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BATTLE OF FREDERICKSBURG.

493

brigade led, and the whole force, as it moved swiftly to the assault from the town, suffered greatly from the converging fire of the artillery on the heights, which swept the plain below. Those batteries could be but little affected by the National guns on the distant Stafford Hills.

On Marye's Hill, and behind a stone wall, on the road at its foot, near the town, already mentioned, Longstreet was posted, with heavy reserves behind him. Upon this formidable host, under the storm of iron from the heights which made great lanes through his ranks, French threw his columns, and was met by murderous volleys at short range from Barksdale's riflemen, who had been summoned to position behind the wall. The struggle was brief, and French was driven back shattered and broken by the loss of nearly half his command, while the victors shouted and yelled in wildest exultation Hancock, who was close behind, now closed up, and with such portions of French's command as were still organized, advanced in the face of a like terrible tempest of bullet, ball, and shell. His brigades fought most gallantly, especially that of Meagher, composed of regiments of Irishmen,' which dashed itself time after time against the force at the stone wall, but without success,

until the ground was strewn with two-thirds of its number. After a struggle of only about fifteen minutes, Hancock was driven back with great

THOMAS FRANCIS MEAGHER. slaughter. Of five thousand six hundred veterans, led by able and tried commanders, whom he took into action, two thousand and thirteen had fallen! Yet the struggle was maintained. Howard's division came to the aid of French and Hancock, and those of Sturgis and Getty, of the Ninth corps, made several attacks in support of the struggling Second, but still no advance could be made. Finally Burnside ordered Hooker across, with such of his force as he had in hand, saying, as he looked from the north bank of the river upon the smoking heights for which his troops had been unsuccessfully struggling for hours, “ That crest must be carried to-night. "3

Hooker crossed with three divisions, but on surveying the ground and learning the situation of affairs, was so well satisfied of the hopelessness of the enterprise, that he hastened to Burnside and begged him to desist from further attacks. Burnside would not yield, so IIumphrey's division, four thousand strong, was sent out from the city by Hooker with empty muskets, to use the bayonet only. They followed the track of French, Hancock, and Howard. When almost up to the fatal stone wall, which they intended

1 The Sixty-third, Sixty-ninth, and Eighty-eighth New York, the Twenty-eighth Massachusetts, and One Hundred and Sixteenth Pennsylvania. 2 In his official report General Meagher satel: “Of the 1200 I led into action, only 250

on parade the next morning!"

3 Swinton's Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac, page 251.

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494

WITHDRAWAL OF THE NATIONAL TROOPS.

1802

6 Dec. 14-15.

to storm, these troops were hurled back by terrible volleys of rifle-balls, leaving seventeen hundred of their number prostrate on the field. Night

soon closed the awful conflict," when the Army of the Potomac • Dec 18, had nearly fifteen thousand less effective men than when it began

the battle on the previous day.' It was evident to the commanders engaged in the conflict that it would be useless to make any

further attempt to carry the position by storm; but General Burnside, cager to achieve victory, prepared to hurl his old corps (the Ninth) on the following morning against the fatal barrier which had withstood French, Hancock, Howard, and IIumphrey. He was dissuaded by the brave Sumner, who was supported in his opposition to the proposed movement by nearly every general officer; and it was finally determined to withdraw the troops to the

north bank of the Rappahannock. For two days they remained

on the Fredericksburg side, while Lee, evidently ignorant of the real weakness and peril of his foc, fortunately maintained a defensive position, and was engaged during that time in strengthening his works in anticipation of another attack. On the morning of the 16th he was astonished by the apparition of a great army on the Stafford Hills, and seeing none in front of his line. During the night of the 15th Burnside had quietly withdrawn his entire force and all his guns, taken up his pontoon bridges, and offered Lee full permission to occupy Fredericksburg. The latter accepted the boon, and boasted of a great victory, in terms wholly irreconcilable with truth and candor.?

The disaster at Fredericksburg touched Burnside's reputation as a judicious leader very severely, and for a while he was under a cloud. Prompted by that noble generosity of his nature which made him always ready to award full honor to all in the hour of victory, he now assumed the entire responsibility of the measures which had caused a slaughter so terrible with a result so disastrous. That generosity blunted the weapons of vituperation which the friends of the late commander of the Army of the Potomac and the enemies of the Government were too ready to use.:

Although it was plain that his officers and men distrusted his ability, yet Burnside did not stop to offer excuses,' but, eager to do what he might to

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1 Hooker reported the loss in his Grand Division at 3,513; Franklin in his at 4,679, and Sumner in his at 5,494, making a total, with a loss of 50 of the engineers, of 13,771. or this number 1,152 had been killed, 9,101 woundel, and 3,234 missing. Many of the latter soon rejoined the army, while seventy per cent of the wounded ranked as “slightly," and soon recovereil.

Lee at first reported his loss at “about 1.80), killel, wounded, and missing," but the detailed reports of Longstreet and Jackson made the number 5,309, including some prisoners. The Confederate loss was probably about one-half that of the reported loss of the Nationals.

? In a General Oriler on the 21st, congratulating his troops on their e11ccess in repelling the National arnis, he said the latter had giren battle "in its own time, and on ground of its own selection !" Also, that less than 20,000 Confederates had been engaged in the battle, and that those who had advanced in full confidence of victory," made “ their escape from entire destrnction” their boast. His own report, given in March the following year, and those of his subordinates, refute these statements. Lee, as we shall observe from tino to time, was adroit in the use of “pious franels” of this kind, by which his own lack of that military genius which wins solid victories was artfully concealed from all but his more able subordinates.

* In his report to General IIalleck on the 19th, be declared that he owed "every thing to the brave officers and soldiers who accomplished the seat of recrossing the river in the face of the enemy. For the failure in the attack,” he continued, “I am responsible.” Alluding to the fact that the plan of moving to Fredericksburg from Warrenton, instead of pursuing Lee toward the Rapid Anna, was not favorably considered by the authorities at Washington, and that the whole movement was left in his own hands, he said that fact made him “more responsible."

* Burnside and his subordinates concurred in the opinion, that had the rontoons arrived earlier, so that the army miųht have been transferred to the south side of the Rappahannock before Lee could concentrate his forces

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crush out the rebellion, and knowing well the value of time at that critical moment, he planned and proposed to execute measures for an immediate advance on Richmond. His plan was to make a feint above Fredericksburg, but to cross about six miles below, at the Seddon Farm, with his main body, to turn the position of the Confederates. At the same time twenty-five thousand cavalry, with four guns, were to cross at Kelley's Ford, and sweep through the country in the rear of Lee’s army, to cut its communications with Richmond, raiding along the line of the Virginia Central and Orange and Alexan

ISFIELD dria railways to Lynchburg, destroying tracks and bridges, and the locks of the James River Canal, as circumstances might allow, and then, turning eastward, strike the Richmond and Dan ville road, cross the Nottaway River, and after destroying important portions of the road between Weldon and Petersburg, join General Peck, then in command at Suffolk. At the same time other bodies of mounted men were to sweep over the country, to distract the Confederates and conceal the real object of the general movement.

These movements had just commenced when Burnside received a dispatch from the President," directing him not to enter upon active operations without his knowledge. Ile was surprised, for the Generalin-Chief had instructed him not to send any thing over the wires concerning his plans, but to act according to his own judgment. He had mentioned his plans to no one. His generals only knew that the passage of the river on the flank of the foe was to be attempted. The order was inexplicable. But Burnside instantly obeyed. He recalled the cavalry expedi

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there, the success of Burnside's plans wonld doubtless have been secured. The delay in getting the pontoons earlier, or rather in the starting from Washington, appears to have been occasioned by a misunderstanding as tn who should attend to the forwarding of them.

496

PATRIOTISM ON TRIAL.

tion and hastened to Washington, to ask a reason for the interference. The President informed him that general officers of his army had declared that such was the feeling in that army against its commander, that its safety would be imperiled by a movement under his direction. Of these clandestine complaints to the President the General-in-Chief and the Secretary of War were ignorant, and they had nothing to say.

Never was the spirit of a man more sorely tried than was that of Burnside at this time. The country looked to him for acts that should retrieve the misfortunes at Fredericksburg, yet the General-in-Chief would not sanction any forward movement, and it was evident that there was a secret conspiracy among some of his general officers to effect his removal. His patriotism soared high above self, and he returned to the army with a determination to take the responsibility of doing something more for the salvation of his country. He ascertained that some of the details of his cavalry expedition had been communicated by traitors in his army to secessionists in Washington, and by them to Lee, and he abandoned that movement and proposed to cross the Rappahannock at Banks's and United States fords, above Fredericksburg, and endeavor to flank his foe and give him battle. For that purpose his army was speedily put in motion. The Grand Divisions of Franklin and Hooker ascended the river by parallel roads, while Couch's made a feint below the city. The reserve corps, now under Sigel, was ordered to guard the line of the river and the communications with the army.

Every thing was in readiness to cross the river stealthily on the night of the 20th, when a terrible storm of wind, snow, sleet, and rain came on, such as had seldom been known in that region, and for hours the troops who had approached the fords were hopelessly mired and almost immovable. They were discovered by the foe at dawn, and Lee was soon fully prepared to meet them. Even under these circumstances Burnside would have attempted to cross and give battle at an early hour, could he have gotten his bridges in position. This was impossible, and there that army remained until its three days' cooked provisions in haversacks were nearly exhausted, and the supply-trains could not come up. It was led back to its old camps

as quickly as possible, and huts were at once built for the comfort of the troops. This was known in the army as the “Mud March.”

Burnside now proceeded to Washington, bearing a general order for instant dismissal from the service of the officers who, as he had ascertained, had

made clandestine communications to the President concerning the defection of the troops toward their leader, and for other purposes. These he charged with “fomenting

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APPEARANOR OF ARMY HUTS.

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