Clement Anselm Evans.

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attack from McClellan and trust to Jackson to descend


the mountains in ample time to fall on the enemy's
flank and join in the fray, knowing also that the Federal
authorities would hesitate to push forward the armj' of
the Potomac and leave Jackson so near the gateway to
the Federal capital. Could Lee have followed his own
desires, he would have ordered Jackson to descend upon
McClellan's flank while he moved to attack his front
with Longstreet ; but reasons of state required him to
guard the approaches to the Confederate capital, and
compelled him to stand upon the defensive.

McClellan now occupied Pope's former position, behind
the Rappahannock, with fully 125,000 men ; 80,000 held the
defenses of Washington, and 22,000 watched the portals of
the Shenandoah valley in the vicinity of Harper's Ferry.
Lee had less than 72,000 in the two corps of the army of
Northern Virginia and in his cavalry corps, under Stuart,
to again meet this great army of the Potomac.

Not satisfied with the tardy movements of McClellan,
Lincoln supplanted him in command, at Warrenton, with
Burnside, who at once hastened to execute an "on to
Richmond, ' ' by way of Fredericksburg, thinking that by
taking advantage of a shorter line of movement he could
reach his objective without being intercepted by Lee;
but when, on the 15th, he pressed his advance toward
Fredericksburg, the alert Stuart promptly reported his
movement to Lee, and the latter, with equal promptness,
foresaw his plan of campaign and hurried Longstreet
forward from Culpeper and placed him at Fredericks-
burg, across Burnside 's track, in a strong position on the
south bank of the Rappahannock, before Burnside's pon-
toons arrived on the Stafford heights, on the northern
bank of that river, thus frustrating the Federal plan of

Jackson, who had been busy in the valley breaking up
the line of the Baltimore & Ohio railroad and keeping
the Federal authorities uneasy as to his whereabouts,
promptly obeyed Lee's order to follow after Longstreet,
but by ways farther to the westward. By making dem-
onstrations at Chester and Thornton gaps, of the Blue
ridge, he mystified those watching his movements by
marching up the valley to New Market, thence taking
the great highway leading across the Massanutton, the
south fork of the Shenandoah, the Blue ridge at Fisher's
gap and by Madison Court House, to the vicinity of


Orange Court House, and thence by the road to Fredericks-
burg ; taking but two days to reach Orange Court House.
He arrived in the vicinity of Fredericksburg near the
end of November, having successfully concealed his
march, and went into camp between Fredericksburg and
Guiney's station.

It is well known that both Lee and Jackson would have
greatly preferred to meet the new Federal commander
nearer to Richmond, probably on the south bank of the
North Anna, where the topographic conditions are more
favorable for a complete victory, and where he would be
farther from his base of supplies and be compelled to
detach large bodies of men to protect his lines of com-
munication. But the Confederate authorities were wedded
to a plan of defensive operations, and were unwilling to
permit the Federal army to approach so near to Rich-
mond and to overrun any more of Virginia's territory than
could be prevented; therefore Lee, always obedient to
superior authority, although exercised contrary to his
judgment, prepared to dispute the further progress of
the army of the Potomac, by selecting and hastily forti-
fying a strong line of defense along the wooded terraces
that overlook the broad bottoms of the Rappahannock
below Fredericksburg, and which, near that town, were
the seats of numerous old-time Virginia mansions, up to
where this Tidewater-bounding terrace is cut by the Rap-
pahannock, at its falls, near Falmouth. Thousands of
Lee's army were barefooted and destitute of clothing suit-
able for the rigors of the early winter, and many were even
without muskets ; and yet, Lee said, in a letter of that
time, of this army of 72,000 veterans, that it "was never
in better health or in better condition for battle than

Interrupted in carrying out his intentions, Burnside
took ample time to muster his 116,000 men and 350 pieces
of artillery, many of them guns of long range, upon the
commanding plateau north of the Rappahannock, known
as Stajfford heights, from which he looked down upon
the heroic town of Fredericksburg — trembling in expect-
ancy of destruction between the two great contending
armies on either side of it. These heights commanded,
by their elevation, not only the terraces behind Freder-
icksburg, but all the more-than-mile-wide bottom extend-
ing for several miles below that city.


While awaiting the development of Burnside's local
intentions and watching all the ways by which he might
move toward Richmond, Lee sent D. H. Hill's division,
of Jackson's corps, to watch the crossing of the Rappa-
hannock, at Port Royal, below Fredericksburg, by which
a highway led toward Richmond. Ewell's division, now
commanded by Early, was encamped next above t). H.
Hill, while the divisions of A. P. Hill and Taliaferro were
placed near the railroad leading to Richmond, where they
could readily move either to the aid of D. H. Hill or
to that of Longstreet, as the exigencies of the occasion
might demand. Jackson established himself in the vicin-
ity of Guiney's station,near the divisions of A. P. Hill and
Taliaferro, whence highways led to his divisions, those
of Early and D. H. Hill, down the river, and to General
Lee's headquarters, which were established on the old
Telegraph road back from Fredericksburg. The mild
weather that had prolonged the late autumn had given
place to light snows, and the cold blasts from the North
froze the ground and chilled Lee's veteran soldiery, who
hovered around camp-fires in the dense forests, most of
them without tents.

Bumside issued twelve-days' rations to his army, confi-
dently expecting to make the next issue at Richmond,
and on the morning of December nth, in a dense fog
that concealed his movements, his pontoon builders has-
tened to the bank of the Rappahannock, opposite Freder-
icksburg, to throw a bridge for the passage of Sumner's
corps, and another, a short distance below, for the crossing
of Franklin's corps, while 143 of his big guns, along a
line more than three miles in length, gave fearful warn-
ing against any opposing movement from the side of the
Confederates. Lee's two signal guns gave notice to his
army of this Federal advance, and the men were hurried
forward from their bivouacs to the rudely intrenched
positions that had been chosen for them. Jackson's men
were sent for, and A. P. Hill, and Taliaferro were put in
position, on Longstreet's right, on the morning of the
12th; but D. H. Hill and Early remained near Port
Royal until Bumside should more fully uncover his inten-

Barksdale's brigade of Mississippians had been charged
with the duty of defending the crossings of the Rappa-
hannock in front of Fredericksburg, where that river is


but a few hundred yards wide. These fearless fighters,
under the protection of the heavy walls of old colonial
warehouses, shops and dwellings of brick and stone that
fringed the south bank of the river, shot down repeated
advances of the Federal pontoon builders, and frustrated
nine successive attempts to lay the bridges, until the Fed-
eral commander, exasperated by the delay, turned loose
his batteries upon the devoted town, and, amid flame and
smoke and the fierce contention of sharpshooters, suc-
ceeded in crossing a body of infantry, which forced back
Barksdale's men from the river and enabled him to lay
his pontoons and commence the crossing of his army, but
not until darkness had come. Barksdale's brave rifle-
men, by their tenacious contention, had snatched a day
from the victory-anticipating Burnside.

Under cover of the darkness of the night of the nth
and of the dense winter fog of the next morning, 45,500
infantrymen and 116 guns, under Franklin, crossed the
pontoon bridges at Deep run, below Fredericksburg, and
spread themselves a few miles along the line of the rail-
way to Richmond running through the broad bottom lands
south of the Rappahannock; while Sumner led 31,000
into Fredericksburg by the upper pontoon. As the day
of December 12th advanced and the fog lifted, and Lee
looked out from the high hill in the center of his position,
which he had chosen for his headquarters, and saw this
great host stretching for miles in his front and to his
right, in brave battle array, he knew at once that Burn-
side had adopted the perilous plan of a direct attack,
which he had already made preparations to meet by the
construction of a military road and the throwing up of
protecting intrenchments for his artillery as well as his
infantry. He promptly directed Jackson to concentrate
his men on the right of the army and take command of
the right wing. Capt. J. P. Smith, of Jackson's staff,
rode, late in the day, 18 miles, to D. H. Hill's headquar-
ters, down the river, and by marching over the same 18
miles that night, that capable commander brought his
men into position, on Jackson's right, by dawn of the
13th ; and by so doing before Burnside was ready to begin
his assault, Lee was ready to receive it.

Not aware of the fleet-footedness of Jackson's men, and
supposing from the information he had gathered by aerial
reconnoissances, with balloons, that a large portion of


Lee's army was still down the Rappahannock, Burnside
thought to turn Lee's right, secure the highway to Rich-
mond, and defeat him by a flank and rear attack, A large
and heavy forest concealed the Confederate right, and
the Federal commander was quite surprised, when he
began the execution of his flanking movement with
Franklin's corps, to find Jackson in position at Hamilton's
crossing, with A. P. Hill's 10,000 veterans drawn up in
a double line, more than a mile in length, on the high
ground just within the northern edge of the forest, with
fourteen field pieces on his right and thirty -three on his
left ; while Early's and Taliaferro's divisions were in order
of battle in A. P. Hill's rear, and D. H. Hill's division
was in reserve, just to the rear of the right, ready to move
against any attempt to turn that flank of Lee's army.

Stuart's cavalry hovered on the plain in advance of
Jackson's right, across the Massaponax, whence his long
range guns played enfilading havoc on the Federal lines
as they advanced, and even paid their respects to Bum-
side's headquarters, at the Phillips house, nearly five
miles away, on the Stafford heights. Jackson's line ex-
tended, in an east and west direction, from Hamilton's
crossing to Deep run, along the front of a wooded up-
land promontory. At Deep run it was joined by Long-
street's line, which extended northeast, along the face of
another upland promontory, to Hazel run, whence it
deflected to the west of north, along Marye's heights,
immediately west of Fredericksburg to the bluffy bank of
the Rappahannock above Falmouth.

General Lee's point of observation was on "Lee's hill,"
where the old Telegraph road, leading from Fredericks-
burg to Richmond, mounts to the summit of the pro-
montory south of Hazel run. The divisions of Hood and
Pickett, of the First corps, were placed along the front
between Deep and Hazel runs. Marye's heights were
crowned with batteries, while under them, in front, pro-
tected by a thick stone fence on the east side of a high-
way, were the divisions of Ransom and McLaws. R. H.
Anderson's division occupied the left, from the Marye's
heights to the Rappahannock. Marye's hill was like a
bastioned fortress overlooking Fredericksburg and com-
manding the valley of Deep run, toward its mouth, where
the corps of Sumner had crossed the river. The general
features of the position were somewhat like those at the


Second Manassas, where Lee's two wings opened like
great jaws of death to meet an advancing foe ; but Marye's
heights, on the left, were more formidable than those of
Sudley, which Jackson had held, and that indomitable
fighter was now on the right, in the weaker, and there-
fore the more responsible position.

Franklin was ordered to begin the battle by attacking
the Confederate right. Under cover of the dense fog he
deployed his 55,000 men on the wide plain in Jackson's
front, and when the fog lifted, in the mid-forenoon of that
chill December day, the Federal lines, infantry and artil-
lery, were revealed, "in battle's magnificently stern
array," along the embanked line of the railway, but a
few hundred yards in front of the Confederate position.
In anticipation of the coming fray, Lee joined Jackson
to witness the opening. Meade's division led Franklin's
advance, with near 5,000 men, forcing back Jackson's
skirmishers, who had, up to that time, held the line of
the railway. Eagerly watching Meade's forward move-
ment, Stuart could not resist the temptation to give it
a raking enfilade, with solid shot, from the gallant Pel-
ham's guns, placed on a swell south of the Massa-
ponax, in advance of Jackson's right. This fire checked
Meade's advance, but brought into action five Federal
batteries, the weight of which forced Pelham to retire ;
but the rousing of this line of combat, hitherto concealed
in the way, induced Franklin to turn Doubleday's division
facing to the south, where it guarded his flank during
the entire day. Recovering from Pelham's blow, shortly
before midday, Meade again advanced, only to have his
left shattered by Jackson's batteries, under Lindsey
Walker, and his entire advance driven back before the
Confederate infantry could fire a gun.

Well satisfied with the condition of things on his right,
after seeing the result of this first encounter, Lee returned
to his left. Sumner had begun his attack on Longstreet
at 1 1 o'clock, at about the same time that Franklin began
his on Jackson, opening it with rapid and continuous dis-
charge of shot and shell, from the 400 big guns on Stafford
heights, upon the Confederate batteries on Marye's
heights. For an hour and a half this steady roar of
artillery continued, the Confederates promptly answering
the challenge. While thus attempting to intimidate Lee
with the noise of artillery, Burnside was hastening


Hooker, with his two grand divisions, down the river
plain to reinforce Franklin for the great assault that he
proposed to make on Jackson at i of the afternoon. At
the same time he was ordering Sumner's troops, hesitat-
ing under the withering fire from the crest and from the
foot of Marye's hill, to advance from the cover of the
streets of Fredericksburg, of the embankments of the
railway, and of the water-power canal, in a vain attempt
to capture the batteries of the Washington artillery and
of Alexander, then steadily belching destruction from
the Marye hill. The broken plain between Freder-
icksburg and the sunken Telegraph road, with its stone
fence in front and its battery-crowned ridge above, was
swept by a cross-fire of heavy guns from front and from
right and left.

French's division, of Sumner's corps, led the Federal
advance toward Marye's heights along two of the streets
of Fredericksburg. The head of these columns came
into the Confederate view at about ii o'clock. They
marched across the canal bridges, then wheeled into line
of battle, and with brigade front, at intervals of 200 yards,
moved forward, under cover of the fire of long range
guns from Stafford heights. The cannon from Marye's
hill, at point-blank range, gashed them in front; those
from Stanbury's hill, on the extreme Confederate left,
raked them on their right; while those on Lee's hill,
near the Confederate center, raked them on their left.
Closing up from the death-dealing, long-range missiles,
the brave Federal soldiery pressed forward toward the
foot of Marye's heights, only to be met by a withering
blaze of musketry from the 2,000 riflemen of Georgia and
North Carolina that Gen. T. R. R. Cobb held in com-
mand, in the sunken road behind the stone fence at the
foot of the heights, and by a like fierce fire from muskets
behind earthworks along the face of the hill above them.
In this rash assault 1,200 of these brave men fell, dead
and wounded, and the living were forced to give way.
Hancock's division then followed to assault, in Uke
gallant style, which Ransom, who had succeeded Cobb,
who fell in meeting the first Federal onset, met by adding
another regiment to those already in position. Hancock's
fierce attack, in three courageous lines of battle, was met
by a Confederate yell, and by a sheeted infantry fire that
was reserved until his front was but a few hundred yards





December 13, 1862.

Frcon original m thepossesaion oi'the Souiliem


away and then swept down 2,000 of Hancock's men and
forced the remainder to seek the shelter of the houses
and embankments in their rear.

At I o'clock, Howard's division essayed a third assault.
Kershaw, now in command in the sunken road, added
two regiments of South Carolinians and one of North
Carolinians to the ranks of the well-nigh exhausted Con-
federates still holding the bloody front. Thus rein-
forced and ready, Howard's advance was met, as had
been those of French and Hancock, and under a fire even
fiercer than the preceding ones, nearly 700 of Howard's
men went down and the survivors fled, in dismay, to
cover. Sumner's corps of veteran soldiers had dared and
done all that brave men could do, and there was no longer
any spirit left in them for another grapple with Lee's
doubly-mailed left hand. Nine Confederate regiments
in the sunken road, and seven in reserve supporting the
artillery on the crest, had not only unflinchingly held
their positions, but had piled the very front of it with
heaps of Federal dead.

At this same hour of i in the afternoon, Bumside,
from his headquarters on the bluff behind the Rappahan-
nock, had ordered a grand assault, by 60,000 men,
against the half of that number under Jackson on
Lee's right; thus seeking, by simultaneous right-hand
and left-hand blows, to break either Lee's right
or left, and gain one or the other of the two high-
ways that led toward Richmond. Meade and Gib-
bon, two brave and capable commanders, supported
by fifty-one guns, led the attack. A skillful recon-
noissance by the Federal engineers had discovered
that a tongue of forest, extending from the front of
that highland well out into the plain, and near A. P.
Hill's left, had been left unguarded, on the supposition
that its swampy character would prevent its use as an
approach. Through this weak and concealing point, the
Federal advance came, to turn Jackson's left, and broke
A. P. Hill's first line of battle. Gen. Maxcy Gregg gave
up his life in attempting to stem, with the second line, the
oncoming Federal tide of attack. Jackson, promptly
informed of this assault, rode headlong from his right,
and hurling Early and Taliaferro, that he had wisely
placed in line along A. P. Hill's rear, upon the now dis-
organized and forward-rushing Federals, drove back

Va 24


their divisions, in great disorder, to beyond the railroad,
capturing their field artillery. The Sixth Federal corps,
in reserve, made noisy demonstrations with its artillery,
but rendered no other assistance to its discomfited com-

Near the middle of the afternoon, as Lee beheld the
flight of Franklin's men from their assault on Jackson,
he saw Sturgis' division, of the Ninth corps, move from
the cover of Fredericksburg for a fourth assault upon
Marye's heights. These met the same fate as did their
predecessors, and a thousand of them were soon added
to the dead and the dying already covering the narrow
field between Fredericksburg and the sunken road ; while
the driven-back living remnants of the division crouched
behind the embankments of the canal and any cover that
-the broken field presented. With the entire battlefield
in his telescopic view, and doubtless satisfied, from
the failure of his fourth assault, of the folly and useless-
ness of again attacking Lee's left, Burnside now ordered
Franklin to renew the battle on his left. But that leader,
suificiently punished by his two previous assaults on
Jackson, and losing confidence in his men, who hesitated
to close in another conflict with that intrepid fighter,
flatly disobeyed the commands of his superior, and so the
contest on the Federal left was practically ended.

Stung almost to madness by the impending total defeat
of his first essay in combat of the army of the Potomac
with that of Northern Virginia, Burnside, against the
advice of Hooker, ordered the Fifth corps to undertake
the task in which the Second, in four heroic assaults, had
so signally failed. Anticipating that another effort would
be made by fresh troops in this direction, Lee had placed
two fresh regiments in the sunken road and two on the
crest of the heights, all in command of Ransom, and
Alexander's guns were substituted for those of the Wash-
ington artillery. Humphreys' division, of the Second
Federal corps, advanced to the ordered assault, with a
spirit worthy of its intrepid leader (who had, in the old
army, been one of General Lee's younger favorites) with
fixed bayonets, across the field covered with the ghastly
wreckage of the Second corps. A fiery sheet of shot and
shell and musketry met them as they approached the
sunken road, and one after another of Humphreys' bri-
gades fled from the fearful slaughter, broken and disor-


ganized. The task imposed upon them, as upon their
predecessors, was beyond the reach of human accomplish-
ment. A thousand of Humphreys' men fell beneath the
steady fire of the men of Kershaw, Ransom and Alexan-
der, and added to the horrid harvest of death that already
covered all the plain.

Hooker held Sykes' division to cover Humphreys'
retreat, while he sent Griffin's division, reinforced by two
brigades, up the valley of Hazel run to attempt to turn
the right flank, or southern end of the sunken road and
its bordering stone wall, and a fierce conflict raged for an
hour, at the close of the day, all along the lines of Federal
assault. Night ended the bloody conflicts of that raw
winter day, which had brought only dire disaster to Bum-
side's right, where more than 30,000 men, from three
different army corps, had been hurled against Longstreet's
position, from which 7,000 Georgians and Carolinians had
successively beaten them back, strewing their front with
nearly 9,000 dead and wounded, while not a Federal soldier
had touched the stone wall, fronting the sunken road, that
they held in brave defense. When the day ended, the
Confederates still held all of their positions, notwith-
standing the bold and numerous assaults of the great Fed-
eral army of the Potomac. Both armies spent the cold
and cheerless winter night where they had formed their
lines of battle in the morning.

On the isth, Burnside intended to renew his attacks
upon Lee's positions, especially on his left; but he found
all his subordinates bitterly opposed to further assaults,
which must inevitably result as had the previous ones.
So he abandoned all thought of further conflict and awaited
a favorable opportunity for recrossing the Rappahannock,
which he found during the storm of- that night, leaving
behind him 12,653 dead and wounded men, in attestation
of their courageous fighting in obedience to his orders.

Lee's loss in this first battle of Fredericksburg was
5,309, mainly on his right, where Jackson had fought
outside his slight breastworks. Fifty thousand Federals
had been actively engaged in opposition to some 20,000
Confederates. Burnside's flanking movement on Lee's
right had been discomfited by Jackson and Stuart, while
the assaults on Lee's left, intended to relieve the pressure
on Franklin's movement, had only resulted in a fearful
loss of life to the Federals, with but a small one to Long-


street's Confederates. Burnside attributed his defeat to
the fact that the "enemy's fire was too hot. " Lee had
expected Burnside to renew the battle on the 14th, had

Online LibraryClement Anselm EvansConfederate military history; a library of Confederate States history → online text (page 36 of 153)