The morning of the 13th [of December] dawned with a dense fog enveloping the plain and city of Fredericksburg
, through which the brilliant rays of the sun struggled about 10 in the morning. In front of the right of the Confederate army was displayed the vast force of Franklin
, marching and countermarching, hastily seeking the places assigned for the coming conflict.
Here was a vast plain, now peopled with an army worthy of its grand dimensions.
A slight but dazzling snow beneath, and a brilliant sun above, intensified the leaping reflections from thousands of gleaming bayonets.
Officers, on restless horses, rushed from point to point in gay uniforms.
Field-artillery was whisked into position as so many fragile toys.
Rank and file, foot and horse, small-arms and field-ordnance presented so magnificent a pageant as to call forth the unbounded admiration of their adversaries.
In a word, this was the grandest martial scene of the war. The contrast between Stonewall Jackson
's corps and Franklin
's grand division was very marked, and so far as appearances went the former was hardly better than a caricature of the latter.
When all was in readiness, adjutants stepped to the front and, plainly in our view, read the orders of the day. This done, the fatal advance across the plain commenced.
With gay pennants, State, regimental, and brigade standards flying, this magnificent army advanced in three closely compacted lines of battle.
At intervals, in front, preceded by horse-artillery and flanked on either side by numerous field-pieces, hundreds of heavy field-pieces from the north bank of the Rappahannock
belched forth their missiles of destruction and swept the plain in advance of Franklin
's columns, while at the same moment his smaller field-pieces in front and on the flanks joined in to sweep the open space on all sides.
This mighty cannonading was answered by the Confederate
Onward, steady and unwavering, these three lines advanced, preceded by a heavy skirmish line, till they neared the railroad, when Jackson
's right and right center poured into these sturdy ranks a deadly volley from small-arms.
Spaces, gaps, and wide chasms instantly told the tale of a most fatal encounter.
Volley after volley of small-arms continued the work of destruction, while Jackson's artillery posted on the Federal
left and at right angles to their line of advance kept up a withering fire on the lessening ranks.
The enemy advanced far in front of the River
road [and crossing the railroad charged the slopes upon which our troops were posted], but at length wavered, halted, and suddenly retreated to the protection of the railroad embankments.
The struggle was kept up by sharp-shooters for some time, when another general advance was made against a furious cannonade of
small-arms and artillery.
Again the scene of destruction was repeated; still the Federals
crossed the railroad, when a gap in Jackson
's line between Archer
's and Thomas
's brigades was discovered by some of the assailants.
[See map, p. 74.] This interval was rushed for by a part of Franklin
's troops as a haven of safety, while the rest of his command were repulsed in the utmost confusion.
The extreme left of Archer
's brigade, and the extreme right of Thomas
's brigade, that is, the 14th Tennessee and 19th Georgia, commanded by Colonel Forbes
, and a part of the 7th Tennessee, commanded by Colonel Goodner
, of the former brigade, believing they were about to be surrounded, gave way. Their comrades on the right, unaware of the condition of affairs on the left, and seeing the enemy routed in their front, were amazed at this confusion.
Officers and men on the right were enraged at what seemed to be cowardice, and, rushing toward the broken lines, officers leveled their pistols and, with many privates, fired into these fleeing comrades.
Presently the true condition of affairs appeared when the victorious brigades of Franklin
emerged from the woods.
Line and field officers rushed to and fro, wildly shouting, “Into line, into line!”
and, even in the face of a flanking foe, the gallant Colonel Turney
, who temporarily commanded Archer
's brigade, succeeded in re-forming his regiments at right angles to the former line of attack.
This gave a brief check to the victors.
Still the infantry and artillery fire scourged the line.
The rout or capture of the Confederates
was struck by a minie-ball, which entered his mouth and came out at his neck, and his apparently lifeless body was hurriedly placed on a blanket, and four of his devoted followers attempted to carry him to the rear.
They had not proceeded far when a shell burst among them, and they in turn lay helpless by the side of their bleeding commander.2 Colonel Goodner
also did gallant service in preventing a rout, for, with the part of the 7th that still held its ground, he formed a line at right angles to their former position, and aided in checking this dangerous reverse.
Up to the time of the break in our line no one in the ranks apprehended any danger.
Those in front and near this scene of defeat and confusion made desperate efforts to rally the men and prevent a stampede, for we looked for nothing but defeat or capture.
We were unaware of the fact that we had any reserves.
's division, in the very mood and spirit that had characterized Archer
's brigade before the breaking of the lines, came at double-quick to our relief, jesting and yelling at us: “Here comes old Jubal!
Let old Jubal straighten that fence!
Jubal's boys are always getting Hill
out o‘ trouble!”
A desperate encounter followed.
The Federals fought manfully, but the artillery on our right, together with the small-arms, literally mowed them down.
Officers and men lost courage at the sight of their lessening ranks, and in the utmost confusion
they again sought the shelter of the railroad.
's brigade, of Jackson
's corps, was on the extreme right of A. P. Hill
's front line, composed of the following regiments, posted in the order named: 19th Georgia, 14th Tennessee, 7th Tennessee, 1st Tennessee, and extended from the interval or space left unoccupied by Gregg
's brigade to the railroad curve near Hamilton's Crossing
We occupied ground slightly higher than the level of the plain over which the Federals
had to pass.
In our immediate rear and left was an irregular growth of timber of varied size, which obstructed the view in the direction of the Gregg interval.
As the battle opened in the morning, the enemy was plainly in our view, and we could distinctly see their approach to the railroad in our front and to the left, where in every attempt to advance they halted.
Now and then they would make an effort to advance from the railroad to our lines.
We who were on the right had no trouble to repulse those in our front, and, in fact, we successfully met every assault made on the right, and that, too, with little or no loss.
We regarded the efforts of the Federals
, so far as the right was concerned, as futile in the extreme.
In fact, their assaults on this part of the line appeared like the marching of men to certain defeat and slaughter.
Our infantry fire, aided by fifteen pieces of artillery placed at our right, did terrible execution as the poor fellows emerged from a slight railroad cut in front of a part of our line.3
On the morning of the 13th General Jackson
rode down his lines dressed in a new suit, presented to him, as we understood, by General Stuart
Some of our men facetiously remarked that they preferred seeing him with his rusty old cap on, as they feared he wouldn't get down to work.
He inspected all of his positions, riding alone.
After halting near the extreme right, the artillery fire was begun, and here I had an excellent opportunity to, see him under fire.
I watched him closely, and was unable to detect the slightest change in his demeanor.
In a few minutes he rode off in the direction of Lee
A very general impression prevails, and it is in a great measure confirmed by writers on Fredericksburg
, that Jackson
's lines were strongly fortified.
This is not correct: we had no time to construct anything like fortifications.
D. H. Hill
's division had been at Port Royal
, eighteen miles below Fredericksburg
, to prevent the Federals
from crossing at that point; he left Port Royal
after the enemy had abandoned the project of crossing there, and did not reach the position assigned him until about daylight of the morning of the battle.
The next morning the scenes of carnage were heart-sickening.
To intensify the horrible picture, the dead and the mortally wounded were in many instances burned in the sedge-grass, which was set on fire by bursting shells.
I. By George E. Smith, private, Co. E, 2d Wisconsin Volunteers.
General W. F. Smith
, in his article on “Franklin
's left Grand division” [p. 137], makes mention of a round shot that ripped open a soldier's knapsack and distributed his clothing and cards.
It was not a round shot, but the second “bolt” that came from the Whitworth gun that the “Johnnies” had run in on our flank.
And although we were surprised and dumfounded at this attack from a new arm that appeared to take in about five miles of our line, the boys could not forego their little joke; so when that column of cards was thrown some twenty feet in the air, on all sides could be heard the cry, “Oh, deal me a hand!”
Three other shots in that battle did queer work.
Ours was the last brigade (the “Iron Brigade” under Meredith
) to cross on the pontoons, and we came to a halt upon the river-bank, for a few moments, before going into position among the big cotton-wood trees at the Bernard House
We had been paid off that day, and the gamblers began to play at cards the moment we halted.
A man who was about to “straddle” a “fifty-cent blind” had his knapsack knocked from under him by a solid shot, and he “straddled” half a dozen soldiers, who were covered with a cart-load of dirt.
This was the first shot from the “Johnnies” on our left.
Their second passed over the river and struck a paymaster's tent.
The struggle between the paymaster and the stragglers for possession of the flying greenbacks was both exciting and ridiculous.
The next day, December 13th, our officers and the enemy's batteries kept us on the jump.
During a moment's halt, behind a slight rise of ground, we lay down.
A soldier facing to the rear was in earnest conversation with a comrade.
Suddenly he made a terrific leap in air, and from the spot of ground on which he had been sitting a solid shot scooped a wheelbarrow-load of dirt.
It was a clear case of premonition, for the man could give no reason for having jumped.
also speaks of the veterans' ridicule of the bounty men. The 24th Michigan became part of our brigade shortly after Antietam
, and we were told they were mostly bounty men. [See below.] We made unmerciful sport of them, but never a joke or word of abuse did I hear after the 24th had shown its mettle in the battle of Fredericksburg
On the evening of December 14th, General Doubleday
wanted our regiment (the 2d Wisconsin) to go on picket and make an effort to stop the firing upon the picket-line, for the shots of the Confederates
covered the whole field, and no one could get any rest.
We had not been in the picket-line more than twenty minutes before we made a bargain with the “Rebs,” and the firing ceased, and neither they nor ourselves pretended to keep under cover.
But at daylight the 24th Michigan came to relieve us. Before they were fairly in line they opened fire upon the Confederates
without the warning we had agreed to give.
We yelled lustily, but the rattle of musketry drowned the sound, and many a confiding enemy was hit. This irritated the Confederates
, who opened a savage fire, and the 24th Michigan were put upon their good behavior; it was with difficulty a general engagement was prevented.
All that day, until about 4 o'clock, the picket-firing was intense; it was abruptly ended by a Confederate challenging a 6th Wisconsin man to a fist-fight in the middle of the turnpike.
The combatants got the attention of both picket-lines, who declared the fight a “draw.”
They ended the matter with a coffee and tobacco trade and an agreement to do no more firing at picket-lines, unless an advance should be ordered.
It was this agreement that enabled Lieutenant Rogers
to save a long picket-line that was to have been sacrificed when we fell back.
By Orson B. Curtis, Corporal, Co. D, 24th Michigan.
Since Private Smith
, above, mentions the 24th Michigan as “bounty men,” let me state that in July, 1862, a war meeting held in Detroit
to promote enlistments under Lincoln
's call for 300,000 men was broken up by the disturbance created by a large number of Confederate refugees from Windsor, Canada
, with the aid of some antiwar men here.
To wipe out the unexpected insult, a second war meeting was held, which resolved to raise immediately an entire regiment,--the 24th Michigan,--in Wayne County
alone, in addition to its regular quota;
and within 20 days said regiment was recruited and mustered, 1027 strong.
Not a man of us received a cent of State or county bounty.
Each man, however, did receive, in advance, one month's pay and $25 of the regular $100 government bounty promised to all soldiers enlisting for two years; 673 of the men who were credited to Detroit
received sums varying from $25 to $50 apiece as a gratuity from patriotic friends, while the remaining 354 of us never received a cent.
Assigned to the “Iron Brigade,” our regiment shared its hardships till the spring of 1865, when its remnant was sent to guard conscripts at Springfield, Ill.
, and formed the escort at President Lincoln
it suffered probably as great a loss as any regiment of its size.
One of the first infantry regiments to engage the enemy in the first day's fight, it went into that battle with 28 officers and 468 men; total, 496.
It lost that day 24 officers and 339 men; total, 363, of which number 272, or about
55 per cent.
of the command, were killed and sounded;
91 were taken prisoners, over a third of whom died in Southern prisons; twice that day was its entire color-guard shot down, and only 3 officers and 95 men were left to respond at roll-call.
thus commended its conduct on that day: “Colonel Morrow
, the only fault I find with you is that you fought the 24th Michigan too long, but God only knows what would have become of us had you not held the ground as long as you did.