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Chapter 20: to Falmouth, in pursuit of Lee. Burnside supersedes McClellan.

At 2 P. M. on Oct. 29 the Nineteenth regiment joined its brigade and took up the line of march for Falmouth, in pursuit of Lee. Gen. Couch was in command, Gen. Sumner having been granted leave of absence.

The day was beautiful, the sun shining brightly in a clear sky and the air just cool enough to make marching comfortable. Not having drawn winter clothing, the men were not heavily encumbered and some were actually destitute of suitable covering for the frosty nights, but, thanks to the Virginia farmers, there were plenty of rail fences and fires were kept burning all night, around which gathered the insufficiently clad and they were thus kept from actual suffering during the first week. After that it was colder, with snow and rain storms, and all suffered more or less. The crops were not all harvested and that added to the comforts.

Leaving camp soon after sunrise the brigade filed into the Charlestown road and through the village of Bolivar, taking a cross road to the east, down a steep hill, to the Shenandoah River, thence north to its junction with the Potomac. After crossing, the brigade passed around Loudon Heights into the valley beyond and began the march south at a leisurely pace. To the left was the Bull Run Ridge, beyond which lay the town of Leesburg and the battlefield of Ball's Bluff. The road over which they marched lay close to the mountains they had crossed,— the Blue Ridge, and the line marched down the east side. Hillsboro was reached on the 31st.

It was a superb country through which to march. War, at that time, had not reached it and huge stacks of grain testified to its fertility, while great flocks of sheep were grazing on every side. Distant reports of cannon were now and then heard, [157] echoing or re-echoing through the beautiful valley and the advance guard frequently met with little obstructions, but no real check came.

The first three days passed without anything of note occurring. The men lived well and enjoyed themselves. Wood Grove was reached on Nov. 2 and on Nov. 3, in the afternoon, the familiar boom of cannon was heard in front and soon afterward the regiment filed into a field on the right to halt for a short time while the advance met the enemy in a short skirmish. Then, taking the road, the column moved on a short distance and formed line of battle on the left of the road in a wheat field, the Nineteenth being in reserve, closed en masse by division. The division remained in this position until sunset when the regiment took full distance, stacked arms near a stone wall and prepared for the night. During the following day, Nov. 4, when the journey was resumed to Upperville, the line halted many times to allow the cavalry to feel the way, but was not disturbed by the enemy. A few scattering reports were heard once as the opposing cavalry forces exchanged shots before the rebels retired through Snicker's Gap to the Shenandoah Valley. There was a great deal of foraging at this place because of the fact that there were more houses to forage upon.

The men were much amused in the early part of the afternoon to see a group of soldiers in the yard of a prosperous looking farmhouse chasing pigs, ducks, geese, hens and turkeys, and there seemed to be plenty of them, while a strong-minded, muscular female was chasing the men with a broom. Once in a while a man would try to grab something and then she would bring the broom down with a whack which could be plainly heard. A cloud of dust would rise from the victim's back and he would be careful not to let the broom make so close a connection with his person again. The men of the regiment took no part in this ‘circus’ as the general in command rode at the head of the column and was a witness of the whole affair. That night stringent orders were read from the division commander, forbidding foraging. At sunset the men encamped at the entrance to Snicker's Gap. [158]

It being McClellan's intention to throw himself between Stonewall Jackson in the valley and Lee at Culpepper, on Nov. 6 the direction of the march was changed to the southeast and the troops reached Rectortown late in the afternoon, in the midst of a snow storm. The men awoke on the following morning to find three inches of snow upon their blankets.

Salem was reached on the 8th and Warrenton on the 9th, the men having been repeatedly formed in line of battle, owing to the proximity of the rebel cavalry. All through the first part of this march the men lived quite well, finding many springhouses rich with cheese, butter, milk and eggs and occasionally a jar of apple butter. It happened luckily, as rations gave out early and none were issued until Rectortown was reached. On that day, while halted, just after leaving Snicker's Gap, the Brigade commander rode oy and men in the regiments cried out ‘Hard Tack, Hard Tack.’ The general stopped, made inquiries and then rode on. The men were provided with the required ‘staff’ that night.

At Warrenton it was rumored that Gen. McClellan had been relieved of his command and succeeded by Gen. Burnside. This was realized next day, Nov. 10, when Gen. McClellan took leave of his troops, 100,000 strong—all of whom, except the Ninth Corps, had for twenty months shared his fortunes on the battlefields of the Peninsula and Antietam campaigns.

The army was drawn up in line and McClellan rode past the men whom he had organized and led so often and who had a very great regard and affection for him. As he approached, the regiments dipped their colors and presented arms. Immediately the salute was changed for three rousing cheers and salvos of artillery from the hill tops. The retiring commander was greatly moved as he passed along the line and realized what a hold he had upon the hearts of the men.

Burnside assumed command immediately and the army was reorganized in three grand divisions, the right being commanded by Gen. Sumner and consisting of his own Second Corps; Gen. O. O. Howard commanding the Second Division and Col. Norman J. Hall, of the Seventh Michigan, the Third Brigade, which, [159] in addition to the four regiments which had so long served together had been strengthened by the addition of the Fifty-Ninth New York, and One Hundred and Twenty-Seventh Pennsylvania regiments.

On Nov. 13 Division drill was held and it was a grand spectacle, there being nearly 6,000 troops on the field at one time.

For some reason, Burnside abandoned McClellan's plan of operations, which the latter had fully explained to him, and started rapidly down the Rappahannock toward Fredericksburg on Nov. 15. This gave Jackson an opportunity to join Lee, who, as a result, was well prepared for any move of Burnside against him.

A march of 14 miles was made on the first day. After leaving Warrenton there was no forage to be had and the weather grew cold and stormy. A stop of a day and a night was made at Paris. During the night it snowed and the men suffered much for the want of winter clothing which had not then been drawn. Large numbers of the men were walking round in the snow with their bare toes peeping out from their shoes, and others were nearly barefooted.

With the Right Grand Division leading, the army reached the bank of the river at Falmouth, opposite Fredericksburg, on Nov. 17th, having marched about 40 miles in three days.

1‘November 18th. Laid across two or three cornhills last night, making a very uncomfortable bed, but it was the best that I could do. This morning our cavalry and infantry are moving toward the river. Am on guard today.’

‘November 19th. Came off guard at 9 this morning and immediately went out on picket with the regiment. Before leaving camp a whole corps passed toward the river. Think an attack will be made soon. In the corps were the 28th, 35th, and 36th Massachusetts regiments. It rains quite heavy today.’

‘November 20th. Rained very hard last night. We returned to camp at 10 o'clock and immediately received order to pack up and move. We did so, marching about a mile and camped about a mile and a half from the river. Rains very hard, so we pitched our tents.’

‘November 22nd. Inspection day. Some of the men are building a log hut for the Colonel. Something to do all the time.’


The river was low. It was easily forded. There was a small cavalry force of the enemy and a battery of artillery occupying the heights, commonly called ‘Marye's Heights,’, beyond Fredericksburg town. ‘Old Bull’ Sumner, as he was called without irreverence, wanted to push across and capture those heights, but was forbidden and, instead of that, the regiments went into camp to await the arrival of the pontoon boats from Aquia Creek Landing.

The small force on the other side cleared out after firing a few shots, leaving the Heights bare. They were only there for observation and were not expected to make a fight.

The regiment encamped in a beautiful grove of hard pine for nearly three weeks without any unusual incident occurring. Then the fall rains set in and the river became badly swollen. Lee, finding that Burnside did not improve his opportunity for securing the Heights, sent a large detachment of his own men and fortified them.

The rebels were strengthening their works back of the city and hot work was expected if the pontoons did not come up soon. Orders were received to log up the tents. This looked as if the stay would last through the winter. In consequence of the limited means of transportation, the rations were short and Thanksgiving, 1862, was in great contrast to that of the year before. Then the men were stuffed with turkey, goose and duck and plenty of sweet potatoes and home-made bread and other delicasies, while now they had only a very limited supply of beef soup and all the hard tack they could eat.

‘November 27th. Today is Thanksgiving Day and we have from policing in the morning until dress parade to ourselves. I wish I was home to enjoy it. My dinner is composed of salt pork, turkey and hard tack. I have made this my washing day, having been to the stream and washed my clothes.’

The men had not been paid for five months and were very short of money and tobacco. There were two inches of snow on the ground. Before December came, however, the regiment was properly clothed and rationed.

The following extract from a letter written by First Lieut. [161] Edgar M. Newcomb describes the surrounding country adequately:

November 27, 1862: Procured a pass to Falmouth, and at 9 A. M. started for the village, a mile distant. A neighboring height diverted me, and I ascended to find a battery of six Parrots commanding the town, the river and the country beyond. Following the ridge of hills, I soon came upon another battery. In fact, a succession of batteries protect us now, threaten all the open country on the other side of the river and will cover our advance in future. The left bank of the river is high and commands Fredericksburg and the whole country around for two or more miles up the river. Every road and field and moving thing can clearly be discerned from that distance, owing to the unbroken nature of the ground and the absence of woods.

At this edge of the stretch, however, the country is well wooded, and from the tree tops rises the smoke of numerous rebel encampments. In one place the naked eye can discern a dark heap, which the glass reveals to be 1000 rebel troops hard at work on a heavy fortification. I continued down the river to a point opposite Fredericksburg. The Rappahannock is hardly wider than the Charles at Watertown. All along this bank lie our pickets in posts of three or four, the posts thirty paces from each other. All along the further bank, and so near that conversation is quite easy, lie the rebel pickets. Almost within a stone's throw of each other pace the sentries of the two armies, ready to give the alarm at any hostile demonstration.

Falmouth on the left bank is a small village with two or three churches. Fredericksburg, on the right bank, a mile below, is the second city of Virginia, with seven churches. We see the sentries as they pace the streets leading down the river; and the men, women and children as they cross them on different errands; we hear the blacksmith at work in his shop and the rattles of vehicles in the streets; but the bridges are all gone, the ferry boat locked on the other side, and the river separates us from—something. Could this be war? The peaceful city, beautiful country and quiet river, even the smoke of camp and picket fires curling slowly upward, betoken no strife. The few white tents in sight look innocent enough. The sunlight plays with the sentry's bayonet and even the frowning cannon seem but as the shade necessary to perfect the picture.

The Nineteenth Massachusetts regiment had by this time been drilled into excellent condition and the commanding officers were much pleased with it.

Brig. General O. O. Howard, on Nov. 20th, 1862, wrote from the headquarters of the Second Division, Second Corps, at Falmouth, Va. [162]

‘I have had Massachusetts regiments under my command for the last few months and they have won my complete confidence. The Fifteenth, Nineteenth and Twentieth are regiments that your state and our country have every reason to be proud of. I have found them well disciplined, with arms in good order, efficient in outpost duty, steady and perfectly reliable in action. For myself, I state it with perfect sincerity, I ask no better troops.’

1 These and similar extracts which follow are taken from the diary of a member of the regiment.

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