previous next

The Donaldsonville artillery at the battle of Fredericksburg.

When, in the middle of that dark night, we heard the signal of those three guns fired in rapid succession, we hastened to take the position on the line which had been assigned to us. At the same time the enemy opened a brisk cannonade, which lasted only a few minutes. Evidently he was already up and getting ready for that battle which was to make the 13th of December, 1862, so memorable.

Of the 190,000 men thus awakened before the sun had risen, 2, 145 were going to die before that sun would set.

Our six guns had been posted in extended order. One was placed on Marye's Hill, immediately on the left of the plank road leading to Fredericksburg. Immediately on the right of that road stood our old friends, the Washington Artillery. About four hundred yards to the left was our Gun No. 4.

This gun was a United States three-inch rifle, captured in one of the battles around Richmond. It still bore, written on its stock, the name of General George A. McCall, who was made prisoner in the same battle, together with many of his men. [199]

The pit in which this gun had been placed was on the crest of a hill projecting considerably in advance of a straight continuation of our line. Between this hill and the town the ground was boggy, and there was no infantry nor artillery in our immediate front—nothing but Mrs. Washington's tomb offering food for meditation, which few, if any, indulged in at that time.

As the heavy fog of that morning disappeared we beheld the enemy debouching from the town, forming in line and marching bravely to the attack. Until we saw them advancing, we had no idea of the splendid position of that gun. It could enfilade them as easy as rolling off a log—and it did it with a hearty good will.

The enemy was not slow in perceiving this, and to silence that gun became object worthy of their attempt. To accomplish this the heavy guns on Stafford's heights began to pay us their respects. If only one of their shells had fallen in our pit it would have silenced many a voice besides that of our gun. Fortunately for us none did, but unfortunately for the infantry supporting us, some did fall among them, as usual, and killed many.

Presently a battery of six guns sallied forth from the town, and appearing in our front, began to play on us. We let it play on, preferring the enfilading game, which was more interesting and more profitable. According to General Ransom's report this battery was reinforced by another of four guns. We did not count them.

A little later a number of sharpshooters from many windows before us began to send us those little bullets which kill more men than your big cannon balls. These guns soon got the range on us to such a fine point that almost every shot hit the epaulement of our pit and ricochetted over our heads. We had now to load and fire kneeling.

We then beheld a grand spectacle. Instead of falling back, like all its predecessors before the rapid and well-directed fire of the Washington Artillery and our double line of infantry, one regiment kept on advancing in the face of this storm of lead and iron.

It kept on advancing until it had reached a declivity at the foot of Marye's Hill, where the men squatted in comparative security. What followed is more than your humble servant can describe. He will, therefore, let the naked facts speak for themselves.

Having rested a moment, the commanding officer ascended that declivity, followed by his color-bearer, and within pistol-shot of the star-spangled cross the star-spangled banner waved defiantly. Raising [200] his sword, he called aloud, urging his men to follow their flag. But the flag had gone too far and they did not follow. Before so much bravery anger seemed to give way to admiration, and of those thousand muskets still warm with the fire which had thinned his ranks, there was but one that had the courage to fire—and the color-bearer fell.

He was, doubtless, killed in conformity with the usages of civilized warfare. Nevertheless we were sorry to see him fall, and the body of that dead enemy, lying beside the flag he had so bravely carried, formed an image which rose far above that of the living who had killed him.

If anything can ever bring reconciliation between such foes, it is the respect which such bravery must ever command.

The flag did not remain long on the ground. A man stepped forward and raised it. For several minutes these two men stood on the hill, looking defiantly in the very eyes of death which glared at them from every muzzle of a thousand guns. Despairing to bring his men to the assault, the officer and his solitary companion finally returned to the shelter offered by the declivity at the foot of the hill, and the threatened charge was not attempted again.

In the meantime, General Longstreet, who had seen this advance and shelter behind that hill, apprehended the very assault which was attempted a few minutes later, and perceiving that this gun of ours was the only one that could reach it, he sent Major Osman Latrobe, ordering the commanding officer thereof to direct his fire against that body of the enemy in order to dislodge it.

But to execute this order, it was necessary, first of all, to move the gun out of the pit, because it could not be depressed within range of the objective point without bringing the muzzle below the epaulement and against the wall of the pit. And to take it out at this moment was tantamount to sending it, with its whole detachment, to almost certain destruction without hardly any hope of success. But even to move it out could not be done unless it were done between shots, and to do this between shots was almost impossible, because these shots were following each other so rapidly that they shut us down, as it were, under solid bars of iron projectiles.

So far we had had a pic-nic. So far it had been child's play. But now our cannoneers had before them work fit to try any man's soul! And, thank God, they did it like men whose souls had been tried. [201]

It is simple justice to say there was not a man who went out of that pit without believing he was going out to die—and yet they went without hesitation.

And they succeeded in getting that gun out; but, alas! they did not succeed in getting out between shots, for as they merged above ground the next shot came and, bursting in their midst, killed as good and brave a man as ever lived—Claudius Linossier.

Wonderful to relate, it killed no other, wounded none, and left our gun uninjured and ready to do its duty. And well did it do its duty, for our good gunner, Tomasso Morelli, did not miss a single shot, which, even now, we can see plowing those brave men huddled up behind that hill.

By taking that gun on the open hill it had been raised about three feet above and moved some twenty feet to the right of its former position. Our opponents, therefore, had to alter their aim accordingly. Before they recovered it our men had time to fire five rounds, giving their undivided attention to the task assigned them, not noticing the ten guns, the sharpshooters, and the heavy guns, whose shots were plowing the ground around them.

The gun was loaded for the sixth time when the first shot that struck it knocked it down and wounded nearly every man except Major Latrobe, our young lieutenant and No. 5, who was getting the seventh round from an ammunition chest in the pit.

In connection with this triangular fight, two facts are worthy of note. The first shell that struck us killed but one man and wounded none; the second wounded several but killed none. This is not an isolated case. Engaged in as many battles as any battery in the service, the Donaldsonville artillery lost less men than any. Some may call this chance, but we give it a better and a holier name.

Of all our wounded, Demon Le Blane was the only one who could not walk. We carried him back to our pit, which we found quite comfortable. One of his heels had been shot off. Not less brave than Achilles, he was more fortunate, for that heel cost him only one foot.

With a face all bloody from a wound in the head, Morelli recollected that the gun was loaded. He went out and fired it. If it was no longer well aimed it was at least pointing in the right direction. We do not know what was the result of this last shot fired by a wounded Confederate from a disabled Yankee gun.

To Major Latrobe, who put his shoulder to the wheel to help us take out the gun, and who stood by us all the while, cheering us [202] with his presence and his words, the Donaldsonville Artillery owes much of the honor which this action added to its name.

After all, history and official reports to the contrary notwithstanding, we did not dislodge that enemy, who only hugged the ground more closely and stole away after dark.

If we did not succeed, we had the satisfaction of having tried.

J. E. B. Stuart. [from the Rockbridge county news, November 28, 1895.]

[The following tribute to General Stuart appeared in the London Index soon after his death. It is republished now in the County News, by request, from a copy of the original paper.]

Since the death of Stonewall Jackson, the Confederacy has sustained no heavier loss than has befallen her in the untimely close of the brilliant career of Major-General James E. B. Stuart. No two men could have been more opposite types of the soldier—Jackson, the earnest, devoted patriot, taking up arms as a last resort, clinging, even on the eve of the most terrible battles, to the hope of peace, struggling between the dictates of duty towards the land of his birth and the impulses of a nature averse to strife, but terrible in the field, and leading on his troops with that fiery zeal which made the soldiers of the Commonwealth invincible; Stuart, the gallant cavalier, a warrior by instinct, of that fine metal which made Prince Rupert's horsemen, who in their pride of loyalty made even Cromwell's Ironsides recoil from their furious onslaught. Both born leaders of men, and inspiring their followers with the same confidence and devotion, they trod the same path, fought the same fight, and have shared the same fate—struck down in the front of the battle at the moment of victory, with the cheers of triumph ringing in their ears a fitting requiem. This terrible war demands cruel sacrifices. The noblest and the best freely offer up their lives to it. Let us hope that as Stonewall Jackson's memory is illustrated forever by the glorious victory of Chancellorsville, so the death of this young Virginian hero will hereafter record another, and even a more decisive triumph, and that the final despair of the North will date from the fierce struggle now disfiguring the valleys and the woodlands of Spotsylvania. [203]

We have said that James E. B. Stuart was a warrior by instinct, and his whole life shows it. He was a born soldier. From his youth he was noted for a daring enthusiasm which gave promise of what the man would be; and his genius soon showed itself, even in the limited sphere afforded by the wilds of New Mexico. It was in 1854 that young Stuart received his commission in the United States army as second lieutenant in a mounted rifle corps. A year later he was transferred to the first regular cavalry, with General Johnston, now commanding the Confederate army in Georgia, as his lieutenant-colonel, and Sumner, who died lately in the Federal service as colonel. Under him, now fighting with tribes of hostile Indians, now beating up groups of marauding banditti, Stuart laid the foundation of that reputation as a dashing cavalry officer which he has since established on the plains of his native State. And amongst the officers of that famous regiment there is many a tradition of Stuart's bold riding and dashing charges. When the present war broke out he ceased to hold a commission in the United States army, notwithstanding the offer of a captaincy by Mr. Lincoln's cabinet, and was one of the first officers appointed to the command of a Virginia cavalry regiment. At the battle of Bull Run he was placed at the head of the small cavalry force co-operating with Johnston, and in the desultory fighting which took place in Virginia after that battle, he at once established that superiority of the Confederate cavalry over their opponents, which, despite heavy odds and many obvious disadvantages, has never been doubtful in Virginia. His first great exploit, however, and the one which brought him at once into note as one of the best cavalry leaders of the day, was his famous ride around McClellan's army in the Peninsula in the month of June, 1862. With a force of about 600 sabres and two pieces of flying artillery, he sallied out from the Confederate lines at Richmond, reached the Pamunkey, destroying supplies, making captures, and creating consternation wherever he went; clearing all obstacles, charging wherever an enemy presented himself, and finally crossing the Chickahominy at Bottom's Bridge, after having ridden round McClellan's enormous army, and ascertaining all that was necessary for the execution of that brilliant movement which resulted in the defeat of McClellan and his ultimate withdrawal from the Peninsula.

Once again Stuart was the herald of disaster to the army of the Potomac, in the month of August, 1862, when General Pope was in command. With a comparatively small force he made a dash upon the right flank of the enemy, penetrating to the headquarters of [204] General Pope, capturing all his papers, his dress uniform, several of the officers of his staff, and destroying a vast amount of military stores. On this occasion, as in the Peninsula, his bold raid was but the precursor of Stonewall Jackson's attack. In both cases it was Stuart who led the way and Jackson who struck the blow, and it may be doubted whether the dashing cavalry raid or the brilliant infantry attack had more to do with the successful result. Later in the same year Stuart performed a still greater feat.

Whilst McClellan was pursuing Lee southward after the battle of Antietam creek, Stuart, with 2,000 picked troopers and half a dozen light guns, stole round the right wing of the Federals, crossed the Potomac a little north of Williamsport, entered Maryland, passed rapidly through Mercersburg and Chambersburg, and finally recrossed the Potomac about fifteen miles from Washington, far to the left of McClellan's army, with the loss of one killed and seven wounded. The result of his raid was the capture of a number of prisoners, the destruction of vast stores of supplies and arms, and the transfer to Virginia of two or three thousand valuable horses. By this time, however, the Yankees had taken a lesson from Stuart's successes, and had raised a considerable cavalry force. Well mounted and equipped, the Federal troops made up in numbers what they wanted in the qualities of good cavalry soldiers; and henceforth the work of Stuart was more confined to the ordinary duties of cavalry in European wars—to the protection of the flanks of the main army. In the years 1863 and 1864 he had plenty to do. By degrees the Federals had got together a considerable force, and Burford, Kilpatrick and Pleasanton were commanders not to be despised. Still, on all occasions, Stuart with inferior forces held his own, and often inflicted considerable damage on the invaders. During the winter of 1863 and the early months of the present year, he had been engaged in organizing his force for the campaign of 1864, and it is understood that it had attained a remarkable degree of efficiency. In the few cavalry encounters that have taken place between Lee's and Grant's armies, the Confederate cavalry, always inferior in numbers, has invariably come off triumphant, and it is to General Stuart it owes its superiority. A skirmish near Richmond with General Sheridan's raiding column has unfortunately cost Stuart his life, and the Confederacy her best cavalry officer. But it is satisfactory to know that on this last occasion, as before, Stuart's horse was victorious, and that though a stray shot struck their young leader to the ground, it was amid the cheers which told of the enemy's repulse and flight. [205]

He is dead at the early age of thirty-three, perhaps the first cavalry officer of his day; but he had lived long enough to have given a marked character to Confederate strategy and to have organized a cavalry service which has over and over again been the bulwark of the Confederacy. Forrest, Morgan, VanDorn, older men, were pupils in his school; and amongst the heroes of the war his name will worthily take its place beside those of Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Personally, J. E. B. Stuart will be, perhaps, more widely lamented than any Confederate general who has fallen. His noble features and manly figure, his easy carriage and fine seat, his never-failing spirits, his personal gallantry, his daring enthusiasm, his unfailing devotion, endeared him to his men and all who knew him. They will hear no more the ringing ‘charge’ that made every man of them grip his saddle more closely and clench his hand more firmly on his sword hilt. They will never see again the gleaming blade that so often led them safely through the thickest of the fight. But his memory will be one more prize to the chivalry of the South, and his loss will be avenged. But somewhere in Virginia there is a home that will know this fearless soldier no more, and there will be sorrow that cannot be comforted. God grant that the days of peace be not far distant and that the blood of this Virginian here, sprung from a race of kings, and in his death worthily redeeming the splendid memories of an ancient dynasty, has not been poured out in vain. [From the Richmond (Va.) Dispatch, January 26—February 2, 1896.]

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: