Horace Greeley.

The American conflict: a history of the great rebellion in the United States of America, 1860-'64 online

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ded, and in good part sent to reen-

force Franklin; while Hooker him-
self, believing the attack hopeless,
required repeated and imperative or-
ders from Bumside to induce him to
order an advance ; but Humphreys's
division was at length thrown out from
Fredericksburg, and bore its fiill part
in the front attack, losing heavily.
And thus the fight was maintained
till after dark — ^assault after assault
being delivered by divisions advanc-
ing against twice tiieir numbers, on
ground where treble the force was
required for the attack that sujBSced
for the defense; while a hundred
Bebel cannon, posted on heights
which our few guns on that side of
the river could scarcely reach, and
could not eflfectually batter, swept
our men down from the moment that
they b^an to advance, and while
they could do nothing but charge,
and fall,«and die. And when night
at length mercifrilly arrested this
fruitless massacre, though the ter-
races and slopes leading up to the
Bebel works were piled with our
dead and our disabled, there was no
pretense that the Bebel front had
been advanced one foot from the
ground held by it in the morning.
We had reason enough for sorrow,
but none for shame.

Franklin, on our left, beside his

" Gen. Meagher, in his official report, says :

"Of the 1,200 X led into action, onlj 280 ap-
peared on parade next morning."

Among his officers who fell, he mentions CoL
Heenan, Lt-CoL Kulholland, and Maj. Bard-
well, 116th Pa.; Maj. Wm. Horgan and A^j.
J. R. Toung, 88th N. Y. ; Maj. James Cavanagh,
6ath N. Y. ; and M^'. Carraher, 28th Mass.

The London T^mee^s correspondent, watching
the battle from the heights, and writing from
Lee's headquarters, sajs :

'* To the Irish division, commanded by Gen.
Meagher, was principally committed the despe-
rate task of bursting out of the town of Freder-
icksburg, and forming, under the withering fire
of the Confederate batteries, to attack M^e's

Heights, towering immediately in their front-
Never at Fontenoy, Albuera, nor at Waterloo,
was more undoubted courage displayed by the
sons of Erin than during those six frantic dashes
which they directed against the almost impreg-
nable position of their foe.

*' That any mortal men could have carried the
position before which they were wantonly sacri-
ficed, defended as it was, it seems to me idle for
a moment to believe. But the bodies which lie
in dense masses within 40 3rards of the muzzles
of CoL Walton's guns are the best evidence whnt
manner of mei^ they were who pressed on to
death wiih the dauntlessness of a race which has
gained glory on a thousand battle-fields, and
never more richly deserved it than at the foot
of Marye's Heighta on the 13th day of Decem-
ber, 1862."

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own 40,000 men, was reenforced, the
night before, by two divisions (Kear-
ny's and Hooker's own) from Hook-
er, raising his command nearly to
55,000. At least half our entire force
across the river was thus with Frank-
lin on the left, where the main attack
manifestly should have been made,
and where Bumside appears to have
purposed that it should have been
made. But it was after 7 a. m. of the
fatal day when Franklin received his
orders ; which, if they were intended
to direct a determined attack in full
force, were certainly very blindly and
vaguely worded," whereas, a military
order should be as precise and clear as
language will allow, and as positive as
the circumstances will warrant. It is
Very certain that a Massena or a Blu-
cher could have found warrant in that
order for attacking at once with his
entire corps, leaving Hooker's men
to defend the bridges and act as a
reserve ; but, if hot work is wanted
of a Franklin, it should be required
and prescribed in terms more peremp-
tory and less equivocal He asserts
that he expected and awaited further
orders, which he never in terms re-
ceived ; at least, not till it was too
late to obey them with any hope of

Franklin's grand division consisted

of the two corps of Eeynolds (16,000)
and W. F. Smith (21,000), with cav-
alry under Bayard, raising it nearly
or quite to 40,000. At 9 a. m., Rey*
nolds advanced on the left ; Meade's
division, in front, being immediately
assailed by Eebel batteries (J. E. B.
Stuart's) on his left flank, which com-
pelled him to halt and silence them.
At 11 A. M., he pushed on, fighting;
while one of Hooker's divisions in
reserve was brought across, and Bir-
ney's and Gibbon's divisions were
moved up to his support. Reynolds's
corps being thus all in line of battle,
Meade again gallantly advanced into
the woods in his front ; grappling, at
1, in fierce encounter, with A. P,
Hill's corps, crushing back the brig-
ades of Archer and Lane, and, forcii^
his way in between them, took some
200 prisoners. Here, in attempting
to raDy Orr's rifles, which had been
disorganized, fell Brig.-Gen. Maxcy
Gregg," mortally wounded.

But the enemy rallied all their
forces ; Early's division, composed of
Lawton's, Trimble's, and his own
brigades, which, with D. H. Hill's
corps, had arrived that morning from
Port Royal, aft»r a severe night-
march, and been posted behind A. P.
Hill, rushed to the front ; and Meade's
division, lacking prompt support,

" "Qen. Hardie will cany this dispatch to
you and remain with you during the day. The
General commanding directs that you keep your
whole command in position for a rapid move-
ment down the old Richmond road, and you will
send out at once a division, at least, to pass be-
low Smithfield, to seize, if possible, the heights
near Capt. Hamilton's, on this side of the Massa-
ponax, 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
Gen. 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 Capt 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 gene-
ral movement during the fog. Two of Gteik
Hooker's divisions are in your rear at the
bridges, and will remain there as supports.
Copies of instructions to Gens. 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 foff
lifls. The watchword, which, if possible, should
be given to every company, wUl be ' Scott*

*' I have the honor to be, General, very re«
spectfully, your obedient servant,

*'J0HN G. Parke, Chief of Stafll
"M^jor-Gen. Fbanklin, Commanding Grand
Division Army of Potomac"

" Governor elect of South Carolina.

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was overwhelmed and driven back,
with heavy loss, to the raiboad, which
they had crossed in their advance,
where they made a brief stand, but
were again hurled back by an im-
petuous, determined Kebel charge,
losing many prisoners.

Meade had already called for aid :
and Gen. Gibbon had advanced on
his right, and one of Birney's brig-
ades on his left, whereby the enemy
were checked and repidsed ; Col. At-
kinson, commanding Lawton's brig-
ade, being here wounded and taken
prisoner. Meade's division fell back,
having lost 1,760 men this day out
some 6,000 engaged ; having, of its
three Brigadiers, Gen. C. F. Jackson
killed, and Col. Wm. T. Sinclair se-
verely wounded. Maj.-Q«n. Gibbon,
on his right, was also wounded and
taken off the field ; whereupon, his
division fell back also.

Sickles's division of Hooker's men,
which had followed Birney's to the
front, took the place of Gibbon's ; but
Smith's corps — 21,000 strong — was
not sent in, and remained nearer to
Fredericksburg, not determinedly en-
gaged throughout the day. Tet, even
Reynolds's and Stoneman's corps
(the latter composed of Birney's and
Sickles's divisions) showed so strong
a front that Stonewall Jackson did
not venture to assume the offensive
till nightfall ; when a very brief ex-
perience convinced him that he might
better let well alone."

The advance of Reynolds's left was
for some time retarded by Stuart's
•cavalry, holding the extreme Rebel
right, whose battery opened a most
annoying cross-fire on our infantry
as it advanced from the Rappahan-
nock. The 9th New York was first
sent to take this battery, but failed —
taking to their heels instead ; when
a brigade was brought up by Gen.
Tyler, and charged with no better
success. A third charge was stopped
by the deadly fire of the Rebel bat-
tery; when more troops were brought
up on our side, and the enemy at
length flanked and gradually crowd-
ed back to the Massaponax ; but they
still maintained a bold front, and
kept up the contest till nightfall;
having succeeded in diverting from
Reynolds's main attack in front a
force which he could ill afford to

Our losses on this bloody day were
not less than 15,000 men ; though
the number returned as actually
killed, wounded, and taken prisoners,
foots up but 13,771 — as follows :

Killed, WoufCd. Misa'a. ToiaL

Hooker's grand division 827 2,4^ T4S 8,548

Fnnlclin's grand division... 888 2.480 1,581 4,879

Sumner's grand division.... 4S0 4,168 855 5,484

Engineers 7 48 100 50

Total .1,152 8,101 8,284 18,771

Not one of these died more la-
mented than Maj.-Gen. George D.
Bayard, commanding our cavalry on
the left, who was struck by a shell
and mortally wounded; dying that
night. But 28 years old, and on the

■* Jackson, with ezemplaiy candor, saya in
his official report :

" Repulsed on the right, left, and center, the
enemy, soon after, reformed his lines, and gave
aome indications of a purpose to renew the at-
tack. I waited some time to receive it ; but, he
making no forward movement, I determined, if
pradent, to do so myself. The artillery of the
enemy was so judiciously posted as to make an
adranoe of our troops across the plain very
hazardous ; yet it was so promising of good re-
sults, if suocesafUlly executed, as to induce me

to make preparations for the attempt In order
to guard against disaster, the infantry was to be
preceded by artillery, and the movement post-
poned until late in the evening ; so that, if com-
pelled to retire, it would be under the cover of
night Owing to unexpected delay, the move-
ment could not be g^t ready till late in the eve-
ning. The first gun had hardly moved forward
from the wood a hundred yards, when the ene-
my*s artillery reopened, and so completely swept
our fVont as to satisfy me that the proposed
movement should be abandoned."

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eve of marriage, his death fell like a
pall on many loving hearts.

Lee at first reported his losses atj
"about 1,800 killed and wounded"
—one of those preposterous misrepre-
sentations to which commanders on
either side were too prone. His ac-
tual loss, as embodied in the detailed
reports of Longstreet and Jackson,
was over 5,000," and may probably
be fairly estimated at 6,000, including
600 unwounded prisoners. He claims
to have taken 900 prisoners and 9,000
small arms, but no guns.

Thus closed what the exulting cor-
respondent at Lee's headquarters of
The Times (London) calls " a memo-
rable day to the historian of the De-
cline and Fall of the American Re-
public." Not so, O owl-eyed scribe I
but rather one of those days of
bloody baptism from whose regen-
erating flood that Republic was di-
vinely appointed to rise to a purer

life, a nobler spirit, a grander, more
benignant destiny !

It would be incredible on any tes-
timony less conclusive than his own "
that Gen. Bumside, on the very heel
of this prodigal, horrible carnage, re-
solved to attack again next day, and
on the very point where the enemy's
lines had been proved impregnable at
a cost of 10,000 men. Another butch-
ery as fruitless and still more demor-
alizing would doubtless have been iiv-
curred, but for the timely and forci-
ble remonstrance of stem old Sumner
— who never kept out of a fight when
there was a shadow of excuse for go-
ing in — and who protested, backed
by nearly every General in the army,
against such suicidal madness. Bum-
side finally gave way, and thus prob-
ably saved the 9th corps (of old, his
own) from useless, inexcusable sacri-

** Longstreot reports bis losses thus : killed,
251; wounded, 1,616} missing, 127: total, 1,894.
Jackson gives his as — killed, 344; wounded,
2,545; missing, 526: total, 3,415: grand total,
5,309. Among their killed, beside those already
mentioned, was Brig. -Gen. T. R. R. Cobb, of Ga.,
brother of Howell Cobb. Among their wound-
ed, were Brig.-Gens. J. R. Cooke and W. D.

" He says, in his testimony before the Com-
mittee on the Conduct of the War:

" The two attacks were made, and we were
repulsed ; still holding a portion of the ground
we had fought upon, but not our extreme ad-

" That night, I went all over the field on our
right ; in fact, I was with the officers and men
until nearly daylight I found ij^e feeling to bo
rather against an attack the next morning; in
fact, it was decidedly against it

"I returned to my headquarters, and, after
conversation with Gren. Sumner, told h\m that I
wanted him to order the 9th army corps — ^which
was the corps I originally commanded — ^to form
the next morning a column of attack by regi-
ments. It consisted of some 18 old regiments,
and some new ones ; and I desired the column iX>
make a direct attack upon the enemy's works.
I thought that these regiments, by commg quick-
ly up ailer each other, would be able to carry
the stone wall and the batteries in front, forcing

the enemy into their next line, and, by going in
with them, they. would not be able to fire upon
us to any great extent I left Gen. Sumner with
that understanding, and directed him to give the
order. The order was given, and the column of
attack was formed.

** The next morning, just before the column
was to have started, Gen. Sumner came to me
and said : ' General, I hope you will desist fVom
this attack : I do not know of any general officer
who approves of it ; and I think it will prove
disastrous to the army.' Advice of that kind
from Gen. Sumner, who has always been in favor
of an advance whenever it was possible, caused
me to hesitate. I kept the column of attack
formed, and sent over for the division and corps
commanders, and consulted with them. They
unanimously voted against the attack. I then
went over to see the other officers of the com-
mand on the other' side, and found that the same
impression prevailed among them. I then sent
for Gen. Franklin, who was on the left, and he
was of exactly the same opinion. This caused
mo to decide that I ought not to make the attack
I had contemplated. And besides, inasmuch as
the President of the United States had told me
not to be in haste in making this attack ; that
he would give me all the support that he could,
but he did not want the Army of the Potomac
destroyed, I felt that I could not take the respon-
sibility of ordering the attack, notwithstanding
my own belief at thp time that the works of the
enemy oould be carried."

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The two armies stood facing each
other throughout the 14th and 15th :
Lee strengthening his defenses and
awaiting a renewal of the attack;
Bumside at length deciding to with-
draw all but Hooker's corps across
the river, and continue to hold Fred-
ericksburg ; but this he finally gave
up, on Hooker's representation that
he should be unable to hold the town ;
and decided to recross his entire army
during the night of the 15th ; which
was quietly eflfected without serious
loss. A few of our desperately wound-
ed, a few pickets, and considerable
ammunition, were left by us in Fred-
ericksburg; but Franklin did not lose
a man ; and not one gun was aban-
doned as a trophy of this ill-starred
advance on Riclanond. Our pon-
toons were all taken up and brought
off; the Rebels next day reoccupy-
ing Fredericksburg and their side
of tlie river ; and thenceforth pickets
and sharp-shooters fired across the
stream, whenever any temptation to
a shot was afforded, with as business-
like an air as though the Rappahan-
nock had always been the boundary
of two hostile empires, over which no
armed force had ever ventured.

Lee has been blamed for not follow-
ing up his advantage; and it is just
possible that he might have made
something by a tremendous bom-
bardment of the town while still
crowded with our decimated, dis-
heartened troops — ^possibly by a sud-
den, determined assault upon it, or
upon Franklin's wing, with the great

body of his army. But how could
he know at once how severely we
had suffered ? And, even if he did
know, would it have been wise to
rush his men upon our batteries, as
ours had been rushed upon his?
Jackson had decided against this,
when in the fiush of his success ; and
he decided wisely. To push forward
their men till under the fire of our
heavy guns, commandingly posted on
our side of the Rappahannock, would
have been to imitate Bumside's blun-
der; and they had not 15,000 men
to spare."

General Bumside's errors in this
movement were errors of judgment
only ; and these were nobly redeemed
by his subsequent conduct and bear-
ing. Though he had accepted the
chief command with unfeigned re-
luctance and self-distrust, and keenly
felt that he had not been fairly treat-
ed in the matter of the pontoons, and
that Franklin had not done his best
in the hour of trial, he excused others
and took all the blame on himself. In
his report to Gren. Halleck," he says :

*^ But for the fog, and the unexpected and
unavoidable delay in building the bridges,
which gave the enemy 24 hours to concen-
trate his forces in his strong position,' we
should almost certainly have succeeded ; in
which case, the battle would have been, in
my opinion, far more decisive than if we
had crossed at the places first selected. As it
was, we came very near success. Failing
in accomplishing the main object, we re-
mained in order of battle two days — long
enough to decide that tlie enemy would not
come out of his stronghold to fight me with
his infantry — after which, we recrossed to
this side of the river unmolested, without
the loss of men or property.

*' Lee's ' General Order No. 38,* dated Dec.
21, congratulating his army on their success in
this encounter, says :

*• The immense army of the enemy completed
its preparations for the attack without interrup-
tion, and gave battle in its own time, and on
ground of its own adecUon,

'* It was enoountered by Uaa ihan twenty Uwur

sand of this brave army; and its columns,
crushed and broken, hurled back at every point,
with such fearful slaughter, that escape from en-
tire destruction became the boast of tliose who
had advanced in full confidence of victory."

This is so unfair as to be essentially false, and
quite unworthy of a great soldier.

*• Deo. 19.

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" As the day broke, our long Tines of
troops were seen marching to their different
positions as if going on parade^not the
least demoralization or disorganization ex-

" To the brave oflScers and soldiers who
accomplished the feat of thus recrossing in
the face of the enemy, I owe every thing.
For the failnre in the attack, / am respon-
sible; as the extreme gallantry, courage,
and endurance shown by them were never
exceeded, and would have carried the points
had it been possible.

*^ To the families and friends of the dead,
I can only offer my heartfelt sympathies ;
but for the wounded, I can offer my earnest
prayer for their comfort and final recovery.

"The fact that I decided to move from
Warrenton on to this line rather against the
opinion of the President, Secretary of War,
and yourself, and that you have left the
whole movement in my hands, without giv-
ing me orders, makes me the more respon-

But General Bumside's tisefiilness
as commander of the Army of the
Potomac was at an end. Officers
and soldiers alike felt that he had
sadly misjudged in ordering an as-
sault on the bristling heights south
of Fredericksburg — still more,in seek-
ing to repeat that assault after the
bloody, calamitous experience of the
13th — and the popularity of Mc-
Clellan was immensely strengthened
and widened by that disastrous re-
pulse. Whatever his faults, ^ Little
Mac ' had ever been careful of the
lives of his men ; and this fact was
now remember^ to his credit. Had
the army been polled for the choice
of a commander at any time during
the month following our withdrawal
from Fredericksburg, it is probable
that McClellan would have had a de-
cisive majority, and morally certain
that Bumside's supporters would
have proved a still more indubitable

The latter, however, had no idea
of sitting down under his defeat

While the Bebel chie& were con-
gratulating each other that the Army
of the Potomac had been paralyzed,
at least for the Winter, he was plan-
ning a fresh and determined advance
on Richmond. Within a fortnight
after his bloody repulse, he ordered"
rations cooked, wagons packed, and
every thing made ready for a general
movement; intending to make a
feint above Fredericksburg, but to
cross at the Sedden House, six or
seven miles below ; while 2,500 cav-
alry, with 4 guns, crossing at Kelly's
ford, were to raid across the Virginia
Central, the Lynchburg and the Wel-
don Railroads, blowing up the locks
on the James River Canal ; crossing
the Nottoway, and reporting to Gen.
Peck, in command at Suffolk ; while
several other flying expeditions were
to distract the enemy's attention and
deceive him as to the significance of
the general movement. He had just
given'* the initial impulse to this
combined movement, when a tele-
gram from the President alrested it ;
and, repairing at once to Washing-
ton, Gen. B. learned that represen-
tations had been made at headquar-
ters by certain of his subordinates,
prompted and sustained by others,
that, if he were permitted to proceed,
in the existing temper of the army,
he would inevitably incur disasters
so grave as to signally belittle, if not
wholly efface, those of the recent fail-
ure. Li deference to these represen-
tations, the President had tel^raphed
as he did ; and the Secretary of War
and the General-in-chirf, though now
for the first time apprised of the clan-
destine communications of army offi-
cers to Mr. Lincoln, failed even to
attempt a removal of the impression

~ Dec. 26.

•Dea 30.

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they had made on the President's

Eeturning to the army, Gen. Bum-
side soon ascertained that certain
details of the proposed cavahy move-
ment had transpired —in fact, he was
assured by Gen. Pleasanton that they
were known among Secessionists in
"Washington two or three days after
his first interview with the President
— so he abandoned that movement ;
intending to make one somewhat dif-
ferent, in the course of a few days.

This new movement contemplated
a crossing in force at Banks's and at
the United States fords, above Fred-
ericksburg; the crossing below be-
ing also made, or at least menaced,
as originally proposed: and again
his preparations were perfected and
his army now put " in motion ; when,
at 10 p. M., there bm-st over it one of
the severest and most trying storms
ever experienced in that region.
Snow, driving sleet, pouring rain, a
general breaking up of the roads,
hitherto hard and dry, and a chaos
of the elements which rendered loco-
motion impossible and life under the
drenching sky scarcely endurable,
arrested that advance at its outset,
and fixed our army in the mire
wherein it for hours wretchedly, sul-
lenly, hopelessly floundered. Day-
light exposed to the enemy across the
stream movements which were in-
tended to be consummated under the
cover of night : they were not foolish
enough, had they been able,' to
squander their men and animals in

attempts to assail our stalled and
struggling forces ; but they guarded
the fords so strongly that Bumside

Online LibraryHorace GreeleyThe American conflict: a history of the great rebellion in the United States of America, 1860-'64 → online text (page 49 of 113)