Tuesday, December 18, 2012

December 1862: Battle of Fredericksburg (Part Two)

On December 12, 1862, the battle at Fredericksburg, Virginia was well underway.  Men from Warren County, NJ serving in many units within the Army of the Potomac were coming together for the battle.  Belvidere resident Sergeant Cicero H. Drake, was advancing with the 142nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment toward the Confederate fortifications outside of town. His brother, Sergeant Levi Drake, of Blairstown, was wounded as they advanced together.

Drake wrote, "We had now gotten within full range of their guns, and we, for the first time, began to fire.  We halted, but the whole regiment squirmed like a snake.  We had now got within 75 yards of their first line of entrenchments and at this moment, their whole line opened on us a fire that no man could describe.  The balls flew like a storm of hail.  And at the same time, a heavy battery commenced a crossfire from the left, completely raked us from left to right, and poured into our ranks all sorts of death dealing missiles.  Not a man turned his face to the foe, but like veterans stood up and were shot down.  No troops in the world could stand such a fire, and again we fell on our faces.

"We lay perhaps for three minutes, but those three minutes contained the horrors of the ages.  On my left and right, at my side, lay a man shot through the breast by a grape, and on my right lay one terribly mutilated by a shell.  As we lay, I could hear those poor fellows praying and beseeching High Heaven for protection, while others were groaning and yelling  most vociferously.  All these, with the wild whir of bullets, the singing of grape  and the bursting of shells.  All these, I say, formed a spell of terrors that will never be forgotten.  At one time, I raised my head and looked about me.  I saw dead men and horses scattered in every direction over the field, while great pieces of railroad torn from the rebel batteries plowed the earth in our front and rear.  Again, we were ordered to up and charge.  At this time, we had lost many of our best officers.  Our fellows kept advancing and firing.  Most of them would fall on their backs, load, jump up and fire.  Our line became a little confused.  
"A young officer - I do not remember his name, where he came from or anything about him - sprang up in our midst, and with sword drawn, leading his horse, pointed to the woods and shouted, 'charge in the woods, on them, with your bayonets; I will go with you, my brave boys!'  His noble face, so young and boy-like, glowed with valor.  I thought if he could go, I could, and I followed him.  I fired quite a number of times, and my gun barrel got so hot that I could hardly hold it.  I dropped on my back, loaded, jumped up and was in the act of of placing a cap, when a shell burst near me, a piece of which hit me between the thigh and knee joint. I thought a forty-pound cannon ball had taken it, but on examination, I found that, at least, my leg was left. However, my fighting was done for that day [December 13], and I fell to the rear.  I got behind a clump of earth, lay down with other wounded, and watched the progress of the conflict.
"I saw our fellows steadily advance, and saw the enemy fall back, but they rallied on their reserve and fell on us in overwhelming numbers.  They got us started back, then, having a full opportunity, they played on us at an awful rate.  At one time it seemed like the gates of hell had opened, and all the furies of the infernal region were pouring a perfect stream of death into our ranks.  After laying on the field about half an hour, I hobbled to the hospital.  I could a dozen sheets more in telling you what I passed through after the battle, but I have not time.  But this I will say, our drunken doctors used us worse than did the rebels.  One man, of our company, was wounded about noon, Saturday, and lay on the field till Monday night.  It was found necessary to amputate his leg, and he told me that the surgeon that had operated on him was so drunk that he staggered during the operation."  [The appearance of drunkenness may have been the effects of prolonged exposure to ether, which was used as an anesthetic.]
Reverend Alanson Haines, Chaplain of the 15th NJ Regiment, who acted as a messenger between brigade and regiment during the battle, reported, "The rebel fire was direct and close, and the exposure of a little knot of men or officers would bring a shell just over their heads or into their midst.  Colonel Ryerson had ridden up the further bank and was seated on his horse, when a shell came directly towards him and seemed to explode      on the very spot he occupied. Doctor Oakley exclaimed, 'Harry Ryerson is gone!'  The smoke cleared away, and he was seen to ride on unharmed, having marked the coming missile and thrown himself down on his horse's neck just in time and far enough to escape."
Reverend Haines reported on the first death in the 15th NJ Regiment during the battle, "Mitchell Mulvey, Company G, was the first man of the regiment killed.  At the time, shots were being exchanged with the rebel pickets.  He was cautioned not to expose himself, but he exclaimed, 'Hush, don't tell a Jersey boy to keep back when the enemy is in sight!'  He had fixed his attention on a rebel sharpshooter who fired from behind a tree.  When, at length, the rebel exposed himself in firing, he took aim and fired.  the rebel was seen to tumble over, evidently killed.  At the same moment, Mitchell fell back dead, shot through the brain."
During the fighting on the morning of December 13, the 15th NJ Regiment was stationed along a railroad line keeping up musket fire on the rebels.  In the afternoon, the 1st NJ Brigade was forced back. A large number of soldiers from the 4th, 23rd and 15th NJ Regiments were captured.  Colonel Hatch of the 4th NJ Regiment, was wounded in the knee.  He died a few days later after his leg was amputated.  Sergeant Major John P. Fowler, of the 15th NJ, was killed, and Captain William Slater and Major James M. Brown were severely wounded.
Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards            

No comments:

Post a Comment