Today U.S. General Order No. 100 is published, which provides a specific code of conduct for soldiers and officers when dealing with Confederate prisoners of war and civilians. The idea behind the Orders had come from Francis Lieber, a Prussian immigrant born in Berlin whose three sons are serving in the military, though one had died in the Battle of Williamsburg, Virginia (also known as the Battle of Fort Magruder) almost a year ago on May 5, 1862. He had advised General-in-Chief Henry Halleck on the subject, and President Abraham Lincoln worked on the Order personally along with four generals and Lieber. It consists of 157 articles and establishes policies on the treatment of prisoners, civilians when found to be engaged in guerrilla warfare, exchanges, and flags of truce.
The Orders also address a crisis that was started by Emancipation of slaves in the rebellion (Confederate) states earlier in the year on January 1, which Confederate President Jefferson Davis has insisted is in violation of the customary rules of war. More importantly, Davis has dictated that the Confederate army treat black Union soldiers as criminals, not soldiers, and they are therefore subject to execution or re-enslavement if captured. The Orders, which would also be known as “The Lieber Code” and “Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field”, specifically defends the lawfulness of Emancipation under the laws of war and insists that those same laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of color among combatants.
The Orders are the considered to be the first of its kind. Up until today nothing like this has ever been published. It will stand the test of time, as the U.S., Europe and other nations will use it in the future as the foundation for rules of war as it is gradually applied and expanded internationally.
U.S. Major General John Reynold’s men are continuing their mission to Port Conway, Virginia. Along the way his two regiments, the 24th Michigan and 84th New York, completely surprise the Confederate cavalry led by one of their most praised officers, J.E.B. Stuart. Though C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee was used to Union efforts to distract them, he is still alarmed by what occurs. He writes to Stuart that “I am afraid the cavalry was negligent. They gave no alarm; did not fire a shot; lost some public horses and two wagons. The citizens gave the alarm. I desire the matter inquired into.”
In the meantime, the U.S. Army of the Potomac remains bogged down due to swollen streams from recent rains. U.S. Commanding General Joesph Hooker cannot move his men until they can cross. So for now they wait in camp, the men unaware of where Hooker will lead them next now that winter is over and they need to be back on the move. What was once thought to be nothing more than a 90 day war has now lasted more than two years, and in the Eastern Theater it seems like little progress has been made in the goals of capturing the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia or obtaining the surrender of Lee’s army.
The Confederacy, like any government during war – including the U.S. government – is having difficulty raising money to keep the war in progress. Pay for the men, food, clothes, weapons, ammunition, etc.; this all costs a great deal of money. Taxes have already been put in place but collection has been difficult. Today a “tax in kind” is enacted that requires each state to collect one-tenth of their citizens agricultural product. The money will go directly to supplying the Confederate army, which has often struggled to keep its men fed, clothed and paid, especially in the western Confederate states.
In the Western Theater, U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant has been getting different reconnaissance information on the viability of taking Grand Gulf, Mississippi, about 30 miles from his main target of Vicksburg. Grant decides to view the situation for himself, so he and Admiral David Dixon Porter take a steamer downriver. Upon closer evaluation Grant believes he sees the key to the entire position: the northern-most bluff. Porter had earlier told Grant that he had seen fortifications on that area being constructed by slaves, but Grant notices there is no artillery yet in position that would prevent them from taking the bluff. He gives the order that he wants to make an attack in two days. Porter’s gunboats will take care of any artillery at Grand Gulf (if there is any by then) and Major General John McClernand’s men will be transported there by boats and are charged with taking the bluff. Grant’s vision is clear and he orders his officers to leave their horses and tents behind so they can move swiftly.
Just to reduce their chance of any surprises, Grant gives additional orders to McClernand to send armed reconnaissance south past the ground opposite of Grand Gulf so he can be aware of any Confederate troops or movements there. Grant has spent months trying various ways to get to Vicksburg; he is hoping this is the opening he needs.
Actor John Wilkes Booth is enjoying his time back on stage. After suffering from a respiratory illness during February and March, Spring has given him life and energy and he is back in Washington performing to packed theatres as he plays the title roles in both Hamlet and Richard III. The National Republican drama critic states that Booth “takes the hearts of the audience by storm” and terms his performance “a complete triumph.” Booth is earning top money and praise; with it comes his choice of women, who fight for the chance to be with the actor, even if it is for just one evening.
From a country farm in Spotsylvania, Virginia, C.S.A. Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson finds himself with time to catch up on battle reports. He starts by sending General Robert E. Lee details on his troops activities from September 5 – 27, 1862, which includes details on (yet another) capture of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and the battle of Sharpsburg (known in the North as the battle of Antietam) in Maryland.
Though Jackson mostly keeps it brief and simple, giving overall battlefield movements and casualties, there are two people that stand out, one in a good way, another not. He praises Major General J.E.B. Stuart, one of the Confederacy’s most valued cavalry officers, by stating “Maj.-Gen. Stuart had the advance and acted his part well. This officer rendered valuable service throughout the day. His bold use of artillery secured for us an important position, which, had the enemy possessed, might have commanded our left.” As for Major General A.P. Hill and the movement of his troops from Harpers Ferry to Sharpsburg – which many Confederates felt saved them from possibly losing not just a battle but the war – Jackson simply writes, months later, “I have not embraced the movements of his division.” Jackson had several quarrels with Hill leading up to that moment, Jackson being the higher ranking officer and expecting his orders to be followed to the letter, which Hill did not always do. Though Lee had sent for Hill during the Sharpsburg attack for much needed reinforcements, Jackson was unaware of it and did not seem to approve; it had gone against his own orders for Hill to stay at Harpers Ferry to make sure it did not yet again fall into Union hands. To Jackson, it was another order Hill had not obeyed and it did not sit well with him, even seven months later.
U.S. Commanding General of the Army of the Potomac Joseph Hooker is still in the Fredericksburg, Virginia vicinity. It’s been over four months since the Union defeat there and the army has not yet made a significant move to destroy Lee’s army, most of which has spent the winter behind their strong defenses in Fredericksburg. Hooker has completed plans to move and surprise Lee by sweeping down to behind him and cutting off his supplies from Richmond, but first he wants to test Lee’s strength before he starts his main troop movements. Three days ago Hooker sent out troops under Major General Abner Doubleday to do reconnaissance and they have since returned. Now U.S. General John Reynolds sends the 24th Michigan and 84th New York on the same path: down the north bank to Port Conway, eighteen miles from camp. “The object of this demonstration is to draw the enemy force in that direction“, Reynolds is informed. His men should pretend to conceal their wagon train but to let enough of it show to give the impression of strength to the enemy; Hooker knows Lee’s men will be watching.
In Mississippi, as he waits for orders from U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant to make yet another attempt to take the geographically well-protected city of Vicksburg, Major General William T. Sherman writes his brother Senator John Sherman back in Washington as they continue to trade opinions on the important issues of the day via letters:
I have noticed in the Conscript Act the clauses which empowered the President to consolidate the ten companies of a regiment into five, when the aggregate was below one-half the maximum standard, and to reduce the officers accordingly. Had I dreamed that this was going to be made universal, I should have written you and begged you for the love of our ruined country to implore Lincoln to spare us this last and fatal blow. Two years of costly war have enabled the North to realize the fact that by organized and disciplined armies alone can she hope to restore the old and found a new empire. We had succeeded in making the skeletons of armies, eliminating out of the crude materials that first came forth the worthless material, and had just begun to have some good young colonels, captains, sergeants and corporals. And Congress had passed the Conscript Bill, which would have enabled the President to fill up these skeleton regiments full of privates who soon, from their fellows, and with experienced officers, would make an army capable of marching and being handled and directed. But to my amazement comes this order…This is a far worse defeat than Manassas. Mr. Wade, in his report to condemn McClellan, gave a positive assurance to the army that henceforth, instead of fighting with diminishing ranks, we should feel assured that the gaps made by the bullet, disease, desertion, etc., would be promptly filled, whereas only such parts of the Conscript Law as tend to weaken us are enforced, viz.: 5 per cent for furlough and 50 per cent of officers and non-commissioned officers discharged to consolidate regiments. Even Blair is amazed at this. He protests the order cannot be executed, and we should appeal to Mr. Lincoln, whom he still insists has no desire to destroy the army. But the order is positive and I don’t see how we can hesitate. Grant started today down to Carthage, and I have written to him, which may stave it off for a few days, but I tremble at the loss of so many young and good officers, who have been hard at work for two years, and now that they begin to see how to take care of soldiers, must be turned out…
If not too late, do, for mercy’s sake, exhaust your influence to stop this consolidation of regiments. Fill all the regiments with conscripts, and if the army is then too large disband the regiments that prefer to serve north of the Potomac and the Ohio. Keep the war South at all hazards. If this Consolidation Law is literally enforced, and no new draft is made, this campaign is over. And the outside world will have a perfect right to say our Government is afraid of its own people…
W. T. Sherman
What Sherman doesn’t know is that a Union flotilla of six transports and twelve barges have passed the Confederate artillery batteries protecting Vicksburg. One transport and six barges were sunk yesterday, but the remainder carried their supplies to Grant’s troops now stationed below the city. It is has been slow going for Grant and his mission to take Vicksburg, but his plan does appear to be coming together. C.S.A. Major Generals Carter L. Stevenson and John C. Pemberton try come to an agreement on how to best use their scarce resources; they lack the number of troops that Grant has at his disposal. Stevenson is convinced that the Union army will cross the Mississippi River at Warrenton, just eight miles south of Vicksburg. He wants troops stationed on the south side of Vicksburg where they can cover roads that would lead into the city from Warrenton. Pemberton wants to send troops directly to Warrenton itself. Neither General is looking 20 miles further south to Grand Gulf, which is exactly where Grant is preparing his men for a major move.
Ever since their son Willie’s death last February, U.S. President Abraham and his wife Mary Lincoln continue to have difficulties getting over the loss. Especially given the loss of loved ones during the war, spiritualists and séances are becoming a trend across the country, whether it be a sincere attempt to make contact with a loved one, or simply a show for entertainment. Mary Lincoln has especially found comfort in them, believing that through the séances she is able to make contact with her dear deceased son. Though the President does not believe in such things and is getting over an illness which has affected his throat and eyes, he gives in to his wife and attends a séance in the White House Red Room tonight; several cabinet members also attend. There is no unusual activity until after the Lincoln’s left the room. Newspapers will report that after the Lincoln’s left, the “‘Spirits’ tweaked the nose of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and tugged on Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles beard.“
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 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,
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.
“You are no doubt anxious to hear from me since the events of the past few days. The papers give you all the details of the crossing of the Rappahannock as well as the re-crossing, and are not very particular as to the truth of the facts, only so they have a telling effect and read well. My corps, or two divisions of it, made the attack on the left, and after almost gaining the object let it slip. They did not do as well as I expected. Tho’ they advanced under artillery fire very well, when it came to the attack of the wooded heights they faltered and failed. We are fortunate it is not worse. The crossing at this point was a failure from the fact that to have been successful it ought to have been a surprise, and we should have advanced at once and carried the heights as was intended. As it was we lost one day by the failure to throw over the bridges at the town without serious opposition – and to have risked more than we did would probably have cost the loss of the whole Army in case of another repulse. You must not show this to anyone.” – U.S. Major General John F. Reynolds, in a letter to his sisters in Pennsylvania
U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant has been busy moving troops through the state Mississippi with the end goal of obtaining Vicksburg on the Mississippi River. But his overall responsibilities also include administrative oversight of the military department that controls Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi. One of the administrative functions of the department is to oversee the issuing of trade licenses. Though U.S. President Abraham Lincoln has permitted limited trade for cotton, Grant has been tasked with shutting down the black-market trade in the cotton industry. The perception is that the Jewish community is largely responsible for war profiteering and organizing the illegal trade in black-market cotton and Grant has bought into that prejudice.
Without U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s knowledge, Grant issues General Order No. 11:
“The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.
Post commanders will see to it that all of this class of people be furnished passes and required to leave, and any one returning after such notification will be arrested and held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners, unless furnished with permit from headquarters. No passes will be given these people to visit headquarters for the purpose of making personal application of trade permits.”
Grant’s order is strictly and quickly enforced as entire families are marched out of town with only what they can carry. It is the most notorious anti-Semitic official order in American history.
U. S. Brigadier General John Foster continues his North Carolina expedition as his troops reach the Goldsboro railroad this morning. The railroad bridge is heavily guarded by Confederate troops under the command of Brigadier General Thomas Clingman and reinforced with troops by Brigadier General Nathan George Evans, but Foster still manages to successfully torch the bridge. He sends a report to his superiors that his Goldsboro Expedition is a “complete perfect success.” Before the bridge is completely burned, he orders a counter-march back to New Bern; with the loss in Fredericksburg, Foster feels vulnerable to a Confederate attack and there’s a chance he could be cut-off inland during his trip back, providing him with limited escape options.
Foster’s inland expedition resulted in 90 Union solders killed, 478 wounded and over 400 captured. They were higher numbers than what he expected, since he had not planned on so many engagements with the enemy. Confederates had 71 killed, 268 wounded and more than 400 captured. While Foster’s main initiative was to disrupt communications and supply lines, there are no lasting results from his expedition. The city of Kinston received only minor damage, the Confederate gunboat at Whitehall survives, and the railroad bridge at Goldsboro does not burn completely after Foster leaves; it is repaired by Confederates within 10 days and supplies will continue to flow along that route to support Confederate troops in Virginia.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
At midnight, Union engineers quietly haul 189 wagons of pontoon bridges down to the Rappahannock River and begin putting the pieces together. At 5am, the engineers hear the order “Fire!” come across the river and C.S.A. General William Barksdale’s brigade begins attacking the engineers. Work on the bridges to the south of the city proceeds rapidly, but the work on the bridges at the city comes to a halt. At 10am, U.S. Commanding General Ambrose Burnside orders a massive barrage on the city to stop the sniping on his engineers, but the barrage fails. Finally, three Union regiments cross the river using the pontoons as boats and force Barksdale’s men back. As the day ends, Oliver Howard’s division enters the city in force and Barksdale withdraws. Burnside now occupies the city of Fredericksburg that he has been staring at across the river for several weeks.
U.S. Major General John F. Reynolds is moving the rest of Major General William Franklin’s Left Grand Division across the bridges three miles south of the city. Reynolds approaches the owner of a nearby plantation home, owned by Mr. Barnard, who refuses to leave the premises so the Union can use his home for their operations. It is unclear what Reynolds says to Barnard – he is usually a man of few words – but as Franklin arrives he sees Barnard escorted by two soldiers towards the pontoon bridge. Franklin sets up his headquarters at the Barnard home, which overlooks the river and is less than a mile south of the bridges.
Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes and his fellow 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers leave their camp at Falmouth in darkness; his men will cross the bridges south of the city:
We left our camp about two o’clock in the morning and just at daylight reached the banks of the Rappahannock River below Fredericksburg. The river is narrow and for about five hundred years back the ground is nearly of a level with the river. Back of this plain are high bluffs and here we had nearly two hundred cannon in position. These cannon were constantly firing and the roar was tremendous. The air was filled with shot and shell flying over our heads and into Fredericksburg. The Rebels did not often reply but would at times land a shot over onto our side. Just at sunset the 2nd R.I. was ordered to cross the bridge at a place now called Franklin’s crossing. It is opposite a plantation owned by A.N. Barnard and is about three miles below the city. Companies “B”, “I” and “K” first charged across the pontoon bridges with arms at a trail while the balance of the Regiment followed with loaded guns. As we reached the other side of the river the three companies rushed up the bank and deployed as skirmishers. The Regiment followed and as we reached the high ground received a volley that wounded two of our men. The Rebels retreated and we followed for a short distance. Night now came and as the remainder of our Brigade crossed the bridge they gave “Three cheers for the Regiment first over.” Our entire Regiment was deployed across the plain in a semicircle from river to river and remained through the night. General Devens said to us: “Boys, you have had a hard time, but Rhode Island did well.” The Army was looking on to see our crossing and we felt that we must do well.
In the Western theater, C.S.A. Cavalry officer Nathan Bedford Forrest and his men leave Columbia, Tennessee with the main goal to disrupt U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s line of communication as his men march south into Mississippi towards Vicksburg. If Forrest can leave Grant in the dark, he will have no choice but to stop the forward movement and retreat back to a point where he has communication capabilities.
U.S. Brigadier General John G. Foster begins what has been nicknamed the “Goldsboro Expedition”, in which Foster and his men will push into North Carolina in an attempt to sever railroad supply lines to Virginia. They start their march from the port city of New Bern, North Carolina and move west.
The Richmond Dispatch newspaper writes a column called “Competition of negro with White Labor”, giving reasons why whites shouldn’t worry about the loss of jobs as black people will not work unless forced to:
In his late miserable Message Lincoln declares that the emancipation of negroes will not increase the supply of labor so as to interfere with the white labor of the North. Probably, the only truth he has ever uttered is contained in that declaration.–The idea of freedom entertained by “American citizens of African descent” is simply freedom from labor of any kind. So far from intending to compete with the white laborers of the North, they expect to live in ease and luxury at Mr. Lincoln’s national table, to be received on terms of entire social equality by himself, Seward, Chase & Co, and to intermarry, if it should be agreeable to them, with their female kith and kin. Freedom to work or starve is a view of liberty that they have never entertained.
That, for the present generation, an influx of free negroes into the North would seriously impair the value of white labor, may be very true, but Mr. Lincoln is speaking of the permanent results. He knows, because all experience proves it, that the free negro soon becomes the victim of debauchery and laziness, and disappears from the face of the earth. It is with Satanic hardness of heart that Lincoln contemplates the fate of a race whose welfare he professes to desire. So much for the Negro in the North. But, in the South, we are told the negro will continue to labor, his master paying him wages, till new homes can be found for them in “more genial climes.”
No man knows better than Abraham Lincoln; native of Kentucky; and familiar with the negro character, that the freed negro, as a general rule, will not work even for wages, a fact which has found striking illustrations in both Jamsiea and St. Domingo. The latter country, once the richest island of the world, has become, by successful insurrection, a wilderness; and the former, with the advantages of gradual emancipation, and the presence of white proprietors of estates, is little better. If Mr. Lincoln will consult the master of any Yankee steamer which has ever coated at a Jamaica port, he may inform him that the coal is brought on board by negro women, the men lolling in the shade under the trees, and at night taking from their wives the wages of the day. It is to the condition of St. Domingo and Jamaica that Mr. Lincoln would reduce the South. We are not so idiotic as to imagine that such a prospect would at all distress him on account of the ruin it would bring to Southern proprietors, but, pray, what would become of that dear Union; that precious, heavenly, god like Union, which he is seeking to preserve by letting all the devils out of the infernal pit and turning the earth into a hell? He figures cut the colossal cost of emancipation and the means of paying it, and concludes that the cost would be cheap to save so valuable a commodity as the Union. But what is it that makes the Union valuable except the staples cultivated by negro labor, and if the labor is abolished and transported to other climes, what becomes of the staples, and of the commerce, manufactures and revenue derived from them? White labor cannot be employed in the cultivation of cotton, sugar, and tobacco, and therefore the “glorious Union,” would be beggared and rendered worthless by the success of Lincoln’s pet scheme for its preservation — cutting open the goose that laid the golden egg.
And yet, in a message composed of nothing but –catch arguments”–to borrow a phrase from the poor, Illiterate creature — he has the hypocrisy to snivel through his Puritanical nose, “In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity.”