Slike strani
PDF
ePub

subordinates even to a fault, he believed that all around him were devoted with equal earnestness to the cause which claimed their fidelity, and relied upon their zealous coöperation in the contemplated strife.

To replace the command of General Franklin at Stafford Court House and vicinity, General Sigel was ordered down froin Fairfax Court House. To occupy General Sigel's vacated position, General Slocum was ordered from Harper's Ferry, of which General Morell took charge. Finally all was ready. But meanwhile, General Lee had concentrated all his available forces around his position in the rear of Fredericksburg. He seems to have suspected that General Burnside intended crossing at Port Royal, and accordingly sent General Jackson to that point with a large force, to act as circumstances might determine—either as an army of observation or to dispute the passage of the river. Indeed, a large, perhaps the larger portion of the enemy's forces was stationed at the threatened point. The plan of crossing at Port Royal was abandoned, while yet feints were kept up in that direction. Then General Burnside decided to adopt the bold plan of throwing his bridges across the river, a part immediately in front of Fredericksburg itself, and the remainder at a point two miles below, between Deep Run and Massaponax Creek. It was supposed that the main body of the enemy was in the vicinity of Port Royal, and that a rapid crossing immediately in front of our position, and a swift advance upon the heights would be a suc. cessful surprise. There was another circumstance which doubtless had its weight. The town made an admirable tete de pont.

It had a rebel population. It was rebel property. General Lee's batteries on the hills could not prevent the crossing of our troops without destroying the lives and property of the friends of his cause. He would naturally hesitate before committing such an act. But, on the other hand, the town would lie at our mercy. If the houses of Fredericksburg should become shelter for the enemy's infantry, which could alone oppose our passage of the river, our artillery

was at hand to demolish them. The town, once occupied, afforded shelter to our own forces. For General Lee would still be restrained from destroying it by his reluctance to injure his friends. Moreover, it was hoped that our columns, after crossing, would move through the town and charge the enemy's position. General Burnside did not expect to meet with much difficulty or opposition in crossing the river. That was thought to be a comparatively easy task. The chief labor was to be performed after the passage of the river had been effected. There was one difficulty, however, which may not have been duly appreciated. It is possible that it had in it an element of great weakness for our troops. It consisted in the occupation of an abandoned town by a hostile army. The unoccupied houses and stores, many of which belonged to persons of considerable wealth, would offer opportunities for plunder too tempting to be missed. Here was an influence of demoralization which was not to be disregarded. The numerous camp followers that hung upon the skirts of the army, in several instances the soldiers themselves, would be exposed to a temptation which would make a proper measure of discipline exceedingly difficult. This may be thought a minor consideration. But upon matters of less moment have the most important movements sometimes hinged.

Beyond the town lay the slope up which the army was to march in order to reach the enemy's lines. Above the slope frowned the enemy's batteries. The main task was to carry those heights, bristling with bayonets and dark with cannon. It was a perilous undertaking. For the first time in its history, the Army of the Potomac was to “move on the enemy's works” for a determined assault. It had shown itself unequalled for defensive warfare. Could it successfully take the aggressive? The answer to that momentous question was soon to be given in fire and blood !

27

CHAPTER VIII.

THE BATTLE OF FREDERICKSBURG.

[ocr errors]

HAT assurance of success had General Burnside in

carrying his plans into successful execution ? By the consolidated morning reports of the Army of the Potomac, it appears that, on the 10th of December, there was in front of the enemy an effective force of one hundred and eleven thousand eight hundred and thirty-four officers and men of all arms. The artillery consisted of three hundred and twelve guns of different calibre, mostly field pieces. Of the three grand divisions, * the left, General Franklin's, was the largest, consisting of fortysix thousand eight hundred and ninety-two officers and men and one hundred and sixteen pieces of artillery, and was composed of the first corps, General J. J. Reynolds, and the sixth corps, General W. H. Smith. General Reynolds's division officers were Generals Meade, Gibbon and Doubleday ; General Smith's were Generals Newton, Brooks and Howe. The centre grand division, General Hooker's, numbered thirtynine thousand, nine hundred and eighty-four officers and men and one hundred pieces of artillery, and was composed of the third corps, General Stoneman, and the fifth corps, General Butterfield. General Stoneman's division commanders were Generals Sickles, Birney and Whipple ; General Butterfield's were Generals Sykes, Humphreys and Charles Griffin. The right grand division, General Sumner's, numbered twenty-two thousand seven hundred and thirty-six officers and men and

*For the sake of convenience of reference the organization of the army is stated in detail, notwithstanding some of the particulars have already been given.

were

sixty pieces of artillery, and consisted of the Ninth Corps, General Willcox, and the second corps, General Couch. General Willcox's division commanders were Generals Getty, Sturgis and Burns; General Couch’s were Generals French, Hancock and Howard. The brigade of engineers, numbering fifteen hundred and five officers and men, was under the command of General D. P. Woodbury, to whom was assigned the duty of laying the bridges for the crossing. The signal corps, under the command of Captain Samuel T. Cushing, numbered one hundred and fifty officers and men. General Patrick's Provost Guard numbered about two hundred officers and men. General Ingalls' Quartermaster's Department numbered one hundred and fifty officers and men, and the headquarters escort about two hundred officers and men. A certain portion of the whole army was occupied in guarding the railroad and performing picket and outpost duty. The 'cavalry was held in reserve. There was, probably, in round numbers, an available force of one hundred thousand officers and

men,

who either actively engaged or held in support, and thus, in a measure, exposed to the fire of the enemy at some time during the day of the battle of Fredericksburg.

The time for action came. On the 10th of December, the army was concentrated along the river front, within short marching distance from the bank, but concealed as much as possible from the enemy by the undulations of the land. During the night the artillery was posted along the edge of the plateau, from Falmouth to a point opposite the mouth of the Massaponax. Orders were issued to the engineers under General Woodbury to be ready for work at three o'clock on the morning of the 11th, and a sufficient force of infantry and artillery was detailed to cover the crossings and protect the working parties. Three points were selected for throwing the bridges :—the first at a short distance above the place where the county bridge had stood; the second opposite the lower end of the town, and the third about a mile below Fredericksburg nearly opposite the mouth of Deep Run and not far from

the estate of a planter named Bernard. At the first of these points two, at the second one, and at the third three bridges were to be laid. Upon these six bridges the army was to cross the Rappahannock, occupy the town and move rapidly to the assault. The left, by a vigorous and decisive attack, was to pierce the enemy's line near Captain Hamilton's crossing, seize the road in the rear and compel the evacuation of the works upon

the crest. Then the right and centre, in support of the left attack, were to force the enemy from the heights in front and pursue along the telegraph or the plank road, according to the direction of the enemy's retreat. The success of the plan of attack was to depend upon the celerity and vigor with which the troops were pushed to its execution.

The morning of the 11th dawned raw, cold and foggy. The engineers--among whom were volunteers from the 8th Connecticut regiment of the Ninth Corps—were promptly at work upon the bridges. But little opposition was made to the operations of General Franklin's working parties below the town, and after considerable labor, his three bridges were laid, secured and strengthened.. At eleven o'clock in the forenoon he reported to General Burnside that he was ready to cross his grand division. But operations immediately opposite the town had 'not proceeded so satisfactorily as General Burnside had hoped, and General Franklin was ordered to hold his bridges, but not to cross the main body of his troops till the upper bridges were completed. The latter work was destined to meet with considerable opposition. As the day came on the design of crossing was revealed to the enemy's forces in the town. About two thirds of the work of laying the bridges had been accomplished, when the sharpshooters of General Barksdale's Mississippi brigade posted in the houses and streets directed a destructive fire upon the working parties. Then our artillery opened along the whole line opposite the town. Amid the deafening roar of cannon, the shrieking and bursting of shells, the crash of falling timbers, as solid shot pierced the walls, our men attempted to finish the bridges. Soon the exploding shells

« PrejšnjaNaprej »