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General Burnside would move; that I could not tell him, as the general did not know himself. While I was at Warrenton he proposed this movement, and he was directed to make all preparations for it, but not to begin it until the President was consulted. I returned on the afternoon of the 13th, and, I think, on the morning of the 14th, I had an interview with the President, in which he consented to General Burnside's plans, and I immediately telegraphed to him to go ahead as he had proposed. I understood that there was considerable delay in getting the boats from Aquia down to the Rappahannock river, on account of the bad roads, difficulty of transportation, &c.; but no other delay than that which would naturally occur over a rough country like that; and accidental delay in laying the bridges was reported to me, from the inexperience of the pontoniers who laid the upper bridges; there was considerable delay in that. We could not commence the repair of the railroad until General Burnside took possession of it, as it was all in the possession of the enemy. That was understood between him and General Haupt, in my presence. General Haupt went out with me to make the arrangement for repairing the roads as early as possible. I remember the conversation; he could not land anything, but would have everything down ready as soon as he could, and when he found General Burnside was in possession he would commence."
General Burnside testifies in relation to the forwarding of the pontoons:
"I understood that General Halleck was to give the necessary orders, and then the officers who should receive those orders were the ones responsible for the pontoons coming here, (Falmouth.) I could have carried out that part of the plan through officers of my own. But having just taken the command of an army with which I was but little acquainted, it was evident that it was as much as I could attend to, with the assistance of all my officers, to change its position from Warrenton to Fredericksburg. And I felt, indeed I expected, that all the parts of the plan which were to be executed in Washington would be attended to by the officers at that place, under the direction of the different departments to which those parts of the plan appertained.
"Question. Did you or not understand that you yourself were to be responsible for seeing that those orders were carried out?
"Answer. I did not. I never imagined for a moment that I had to carry out anything that required to be done in Washington."
On the 16th of November General Burnside started the columns of his army from Warrenton to Fredericksburg, not having heard anything of the delay of the pontoons from Washington. The telegram announcing the delay did not reach General Burnside until the 19th of November. The corps of General Sumner was in the advance, and it was the intention that he should cross over to Fredericksburg and take possession of the place. But the non-arrival of the pontoons in time prevented the movement which had been contemplated, and necessitated the adoption of other measures.
THE BATTLE OF FREDERICKSBurg.
General Burnside then began to make preparations for another movement, bringing up the pontoons as rapidly as possible, to enable his forces to cross the river.
The plan determined upon was to cross the river at two points; the right wing to cross opposite Fredericksburg, and the left wing to cross from three to four miles below the city. The left wing was composed of the left grand division, with a corps from the centre grand division, making a force of from 50,000 to 60,000 men, the whole being under command of Major General Franklin. The crossing was made successfully at both points, but with much opposition from sharpshooters on the right.
General Burnside states the following in regard to his plan of attack:
"The enemy had cut a road along in the rear of the line of heights where we made our attack, by means of which they connected the two wings of their army, and avoided a long detour around through a bad country. I obtained from a colored man, from the other side of the town, information in regard to this new road, which proved to be correct. I wanted to obtain possession of that new road, and that was my reason for making an attack on the extreme left. I did not intend to make the attack on the right until that position had been taken, which I supposed would stagger the enemy, cutting their line in two; and then I proposed to make a direct attack on their front and drive them out of their works."
The following is the order to General Franklin, who commanded the left:
"HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
General Hardie will carry this despatch to you and remain with you during the day. The general commanding directs that you keep your whole command in position for a rapid movement down the old Richmond road, and you will send out at once a division, at least, to pass below Smithfield, to seize, if possible, the heights near Captain Hamilton's, on this side of the Massaponax, taking care to keep it well supported and its line of retreat open. He has ordered another column, of a division or more, to be moved from General Sumner's command up the plank road to its intersection of the telegraph road, where they will divide, with a view to seizing the heights on both of those roads. Holding these heights, with the heights near Captain Hamilton's, will, I hope, compel the enemy to evacuate the whole ridge between these points. He makes these moves by columns, distant from each other, with a view of avoiding the possibility of a collision of our own forces, which might occur in a general movement during the fog. Two of General Hooker's divisions are in your rear at the bridges, and will remain there as supports. Copies of instructions to Generals Sumner and Hooker will be forwarded to you by an orderly very soon. You will keep your whole command in readiness to move at once as soon as the fog lifts. The watchword which, if possible, should be given to every company, will be "Scott." "I have the honor to be, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant, "JOHN G. PARKE, "Chief of Staff.
"Major General FRANKLIN,
"Commanding Department, Grand Division Army of Potomac." General Franklin states, when last examined, that he received the above order at about 7.30 a. m., and that he at once took measures to carry out what he considered to be the meaning of the order, that is, "an armed observation to ascertain where the enemy was." In his testimony, given when your committee were at Falmouth, he says: "I put in all the troops that I thought it proper and prudent to put in. I fought the whole strength of my command, as far as I could, and at the same time keep my connection with the river open."
From the testimony it would appear that the attack was in reality made by one of the smallest divisions in General Franklin's command-the division of General Meade, numbering about 4,500 men. This division was supported on its right by General Gibbon's division of about 5,000 men. On the left was General Doubleday's division, forming the extreme left of our line, nearly at right angles with General Meade's division, and extending to the river. Just as General Meade's division advanced to the attack, General Birney's division, of General Stoneman's corps, numbering about 7,000, came up and took position immediately in rear of General Meade.
The division of General Meade succeeded in piercing the first line of the enemy, and gaining the crest of the hill. General Gibbon, seeing General
Meade advancing to the attack, ordered his division forward. After his last brigade had advanced, driving the enemy with the bayonet, and he was preparing his batteries to open upon a rebel regiment that made their appearance on his left, General Gibbon was wounded and taken from the field. General Meade's division having reached the crest of the hill, found themselves in the presence of the reserves of the enemy, who opened fire upon them in front, and they also received a fire upon their flank. The superiority of the enemy was so overwhelming that Meade's division was forced back, as was also Gibbon's division. The enemy pursued until checked by Birney's division. Our forces continued to hold their position, without renewing the attack, until they were ordered to withdraw across the river.
The losses sustained in the attack, in killed, wounded, and missing, were as follows: Meade's division, 1,760; Gibbon's division, 1,249; Birney's division,
General Burnside, upon hearing of the small force ordered to attack the enemy, sent an order to General Franklin to make a vigorous attack with his whole force. Several of the witnesses testify that had the attack been renewed with all the available force under General Franklin's command it would have been successful. General Franklin testifies that it was not an order, but a request, and that, when he received it, it was too late to renew the attack, and therefore he did not do it.
General Franklin testifies as follows:
"The order under which I was acting directed that the line of retreat should be kept open. It also directed that I should hold my troops in position for a rapid march down the Richmond road. I never dreamed that this was considered as a strong attack at all, until since the battle took place. At that time I had no idea that it was the main attack, but supposed it was an armed observation to ascertain where the enemy was. * * I was strengthened
in this opinion by the staff officer who brought it, (the order.)
"Question. Did you not understand, from this order, that you were to use all the troops necessary to seize and hold the heights near Captain Hamilton's, and that the general commanding considered that that was necessary to be done in order to secure success?
"Answer. No; I did not. I should suppose that the order would not have limited me to "at least a division," as the wording of it shows, had such been his intention; and, besides, he directs me to keep my whole command in position to move along the old Richmond road. If he had intended me to use my whole force, if necessary, to hold that hill, he hardly would have coupled it with the condition to keep my command in readiness for this other movement. "Question. Was the other movement feasible until after the possession of those heights by our troops?
"Answer. I think that the other movement, if it had been ordered with my whole force, would have necessarily involved the possession of those heights. Had I been ordered to move my whole force along the Richmond road, I should have been compelled to take all that would be found in the road, and those heights would have been in the road.
"Question. As it was indispensable that we should have possession of those heights in order to move down the old Richmond road, and as you were ordered to send out at least one division to pass below Smithfield and seize, if possible, those heights, did you not deem that that order required of you that you should, when repulsed in the first attempt, renew the attack?
"Answer. I think it did; but by the time the rebels were driven back into the woods, by Birney's division and Sickels's division, it was past three o'clock. It was dark, at that time, by five o'clock, and it was too late then to make such an attempt with the slightest hope of success."
The testimony of all the witnesses before your committee proves most conclusively that, had the attack been made upon the left with all the force which General Franklin could have used for that purpose, the plan of General Burnside would have been completely successful, and our army would have achieved a most brilliant victory.
After the attack on Saturday our army remained in position until Monday night, when it was withdrawn across the river without loss.
Your committee have not considered it essential to report upon the operations of the right wing of our army in this battle, for the reason that the success of the movement evidently depended to a very great extent upon the successful operation of the left. Although our troops on the right fought most gallantly, making repeated attacks, the strength of the enemy's position was such that our forces were compelled to retire.
INTERFERENCE WITH PLANS OF GENERAL BURNSIDE.
On the 26th day of January, 1863, the following resolution was adopted by the Senate, and referred to your committee:
"Resolved, That the committee on the conduct of the war be instructed to inquire whether Major General A. E. Burnside has, since the battle of Fredericksburg, formed any plans for the movement of the army of the Potomac, or any portion of the same; and if so, whether any subordinate generals of said army have written to or visited Washington, to oppose or interfere with the execution of such movements, and whether such proposed movements have been arrested or interfered with, and if so, by what authority."
Under that resolution, your committee proceeded to take the testimony of Major Generals A. E. Burnside, Wm. B. Franklin and John G. Parke, and Brigadier Generals John Newton, John Cochrane, and William W. Averill. That testimony brings to light the following facts:
Shortly after the battle of Fredericksburg, General Burnside devised a plan for attacking the enemy in his front. The main army was to cross at a place some six or seven miles below Fredericksburg. The positions for the artillery to protect the crossing were all selected; the roads were all surveyed, and the corduroy was cut for preparing the roads. At the same time a feint of crossing was to be made some distance above Falmouth, which feint could be turned into a positive attack should the enemy discover the movement below; otherwise the main attack was to be made below.
In connexion with this movement of the main army, a cavalry expedition was organized, consisting of 2,500 of the best cavalry in the army of the Potomac, 1,000 of whom were picked men. The plan of that expedition was as follows: Accompanied by a brigade of infantry detailed to protect the crossing of the Rappahannock, it was to proceed up to Kelly's Ford; there the thousand picked men were to cross, and to proceed to the Rapidan and cross that river at Raccoon Ford; then to go onward and cross the Virginia Central railroad at Louisa Court-House; the James river at Goochland or Carter's, blowing up the locks of the James River canal at the place of crossing; cross the Richmond and Lynchburg railroad at a point south of there, blowing up the iron bridge at the place of crossing; cross the Richmond, Petersburg, and Weldon railroad where it crossed the Nottoway river, destroying the railroad bridge there; and then proceed on by General Pryor's command, and effect a junction with General Peck at Suffolk, where steamers were to be in waiting to take them to Aquia creek.
To distract the attention of the enemy, and deceive them in regard to which body of cavalry was the attacking column, at the time the thousand picked men crossed the Rappahannock a portion of the remaining 1,500 was to proceed towards Warrenton; another portion towards Culpeper Court-House; and the
remainder were to accompany the thousand picked men as far as Raccoon Ford, and then return. While this cavalry expedition was in progress the general
movement was to be made across the river.
On the 26th of December an order was issued for the entire command to prepare three days' cooked rations; to have their wagons filled with ten days small rations, if possible; to have from ten to twelve days' supply of beef cattle with them; to take forage for their teams and their artillery and cavalry horses, and the requisite amount of ammunition-in fact, to be in a condition to move at twelve hours' notice.
Shortly after that order was issued General John Newton and General John Cochrane the one commanding a division and the other a brigade in the left grand division, under General William B. Franklin-came up to Washington on leave of absence. Previous to obtaining leave of absence from General Franklin, they informed him and General William F. Smith that when they came to Washington they should take the opportunity to represent to some one in authority here the dispirited condition of the army, and the danger there was in attempting any movement against the enemy at that time.
When they reached Washington, General Cochrane, as he states, endeavored to find certain members of Congress, to whom to make the desired communication. Failing to find them, he determined to seek an interview with the President for the purpose of making the communication directly to him. On proceeding to the President's house, he there met Secretary Seward, to whom he explained the object of his being there and the general purport of his proposed communication to the President, and requested him to procure an interview for them, which Mr. Seward promised to do, and which he did do.
That day the interview took place, and General Newton opened the subject to the President. At first the President, as General Newton expresses it, "very naturally conceived that they had come there for the purpose of injuring General Burnside, and suggesting some other person to fill his place." General Newton states, that while he firmly believed that the principal cause of the dispirited condition of the army was the want of confidence in the military apacity of General Burnside, he deemed it improper to say so to the President "right square out," and therefore endeavored to convey the same idea indirectly. When asked if he considered it any less improper to do such a thing indirectly than it was to do it directly, he qualified his previous assertion by saying that his object was to inform the President of what he considered to be the condition of the army, in the hope that the President would make inquiry, and learn the true cause for himself. Upon perceiving this impression upon the mind of the President, Generals Newton and Cochrane state that they hastened to assure the President that he was entirely mistaken, and so far succeeded, that at the close of the interview the President said to them he was glad they had called upon him, and that he hoped that good would result from the interview.
To return to General Burnside. The cavalry expedition had started; the brigade of infantry detailed to accompany it had crosssed the Rappahannock at Richard's Ford, and returned by way of Ellis's Ford, leaving the way clear for the cavalry to cross at Kelly's Ford. The day they had arranged to make the crossing, General Burnside received from the President the following telegram: "I have good reason for saying that you must not make a general movement without letting me know of it."
General Burnside states that he could not imagine, at the time, what reason the President could have for sending him such a telegram. None of the officers of his command, except one or two of his staff who had remained in camp, had been told anything of his plan beyond the simple fact that a movement was to be made. He could only suppose that the despatch related in some way to important military movements in other parts of the country, in which it was necessary to have co-operation.