previous next

With Jackson at Hamilton's crossing.1

by J. H. Moore, C. S. A.
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 ordnance. 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 [140]

Hays's Brigade of Stonewall Jackson's Corps, at Hamilton's crossing. See map, P. 74.

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 seemed inevitable. Turney 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. Presently Early'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 [141] they again sought the shelter of the railroad. Archer'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's headquarters.

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.


In the ranks at Fredericksburg.

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.

General Smith 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.

Racine, Wis., October 3d, 1886.

Ii. 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's funeral. At Gettysburg 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. General Wadsworth 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.

1 condensed from an article in the “Southern bivouac” for August, 1886.

2 Colonel Turney, thus painfully and dangerously wounded, has, for the last fifteen years, served the State of Tennessee as one of its supreme judges.--J. H. M.

3 The report of General John F. Reynolds, commanding the First Corps, contains the following account of the engagement of his troops at Hamilton's Crossing: “ About 8:30 A. M. Meade's division advanced across the Smithfield ravine, formed in column of two brigades, with the artillery between them, the Third Brigade marching by the flank on the left and rear. It moved down the river some 500 or 600 yards, when it turned sharp to the right and crossed the Bowling Green road. The enemy's artillery opened fire from the crest and the angle of the Bowling Green road. I directed General Meade to put his column directly for the nearest point of wood, and, having gained the crest, to extend his attack along it to the extreme point of the heights, where most of the enemy's artillery was posted. As the column crossed the Bowling Green road the artillery of his division was ordered into position on the rise of the ground between this road and the railroad; Cooper's and Ransom's batteries, to the front, soon joined by Amsden's, to oppose those of the enemy on the crest, while Simpson's had to be thrown to the left, to oppose that on the Bowling Green road, which was taking the column in flank. Hall's battery was at the same time thrown to the front, on the left of Gibbon's division, which was advancing in line on Meade's right. The artillery combat here raged furiously for some time, until that of the enemy was silenced, when all of our batteries were directed to shell the wood, where his infantry was supposed to be posted. This was continued some half-hour, when the column of Meade, advancing in fine order and with gallant determination, was directed into the point of wood which extended this side of the railroad, with instructions, when they carried the crest and road which ran along it in their front, to move the First Brigade along the road, the Second Brigade to advance and hold the road, while the Third moved across the open field, to support the First in carrying the extreme point of the ridge. At this time I sent orders to General Gibbon to advance, in connection with General Meade, and carry the wood in his front. The advance was made under the fire of the enemy's batteries on his right and front, to which Gibbon's batteries replied, while those of Smith joined in on the right.

Meade's division successfully carried the wood in front, crossed the railroad, charged up the slope of the hill, and gained the road and edge of the wood, driving the enemy from his strong positions in the ditches and railroad cut, capturing the flags of 2 regiments and sending about 200 prisoners to the rear. At the same time Gibbon's division had crossed the railroad and entered the wood, driving back the first line of the enemy and capturing a number of prisoners; but, from the dense character of the wood, the connection between his division and Meade's was broken. The infantry combat was here kept up with great spirit for a short time, when Meade's column was vigorously assailed by the enemy's masked force, and, after a severe contest, forced back. Two regiments of Berry's brigade, Birney's division, arrived about this time, and were immediately thrown into the wood on Gibbon's left, to the support of the line; but they, too, were soon overpowered, and the whole line retired from the wood, Meade's in some confusion, and, after an ineffectual effort by General Meade and myself to rally them under the enemy's fire, that of the artillery having resumed almost its original intensity, I directed General Meade to re-form his division across the Bowling Green road, and ordered the remainder of Berry's brigade, which had come up, to the support of the batteries.

The enemy, showing himself in strong force in the wood, seemed disposed to follow our retiring troops, but the arrival of the other brigades of Birney's division on the ground at this critical moment, to occupy our line of battle, materially aided in saving Hall's battery, which was now seriously threatened by the enemy, and, together with our artillery fire, soon drove him to his sheltered positions and cover, from which his infantry did not again appear.

General Gibbon's division was assailed in turn in the same manner, and compelled to retire from the wood soon after Meade's.

General C. Feger Jackson commanding the Third Brigade of Meade's division, was killed within the enemy's lines.--editors.

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)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
October 3rd, 1886 AD (1)
August, 1886 AD (1)
1865 AD (1)
July, 1862 AD (1)
1027 AD (1)
December 14th (1)
December 13th (1)
December (1)
January (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: