previous next

Chapter 24:

  • The battle panorama at Fredericksburg
  • -- the Louisiana artillery at Marye's Hill -- fright -- Ful slaughter of the enemy -- battle of Chancellorsville -- Louisianians fight again at Marye's Hill -- Nicholls' brigade with Jack -- son.

Lee at Sharpsburg, September 18th, stood prepared to renew the conflict on the ground of the 17th; but McClellan was not so ready. He was satisfied to see from a signal station perched on the top of a high mountain what was passing within our lines. At dark on the 18th the Confederate retreat began. Gen. A. P. Hill, cool and resolute, commanded the rear guard. With those who held that post of honor was D'Aquin's Louisiana Guard artillery, of Jackson's corps, ready for battle. The company occupied the heights at Shepherdstown, and, at a severe loss in killed and wounded, forbade the enemy's free passage of the ford. All through the night the crossing of the river was going on. Night movements mostly partake of the confusion of the darkness, consequently there was much disorder at the ford. With the disorder went its mate, slaughter. Frigid Maryland cost the army no morale. Once having got over the disturbing, because wholly novel effects of a retreat in force, the army's bugles rang as cheerily again in Virginia as on that day when they had summoned it to new and gayer fields across the ‘border.’

The Confederate army was safely gathered back into Virginia and marshalled to fight the great battle which followed Sharpsburg. No battle in our civil war was more clearly a defeat of the Federals than the battle at [245] Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862. McClellan had begun a new forward movement, promising activity, but did not long continue it. Shortly after his return into Virginia he was relieved and Burnside appointed to the command.

The field of Fredericksburg was singularly open as a fighting ground. As noted by skilled observers, its peculiar situation, with hills in the rear and the river in the foreground, made it a panorama of a battlefield rarely equaled for clearness of observation. In its absence of woods it appeared more like a battleground in war-scarred Belgium. Along the Rappahannock was the gray town (young when the revolution was growing) crowded with troops in glittering line of battle. To the right, at Sligo; to the left, at Amarett farm, were still other masses. Up to 10 a. m. the view of the field had been impaired by a thick fog, which disappearing, the army lines became visible in the plain between us and the Rappahannock, extending far to the left toward Fredericksburg. Two miles or less back from the river were our lines, defending earthworks. Burnside had at first sat down at Falmouth on the north side of the Rappahannock. This was an unwise move, since he should have anticipated Lee by taking possession of the heights back of that town. General Lee answered his blunder by making triple defenses. At Marye's hill the Washington artillery had its guns behind earthworks en barbette.

Starke's brigade, under Colonel Pendleton, the First regiment being commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Nolan, the Fifteenth by Lieut.Col. McG. Goodwyn, the Second by Maj. M. A. Grogan and the Fourteenth by Capt. H. M. Verlander, supported Thomas' brigade early on the 13th, and on the 14th relieved General Pender on the front line. His skirmishers were engaged sharply through the day, and his brigade was three times under a considerable fire. Two men were killed and 34 wounded. Hays' brigade reached the field about 10 a. m. [246] of the 13th and marched to the brow of the hill in front, losing 9 killed and 44 wounded, though the brigade was not actively in the fight. On the 14th the Seventh regiment was sent to fill a gap in the line along the railroad.

Had there been any question of the result of the battle, any doubt of the final outcome at any hour of the day before the sun went down, the Louisiana infantry would have been called on to lend their aid to make the issue glorious.

The Louisiana batteries rendered effective service during the 13th and 14th. The Guard artillery took position with the gallant Pelham on the extreme right. This was the post of responsibility, for wherever Pelham's guns were heard there honor abode. Their enfilading fire mowed down the enemy, actively threatening on the plain. Here Capt. Edgar D'Aquin fell gloriously.

The Washington artillery, with its four batteries, gallantly and, it need not be added, successfully defended Marye's hill against heavy and repeated assaults during the day. Five successive charges were repulsed by their skilled gunners. Among the generals who bravely led the assaulting lines was Hancock, known far and wide in the army of the Potomac as ‘Hancock the Superb.’ Among the devoted soldiers who fell in the ‘slaughter-pen’ before their invincible fire came the Zouaves and Meagher's Irish brigade. These brave men, bearing the green flag with Ireland's golden harp, did not stop their impetuous rush until within five and twenty paces of Cobb's infantry line. There they were met with such a tempest of shell, shot, canister and musketry, that two-thirds of them were left on the field in front of the stone wall.

After four hours and a half of this dreadful work, calling for the concert of every faculty of mind, heart and body, Colonel Walton relinquished the defense to Moody's Madison ‘Tips.’ The ‘Tips,’ true to their [247] Irish blood, did not fall back before the enemy's masses, but forced them back, broken and dismayed, before their victorious pieces. Maurin was also in action during the two days with two sections of the Cannoneers; the first commanded by Lieut. Prosper Landry, the other by Lieut. Camille Mollere. For a time, on the first day, Maurin ‘had a gun which was ordered by Major Latrobe, of Longstreet's staff, to be placed outside the works,’ where it could not bear upon the enemy assaulting Marye's. Where they were, the gun's defenders, commanded by Landry, were in far greater peril than the foe. Most effectively did Landry perform this service; but in doing so lost several of his men and had his feet disabled. His conduct was admirable, for during the time he was exposed to a direct fire of six and an enfilading fire of four guns. (Owen's In Camp and Battle.) In a minute every man was killed or wounded at the guns. (Report of General Ransom.) On the second day, Moody's two 25-pounder howitzers assumed the place of Maurin's battery in the rifle-pits. From that post a few well-directed shots broke up the enemy's reserves, lying flat on their faces in the valley. This General Burnside called, by a bold but misleading figure of speech, ‘holding the first ridge.’ A few shots by Captain Moody turned this into the wildest of routs: a vanishing of charging lines-an army's broken remnant huddling into the town's streets for safety.

During the night of the 15th Fredericksburg was evacuated by the Federals. Burnside had abandoned his advance movement, presented with such a pomp of battle-array, glitter of steel and wealth of equipment, and with such a glow of color in its flags and in its myriad guidons dancing in icy sunshine of that December day. On the north bank of the Rappahannock the defeated but gallant army of the Potomac—having in vain tempted death —was, in its heroic disappointment, calling that through which it had just passed the ‘Horror of Fredericksburg.’ [248] Horror, most truly! Heros Van Borcke, J. E. B. Stuart's distinguished and devoted chief of staff, in his ‘Memoirs of the Confederate War for Independence,’ says that ‘the dead bodies lay thicker on the field than I had ever seen before.’ Meagher's brave Irish brigade was nearly annihilated. In front of the stone wall which skirted the sunken road at the foot of Marye's hill the brigade's dead lay in heaps.

For the North, Fredericksburg had chilled the gladness following Antietam; for the South, it had restored confidence. Reckless Burnside was replaced by ‘Fighting Joe Hooker.’ Hooker began well. While Lee was watching him from his old heights back of Fredericksburg Hooker had taken a march on him, massing 40,000 men on his left flank at Chancellorsville. Here ‘Fighting Joe,’ forgetting his nickname won by daring, rested, undecided, one full wasted day. When at last prepared to advance, Lee (without Longstreet, who was absent at Suffolk), hastening by forced marches from Fredericksburg, was ready to meet him. After barely feeling Lee, Hooker tempted him by retiring into the Wilderness, facing toward Fredericksburg. Here the Confederate advance under Jackson attacked him. The expected happened. In the dense thickets, turned everywhere into abatis and bristling at every avenue of approach with artillery, Hooker was practically impregnable. Lee soon drew back from the purposeless contest. The heavy guns on this day, both Federal and Confederate, thundered only the prelude of the mighty opening orchestra. Lee on the same evening (May 1st) called a council of his corps commanders. Jackson, who had led the assault of the day and had seen its futility, was ready with his plan for the next day's battle.

Here we see the one opportunity of Jackson's military life. He for the first and only time outlined a plan for the movements of the army of which he was only a lieutenant. It was as though Lannes had laid before Napoleon [249] the scheme of Austerlitz. Jackson had fully recognized the impossibility of a direct assault on the Federal front or left, by reason of the broken ground. He proposed to sweep with a rapid movement around Hooker's front, attack on his right flank, taking him in reverse, and cut him off from the United States ford. This plan was at once adopted by General Lee, and the details were left to Jackson. Early the next morning Stonewall opened the movement. He was eager to play once again his victorious flanking game. He knew that to pass Hooker's entire front was most hazardous. The broken country, however, greatly aided him. The route, skirting the edge of the front, sometimes going through it, sometimes hiding itself away in small by-roads, was an all-day's plodding. To make this flank attack a success it needed, above all, to be a complete surprise. Once, at Catherine furnace, Jackson found himself in plain view. An assault, hot while it lasted, was made upon his rear. As the widening road, however, bore strongly toward the south, he was supposed to be in full retreat to Richmond. But Jackson was in sinuous advance toward Hooker's right flank. By 5 o'clock in the evening, having reached the pike, he broke, utterly unlooked for, into Howard's Eleventh corps, crushing it like an egg-shell, and sent its pieces spinning helplessly into the heavy works around Chancellorsville. Early the same night, while preparing for a new and more resolute attack, Jackson received his death wound at the hands of his friends.

Chancellorsville was the fact—Marye's hill was an episode. On May 2d and 3d Hays' brigade was, and was not, at Chancellorsville. Early, in whose division he was, had, under orders from General Lee, left him behind at Fredericksburg to guard the valorous town. It was no inglorious task which had fallen to Hays. Attending to Marye's safety were other gallant commands: Barksdale's brigade, Griffin's Eighteenth Mississippi occupying the [250] foot of the hill, and Humphreys' Twenty-fifth Mississippi. The Washington artillery's First, Second and Fourth companies were also there to defend the hill.

About light on Sunday, May 3d, Barksdale reported that the enemy had thrown a bridge across the Rappahannock. Hays' brigade was immediately sent from the right to Barksdale's support. The enemy was seen crossing, and soon known to be Sedgwick's whole corps. Sedgwick's first assaults upon the right of our line were thwarted. One attack in force upon Marye's hill was repulsed by Hays. Then treachery did what numbers could not. A false flag of truce came to Griffin, colonel of the Eighteenth Mississippi. Unsuspicious of evil, Griffin, incautiously receiving the flag of truce, gave the bearer time to spy out the thin line of defenders. Going back to his lines—almost before he was out of sight—heavy columns were sweeping upon the position. It was, under the guise of peace, an absolute surprise of war. The Washington guns had been playing havoc with the columns of the enemy in front; but while the gunners were looking forward blue lines had climbed the hill in the rear, appearing like Asmodeus before their very faces.

Everywhere in force they swarmed upon the hill among the guns, capturing the gunners. A large part of the Eighteenth Mississippi was taken prisoner, and a company of the Washington artillery with its six guns was captured. The enemy did not stay long on the hill They seized the guns and hastily marched their prisoners (329) off. The Washington artillery, with their uncaptured guns, retired firing to the line of the Mine road. Corporal L. L. Lewis of the Fourth company was killed at this time. The sacrifice of the Washington guns—the result of basest treachery—had been redeemed by the courage with which they had been defended. Surrendered only when surrounded front and rear, no blame attached to the heroic battalion for the misfortune. [251]

At sunrise on May 4th Early, moving forward, reoccupied Marye's hill. A few of its defenders were found there, some dead, some wounded. That stone wall, which skirted the sunken road, had again grown fatalistic. This time, its fatalism had turned against its friends. On May 3, 1862, Sedgwick earned the empty honor of capturing Marye's hill and a few prisoners and guns. Upon some drunken rowdies of his corps fell the dishonor—fortunately rare in the annals of civilized warfare—of killing prisoners on the hill after they had surrendered.1 At this Fredericksburg battle the loss of Hays' brigade was 63 killed and 306 wounded.

On May 2d and 3d the Second Louisiana brigade, now led by Brig.-Gen. Francis T. Nicholls, was to be found on the Plank road, either resting on the highway or deployed along it toward the Chancellor house. Around Chancellorsville the battle swayed during the two days, at times fiercely, with a resolute purpose of the enemy's masses to envelope, anaconda-like, our slenderer lines; at other times, utilizing heavy guns to clear the Plank road of our men. The artillery was specially destructive on Saturday, the 2d. About 9:30 p. m. the head of Nicholls' brigade halted on the Plank road about half a mile from Chancellor's house, and the road was swept by a destructive artillery fire. It was here that the gallant Nicholls had the misfortune to be seriously wounded, a shell tearing his left leg, necessitating immediate amputation.2 Col. J. M. Williams, Second Louisiana, assumed [252] command. The brigade remained under arms on the extreme left of the battle-line until Sunday, May 3d, at sunrise, so incessant were the threats of attack. In a sharp engagement at a very early hour, with a very large force of the enemy pressing forward, the brigade hotly contested the ground until, by ill fortune, its ammunition gave out. Still later in the day the brigade was again engaged with the enemy's batteries, strongly massed and supported by other masses of infantry, in which it lost some 50 men. Colonel Williams had discharged the duties of brigadier-general with a zeal and gallantry worthy of remembrance. The loss of his command was 73 killed and 390 wounded.

In this valorous brigade the First Louisiana infantry was commanded by Capt. E. D. Willett; the Second, by Lieut.-Col. R. E. Burke; the Tenth, by Lieut.-Col. John M. Leggett; the Fourteenth, by Lieut.-Col. David Zable; and the Fifteenth, by Capt. W. C. Michie. It was while the Tenth Louisiana was exposed to a heavy storm of grape and shell that Lieut.-Col. John M. Leggett, an officer of signal merit, was instantly killed by a shell, after which Capt. A. Perrodin took command. The Second regiment, in very gallant style under a galling fire, drove the Federal General Tyler's brigade from its position, capturing a colonel and several officers of the command.

Capt. C. Thomas, of the Guard artillery, with a section of rifle guns, was placed near the Plank road, opposite to the enemy's works, under Major McIntosh. With an enfilading fire the Guard succeeded in dislodging the enemy from his works. After this the battery directed its fire upon a dense column in front of Chancellor's house, soon breaking and dispersing it. This column was said to be Meagher's brigade.

Chancellorsville, with all its glory, bore one broad stream of crape for the mighty soldier who had planned it. His plan, triumphing in the rout of the enemy's [253] right flank, opened the road to Hooker's final retreat to his old Falmouth camps. Throughout the critical third day the watchword was, ‘Remember Jackson.’ It broke into the multitudinous voices of battle with a note mightier than theirs. Heard the loudest with each victorious advance, it told once again how an army fights when grief inspires valor.

In the reorganization which followed the death of Jackson the Louisiana brigades remained in the old Second corps, under General Ewell. Early's division included, besides Hays' Louisiana brigade, Gen. William Smith's Virginia brigade, R. F. Hoke's Carolinians and John B. Gordons' Georgians. The old Stonewall division, including Nicholls' brigade, was under Maj.Gen. Edward Johnson. Hays' regiments were commanded: the Fifth by Maj. Alexander Hart, Sixth by Lieut.-Col. Joseph Hanlon, Seventh by Col. D. B. Penn, Eighth by Col. T. D. Lewis, Ninth by Col. L. A. Stafford. Nicholls' brigade was led by Col. J. M. Williams, and the regiments were commanded: First by Lieut.-Col. M. Nolan, Second by Lieut.-Col. R. E. Burke, Tenth by Maj. T. N. Powell, Fourteenth by Lieut.-Col. David Zable, Fifteenth by Maj. Andrew Brady.

Col. J. M. Walton, still in command of Longstreet's artillery, had in his reserve the battalion of E. P. Alexander and the Washington artillery battalion under Maj. B. F. Eshleman, whose Fourth company was now under Capt. Joe Norcum, the other captains being unchanged. In Alexander's battalion was the Madison artillery, Capt. George V. Moody. The Louisiana Guard artillery, Capt. C. A. Green, was attached to Early's division, and the Donaldsonville artillery, Capt. V. Maurin, to Heth's division, A. P. Hill's corps. [254]

1 Adjt. Oscar E. Stuart of the Eighteenth Mississippi was deliberately shot after he had surrendered. By his brutal murder a life, full of promise as of honor, was cut short.

2 Men of the brigade, hearing of their leader's wounds, mentioned the loss of his arm on Winchester heights less than a year before: and anxiously recalled the army talk—heroic gossip!—that it was hard to say whether General Nichols was as brave as he seemed or not—he was always fated to be wounded so soon as a battle opened. They spoke also, with soldierly regret, of his mutilated frame. In its honorable mutilation it may still be seen when the chief justice of the Supreme court of Louisiana passes on the street, or when, with his associate justices around him, he sits on the bench.

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.
May 3rd (4)
May 2nd (2)
December 13th, 1862 AD (1)
May 3rd, 1862 AD (1)
December (1)
September 18th (1)
May 4th (1)
May 1st (1)
14th (1)
13th (1)
2nd (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: