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In ten minutes the fortune of the day seemed to have changed — it was the Rebels now who were advancing, pouring out of the woods in endless lines, sweeping through the corn-field from which their comrades had just fled. Hooker sent in his nearest brigade to meet them, but it could not do the work. He called for another. There was nothing close enough, unless he took it from his right. His right might be in danger if it was weakened, but his center was already threatened with annihilation. Not hesitating one moment, he sent to Doubleday: "Give me your best brigade instantly."
The best brigade came down the hill to the right on the run, went through the timber in front through a storm of shot and bursting shell and crashing limbs, over the open field beyond, and straight into the corn-field, passing as they went the fragments of three brigades shattered by the Rebel fire, and streaming to the rear. They passed by Hooker, whose eyes lighted as he saw these veteran troops led by a soldier whom he knew he could trust. "I think they will hold it," he said. . . .
. . . They began to go down the hill and into the corn, they did not stop to think that their ammunition was nearly gone, they were there to win that field and they won it. The Rebel line for the second time fled through the corn and into the woods. . . .
. . . With his left . . . able to take care of itself, with his right impregnable with two brigades of Mansfield still fresh and coming rapidly up, and with his center a second time victorious, Gen. Hooker determined to advance. Orders were sent to Crawford and Gordon- the two Mansfield brigades to move directly forward at once, the batteries in the center were ordered on, the whole line was called on, and the General himself went forward.
. . . He rode out in front of his furthest troops on a hill to examine the ground for a battery. At the top he dismounted and went forward on foot, completed his reconnoissance, returned and remounted. . . . Remounting on this hill he had not ridden five steps when he was struck in the foot by a ball. . . .
Sumner arrived just as Hooker was leaving, and assumed command. Crawford and Gordon had gone into the woods, and were holding them stoutly against heavy odds.
Sedgwick's division was in advance, moving forward to support Crawford and Gordon. . . .
To extend his own front as far as possible, he ordered the 34th NewYork to move by the left flank. The maneuver was attempted under a
At the same
fire of the greatest intensity, and the regiment broke. moment the enemy, perceiving their advantage, came round on that flank. Crawford was obliged to give on the right, and his troops pouring in confusion through the ranks of Sedgwick's advance brigade, threw it into disorder and back on the second and third lines. The enemy advanced, their fire increasing..
. . The test was too severe for volunteer troops under such a fire. Sumner himself attempted to arrest the disorder, but to little purpose. . . . It was impossible to hold the position. Gen. Sumner withdrew the division to the rear, and once more the corn-field was abandoned to the enemy. . . .
At this crisis Franklin came up with fresh troops and formed on the left. Slocum, commanding one division of the corps, was sent forward along the slopes lying under the first ranges of Rebel hills, while Smith, commanding the other division, was ordered to retake the corn-fields and woods which all day had been so hotly contested. It was done in the handsomest style. His Maine and Vermont regiments and the rest went forward on the run, and, cheering as they went, swept like an avalanche through the corn-fields, fell upon the woods, cleared them in ten minutes, and held them. They were not again retaken. . . . Up to 3 o'clock Burnside had made little progress. His attack on the bridge had been successful, but the delay had been so great that to the observer it appeared as if McClellan's plans must have been seriously disarranged. It is impossible not to suppose that the attacks on right and left were meant in a measure to correspond, for otherwise the enemy had only to repel Hooker on the one hand, then transfer his troops, and hurl them against Burnside. . . .
Finally, at 4 o'clock, McClellan sent simultaneous orders to Burnside and Franklin; to the former to advance and carry the batteries in his front at all hazards and any cost; to the latter to carry the woods next in front of him to the right, which the Rebels still held. The order to Franklin, however, was practically countermanded, in consequence of a message from Gen. Sumner that if Franklin went on and was repulsed, his own corps was not yet sufficiently reorganized to be depended on ast
... Burnside hesitated for hours in front of the bridge which should have been carried at once by a coup de main. Meantime Hooker had been fighting for four hours with various fortune, but final success. Sumner had come up too late to join in the decisive attack which his
earlier arrival would probably have converted into a complete success; and Franklin reached the scene only when Sumner had been repulsed. . . . . . It was at this point of time that McClellan sent him [Burnside] the order above given.
Burnside obeyed it most gallantly. Getting his troops well in hand, and sending a portion of his artillery to the front, he advanced them with rapidity and the most determined vigor, straight up the hill in front, on top of which the Rebels had maintained their most dangerous battery.
. . . His guns opening first from this new position in front, soon entirely controlled and silenced the enemy's artillery. The infantry came on at once, moving rapidly and steadily up long dark lines, and broad, dark masses, being plainly visible without a glass as they moved over the green hill-side.
The next moment the road in which the Rebel battery was planted was canopied with clouds of dust swiftly descending into the valley. Underneath was a tumult of wagons, guns, horses, and men flying at speed down the road. Blue flashes of smoke burst now and then among them, a horse or a man or half dozen went down, and then the whirlwind swept on.
The hill was carried, but could it be held? . . .
In another moment a Rebel battle-line appears on the brow of the ridge above them, moves swiftly down in the most perfect order, and though met by incessant discharges of musketry, of which we plainly see the flashes, does not fire a gun. . . .
There is a halt, the Rebel left gives way and scatters over the field, the rest stand fast and fire. More infantry comes up, Burnside is outnumbered; flanked, compelled to yield the hill he took so bravely. His position is no longer one of attack; he defends himself with unfaltering firmness, but he sends to McClellan for help. McClellan's glass for the last half hour has seldom been turned away from the left. . . .
. . . Looking down into the valley where 15,000 troops are lying, he turns a half-questioning look on Fitz John Porter, who stands by his side, gravely scanning the field. They are Porter's troops below, are fresh and only impatient to share in this fight. But Porter slowly shakes his head, and one may believe that the same thought is passing through the minds of both generals: "They are the only reserves of the army; they cannot Dared."
rnside's messenger rides up. His message is, "I want troops and
guns. If you do not send them I cannot hold my position for half an hour." McClellan's only answer for the moment is a glance at the western sky. Then he turns and speaks very slowly: "Tell Gen. Burnside I that this is the battle of the war. He must hold his ground till dark at any cost. I will send him Miller's battery. . .
The sun is already down; not half-an-hour of daylight is left. None suspected how near was the peril of defeat, of sudden attack on exhausted forces - how vital to the safety of the army and the nation were those fifteen thousand waiting troops of Fitz John Porter in the hollow. But the Rebels halted instead of pushing on, their vindictive cannonade died away as the light faded. Before it was quite dark the battle was over. Only a solitary gun of Burnside's thundered against the enemy, and presently this also ceased, and the field was still. New York Daily Tribune, September 20, 1862.
115. Fredericksburg (1862)
BY MAJOR-GENERAL AMBROSE EVERETT BURNSIDE
Burnside had gained an early substantial success for the Union army on the coast of North Carolina, and, on McClellan's removal after the battle of Antietam, he was put in command of the Army of the Potomac. He assumed the responsibility reluctantly, failed at Fredericksburg, and was relieved of the command. This extract is from his official report. - For Burnside, see B. P. Poore, Life and Public Services of Ambrose E. Burnside. - Bibliography as in No. 114 above.
N my interview with General Halleck I represented to him that soon after commencing the movement in the direction of Fredericksburg my telegraphic communication with Washington would be broken, and that I relied upon him to see that such parts of my plan as required action in Washington would be carried out. He told me that everything required by me would receive his attention, and that he would at once order, by telegraph, the pontoon trains spoken of in my plan, and would, upon his return to Washington, see that they were promptly forwarded. ...
On my arrival at Falmouth, on the 19th [November], I dispatched to General Halleck's chief of staff the report . . . which . . . states the fact of the non-arrival of the pontoon train. These pontoon trains and supplies, which were expected to meet us on our arrival at Falmouth,
could have been readily moved overland in time for our purposes in perfect safety. . . .
... Colonel Spaulding . . . arrived at Belle Plain with his pontoons on the 24th, and by the night of the 25th he was encamped near general headquarters.
By this time the enemy had concentrated a large force on the opposite side of the river, so that it became necessary to make arrangements to cross in the face of a vigilant and formidable foe. These arrangements were not completed until about December 10.
. . . Before issuing final orders, I concluded that the enemy would be more surprised by a crossing at or near Fredericksburg, where we were making no preparations. . . . It was decided to throw four or five pontoon bridges across the river-two . . . opposite the upper part of the town, one . . . at the lower part of the town, one about a mile below, and, if there were pontoons sufficient, two at the latter point.
Final orders were now given to the commanders of the three grand divisions to concentrate their troops near the places for the proposed bridges..
The right grand division (General Sumner's) was directed to concentrate near the upper and middle bridges; the left grand division (General Franklin's) near the bridges, below the town; the center grand division (General Hooker) near to and in rear of General Sumner. The enemy held possession of the city of Fredericksburg and the crest or ridge running from a point on the river, just above Falmouth, to the Massaponax, some 4 miles below. This ridge was in rear of the city, forming an angle with the Rappahannock. Between the ridge and the river there is a plain, narrow at the point, where Fredericksburg stands, but widening out as it approaches the Massaponax. . . .
During the night of the 10th the bridge material was taken to the proper points on the river, and soon after 3 o'clock on the morning of the 11th the working parties commenced throwing the bridges, protected by infantry, placed under cover of the banks, and by artillery, on the bluffs above. One of the lower bridges, for General Franklin's command, was completed by 10.30 a. m. without serious trouble, and afterward a second bridge was constructed at the same point. The upper bridge . . . and the middle bridge . . . were about two-thirds built at 6 a. m., when the enemy opened upon the working parties with musketry with such severity as to cause them to leave the work. Our