James Longstreet

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Video Spotlight: Memories of Gettysburg

I recently took my long-time best friend, Maurice Barnes, to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the first time. While we had less than 24 hours there, we managed to hit a lot of places. He captured it with his video camera and I used my trusted camera (though I already have over 4,000 photos from previous Gettysburg visits; you can never have enough, right?).

A few weeks after we returned home Maurice surprised me with a video keepsake. It is a compilation of the video he took, along with some photos I took, and a few “fillers” from the Library of Congress. The song he used, “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri, is one that I have listened to when I drive into Gettysburg, and as I drive along the battlefield roads. Words like “one step closer” and “every breath, every hour has come to this” seem fitting in their own ways.

I was so moved by this gift that I asked his permission to share it with all of you. As it turns out, we are launching our own companies today as well, so we are launching this video as our first collaborative project. The dedication he has to me is something he strongly wanted to keep, and I appreciate that. He has always been one of my biggest Civil War Project supporters, and as you will be able to tell from the video, he also has a sincere passion and respect for history. I hope you find it as moving as I do, and it will hopefully give those who have not been to Gettysburg an idea of what it is like, and for those who have been there I hope it captures a small piece of your own experiences:

(If you are on a mobile device, you can watch it here): Memories of Gettysburg

For those of you who want all the specifics on the images shown on the video, you can find them here.

In regards to our two companies: I just launched my company called Visions on Fourth St. It will not just focus on my own creations such as The Civil War Project, but will aim to help others achieve their own vision, whether it be for an event, business start-up, or marketing initiative. The other company, Firefly Productions, is owned by Maurice and his brother Michael. Firefly’s mission is to capture the fire of people, events, places, companies, etc. through a wide range of videography and production services. I think this video is a beautiful representation of the work they produce, and I look forward to doing many more with them in the future.

150 Years Ago: Tuesday, December 23, 1862

Lieutenant Colonel William McCulloughDied in Coffeeville, Mississippi Source: McLean County (Illinois)

Lieutenant Colonel William McCullough
Died in Coffeeville, Mississippi
Source: McLean County (Illinois)Dear Fanny

Dear Fanny,

It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially, that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer and holier sort than you have known before.

Please present my kind regards to your afflicted mother.

Your sincere friend,
A. Lincoln

The Army of Virginia troops had watched the people of Fredericksburg lose their possessions and homes during the Union raids on December 12 and many have been collecting money to give to the citizens to help them rebuild their lives after the devastation. C.S.A. Lieutenant General James Longstreet asks his assistant to write a letter of thanks to Colonel James B. Walton and the men of the Washington Artillery battalion:

By direction of the lieutenant-general commanding, I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your check for $1,391, the contribution of the troops of your battalion to the fund for the relief of the Fredericksburg sufferers. In making this acknowledgment I and directed to express his admiration for the generous and feeling manner in which your command has responded to the call for relief. The members of the Washington Artillery show that they have hearts to feel as well as hearts to fight.

U.S. Major General George B. Meade has reason to celebrate, as he has been given the 5th Corps that had been temporarily under Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield. The 5th Corps had taken a beating at Fredericksburg with over 2,175 killed, wounded or missing, and while many are new recruits they are Pennsylvania men just like Meade. In turn he loses his 1st Corp men, but that particular corps has been quite depleted and he is excited about his new assignment. He throws a party for himself and invites Major General John Reynolds and other officers to join him. He jokingly writes to his wife Margaretta in Philadelphia that “It was unanimously agreed that Congress ought to establish the grade of lieutenant general, and that they would all unite in having me made one, provided I would treat with such good wine.

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln has done nothing with the bill he received from Congress over a week ago that would admit West Virginia as a new state. He sends his Cabinet members a short note regarding the matter:

Gentlemen of the Cabinet: A bill for an act entitled ‘An Act for the admission of the State of West-Virginia into the Union, and for other purposes,’ has passed the House of Representatives, and the Senate, and has been duly presented to me for my action.

I respectfully ask of each [of] you, an opinion in writing, on the following questions, towit:

1st. Is the said Act constitutional?

2nd. Is the said Act expedient?

From Vicksburg, Mississippi, Confederate President Jefferson Davis issues General Order No. 111, a proclamation declaring U.S. Major General Benjamin Butler a felon and insisting that he be executed immediately if captured, without a military trial. Butler had been acting as military governor of New Orleans since early 1862 and though he had a few friends in the city, many of his actions outraged most Southerners. In fact, he was often called “the most hated Yankee in the Confederacy.” Butler had worked to remove all signs of the Confederacy from the city and ordered civil officers, attorneys and clergy to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. He had, to the disgust of the locals, enlisted former black slaves as Union soldiers. And to top it off, he had issued General Order No. 28, which stated that any woman who insulted Union troops would “be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.” It was a sly way of stating that if a Southern lady was going to act unladylike – for example, slap a Union officer – then under this order the Union officer would be allowed to slap her back. The wording also implied that women who acted unladylike were “prostitutes.” The proclamation was met with great support from Confederate supporters; as for Butler, it certainly was not going to change the way he conducted his affairs that he felt had been successful to date in keeping a key city of Rebels under Union control.

Though C.S.A. General Joseph E. Johnston has been traveling with Davis for several days, he has been unsuccessful in getting Davis to agree with him on the best use of troops. Perhaps frustrated that his words are not sinking in, he writes a letter to Davis, once again requesting permission to use troops in Arkansas led by Lieutenant General Theophilius Holmes to protect Vicksburg instead of taking from General Braxton Bragg’s forces in Tennessee:

Our great object is to hold the Mississippi. The country beyond the river is as much interested in that object as this, and the loss to us of the Mississippi involves that of the country beyond it. The 8,000 or 10,000 men which are essential to safety ought, therefore, I respectfully suggest, to be taken from Arkansas, to return after the crisis in this department. I firmly believe, however, that our true system of warfare would be to concentrate the forces of the two departments on this side of the Mississippi, beat the enemy here, and then reconquer the country beyond it, which he might have gained in the mean time.

U.S. Major General has been attempting to feed his soldiers and restore his lines of communication and supply after C.S.A. Cavalry officer Earl Van Dorn’s raid on his Holly Springs, Mississippi base, but he has been unsuccessful. He can no longer continue the expedition into Mississippi and capture Vicksburg by a long overland route when he does not have the tools necessary to do so. He officially starts to move his troops back north into Tennessee as U.S. Major General William T. Sherman and his men continue to head to Vicksburg by water.

150 Years Ago: Sunday December 14, 1862

“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.

"The Angel of Marye's Heights" Memorial at Fredericksburg, VirginiaSource: TCWP

“The Angel of Marye’s Heights” Memorial at Fredericksburg
Source: TCWP

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.

LaSalle "Sallie" CorbellSource: Library of Congress

LaSalle “Sallie” Corbell
Source: Library of Congress

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.

Your Soldier

The Lacy HouseSource: Library of Congress

The Lacy House
Source: Library of Congress

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.

150 Years Ago: Saturday, December 13, 1862

Today is U.S. First Lady Mary Lincoln’s 44th birthday. But 52 miles south of the city there is no celebration; instead, the day brings the most senseless slaughter that the country has seen to date.

Marye's Heights Today (this would have been open land between the city and this point at the top of the hill)Source: TCWP

Marye’s Heights Today (this would have been open land between the city and this point at the top of the hill)
Source: TCWP

With most of U.S. General Ambrose Burnside’s troops now across the Rappahannock River, the Confederates expect an attack. C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee knows his position is a strong one; most of his men are located on Marye’s Heights, which overlooks the city. The Confederates have a stone wall for protection and the high ground. All they have to do is wait for the Union troops to come to them, which will be no easy task. They have to advance through 200 yards of cannon fire without cover, cross a narrow canal over three small bridges, and then advance against Confederate infantry lined up firing down on them from behind a stone wall. Lee and one of his most trusted Generals, James Longstreet, look to Colonel Edward Porter Alexander, who has been responsible for setting each piece of artillery now aimed at the enemy. Lee believes that artillery will be key in winning this battle. When asked by his superiors for an assessment of their preparedness, Alexander states that “A chicken could not live on that field when we open on it.

Across the Rappahannock River at his headquarters at Chatham House, Burnside issues his attack orders early in the morning. He calls for an assault against Jackson’s Corp by Major General William B. Franklin’s Left Grand Division, after which will follow an advance against Marye’s Heights by Major General Edwin V. Sumner’s Right Grand Division. Burnside uses ambiguous and hesitant language in his orders, which may reflect a lack of confidence in his plan or his uncertainty of Lee’s troop positions.

Battle of Fredericksburg MapSource: Library of Congress(Click to Enlarge)

Battle of Fredericksburg Map
Source: Library of Congress
(Click to Enlarge)

Burnside believes that he is only facing part of Lee’s army on the heights behind the city. He plans to use artillery on Stafford Heights to control the battlefield on either side of the river. While Sumner moves towards the heights as a diversion, Burnside will take Franklin’s stronger left wing and have him storm the ridgeline south of the city, taking Lee by surprise. Once the ridgeline is taken, Franklin is to sweep north into the city while Sumner’s wing continues the attack on the heights. The final goal is the same for both Franklin and Sumner: seize Marye’s Heights.

Franklin and his key Major Generals, John F. Reynolds and William “Baldy” Smith, agree that the best way to defeat Lee is to roll up Jackson’s front. They had waited until 3am that morning for instructions, thinking they would move early, but instead they don’t receive a go-ahead until 7:30 a.m. As they read Burnside’s instructions, they find that it is not an approval for an all-out attack. One division “at least” is to seize the heights near Hamilton’s Crossing “if possible”, taking care to keep it well supported and its line of retreat open. The rest of the command is to be in position for a rapid move up the old Richmond Road towards Maryes Heights, which will only work if Jackson falls back towards the city.

Reynold’s 1st Corps is picked for the drive up the heights with approximately 5,000 men. The privilege of leading the assault goes to the Pennsylvania Reserves, led by Major General George Meade. Reynolds chooses them because he trusts the men and their commander more than anyone else. At 8:30 a.m. Meade leads his three brigades towards Jackson’s position. Jackson’s men put up a difficult fight. At one point Jackson feels his men are losing their position; he orders the “Rebel yell” and his men slam into the exhausted and outnumbered Pennsylvanians. One Union private will later say that “The action was close-handed and men fell like leaves in autumn. It seems miraculous that any of us escaped at all.

Part of the Stone Wall Today (Replica)Source: TCWP

Part of the Stone Wall Today (Replica)
Source: TCWP

Sumner receives similar orders from Burnside, using the same language to send one division “at least” to attack Marye’s Heights. Sumner waits until the fog finally lifts at 10 a.m. and then begins to line up his troops in the city streets. Around noon, the first brigade under Brigadier General Nathan Kimball marches out of the city and towards the heights. As they reach the canal ditch they encounter a bottleneck, which is spanned by partially destroyed bridges established at only three locations. Once they cross, they try as best as they can to reform their lines and march up the muddy slope towards the stone wall. The Confederate artillery and massed musket fire opens up a storm around them once they are within 125 feet of the wall; Kimball is severely wounded and his men suffer 25% casualties. None of them reach the wall. Some start to run away from the fire, but most get on the ground with some attempting to fire at the stone wall but with no impact.

An hour later at 1 p.m., Major General William H. French sends out two additional brigades, and the same thing occurs: the men march out of the city, they bottleneck at the canal, they reform lines and make their way up the muddy slope, only to be fired upon by Confederate shells in every direction. These two brigades suffer 50% casualties.

Thomas Francis MeagherSource: Library of Congress

Thomas Francis Meagher
Source: Library of Congress

Sumner now looks to Major General Winfield Scott Hancock and his men. Hancock first sends in Brigadier General Samuel K. Zook, followed by the famed Irish Brigade led by Brigadier General Thomas F. Meagher. Thirty-nine year old Meagher, originally from Ireland, had been the leader of the Young Irelanders in Ireland’s Rebellion of 1848. He had been convicted of sedition and sentenced to death, but instead was transported out of Ireland to Australia. In 1852 Meagher had made his way to the U.S. and settled in New York City, where he studied law, worked as a journalist and held traveling lectures on the Irish cause. He had joined the army immediately at the start of the Civil War and encouraged Irish immigrants to support the Union by joining what was eventually his “Irish Brigade,” which has an outstanding reputation. By complete coincidence, Meagher and his men are aimed at attacking an area at the stone wall defended by fellow Irishmen of C.S.A. Colonel Robert McMillan’s 24th Georgia Infantry. One of the Confederates spot the Irish Brigade’s green regimental flags approaching them and cries out “Oh God, what a pity! Here comes Meagher’s fellows.” But McMillan orders his troops to “Give it to them now, boys! Now’s the time! Give it to them!” Meagher’s men come very close to reaching the stone wall but are repulsed; 545 are killed, wounded or missing out of 1,200. One of the men, U.S. Private Josiah Marshall Favill, will later write that:

“Immediately the hill in front was hid from view by a continuous sheet of flame…The rebel infantry poured in a murderous fire while their guns from every available point fired shot and shell and canister. The losses were so tremendous, that before we knew it our momentum was gone, and the charge a failure. I wondered while I lay there how it all came about that these thousands of men in broad daylight were trying their best to kill each other. Just then there was no romance, no glorious pomp, nothing but disgust for the genius who planned so frightful a slaughter.

By 2:15 p.m. one of Burnside’s staff officers wires his boss regarding Franklin’s Left Division, stating that “Meade and Gibbon badly used up…enemy in force and threatening on left…engaged now heavily in front…too late to advance either to left or front.” There are men waiting to be used, but they are never called in to assist. The Pennsylvania Reserves had gone in outnumbered six to one and against a very strong position held by Jackson; they suffer 40% casualties.

Around 2:30 p.m. Burnside orders continued waves of assaults on the Confederates, convinced he can break through. Brigadier Samuel Sturgis’s brigade attacks and are all thrown back with terrible losses. Not a single soldier gets to the stone wall. As Lee watches the slaughter, he turns to Longstreet and says “It is well that war is so horrible, or else we should grow too fond of it.

After more than two hours of fighting, four Union divisions have failed to take the heights; there are already 5,125 casualties. No progress has been made. Rather than reconsider his approach, Burnside continues to order the same path. He sends orders to Franklin to renew his assault on Jackson’s troops and now orders his Center Grand Division led by Major General Joseph Hooker to cross the Rappahannock into the city and take the same path to the heights as the others who have gone before him.

First Hooker personally performs reconnaissance  – something Burnside nor Sumner had done – so he can assess the situation. He returns to Burnside’s headquarters and advises him against the attack. While Burnside and Hooker argue, the Confederates take the time to strengthen their position even more by adding Major General George Pickett’s division and one of Major General John Bell Hood’s brigades to reinforce Marye’s Heights. The Union men still on the field continued to fight or to take cover as best they can, using their dead comrades as shields. Though he had not received orders from Hooker, Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield sends his division over to relieve Sturgis’s men, but they are hit hard by sharpshooter and artillery fire and provide no effective relief to Sturgis.

Section of the original Stone Wall; it was 4 feet high at the time of battleSource: TCWP

Section of the original Stone Wall; it was 4 feet high at the time of battle
Source: TCWP

A soldier in Hancock’s division reports movement in the Confederate lines that lead some to believe that the Confederates might be retreating. Though this seems unlikely, a division of Brigadier General Andrew A. Humphreys is ordered to attack and capitalize on the situation. Humphreys leads his first brigade on horseback, with his men moving over and around fallen troops with fixed bayonets and unloaded rifles; some of the fallen men clutched at the passing pant legs, urging their comrades not to go forward, causing the brigade to become disorganized in their advance. The charge reaches within 50 yards of the wall before being cut down by concentrated rifle fire.

By 4 p.m., Hooker returns from his meeting with Burnside, unable to convince him to stop the attacks. While Humphreys is still attacking, Hooker reluctantly sends in Brigadier General George W. Getty, but this time focuses on the leftmost portion of Marye’s Heights. They move along an unfinished railroad line and are able to get very close to the Confederate line without detection in the gathering twilight, but eventually they are detected, fired upon and repulsed.

Humphrey's Division Charge "The Last Major Assault"Source: Library of Congress

Humphrey’s Division Charge “The Last Major Assault”
Source: Library of Congress

At 6:30 p.m. it is dark. Franklin never did follow Burnside’s orders for a second attack towards Jackson’s position. Despite strong protests from his generals, especially Winfield Scott Hancock, Burnside orders his reserves to march over the river and attack the stone wall. Humphreys’ men are told the previous attacks have failed because the men stopped to fire their weapons. They advance with unloaded weapons, planning to use only bayonets. As Hooker watches the last assault, he says “I think I’ve lost as many men as my orders required.

Seven Union divisions had been sent in, generally one brigade at a time. There was a total of fourteen individual charges that resulted in 6,000 to 8,000 casualties. Confederates losses at Marye’s Heights total around 1,200. C.S.A. James Longstreet later would write that “The charges had been desperate and bloody, but utterly hopeless.

As the mounted courier/orderly for Brigadier General Orlando M. Poe, Frank Thompson (aka Sarah Emma Edmonds, a female disguised as a male so she could enlist in the Union Army), had been in constant motion and often close to the hottest action during the battle as she spent the day riding up and down the lines carrying messages and relaying orders. The only time in 12 hours that she got off the saddle was to assist an officer of the 79th New York, who lay writhing in agony on the field, having been seized with cramps and spasms and was in extreme pain. Emma provided him with some powerful medicine that got him back on his horse, at his General’s side, within the hour. While many noticed “Frank’s” bravery that day, not everyone was as heroic. Thompson would write that “I never saw, til then, a man deliberately shoot himself, with his own pistol, in order to save the rebels the satisfaction of doing so, as it would seem. As one brigade was ordered into the line of battle, I saw an officer take out his pistol and shoot himself through the side – not mortally, I am sorry to say, but just sufficient enough to unfit him for duty. He was carried to the rear, protesting that it was done by accident.

From behind the Union lines, London Times reporter Francis Charles Lawley witnesses the wholesale bloodletting:

There, in every attitude of death, lying so close to each other that you might step from body to body, lay acres of the Federal dead. Within the town layers of corpses stretched in the balconies of houses as though taking a siesta. More appalling to look at were piles of arms and legs, amputated as soon as their owners had been carried off the field.”

U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes with the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers would later write about what he experienced today:

We slept upon our arms last night and daylight this morning found us in line. The battle began at an early hour and the shot and shell screeched and screamed over our heads. To our right we could see the fight going on for the heights beyond and back of Fredericksburg. General Sumner tried to take the hills but failed. The city was on fire in several places, and the noise was deafening. We could see the long lines of Union troops move up the hill and melt away before the Rebel fire. But we were not idle, although at times there would be a lull in our front and we could watch the fight on the right. At 3pm our Regiment was sent down to the left of the line and ordered to support a Battery. This was no fun for us, for we had to stand the Rebel shells fired at the Battery. Just at dark the firing ceased, but what a scene was before us. The dead and wounded covered the ground in all directions. Ambulances were sent out to pick up the wounded, but the enemy opened fire upon them, and wounded were left to suffer. During the evening if a match was lighted it would bring a shell from the Rebel forts on the hills. At 8pm we were ordered to the rear and our Division rested for the night.

That night “Frank” Thompson rides three miles south from her camp to Franklin’s headquarters to obtain instructions for the morning. Franklin’s house, once owned by Mr. Barnard, has been destroyed from the fighting. Along they way she is haunted by the constant moans from the wounded. The night is bitterly cold, which is causing extreme suffering. Major General Darius Couch would write “as fast as men died they stiffened in the wintery air and on the front line were rolled forward for protection to the living. Frozen men were placed like dumb sentries.” For Emma, this was the darkest night she has witnessed in her military career.

150 Years Ago: Friday, December 12, 1862

"The Ransacking of Fredericksburg"Source: Library of Congress

“The Ransacking of Fredericksburg”
Source: Library of Congress

Now occupying the city, the Union men loot the city with a vengeance. The wholesale looting angers the Confederates, who watch it all from Marye’s Heights. U.S. Commanding General Ambrose Burnside spends all day moving the rest of his army across the Rappahannock River and organizing for the upcoming battle. He still believes that he has deceived C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee by crossing at the city.

Senseless property destruction is uncontrolled. U.S. Major General Darius Couch would later describe the scene: “There was considerable looting. I placed a provost-guard at the bridges, with orders that nobody should go back with plunder. An enormous pile of booty was collected there by evening. But there came a time when we were too busy to guard it, and I suppose it was finally carried off by another set of spoilers.

C.S.A. General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s Corps is guarding the river downstream near Port Royal. Up until now, Lee was not certain that Burnside’s main crossing would be at the city. But as he watches the Union army cross over, he orders Jackson’s Corps to quickly move to Fredericksburg. As Jackson’s men arrive, they take over the right flank from Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s men. Lee’s strength is now at 72,500 men against Burnside’s 114,000.

U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes quickly writes in his diary:

We were relieved from picket duty and joined our Brigade which was formed in line of battle near the river bank. By this time the entire left grand Division had cross and the plain was covered with soldiers and Batteries of Artillery. About noon Artillery on both sides opened and one shell exploded in our Regiment. In fact one Rebel Battery on a hill seemed to have the range of our Regiment and a few men were hit.

Oliver Wendell Holmes JrBorn in Boston, Massachusetts to a prominent writer and physician and his abolitionist wife Amelia Lee Jackson, 21-year-old Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. loves literature and is a proud abolitionist. Graduating from Harvard in 1861, he enlisted in the Massachusetts militia and eventually received a commission as a First Lieutenant in the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. While the rest of Holme’s Regiment is at Fredericksburg, he is laid up at a Union hospital in Falmouth, Virginia, where he decides to kill the agonizing time by writing his mother:

These have been very trying times for me I assure you. First after being stretched out miserably sick with the dysentery, growing weaker each day from illness and starvation, I was disappointed in getting my papers sending me to Philadelphia by the delay at the various headquarters & the subsequent business causing them to be overlooked. Then yesterday morning the grand advance begins. I see for the first time the Regiment going to battle while I remain behind. A feeling worse than the anxiety of danger, I assure you. Weak as I was I couldn’t restrain my tears. I went into the hospital – the only tent left here – listless and miserable. They were just moving out a dead man while another close to death with the prevailing trouble (dysentery) was moaning close by. In the Hospital all day with no prospect of being moved or cared for, and this morning we hear the Regt. has been in it. Exaggerated rumors; then it settles down that poor (Charles F.) Cabot is killed – and several, among them my 2nd Lt wounded. The cannonading of yesterday hasn’t recommenced this morning but the day is young and I expect before night one of the great battles of the war. I was on the point of trying to get down there but found I was too weak for the work. Meanwhile another day of anxious waiting. Of helpless hopelessness for myself, of weary unsatisfied questioning for the Regiment. When I know more I will continue my letter. I have no books I can read I am going to try to calm myself by drawing, but now four days have passed in disappointed expectations. Later.

150 Years Ago: Wednesday, December 3, 1862

Fredericksburg Confederate FortificationsSource: Library of Congress

Fredericksburg Confederate Fortifications
Source: Library of Congress

C.S.A. Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s Corps are the last of Commanding General Robert E. Lee’s men to arrive in Fredericksburg, having marched 175 miles in 12 days. Weather conditions had been unfavorable and many of the men are without shoes, coats or blankets. Jackson meets with Lee and immediately voices his disagreement with the strategy to defend Fredericksburg. From Jackson’s point of view, it’s obvious that U.S. Commanding General Ambrose Burnside’s men will cross the Rappahannock River and the Confederates, with their firmly planted position on the high ground behind a stone wall, will easily devastate them; but nothing will be gained by it. Jackson strongly supports moving the more strategic position of North Anna, south of Fredericksburg, where a victory against the Union will be of more use to the Confederates strategically. Though Lee had originally looked at North Anna location of choice, once Burnside started placing his men across the river from Fredericksburg Lee felt his only decision was to fight him there. Lee declines Jackson’s proposal and Jackson leaves upset. His men are ordered to be the right flank of Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s line; he will extend east towards Port Royal and will meet up with his former brother-in-law Major General D.H. Hill’s division. As his troops move into place, Jackson settles into a small home near Lee’s headquarters.

Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes with the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers writes in his journal near Stafford Court House, VA:

Yesterday we enclosed a piece of ground with a hedge of cedar and the officers of our mess pitched three new A tents inside. We made a gateway and arched it with boughs and built a green screen in front of our tents. We built beds of boughs and as darkness came on we sat down to enjoy our new homes. An orderly came in and said “The Colonel directs you that you have three day’s rations cooked and be ready to move tomorrow morning.” Well, we shall sleep on night in our new quarters, and that is worth something to us.

Colonel Frank Wheaton has been promoted to Brigadier General. We are very glad for him but sorry to have him leave our Regiment. He is a fine soldier and gentleman. We hope Lt. Col. Nelson Viall will be promoted to Colonel. The paymaster finished paying our Regiment tonight, and many thousands of dollars will be sent to Rhode Island.

150 Years Ago: Friday, November 21, 1862

James A. Seddon, 1860'sSource: Library of Congress

James A. Seddon, 1860’s
Source: Library of Congress

It is the President’s prerogative to change his mind, and that applies even to C.S.A. President Jefferson Davis. Though he had named Gustavus W. Smith as Secretary of War four days ago, today he changes his mind and appoints James A. Seddon to take his place. Seddon does not come from a military background; instead, he’s a lawyer and occasional politician from Richmond, Virginia. While he had originally championed peace between the northern and southern states back in 1861, he would later that year serve as a member of the Provisional Confederate Congress. He has had issues with poor health in the past, but Davis needs someone with strong diplomatic skills to handle generals and anti-Davis bureaucrats. Most importantly, Seddon has the personality to work with someone as strong willed as Davis.

In Fredericksburg, both North and South are preparing for an engagement. While Union soldiers wait for pontoon boats to arrive, they are left watching the Confederates occupy the hills beyond Fredericksburg while working to make them impregnable. In the meantime, U.S. General Ambrose Burnside sends Brigadier General Marsena Patrick with a message across the Rappahannock River to Montgomery Slaughter, the mayor of Fredericksburg, demanding that the city surrender or else he will will open fire and shell the town:

Under cover of the houses of your city, shots have been fired upon the troops of my command. Your mills and manufactories are furnishing provisions and the material for clothing for armed bodies in rebellion against the Government of the United States. Your railroads and other means of transportation are removing supplies to the depots of such troops. This condition of things must terminate, and, by direction of General Burnside, I accordingly demand the surrender of the city into my hands, as the representative of the Government of the United States, at or before 5 o’clock this afternoon.

C.S.A. Colonel William A. Ball, who commands the troops in the city, sends the message on to C.S.A. General James Longstreet. By now General Robert E. Lee has arrived; he and Longstreet make the decision to pull their troops out of town, yet send back correspondence with the threat that any attempts by the Union to occupy the town will be resisted. Fredericksburg citizens are quickly notified and evacuated, forming a long train of refugees out of town and behind protection of the Confederate lines.

On the Western front, Major Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman meet in Columbus, Kentucky to discuss strategy in how to obtain the strategic Mississippi port of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Grant will move his army utilizing the railroad through Holly Springs, Mississippi; Sherman will move south as the right wing of Grant’s army. Before they reach Vicksburg they have a lot of work to accomplish. One key goal will be to take control of enemy railroads throughout the state.

The Richmond Daily Dispatch and other southern papers continue to take a great interest in the politics and strategic plans of the North. Today they focus their attention on former head of the Army of the Potomac, George B. McClellan:

Demolishing their Idols.

Since this war commenced, the Yankees have created military idols, and then annihilated them. …

Whilst never regarding McClellan as a “Young Napoleon,” he unquestionably understood the capabilities of his men, and the obstacles he had to encounter. Much better than the rabble of the North or their besotted Government. We have never been those who regarded the Yankees as cowards, but they have not the military aptitude of the Southern people and cannot be improvised into soldiers. They are unfamiliar by education both with the idea of danger and the use of arms. They were called upon to confront men who had been accustomed to both from their cradle and who are fighting in the holiest cause for which men ever drew a sword. The first battle of Manassas had demonstrated that after three months incessant drilling they were unable to cope with one-third their number of Southern volunteers. Even the best regulars of their old army were on that occasion annihilated. …

McClellan will have his revenge. All that the South has done in former battles will be nothing to the effort she will make under the impetus of Lincoln’s proclamation — the most heroic struggle that the world has over witnessed will occur when this city is again assaulted by the Yankee legions. The South will go to the battle as joyously as to a bridal, and, with the blessing of Heaven, she will not only save her liberties and her capital, but will save the North from herself.

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