« PreviousContinue »
The Heroism of Virginia.-Her Battle-fields.-Burnside's Plan of Campaign.Calculations of his Movement upon Fredericksburg.-Failure to surprise Gen. Lee.THE BATTLE OF FREDERICKSBURG.-The Enemy crossing the River.-Their Bombardment of the Town.-Scenes of Distress.-The Battle on the Right Wing. The Story of Marye's Heights.-Repulse of the Enemy.-The old Lesson of barren Victory.Death of Gen. Cobb.-Death of Gen. Gregg.-Romance of the Story of Fredericksburg. Her noble Women.-Yankee Sacking of the Town.-A Specimen of Yankee Warfare in North Carolina.-Designs of the Enemy in this State.-The Engagements of Kinston.-Glance at other Theatres of the War.-Gen. Hindman's Victory at Prairie Grove.-Achievements of our Cavalry in the West.-The Affair of Hartsville.-Col. Clarkson's Expedition.-Condition of Events at the Close of the Year 1862.
VIRGINIA had borne the brunt of the war. Nearly twothirds of her territory had been overrun by the enemy, and her richest fields had been drenched with blood or marked by the scars of the invader. The patriotic spirit and the chivalrous endurance of this ancient and admirable commonwealth had not only supported these losses and afflictions without a murmur, but these experiences of the war were the sources or new inspiration, and the occasions of renewed resolution and the reinforcement of courage by the sentiment of devotion. When we add to the consideration of the grand spirit of this State the circumstances that the flower of the Confederate army was naturally collected on this the most critical theatre of the war, and that the operations in Virginia were assisted by the immediate presence of the government, we shall naturally look here for the most brilliant and decisive successes of the war.
When the Confederate army fell back into Virginia, after Its short but eventful campaign in Maryland, Gen. Lee, by the skilful disposition of his forces in front of Winchester, ren. dered it impracticable for McClellan to invade the Valley of the Shenandoah, and forced him to adopt the route on the east side of the Blue Ridge. The Federal commander accepted this alternative the more readily, since he hoped, by an ostentatious display of a part of his forces near Shepherdstown, to deceive Gen. Lee and gain his flank and rear at Warrenton
On his arrival at this latter place, however, much to his sur prise and dismay, he found the forces of Lee quietly awaiting him on the south bank of the Rappahannock.
McClellan having been superseded by Burnside, that officer undertook a plan of campaign entirely on his own responsibility, in opposition to the suggestions of Halleck and to what were known to be the predilections of the military authorities at Washington. The plan of Gen. Burnside was to concentrate the army in the neighborhood of Warrenton, to make a small movement across the Rappahannock as a feint, with a view to divert the attention of the Confederates and lead them to believe he was going to move in the direction of Gordonsville, and then to make a rapid movement of the whole army to Fredericksburg, on the north side of the Rappahannock.
In moving upon Fredericksburg, Gen. Burnside calculated that his army would all the time be as near Washington as would the Confederates, and that after arriving at Fredericksburg it would be at a point nearer to Richmond than it would be even if it should take Gordonsville.
This novel enterprise against the Confederate Capital was hailed by the Northern newspapers with renewed acclamations of "on to Richmond ;" and the brazen and familiar prophecy of the fall of the city "within ten days" was repeated with new emphasis and bravado. In the mean time the plans of Burnside, so far as they contemplated a surprise of the Confederates, had failed, and at Fredericksburg, as at Warrenton, his army found itself, by the active movements of Gen. Lee, confronted by a force sufficient to dispute its advance and to deliver battle on a scale commensurate with the stake.
THE BATTLE OF FREDERICKSBURG.
Gen. Burnside having concentrated his army at Fredericksburg, employed himself for several days in the latter part of November in bringing up from Aquia Creek all the pontoons he could for building the bridges which were necessary to throw his forces across the river. Several councils of war were called to decide about crossing the Rappahannock. It was finally determined to cross at Fredericksburg, under the impression that Gen. Lee had thrown a large portion of his force
down the river and elsewhere, thus weakening his defences in front.
On the night of the 10th of December the enemy commenced to throw three bridges over the Rappahannock-two at Fred ericksburg, and the third about a mile and a quarter below near the mouth of Deep Run. In the prosecution of this work, the enemy was defended by his artillery on the hills of Stafford, which completely commanded the plain on which Fredericksburg stands. The narrowness of the Rappahannock, its winding course, and deep bed, afforded opportunity for the construction of bridges at points beyond the reach of our artillery, and the banks had to be watched by skirmishers. The houses of Fredericksburg afforded a cover for the skirmishers at the bridges opposite the town, but at the lowest point of crossing no shelter could be had.
The 17th Mississippi regiment, Barksdale's brigade, being on picket within the town, were ordered to the bluff overlooking the site of the old railroad bridge. The moon was brilliant, and by its light our men could distinguish the enemy's forces working on a pontoon bridge stretching from the Stafford bank towards the foot of the bluff. In the course of an hour the bridge had been stretched within sixty yards of the southern shore. The work was going bravely on, when the two companies of the 17th, who were lying on the extreme verge of the bluff, were ordered to fire. The order was deliberately given and executed. At the crack of our rifles, the bride-builders scampered for the shore; but the next moment there was opened upon the bluff a terrific fire of shell, grape, and musketry, which was kept up until our troops retired. Twice again, at intervals of half an hour, the enemy renewed the attempt to complete the bridge, but was in each instance repulsed. After the third repulse of the enemy, the whole of Barksdale's brigade was ordered to the support of the 17th regiment, and were put into position, some in the rear of the bluff and others higher up and lower down the stream. At this juncture the enemy's fire from cannon and small-arms became so tremendous and overwhelming, that our troops were only preserved from destruction by lying flat on their faces. In every instance in which a man ventured to raise his head from the earth, he was instantly riddled by bullets or torn to pieces by grapeshot.
The emergency may be understood when it is borne in mind that the position occupied by our men was swept by the enemy' batteries and sharpshooters not two hundred yards distant on the opposite heights.
Towards five o'clock in the afternoon of the 11th of December, three rousing cheers from the river bank beneath the bluff announced that the enemy had completed the bridge, and that his troops had effected a landing on the southern bank. About this time the order for a retreat was received by our men. The regiments of the brigade fell back by different streets, firing as they retreated upon the enemy, who closely followed them. The brigade rendezvoused at the market-house and faced the enemy. A sharp skirmish ensued, but our troops. acting under orders, again fell back and left the town in pos session of the enemy.
It having become evident to Gen. Lee that no effectual op position could be offered to the construction of the bridges or passage of the river, it only remained that positions should be selected to oppose the enemy's advance after crossing. Under cover of the darkness of the night of the 12th and of a dense fog, a large force passed the river, and took position on the right bank, protected by their heavy guns on the left.
The effects of the enemy's bombardment upon the unfortunate town were deplorable. The majority of the population had long ago fled the city at the prospect of its destruction; and the touching spectacles of their misery and suffering were seen for miles around the city, where houseless women and children were camped out or roaming shelterless and hungry through the fields. A number of citizens who had returned to the town under the delusion that it would not be attacked, left it during the day the enemy crossed the river, single or in families, and sought for refuge and safety in the country. They were scattered about-some in cabins, some in the open air, and others wandering vacantly along the railroads. Little children with blue feet trod painfully the frozen ground, and those whom they followed knew as little as themselves where to seek food and shelter. Hundreds of ladies wandered home less over the frozen highway, with bare feet and thin clothing, knowing not where to find a place of refuge. Delicately nur tured girls, with slender forms, upon which nc rain had ever
beat, which no wind had ever visited too roughly, walked hurriedly, with unsteady feet, upon the road, seeking only some place where they could shelter themselves. Whole families sought sheds by the wayside, or made roofs of fence-rails and straw, knowing not whither to fly, or to what friend to have recourse. This was the result of the enemy's bombardment. Night had settled down, and though the roar of the batteries had hushed, the flames of burning houses still lit up the land
The sun of the 13th of December rose clear, but a dim fog shrouded the town of Fredericksburg and the circumjacent valleys, and delayed the opening of the antagonistic batteries. At two o'clock in the morning our troops were all under arms, and batteries in position to receive the expected attack of the
The Rappahannock, in its course from west to east, is skirted just at the point where Fredericksburg stands on its southern bank, by low crests of hills, which on the northern bank run parallel and close to the river, and on the southern bank trend backward from the stream, and leave a semicircular plain six miles in length and two or three in depth, inclosed within their circumference before they again approach the river in the neighborhood of Massaponax creek. Immediately above the towy, and on the left of the Confederate position, the bluffs are bold and bare of trees; but south of the railroad, beginning near the town and running to a point at Hamilton's crossing, and also parallel with the river, is a range of hills covered with dense oak forest, fringed on its northern border by pine thickets. Our forces occupied the whole length of this forest. Longstreet's corps occupied the highlands above, opposite and for a mile below the town. Jackson's corps rested on Longstreet's right, and extended away to the eastward, the extreme right, under A. P. Hill, crossing the railroad at Hamilton's crossing, and stretching into the valley towards the river. Our front was about six miles in length. Most of the batteries of both corps were posted in the skirts of the forest, along the line of the railroad, the seven batteries in Col. Lindsey Walker's regiment and Stuart's horse artillery being stationed in the valley, between the railroad at Hamilton's crossing and the river. The enemy's forces occupied the valley north of