Thursday, December 13, 2012

December 12, 1862

December 12, 1862:

The Battle of Fredericksburg
Pontoon Bridges over the Rappahannock
Day 2: Gen. Lee begins to shift his lines and arrange them for optimum defense, when it is clear that Burnside intends to make a frontal assault. On the left, on Marye’s Heights above the town, was Longstreet’s corps. Jackson’s corps covered the curved line of hills to the right. At dawn, Burnside begins to move the rest of his troops across the pontoon bridges built the day before, at such a cost. A heavy fog hung in the frozen air, so neither army could see the other very well until later in the day. Confederate and Union cannon begin to duel sporadically. As the troops of the Federal II and IX Corps, under command of Gen. Sumner, crossed into the city, all order breaks down. The Union soldiers pitch in to an orgy of looting and burning that no officer could control. Clothes, jewelry, furniture, pianos, books, art, and valuables of all kinds were stripped from the houses. Banks and jewelry stores were pilfered, and then the absolute destruction began—the destruction of things for the sake of the fun: paintings were slashed along with stuffer sofas, draperies, and carpets. Bonfires of books and furniture began to blaze, and large amounts of alcohol were found. It also became clear that much of the destruction was being orchestrated by officers, both low and high.
The Sack of Fredericksburg

The army settles down into a troubles sleep as the town burns.

—Clara Barton, at Falmouth, Virginia as a volunteer nurse for the IX Corps, has trouble sleeping and so pens a letter to her cousin in the wee hours of the bitter morning dark:
Head Quarters 2nd Div.
9th Army Corps-Army of the Potomac
Camp near Falmouth, Va.
December 12th, 1862 - 2 o'clock A.M.

My dear Cousin Vira:

Five minutes time with you; and God only knows what those five minutes might be worth to the many-doomed thousands sleeping around me. It is the night before a battle. The enemy, Fredericksburg, and its mighty entrenchments lie before us, the river between - at tomorrow's dawn our troops will assay to cross, and the guns of the enemy will sweep those frail bridges at every breath.

The moon is shining through the soft haze with a brightness almost prophetic. For the last half hour I have stood alone in the awful stillness of its glimmering light gazing upon the strange sad scene around me striving to say, "Thy will Oh God be done."

The camp fires blaze with unwanted brightness, the sentry's tread is still but quick - the acres of little shelter tents are dark and still as death, no wonder for us as I gazed sorrowfully upon them. I thought I could almost hear the slow flap of the grim messenger's wings, as one by one he sought and selected his victims for the morning. Sleep weary one, sleep and rest for tomorrow toil. Oh! Sleep and visit in dreams once more the loved ones nestling at home. They may yet live to dream of you, cold lifeless and bloody, but this dream soldier is thy last, paint it brightly, dream it well. Oh northern mothers wives and sisters, all unconscious of the hour, would to Heaven that I could bear for you the concentrated woe which is so soon to follow, would that Christ would teach my soul a prayer that would plead to the Father for grace sufficient for you, God pity and strengthen you every one.

Mine are not the only waking hours, the light yet burns brightly in our kind hearted General's tent where he pens what may be a last farewell to his wife and children and thinks sadly of his fated men.

Already the roll of the moving artillery is sounded in my ears. The battle draws near and I must catch one hour's sleep for tomorrow's labor.

Good night dear cousin and Heaven grant you strength for your more peaceful and less terrible, but not less weary days than mine.
Yours in love,


Federal troops waiting at Fredericksburg

---Young Lt. Josiah Marshall Favill, of the 57th New York Infantry, writes in his journal at Fredericksburg about the impending attack, as his brigade marches to their bivouac spot on the edge of town:
. . . and here we lay and watched the bursting of the rebel shells, which occasionally exploded over our heads, and the moving columns of the army as they kept continuously crossing over; we all felt shaky about coming events and there was very little hilarity. Our new regiment, the Twenty-seventh Connecticut, had its equanimity sadly disturbed by a shell bursting in its ranks killing several of its men, which almost paralyzed them. The strangest thing is that the enemy does not shell the place thoroughly, now that it is packed full of men; we expected them to do so every minute, but were luckily disappointed. . . .
The heights, in rear of the town, are bristling with guns and rifle pits, and entrenchments cover the entire face of the whole range. Why we should be compelled to charge at the very strongest point in the enemy’s position is an enigma that no one can solve; one thing alone is certain, that by tomorrow at this time many of our old comrades will have fought their last fight, whatever may be the result.

—In New York, George Templeton Strong writes in his journal about the news—so far—from Fredericksburg:
The crisis seems to have come at last. Burnside commenced throwing his pontoons across the Rappahannock . . . and being met by a fusillade for the houses of Fredericksburg, opened on that unhappy town with 143 guns from our side of the river. Fredericksburg fuit. Franklin was effecting a passage somoe three miles farther down, and gunboats were shelling the Rebel right still lower. There the newspaper telegrams of the afternoon stop. . . . We shall see. God help us. I have little faith in the men to whom our destinies seem confided.

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