Chapter 23: battle of Fredericksburg (continued).
- The battle-field veiled by a heavy fog
-- terrific fighting of the 13th of December
-- Forlorn hope of the Federals
-- General Meade's division of Franklin's command makes the first advance
-- General French leads against the Confederate left
-- Hancock follows
-- General Cobb killed
-- the sunken road and Stone wall below Marye's Hill
-- desperate advances and determined repulses
-- Humphreys's heroic assault
-- the Stone wall “a sheet of flame”
-- General Jackson loses his opportunity to advance
-- the charge of Meade's divisions compared with that of Pickett, Pettigrew, and Trimble's columns at Gettysburg
-- forty per cent.
Killed in charging lines here, and sixty per cent. At Gettysburg
-- total losses
-- peace to be declared because gold had gone to 200
-- organization of the Army of Northern Virginia.
On the morning of the 13th of December the confronting armies, which were destined that day to clash in one of the bloodiest conflicts of the war, stood completely veiled from each other's sight by an impenetrable mist.
The entire Confederate army was now for the first time upon the field, for General Jackson
had during the night brought up his scattered divisions from down the river.
Before daylight I rode to view my line and troops from right to left.
's division on the right was found on the alert, as was the enemy near that point.
The voices of the Union
officers as they gave their commands were carried to us with almost startling clearness by the heavy fog that covered the field and surroundings.
So heavy was this fog that nothing could be seen at a distance of ten or twelve rods, and yet so distinctly were the voices of the officers brought to us that they seemed quite near at hand, and General Hood
was looking for assaulting columns against his front.
He was told that such move would put the enemy's column in a cul-de-sac, and therefore his position was in no danger of attack; that
the attack would be aimed against Jackson
's front; that in case it broke through there he should swing around to his right and take the attacking forces in reverse; that Pickett
's division would be ordered to a corresponding move on his left, with the batteries of the two divisions in the plain off the left; that my front would be attacked, but it was safely posted, and not likely to need other than the troops on that ground.
's command was under arms, expecting orders.
They were given instructions similar to those just mentioned for Hood
The divisions of McLaws
, and R. H. Anderson
were in readiness, as were all the batteries.
But the fog, nothing abated, hung so heavy that not a sight for a cannon-shot was open till a late hour of the morning.
The front of the Second Corps was occupied by A. P. Hill
's division, the brigades of Archer
, and Pender
on the first line; those of Thomas
, and Brockenbrough
on the second. A third line was occupied by Taliaferro
's and Early
D. H. Hill
's division was off to the rear of the right.
posted a fourteen-gun battery of the division artillery on A. P. Hill
's right, and two other field batteries on the plain on his left.
Stuart's horse artillery and cavalry were on the plain on the right, in the valley of the Massaponax
, supporting the Second Corps.
About 7.45 in the morning General Hardie
, of Burnside
's staff, reported to General Franklin
that his orders would reach him in a few minutes by the hands of an aide-de-camp.
was ordered to remain near General Franklin
At eight o'clock the order came, and at 8.30 Meade
's division moved towards the general direction of Jackson
At ten o'clock the fog lifted and revealed Meade
's lines, six batteries on his left and four on his right, Gibbon
's division supporting the right and Doubleday
's covering the left.
The order for the commander of the Left Grand
Division was to make the advance by at least one division.
The divisions of the First Corps were thought to fully meet the terms of the order.
's lines advanced in handsome, solid ranks, leaving heavy reserves of the Sixth Corps and two divisions of the Third that had been called over from the Centre Grand Division
The fire of Stuart's horse artillery against their left caused delay until some of the batteries of the left engaged and drove off the fire.
After half an hour's delay the advance was resumed, the batteries thrown to the front to shell the field in search of the Confederate batteries.
The latter had been ordered, for the most part, to reserve their fire for infantry.
After an hour's heavy artillery practice Meade
's march was resumed, and with great vigor, the batteries ploughing the way for the infantry columns.
At the same time the fourteen-gun battery of A. P. Hill
's right and his left batteries replied with equal spirit and practice, though with unequal metal.
The view of the battle of the enemy's left burst upon us at Lee's Hill
, as the mist rolled away under the bright noonday sun. We noted the thin, pale smoke of infantry fire fading in the far away of their left, the heavy clouds rising from the batteries on both sides of the river, the bright armored ranks and banners, and our elevation seemed to draw them so close to us, on their right, that we thought to turn our best guns upon that part of the line, and General Lee
authorized the test of their range.
Only a few shots were sent when the troops that had been lying concealed in the streets of the city came flying out by both roads in swarms at double time and rushed towards us. Every gun that we had in range opened upon the advancing columns and ploughed their ranks by a fire that would test the nerves of the bravest soldiers.
But the battle of the Federal
left had the first opening, and calls for first notice.
Under a strong artillery combat Meade
marched forward, with Gibbon
's division in close support on his right, and Doubleday
's farther off on his left.
The line encountered Lane
's brigade front in a steady, hard fight, and, developing against Archer
's left, broke through, forcing the brigades back, encountered Thomas
's and Gregg
's brigades, threw the latter into confusion, and killed General Gregg
's and Pender
's brigades turned against the penetrating columns and were forced back.
Under skilful handling the brigades finally brought the battle to steady work, but Meade
's impetuous onward march was bravely made and pressed until three brigades of Early
's division were advanced and thrown into action, commanded by Colonels Atkinson
, and Hoke
These, with the combined fire of Hill
's broken lines, forced Meade
Two regiments of Berry
's brigade of the Third Corps came to the relief of Meade
and were driven back, when Gibbon
's division which followed was met, and after severe battle was repulsed.
The Confederates made a partial following of the success, beyond the railroad, and until they encountered the fire of the relieving divisions under Birney
and the reserve batteries.
's division protected Meade
's left as Jackson
's right under Taliaferro
partially engaged against them; both encountered loss.
got one of his brigades in in time to follow the troops as they retired towards their reserve line.
At the first moment of the break on Jackson
's lines Pickett
rode to Hood
and urged that the opportunity anticipated was at hand, but Hood
failed to see it in time for effective work.
About two P. M. the battle quieted into defensive practice of artillery and sharp-shooters.
The opening against the Confederate
left, before referred to, was led by French
's division of the Second Corps, about 10.30.
The Eighteenth and Twenty-fourth Georgia Regiments, Cobb
's Georgia Legion, and the
Twenty-fourth North Carolina Regiment were in the sunken road, the salient point.
On Marye's Hill, back and above, was the Washington Artillery, with nine guns, Ransom
's and Cooke
's North Carolina brigade in open field, the guns under partial cover, pitted.
Other batteries on Taylor
's and Lee's Hills posted to this defence as many as twenty guns, holding under range by direct and cross fire the avenues of approach and the open field along Cobb
's division came in gallant style, but somewhat hurried.
He gathered his ranks behind the swell of ground near the canal and moved to the assault.
An intervening plank fence gave the troops some trouble in crossing under fire, so that his ranks were not firm after passing it to the attack.
, coming speedily with his division, was better organized and in time to take up the fight as French was obliged to retire.
This advance was handsomely maintained, but the galling fire they encountered forced them to open fire.
Under this delay their ranks were cut up as rapidly as they had collected at the canal, and when within a hundred yards of the stone wall they were so thinned that they could do nothing but surrender, even if they could leap to the road-bed.
But they turned, and the fire naturally slackened, as their hurried steps took them away to their partial cover.
The troops behind the stone wall were reinforced during this engagement by two of Cooke
's regiments from the hill-top, ordered by General Ransom
, and General McLaws
ordered part of Kershaw
's brigade in on their right.
's engagement some minutes passed before arrangements were made for the next.
's division had been feeling for a way to get by Cobb
's left, when he was called to the front attack, and ordered over the same ground.
He arranged his forces with care, and advanced in desperate fight.
Under the severe fire of the Confederates
his troops were provoked to return fire, and
during the delay thus caused his ranks were so speedily decimated that they in turn were obliged to return to cover.
The Confederate commander, General Cobb
, was killed.
, with the other regiments of his brigade, was ordered to the front.
The Washington Artillery, exhausted of ammunition, was relieved by guns of Alexander
The change of batteries seemed to give new hope to the assaulting forces.
They cheered and put in their best practice of sharp-shooters and artillery.
The greater part of Alexander
's loss occurred while galloping up to his position.
advanced the other regiments of his brigade to the crest of the hill.
At the suggestion of General Lee
the brigades of Jenkins
's division were called up and assigned, the former to General McLaws
and the latter to General Ransom
A supply of ammunition was sent down to the troops in the road in time to meet the next attack, by Sturgis
's division of the Ninth Corps, which made the usual brave fight, and encountered the same damaging results.
's division of the Ninth Corps came to his support on the left, but did not engage fiercely, losing less than eight hundred men. Carroll
's brigade of Whipple
's division, Third Corps, came in on Sturgis
's left, but only to brace that part of the fight.
As the troops hurried forward from the streets of the city for the Telegraph
road, they came at once under the fire of the long-range guns on Lee's Hill
The thirty-pound Parrotts were particularly effective in having the range and dropping their shells in the midst of the columns as they dashed forward.
Frequently commands were broken up by this fire and that of other long-range guns, and sought shelter, as they thought, in the railroad cut, but that point was well marked, and the shots were dropped in, in enfilade fire, with precision, often making wide gaps in their ranks.
The siege guns of Stafford Heights
gave their especial attention to our
heavy guns and put their shots over the parapets very often.
One shell buried itself close under the parapet at General Lee
's side, as he sat among the officers of his staff, but it failed to explode.
Soon after this our big Parrott gun burst into many fragments.
It was closely surrounded by General Lee
and staff, officers of the First Corps Headquarters, and officers and gunners of the battery, but the explosion caused no other damage than the loss of the gun.
's division was next ordered to attack, and made the usual desperate struggle.
The Confederates meanwhile had accumulated such force in the road that a single division, had it reached that point, would have found its equal in numbers, and of greater vigor, with Ransom
at the top of the hill prepared to rush down and join in the melee.
At that hour we could have safely invited one division into our midst, if assured it was to be the last.
The next attack was made by Humphreys
Its commander was a man of superior attainments and accomplishments in the walks of civil as well as military life.
He measured justly the situation, and arranged his battle in the only order by which success could have been made possible, but he had only two brigades with which to take a position not assailable and held by more than three brigades of superior troops.
His troops were new, so that he felt called to personal example as well as skilful handling.
He ordered the attack with empty muskets, and led with his brigade commanders, but half-way up towards the goal his men stopped to load and open fire, which neither he nor his officers could prevent, so they were driven back.
Then he made a like effort with his other brigade, under special orders from Generals Burnside
that the point must be carried before night,and the dew was then falling.
(Just then our second big
gun went into fragments, but without damage to the men.) The troops that had been driven back from previous attacks joined in trying to persuade Humphreys
's men not to go forward.
Notwithstanding the discouraging surroundings, he led his men on, encountered the same terrific and death-dealing opposition, and his men retired in greater confusion, going beyond his control to the vicinity of the city before he could get them again in ranks.
His account of the last effort is interesting:
The stone wall was a sheet of flame that enveloped the head and flanks of the column.
Officers and men were falling rapidly, and the head of the column was at length brought to a stand when close up to the wall.
Up to this time not a shot had been fired by the column, but now some firing began.
It lasted but a minute, when, in spite of all our efforts, the column turned and began to retire slowly.
I attempted to rally the brigade behind the natural embankment so often mentioned, but the united efforts of General Tyler, myself, our staff, and other officers could not arrest the retiring mass.1
At that time there were three brigades behind the stone wall and one regiment of Ransom
The ranks were four or five deep,--the rear files loading and passing their guns to the front ranks, so that the volleys by brigade were almost incessant pourings of solid sheets of lead.
Two brigades of Sykes
's division, First and Second Regulars, were sent to the front to guard the line.
It was some time after nightfall, so that their line could only be distinguished by the blaze of their fire.
Some of the batteries and infantry engaged against their fire till night was well advanced.
thought to advance against the enemy's left late in the afternoon, but found it so well posted and guarded that he concluded the venture would be too hazardous.
He lost his opportunity, failing to follow close upon the repulse of Meade
's and Gibbon
command was massed and well in hand, with an open field for infantry and artillery.
He had, including the divisions of Hood
,--ordered to work with him,--about fifty thousand men. Franklin
had, including troops of the Centre Grand Division
, about equal force.
The charge of Meade
's division has been compared with that of Pickett
's, and Trimble
's at Gettysburg
, giving credit of better conduct to the former.
The circumstances do not justify the comparison.
When the fog lifted over Meade
's advance he was within musket-range of A. P. Hill
's division, closely supported on his right by Gibbon
's, and guarded on his left by Doubleday
's right was a fourteen-gun battery, on his left eight guns.
broke through Hill
's division, and with the support of Gibbon
forced his way till he encountered part of Ewell
's division, when he was forced back in some confusion.
Two fresh divisions of the Third Corps came to their relief, and there were as many as fifty thousand men at hand who could have been thrown into the fight.
's march to meet his adversary was half a mile,--the troops of both sides fresh and vigorous.
Of the assaulting columns of Pickett
, and Trimble
, only four thousand seven hundred under Pickett
were fresh; the entire force of these divisions was only fifteen thousand strong.
They had a mile to march over open field before reaching the enemy's line, strengthened by field-works and manned by thrice their numbers.
The Confederates at Gettysburg
had been fought to exhaustion of men and munitions.
They lost about sixty per cent. of the assaulting forces,--Meade
The latter had fresh troops behind him, and more than two hundred guns to cover his rallying lines.
The Confederates had nothing behind them but field batteries almost exhausted of ammunition.
made a brave, good fight is beyond question, but he had superior numbers and appointments.
made against intrenched lines of artillery and infantry, where stood fifty thousand men.
A series of braver, more desperate charges than those hurled against the troops in the sunken road was never known, and the piles and cross-piles of dead marked a field such as I never saw before or since.
Between 1.30 and 2.30 of the afternoon several orders and messages were sent by General Burnside
calling on General Franklin
to renew the battle of the left.
Before 2.30 he received from General Burnside
, through his aide-de-camp, Captain Goddard
, this despatch:
Tell General Franklin, with my compliments, that I wish him to make a vigorous attack with his whole force.
Our right is hard pressed.
Under ordinary circumstances this would be regarded as a strong order, but Franklin
had gone far enough in his first battle to be convinced that an attack by his “whole force,” the other end of the army “hard pressed,” would be extremely hazardous.
If undertaken and proved disastrous, he could have been made to shoulder the whole responsibility, for a “wish” implies discretion.
It is not just to the subordinate to use such language if orders are intended to be imperative.
Men bred as soldiers have no fancy for orders that carry want of faith on their face.
The losses at Fredericksburg
were as follows: 2
|Organization.||Killed.||Wounded.||Captured or Missing.||Total.|
|Right Grand Division (Sumner）||523||4281||640||5,444|
|Centre Grand Division (Hooker）||352||2501||502||3,355|
|Left Grand Division (Franklin）||401||2761||625||3,787|
|Captured||Organization.||Killed.||Wounded.||Captured or Missing.||Total.|
|First Army Corps (Longstreet）||251||1516||127||1894|
|Second Army Corps (Jackson）||344||2545||526||3415|
During the night, before twelve o'clock, a despatch-bearer lost his way and was captured.
He had on his person a memorandum of the purpose of General Burnside
for renewing the battle against Marye's Hill in the morning.
The information was sent up to general headquarters, and orders were sent General Ransom
to intrench his brigade along the crest of the hill.
Orders were sent other parts of the line to improve defences and prepare for the next day in ammunition, water, and rations, under conviction that the battle of next day, if made as ordered, would be the last of the Army of the Potomac.
Morning came and passed without serious demonstrations on the part of the enemy.
Orders were sent out, however, for renewed efforts to strengthen the position.
found a point at which he could pit a gun in enfilade position to the swell of ground behind which the enemy assembled his forces before advancing to the charge, and Lieutenant-Colonel Latrobe
sunk a gun in similar position for fire across the field of their charges.
We were so well prepared that we became anxious before the night of the 14th lest General Burnside
would not come again.
In the night he drew back to the river, and during the night of the 15th recrossed and sent his troops to their camps.
The stone wall was not thought before the battle a very important element.
We assumed that the formidable advance would be made against the troops of McLaws
division at Lee's Hill
, to turn the position at the sunken road, dislodge my force stationed there, then to occupy the sunken road, and afterwards ascend to the plateau upon which the Marye mansion stands; that this would bring their forces under cross and direct fire of all of our batteries-short-and long-range guns — in such concentration as to beat them back in bad disorder.
's failure to meet his orders to make counter to the anticipated attack upon Jackson
was reported in the official accounts.
As he was high in favor with the authorities, it did not seem prudent to attempt to push the matter, as called for under the ordinary usages of war. “Bis peccare in bello non licet.
went down to Richmond
soon after the battle to propose active operations, and returned with information that gold had advanced to 200 in New York; that the war was over and peace would be announced in sixty days; that it was useless to harass the troops by winter service.
As gold had gone well up on the Southern
side without bringing peace, it was difficult for soldiers to see the bearing that it could have on the other side; still, we had some trust and hope in the judgment of superiors.
The forces available for battle at Fredericksburg
were: Federal (according to General Burnside
's report), 116,683; Confederate, 78,000.
About fifty thousand of the Union
troops were put into battle, and less than twenty thousand of the Confederates
The organization of the Confederate army at this time was as follows: