Chapter 44:

  • McClellan again invades Virginia
  • -- Sigel is pushed forward from Washington, and takes position at Manassas -- the Federal main army moves east of the blue Ridge, and has Headquarters at Warrenton -- Lee marches in a parallel line through the Shenandoah Valley -- surprise and flight of Sigel upon the appearance of Confederate cavalry -- change of Federal commanders -- rapid march of the Federals to the Rappahannock -- battle of Fredericksburgh, December thirteenth.

How long McClellan would remain motionless in Maryland, or what caused his inaction, were to the many an insoluble problem. Although the daily demand of the Northern journals was for an immediate “on to Richmond” movement, the enemy seemed to be exceedingly loth to place foot again on Virginian soil. The Southern army was represented to be greatly demoralized by the “splendid and glorious” victory of Antietam; nevertheless, the Northern leaders in the field betrayed the greatest caution, and endeavored to surprise General Lee by every artifice which cunning could suggest. Southern generals, however, could not be hoodwinked; their eyes and ears were open to every movement; and they were accurately informed of all that transpired within McClellan's camp. How this information was obtained, or by whom, must ever remain profound mysteries to me; yet I confess the daily programme of Federal movements was as freely discussed by groups of officers at camp-fires round Winchester as they could have been in the large invading army of Maryland.

Winchester was our pivot-point-whether for offensive or defensive operations — in the Valley; and had the enemy advanced up the Shenandoah, I see nothing in the world which could have prevented us from defeating them either en masse or in detail; for the ground from Bunker Hill, near Charlestown, to and beyond Winchester and Strasburgh, was admirably adapted for defence.. At the latter place, Lee could have [499] assumed a position which, fortified as he alone knows how, might have defied the best and most numerous armies in the world. McClellan was shrewd, and fully alive to the difficulties of that route; he had no supplies at hand in such a region, and could not be regularly served by his trains over a deserted and mountainous country. More than this, the possession of Winchester gave opportunities for Lee to pass between him and Washington.

Having again fortified Harper's Ferry, the Federal army poured into Virginia, and took up their line of march east of the Blue Ridge; thus always presenting front to Lee, who in a parallel line slowly proceeded up the Valley, carefully watching any weakness in their front through which he could break and disjoint it. Both generals were looking into each other's eyes; but McClellan might have gazed for ever, and never divined any thing flitting across the mind of the calm-faced, smiling, modest, and unpretending visage of Lee. His face was a blank-all pallor and thought; but not a wrinkle, flush, twitch, or motion of the eye, gave the remotest idea of his thoughts and intentions. He passed from point to point without ostentation or show; his movements were quiet, undemonstrative, and calm; whether commanding generals or listening to couriers, he was the same as he had ever been an impenetrable block of marble.

McClellan's movements seemed to indicate that indecision ruled in his councils. Sometimes there were tokens of an advance; then again a few days would suffice to dispel such conjectures, and warrant ideas of his speedy retreat; thus it was not until his Headquarters had been fully established at Warrenton, that we became sanguine and positive of his timidity. The Federal army was much larger than ours, and furnished with supplies beyond any thing hitherto imagined, in warfare; nor had its chief commenced his march, despite the blustering and anathemas of quill-valiant editors, until fully and superabundantly reenforced and equipped.

Some time before his own advance, McClellan had pushed Sigel forward from Washington to Manassas Junction, with a reported force of thirty thousand men, but these were said to be levies and unreliable. Railroad communication was once again [500] perfected from Alexandria to Warrenton, and it soon became palpable that, as the main army was massed round the latter place, we might look to that point for indications of future movements. Whatever the intentions of Federal generals in their choice of routes, it was evident that the main object in view was the surprise and capture of Richmond by every possible means; but it was also clear that to accomplish this the enemy must cross the Rappahannock at some point, so that our generals in the Valley held their troops well together for instant movement, nor was there any thing neglected in our arrangements which could in any manner facilitate the rapid concentration of forces at various points.

Longstreet's corps was clustered at the mouth of the Valley, ready to take position at any point behind the Rappahannock. Daily drill was incessant and severe, discipline was at its highest pitch, and reviews were not unfrequent among the various, brigades and divisions. At no period of the war were we more confident and gay; extensive appropriations and purchases during our brief sojourn in Maryland and on the Pennsylvania border, had/replenished our stores to such a degree, and Government had been so active meanwhile, in manufacturing uniforms and the like, that we scarcely knew ourselves; we were now so good-looking and comfortable, that we smiled to think how many of our former friends would mistake us for gentlemen! Slowly our army crept up to the mouth of the Valley, and equally slowly were McClellan's forces gathered around him at Warrenton.

September and October had. passed without any demonstration of moment from the enemy, and now cold, bleak November whistled over the fields and mountains of Virginia. The army began to imagine that winter-quarters were intended, but from the temper of the Northern journals received in camp, it was plain that movements of some kind would be forced upon McClellan. About the tenth of November, unusual activity among the enemy occasioned more than ordinary vigilance with our outposts, and, to the astonishment of every one, a Federal deserter informed our guard of McClellan's dismissal, and of the appointment of Burnside as chief in command, adding, that their forces were almost upon the point of open mutiny in consequence. [501]

Although this was fresh news to us, our generals smiled, having evidently known the fact long before our advanced posts. They well understood that McClellan had been superseded through political jealousy, on the plea of apparent inaction, and, consequently, that the new commander would be expected to march against us forthwith, to satisfy the universal clamor of the North, even should their army and journals reap naught but defeat and disgrace from such a movement. But even that was something! it was food for “sensation ;” illustrated journals could luxuriate in bloodthirsty wood-cuts, to please the million; other favorites would be forthwith installed in place; and an endless batch of fresh commissions and army contracts be issued for the delectation and emolument of office-holders or political partisans. All this was something, and fully appreciated by our commanders, who complacently smoked, and tightened the reins of discipline among us even more than ever.

On the thirteenth there was proof positive that grand movements were transpiring within the enemy's lines, and it became generally known that Burnside was breaking up camps, and proceeding to the lower Rappahannock. Many argued that such a change of base was commendable in the Federal chief; for his depots, at Aquia Creek, could be supplied by transports, and stores conveyed inland by railway running from that point to Fredericksburgh. Whether he wished to force a passage over the river at Fredericksburgh, or merely intended to prepare for winter-quarters, were matters of some speculation.

Burnside's movements, however, were no secret to our leaders; for Longstreet's corps immediately marched to Fredericksburgh, and arrived there before any large body of the enemy had appeared. It is true that the Stafford Heights, on the north bank of the river, were held by a Federal detachment many days ere the approach of their main army, but they had never attempted to cross over into the town. Picket-firing was constant along the river; but despite all this waste of powder, there were many who sincerely believed that Burnside had no serious intention of attacking, regarding this movement as a harmless display of force to divert our attention from his real [502] designs. On the seventeenth, however, all surmise was banished from our minds. General Sumner appeared before the place, and demanded its immediate surrender. The Mayor politely refused to recognize such a demand; and the town being filled with our troops, the municipal authorities were extremely valiant on the occasion, and apostrophized Jupiter and all the gods in fine style. Women and children, for the most part, were conveyed from town, and active preparations set on foot for fiercely disputing the passage of the river, by the construction of field-works on the hills and bluffs which ran parallel with the stream south of the city. All was done in secrecy, however; and, from the apparent quietness of our lines, the enemy were unable to form any conjectures of our position and force.

The left wing under Jackson had not arrived, though it was rapidly pushing towards us; yet ascertaining that Sigel still held his corps at Manassas, and had not moved nearer to Burnside, Jackson sent a strong force of cavalry to reconnoitre, and their appearance filled the enemy with so much dismay that they instantly broke up camps and fled in disorder to Washington. It was supposed that this cavalry detachment was Jackson's advance guard, and that we were endeavoring to get between them and the capital, as of old. Whatever their ideas, the. retreat was a most hurried and disgraceful affair; whole regiments threw down their arms and rushed towards Alexandria post haste, shouting: “Jackson is coming! he is again in our rear!-Old Stonewall, with one hundred thousand men, is marching on Washington!”

On the twenty-first, Burnside personally demanded a surrender of the town, and threatened to bombard it in case of refusal. The threat was treated with the contempt it deserved, and every non-combatant was ordered from the place. It was now daily expected that the enemy would make some desperate attempt at crossing in face of all opposition; yet day followed day until November had passed, and still no signs of Federal movements.

Our position at Fredericksburgh was admirably chosen. We were posted on a range of hills which more or less extended from a bend of the river on our left to some six miles, and [503] across the Massaponax River, which ran at right angles with the Rappahannock, and formed the right of our lines. In truth, it might be said that the landscape from these hills to the river was like an amphitheatre; the intrenched Confederates having all the boxes, the stage being the valley in which is placed the red-brick town of Fredericksburgh. The Rappahannock is seen to run above and below the place; and, except a few houses scattered here and there over the scene, there is nothing to relieve the eye from the bleak, dry, cold, frosty, and windy aspect of the whole. All the woods are leafless, and the cold dry branches rattle in the piercing winds like skeletons in chains. Few fires are seen to burn in Fredericksburgh, and smoke ascends but seldom. Our men are quartered in deserted houses, and keep vigilant guard along the river-bank, both night and day; and, although piercing winds and sleet and rain, prevail, the active picket walks his post, and none can move without being sharply challenged. The men have dug pits along the river to conceal themselves under fire and for shelter. The enemy have done the same; and it is so cold and dreary that none can imagine any general would have the heart to move troops in weather like this, when guards have frequently have been found frozen and dead at their post.

The enemy's position and strength are also concealed; and they likewise can look down into the town from the Stafford Heights, and could destroy it in ten minutes with the formidable array of guns and batteries which overlook and are pointed at it. During cold, frosty nights, we can hear their trains running from Aquia Creek, and they can hear ours also; for guns of heavy calibre and all munitions of war are being rapidly brought to the front from Richmond; and every hill commanding a view of the valley at our feet is swept by cannon, but so concealed by undergrowth, woods, or undulations, that the enemy cannot detect them.

The hills to our extreme left, near a bend of the river, are crowned by the residence of Dr. Taylor; to the right of these a toad runs from Fredericksburgh to the Wilderness and Chancellorsville; to the right of this road rise Stansbury Hill and several others; to the right of these runs a plank road leading from the centre of the town through our left centre; to the [504] right of this is the enceinte called Marye's Hill. Hazel Creek runs between this latter position and Lee's Hill, which, from its altitude, was selected for Headquarters.

The Richmond railway divided our left under Longstreet from our right under Jackson, the latter being strongly posted on a series of hills and well fortified; the extreme right and right flank being in charge of Stuart. The force of Longstreet on the left included the divisions of Ransom, McLaws, and Picket, Anderson being on Marye's Hill; Cobb being posted behind a strong stone wall at the right base of the latter, commanding all approach up the open lands of the Hazel Creek, while Hood and others filled up the space to the railroad where our right commenced under Ambrose Hill, Early, and others, up to Stuart, who, with his mounted division, light artillery, and infantry, held the extreme right and right flank. D. H. Hill was held in reserve. Heavy batteries protected our extremes, right and left. The Washington artillery corps was detailed for special duty at Marye's and Lee's Hills, and Colonel Walker was posted on our right.

The distance of the enceinte from town was not more than four or five hundred yards. Other places on the right and left of our lines were a considerable distance from it and the river; but in the more exposed positions nearest town, long lines of breastworks had been dug, behind which our men could be admirably posted when necessity demanded it. In truth, the position, though naturally strong, had been carefully improved by our indefatigable engineers, and batteries were numerous at all points; so that, with our army of eighty thousand, we could complacently remain undemonstrative until the enemy should foolishly advance. Pickets from various brigades were scattered up and down the river, Barksdale's Mississippi troops occupying the town. Cavalry patrols were frequent at all points of the river, closely watching the enemy, who, down the stream at Hamilton's crossing, were particularly busy, as if preparing to force a passage. From the latter point, a road leads round to the rear of our right, and others running south of the town passed through its centre; so that much attention was paid to the enemy's manoeuvres, for the threatened attack in this quarter was the most practicable and scientific they could have selected. [505]

Notwithstanding frequent demonstrations it was evident the enemy were disinclined to move; a tardiness which very much surprised us, as Burnside's sudden and rapid change of base from Warrenton had led many to believe that his movements generally would be expeditious. As this state of inaction was distasteful to out leaders, and particularly so to Stuart and his restless brigadiers, cavalry frequently crossed the river, and made annoying incursions upon the Federal rear, and effected all manner of captures without hindrance from the enemy. On the twenty-eighth of November cavalry crossed by one of the upper fords and captured several squadrons of Pennsylvania horse on duty at the outposts, and did not lose a man; for the foe meekly surrendered without making the shadow of resistance. Fitz-Hugh Lee and Hampton also frequently distinguished themselves; and, operating, on the enemy's line of supply, dashed into Dumfries and other places, dispersing the guards, and making a clean sweep of every thing; so that, from our constant boldness, the enemy were bewildered, and knew not on which flank to look for Stuart's ubiquitous troopers; for they were successively here, there, and everywhere, burning, capturing, annoying, or fighting, and, by their activity and nerve, seemed to magnify their numbers tenfold.

The first week in cold, bleak December had passed over our cheerless lines, and every expedient was resorted to by our troops to keep themselves warm. Wood was scarce to the front in many places, and our men on duty could be seen blowing their fingers and holding conversation with Federal guards ;1 but, on the ninth and tenth, unusual activity seemed [506] to prevail on the Stafford Heights, and outposts brought in word that during the night heavy wagon-trains could be heard moving, and the noise and cursing of teamsters whipping their horses, mules, and oxen, were very frequent immediately opposite the town. This was explained when, on the eleventh, as soon as the fog lifted, our men in town espied large numbers of the enemy engaged in constructing pontoon bridges, and immediately opened upon them a galling and destructive fire. From their screened position, it was impossible to touch our men with gun-shot or rifle, for they were scattered in all directions, in houses, barns, and every imaginable place where shelter could be obtained. The incessant fusilade so annoyed the enemy as to cause the total suspension of their bridge-building; and, at last, several field-pieces were brought to bear upon us for some time, and our sharpshooters desisted.

Taking advantage of this, bridge-building was commenced again, and swarms of the enemy could be seen like magnified ants moving to and fro with beams and boats, and a thousand etceteras required in their unpleasant undertaking. Our sharpshooters recommenced their fire, and the enemy retired. Vexed and annoyed at our impudence and pertinacity, they pointed more than a hundred guns at the town, and commenced an earth-shaking cannonade; the smoke and flame from their pieces on the Stafford Heights were so great that it seemed as if the earth was vomiting forth sulphurous lava. Houses fell, timbers crashed, dust rose, flames ascended, and, from our position as spectators in the boxes of this amphitheatre, it seemed as if we were innocently gazing at some noisy and smoky episode of Napoleon's wars, as often represented on the French stage. The whole town seemed alive; one ran here, another there. Unlucky citizens, who remained too long, or had screened themselves in hopes of the enemy's speedy arrival, now came forth from their hiding-places, and not a few Dutch Jews were observed panting under heavy loads of tobacco, which they had secreted. Shells of every size and form were screaming and whizzing through the air, and their explosion was always attended by a sudden uprising of beams, dust, doors, chairs, bedsteads, and the like, until at last the place looked like a vast broker's shop, filled with odds and ends of things indescribable. [507]

How our valiant pickets fared during this terrific visitation, I know not; they scorned to retreat, and still maintained an accurate fire. It was not until a large Federal infantry force had crossed above and below town that they withdrew from their covert of smoking and burning ruins.

Lee seemed perfectly satisfied with the aspect of affairs. Burnside was constructing several bridges under cover of the town, in which they hoped to conceal any force that crossed. Franklin on their left was similarly engaged near the mouth of the Massaponax; and Sumner was above town near Falmouth, busy in the same occupation. We could not successfully prevent the construction of these bridges-those at Fredericksburgh itself were the most numerous and important, but perfectly hidden from our view by the town; and it is possible, judging from his inactivity, that Lee was not desirous of molesting their labors, but too happy indeed to see them perfectly unconscious of the coming storm.

During the eleventh and twelfth the enemy were rapidly crossing at the various bridges; and we could see them marshalling their hosts in the valley. Franklin's wing had first crossed, and proceeded to form line parallel with the stream; his left in full force close to the Massaponax, and his right beyond Deep Run Brook. Beyond this point to and in front of the town, no troops appeared in numbers, The Federal right, under Sumner, had crossed at and above the town by several bridges, and its left rested close to the city; so that the entire left and right of the Federal army were plainly in view, in columns or deployed; but in the centre, opposite to our enceinte of Marye's Hill, no troops appeared, though it was evident that Fredericksburgh literally swarmed with them; and that a few well-directed shells could have caused the instant and noisy upheaving of the whole living, motionless mass concealed there. Federal dispositions continued without hindrance on our part. Our front was very quiet and unpretending, and, as we peered over breastworks or peeped from long lines of rifle pits at the dark lines wheeling and marching in open ground, we could not but confess that their generals should be capable of accomplishing something astonishing with such a host as that, supported and covered as it was by numberless batteries on the hills and bluffs behind. [508] Strict and vigilant guards were numerously posted at all points down in the valley during night, and they occasionally heard the Federal countersigns exchanged;, but the greatest secrecy marked the conduct of our cavalry at the mouth of the Massaponax, for it was uncertain what Franklin might attempt under cover of the night, as his force was apparently very large, and so stationed as to be able to take up the line of march to our right rear, should it have been determined to open the engagement in that manner.

The morning of December thirteenth dawned, and all was feverish expectation. Noises from the valley and loud-toned commands told of Federal leaders marching and counter-marching in the fog and mists. None now doubted the certainty of battle, but prepared for it with calmness and determination. The rattle of picket-firing on our right gave tokens of the prelude, and all desired that the sun would lift the foggy veil from the valley. Between nine and ten o'clock the view was clear, and there stood our enemies, right, left, and centre, just Upon the point of moving. Couriers, generals, and aides were prancing and dashing about in the valley, and as our mounted men raced to and fro in hot haste to our rear, they would turn a hasty glance at the imposing scene below and hurry onwards. The report of artillery on our right., and the rattle of rifles, told of an engagement which increased in intensity every moment. Batteries on Stafford Heights opened on our left and centre, and numerous shells were screaming and bursting in all directions around the base of Marye's and Lee's Hills. Our guns replied coolly and deliberately, and hostile shot and shell coursed to and fro overhead, throwing up columns and clouds of dust wherever they fell. The Federal right, under Sumner, was the especial and favorite object of all our cannoniers, and (as an artillery officer coolly observed) our shell fell and burst “beautifully” among their closely-packed brigades. I have heard of and seen “daylight” let though an approaching column, but never, until at Fredericksburgh, did I see complete “lanes” ploughed out of human bodies.

It was now near noon, and the crash of musketry to our right told that Jackson and his wing were fully engaged, and, as usual, repulsing the enemy at every point; but the [509] threatening aspect of the foe at our centre and left drew the attention of all to those quarters.

The cannonade from Stafford Heights had now increased to such a pitch of fury that none doubted its object. Their attacking columns began to move, and moments seemed like ages of suspense. Our fire had been feeble, but now that their masses came forward-one immediately in front, and one on each flank of Marye's Hill-our infantry suddenly rose and poured such rapid volleys into them that the advance was impeded by their own dead. As for our cannon, I can only say that they could not miss the enemy, whose fearful and swift destruction was appalling to see. Unheeding the cannonade from across the river, the Washington artillery corps paid exclusive attention to infantry before them, and shells dropped among their masses, making fearful rents at every discharge. The crackling of bursting shells and sharp ring of the rifle were incessant — a flank fire assailed them from our extreme left, so that regiments never advanced farther than to the base of our position; and as they halted, and staggered or swayed, and broke, our men, from breastworks and rifle-pits, and from every imaginable place, were pouring into their bleeding masses showers of small shot.

Again and again were the enemy re-formed, and advance succeeded advance as fresh regiments rushed over heaps of slain, to be themselves torn in an instant into mangled and bleeding shreds. The position was unassailable — a sheet of flame streamed across our whole front, and destroyed every thing mortal that approached it. Some of the Federal regiments marched farther than others, and even ascended the “rise,” but here infantry uprose and checked them, and again would the enemy pause, feebly struggle, and reel back into the valley exhausted and bleeding. The sight was horrible. It was not a scientific battle, but a wholesale slaughter of human beings for the caprice of one man, who, two miles across the river, sat upon the heights, glass in hand, complacently viewing the awful panorama below.2 [510]

But if the enemy had mercilessly sacrificed life in their insane attempt to storm Marye's Hill, they had been extremely busy, likewise, before other parts of our position. It was conceived possible to flank the enceinte by moving up the open grounds of the Hazel Creek, and sever our right and left. A large body was soon espied moving up to the stone wail which protected that position, and were unmolested in their advance, for Cobb carefully screened his men, and although the Federal batteries covered this movement, their shot and shell did trifling damage; nor did our pieces on Marye's Hill, Lee's Hill, or Hill's position south of the railroad, give any token of resistance. The Federal advance, therefore, was quickly accomplished; but when the enemy came sufficiently near, our troops rose up from their ambuscade, and batteries acting in concert, poured such terrific volleys upon them from front and flanks that they retreated in amazement and confusion. Like the attacks on our left, on Marye's Hill, and elsewhere, they repeatedly re-formed and attempted other advances; but the delivery of our rifle and artillery fire was so cool, regular, and destructive, that they gave up the assault in despair. Nothing could surpass the consummate steadiness of our troops in face of these successive attacks. Not more than one third were in actual line of battle, for the rest were drawn up to the rear, ready to be sent in any direction required; but what few were in front looked upon the affair as virtually settled, and went to work as indifferently as butchers engaged for a busy day's work in the shambles. Ambrose Hill's position was also assaulted early in the day, and report said that some of his young troops had given way; but the gap thus occasioned in his line was soon filled up. The enemy, who had obtained a footing in woods to his front, were driven thence with such fury that the entire Federal line from left to right was forced into the valley; and Stuart's, Walker's, and Walton's batteries pelted them with shot and shell from front and flanks without mercy.

The battle thus far had prospered with us; the enemy had frequently paused and then attacked again, but the mounds of dead on every hill-side, and numerous black and motionless spots which dotted all our front, even to the streets of [511] Fredericksburgh, gave sickening evidence of their fearful loss and blind insanity. It was now far past noon, and the sun was fast sinking in the west; our generals were restless and active as ever; cannon still belched forth from either side, but from the long pause and re-formation going on among the dark lines below, it was conjectured they would not desist from their mad project until another grand assault had been attempted. Their force was still formidable in appearance, but evidently dispirited, and the continual and rapid movements of mounted officers in all directions, gave evidence of their industry and anxiety to restore discipline, confidence, and courage.

Long lines of stretcher-bearers, thus early in the day, were slowly winding in sorrowful procession in all directions, while a multitude of ambulances, with yellow flags flying, could be discerned winding over the hills beyond the river. The town seemed crowded with troops, for we could occasionally catch glimpses of them as their bayonets flashed in the many streets, and from church-steeples, house-tops, and on the Stafford Heights, their signal corps was busy in telegraphing orders from, point to point. Lee, Longstreet, and Jackson, had been in frequent conference during the day; but the illustrious heroes appeared so calm, indifferent, and smiling, that as they slowly walked their horses from point to point, receiving messages or giving orders, it was clear they were confident of a successful issue to our laborious day's work of slaughter.

When the first gun had opened in the morning, Lee slowly trotted along our whole front, and took up his position on the extreme right of our lines, where Stuart and his horse artillery were making sad havoc with Franklin's left flank. It was imagined by all that the enemy would deliver a grand assault upon Jackson's position, and endeavor to penetrate or sever it along the roads which lead around and through it at several points; but when Lee observed the feebleness of their attack in that quarter, and how easily they were driven pell-mell into the valley again, he retraced his steps and took his stand in full view of Marye's Hill. On Lee's Hill were several very large guns, recently made at Richmond, which maintained a furious roar all day, and seemed to be a favorite mark for the [512] foe, who, from their elevation on Stafford Heights, threw over hundreds of complimentary shell, but without doing more damage than blowing up vast heaps of earth. It cannot be denied, however, that Federal artillerists maintained an accurate and steady fire upon our whole front, but the troops exposed were so few that little damage was done to life or limb.

Their pieces were directed at a few sharpshooters behind earth embankments, ours were pointed at dense masses of men; hence it was that not one out of ten shells ever inflicted damage upon us; but every fragment of our grape made a rent in their attacking columns, and left its monument of bleeding carcasses.

“Their practice is good,” said a distinguished artillery officer, viewing shells fall and explode a few feet below him round the base of Marye's Hill, and among our line of busy sharpshooters.

“Yes, it is excellent,” was the rejoinder from an old brigadier, who, with slouched felt hat and cigar, was gazing on the scene below with much interest. “It is well, colonel,” he added, “that Lee has kept two thirds of his troops from the front, or we should lose considerably. How many pieces have they, think you, on the heights?”

“I have been narrowly scrutinizing their force all day, General, and imagine they have considerably more than one hundred thousand men before us, and over three hundred guns. I should judge that one hundred of the latter are on the heights, and certainly many of them are of heavy calibre.”

One or two shells thrown with great rapidity and precision fell within a few feet of these officers, who took the hint and moved away. I learned that the infantry attack on Hill's and Cobb's positions had been very severe, and was desperately maintained by both sides for some time, but except the fall of General Maxey Gregg,3 who was shot in the side and spine while leading on his brave South-Carolinians, I had not heard of any casualties among our officers. In truth, our loss along the whole line was remarkably small, and amazed many who [513] could not conceive it possible that so many shot and shell had been hurled at us, and with such little effect.

The troops we had seen all day in the town now advanced into the valley and deployed. Every preparation was seemingly perfected for a general and final advance. Skirmishers fell back and rallied on their regiments; artillery opened again upon their columns from every direction, and numerous well-served Federal batteries returned our fire with a deafening roar. Dust and shells were flying in all directions, but on came that glittering mass of bayonets, extending for miles in front, and again they assailed our position with spirit and determination; but melting ranks and confusion, indecision, and exhaustion, were more than men could bear, and again they slowly retired to the river's edge, broken, dispirited, and beaten.

This seemed to be their last attempt, and, except a continual cannonade, all operations ceased. The sun had dipped beyond the hills, and a thick white vapory fog slowly fell along the whole river, screening their force and movements from view; but to guard against all surprise, pickets and sharpshooters were thickly posted in the valley, which now became more cloudy and obscure, so that, except to the immediate front of Marye's Hill, no movement of the enemy could be well discovered. Trickery was expected, and strict guard maintained at all points. Since the artillery ceased, nothing could be heard except the groans of unhappy, mangled, wounded, and dying thousands, who lay in unsightly groups all around our various positions and at the base of the hills. An alarm was soon given of the enemy's approach, and our whole line was again on the alert, when rapid firing broke out at the right base of Marye's Hill, which Cobb had so well defended from behind the stone fence. It appeared that a heavy body of the enemy had quietly ascended up the banks of the Hazel under cover of the evening, and thought to seize that position, thus getting into the rear of Marye's Hill; but they were received so coolly, and with such a destructive fire, that they retreated with the utmost expedition and in the greatest confusion.

Thus the slaughter at Fredericksburgh closed. Sumner, Hooker, Wilcox, Meagher, French, and a host of other leaders, had been routed on our centre and left — Franklin, Meade, [514] Jackson, Bayard, and Stoneman, had met with a fearful repulse on the right; for miles their dead and wounded lined the front of our works, and were scattered up and down the valley in great profusion; but even nature seemed shocked at such frightful carnage, and mercifully threw a veil of fog and darkness over the crimsoned valley.

Cold and bitter as was that bleak December night-cheerless and sad to thousands in the valley, whose oozing wounds were frosted and frozen — few went forth to assist them, save from our own lines; and there those frightful masses lay huddled together, the dying with the dead; some jerking in the last throes of death, others gasping for water, writhing with agony, laughing deliriously, cursing demonically in all the tongues of Europe. Save for the quick, sharp challenge of vigilant pickets posted in the valley, the lightsome footfalls of relief guards, gliding like shadows through the mists in their journeys to the front, the moans ascending on every hand, and the click of spades in the hands of those strengthening breastworks, all had subsided into a death-like calm. None unaccustomed to war would imagine that so many thousands of men were grouped closely together in the valley or on the hills ready to renew the awful scenes just enacted. Exhausted and unstrung, our men were fast asleep, and many of them far to the front among the dead and dying; yet let me not deny that, wearied though we were, the distant moan or faltering supplication often caused us to rise and give relief to some expiring enemy. Most of our own men had been cared for, and taken to the rear, but heaps upon heaps of the foe were scattered in every direction, and one could not move a dozen yards without stumbling against some voiceless, inanimate carcase, or slipping in pools of blood or scattered entrails.

Such is war-“glorious” war-glorious indeed when troops had fought as ours had done for liberty and birthright, but in every other sense the most horrible and lamentable curse that God could permit his people to inflict on each other!

Morning dawned, the mists arose, and still the enemy were there. No token gave indications of a further advance. The whole day passed without a movement of any kind, and no disposition seemed to be made for the care of the enemy's dead or [515] wounded. In pure compassion for the heart-rending spectacle before us, many of the sufferers were collected and attended to by our surgeons, but as none knew at what moment hostilities might again re-commence, we could not enter heartily into the work of charity. Many of our men were never allowed to be exposed in front, and the few on duty there were for the most part employed in repairing old or building new breastworks.

Next day passed as the former one, and still no signs of the enemy's coming. Their lines were apparently in excellent order, and the Stafford Heights frowned ominously with additional batteries; so that had we advanced into the valley, a fearful cannonade would have assailed us. In the evening, we all imagined that the morning would surely usher in a decisive engagement, whether offensive or defensive on our part; but during night a fearful storm arose, so that we could neither hear nor see our own patrols, and as morning advanced, and the valley cleared, we discovered that the whole Federal army had escaped under cover of night, and were safely on the north bank again.

When the enemy's retreat became known to our army, loud yells rent the sky, and must have been plainly audible to Burnside's forces across the river; but whether these were indicative of rage or pleasure at the retreat I cannot imagine, but fancy they arose from a commixture of both those feelings. It soon became known that a convention had been entered into for the burial of dead, and the valley swarmed with our troops, who were speedily engaged in the work of interment; but when I visited the town, and beheld the sad havoc done them by the Vandals, I almost felt sorry to think I had ever given a cup of water to their wounded and dying. Every house was gutted and robbed; furniture, bedding, and household goods of every kind were maliciously broken and scattered through the streets; doors, windows, banks, churches, school-houses, all were destroyed or despoiled, while in every dwelling, amid pools of blood, were laid their dead and dying, whose pallid faces, staring eyes, gaping wounds, and frigid limbs, twisted into frightful distortions, met the Southern soldier at every turn in this once pleasant and hospitable town, so wilfully destroyed. The bombardment had done great mischief; houses were tottering to their foundations, and everywhere gave proof of the passage [516] of shell and bullet among smouldering ruins; but it remained for these valiant invaders to give a finishing touch to their barbarism by despoiling and desecrating churches, accumulating filth in the holiest of places, wantonly destroying all that came to hand, and then leaving their dead and wounded to the care of those whose residence or property it had once been.

I have read of Goths and Vandals, of Huns and Danes, but never could I have conceived of a boastful enemy, laying claims to the highest civilization, capable of exhibiting such low caste on the battle-field, or so much petty malice among an unoffending people, as these same hordes of hypocritical Yankees, whom it has been my fortune to meet in a short but exciting military career from Bull Run to Fredericksburgh.4 [518]

1 Amusing conversations frequently occurred between outposts on the river banks:

“How are you, rebels?” asked a Yankee, one cold morning, blowing his fingers.

“Oh! Not very good to-day,” was the reply. “We have suffered an awful loss! Jackson has resigned P”

Jackson resigned!” was the astonished exclamation in rejoinder. “Why, how was that?” asked the Federals, who greatly feared the very name of old Stonewall.

“Oh! he resigned because they removed his commissary-general, and he wouldn't stand it.”

“His commissary-general, eh? Then who was he?” they inquired in much surprise.

Banks!” was the significant reply.

The sarcasm was well applied, and so acutely felt by the enemy, that they immediately opened fire from pure vexation.

2 Northern accounts stated that Burnside sat on the heights round the “Phillips House,” and attentively scanned the whole field with a “strong glass.” They also added, judging from the fearful slaughter, that the “strong glass” alluded to was “possibly one of double extra whisky!”

3 This officer, when wounded, said: “Tell the Governor (of his native State) if I am to die this time, I cheerfully yield my life for the independence of South-Carolina!”

4 The Confederate force at Fredericksburgh has been estimated at eighty thousand, with three hundred guns, of all calibres. Our total casualties amounted to two thousand or twenty-five hundred. Among the killed were General Maxey Gregg, of South-Carolina; and among the wounded, Generals Hood, Cobb, and Jenkins.

Burnside's forces, according to Washington reports, amounted to one hundred and forty thousand or one hundred and fifty thousand men, with three hundred guns. It was paraded at the North, before the slaughter, that Burnside commanded the finest army ever raised, and that it included all the “regulars” and “veterans” of the service, who had been expressly gathered in order to insure success. Their total loss in killed, wounded, and missing, has been placed at from fifteen thousand to twenty thousand by Northern journals of respectability. Among their killed were General Bayard, chief of cavalry, and General Jackson. Among the wounded, General Stoneman, General Vinton, General Gibbons, General Caldwell, General Meagher, General Kimball, and others. This defeat and slaughter sent such a thrill of horror through all classes at the North, that official inquiry was demanded, when it appeared that General Sumner, of the right wing, General Franklin, of the left, and General Hooker, of the centre, had decided against the movement in a council of war, but that Burnside did not heed their advice, but resolved on crossing; thinking that through feints made lower down the river he had deceived Lee as to his true designs, and that troops being sent in that direction, the Confederate left and centre would be weak to any large assaulting force. The committee of inquiry sent from Washington greatly underrated the Federal losses. They say in their report that “they are well pleased with what they saw, and regard the result as infinitely less serious than was previously apprehended. It appears now that the total casualties will hardly exceed ten thousand. Of these about one thousand were killed; some seventeen hundred were so badly wounded that two thirds of them will die of their wounds, and the rest will be permanently disabled. Of the others, the wounds are more or less serious; but a majority are expected to recover and be again fit for duty. It has been ascertained that about eighty-one per cent of the wounds were occasioned by Minie balls, fifteen and a half per cent by shells, and three and a half per cent by round shot.” Such was the destruction of human [517] life that Federal accounts mention whole divisions which could muster but a few hundreds after the battle. Some regiments were decimated, and others had not more than a company left to answer roll-call! Although they had fitting opportunities to bury part of their dead subsequent to the battle, that unpleasant office was left to us, for the most part; and to deceive us as to their retreat, they propped up dead bodies to counterfeit sentinels, in many places, with placards fastened to them, ridiculing and cursing the “rebels” who buried them. This was very decent and valiant conduct certainly, and is worthy of record.

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