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.
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.
U.S. President Abraham Lincoln may be the leader of a country at war, but he is also a father. He receives correspondence from Thomas Hill, the President of Harvard, where his oldest son Robert is attending school to obtain his law degree. Hill informs the President that the faculty had just approved public admonishment of his son for smoking in Harvard Square after he had privately been warned not to do so. No doubt the subject will be approached when Robert comes home during the holidays.
U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes notes in his diary that “We have found a name for this section: Belle Plain. We are all ready to move and probably will have to cross the Rappahannock River and attempt to drive the Rebels from Fredericksburg.”
U.S. Commanding General Ambrose Burnside calls for council of war with the leaders of his three Grand Divisions: William B. Franklin, Joseph Hooker and Edwin V. Sumner. Burnsides argues C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee is not expecting them to cross at the city and attack Fredericksburg, so therefore that is their best option. The three generals do not agree with Burnside; they take the plans back to their camps to share with their corps, division and brigade commanders, and again there is blatant and bitter opposition. Most vocal are Major Generals Darius N. Couch and Winfield Scott Hancock, who believe it will not only lead to a loss, but a complete, senseless slaughter of Union men.
Burnside is unable to convince those around him of his firm belief that he has Lee right where he wants him. He now turns to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck in Washington for support, writing:
“I think now the enemy will be more surprised by a crossing immediately in our front than any other part of the river. I’m convinced that a large force of the enemy is now concentrated at Port Royal, its left resting on Fredericksburg, which we hope to turn.”
After giving the situation a little more thought, President Lincoln sends a follow-up message to Brigadier General Henry Sibley in Minnesota regarding the 39 he had sentenced to execution a few days ago. He realized that a lot of the Indians had similar names, so Lincoln cautions Sibley to take special care to make sure that the correct Indians are put to death and to not hang an innocent Indian as a result of simple name confusion.
Confederate Private Eli Pinson Landers was just 19 when he left home last year to join the Flint Hill Grays. Like many in his home county of Gwinnett County, Georgia, his family owns no slaves. His enlistment has caused a great deal of hardship within his family, as he left behind his widowed mother and two younger sisters to tend to their 240-acre farm.
Camped on the south side of Fredericksburg and waiting for the enemy to make their move, he writes a quick letter to his mother about his health and the lack of basic necessities:
“We stayed on picket 48 hours down in Fredericksburg. I am not so very well today. My cold seems to get worse. I have got a very bad cough and I am so bad stopped up till I sometimes almost smother. I am fearful that I will be sick. We have a very fair prospect for a snow now soon. I dread it very bad without we was better prepared for it. I don’t know what we will do if we don’t get shoes.”
C.S.A. Lieutenant General D. H. Hill’s troops finally arrive in Fredericksburg; his men have traveled 200 miles since November 20. Unfortunately they are not yet allowed to rest; General Robert E. Lee wants Hill’s troops to continue southeast twenty miles to Port Royal in case U.S. General Ambrose Burnside tries to cross his men there.
Winfield Scott Hancock had always been a reliable soldier; a graduate from West Point who was stationed in California when the war started, he had a reputation for excelling at anything given to him. While he was originally used for administrative work due to his attention to detail, he was eventually given a field commission; former General George B. McClellan had once telegraphed to Washington during an earlier 1862 campaign that “Hancock was superb today” and the nickname “Hancock the Superb” stuck. During the battle of Antietam this past September he assumed command of the First Division, II Corps after Major General Israel Richardson died in the horrific fighting at “bloody lane.” Hancock had shown great courage that day as he took command of the field and galloped between his troops and the enemy. Today he is rewarded for his efforts and is promoted to U.S. Major General of Volunteers.
In Galesburg, Illinois, a woman sits in one of the pews in the back of the Brick Church on South Broad Street. The Reverend Edward Beecher hurries in and begins the Sunday morning service. He reads a letter from his pulpit written by Dr. Benjamin Woodward, who has practiced medicine in the town for the last several years. Dr. Woodward is now an assistant surgeon with the 22nd Regiment of Illinois Volunteers and he is in charge of several hospitals in and around Cairo, Illinois. In that regiment are approximately 500 Galesburg boys and men. The Reverend describes how the volunteers are “dying like flies” from contagious diseases, filthy conditions and poor food. Beecher asks his congregation if they would like to discuss the letter rather than hear the sermon, and the decision is made to talk through what can be done to help these men. Immediately there are pledges of medical supplies, clothing, food and money, but someone needs to be chosen to take these items to Cairo. No one is stepping up for the task, so the President of the local Ladies Aid Society suggests the woman sitting in the back: Mary Ann Bickerdyke. Bickerdyke had previous nursing experience and is thought to be a hard working woman. It would take several days to gather what is needed, but Bickerdyke agrees to go.
Major General Robert E. Lee sends a letter to Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown, calling attention to the fact that while many volunteers have arrived in Virginia from his state, most have come without arms. Lee expresses great concern, as Virginia’s own supply is quickly being depleted; the only thing that have not yet resorted to is utilizing the old flint-lock muskets. Lee asks for Brown to send any spare pistols, carbines or other weaponry to Richmond as soon as possible.
At Lee’s former Arlington home, the 8th New York Regiment continues to make themselves at home on the grounds and inside the large dwelling. The camp is settled at the rear of the mansion amid a beautiful grove of oak trees, where they also have a spectacular view of the Potomac River and Washington City.
In Washington, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair issues a statement that postal service will not be provided to the seceded states after May 31.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney, sitting in a courtroom in Baltimore, issues the writ of habeas corpus for John Merryman. Merryman had been arrested and taken to Fort McHenry yesterday, and his lawyer had immediately asked for the writ – but U.S. President Lincoln suspended it. The marshal for the District of Maryland presents U.S. General George Cadwalader with the writ, demanding the appearance of the general and Merryman to come before the court. Cadwalader refuses to appear and sends the court a letter asking for a delay until he receives instructions from the President.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis leaves the old capital of Montgomery, Alabama for the new one in Richmond, Virginia. His family will follow him in a week or two.
After weeks of internal struggle, Captain Lewis A. Armistead writes a letter to resign his commission in the Union army. He has almost a four month long trip ahead of him from Los Angeles, California to his home in Virginia. Before he leaves, his close friend Winfield Scott Hancock and his wife Almira throw a farewell party for him. It is said that Armistead put his hand on Hancock’s shoulder at the end of the night, tears flowing, and said “Hancock, goodbye. You can never know what this has cost me.” Armistead would not wait for a response from Washington; instead he would leave for Texas with the Los Angeles Mounted Rifles.