. Burnside. (pictured right).
The late arrival of pontoons necessary for crossing the Rappahannock River allowed the Confederate army to concentrate on the hills outside Fredericksburg, Va and marshal a formidable defensive line. Gen. Burnside stuck to his plans to cross the river opposite the town and attack the Rebel army. To slow them down, a brigade of Mississipians fired at the Union engineers from houses in town, and kept the Yankee bridge builders at bay for a better part of the day, Dec. 11th. An artillery bombardment could not disperse the Confederates. A Union detachment had to cross the river in boats under fire, and storm the town to drive away the deadly determined Southerners. Frustrated Yankee troops shamefully looted the town in the evening as they filed in from across the river. The sacking of Fredericksburg is forever a black spot on the record of the Army of the Potomac.
The rest of the Army crossed the River on the 12th while Gen. Burnside planned his attacks. His 'Left Grand Division" commanded by General William B. Franklin, was to lead the assault against the Confederate lines posted on a ridge outside town. "Franklin and other generals proposed having the First and Sixth Corps launch a massive assault against Lee's right flank.1" That afternoon, Burnside promised he'd get orders to Gen. Franklin, then rode away to visit other generals.
Franklin waited up much of the night but the orders never came. His aid delivered the promised orders at 7:30 A.M. December 13th, - and they were vague. (See discussion in the "Commentary" section at the bottom of this page).
Instead of a massive attack, General Franklin chose to interpret the order conservatively, and ordered two divisions to probe the Confederate lines in his front. General George Meade whose division led one of the attacks bristled at the prospect of an un-supported attack against a strong Confederate line. "He complained to Franklin that attacking with a single division would simply repaeat the mistakes of Antietam, where piecemeal assaults had yielded little but heavy casualties. His division could take the heights Meade believed, but could not hold them. Typically laconic, Frankiln replied that these were Burnside's orders and they would be obeyed.2"General Meade was right. Elements of his division broke through the Rebel defenses but without supports they were forced to fall back sustaining heavy casualties. The same happened with General John Gibbon's Division, the other division to attack the Rebel defenses on Franklin's half of the battlefield.
According to Burnside's plan, while the troops on his left were rolling up the Confederate right flank, a co-ordinated assault would begin on the Union right. Instead, an inexcusable slaughter ensued. Seven repeated charges melted away against Confederate General Lee's impregnable position anchored at Marye's Heights.
"Union soldiers had to leave the city, descend into a valley bisected by a water-filled canal ditch, and ascend an open slope of 400 yards to reach the base of the heights. Artillery atop Marye's Heights and nearby elevations would thoroughly blanket the Federal approach. "A chicken could not live on that field when we open on it," boasted a Confederate cannoneer.3""Soldiers could hardly forget the sights - hands, legs, arms and heads shot off and bodies mangled beyond recognition - reminding one Rebel of hog butchering time back home.4"
[Pictured are troops of Kershaw's and Cobb's Confederate Brigades behind the stonewall at the base of Marye's Heights, Battle of Fredericksburg, Dec. 13, 1862.]
For some reason, General Burnside at his headquarters across the river, thought General Franklin's attack was succeeding. Expecting to hear that the Confederate right had collapsed, he kept up the attacks in front of Marye's Heights on the Confederate left. The futile attacks continued until darkness fell over the field.
"Of the 12,600 Federal soldiers killed wounded or missing, almost two-thirds fell in front of the stone wall.5"
On the morning of December 14th, Burnside's generals talked him out of resuming the attacks against Marye's Heights. The two sides endured an anxiety ridden 'quiet day' while the Union generals decided their next move. The uneasiness continued on the 15th.At night on the 15th, and through the early morning hours of the 16th, the massive Federal Army quietly slipped back across the Rappahannock River. Before the Confederates knew what happened, the pontoon bridges were taken up and Army of the Potomac was safe on the other side.
The '13th Mass.' were extremely lucky at Fredericksburg. They did not participate in any of the iconic dramas for which the battle is known. The river crossing at the lower bridge was un-opposed. They were not in the town, so did not participate in the wild looting. They were thrown out as skirmishers for the Left Grand Division, Dec. 12th, and remained in that capacity for two days.
The map at right depicts the lines of battle about 1 p.m. Dec. 13th.
General John Gibbon's Division was chosen to support Meade's attack against the Confederate right. When the charge began the skirmishers of the 13th Mass. regiment were out of ammunition. The advancing troops passed over them and they fell back to the rear, as ordered, to replenish their cartridges. Casualties for the regiment were light. Indeed when private John B. Noyes returned to the regiment in late January, 1863, he noted that "Our men talk more of the unsuccessful move preceding Burnside's withdrawal from the Army [The 'Mud March,' Jan. 20th - 23rd, 1863] than of the Fredericksburg fight." 6
The part played by the 13th Mass regiment was straight-forward as the narratives on this page prove. There is a lot of repetition but each account adds color to the overall picture. The summary by Charles E. Davis, Jr., describes the horror of laying in front of active field artillery; George Jepson finds humor in a series of stories from the skirmish line; Private Sam Webster provides names and details of those killed and some of the wounded; Sergeant Austin Stearns gives a good account of the banter between Reb and Yank, and the duties of the Color Guard. Sergt. John S. Fay gives a riveting description of the retreat.
Don't miss the vivid letters of private Charles F. Adams, (Co. A) and Corporal George Henry Hill, (Co. B). There are also rare company reports by First Lieutenants John Foley, (Company G) and Morton Tower, (Company B) in the Official Reports section of this page.
1. Fredericksburg ! Fredericksburg!; George C. Rable, University of North Carolina Press, 2002; (p. 184).
2. ibid; (p. 195).
3. National Park Service, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, website; "Battle of Fredericksburg" by A. Wilson Green.
4. Fredericksburg ! Fredericksburg!; George C. Rable, University of North Carolina Press, 2002; (p. 290).
5. A. Wilson Green, for Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Military Park. (see note 3.)
6. John B. Noyes, letter to George Feb. 15, 1863. Massachusetts Historical Society.
Picture credits: All images are from the Library of Congress digital images collection, with the following exceptions: General Burnside from "The Photographic History of the Civil War" Francis Trevelyan Miller, New York, The Review of Reviews, 1911; David Sloss, from Mr. Jim Perry; George Emerson, from collector Scott Hann; Corporal George Henry Hill from Carol Robbins and Alan Arnold; Warren H. Freeman & Charles F. Adams, from Tim Sewell; Morton Tower, John Foley, Col. Leonard, Capt. James A. Hall, from Army Heritage Education Center, Digital Image database, Mass. MOLLUS Collection; William Blanchard from Steve Meadows; "Deploying the Colors" by Austin Stearns, from "Three Years in Company K" Faileigh Dickenson Press, 1976; Burnard House & Franklin's Corps Recrossing the River from sonofthesouth.net; Special thanks to my wife Susan who turned a poor photocopy from the Massachusetts Historical Society into a beautiful portrait of N.M. Putnam. She also photographed the battlefield when I visited in February, 2012. The illustration "Americans but Brothers" is by J. S. Barrows, from Carleton's "Stories of Our Soldiers" The Boston Journal Newspaper Company, 1893. ALL IMAGES have been edited in photoshop.
The following is from Abraham Lincoln; Speeches and Writings, 1859 - 1865; The Library of America. I have added a couple paragraph breaks for easier reading.
President Lincoln was worried about the Army crossing the Rappahannock River directly in front of the enemy.
Off Acquia Creek, Va
Nov. 27. 1862
Major General Halleck
I have just had a long conference with Gen. Burnside. He believes that Gen. Lees whole army, or nearly the whole of it is in front of him, at and near Fredericksburg. Gen. B. says he could take into battle now any day, about, one hundred and ten thousand men, that his army is in good spirit, good condition, good moral, and that in all respects he is satisfied with officers and men; that he does not want more men with him, because he could not handle them to advantage; that he thinks he can cross the river in face of the enemy and drive him away, but that, to use his own expression, it is somewhat risky. I wish the case to stand more favorable than this in two respects.
First, I wish his crossing of the river to be nearly free from risk; and secondly, I wish the enemy to be prevented from falling back, accumulating strength as he goes, into his intrenchments at Richmond. I therefore propose that Gen. B. shall not move immediately; that we accumulate a force on the South bank of the Rappahannock – at, say, Port-Royal, under protection of one or two gun-boats, as nearly up to twenty-five thousand strong as we can. At the same time another force of about the same strength as high up the Pamunkey, as can be protected by gunboats. These being ready, let all three forces move simultaneously, Gen. B.’s force in it’s attempt to cross the river, the Rappahanock force moving directly up the South side of the river to his assistance, and ready, if found admissible, to deflect off to the turnpike bridge over the Mattapony in the direction of Richmond. The Pamunkey force to move as rapidly as possible up the North side of the Pamunkey, holding all the bridges, and especially the turnpike bridge immediately North of Hanover C.H; hurry North, and seize hold the Mattapony bridge before mentioned, and also, if possible, press higher up the streams and destroy the railroad bridges. Then, if Gen. B. succeeds in driving the enemy from Fredericksburg, he the enemy no longer has the road to Richmond, but we have it and can march into the city. Or, possibly, having forced the enemy from his line, we could move upon, and destroy his army.
Gen. B.’s main army would have the same line of supply and retreat as he has now provided; the Rappahanock force would have that river for supply, and gun-boats to fall back upon; and the Pamunkey force would have that river for supply, and a line between the two rivers – Pamunkey & Mattapony – along which to fall back upon it’s gun-boats. I think the plan promises the best results, with the least hazzard, of any now conceiveable.
Note – The above plan, proposed by me, was rejected by Gen. Halleck & Gen. Burnside, on the ground that we could not raise and put in position, the Pamunkey force without too much waste of time.
James Lorenzo Bowen
The following is an excerpt from James Lorenzo Bowen's work, "Massachusetts in the War, 1861 -1865." Springfield, Mass., 1889.
The Thirteenth with their division crossed the Rappahannock at Franklin's bridges, some three miles below the city of Fredericksburg, early on the morning of the 12th, moving to the left near the river, where the regiment deployed as skirmishers, advanced to the Richmond stage road, and remained during the night which followed and next morning till the opening of the battle.
The skirmish line moved forward and engaged the enemy, keeping up a sharp fire till the division in line of battle advanced and passed to the front. The eight companies of the Thirteenth which had been on the skirmish line for 24 hours then rallied on the two in reserve and the regiment was sent to the rear for a fresh supply of ammunition. Before it was ready to resume active operations at the front the fight there had practically ceased; General Meade's Division, the Third, had made its magnificent attack, supported by the Second (Gibbon's), and the shattered forces had fallen back with heavy loss. General Gibbon was wounded and General Taylor assumed command of the division, placing the Third Brigade in the hands of Colonel Leonard.
Position was taken near the Richmond road, where the brigade remained during the night. It staid in that vicinity, in fact, till the withdrawal of the Federal troops from that side of the river, no further fighting of consequence taking place. Recrossing on the night of the 15th, the regiment at first bivouacked some two miles from the river, but on the 19th it moved to the vicinity of Fletcher's Chapel into a more permanent camp. The loss of the Thirteenth during the battle of Fredericksburg was but three killed and 11 wounded, its service on the skirmish line having saved it from the severe loss which had met the regiments forming the line of battle. At the close of the engagement, though the largest regiment in the brigade in numbers, it had but 314 present for duty.
The Four Men Killed
The four men killed from the regiment are, George E. Bigelow, Company C, died of wounds Dec. 19, 1862; Charles Armstrong, Company D, Charles J. Taylor, Company D; and Edmond H. Kendall, Company D.
Unfortunately, I do not have images of any of these men.
Charles E. Davis, Jr.
The following excerpt is from "Three Years in the Army: The Story of the Thirteenth Massachusetts Volunteers." Estes & Lauriat, Boston, MA; 1894.
Thursday, Dec. 11.
We were ‘roused at 3 A.M., before “Aurora showed her brightening face,” as the poet says, and proceeded at once with preparations for breakfast. At 4 o’clock we started over the crackling snow for the Rappahannock River, which we expected to cross upon our arrival ; but the completion of the pontoon bridge was delayed by rebel sharpshooters until night, so we bivouacked in the woods near by. Heavy cannonading was heard up the river at the town of Fredericksburg all day, exciting the curiosity of some of the boys who went up there to see the fun, and perhaps give a little advice to General Burnside.
The mist still clung to the river and the lowlands as the army began to cross the stream. Our brigade was among the first to go over, and upon reaching the opposite bank halted for further orders. As the mist rolled away and the sun made its appearance, it was a magnificent sight to watch the troops, many of them in new uniforms, marching from all directions toward and across the bridge and then double-quick up the opposite bank.
In crossing a pontoon bridge men are cautioned not to keep step. A pontoon bridge in not a very substantial structure, therefore any regularity of step would tend to sway it from its moorings.
We then marched along the bank of the river in an easterly direction about half a mile, and halted ; where upon the colonel was asked by General Gibbon if he could deploy his whole regiment as skrimishers at once, and being promptly answered that he could, he was directed to do so. The ground in front of us was a flat un-obstructed plain of considerable extent, where every man of the regiment could be seen as he deployed. On our right was a Vermont regiment and on our left a Pennsylvania regiment, also deployed as skirmishers. These three regiments constituted the skirmish line of the Left Grand Division, and it advanced firing at will and slowly driving back the rebel skirmishers toward their main body. After dark we arrived at the Bowling Green road, which, being a sunken road, afforded us protection from the enemy’s fire. Here we remained all night as a picket guard for the First Corps. The regiment was divided into three reliefs, each of which was sent out in turn some distance beyond the road and within talking distance of the rebel pickets.
the night the enemy set fire to some buildings near by, illuminating a
considerable extent of country, while hundreds of men of both armies
swarmed to the fences to watch and enjoy the sight.
All night long we could plainly hear the sound of axes in the enemy’s camp, which we subsequently learned were being used in the preparation of obstructions against our advance in the morning.
While we were deployed as skirmishers a captain of one of the companies observed a man who, up to this time, had always failed to be present on any important occasion, endeavoring to escape to the rear, when he called out in a loud voice, “C - , get into your place, and if you see a ‘reb,’ SHOOT HIM !”
- “Shall I shoot right at him ?” whined C--.A few minutes later he disappeared and was not seen again until the “surgeon’s call” was established in camp, some days later.
An incident happened shortly after our skirmish line returned to the Bowling green road that afforded us a good deal of amusement. The boys had just started fires for coffee when a young officer, whose new uniform suggested recent appointment, approached and with arbitrary voice ordered the fires to be put out, at which the colonel exhibited an asperity of temper that surprised us, who had never seen him except with a perfectly calm demeanor. Our experience on the picket line had taught us how to build fires without attracting the attention of the enemy, and we liked it not that a young fledgling should interfere with our plans for hot coffee. The colonel’s remarks were quite sufficient for our guidance, so we had our fires and our coffee too, while the officer went off about his business.
Another incident occurred to add interest to the occasion. Our pickets, as already stated, were so near to those of the enemy that conversation was easily carried on. One of the rebel pickets was invited to come over and make a call, though the invitation may have appeared to him very much like the spider to the fly. After some hesitation and the promise that he would be allowed to return he dropped his gun and came into our line and was escorted to one of the fires, where he was cordially entertained with coffee and hardtack, probably to his great delight, inasmuch as coffee and hardtack were not so abundant in the South as to allow a distribution of it as an army ration. “If thine enemy hunger, feed him ; overcome him with good.” Fill him with lead, good lead, was what we tried to do most of the time. After he had enjoyed our hospitality as long as he dared he returned.
On the following day, while we were halted at the Bernard house, who should be brought in a prisoner but this same man, who was greeted with shouts of welcome and friendly shakings of the hand. Some years after, one of the regiment, while travelling in Ohio, became acquainted with a man tarrying at the same hotel. After supper the two sat down to talk, and very soon the conversation drifted to the war, when it was discovered that each had served in the army, though on opposite sides. The Southerner, learning that his new-found acquaintance was a member of the Thirteenth, remarked that it was a rather singular coincidence, for “I was entertained by that regiment once at Fredericksburg, and a right smart lot of fellows they were;” and then he told what has been in substance, related here. As our comrade was present at that battle, and a member of the company that did the entertaining, he was perfectly familiar with the facts, whereupon mutual expressions of pleasure followed and an adjournment for “cold tea.”
Saturday Dec. 13
About 9 o’clock in the forenoon we were again deployed as skirmishers, and ordered to advance over the fence into the damp clayey soil of the ploughed ground beyond, the enemy firing and slowly retreating.
“If your officer’s dead and
the sergeants look white,
Remember it’s ruin to run from a fight;
So take open order, lie down, and sit tight,
An’wait for supports like a soldier.
Wait, wait like a soldier.”
Our batteries were speedily brought into position, and began shelling the woods, while the enemy’s guns, in turn, opened upon us. We were between two fires, and the greatest caution was necessary to prevent a needless loss of life. Very soon we were ordered to lie down as close as possible to the earth in the soft clay, rolling over on our backs to load our guns. We were now engaged in the very important service of preventing the enemy from picking off the men of Hall’s Second Maine Battery, then engaged in shelling the enemy, from a position slightly elevated in our rear. In order that this battery might do as effective work as possible, it was ordered to point its guns so as to clear us by one foot. This was a terrible position to be in. An earnest protest was sent back to Captain Hall, asking him to elevate his pieces, or every man of us would be killed. Suddenly a shell or solid shot from this battery struck the cartridge-box of one of the boys while he laid on his stomach. Some of our number crawled out to where he lay and dragged him in. He lived about six days, having been injured in the hip. It was bad enough to be killed or wounded by the enemy, but to be killed by our own guns excited a great deal of righteous indignation. [George Bigelow, CO. C is the only man killed who died a few days after the battle].
Pictured at right is Capt. James Abram Hall, 2nd Battery, Maine Light Artillery.
About one o’clock a general advance was ordered. Those on the left moved first,* then came our brigade. As skirmishers, we advanced in front of our division until the firing became so rapid that we were not only of no advantage, but interfered with the firing of our troops, so we were ordered to lie close to the ground while our troops passed over us. Toward night we were withdrawn to the Bernard house, which had been turned into a hospital, and replenished our empty boxes with ammunition.
Our losses were three men killed, one officer and twelve men wounded, making a total of sixteen.As we were withdrawn from the skirmish line to the rear our appearance excited a good deal of mirth among the old soldiers, who knew too well what rolling round in the mud meant, for we were literally covered with the clayey soil that stuck to our clothing like glue. We had had a pretty hard time of it, as after each time we fired, we turned over on our backs to reload our guns. Hours of this work had told on our appearance as well as our tempers, so that when some of the men of a new regiment asked us why we didn't stand up like men and fight, instead of lying down, we felt very much like continuing the fight in our own lines, to relieve the irritation we were suffering.
*Meade's Division is on their left and moved first.
So far this month we had suffered from the cold and from frequent show-storms, but this night (the 13th) was bitter cold, and the suffering of the wounded must have been very great.
Commentary by Davis on Skrimish Duty
To be thrown out as skirmishers in front of a line of battle, the observed of all observers, seems more dangerous than when touching elbows with your comrades in close order, but as a matter of fact it is not generally attended wtih so great loss. It is a duty requiring, when well done, nerve and coolness on the part of both officers and men. Your are at liberty to protect yourself by any means that may be afforded, such as inequalities of the ground, a bush, a tree, a stump, or anything else that you may run across as you advance. The fire which you receive is usually from the enemy's skirmishers, and is less effective than when directed toward an unbroken line.
You are supposed to load, fire, and advance with as near perfect coolness and order as you can command, becaue on that depends the amount of execution you are able to perform. It is no place for skulkers, as every man is in plain sight, where his every movement is watched with the closest scrutiny. As soon as the skirmish line of the enemy is driven back, the main line advances, and very soon the battle begins in earnest; whereupon the skirmishers form in close order and advance with the rest of the line, except in cases, like the one just related, when it was necessary to replenish the boxes with ammunition.
We had acquired a good deal of proficiency by constant drilling for many months in this particular branch of the tactics, long before we were called upon to put our knowledge into practice. We growled a good deal at the colonel in the early days of our service for his persistence, but we had already realized how valuable a lesson he had taught us.
Charles Follen Adams of Company A, gained notoriety after the war for his series of humorous poems titled, "Little Jacob Strauss," or "Leedle Jawcob Strauss," written in German Dialect and published in various incarnations throughout the late 1800's. Several of his war time letters are in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Massachusetts Historical Society, Charles Follen Adams Papers 1862-65.
Charles Follen Adams to Sister Hannah, 14 December, 1862; Charles Follen Adams Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society. Used with permission.
Battlefield about 8 P.M. Sunday Dec. 14th 1862
Dear Sister Hannah,
I suppose that you have received the news of the taking of Fredericksburg before this mail came off the 14th. We were out round where we could see the fun though we took no active part in the fight as it was done mostly by artillery. I say we as Walter joined us to day & is now with us. Day before yesterday we crossed the Rappahannock river on a pontoon bridge in pursuit of the Rebs & our Co & one other were deployed as skirmishers & as we were the head regiment of the division it brought us right in front of the whole army corps. We came late in the afternoon to the woods where they the Rebs made a stance & had thrown out their skirmishers & consequently we stopped just in sight of them to inform our troops of their whereabouts. We were on picket guard that night & could hear their voices in the woods & they were making breastworks all night. Yesterday we had a rousing battle. It commenced early in the morning &
lasted all day & still continues. We are now
this supporting a battery not being engaged at this
We can hear the firing of the skirmishers
just over the hill but are not allowed to show our heads where we can
is going on. I thought I would just
write a few lines though I don’t know when I can send it. It
was an awful day yesterday I can tell you
the whole rebel army or at least a large part of it is supposed to be
concentrated here. We have thousands of
troops in the field & reinforcements coming in all the
I don’t know the result of yesterdays
fighting but there must have been thousands killed on both sides it was
continual roar of artillery and musketry till late at night.
We advanced to the front & engaged the rebels
advance troops while our line of battle formed, when we laid low
them to pass over us as we were ordered back as a reserve. We
went back & got more ammunition &
then went back to our position in the reserve.
We laid on the field all night with our equipments on & this
took our present
position supporting a battery & there is a fair show for another engagement immediately. One poor fellow is just being carried by me as I am writing this probably a skirmisher as they are now blazing away good from over the hill. I hear that A. P. Hill commands the rebel forces in our front. On our side, Hooker has the center, Sumner the right & Franklin the left of our army. Our division is on the extreme left & commanded by Gen Taylor as Gen Gibbons was a wounded yesterday. The rebs fought like tigers, in the woods as usual, & their sharpshooters in the trees trying to pick us off, and they came pretty near it as I could almost feel the wind of their bullets they came so near to my head but luckily none of our Co were wounded - - - There seems to be a movement among our troops & another battery is coming up I will close for tonight and write in the morning aps.
No fighting this morning
I believe there is an armistice
a man just taking letters must close
Walter says he will write soon
Got the box all safe
much obliged eatables mostly
Boston clerk, George E. Jepson, age 20, mustered into Company A as a private, at Fort Independence, July 29, 1861. He served 3 years with the regiment. In January, 1863 he was detailed at headquarters. His ancestors were Revolutionary War soldiers, and he was proud of this heritage and his military service.
Jepson wrote [ponderously] lengthy articles after the war which appeared in the 13th Regiment Association Circulars; this one published in Circular #19, Dec. 1906. It's one of his shorter articles, notable for its anecdotes of William Blanchard's parlay with a rebel, and Company A comrade, Nathaniel Putnum's vexatious wash-basin. --Stick with it!
FREDERICKSBURG - DECEMBER 13, 1862.
BY GEORGE E. JEPSON.
Forty-four years ago, on the 13th inst., Burnside's army crossed the Rappahannock and brought on the battle of Fredericksburg.
Forty-four years ago! What veteran can realize such a lapse of time since the occurrence of an event every incident of which to him who participated in it seems - or so seems to the writer - as fresh and vivid as though it all happened but yesterday ! A remarkable battle it was in some features that distinguished it from battles in general.
The sudden shock of hostile forces unexpectedly meeting at the intersection of lines of march, as at Gettysburg; the rapid overtaking of the enemy, checking his advance and compelling him to turn at bay like a cornered rat, as at Antietam; the halting of a flying army in full retreat, and the tremendous impact of advancing columns, as at second Bull Run, each event bringing on the clash of arms with scarcely an interval for thought - the serried ranks being precipitated upon each other in the excitement and fervor of hot passion and under the spur of suddenly aroused combativeness - a slap in the face as it were, awaking ready resentment and quick reprisal - all this was vastly different from lying for days, ingloriously inactive, awaiting the means to cross a broad river, beyond whose watery barrier tantalizingly stretched an unobstructed path to the goal that had so often and so mockingly eluded, so to speak, our persistent and bloody endeavors to attain it; beholding a position of incalculable importance inviting peaceful occupancy, gradually being covered by a hostile army, while we, in enforced idleness, witnessed day by day the augmentation of the enemy's forces and noted his busy toil and strenuous preparations to strengthen and render impregnable a vantage ground formidable enough in its natural naked ruggedness.
Such were the days of anxious and harassing contemplation during that interval "between the acting of a dreadful thing and the first motion," as the Federal army lay along the Stafford and Falmouth Heights waiting for the pontoon trains, which seemingly were never to arrive, and for the word to "forward " from its commander.
But at last the pontoons came, the bridges were laid, and on Friday, the 12th of December, the advance of the army proceeded to cross.
My individual reminiscences are confined to the battle on the left, "part of which I was, and all of which I saw." Our regiment had from its organization developed an adaptability for tight infantry tactics second to none in the army, its effectiveness due partly to its personnel and largely to the fact that our Colonel, the late Samuel H. Leonard, was one of the best and most indefatigable masters of drill in the service. So we were perfectly at home when, on reaching the southern bank of the river, we were deployed as skirmishers. Not an enemy was at first in sight, and, unlike the experience of our comrades on the right, our crossing was unopposed.
As the bugles sounded to advance, the long line of skirmishers stepped briskly forward, until passing over a rising ground the broad plain, whose present smiling and peaceful aspect was in less than twenty-four hours to be disturbed by the horrid din and turmoil of contending armies, burst upon the view.
Bisecting this plain could be seen a long row of evergreen trees planted at wide intervals apart on an embankment, indicating one of those beautiful roadways for which this section of the Old Dominion is justly celebrated. It was the famous Bowling Green or Richmond pike.
And now, midway of the plain and against this dark background, suddenly emerged into view an opposing line of gray-clad riflemen - the enemy was before us, prepared, apparently, to dispute the right of way.
In appearance only, however, for as we advanced the "Johnnies" slowly retreated and we wonderingly saw them clamber over the roadbank and disappear. Thus far not a shot had been fired, which told to each side that the opposing force was composed of veteran troops with nerves too well schooled to lose self-control, forget discipline and become "rattled" at the first sight of an enemy.
Undoubtedly each man's pulse was a little quickened, as we drew nearer and nearer, at the seeming certainty that behind the frowning embankment hundreds of death-dealing tubes were levelled at us; but onward ! onward ! sounded the bugles, and on we went, mounted the bank and through the gaps in the cedars beheld our foe slowly retiring behind a ridge of land on the other side of the road and which ran for a long distance parallel with it.
Once in the roadway the bugles signaled to halt, and the strain upon both mental and physical powers was relaxed for the present at least.
An incident or rather a series of incidents, not uncommon in similar situations later in the war, but of which I believe this was among the first, marked our occupation of the Bowling Green road. It was apparent that the Confederates had established their outposts along the parallel ridge in front of us ; and it soon became equally evident that the battle was not to be joined that day, and that our skirmish line was as far advanced as was practicable without precipitating an engagement.
All remained quiet in our front; not a shot had been fired, and a mutual understanding not to begin hostilities appeared to have been established in some indefinable way between the two picket lines. Moreover, from time to time a Confederate would come out a few paces from the ridge and shout some good-natured badinage at us, to which we responded in a strain pitched to the same tune.
At length a "grayback" was seen to advance, waving a handker-chief and offering to meet one of "you-uns" half way for a friendly confab. A ready response greeted the proposal, and one of the Thirteenth was soon sent forth with a well-filled haversack containing sugar, coffee, salt and hard tack, the joint contribution of his messmates.The advance of the friendly foes, deliberately timed so that they would meet at a point equi-distant from either line, was eagerly and excitedly watched by both sides. As the men neared each other they were seen to extend a welcoming hand, and- then as the palms of "Johnnie" and "Yank" met in a fraternal grasp an electric thrill went straight to the heart of every beholder.
Such a wild, prolonged and hearty cheer, such a friendly blending of Yankee shout and rebel yell as swelled up from the opposing lines surely was never before heard! The contents of the haversack were soon transferred to the adventurous reb, who in turn loaded our man down with native tobacco and bacon.
As the afternoon wore on numerous similar affairs occurred, the utmost good fellowship being manifested. It was learned that our immediate opponents were the Nineteenth Georgia Regiment; they told us that they had tasted neither coffee, sugar nor salt for months.
We were fated to meet a large part of this regiment later on the next day, but as prisoners - and very cheerful ones, too - taken at the first charge of our line. They were as fine a set of fellows, for rebels, as we ever met during the war - intelligent, in short, excellent specimens of American manhood, among them being a graduate of Harvard College, whose name I have forgotten.
All that night we remained on
picket; no quieter night was
in winter quarters. But at daylight the stir and bustle and hurried
movements, the steady tramp of men, mingled with the vibrations
of artillery wheels and rumbling of heavily loaded ammunition wagons,
betokening an army on the march, were borne along on the morning breeze.
It was not far from 8 o'clock, I think, that the division of Pennsylvania Reserves came up, and immediately their pioneers attacked with axe, pick and shovel the road bank and soon a sufficient space was cut out for the passage of the troops and artillery. The impression will never leave me of the advance of the leading brigade as in close column it marched, gallantly out upon the open plain. The movement was evidently a blunder, for while they were still in motion General Meade, at that time commanding the division, attended by his staff, rode up to the gap, pausing there to survey the field.
As I stood at my elevated post on the embankment I could have touched him by extending my arm. He sat his horse for a moment, and then excitedly raising both hands, cried:
"Good God ! How came that brigade out there? No artillery - no supports! They will be cut to pieces! "
And then he quickly dispatched an aide with some order to the imperiled troops, who were seen to hastily deploy, and another to hasten up a battery which soon came thundering through the gap and unlimbered just as a single shot came plunging along from the opposite woods followed by crash after crash from the rebel guns, and the air was filled with the shrieks of flying shells and solid shot !
The battle on the left had begun.
Our division - Gibbon's - was being formed to the right of Meade, and at this moment, and in the midst of this storm of shot and shell, we were hurried in that direction and thrown out to cover the former's position.
Meanwhile the rebels had withdrawn down the slope and along the railroad track, and the ridge just relinquished was now occupied by our skirmishers. The "picnic" of the day before was evidently not to be repeated; a bloody struggle was before us.
I remember how fair a morning it was, how balmy, even though in the midst of December, was the air, and how cheerful the sunshine as we moved out and took our station along the ridge, hearing at the same time the furious battle that was raging on the right, and eye-witnesses of the obstinate and bloody fight that Meade was making on our left.
But now our own part of the field was to be involved. On a rising ground at our rear Hall's 2nd Maine battery had gone into position, and now his guns began to play over our heads into the woods that partially screened the Confederate works.
We were forced to lie down, for the Federal missiles came perilously low, Hall being compelled to depress his pieces in order to throw a plunging fire into the enemy's line. As an illustration of our danger from this source, following the discharge of one of the Maine guns, we heard a terrific screech down the skirmish line, and suddenly beheld a knapsack hurled into the air and one of our boys - of Company H, I think - was borne to the rear, dying, we were told on the way. A shell had torn through his side. [Charles J. Taylor]
A rebel battery posted in the edge of the woods was severely annoying our line of battle, which was lying down behind us waiting for the word to go into action, when Hall, suddenly concentrating the fire of all of his guns on that point, effectually silenced the rebel cannon. During the momentary lull that followed this achievement all eyes were at once directed toward the silenced battery by a terrific explosion, followed by the unique spectacle of an enormous and perfectly symmetrical ring of smoke rising slowly over the tops of the trees and sailing gracefully away until it became dissipated in the distance.
Hall's last shot had exploded a rebel caisson, killing and wounding, as was afterward learned, a large number of men.
But meanwhile we skirmishers were not idle. The rebel sharp-shooters had ensconced themselves among the limbs of the opposite trees, and were popping away at us and picking off the officers in the line of battle behind. Our own rifles were hot with constant firing, and every tree that sheltered a "Johnny" was made the billet for many a bullet. What execution our shooting did, as a whole, it was hard to tell. We now and then saw a rebel slide down from his cover and limp away; but it was at least equally effective, if not more so, than that of the enemy, for as we lay at the regulation distance of five paces apart the intervening ground was literally peppered with hostile lead, but up to a certain period not one of us had received a scratch.
My immediate neighbor on the left was N. M. Putnam. "Put," as he was familiarly called, was the model of a soldier; one of those men of sturdy New England build, morally and physically, always ready for any duty, and who could never acquire, apparently, the first principles of the art of shirking, whether it was that of the most disagreeable police duty or the more dangerous one of keeping his file in the face of bursting shell and a storm of leaden hail, presenting, moreover, the rare example of an old soldier who never drank a drop of intoxicating liquor, never smoked or chewed tobacco, was absolutely insensible to the fascinations of poker, loo or seven-up, and was never known to indulge in even the mildest and most innocuous cuss word. [Nathaniel M. Putnam, pictured.]
It happened, on this of all days, to be "Put's" turn to carry the mess wash-basin, a new and glittering affair recently bought of the sutler.
We all had our knapsacks on,
and as we lay on our bellies -
that position, turning sideways to load-it might have been thought that
such an object, slung on the back of a knapsack, would
afford a first-class mark for a Southern rifleman.
We noticed, indeed, but without divining the cause, that the shots were coming a litlle thicker and faster about the particular spot where we lay, until a " Bucktail " - one of the famous Pennsylvania regiment, so named because they had adopted the device of wearing a buck's tail on their caps- who was next to us on the right, sang out:
"Tell that cuss to take that d -- tin pan off 'm his back !"
I passed the warning to "Put" just at the moment when there came the sharp pish of a bullet, accompanied by a slight tintinnabulation — I am sure that must be the right word for it — and "Put" hastily tore off the basin. Such a comical look of stupefied consternation came over his face as he held up the bright object and exhibited a jagged hole completely through it, that we who beheld it fairly yelled with laughter. The next instant, with a frantic gesture, "Put" threw the thing from him, and it rolled with many a grotesque gyration down the slope almost to the rebel lines. That was close shooting, and we Northern veterans have good reason not to deny the abilities of "our friends the enemy" in that line. We all remember the characteristic story of the Northern traveler who witnessed the Kentucky lad sboot a squirrel dead with his pea-bore rifle and who began to blubber on examining his prize. "What's the matter, my boy? Why do you cry?" "Pap will give me a lickin' 'cause I didn't shoot the varmint through the head ! "
But now a sudden, commotion in the rear, and the sound of our bugles to fall back, told that our long, harassing, and nerve-wearing duty was finished.
Grandly came forward our line of battle, and the New York Ninth, whose front we had been covering — the noble, gallant, whole-souled boys of Brooklyn and New York city, with whom we had fraternized since the early days of '61 — opened its ranks to permit us to pass through, and then with a word of cheer that involuntarily partook, perhaps, of the nature of an adieu, we passed to the rear.
A minute, five minutes, perhaps more, perhaps less, for who can measure time at such a moment, and then a flame of fire and a loud of smoke shrouded them from our view, as volley after volley of musketry, punctuated by the deep diapason of cannon and bursting shell, thundered and echoed over the plain.
The advance and the retreat, the repeated charges and final bloody repulse, the brave stand-up fight our boys made, the useless, purposeless holocaust — all this is history, engraven forever on the hearts of the American people.
And so, for us of the Thirteenth, ended the battle on the left.
When the above article appeared in the 13th Regiment Association Circulars, it prompted this response from the former State Color Bearer, David Sloss, which was printed in Circular # 20, Dec., 1907. Sloss settled in Chicago after the war, and was a policeman. His descendant shared the post war image with me.
CHICAGO, Dec. 5, 1906.DEAR COMRADE DAVIS :
I received your circular to be with you the 13th, and as I will not be there, and as Jepson's article, on Fredericksbiirg interested me very much, I thought my experience there might interest you, as every one's story is different and we all like to tell what we have done in the past, and having time to burn and a constant physical reminder of those days; but my pen is not as skilled as you literary fellows. But you know the old adage, "Fools step in," etc., and this is as cheap a way as I can do in return for all your kindness to one of the carriers of your old white flag. This is not taken from memory, as I have a diary and a letter of the 17th of December, 1862, so I will just copy them. The diary tells only cold facts, but the letter is more minute :
"December 12, - Crossed the Rappahannock River about nine o'clock. Thrown out as skirmishers. Our line of advance carried me through the slave quarters. We were around what was called afterwards the 'Stone Hospital.' In one of the huts I found a large iron caldron which was full of boiled turnips. I fished in the pond and got a pig-skin about a yard long. I had no sooner held it up on my bayonet than it began to disappear, but I saved about a square foot of the turnips, which had coated it quite thick, and even now I smack my lips over the memory of that sweet taste that I got on that bright December morning so long ago.
"We advanced over the Bowling Green road and halted where the incident of Blanchard (the old one) going out to meet the 19th Georgia man occurred. Also the Irishman's remark that the Georgians were there and they had their valises in the trees.
"December 13. - Cold night. Called in to the regiment in the morning. Shelled pretty lively. Picked up a pocketbook with two hundred twenty-nine dollars, and fifty cents in stamps. This was in the Bowling Green road. A shell had killed some officer on horseback, and the pocketbook was lying in the road and half of the regiment had passed it by; as they were jerked away over the road they didn't see it. It was new, also the bills, and I carried it long after the war until it was worn out. The road was all in confusion. We went in again and skirmished for an hour, when we lost four killed and fifteen wounded, two in Company B. General Gibbon, our division commander, then advanced the 9th New York over us, and Johnnie Bell told George Hill* to bid Davy 'good-by' for him. He was hit in the belly and died during the night.
Johnnie Bell's father and mine were friends, and as I was told to look out for him when he came out to the 9th as a recruit after the Antietam fight when we were living off that corn field, on mush only. You can imagine he needed all my assistance, and our sutler's too, to keep him from that terrible disease, home-sickness, and the golden syrup at a dollar a can to help tide over that eventful two weeks until we got the regular supply.
We then went down to the river to get ammunition, then went and supported Doubleday at an artillery duel. Two caissons blew up.
"December 15. — The whole regiment on picket duty. In at 2 A.M. Found the army had re-crossed. We were in Taylor's brigade and he did nobly and also Gibbon, who was wounded in the wrist. Bayard** was struck by a shell and died in front of the Stone Hospital. There was a crude map in the letter which I found in the pocketbook."
Yours very truly,
George Hill, Co. B (see his letter below) George Hill was a resident of
Maine before and after the war.
** Brig-Gen. George D. Bayard (see article "Mannsfield" below).
Digging Mannsfield by John Hennessy (abridged)
Spotsylvania has been particularly hard-hit by the loss of historic homes over the decades. In some areas, you can travel miles without coming upon an antebellum home - this on a landscape that was once liberally dotted with them. Some succumbed to war, more to neglect. And a few disappeared to the bulldozer's blade. Of all those that have vaninsed, none in its day shined more brightly than Mannsfield.
It stood about two miles south of downtown Fredericksburg, on the banks of the Rappahannock River. Mannsfield is today most famous as the site where Union general George Dashiel Bayard was killed at the battle of Fredericksburg–he was mortally wounded in the front yard and died just four days before what was to have been his wedding day. But, in fact, Mannsfield was probably the most impressive antebellum plantation in the Fredericksburg region, and one of the oldest, too. It was built in 1765-1766 for Mann Page III,* and it was close to being a literal copy of Richmond County’s Mount Airy, where Page’s mother grew up a Tayloe (the only major difference I can see is the design of the riverside entryway–otherwise the places seem to have been identical; Mount Airy still stands). Page was the Fredericksburg region’s first congressman, selected to the Continental Congress in 1777, at age 28. He died in 1803 and is buried in the nearby family cemetery–the only surviving feature of the Mannsfield complex.
The house was anything but understated, built of sandstone blocks with two advanced, detached wings linked to the main house by a circular covered walkway. In the main house was nearly 7,000 square feet of living space, plus an elaborate basement. By the time of the Civil War (when Arthur Bernard owned it), thirty outbuildings sprawled across Mannsfield’s 1,800 acres (one of the biggest plantations around), including a stable, corn house, machine house, three barns, dairy, garden office, pump house, meat house, three poultry houses, ice house, a private owner’s stable, carriage house, overseer’s house, blacksmith shop, tobacco house, and six slave cabins (the site of some of these cabins, which in 1860 housed some of Bernard’s 77 slaves, is in the park off Lee Drive). Mannsfield’s prominence guaranteed it got attention in both peace and war. Washington reputedly visited here; so too did Union luminaries in 1862. For long stretches of 1862 and 1863, the house was in Confederate hands. Indeed, it was by the hands of Confederate pickets that the big house burned, accidentally, in early April 1863.
The ruins of the main house and the decaying remnants of the wings stood for six decades, until the early 1920s when artist Gari Melchers of Belmont acquired the accessible stone from the then landowner, R.A. James. According to local news reports, Melchers used stone from Mannsfield to build his new studio on the grounds of Belmont.
*As with many Colonial gentrymen, confusion reigns when it comes to names and generations. There were in fact six Mann Pages. One–Mann Page’s younger half brother–died soon after birth. Most historians ignore his presence in the lineage and designate Mann Page (born 11749) of Mannsfield as Mann Page III, though in fact he was the fourth to beat that name. We can only be thankful Page wasn’t a Fitzhugh. There were TEN William Fitzhughs alive in the 18th century, scattered from Chatham to Annapolis.
Sam Webster, the young drummer boy from Martinsburg, Va., who joined the regiment at Williamsport, wasn't in the fight but recorded the following details in his memoirs. Excerpts of this diary (HM 48531) are used with permission from The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
Crossed the river before the fog lifted this morning. Regt. deployed as skirmishers about noon. Moved down the river and wheeled out facing the heights, opposite a mill, or a little below at a brick house. Fredericksburg was occupied yesterday evening. Got some cabbage leaves and boiled for supper. I laid at night with the drum corps, in a group of cedars, on a hill to the N.E. or up the river from the mill. Regt. on picquet.
Saturday, December 13th
After the line was established last night some of the boys had communication with the rebels between the lines. Blanchard, of B., talked with one, who has been captured. Regt was on duty until the general advance, and was then withdrawn for cartridges, after which it was put in line of battle. Kendall and Taylor are dead. Taylor was torn to pieces by a shell. W.C. Thompson, next him in the skirmish line, was out of cartridges and as Taylor's cartridge box was thrown near him got up to see if there were any in it. As he did so he was wounded - not seriously. Lyford got a ball in left foot. Armstrong is nearly dead, and Champney wounded. The 16th Maine* did good work today. Nothing to the left of us but the Penna Reserve - who got upon or over the heights, but not being promptly supported by the 6th corps (the other corps of our - the Left-Grand Division) had to come back.
Dec'r 14th 1862
It was quiet last night. Armstrong is dead. Lyfford has lost half his foot, and his knapsack. Springer of Co. E., an old sailor, crept out to the Bowling Green Road which has a row of cedars and a ditch at each side, and put out the light of a rebel sharpshooter who was picking our lines from a tree top.
*The 16th Maine
Fredericksburg was the first battle for the 16th Maine. They were a rookie regiment that arrived in Washington, DC shortly before the Maryland Campaign began. A mix up of orders forced them to march along with the veteran troops to the Antietam Battlefield. Fortunately they did not participate in combat, but they were subject to much ridicule from the veteran regiments for a variety of other misfortunes. On the march south to Fredericksburg the regiment was moved from the third brigade to the first brigade (Col. Adran R. Root) of Gibbon's Division. (the 13th Mass were in the 3rd brigade).
During the Battle of Fredericksburg, the 16th Maine advanced further than any regiment in their brigade. They penetrated the Rebel lines but with no supports were forced to fall back. During the retreat they lost heavily.
The regiment's casualties were horrible as listed in their regimental history; 57 dead, 34 mortally wounded, and 134 wounded. "Out of four hundred and seventeen men who went into the fight, but one hundred and fifty-four answered to the rollcall that night. Of the missing enough have turned up so that we now have nearly two hundred men of those who were in the battle, for duty."
George wrote a short one page note from the battlefield, Dec. 15th, to his father, to tell him he was alive. He wrote a longer descriptive letter to his favorite Aunt two days later, Dec. 17th, once the army had re-crossed the Rappahannock River. I am very grateful to George's descendant Carol Robbins and Alan Arnold for sharing George's portrait, and his letters, and allowing me to post them.
Opposite Fredericksburg Va
Wednesday Dec 17th 1862
Dear Aunt Fanny
Again I have been in battle and again escaped without a scratch.
We crossed the river last Friday morning on “Pontoons”. After what seemed to me the whole Army, had crossed, our Regiment was thrown out as scirmishers on the “left flank’. We could plainly see the Rebel scirmishers about three hundred yards in front of us retiring as we advanced.
We advanced about two thirds of a mile where we remained until Saturday morning acting as a Picket guard during the night. We were now about five hundred yards from the thick woods which completely surrounded the plain upon which our Army lay. The Rebels had not fired a shot in answer to our tremendous cannonading of Thursday and a doubt was felt whether they were there in force or not. But there lay the woods and if they were there we knew a fearful slaugher must take place before they were routed.
Saturday morning came and at 9 O’clock A.M. we were ordered to advance again as scirmishers. We crossed the road and advanced to within two hundred yards of the woods when whiz, whiz, whiz,
Came the bullets and down we went flat in the mud. Now commenced scirmishing in earnest. We roled on our backs to load then turned over and raised up on one knee and fired. This was kept up until 3 o’clock P..M. I tell you the balls came near me. Every time I would draw my ramrod of course my Arm would be raised up and I was sure to get the attention of two or three rebs and the benefit of their shots. Again when I got up to fire I would see the bullets strike all around me and most of them would throw dirt upon me but fortunately none hit me. I certainly expected to feel one every moment. You may bet I lay mighty close to “Mother Earth” when it was not actually necessary for me to be up. At 2 o’clock the “Line of Battle” advanced over us and we being nearly out of ammunition were ordered to the rear for more.
Now commenced fighting. The roar of musketry was terrific. Now we knew that the Enemy was there and in tremendous force. I never saw our Army fight so well as it did that afternoon. Not a man left his place but it was no use these woods with the fortifications behind them was too much for us.
Our boys drove the rebs out of a small strip of woods and across the Rail Road but could not hold the ground and so fell back. I know not what took place in the Center or on the Right. The papers have probably told you all about it. I
have not seen a paper for over a week.
Our Brigade and Division lost very heavily. Our Regt lost only 5 killed and 12 or 15 wounded. My company had two wounded. We laid in Line of Battle until Monday night when we returned quietly to this side of the river. At dark we were all on the other side and when morning light broke over the plains it revealed to “Johny Reb” nothing but emptiness. Even the pontoons were all removed. We were fortunate to get out of so bad a scrape so easily. Burnside I beleive calls it a “reconnoisance in force”, a few more such and the Army is gone up. The position which they hold an never be taken in force. It must be flanked. Where we go next I know not but not across the Rappahannock at this point you may rest assured. I received your kind letter yesterday. It came in good time. Thank you for the Contents. I received the Box from the boys at the store last week. I had quite a sick spell just before we started on our last march but I am all right now. I regret to hear that Mr. Cutter is so unwell. Hope to hear of his recovery when next you write.
Yes, I am promoted to “Corporal” which relieves me from camp drudgery and from guard duty as far as standing “on post” is concerned. I have charge of one of the “reliefs”. When I have posted them I return to the guard house and sit by the fire until the two hours have expired, then wake another Corporal who turns out his “relief” and relieves my men while I “turn in” and go to sleep. I neither smoke nor chew tobacco neither do I drink anything intoxicating. I have plenty of writing paper now but am sometimes bothered for Postage Stamps. I believe I was writing the Tuesday night you speak of and I know I was thinking of home for I am always doing that, and as far as wishing for something to eat I guess there was no doubt about that for we were short of rations about that time. I believe I have answered your letter now. I wish you would see Aunt Adda and tell here I will answer her letter as soon as I can.
Our Division General, Gibbons, was wounded. He is a brave man as is also Gen Taylor of our Brigade, now in command of the Division. Col Leonard is in command of the Brigade. The whole Brigade will not number more than 700 men now. It is so cold that I can hardly hold a pen therefore I will not try to write any more now. Excuse Haste and accept with much love from your aff. Nephew
From "Three Years with Company K"; edited by Arthur Kent; Fairleigh Dickenson Press; 1976. (p. 144-148) Used with Permission.
Just before the battle, Austin Stearns, now a Corporal, was appointed to the Color Guard. He describes the event and the actions of the regiment on Dec. 12th & 13th. The sketch is his own.
On the morning of the 11th of Dec. 1862, in a thick fog, we marched down to the banks of the Rappahannock river about three miles below Fredericksburg; we were the left of the army. While halting a few moments waiting for the troops to cross on a pontoon bridge, Cap't Hovey ordered me to report to the color sergeant as a corporal on the color guard; the boys of K crowded around, some to shake hands, and all to say "Good by," for they said "You are gone up now." At Antietam, all the color guard but one was either kiled or wounded, and judging from that, they thought my turn had come.
The Color guard is composed of two Sergeants who carry the colors, one the National and the other the State, and eight corporals whose duty it is to guard the colors, and under no circumstances to allow the colors to be lost.
In a battle it is a great honor to take the colors of the enemy, and it is also a great dishonor to lose the colors, consequently the colors draws the hottest fire and some of the most desperate fighting takes place at the colors, and although at times it is a post of great danger, it is at all times a post of honor.
We crossed the river, and fileing to the left marched down its banks. After passing a large stone house, the regiment, with the exception of the color company, deployed as skirmishers; the rebel skirmishers were in full view in the large open plain. The fog lifting at this time, and the sun coming out in all his glory, made a grand and beautiful sight; not a single gun was fired on either side, the rebels falling back in slow and even step as our own boys advanced.
At the distance of a half mile from the river ran the Bowling Green Pike with a hedge on either side, and when we were ready to advance and occupy it, we thought they would dispute our possession, but no they quietly fell back to the field beyond. So passed the 11th. Troops were getting into position all day long, and far up the river we could hear the great guns of both sides as they were maneuvering for position. We could see the signal flags of the enemy, and the guns on "Mary Heights." Night settled down, our boys on the skirmish line held the pike, and we of the colors lay directly behind, while the line of battle lay in our rear. I went up to the right of the regiment during the night, drawn thither by a bright light caused by the burning of several hay stacks within the rebels lines. The night passed without any other alarm; to sleep was out of the question.
The 12th dawned bright and clear; we were cooking our coffee early so as to be prepared for whatever might turn up. The skirmishers advanced beyond the pike, but no firing in our front. Private Blanchard of Co. B took his gun and, sticking it up in the ground by the bayonet, went boldly over to the rebel line to have a little chat with them, and trade some coffee for tobacco. Blanchard asked them "why they did not fire on our boys when we advanced"; they said "they did not like to be fired at any more than we did, and as we did not fire they had no occasion to." He asked "when they would," and they said "the next time you advance on us." Blanchard went back to his place, and soon the order was given to "advance the skirmishers," and the firing commenced. The rebels had now fallen back to the woods, and, lying behind the trees, had a better chance to pick us off who were in the open field without any shelter. They soon made it hot for us; some of the boys ran back a few steps to take advantage of the ground. Gen'l Taylor saw it and rode boldly up to the line and said "Boys why do you suffer those fellows to creep up on you in that way; your guns are as good as theirs; use them." The bullets flew thickly around and we expected to see him fall, but he road back unharmed.
Although he sent his overcoat afterwards over to Lee our tailor to be mended and there was six bullets holes in the cape.
At last all the preparations were complete and the line of battle was ordered to advance, and the skirmishers were ordered to fall back after several hours of fighting. As we had used up about all our ammunition we were ordered to fall back to the big stone house and reform and refill our boxes. As we crossed the pike I saw Gen'l Bayard* sitting on his horse; a few moments later and he was instantly killed by a solid shot.
While being served with ammunition I saw a fellow brought in on a stretcher who thought he was desperately wounded, one foot almost off he said; some of the boys examined him and could not find a scratch. A shell had come pretty close and frightened him; the stretcher bearers had found him lying on the field and thought him hit.
After being supplied we again moved to the front, and while going we met a squad of reb prisoners coming to the rear. "What regiment," some of the boys asked; they said " -- Georgia." Warner of K asked them "What part of Georgia"; "Macon," they answered. He lived in Macon before the war, but there were none that he knew. While we were talking the shells came over, striking the ground and throwing the dirt over us.
One of the rebs, laughing, said "That is one of Stonewalls pills, and how do you like to take them." "Oh, well enough," we replied, "if they dont come any nearer than that."
Another one of our boys said "We're going to have Richmond now", "Well," said Johnie Reb, laughing heartly, "You'll find two Hills, a damned Longstreet, and a Stonewall before you get there." All this happened in less time then it takes to write it.
When we got back to the pike, we found the brigade there, they having been driven back after some severe fighting.
The fighting on the left was over for this day, and we held the same positon that we did in the morning, [with] nothing gained, but thousands killed or wounded. Night coming on, we lay in line of battle awaiting the morrow.
Sgt. John S. Fay, Co. F, gives a gripping account of the retreat. I have omitted his description of the river crossing, and picked up his narrative at Noon on the 12th, when the regt. took position in the Bowling Green Road. Spelling errors are included.
We remained here [the Bowling Green Road] all the afternoon and night none of us being allowed to sleep and we was so near the rebel lines that we could not have a fire which was anything but agreeable, it being a very cold night, so we whiled away the time watching the rebels and the stars, and wishing that morning would come, although we all expected when daylight did appear there would be a big battle commenced. About three o’clock in the morning it began to be foggy, and soon the fog was so dense that we could not see fifty feet from us, But we could hear the rebels buisy at work on their entrenchments prepaired to recieve us in the morning. When it was day light the fog was so dense that we could not see but a few yards from us, and we ventured to build firs and make us some coffee, which we hastly drank. We all was so tired and exausted that we would go to sleep in a few minutes if we allowed ourselves to keep still.
About eight o’clock, we was advanced about fifty yards and our pioneers filled up the ditch in three or four places, and made roades for our artillery to pass over on, we was as still as possable about it so the rebels could not hear what we was about, the fog preventing from seeing us.
About ten o’clock, the fog suddenly cleared away and the sun came out warm and pleasant. The brigades of our division was immeaditly formed in line-of-battle and ordered across the road and we was ordered to advance our skirmish line. The rebels opened on us a heavy, [fire?][sic] but we laid low and advanced on our hands and knees until we reach the brow of a slight declivity, when we returned their fire the best we could but they had a great advantage over us being in a wood where they could cover themselves behind treese, while we was in open field lying in the mud with no cover.
Every time we raised up to fire three or four bullets would wiz by our head and there was a continual shower of bullets falling about us. We kept up this kind of fighting about four hours and a half, when our ammunition became nearly exausted. About half past two a general advance was ordered along the whole line, and our Regiment to the rear for ammunition.
While waiting for ammunition the roll was called and we was surprised to find our loss so light. The loss in the whole Regiment was only 4 killed 10 wounded and 2 missing. By what miracle so many of us escaped no one can tell.
The battle was now raging with great fury in our front and on the heights up at Fredricksburg. We had to wait a long time for ammunition and while we was waiting our position was such that we could see nearly the whole length of the line from the heights down to the extreme left of the line, and it was a sight that I never shall forget it was the most sublime and awful scenes that I ever saw.
I have been in large battles before but I had never been in a position where I could see, but comparatively few of the troops engaged. As it is well known we was badly defeated in that battle the cause of which I do not pretend to know. After receiving our ammunition we was ordered forward and formed in Line-of-Battle in the rear of the road that we was on guard in the night before. We remained in this position until the night of the 15th when five Companys of my Regiment including my own, was ordered to the front on pickett.
Our pickett line was established very near to theirs, so near that we could hear them talk quite plainly, there being a strong south wind blowing. We had made arrangements with them not to fire unless one side attempted to advance so the night was passed very quietly, until three o’clock in the morning, when we had orders to pack up and start for the rear as still as possible.
Orders was all given by signs, not a loud word being spoken. When we got back to the place where we left our Brigade, we found everbody gone but the firs was still burning.
We now learned that our five Companys and one Company of sharp shooters was all the troops there was on that side of the river, the army having retreated and left us there.
When we found how we was situated, we was anxous to get back, not liking the idea of being taken prisioners. We was two miles from the bridge, and daylight fast approaching. There was nearly a full moon, but the clouds had kept it hid most of the night, but now they began to break away and the moon, at times would shine very bright. We was afraid the rebels would discover our absence from the pickett line, and we knew if they did they would advance and perhaps cut us off from the bridge as some parts of their line was near to it that we was.
After replenishing the fires so as to keep them burning bright we started for the bridge – keeping as much as possible in the shadows of the trees and reached it a little before daylight. We found it all ready to be taken up at a moments notice. They had about given up all hope of seeing, or hearing from us again, except as prisioners of war.
The detachment was under the command of Maj. Gould, and too much credit cannot be given him for his successful retreat. We marched up on to the bluff where we could have a good view of the south side of the river as soon as it was daylight, the rebels discovered that we had abandoned our picket line and immeditely commenced to advance, seemingly greatly astonished to find that we had successfully retreated without their hearing us.
We marched back about three miles from the river and encamped until the 19th when we marched about eight miles to the eastward, to a place called Fletchers Chapel near Belle Plain Landing where we pitched our camp for the winter.
We remained here doeing the usual camp and picket duties without any important interruptions until the 20th of January 1863.
1st Lieutenant Morton Tower Report (Company B, pictured) made the following report to Lt.-Col. Batchelder commanding the 13th regiment. Col. Leonard assumed command of the brigade the afternoon of Dec. 13th.
GLC03393.29 "Report of the Proceedings of Co. B; Lieut. Morton Tower to N. W. Batchelder." (The Gilder Lehrman Collection. Not to be reproduced without written permission.)"
Reports of the proceedings of Co. B. 13th Mass. Vols. on the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, & 16th days of Dec. 1862.
Crossed the Rappahannock River on the morn. of the 12th with one commissioned officer and twenty six enlisted men – were deployed as skirmishers on the afternoon of the same day – on the morn. of the 13th, the Co. were ordered to assemble on the right, which, was accordingly done. By some mistake Co. B, and two other companys were taken to the rear – But were soon ordered back by order of Gen Tayler, when we immediately deployed as skirmishers - in the rear of the 83rd N.Y. and passed - directly to the front at which time, Privates J. A. Young & W. F. Blanchard were slightly wounded - both in the leg - We were Engaged with the Enemys skirmishers – until – the – Action commenced – when we were ordered to the rear.- On the night of the 13th our Division were ordered to the Left. –
On the 14th & 15th we laid on our arms all day -
on the night of the 15th we were sent to the extreme left – and front to strengthen the pickets – where we remained until the morn of the 16th we were ordered to assemble – and fall to the rear - - Crossed the Bridge and Bivouacked on the north side of the Rappahannock river–
Lieut Morton Tower-
Co B – 13th Mass Vols
Lieut. Col. N.W. Batchelder,
Comd’g 13th Regt. Mass. Vols.,
As 1st Lieut. Comd’g Co. G, 13th Mass. Vols. I would make the following report.
On the 13th Dec 1862, this Company was the reserve of the right wing of the Batallion who acted as skirmishers. When the Brigade advanced, Capt Fiske ordered his Company to rear, saying Lieut Foley you will take command. upon going to the rear I received a wound which disabled me for the time. I then ordered Sergt. Whitney to take command and go further to the rear.
I learn upon good authority that Sergt Whitney conducted himself in a creditable manner And would respectfully recommend him for promotion.
J. H. Foley
1st Lieut Comd’g Co. G.
From the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.
[December -, 1862.]
Sir : I have the honor to make the following report of the doings of the regiment in the late action across the river near Fredericksburg :
In obedience to orders, we crossed the river at the head of the brigade, about 10 a.m., and soon after were marched nearly 2 miles to the left, beyond the Bernard mansion, when the regiment was deployed as skirmishers, covering the entire left flank to the river. After advancing about half a mile, crossing a ravine, the direction was changed to the right, and the left wing brought up toward the Bowling Green road. When approaching near it, the enemy’s pickets were discovered posted in the road. They slowly fell back as we advanced, and possession of the road was gained without firing a shot, covering the front of the brigade, and extending nearly a quarter of a mile to the left, where we joined pickets established by General Meade’s division. The regiment remained in that position all night.
About 9 A.M., Saturday, the 13th General Meade’s division changed position to the right, and were placed with the front resting on the road, when I asked to have my left wing rallied to the right, which was granted. Before the movement was completed, an advance was ordered, and the right wing was moved to the front about five hundred yards, into an open field, where the enemy’s pickets were. They fell back as we advanced, exchanging shots, to the woods in our front. This ground was held until 1 P.M., when the ammunition was exhausted. At that time the brigade was advanced over the line of skirmishers toward the woods, and we ordered to the rear to get ammunition, when the engagement became general. The skirmishers were assembled on the right and left, and retired in good order. I remained on the left of the line of skirmishers, covering the battery (Captain Hall’s) with four companies, until there appeared to be a general retreat, when I marched them to the rear, near the Bernard mansion, and re-formed the regiment and obtained a supply of ammunition. At this time (about 4) I was ordered to assume the command of the brigade. The officers and men, I am pleased to say, performed their duties promptly and faithfully.
A report of the casualties has been made in full.*
Hoping that my actions meet with your approval, I am, very respectfully, your obediant servant,
Colonel, Commanding Thirteenth Massachusetts Volunteers.
Capt. W.T. Hartz
Assistant Adjustant-General, Third Brigade.
Extract from the Report of Brig.-General Nelson Taylor, commanding 3rd Brigade; from "Three Years in the Army, by Charles E. Davis, Jr.
On the morning of the 13th, by direction of Brigadier-General Gibbon, commanding division, I formed line of battle south of and parallel to the Bowling Green road, about two miles south-east of Fredericksburg, Va. This was executed under cover of the Thirteenth Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers, then deployed as skirmishers. My command was arranged as follows (Thirteenth Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers, deployed as skirmishers), commencing from the right of the line : First, Eighty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers; second, Ninety-seventh New York Volunteers; third, Eighty-third New York Volunteers; fourth, Eleventh Pennsylvania Volunteers. Having the line formed, I was then (about 9 A.M.) ordered to advance it to within about 300 yards of the skirt of a wood covering a range of hills immediately in our front and the grading of the Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad.
In the execution of this order I drew the fire of the enemy, whom I found strongly posted in force in the wood and behind the railroad track. The skirmishers being within good range, a lively fire was kept up by them with effect on both sides. The line not being in range, I caused the men to lie down, to avoid as much as possible the effect of the enemy's artilllery, which had opened upon my line from right to left.
At 1 P.M. I was ordered to advance my line, which I did, to within a short distance of the wood, when the whole line became briskly engaged. The enemy seemed to concentrate the most of his fire on the two regiments on the left of my line ( the Eleventh Pennsylvania and Eighty-third New York), which, from casualties and other causes, soon melted away, when the Second Brigade, commanded by Colonel Lyle, was advanced and took their places on the left of the regiments on the right (the Ninety-seventh New York and Eighty-eighth Pennsylvania), which regiments were marched a short distance to the right to make room for and unmask the advancing line.
The troops, generally, composing this brigade displayed a great deal of bravery and courage.
Camp opposite Fredericksburg, Va., Dec. 17th 1862
After several days of excitement we are at last resting on this side of the Rappahannock with about as much gained as you could put into a nut shell.
In fact we met the enemy and after a hard fight we came back across the river. Our Division crossed the river on Friday, our brigade being on the right of the Division and our regiment the right of the brigade. We advanced to the left and took our position and our regiment deployed as skirmishers and advanced about half a mile or a mile when we met the enemy's skirmishers or pickets rather.
We advanced to within about 500 yards of the rebs when we halted. During the afternoon we conversed with them at this distance and one of our Co. Blanchard by name got permission and went and met one of their men half way and gave him some coffee and he gave Blanchard a biscuit such as they have for rations. They talked as familiar as could be. Such is this war.
We did picket duty that night and the next AM. Meade's Division came and formed for an advance. They advanced over us and we went to the rear under a very heavy fire. The regiment was then ordered to join the brigade which was in front and as soon as they arrived were thrown out as skirmishers in front.
We then advanced under a heavy fire but most of the bullets went over and hit in the regiments advancing in line of battle behind.
As soon as the rebs showed themselves in heavy force our brigade advanced over our regiment and the regiment fell to the rear. We got ammunition and then advanced again.
It begun to be dark and our regiment was put in front for picket duty. We were relieved the night that we crossed the river back again and here we are in camp again.
Two of our men were wounded Blanchard and Young. Co. D lost two men killed besides several wounded. Our regiment did not suffer so bad as if they had advanced in line. Our brigade suffered badly. The 11th Pennsylvania and 9th New York suffered badly.
You must excuse bad writing as my fingers are cold owing to the weather. When is George Worcester coming? The box sent by the chaplain came all safe and everything was safe and sound. The minced pie were very nice as also the cake and cheese.
My other box came safely by Chase and everything had kept well. You must write me soon and I will answer. With love to all I am your affect. son.
Chas. E. Leland.
Kisses to little Ada and tell her that her letter was appreciated.
Dear Father and Mother,
Having some leisure time to day I thought I could not improve it better than by writing to you. To day is beautiful for Christmas, and I hope that it is as pleasant and warm at home. We are living very comfortable in our tents.
All of the Co. have fixed up their tents, as if we were going into Winter Quarters. Four of us have managed to fix up a very good place to live in. We dug down about 2 1/2 feet in the ground just the size of our tent and we then raised the height by putting two logs high around the top. We then made a fire place in the centre, and built a chimney on the out side (see my sketch of the tent.)
We have got a first rate fire place, and it heats the tent up first rate. Our fare is about the same as ever hard tack, coffee and a little sugar (five spoon fulls for three days.) We have fresh beef about once every three days. I hope that you send that box of that I wrote for when we were near Stafford Court House as if you did I shall get it tomorrow night Mr. Chase having got down to Acquia Creek and sent after them.
There is no news here of any consequence now, and every thing looks quiet. Gen. Gibbons being wounded, Gen. Taylor took command of this division and Col. Leonard command of the brigade. Lieut. Col. Batchelder is appointed acting Col. of the 11th Penn. regiment, they having lost all their line officers. And Major Gould commands this regiment at present.
We have between three and four hundred men in our regiment. Co. B has twenty men for duty. Capt. Cary started for home a day of two ago and I presume you have seen him ere this. He can tell you more than I can about the Company and regiment.
Two or three paroled and exchanged prisoners came into camp to day. They belong to Co. E. By them I hear that George Worcester is in Washington besides two or three other men belonging to this Co. I hope that we will stop here for some time and I think that we will.
We are in a very good place to obtain a few luxuries from the landing provided we have money. We are not likely to be paid off for some time and I wish you would send me five dollars in your next letter and then I can get me cheese bread or any thing by sending down by one of the teamsters (Bigelow of our Co.). One gets tired of pork and hard tack all the time.
I suppose that you are having a good time as usual on Christmas. I have not received a letter from you for some time but hope to soon. Have you heard anything of Clark? I was sorry to hear by Mother's letter that Aunt Mary was sick but hope that this will find her better. Remember me to Grandfather and Grandmother also to all the folks that I know in So. Walpole. How does Uncle Henry's trout pond get along? I would give a good deal to be set down at Grandfather's this afternoon. I suppose that old Grif still survives.
Give my love to Uncle Henry and Aunt Kate. When you send any thing in the shape of a box again please put in a small Worcester County cheese weight about ten pounds. We are troubled a good deal with diarrhea and that is a good thing to eat with food. I will now close by wishing you all a Merry Christmas. Kiss Ada for me. Give my love to brother Henry. Hoping that this will find you well. I am your affectionate son.
Chas. E. Leland. Co. B
Warren hid the truth about his suffering in his letters home at the time it occurred. But in 1864, at the end of his service, when it was clear he would come home un-harmed, he described his ordeal at Fredericksburg. The post-war image of Warren H. Freeman is from the scrapbook of Company A comrade, James H. Lowell of Holten, Kansas. It was shared with me by Lowell's descendants..
Near Bell Plain, December 25, 1862
Dear Father, - You must excuse this long delay; I should have written had I been well. I was sick some days before we left Brooks’s Station, but marched with the regiment the first day, and on the second day rode in an ambulance on account of the swelling of my lower limbs. When we arrived at Fredericksburg the sick were put in a barn near the river; here we found some corn-stalks and made ourselves tolerably comfortable on them, with the addition of our blankets; but about midnight, after the battle, we were turned out of the barn into the field, as the barn was wanted for the badly wounded. We kept our cornstalks, however, and lay on the frozen ground two nights and one day. The field was covered all over with wounded men groaning and calling for water; some attempted to crawl on their bellies to the river side for a drop of water to relieve their thirst. In the course of two days these wounded men were carried away and we were put in the barn again; here we suffered terribly from the cold, as we had no way to warm ourselves. After about ten days we were carried to the hospital of the regiment, and I feel some better, and have quite a good appetite. I think my lameness was brought on by marching in the mud so long with army shoes with very thin soles. I wish you would send me a pair of thick boots and two pair of wool socks – put them in a box with a can of condensed milk, some butter, sugar, etc. I received two boxes from home while at Brooks’s Station; everything was in good order but two or three of the apples, which had rotted.
I give you many thanks for these acceptable presents; will write again soon.
From our affectionate son,
Bell Plain, December 30, 1862.
Dear Father, - My feet are a good deal better ; the doctor says he thinks it is crysipelas.
I bathe them every day in warm mustard water ; I have got so that I can walk quite comfortably. I do not find any fault with the quality of our food, it is only the quantity, which is rather small for a man with a good appetite ; we hope Chase* will be along soon with plenty of good things for New Year.
Our regiment was very fortunate in the late battle at Fredericksburg. They acted as skirmishers all day, and their loss was small; no one killed in my company.
I got a brief note from Eugene last week, dated Aquia Creek; he is quite well.
January 11, 1863, - Yours of the 2d inst. came to had a few days since. I regret you werre so much worried about me while I lay in that old barn and on the field with the wounded; but although my physical pains were severe, still they would not compare in any degree with thte poor fellows all around me - to the number of perhaps 1,200 - with all manner of gunshot wounds, and to be compelled to listen to groans, their cries for help, and not to be able to lift a hand to administer to their wants. O ! it is worse than any battle I was ever in ; but I presume there was no one to blame in the matter. Our losses were said to be very great, and wll men could not be taken from the ranks to care for all the wounded.
Chase has not arrived yet; nothing for sale but a few small apples - price five for a quarter, such as you get at home for a cent apiece ; I am anticipationg a feast off those you say are on the way here in my box.
I have heard nothing more from brother Eugene.
With love to mother, brother and sister, and a kind remembrance to all who inquire, I remain
Your Affectionate son,
*Chase is the sutler of the 13th Mass. Regiment
Warren suffered terribly during the Fredericksburg campaign but would not speak of his suffering until he was once and for all free from military service. In a letter dated Sept. 15, 1864 he wrote the following to his father.
On mother's account, principally, I have forborne to say much about the horrible scenes I have participated in during the past three years ; it would only have increased her anxiety in regard to my safety. Even if I had the ability to describe a battle I don't think I should attempt it. But brother Eugene is of a different turn from me in this respect ; he is quite imaginative in describing some of the scenes of suffering that have fallen under his notice. As opportunities offered, Eugene has gone among the dead and wounded of the Potomac army, thinking it possible he might find me among the number. There is an instnce in point that occurs to me now, for, singularly enough, he happened, while at Acquia Creek, to meet with some of the wounded men that lay on the field with me at Fredericksburg on those December nights that I have written you about. Eugene wrote to some one an account of the affair, - I don't know whom, but I have now a scrap of the letter, and as I have time enough, I will copy the part that may interest you, simply remarking that our loss in that battle as very large, and many days were required in removing our wounded to places where they could be cared for.
"During a recent trip to Acquia Creek we were forcibly reminded of the horrors of war. It was a few days after the battle of Fredericksburg, on a cold, sleety afternoon. A train of box cars came in here loaded with wounded men ; they lay on some hay in the bottom of the cars. Very calm and quiet they were, an occasional groan, perhaps, being heard as a rude touch or jar caused suffering to some poor fellow beyond what he could bear in silence. There were no hospital accommodations here for them, and all the steamers had gone to Washington with the wounded ; so these poor fellows had to be left on the frozen ground with a little hay under them, and nought but their blankets and the lowering dripping clouds to cover them. Cold, wet, and nearly dead, there they lay all through the December night. In the morning I found there were many whose rigid forms and distorted faces, upturned to the still weeping skies, told the story of the work of death. This seemed to me more horrible than the battle-field even. But I suppose that it cannot be helped ; there must be times, especially after great battles, when the wounded cannot be taken care of, but must be left to their fate. The nature of our business here was such that we could render them but little relief, and reluctantly I turned from these poor fellows with a heavy heart."
I am thankful Eugene did not know of my situation when he wrote the above, and that you and dear mother were not aware of my terrible sufferings for fifteen days and nights while lying on the frozen ground, and in that old barn, with the thermometer far below the freezing point. But I will not weary you any more with such details, though I cannot keep them from my own mind.
NOTE: Warren's brother Eugene was an engineer in the transport service. He served on various steamships during the war.
The following picture essay comes from Harpers Weekly, December 27, 1862
The drawing represents a general view of the battlefield as seen by the reserves, the line of battle off in the distance, next the artillery and second line of infantry. To the right there is a battery planted on a little hill. Across the road fresh troops are seen rapidly marching into the woods toward the front to reinforce our worn-out soldiers. Neare the centre are generals, with their staffs, watching the fate of the day. The road is blocked up with cavalry, infantry, artillery, and ambulances, going to and fro, carrying their burden of wounded to the rear. On the house seen near the cetre are stationed officers with signal flags. To the left is a house used as a hospital, and still further are a batch of prisoners taken off by a file of our men.
"All this and more is seen by the reserve, patiently waiting until their turn shall come to take part in the struggle of the day. The wounded are brought past them, carried so that their injuries are terribly apparent to those who are forced to stand still and coolly view their sufferings, not knowing how soon the same fate may be theirs. The air resounds with shrieks of agony, and the ground nearthe surgeon's table is strewed with amputated limbs. Such sights as these make some hearts sicken and sink despairingly, while in others it makes the desire to be avenged burn only th more fiercely, especially whenever and anon passes by the familiar form of a late comradce in arms, fearfully mutilated or crippled for life, or perhaps dying. One poor soldier is borne along, who, in spite of his pain, renders his last tribute of respect to his commander and cheershm as he passes.
"Out of the ambulance and supply-wagon, nearest the hospital, the wounded are lifted one after anohter, and laid side by side to wail wearily until the surgeon can attend to them. One loyal soldier, who has charge of the prisoners, has captured a rebel flag, and is significantly trailing it in the dust as he walks along." Dec 27 1862.
The following article written by Walter E. Swan, Secretary, Thirteenth Regiment Association, appeared in Circular # 32, 1919.
Major George H. Maynard, one of the oldest living members of our regiment, has with some reluctance consented to my giving an account of some of his experiences during the Civil War which led to his being awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor:
The major informs me that the main features connected with his military service are a matter of record in the War Department at Washington. It seems that George had military aspirations from his earliest days, for as a boy of four, in the school house at Waltham, Mass., a wooden sword with which he was playing, and which was evidently a specimen of his Yankee skill with the jack-knife, attained an appearance of being blood stained. The teacher, watching the little fellow, saw him cut gashes in his fingers and squeeze the blood upon the wood. "As clearly as if it were but yesterday," she writes, "I remember how the sight of the "child's blood made my woman's heart feel pale, and I exclaimed; 'Why, George, you must not cut your fingers !' Turning his dark, curly head and upturning his bright face to me, he replied: 'It don't hurt.' He was by no means a cruel-hearted boy, but affectionate, though a plucky little fellow."
When the Civil War broke out and the regiment was being recruited, George enlisted in Company D, and he participated in every march and engagement in which the regiment took part until February 17, 1863, when he was commissioned as lieutenant in the 5th U. S. Volunteers. He was promoted to Captain January 17, 1864, and was later brevetted Major to date from March 13, 1865, for distinguished and meritorious services, being mustered out of the service with his regiment at New Orleans, La., September 21, 1866.
At Antietam, when our regiment was within a few hundred feet of the Confederate alignment, none got it more hotly than Company D, then under Lieut. Pope's command. When the rapidly thinning line and the failing ammunition led the brigade commander to order a retrograde movement by the left flank into the woods and thence to the rear, Private Maynard, with Corporal Geo. N. Emerson of Company B, (pictured, right) remained at the front, each taking cover behind a tree, having still some ammunition in their boxes. Suddenly Maynard heard a cry from Emerson and sprang to his aid, though the minnies were zipping and shell and round shot tore across the field. He succeeded in taking the corporal off in the face of the fire to the cover of the woods and thence to the rear. While passing through the trees both heard a cry for help from another wounded soldier, and Maynard, depositing the corporal, promptly returned and was fortunately able to bring away his comrade Edward A. Pearson, of his own company. After giving the helpless soldier water obtained from canteens taken from dead comrades, Maynard returned to the front and continued the fight, joining General Mansfield's line.
At Fredencksburg, December 13, 1862, the regiment was deployed as skirmishers, advancing several hundred yards toward woods in the front, and having driven the rebel skirmish line to cover behind trees and a railroad embankment, and, having held its ground for four hours, the skirmish line was ordered to lie down to escape the storm of grape and canister sweeping over it. Private Charles Armstrong, lying nearest to Maynard, sprang to his feet to fire and was immediately shot. Maynard crept over to him and with his Blanket strap effected a tourniquet which stopped the flow of blood from a wound just above the knee. He could do no more at the time, and returned to his position in the skirmish line. Becoming drowsy for a few moments from exhaustion, he was awakened by the advance of the line of battle and the tramping of men over him. Getting upon his feet he discovered his own company moving to the rear and followed it back nearly to the Bowling Green Road, when the recollection of Armstrong, helpless out there in the line, turned, him back.
He returned to find the line of battle hotly engaged and only a hundred yards in front of his former position. With great difficulty he found his comrade and it required considerable effort to drag him back to the rear of a battery. There Maynard left him till he could bring help and a stretcher, which he did. Finding Captain Harlow of his company and stating the case, the captain ordered him to remain with Armstrong until he could send an ambulance. Armstrong died that night.
During the Major's service he took part in twenty engagements, among them the battles of Manassas, Antietam and the siege of Port Hudson. After the surrender of Port Hudson he was appointed assistant provost marshal of that post, and later provost marshal and provost judge of the District of West Florida, serving in that capacity until relieved to take part in the advance on Mobile, Ala. After the taking of Mobile his regiment was ordered to Appalachicola, Fla., and he was appointed provost marshal and acting mayor of that city. When the regiment was ordered to Dry Tortugas he was appointed provost marshal of the post. Later he was in command of Fort Barrancas, Pensacola Harbor, and then was assigned to the headquarters of the department of Florida for special secret service by order of the Secretary of War to send an officer through the State to determine the truth or falsity of the reported kidnapping of negroes and their being taken to Cuba and sold into slavery; also to learn to what extent smuggling was being carried on at the different ports on the coast.
While a captain in the 82nd U. S. Volunteers Maynard was brevetted major for gallantry in action. At the battle of Marianna, when the colored soldiers would have killed Confederate cavalrymen whom they had taken prisoners twice, because, the troopers opened fire upon them after having once surrendered, he by his own force and courage prevented at the muzzle of his revolver a general massacre of the Confederates.
The main road entering Marianna was narrow, said brother officers of the 82nd and officers of the 2nd Maine cavalry, with houses on both sides of the street. About 300 yards from where the Federal troops halted was a barricade across the street of wagons and carts of all sorts. Captain Young, 7th Vermont Infantry, A. A. A. General, and Captain Maynard, Provost Marshal, were at the head, and one side, of the column. General Asboth in command ordered two companies of the cavalry to charge. They advanced about two-thirds of the way to the barricade when the enemy opened fire upon them, and they came rushing back pell-mell. This was a sore disappointment to the general and as the retreating cavalry rushed past he exclaimed, "For shame! For shame!" and as soon as they had reformed, he said, "Follow me," and gave the order to charge.
General Asboth, Captain Young and Captain Maynard led the charge and just as they leaped the barricade on their horses (all three being bunched together) the enemy fired, wounding General Asboth through the face and arm, and instantly killing Captain Young by Maynard's side. Captain Maynard drew rein, faced the blacksmith shop full of the enemy, and shot their major commanding through the shoulder.
The cavalry were detained somewhat by the barricade, and General Asboth's horse ran away when he was shot. For the time being Captain Maynard was alone. When the cavalry came up he directed them regarding the General and the location of the enemy. Colonel Zularsky, who had dismounted some of his men, then came up on the flank, and was told the situation by Captain Maynard. The enemy were posted behind houses on one side of the street and on the opposite side behind gravestones, in the blacksmith shop and behind, and in the church. The engagement lasted about three-quarters of an hour when the enemy, made signs of surrender and orders were given to the Union troops to cease firing. Immediately the enemy commenced firing again and in the second firing shot a colored soldier.
The escape of the major during this encounter was certainly miraculous.
Illustration of George Maynard in Action at Marianna, from "Deeds of Valor" painted by 13th Mass. comrade, artist Henry Bacon.
The above described record led the Major's comrades in arms to exercise their influence to obtain proper recognition of his services before he should have passed the final muster. Brevet Maj. Gen. George L. Andrews (U. S. A. Retired), Maj. Henry A. Harris and officers of the 82nd U. S. Vols., Gen. Samuel H. Leonard, Lieut. Col. Hovey, Capt. Livermore and officers and enlisted men of the 13th regiment petitioned the authorities in Washington, and the result was a letter from Gen. Russell A. Alger, Secretary of War, dated March 22nd, 1898, which said:-
"You are hereby notified that, by direction of the President and under the provisions of the act of Congress approved March 3, 1863, providing for the presentation of medals of honor to such officers, non-commissioned officers and privates as have most distinguished themselves in action, a Congressional Medal of Honor has this day been presented to you for most distinguished gallantry in action, the following being a statement of the particular service, viz:-
"At Fredericksburg, Va., December 13, 1862, this officer, then private Company D, Thirteenth Massachusetts Volunteers, was with his regiment, the advance skirmish line of the division, when a general advance of the troops was ordered, and the skirmishers assembled in the rear.
It was then found that a wounded and helpless comrade had been left on the former skirmish line, but Private Maynard voluntarily returned to the front, under a severe artillery and infantry fire, and brought his helpless friend to a place of safety."
From the Regimental History "Three Years in the Army," by Charles E. Davis, Jr., Boston, Estes & Lauriat, 1894.
There was a strong impression among the men of the Thirteenth that General Franklin had not given that cordial suport to General Burnside that became a general who was determined to win. As we retreated to the north bank of the river, crestfallen and disgusted, very emphatic expressions of condemnation were made on his apparent lack of sympathy with Burnside's movement. The following is the order sent to General Franklin about which there has been so much criticism :
Army of the
Dec. 13, 1862, 5:55 P.M.
Major-General Franklin, Commanding Left Grand Division, Army of the Potomac :
General Hardie will carry this despatch to you, and remain with you during the day. The general commanding directs that you keep your whole command in position for a rapid movement down the old Richmond road, and you will send out at once a division, at least, to pass below Smithfield, to seize, if possible, the heights near Captain Hamilton's on this side of the Massaponax, taking care to keep it well supported and its line of retreat open. He has ordered another column of a divison or more to be moved from General Sumner's command up the plank-road, to its intersection with the telegraph road, where they will divide, with a view to seizing the heights on both of those roads. Holding those two heights, with the heights near Captain Hamilton's, will, he hopes, compel the enemy to evacuate the whole ridge between these points. I make these moves by colunms distant from each other, with a view of avoiding the possibility of a collision of our own forces, which might occur in a general movement during the fog. Two of General Hooker's divisions are in your rear, at the bridges, and will remain there as supports.
Copies of instructions given to Generals Sumner and Hooker will be forwarded to you by an orderly very soon.
You will keep your whole command in readiness to move at once, as soon as the fog lifts. The watchword, which, if possible, should be given to every company, will be "Scots."
I have the honor to be, General, very respectfully, your obediant servant,
JNO. G. PARKE,
Chief of Staff.
General Franklin says that in the state of facts existing when it was received, "General Burnside's order, though incongruous and contradictory on its face, admitted of but one interpretation ; viz., that he intended to make an armed observation from the left to ascertain the strength of the enemy, an interpretation also given to it by both of my corps commanders."
The Following is from "Three Years with Company K" ; Sgt. Austin C. Stearns, Deceased, Edited by Arthur Kent; 1976 Fairleigh-Dickenson Press; (p. 149 - 150) Used with permission.
The causes for the disaster at Fredericksburg are several and were freely discussed as usual by the boys, and many were the theories advanced. Some laid the blame to this cause and some to that, and after a free exchange of ideas, it was decided that as far as the left was concerned, Gen'l Franklin was responsible. And these are [the] reasons. The old spirit of McClellanism was still in the army, and of all the old officers, Franklin was the most devoted; he either would [not] or could not give up the idea of McClellan greatness, and [t]hen Burnside ordered him to attack and take the enemies position, and if he wanted more troops, to send for them. Let us go more into particulars.
[Maj.-Gen. William B. Franklin, pictured]
These are the facts, for we were there and saw what I now write and to a certain extent participated in them.
The grand division of Franklin were composed of the 1st and 6th corps in the following order on the left: the 2nd division, Gibbons, on the right of the corps joining the left of the sixth, the 3d division, Meade, on the left of the second; and the 1st, Doubledays, on the left of the 3d and reaching back to the river.
In front of the old 1st corps commanded by John F. Reynolds stood the veterans, tried in many a battle of Stonewall Jackson, his men partialy sheltered by the railroad and the timber.
When the advance was ordered and the old division of Gibbon, the Pennsylvania Reserves of Meade, with the Iron brigades of the 1st, there was fighting of the highest order; on they went, driving the rebs from the railroad and through the woods, advancing the line a good half mile, but all this had not been done without a fearful loss in killed and wounded, and so when Stonewall hurried up his reserves, the weakened lines of Gibbon and Meade after a most stubborn resistance was forced back. The golden opportunity for Franklin was to send the division at the bridge into the fight; if that had been done the story of Fredericksburg would hav had a different ending. That division thrown into the fight at that most critical moment would have turned defeat into a most splendid victory.
But instead, he (Franklin), sent away to Burnside three miles away for reinforcements, which the gallant hero quickly sent, but before they could reach the field, although they double-quicked it almost all the way, the day was lost. To show the desperation of the fight, and how our boys tried to gain a victory, let me tell what some of the 16th Maine said.
One said when they had driven the rebs through the woods, they could see just beyond the teams parked, and the teamsters were making frantic efforts to get away, while farther up the valley a large mass of rebel troops could be seen coming at the double quick; soon they were upon them, and as no help was near they were forced to fall back, fighting all the way.
Another said, when speaking of how near they were, that "Old Mr. Libbey his chum speared three of them," thus showing how near we sometimes got.
But such was the fate of war; the gallant Burnside took the whole cause of the failure upon himself, blameing no one, and the battle of Fredericksburg passed into history.
above, Artist Arthur Lumley sketched General Burnside visiting with
General Franklin, December 14th
1862, giving him the order to evacuate his position on the battlefield.
Return to Top of Page
After hearing of the battle, a very depressed President Lincoln issued this ambiguous letter of thanks to the army. Author George C. Rable states in his book "The president's letter boosted neither military nor public confidence.
Washington, December 22, 1862.
To the Army of the Potomac:
I have just read your Commanding General's preliminary report of the battle of Fredericksburg. Although you were not successful, the attempt was not an error, nor the failure other than an accident. The courage with which you, in an open field, maintained the contest against an entrenched foe, and the consummate skill and success with which you crossed and recrossed the river, in face of the enemy, show that you possess all the qualities of a great army, which will yet give victory to the cause of the country and of popular government. Condoling with the mourners for the dead, and sympathizing with the severely wounded, I congratulate you that the number of both is comparitively so small.
I tender you, officers and soldiers, the thanks of the nation.
© Bradley M. Forbush, 2012
Page Updated November 7, 2012.