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Chapter 20: General Burnside assumes command of the army of the Potomac

The night of September 17th my headquarters were near the “East woods.” I slept on the ground under a large tree. Just as I lay down I saw several small groups stretched out and covered with blankets, face and all. They appeared like soldiers sleeping together, two and two, and three and three, as they often did. In the morning as the sun was rising and lighting up the treetops, I arose, and, noticing my companions still asleep, observed them more closely. Seeing that they were very still, I approached the nearest group, and found they were cold in death. The lot fell to my division, with some other troops, to remain behind on the sad field and assist in burying the dead. The most troublesome thing, and that which affected our health, was the atmosphere that arose from the swollen bodies of the dead horses. We tried the experiment of piling rails and loose limbs of trees upon them and setting the heap on fire. This, however, for a time, made matters worse, as the dreadful stench appeared to be only increased in volume, and there being no strong wind, it settled in the valley of the Antietam.

The 22d, our sad and sickening task being done, the men of my division moved out toward Harper's Ferry, and quickly took up the swinging gait as they tramped [308] along the hard roadway. As is usually the case after a military funeral, the quick march soon restored the spirits of the men. We crossed the Potomac and encamped with the remainder of our army corps on Bolivar Heights.

The main purpose which McClellan now had in view was to recruit his army, fill up the depleted regiments and batteries, and gather from the country, far and near, a sufficient number of horses to replace those killed in battle and worn out in service. The discouragements and homesickness that had attacked us at one time on the peninsula and at another time at Falmouth, had suddenly fallen upon Lee's army during the campaign. But on the Opequon, the thousands of half-sick, straying men, strolling along from Sharpsburg to Richmond, had been cheered and refreshed by the numerous zealous secession families along their route, so that soon the tide set back, and these, together with those who had recuperated from their wounds on previous fields, some 20,000 altogether, returned to give new heart and vigor to Lee's army.

In answer to McClellan's joyful dispatch, announcing that Maryland was entirely freed from the presence of the enemy, Halleck replied coldly: “We are still left entirely in the dark in regard to your own movements and those of the enemy.”

McClellan, deeply chagrined that Halleck had no praise for our achievements, yet dispatched to him in detail with feeling the urgent wants of his army.

While such controversies were going on, from the battle of Antietam till October 26th, the main body of the army was located between Harper's Ferry and the mouth of the Monocacy. McClellan's headquarters were near Berlin. During our interval of rest I remember [309] to have been placed upon courts of inquiry and upon courts-martial. One very interesting court on which I served was that demanded by General Caldwell, my successor after my wound and absence.

We looked into all the charges of misconduct and could find really nothing against this worthy officer.

About the same time, October 1st, President Lincoln came to see us. He was received everywhere with satisfaction, and at times with marked enthusiasm, as he reviewed the troops. At Harper's Ferry I saw him and heard him relate a few of his characteristic anecdotes. He noticed a small engine run out from the bridge, through the village of Harper's Ferry, below the bluff, which gave a peculiarly shrill and mournful whistle as its shadow fled rapidly around a hill and passed out of sight. Mr. Lincoln inquired what was the name of that little engine. When told the name, alluding to the panic and terror at the time of John Brown's visit to Harper's Ferry, he said that, in honor of the Virginians of that day, it might well have been named “The Skeered Virginian.” He admired the horsemanship of Captain Whittlesey, and when some one said, “That officer was lately a parson,” he looked pleasantly after him as he galloped off to carry some order, and remarked, as if to himself, “Parson he looks more like a cavalier.” Thus humorously, and with seldom a smile on his sad face, he moved around among us.

On October 6, 1862, after his return to Washington, President Lincoln directed our army to cross into Virginia and give battle to the enemy while the roads were good. He thought, as he always had before, that we might move along east of the Blue Ridge, and he promised [310] a reinforcement of 30,000 men, provided this be done.

I had returned to the field, to encounter extraordinary excitement, exposure, and hardship, too soon after losing my arm; for just after the President's review I was taken ill with a slow fever; and, under medical advice, I obtained a twenty-days' sick leave and left Harper's Ferry for home. But by the time I reached Philadelphia my fever abated and my appetite returned — in fact, I was so thoroughly convalescent that I was almost disposed to turn back to the army, yet, judging by the past few weeks, I concluded that there would be no movement; so, to gather further strength from the change and the journey, I made a brief visit to my family in Maine, and then hastened back to my post. I reached Harper's Ferry November 5, 1862, about ten o'clock at night. My brigade surgeon, Dr. Palmer, being left behind in charge of the sick and wounded, gave welcome to Captain Whittlesey and myself, and kept us for the night.

The army had gone. McClellan had decided to take President Lincoln's suggestion and move east of the Blue Ridge.

On the morning of the 6th, with a borrowed horse and an old ambulance, Whittlesey and I crossed the Shenandoah and pulled on with all the speed we could command after the army. We rode up the Catoctin Valley over an unguarded road. From the poor condition of our horse we had to be satisfied with thirtyfive miles the first day. The next day, the 7th, getting an early start, we made Rectortown by 11 A. M. Owing to a severe snowstorm, that portion of the army near Rectortown and the general headquarters did not stir. Immediately upon my arrival I visited General Mc [311] Clellan; found him and his adjutant general, Seth Williams, together in a comfortable tent. From them I received a cordial welcome. McClellan thought I must be a Jonah to bring such a storm and was half minded to order me back. He said that they were talking of me and were really glad to see me. I went thence to our corps, and was pleasantly welcomed by our new commander, General Couch, and very soon fell into the old place — the headquarters of the second division. Here, surrounded by my staff, I was in heart again, for it had been a great cross to arrive at Harper's Ferry and find the army several days ahead of me, and in the enemy's front, for the march had commenced the morning of October 26th. There had been slight changes in commanders — Couch having our corps (the Second) and Slocum the Twelfth; Sumner remaining in charge of the two. The Fifth and Sixth Corps retained the same chiefs, Porter and Franklin, each having been enlarged to three divisions. Willcox, taking the Ninth, had succeeded Reno (killed in battle), and John F. Reynolds had the First Corps in place of Hooker (wounded). These two (the First and Ninth) were still under Burnside's direction. The new troops promised from the defenses of the capital were commanded by Sigel, Heintzelman, and Bayard, the latter having only one division of cavalry. General Sumner's command was immediately divided. The Twelfth Corps was left behind to guard the fords of the Upper Potomac. When the army started, though the rain was falling in torrents, the main body, now brisk, hardy, and hopeful, had pressed on rapidly up the valley of the Catoctin, a valley situated between the Blue Ridge and the Bull Run range. Our corps, followed by the Fifth, had crossed the Shenandoah near its [312] mouth and passed directly into the little valley, which was to be the general route of the army. Pleasonton's cavalry was in advance, and occupied successively the gaps in the Blue Ridge. The different corps were kept within supporting distance of each other during the march, yet by the time the rear guard had crossed the Potomac, on November 2d, the head of column was already in the vicinity of Snicker's Gap. Mr. Lincoln's policy proved correct. General Lee, with Longstreet's wing, with very little cavalry, made a parallel march up the Shenandoah, so that by the time we had touched Snicker's Gap, two of the passes of the Blue Ridge farther up-Chester's and Thornton's — were even then in use by Lee passing the material and troops of the enemy to the vicinity of Culpeper.

Thus the army was quietly transferred to the vicinity of the Manassas Gap Railroad. Sigel's Eleventh Corps, and part of Heintzelman's, with Bayard's cavalry, had marched out from Washington and were holding Thoroughfare Gap, New Baltimore, and Warrenton Junction.

Reynolds's corps was at Warrenton, Willcox's at Waterloo; ours (the Second) at Rectortown, while Porter's and Franklin's were not far in the rear, toward Upperville-McClellan's headquarters being at Rectortown.

Whatever bold project was in Lee's or Jackson's mind, it certainly had been interrupted by McClellan's holding his main body so tenaciously west of the Bull Run range.

One may imagine my surprise and sincere regret when I heard, on arrival, that McClellan had been removed, and Burnside assigned to the command of the army. [313]

The evening of the 6th, General Buckingham, an officer on duty in the War Office, had been made, by General Halleck and Secretary Stanton, the bearer of dispatches. Buckingham went during the 7th to Burnside to urge his acceptance of the command. Burnside at first made strenuous objections, claiming his pleasant relations with McClellan, and insisting on his own unfitness. But finding that McClellan would be relieved in any event, he finally, with considerable reluctance, yielded to Mr. Stanton's wish. The two then rode to Salem, and, taking the cars, were soon in Rectortown. Buckingham says: “About eleven o'clock we found him alone in his tent examining papers, and as we both entered together he received us in his kind and cordial manner.”

Burnside betrayed more feeling than McClellan. The latter, after reading the dispatch, passed it to Burnside, and said simply: “You command the army.”

In order to complete the concentration of the army in the vicinity of Warrentown, McClellan's orders, already prepared, were issued and executed. My command made a march of eight miles during November 8th; this brought us to the neighborhood of Warrenton, where we encamped in a ravine to shelter ourselves from a severe wind storm. The next morning I turned out my troops and drew them up beside the road to give a parting salute to General McClellan. He rode along the line, the tattered colors were lowered, the drums beat, and the men cheered him. Burnside rode quietly by his side. At my last interview McClellan said to me: “Burnside is a pure man and a man of integrity of purpose, and such a man can't go far astray.”

One other remark I have preserved: “I have been [314] long enough in command of a large army to learn the utter insignificance of any man unless he depend on a Power above.”

It is easy to see why the officers and soldiers were so much attached to McClellan.

Soon after this interview I met Burnside, who appeared sad and weary. He had been for two nights almost without sleep. He remarked in my presence that he had concluded to take the command of the army, but did not regard the subject as one for congratulation.

It is impossible to predict with certainty what a man will become under the weight of a new responsibility. Every officer of rank in our war doubtless had some thought beyond his immediate command, some plan of operations in mind based upon the circumstances of his surroundings; but the instant he had the whole authority put upon him he saw everything in a new light. His knowledge of the force to be used became more complete, and of the force to be opposed much enlarged; and the risks to be run presented themselves as practical questions, no longer as mere theories.

Thus when Burnside at Warrenton came to command the Army of the Potomac, then over 100,000 strong, his whole character appeared to undergo a change. A large, brave, prepossessing man, popular with his associates, he was accustomed to defer greatly to the judgment of his chosen friends.

When the proposal of command first met him he expressed a self-distrust and declined. Indeed, he was urged to shoulder the burden, and at last did so. When it became necessary to submit a plan of campaign to Washington without delay, he was forthwith astonishingly [315] decided. The obvious course mapped out by McClellan would not do for him-he rejected that. He then proposed ostensibly to maneuver toward Chester Gap and Culpeper as McClellan had been doing, but really to turn these maneuvers into feints. Under their cover, behind the blind of sundry marchings, skirmishes, and cavalry raids, he would transfer his army straightway to Falmouth, cross the Rappahannock to Fredericksburg, seize the heights beyond, and hold them preparatory to future movements. That was Burnside's plan of campaign. Who could say before the trial that it was not a good one?

To execute demanded prompt preparation. The docks near the Potomac at Aquia Creek needed rebuilding, and the railway thence to Falmouth must be repaired. Our pontoon bridges, left at Harper's Ferry and Berlin, must be transferred to the Rappahannock.

Halleck, after a visit to Burnside, promised, if his plan and method should be accepted, to look after docks, railway, and pontoon bridges. He then returned to the President. Mr. Lincoln said: “Adopt Burnside's plan; there is a chance of success if he moves quickly.”

Burnside unwisely left two most important things to Halleck, one of which was vital: the repair of the railway and forwarding his pontoon train. Unless he could deceive Lee as to his intentions, the problem would reduce itself simply to a race of the two armies for the Fredericksburg Heights. Without the bridges, unless by some singular providence the river should be fordable at Falmouth on his arrival, a single day's delay for the means of crossing would be fatal to Burnside's enterprise, however swiftly he might move his columns. [316]

On November 15, 1862, Burnside's march for Falmouth began. The right grand division of two corps under Sumner introduced the rapid movement. The first day, however, my division in the lead was permitted to make only thirteen miles, so necessary was it to get Sumner's command together and well in hand.

We were off early the next day, one division of our corps in the road and the other two abreast in the fields, mine on the left. The pioneers kept well ahead of the side columns to clear away the brush, cut the small trees, and throw down the fences. The road was dry and the weather fine.

Our march was to-day (Sunday, the 16th) more than the Hebrew Sabbath day's journey, for we made twenty miles and encamped at Spotted Tavern, only thirteen miles from Falmouth.

On the morrow our grand division, Sumner himself close to the front and full of his accustomed sanguine hope, pushed on to the Stafford Hills, and began to descend them near Falmouth, in plain sight of Fredericksburg. A small detachment of the enemy, with a few pieces of artillery, met our advance guard at the town and began firing upon us. A brigade of ours, with a single battery quickly ready, cleared the neighborhood. One solid shot from Fredericksburg opposite struck the wheel of an artillery carriage near me and broke it, but the fire from beyond the river was nervous and panicky, and the hostile defenders but few in number. Seeing our troops coming steadily on, the Confederates soon abandoned the shore line and fled, so that we quietly occupied the left bank and the town of Falmouth.

After the enemy's detachment had disappeared from our view behind the houses of Fredericksburg, [317] one of Sumner's officers saw a steer start from the south side and wade slowly across to the north bank of the Rappahannock. The commander of the leading brigade, Colonel Brooke, whose attention was called to the fact, went to the animal and measured the height the water had reached on his side; it did not exceed three feet. This being reported to Sumner, he dispatched a letter to Burnside, asking permission to cross immediately and seize the heights beyond the city. Burnside answered: “Wait till I come.” When he came forward and looked at the broad river, the rough river bed and swift current, he decided that the risk of crossing before his bridges were in sight would be too great. “No, Sumner,” he said; “wait for the pontoons.”

The bridges were not there, and not likely to be at Falmouth for several days; but the ford was practicable, the town and heights but weakly occupied, and the ability of Sumner's command fully equal to the enterprise. Forty thousand men could have crossed before dark on that Monday, made a strong bridgehead on the lower plane of the right bank and, intrenching Marye Heights beyond the city against Lee's approach, have had within twelve hours rejoisted and replanked the denuded railway piers for use for supply or reinforcement from the Falmouth side.

The left grand division (Franklin's) encamped a few miles north of us at Stafford Court House; while the center grand division (Hooker's) was halted eight miles above us. Hooker, not to be outdone by Sumner, soon entreated Burnside to allow him to cross the river near his own bivouac, that he might move down and seize the Fredericksburg Heights. This request was too late. We had had a heavy rain and the river was [318] rising rapidly. Still, Hooker's project would have been better than the one we adopted.

The inhabitants of the country were too zealous for Confederate success to leave Lee long in ignorance of Burnside's doings. Even the skillful pretensions of our cavalry did not deceive him. He had word at once of our starting. Stuart, turning Pleasonton's right, made a reconnoissance in force, which confirmed the previous intelligence that the Army of the Potomac had changed its base from Warrenton Junction to Aquia Creek. Before Stuart's assurance came to Lee, he had dispatched troops to Marye Heights and vicinity. Cavalry, artillery, and two divisions of infantry, under McLaws and Ransom, with Longstreet in chief command, were hurried forward, arriving on the 18th and 19th. They reoccupied and fortified the best Fredericksburg positions, and with no little anxiety as they beheld our extension and preparations, waited for the arrival of their main body.

The story of the moving of the bridge train from Harper's Ferry and Berlin to our front at Falmouth is a strange one. It seems to indicate, judging by the uncalled — for delays, the misunderstandings, changes of orders, and going into depot for repairs near Washington, the uncertainty as to the route to be chosen, and final inadequacy of the transportation provided, that Halleck himself was playing a part, and possibly hoping to get Burnside well into winter quarters without anybody being particularly to blame.

The detail which fretted Burnside would be amusing, were it not so serious a matter.

Major Spaulding, in charge of the large pontoon train, took up his bridges at Harper's Ferry and vicinity fairly well; arrived with them at Washington, the [319] 119tn, and reported to his chief (of the engineers), General Woodbury. Woodbury put him off a day; the next day when he came to the office Woodbury told him he must see Halleck first; that conference sent Spaulding into depot and camp near Anacostia. Burnside, the 15th, called for his promised bridges by a telegram to Halleck; Spaulding then received an order to send one train by land and forty boats by water; the boats which went by water were sent off to Belle Plain, but without wagons or mules. They were there helpless ten miles away from Burnside. Major Spaulding at Anacostia at last secured sufficient transportation, and the 19th in the afternoon started from Washington. Now heavy rains began and his roads were fearful; he then wisely took waterways for the whole, and arrived at Belle Plain the 24th. He now moved up in good shape and was handsomely in camp at evening on November 25th, close by Burnside's headquarters.

As it required thirteen days to do a piece of work which could easily have been done in three days, it would be a marvelous stretch of charity to impute it to mere bungling.

Had Woodbury and Spaulding in the outset been properly instructed by Halleck, those bridges would have been near at hand the 17th on our arrival. Spaulding would have reported to Sumner at once and in less than an hour would have been pushing out his boats from our front.

Of course it was now plain enough to Burnside that his primary plan had been defeated. Goaded by his disappointment and spurred by the popular expectation that he had awakened by his prompt marches, Burnside decided to move down the river fourteen miles, surprise his enemy, and effect a crossing at that [320] point, but Lee was too vigilant for that, or, indeed, for any crossing without sharp resistance. Too many eyes from the opposite shore beheld our reconnoitering parties; and as soon as preparations for bridging began at any place a strong force was immediately on hand to dispute the passage. Seeing this, Burnside's second project was necessarily abandoned.

Then, suddenly, our general took a new thought. It was to do as most great generals in history had done — after getting up sufficient supplies for use, present and prospective, then move straight forward upon the enemy's works. The chances in all such hardy enterprises were better where there was no river to be crossed, and when the works to be assailed were not so hopelessly strong as were those upon the Fredericksburg Heights.

Lee, who could hardly before this have dreamed of our crossing in his direct front, must have smiled at our folly. Burnside chose three points for his pontoons-one in front of my division near the Lacy house; another farther down, opposite the lower part of the city, and a third a mile below.

As the time drew near for laying the bridges I ascended the Stafford Hills, where General Hunt had placed Burnside's numerous cannon so as to cover the bridge approaches. The Confederate lines, of which I had glimpses here and there, appeared to be drawn up in a semicircle along the Fredericksburg Heights. The heights touched the Rappahannock a mile above the city and, going back, extended with their knolls, woods, and slopes southward all along my front, leaving between them and the wide river, besides the city, much undulating open ground. The Marye Hill was about the middle of the curve. South of the Marye [321] Hill the ridge ended; thence there stretched farther southward a wooded space of lower ground; again another abrupt height, the highest part of which was named Prospect Hill; then the high land gradually sloped off to the Massaponax, a tributary of the Rappahannock which, running easterly, bounded Lee's position and covered his right flank. After taking a good look at this suggestive landscape, I wrote a friend December 10th: “Before you get this letter you will have the news of a battle. I try to rely on the Saviour in these trying hours. .. . I have no forebodings of disaster, but I know the desperate nature of our undertaking.” I was unusually sad in the prospect of that battlefield, sad for my men and for my personal staff. Experience had already taught me its lessons.

There was already murmuring among the officers in general and they were not overcareful in what they said. Some spoke against the administration, and sharply condemned the change of commanders, and openly expressed distrust of Burnside. Scraps of this adverse talk came to his ears. The night of the Monday in which I was surveying Lee's semicircle, Burnside called to him a number of us subordinates, field and staff. He addressed a roomful with very pertinent and pointed remarks, saying substantially: “I have heard your criticisms, gentlemen, and your complaints. You know how reluctantly I assumed the responsibility of command. I was conscious of what I lacked; but still I have been placed here where I am and will do my best. I rely on God for wisdom and strength. Your duty is not to throw cold water, but to aid me loyally with your advice and hearty service. . .!”

In noting at the time this conference, I said concerning [322] Burnside's address: “Solemn, noble, manly, and Christian were his remarks.”

Burnside, thus pressed with the shafts of bitterness, having neither warm sympathy nor kindly advice, steeled himself to leave everything to the maze of battle and went on to prepare the way for the sacrifice.

Sumner's grand division broke camp and marched to convenient points for the bridges that were to lead into Fredericksburg, where the engineers proposed to push out the pontoons and plank them.

Looker's grand division was held a little back of Sumner's for support; while Franklin moved his to the lower crossing.

At the early hour of three on the morning of December 11th, under the veil of a thick fog, the energetic engineer soldiers began their work. Some of our infantry under my eye was located close at hand to guard the working parties. The artillerymen on the heights behind me also contributed their portion as soon as they could see. One of Franklin's bridges was laid by 2.30 in the morning, and the other, close by, was finished at a later hour.

Our engineer battalion throwing out our bridge was not so successful. At about eight o'clock I detached Hall's whole brigade to assist it in every way possible. Putting in the boats one by one, the engineers had worked out their bridge about one-third of the way, when the fog thinned and the Confederate pickets, deeply intrenched on the other bank, began to fire upon our bridgemen with accuracy. The workers soon desisted, ran back, and abandoned their boats. Their officers commanded, went before them, and entreated, but all to no effect. There were just then few hopeful chances for bridgemen! Now the roar of our [323] artillery behind us became deafening. It poured shot and shell by concentrated firing upon those Confederate pickets and upon the sharpshooters in the edge of the town; but these active opponents were too well covered in houses, cellars, behind walls and buildings, and in deeply dug pits to be much disturbed. Neither musketry nor artillery, abundant as they were, lessened the enemy's galling fire.

Burnside came to our front in the afternoon and, noticing that the whole force in that vicinity was in waiting, sent for Woodbury and Hunt. Woodbury showed him the impossibility of getting any farther, now that the fog had cleared away and that his bridgemen had no cover from Confederate riflemen. Hunt mentioned the daring feat of crossing in separate boats. Burnside said: “Let us do that.” I selected Hall's brigade of my division for the trial. The instant Colonel Hall in the presence of his men asked who would go ahead in the precarious enterprise, Lieutenant Colonel Baxter and his entire regiment, the Seventh Michigan, volunteered to fill the pontoons. Woodbury undertook to get the boats in readiness, but the poor workmen, unused to soldiering, made only abortive attempts. Two or three would get hold of a big boat and begin to move it, but as soon as a bullet struck it in any part they would run back. Finally, Baxter said that his men would put the boats into the water. His soldiers did that at command, filled them with men and shoved off so quickly that the enemy's fire became fitful and uncertain. In going across the river one man was killed and several wounded, including Baxter himself. For his bravery Baxter was made a brigadier general.

As the boats struck the opposite shore the men disembarked [324] without confusion and made a successful rush for the deep pits, trenches, and cellars. One company alone secured thirty-two prisoners.

The Seventh Michigan had hardly landed and seized the obstructions when the Nineteenth Massachusetts, by the same conveyance, followed in supportnext, the Fifteenth Massachusetts and the Fifty-ninth New York in succession.

In this way brave soldiers made a bridgehead, and the engineer workmen, less nervous under such a screen from danger, soon finished their bridge across the Rappahannock.

My corps commander (Couch) next ordered me to take my entire division over and clear that part of the town near our advance of all Confederates, and so secure a safe transit for the remainder of our corps. Two regiments of Hall's and all of Owen's brigade crossed the bridge. With a small staff I went over with Owen. The hostile guns had found the range, so that shells burst uncomfortably near the moving column, but none on the bridge were hurt. A regimental band, to cheer us on, stood some fifty yards up river on the Falmouth side, and were just commencing to play when an explosive missile lodged in their midst. The bandsmen threw themselves upon their faces to avoid the immediate peril, and then ran to shelter. After that, our music was confined to cannon, musketry, and the shouts of the soldiers.

Hall pushed straight on; Owen rushed his men into the outskirts of the town to the left of Hall, while Sully reserved his brigade for the bridgehead nearer the river.

First, Hall's guide was killed; at the second street he met formidable resistance; he found persistency [325] and exposure of his men necessary to root out his worrisome opponents; now darkness was approaching and he feared too much massing and begged me to stop the crossing on the bridge. This I declined to do, and so we kept in motion till my division was over. With shots to meet from roofs, corners, alleyways, and from every conceivable cover, and heavy losses, our division succeeded at last in gaining the third street parallel with the river, and in securing some prisoners. Here I halted for the night and had the pickets carefully established.

Fredericksburg had been much damaged by Sumner's bombardment, yet many people remained in the city. Men, women, and children who had spent the day in cellars now ran to us for protection. There was some rioting; some soldiers for sport dressed themselves fantastically in all sorts of apparel, and some gave themselves to plunder; but no instance of personal abuse or violence to noncombatants came to my ears. Several mothers and their children were sent to Falmouth for safety. A few men, as usual, found the wine cellars and became intoxicated.

As I was making a night inspection I came upon a very hilarious group. Some were playing upon musical instruments, while others embellished the music with singing and dancing. I remarked to one of the group that this was an unusual preparation for battle --the battle that all were expecting on the morrow. “Ah, general, let us sing and dance to-night; we will fight the better for it to-morrow!”

The city bridge below ours had an experience like our own. The Eighty-ninth New York of Hawkins's brigade bravely crossed in bateaux, surprised and captured the Confederate pickets. Hawkins followed [326] up the Eighty-ninth with the rest of his regiments and cleared the lower part of the town.

Hall and I had our headquarters together in an old house which had been considerably knocked to pieces in the shelling. The situation was so peculiar that I did not sleep much. At three in the morning I went along the picket line. I found that the enemy had withdrawn from our immediate neighborhood. At dawn I had Owen and Sully enlarge our space. They opened like a fan till they had possession of the whole city and had their skirmishers beyond on the first ridge near the suburbs.

Thus far well. Sumner praised our action, giving us a handsome compliment for judicious dispositions, advancing steadily, sharp fighting, and success in driving back the Confederates so as to occupy and hold at daylight the entire town of Fredericksburg.

The remainder of Sumner's grand division (the Second and Ninth Corps) during December 12th crossed the river; the Second Corps held all the right half of the city, the Ninth the left, and connected with Franklin's grand division down river. Hooker's grand division kept that day to the Falmouth side for support and reinforcement.

During December 12th there was no actual battle; but there was considerable artillery practice and some brisk skirmishing.

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