At 6 a.m. C.S.A. Lieutenant General William J. Hardee attacks U.S. Major General William Rosecran’s right flank before Union soldiers have finished eating their breakfast, completely catching the men off guard. 10,000 Confederates attack in one massive wave; several Union artillery batteries are captured without having time to fire a single shot. By 10 a.m. Hardee drives the Union troops back three miles, but U.S. Brigadier General Richard W. Johnson rallies his men despite his own brigade casualties of 50%.
Rosecrans races across the battlefield directing units, his uniform covered in blood from his friend and chief of staff, Colonel Julius Garesche, who was beheaded by a cannonball while riding alongside him.
A second Confederate wave is not met with the same unexpected shock. U.S. Major General Philip Sheridan had anticipated an early attack and had his division up and in line by 4am; Sheridan’s men repulse the Confederates in three separate charges. Unfortunately while they slowed the Confederate advance it comes at a heavy cost; all three of Sheridan’s brigade commanders are killed and more than one third of his men are casualties in just four hours of fighting in a cedar forest surrounded on three sides that is later named “The Slaughter Pen.”
Though the morning had been very successful for the Confederates, by the afternoon mistakes are made in communications and movements are made based on false reports. This allows Rosecrans to reposition his troops before an attack by C.S.A. Major General John Breckinridge. Breckinridge and his men move slowly and his first two brigades are assaulted in piecemeal attacks and suffer heavy repulses. Two more brigades arrive but the Confederate attack fails a second time. By 4:30 p.m. the fighting is finished for the day.
C.S.A. General Braxton Bragg’s plan had been to cut Rosecran’s line of communication, but instead it drives the Union troops to concentrate at one point: Nashville Pike. This gives the Union a stronger defensive position than when the day had started.
In Washington City, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln signs the legislation that paves the way for West Virginia to enter into the Union as the 35th state. The citizens of West Virginia will still have to vote for a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, after which Lincoln will be able to submit an official document stating that West Virginia has met all statehood requirements.
Lincoln also meets with his Cabinet one last time to go over revisions he made to the Emancipation Proclamation the previous evening after listening to their suggestions the day before. Afterwards he meets with U.S. Major General Ambrose Burnside to discuss military matters; Burnside has been called to testify before Congress regarding his actions at Fredericksburg.
Outside of Vicksburg, Mississippi, U.S. Major General William T. Sherman starts to move his men towards Drumgould’s Bluff, but the fog is so thick that he calls off the movement and subsequent attack. He will have to wait another day.
Tonight Rosecrans holds a council of war to decide what to do next. Some of the generals feel that the Union has been defeated and recommend a retreat. But Rosecrans and two other generals disagree; the decision is made to stand and fight.
Though he has suffered 9,000 casualties out of 35,000 men, Bragg ends the day certain he has won a victory. He is convinced that the large number of captured Union soldiers means that Rosecrans has lost considerably more than his own numbers. The Confederate troops dig in, facing the new Union line. Bragg sends a telegram to Richmond, Virginia before heading to bed:
“The enemy has yielded his strong position and is falling back. We occupy the whole field and shall follow him. God has granted us a happy New Year.”
Though they have spent the entire day in battle against each other, men on both sides – Confederate and Union – join together in singing “Home Sweet Home” on this last night of the year.
From his camp in Falmouth, Virginia, U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes writes a final entry in his journal for the year:
“Well, the year 1862 is drawing to a close. As I look back I am bewildered when I think of the hundreds of miles I have tramped, the thousands of dead and wounded that I have seen, and the many strange sights that I have witnessed. I can truly thank God for his preserving care over me and the many blessings I have received. One year ago tonight I was an enlisted man and stood cap in hand asking for a furlough. Tonight I am an officer and men ask the same favor of me. It seems to me right that officers should rise from the ranks, for only such can sympathize with the private soldiers. The year has not amounted to much as far as the War is concerned, but we hope for the best and feel sure that in the end the Union will be restored. Good bye, 1862.”
The wintry blast goes wailing by,
the snow is falling overhead;
I hear the lonely sentry’s tread,
and distant watch-fires light the sky.
Dim forms go flitting through the gloom;
The soldiers cluster round the blaze
To talk of other Christmas days,
And softly speak of home and home
My saber swinging overhead,
gleams in the watch-fire’s fitful glow,
while fiercely drives the blinding snow,
and memory leads me to the dead.
My thoughts go wandering to and fro,
vibrating ‘twixt the Now and Then;
I see the low-browed home again,
the old hall wreathed in mistletoe.
And sweetly from the far off years
comes borne the laughter faint and low,
the voices of the Long Ago!
My eyes are wet with tender tears.
I feel again the mother kiss,
I see again the glad surprise
That lighted up the tranquil eyes
And brimmed them o’er with tears of bliss
As, rushing from the old hall-door,
She fondly clasped her wayward boy –
Her face all radiant with they joy
She felt to see him home once more.
My saber swinging on the bough
Gleams in the watch-fire’s fitful glow,
while fiercely drives the blinding snow
aslant upon my saddened brow.
Those cherished faces are all gone!
Asleep within the quiet graves
where lies the snow in drifting waves, –
And I am sitting here alone.
There’s not a comrade here tonight
but knows that loved ones far away
on bended knees this night will pray:
“God bring our darling from the fight.”
But there are none to wish me back,
for me no yearning prayers arise
the lips are mute and closed the eyes –
My home is in the bivouac.
— A poem written by 21-year-old Confederate Soldier William Gordon McCabe on Christmas Night outside Fredericksburg, Virginia
U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes, near Falmouth, Virginia, writes in his diary that “We have passed a very quiet day and except that we have been excused from drill, the day has been like others. My brother-in-law, Colville D. Brown came today from Washington and made me a call. In the evening Lt. Col. Goff of our Regiment and other officers came to my tent and we had a sing. I should like to be at home on this Christmas night.” This is his second Christmas in the army; this year he does not feel as homesick and alone. He is now a seasoned veteran, even if he is just a volunteer. This is his life.
In Washington, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and First Lady Mary spend the day visiting wounded soldiers in the nearby hospitals while their children Robert and Tad stay at home.
Out West in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Confederate President Jefferson Davis is almost 1,000 miles away from his wife Varina and their children in Richmond, Virginia. As a man who once served with high honors in the Mexican-American war, he misses his family but also feels at home surrounded by military men in the field.
In Fredericksburg, Virginia, C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee writes an emotional letter to his wife Mary. He begins by thanking God for the recent successes of the Confederate army, but laments “what a cruel thing is war; to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world!“
Though thirty-eight Dakota Indians and “half-breeds” were sentenced by a military tribunal in Minnesota and subsequently approved for death by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, there have been delays in the execution and it did not occur on December 19 as scheduled. A new date of December 26 has been set, and today the condemned Dakota are allowed to meet with their families for the last time.
Lincoln had asked for input from his Cabinet members on admitting West Virginia as a state into the Union and he has gotten their input. Surprisingly, the Cabinet is split. Secretaries William Seward, Salmon P. Chase and Edwin Stanton agree with the bill; Gideon Welles, Montgomery Blair and Edward Bates do not. With no consensus, Lincoln will have to carefully review the matter and come to a decision on his own.
From his camp near Falmouth, Virginia, U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes writes in his diary about changes in leadership:
We are in trouble about our new Major and former Chaplain, Rev. Thorndike C. Jameson. Governor Sprague promoted him Major over all the Captains. He is incompetent, and we do not want him with us. I hear that he is to be ordered before a board of officers for examination, and as he probably could not pass, I hope he will resign and leave us in peace. Jameson is not fitted for a soldier in some respects and ought to know it. He is brave, and that is all. Capt. Benoni S. Brown, Senior Captain, has resigned because Jameson was promoted over him. General Wheaton has invited me to dine with him. We have commenced regular drills and camp duties once more, but a new movement will probably be ordered soon.
U.S. Major General John Reynolds travels to Philadelphia on leave, during which time he plans to visit his secret love, Catherine “Kate” Hewitt. He had met Kate when he was stationed in California before the war and they had fallen in love. She had come back East with him and they had an agreement: If he survived the war, they would get married. If he didn’t, she would become a nun as she was of strong Catholic faith. Many Protestants hold negative views of Catholics at this time, which may have been one reasons why Reynolds has yet to mention Kate to anyone he knows, including his family (though one can also say that Reynolds is generally a private man). But he wears her Cross around his neck and she wears his West Point ring on a chain around hers. While he is in town he also plans to call on Major General George Meade’s wife Margaretta, which he knows will please George as he is stuck in Virginia. Calls from fellow officers are often welcome by the wives when their own husbands are able to come home; it’s comforting to hear stories and to know they are in good company.
For the soldiers of both sides, and their families at home, it’s mostly a quiet day on the second Christmas Eve of the war. For those who write letters to loved ones, homesickness and loneliness is the common theme.
It’s Sunday and U.S. President Lincoln has spent the last week dealing with the loss at Fredericksburg and the near loss of some of his Cabinet members. He receives a brief note from friend and Illinois Senator Orville Browning reminding him of the West Virginia statehood legislation that Lincoln needs to review and preferably approve in order to admit West Virginia into the Union. It’s already been several days since the bill was passed by Congress and there is concern by many why the President has yet to address it. “A delay is a calamity to the Union cause,” Brown writes. But for Lincoln, it appears that he will not address the issue today. While his wife Mary is away in Philadelphia staying at the Continental Hotel, Abraham is at the White House with his youngest boy Tad; it would have been his son Willie’s 12th birthday today. While Mary couldn’t handle being in the house where Willie passed away ten months ago or to be near , Lincoln chose to stay, no doubt taking time to visit Willie’s preserved room as he often did to weep over the loss of his precious boy. No significant work will be accomplished today; the grief is too strong.
“It seems to me now clearly developed that the enemy has two principal objects in view,” President Jefferson Davis writes to Trans-Mississippi Department commander General Theophilius H. Holmes from Vicksburg, Mississippi. “One to get control of the Mississippi River, and the other to capture the capital of the Confederate States. To prevent the enemy getting control of the Mississippi and dismembering the Confederacy, we must mainly depend upon maintaining the points already occupied by defensive works; to-wit, Vicksburg and Port Hudson.”
U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes writes in his diary at camp near Falmouth, Virginia:
We are now in camp and trying to repair our damage. Notwithstanding our late defeat, we all have confidence in General Burnside. If his plans had been carried out we should have won a victory. We hope to do better next time we try to cross the river.
U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes with the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers writes about his retreat out of Fredericksburg, as he is part of the last group to cross before the pontoon boats are disassembled, loaded on wagons and sent to storage for the next time they need to be put to use:
This morning at one o’clock our Brigade was formed in line to protect the rear of the Left Grand Division as it recrossed the Rappahannock River. We waited until all the troops had reached the Falmouth side and then our Brigade silently moved over the bridge. As soon as we reached the north side the bridge was broken up and the pontoons taken back from the river banks. We were the first to cross the river and the last ones to recross. The 10th Mass. Vols. was the last Regimental organization to cross the river, but a Bridge Guards detailed from the 2nd R.I. Vols. and under the command of Capt. Samuel B.M. Read was the last troop to recross. The Rebels were on the south bank as soon as we left it. The Army has met with a severe loss, and I fear little has been gained. The 4th, 7th and 12th R.I. Regiments were in the main battle in the rear of the city and their losses we hear are heavy. May God help the poor afflicted friends at home. I am tired, O so tired, and can hardly keep awake. We have had very little sleep since we first crossed the river. My heart is filled with sorrow for our dead, but I am grateful that my life has been spared. Mr. A.N. Barnard owns a place near where we crossed. He calls it Mansfield. His brother owns the place below which is called Smithfield. Barnard’s house was shattered by shot and shell, one shot passing through a plate glass mirror. Barnard left in great haste and left his pistols and a purse paying on a table. His books were all scattered about the yard and fine china was used by the men to hold their pork. He has already dug a cellar and intended to build a new house soon. The bricks were piled up in his yard and served as a cover for Rebel skirmishers who fired upon us as we crossed the bridge. We captured one officer and several Rebel soldiers from behind his bricks.
In Washington it is politics as usual, as Congress quickly tries to place blame on anyone they can for the disastrous loss at Fredericksburg. A caucus of Republican Senators vote 13-11 in support of a resolution calling for the resignation of Secretary of State William Seward. Though Seward initially had a great dislike for the man who bested him for for the Republican candidate for President back in 1860, President Abraham Lincoln and Seward have become close personal friends. Private conferences between the two are almost a daily occurrence, and the way Seward comes & goes from the White House is seen with an easy familiarity of a household intimate. It is not at all uncommon for Lincoln to walk over to the State Department or Seward’s house (just down the street from the White House), day or night, with or without a private secretary carrying papers.
This close relationship has made many Republicans uncomfortable and Seward has increasingly become the target of jealousy and enmity from other members of the Cabinet – especially from Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase – and many members of Congress. Seward is often blamed for any bad decision made by the President or any military reverse in the field, even if no evidence supports their claims. They can’t get rid of a sitting President, but they feel they can get rid of a Cabinet member even though historically Congress has stayed out of Cabinet affairs.
After Lincoln learns of the caucus meeting, he meets with his old friend Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning about the situation, asking him what the men wanted. Browning replies “I hardly know Mr. President, but they are exceedingly violent towards the administration, and what we did yesterday was the gentlest thing that could be done. We had to do that or worse.”
Lincoln responds that “They wish to get rid of me, and I am sometimes half disposed to gratify them.”
Senator Browning replies that “Some of them do wish to get rid of you, but the fortunes of the Country are bound up with your fortunes, and you stand firmly at your post and hold the helm with a steady hand – To relinquish it now would bring upon us certain and inevitable ruin.”
“We are now on the brink of destruction. It appears to me the Almighty is against us, and I can hardly see a ray of hope,” states Lincoln.
Browning answers “Be firm and we will yet save the Country. Do not be drive from your post. You ought to have crushed the ultra, impracticable men last summer. You could then have done it, and escaped these troubles. But we will not talk of the past. Let us be hopeful and take care of the future Mr. Seward appears now to be the especial object of their hostility. Still I believe he has managed our foreign affairs as any one could have done. Yet they are very bitter upon him, and some of them very bitter upon you.”
The President, filled with the stress of the last few days, ends the conversation asking “Why will men believe a lie, an absurd lie, that could not impose upon a child, and cling to it and repeat it in defiance of all evidence to the contrary. Since I heard last of the proceedings of the caucus I have been more distressed than by any event of my life.”
Confederate President Jefferson Davis is dealing with his own issues. He took a train west to Tennessee to meet with his Western Commanding General Joseph E. Johnston to discuss strategy and to review troop positions and conditions. Davis and Johnston are in constant disagreement; Johnston believes that getting full control back of Tennessee is key, while Davis believes that the Mississippi River is the only thing that matters.
It’s a confusing situation as there are three Confederate armies in the West: The Army of the Tennessee led by General Braxton Bragg (30,000 troops), the Trans-Mississippi Army led by Lieutenant General Theophilus Holmes (under 10,000 troops), and the Army of the Mississippi under Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton who is in charge of protecting Vicksburg (12,000 troops) and the state of Mississippi (21,000 troops). While Holmes and Pemberton are relatively close to each other, Bragg is far removed. To make matters more complex, Johnston has no control over anything west of the Mississippi River, which means he has no authority over Holmes and his men, who are currently in western Arkansas, and cannot order them to support Pemberton or Bragg without the orders coming directly from Richmond.
Instead of moving Holmes men to support Pemberton, Davis repeatedly tells Johnston to move men from Bragg’s army to enforce Pemberton. Johnston thinks this is absurd and doesn’t give the order, so Davis does it for him. Bragg agrees with Johnston that this is an incorrect move, but they are helpless against the President’s orders. Bragg sends 9,000 of his men to join Pemberton in an effort to protect Vicksburg from U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s army of 60,000, not including his 30,000 U.S. troops in nearby Memphis under Major General William T. Sherman and John McClernand. Even with the additional troops, Pemberton’s forces are still half of what Grant has at his disposal.
Davis and Johnston will now make their way towards Vicksburg to meet with Pemberton; the trip will take these two men who can’t stand each other three long days to get there.
U.S. Brigadier General John G. Foster posts his infantry along the riverbank along with several batteries of artillery on the hill overlooking Whitehall, North Carolina. As they begin their attack against the Confederates on the other side of the river, Foster’s troops suffer heavy casualties from their own artillery when projectiles fall short of their intended targets. A large number of sawlogs along the riverbank protect the Confederates as well as a gunboat that is being constructed; the boat receives very little damage.
Just before light our Regiment was sent to the front and pushed behind the bank of a road. Here we lay all day watching the enemy’s forts. About 3 p.m. our Batteries opened firing over our heads, and as the Rebels replied the shots would cross in the air. It was not pleasant for us and somewhat dangerous.” — U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes
Throughout the night and into the day and during a bad storm, the Union army continues to retreat and makes a skillful and organized recrossing of the Rappahannock River. C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee’s army doesn’t provide them much resistance at this point; they have held their lines, Richmond is safe, and the Union cost is high. Union casualties are 12,653; Confederates lose 5,377, though most were from the right flank under Lieutenant General Thomas J. Jackson’s Corp, who did not have as much time to dig in and did not have the protection of a stone wall. Even though the Confederate losses are much smaller, so is their population; it will be more of a challenge to bring in fresh recruits to replace the men they lost in this battle compared to the Union and their larger population.
In Fredericksburg and the surrounding area, every building has been converted into a hospital for Union and Confederate wounded. Each side is burying their dead, though many of the Confederates will be taken back to their homes for burial or placed in cemeteries in Fredericksburg. Even with the battlefield still covered with blood, politicians in both the North and South begin their criticism. In Richmond, Virginia, where news of a victory should have been a reason to celebrate, there is instead questioning as to why Lee did not follow-up the successful defense of the heights above Fredericksburg with a counterattack. They ignore the crucial fact that even after U.S. Commanding General Ambrose Burnside’s significant losses, Lee’s army is still outnumbered and heavy Union artillery is undamaged across the river at Stafford Heights. In Washington, fury against Burnside pours in from every direction. Reports from Major General Joseph Hooker are perhaps the most loud and damaging. President Abraham Lincoln is unable to criticize; he fired George B. McClellan for failing to move/fight. Burnside did what Lincoln had wanted, even if it wasn’t the plan Lincoln had suggested a week before when it was obvious that the situation had changed from when the original plan to take Fredericksburg and Richmond had been developed. Still, he could not chastise Burnside and knew that the politicians, media and public would demand answers.
Though Fredericksburg was a costly battle, nothing is gained on either side and the war continues.
U.S. Brigadier General John G. Foster continues his “Goldsboro Expedition”, and this morning in Kinston he paroles 400 Confederates he has captured over the previous few days. He recrosses the partially-burned Jones Bridge and then successfully burns the remainder of it to prevent a Confederate rear attack. Foster and his men proceed west toward Whitehall (now Seven Springs) and Goldsboro. They are within four miles of Whitehall before they stop for the night. Knowing that Foster is on his way, C.S.A. Cavalry Officer Beverly H. Robertson crosses the Neuse River and burns the bridge at Whitehall to help protect Confederate troops and a gunboat being constructed on the north side.
From Oxford, Mississippi, U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant writes a letter to his sister Mary Grant, who is watching his children as his wife Julia travels into Mississippi with his father Jesse Grant:
Yesterday I received a letter from you and the children and one from Uncle Samuel. Today I learn by telegraph that father is at Holly Springs thirty miles North of here. Julia is there and as I expect the railroad to be completed to here by tomorrow I look for them soon. I shall only remain here tomorrow, or next day at farthest; so that Julia will go immediately back to Holly Springs. It was a pleasant place and she may as well stay there as elsewhere.
We are now having wet weather. I have a big Army in front of me as well as bad roads. I shall probably give a good account of myself however not with-standing all obstacles. My plans are all complete for weeks to come and I hope to have them all work out just as planned.
For a conscientious person, and I profess to be one, this is a most slavish life. I may be envied by ambitious persons but I in turn envy the person who can transact his daily business and retire to a quiet home without a feeling of responsibility for the morrow. Taking my whole department there are an immense number of lives staked upon my judgment and acts. I am extended now like a Peninsula into an enemies country with a large Army depending for their daily bread upon keeping open a line of railroad running one hundred & ninety miles through an enemy’s country, or at least through territory occupied by a people terribly embittered and hostile to us. With all this I suffer the mortification of seeing myself attacked right and left by people at home professing patriotism and love of country who never heard the whistle of a hostile bullet. I pity them and a nation dependent upon such for its existence. I am thankful however that although such people make a great noise the masses are not like them.
With all my other trials I have to conduct against is added that of speculators whose patriotism is measured by dollars and cents. Country has no value with them compared with money. To elucidate this would take quires of paper so I will reserve this for an evenings conversation if I should be so fortunate as to again get home where I can have a day to myself.
Tell the children to learn their lessons, mind their grandma and be good children. I should like very much to see them. To me they are all obedient and good. I may be partial but they seem to me to be children to be proud of.
Remember me to all at home.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis is in Chattanooga, Tennessee to meet with General Joseph E. Johnston and to review the troop situation there. Even though he’s only been gone a few days, he writes a letter to his wife Varina back home in Richmond; he has yet to hear the news that Lee has been successful at Fredericksburg:
My dear Wife,
We had a pleasant trip & without an incident to related reached this place on the 11th. The troops in Murfreesboro were in fine spirits and well supplied. The enemy keep close within their lines about Nashville, which place is too strongly fortified and garrisoned for attack by troops unprepared for regular approaches on fortifications.
Many of your acquaintances made kind inquiry for you. Especially Genl. Hardee. I saw Joe Mitchell and Willie Farish, both were well. Last night on my arrival here a telegram announced the attack made at Fredericksburg. You can imagine my anxiety. There are indications of a strong desire for me to visit the farther West expressed in terms which render me unwilling to disappoint the expectation.
Mrs. Joe Johnston is well, not quite pleased with her location. Genl. Johnston will directly to Miss. and reinforce Genl. Pemberton. I saw Mr. Clay, who gives a discouraging account of the feeling of the people about Huntsville. He says the fear of the traitors is so great lest they should in the event of a return of the Yankees bring down vengeance on the true men that our friends look around to see who is in earshot before speaking of public affairs.
It is raining this morning and unreasonably warm. I have traveled constantly since starting and feel somewhat the want to rest, but otherwise am better than before the journey. Joe was a little unwell yesterday, but seems bright today. Many of the officers inquired for Col. Preston Johnston and felt, as I did, regret at his absence.
Kiss the children of their loving Father. They can little realize how much I miss them. Every sound is the voice of my child and every child renews them memory of a loved one’s appearance, but none can equal their charms, nor can any compare with my own long-worshipped Winnie.
She is na my ain Lassie
Though fair the lassie be
For well ken I my ain lassie
By the kind love in her eye.
“From the battle field near Fredericksburg: We crossed the river Thursday night and have been under fire ever since. The Rebels are strongly entrenched, and we have not made much headway. Today has been very quiet with an occasional shell from the Rebels. We tried to keep the Sabbath the best we could. We lay all day in our rifle pits awaiting events. I write this on the battlefield.” — U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes
Yesterday 19-year-old C.S.A. Sergeant Richard Rowland Kirkland’s unit, Company G of the 2nd South Carolina, had spent the day behind the stone wall inflicting heavy casualties against Union troops. As morning came, daylight reveals over 8,000 Union soldiers still on the battlefield in front of them. Many are still alive but there are thousands that are wounded and suffering terribly from pain and a lack of water. Orders have not been given to the men to retreat and no truce has yet been reached to remove the wounded from the field, so the Union troops are stuck on the cold, open field, shielding themselves from occasional Confederate rifle fire and the cold by propping dead soldiers up around them as a “wall” of protection.
Men from both sides are forced to listen to the painful cries throughout the night and morning, with neither side daring to make a move to help anyone for fear of being shot. By mid-morning Kirkland approaches C.S.A. Brigadier General Joseph B. Kershaw and tells him that he wishes to help the wounded soldiers. At first Kershaw declines the request, but later he relents. Once given permission, Kirkland asks if he could show a white handkerchief, but white flags are used for surrender; this is not a surrender situation so Kershaw declines. Kirkland responds “All right, sir, I’ll take my chances.”
Kirkland gathers all the canteens he can carry, fills them with water and then makes his way out into the battlefield. He ventures back and forth several times, giving wounded Union soldiers not only water, but warm clothing and blankets that his fellow Confederates have donated to the cause. Kershaw watches in amazement, thinking that the Union will open fire and the Confederacy will respond in return, leaving Kirkland in the crossfire; but no one fires a shot. Within a very short time it is obvious to both sides as to what Kirkland is doing, and soon cries for water erupt all over the battlefield. Kirkland does not stop until he helps every wounded soldier who asks for him – Union and Confederate – on the hill near the stone wall. He is dubbed “The Angel of Marye’s Heights.”
Despite the horrific results of yesterday’s attacks, U.S. Commanding General Ambrose Burnside wants to continue the attack and has to be talked out of it by the other generals as they refuse to continue the wave after wave of suicidal marches with their men. If his generals won’t do it, Burnside will; he still believes he can break Lee’s lines and offers to personally lead another attack. He is finally talked out of it.
This afternoon Burnside requests a truce to tend to the thousands of wounded soldiers and C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee agrees. Under the cover of darkness and a storm, the Union army starts its withdrawal that will go well into tomorrow.
Lee writes to the Confederate War Department that Fredericksburg has been a victory. So far he counts 1,800 killed or wounded on his side, with 550 Union men captured; he is unsure, however, what the full extent of Burnside’s loss is.
C.S.A. Major General George Pickett writes to his love interest, Sallie Ann Corbell, who has changed her name to LaSalle Corbell but whom Pickett still calls “Sallie.” Pickett has been married twice before and rumor has it that his new girl is just that – a girl who is 14 years old compared to his 37 years of age. It turns out she is 18, but she likes being referred to “Schoolgirl Sallie.” They had first met in 1852 when she was just 9 and recovering from whopping cough, and Pickett was recovering from the loss of his first wife and child. When he can he travels to Suffolk, Virginia to see her. He now writes to her about what he has witnessed these last few days at Fredericksburg:
Here we are, my darling, at Fredericksburg, on the south side of the Rappahannock, half-way between Richmond and Washington, fortified for us by the hand of the Great Father.
I penciled you a note by old Jackerie (headquarters postmaster) on the 12th from the foot of the hills between Hazel Run and the Telegraph Road. In it I sent a hyacinth given me by a pretty lady who came out with beaten biscuit – and some unwritten and written messages from Old Peter (note: James Longstreet) and Old Jack (note: Thomas Jackson), Hood, Ewell, Stuart, and your “brothers,” to the “someone” to whom I was writing.
My division, nine thousand strong, is in fine shape. It was on the field of battle, as a division, for the first time yesterday, though only one brigade, Kemper’s, was actively engaged.
What a day it was, my darling – this ever to be remembered by many of us thirteenth of December dawning auspiciously upon us clad in deepest, darkest mourning! A fog such as would shame London lay over the valley, and through the dense mist distinctly came the uncanny commands of the unseen opposing officers. My men were eager to be in the midst of the fight, and if Hood had not been so cautious they would probably have immortalized themselves. Old Peter’s orders were that Hood and myself were to hold our ground of defense unless we should see an opportunity to attack the enemy while engaged with A.P. Hill on the right. A little after ten, when the fog had lifted and Stuart’s cannon from the plain of Massaponax were turned upon Meade and when Franklin’s advance left the enemy’s flank open, I went up to Hood and urged him to seize the opportunity; but he was afraid to assume so great a responsibility and sent for permission to Old Peter, who was with Marse Robert in a different part of the field. Before his assent and approval were received, the opportunity, alas, was lost!
If war, my darling, is a necessity – and I suppose it is – it is a very cruel one. Your Soldier’s heart almost stood still as he watched those sons of Erin fearlessly rush to their death. The brilliant assault on Marye’s Heights of their Irish Brigade was beyond description. Why, my darling, we forgot they were fighting us, and cheer after cheer at their fearlessness went up all along our lines. About fifty of my division sleep their last sleep at the foot of Marye’s Heights.
I can’t help but feel sorry for Old Burnside proud-plucky, hard-headed old dog. I always liked him, but I loved little Mac, and it was a godsend to the Confederacy that he was relieved.
Oh, my darling, war and its results did not seem so awful till the love for you came. Now I want to love and bless and help everything, and there are no foes – no enemies – just love for you and longing for you.
When not carrying messages, the Union mounted orderly for Brigadier General Orlando Poe, Emma “Frank” Thompson, assists the ambulance corps with taking the wounded to the Lacy House, where Clara Barton waits to receive them. Since dawn, surgeons have been working frantically in every room, and soon an inch or more of blood covers James Lacy’s beautiful hardwood floors.
On the Western front, U.S. Major General William Tecumseh Sherman is back in Memphis, Tennessee after being charged by Major General Ulysses S. Grant to organize the forces from there and nearby Helena, Arkansas for a move towards Vicksburg, Mississippi. Grant was hoping Sherman would have 40,000 troops, but by Sherman’s count he will have 30,000 to move down the Mississippi River via steamers and should arrive by December 18. Sherman is concerned that the different leaders – himself, Grant, Major General Samuel Curtis and Admiral David Dixon Porter – are too apart from each other but has confidence that when the move comes they will all act in concert to take the difficult city fortified by both land and water.
George B. McClellan sends a quick letter to August Belmont, the leader of the National Democrat party: “I fear that Mr L is busily engaged in breaking the rest of the eggs in the basket! Is this the blackest hour which precedes the dawn?”
In Washington, Mary Lincoln attends church services with Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning while her husband stays at the White House looking over maps and discussing military options after what appears to be a defeat at Fredericksburg. President Lincoln is in anguish over the results, yet is still looking for a lot of answers; he has no idea what the cost of the defeat has been.