- 12 Dec 2020 14:59
December 13, Saturday
The Southern Flank
The orders General Franklin requested from General Burnside for an attack on the flank south of Fredericksburg are finally issued at 5:55 am. But despite the availability of a telegraph, the directives are given to a member of Burnside’s staff to deliver personally and they don’t reach Franklin until 7:45. Even worse, the orders are not at all what Franklin expects. Instead of committing the entire grand division to the attack, Burnside directs cryptically that Franklin keep his command in position and send out “a division at least” to “seize, if possible, the height near Captain Hamilton’s, on this side of the Massaponax, taking care to keep it well supported and its line of retreat open.” Franklin has 60,000 men available, yet Burnside has given him no clear idea of how many he should commit. Left to his own devices, Franklin chooses to interpret Burnside’s order as cautiously as possible.
Burnside actually intends for Franklin to seize the heights above Hamilton Crossing. Once Franklin’s attack on the south flank of Fredericksburg is underway, General Sumner’s grand division is to assault Marye’s Heights on the north flank to prevent Longstreet’s troops from going to Jackson’s aid at the other end of the line. Whatever the merits of this strategy, not one word of it is communicated to the Federal grand division commanders as they go into battle. What is worse, Burnside has seriously underestimated Confederate strength along the southern flank. He has made almost no effort to reconnoiter Lee’s positions there or to keep watch on enemy movements. He believes that “a large force of the enemy is concentrated near Port Royal, its left resting near Fredericksburg.” In fact, D.H. Hill’s division has arrived in the Hamilton’s Crossing area after a night’s march from Port Royal, and Jubal Early’s division has come up from Skinker’s Neck. Jackson now has 30,000 men to defend his 3,000-yard-wide sector and is heavily supported by 33 artillery pieces. And Jeb Stuart’s cavalry division, deployed in an extended skirmish line on the extreme right and well out in front of the rest of Jackson’s corps, has its own eighteen guns.
There is, however, a weak spot in A.P. Hill’s line. When he deployed his troops yesterday, there was a gap of 600 yards between two of his brigades, approximately one fifth of his entire front. The gap is a heavily wooded area of swampy ground and tangled underbrush, in the form of a triangle with the point projected out beyond the railroad embankment at the base of the ridge for a third of a mile. Hill, assuming that this boggy area is impassable, has left it undefended and thus allowed the enemy a covered approach to the heart of the Confederate positions. Above the unmanned area, in the woods along the crest of the ridge, Hill has posted Brigadier General Maxcy Gregg’s South Carolina brigade. Gregg is a scholarly lawyer who has proven himself a lion-hearted combat leader at the Battles of Gaines’s Mill, Second Bull Run, and Antietam. But somehow, when his command was posted along the Military Road on the ridge above the undefended sector, Gregg failed to grasp that his is the only line of defense behind the gap. He is slightly deaf and either didn’t hear or didn’t understand, and persists in believing that the woods below him are held by Confederates. Moreover, he must be thinking of a near-tragedy at Second Bull Run, when his brigade mistakenly fired on some of General Jubal Early’s troops. No one was hurt, but surely the experience has been etched on Gregg’s mind. At any rate, this morning he orders his men to stack arms.
At 8:30 am, under the cover of morning fog, Franklin’s Federals move out to attack Jackson’s positions, General Meade’s division in the lead. After crossing a ravine and marching downriver parallel to the Rappahannock for about 800 yards, the attackers face right, cross the Old Richmond Road, and form a line of battle. The Confederates are roughly a thousand yards away. For about half that distance the open plain rises slightly, then dips into a gentle hollow that extends to the steep embankment of the railroad. On the other side of the tracks rises the wooded ridge where the Confederates wait. The only cover on the Federal side of the railroad is that inviting wedge of woods jutting out toward the right center of Meade’s line.
The Confederates on the ridge cannot see the force in front of them through the fog, but they can hear bands playing, the muffled sound of troops in motion, the rumble of guns and caissons, and the jingle of harnesses. Then at about 10 am the fog lifts suddenly to reveal a spectacular scene—Franklin’s entire grand division, stretching back to the river. A regiment moves out in a skirmish line, followed by Meade’s troops on the left and Gibbon’s on the right. As they advance, Federal guns on the heights across the river sweep the plain in advance of Franklin’s columns, while at the same moment smaller Federal field pieces in front and on the flanks join in to sweep the open space on all sides. Major John Pelham is watching Meade’s preparations from the Confederate cavalry position below Hamilton’s Crossing when he has a sudden inspiration. He quickly gains permission from General Stuart for a sortie of their own, and takes two field guns down a country lane to its intersection with the Old Richmond Road and opens a flanking fire at close range on the massed Federal troops. The little cannonade has a devastating effect; the lead Federal brigade falters and comes to a halt. Federal artillerymen quickly wheel their pieces and direct a brutal fire on Pelham’s position. One of his pieces is disabled and has to be withdrawn, but Pelham and his men redouble their fire with the piece left, hitching it up and changing its position frequently. In spite of first a suggestion from Stuart, then three orders to withdraw from his position, it isn’t until his ammunition is almost exhausted that he comes galloping back down the lane to rejoin Stuart’s division. His bold action has stalled the Federal advance for more than half an hour.
With the artillery threat to his left gone, General Meade starts the advance again, leaving Doubleday in position to guard against Stuart’s cavalry. Now as the Federals approach within 800 yards of the Confederate positions and still in the open, the artillery on the ridge on the right end of the line and down on the plain open fire. The Federal line wavers and halts again, and a terrific artillery duel ensues as the Federal guns on the plains and on the heights across the river try to silence the Confederate batteries and clear the wooded slopes of defenders. The duel continues at a fever pitch until about 1 pm, when the Federal troops again begin to approach the Confederate-held ridge and the gunners have to cease fire for fear of hitting their own troops. One of the last shells fired by the Federals strikes a Confederate caisson and set off a thunderous explosion that spreads confusion among some of the defenders. Union troops raise a great cheer, and Meade seizes the moment to order a charge.
Meade’s 1st Brigade pushes into the triangle of woods that has been left undefended. The men mount the railroad embankment, claw their way uphill through the underbrush, then veer to the right into the left flank of Lane’s Confederate brigade. Meade’s 2nd Brigade, meanwhile, moves through the gap and turns to their left into Archer’s right flank. Expecting a frontal assault, the Confederates are astonished to see the Federals charging from woods thought impenetrable. Two of Archer’s regiments, from Georgia and Tennessee, struggle to form a new line facing left but are thrown back in disorder. Lane’s men resist fiercely, but they too have to fall back. Thousands of Meade’s men pour into the widening gap between Lane’s and Archer’s brigades. Despite the dense brush, they surge up the hill to the crest, cross the Military Road, and storm into General Gregg’s position. Many of Gregg’s men, still thinking that there are Confederates to their front, have taken cover from the shellfire with their guns stacked nearby. As they leap for their weapons, the befuddled Gregg dashes along the Military Road on his horse, shouting to them not to fire. Incredibly, he believes the attackers to be friendly troops. The Federals fall on the rows of stacked arms, and a wild scramble ensues. Many of the unarmed men are slaughtered; the remainder flee in disarray. Gregg, a heavyset man in full general’s uniform, is an easy target; he soon falls mortally wounded, a Minié ball through his spine, as Meade’s men sweep over his command.
Then the tide shifts. Troops of Early’s and Taliaferro’s divisions, held in reserve behind Gregg’s position, come rushing through the woods to meet the Federals head-on. Seeing this, the remaining regiments of Lane’s and Archer’s brigades rally and manage to form new lines, facing the Federals in the gap. Meade’s men now find themselves taking heavy fire from three sides. Meade’s 3rd Brigade, under the command of Brigadier General Conrad F. Jackson, now advances into the maelstrom. Jackson’s Federals come under heavy fire from a Confederate battery to their right and attempt to flank it, but Jackson is shot dead and his leaderless brigade driven back.
On Meade’s right, Gibbon’s supporting attack has also bogged down. Deployed north of the wooded triangle, Gibbon’s division has no cover to protect its advance to the railroad and the slope beyond, where Lane’s well-protected Confederates wait among the trees. Gibbon attacks with his 3rd Brigade, then the 2nd, but both are stopped by concentrated artillery and small-arms fire and driven back in confusion. Gibbon then orders Colonel Adrian Root’s 1st Brigade across the tracks and over the treacherous open ground. Root’s troops are soon slowed to a crawl by the devastating fire. Somehow Colonel Root and Brigadier General Nelson Taylor, commander of the 3rd Brigade, manage to keep the advance moving. At length the Federals catch sight of enemy soldiers ahead. A shout goes up; the men leap over ditches, surge over the railroad embankment, and charge into the woods, striking into the heart of Lane’s troops. In the hand-to-hand fighting that follows, the Federals initially prevail and even manage to take 200 prisoners. But in the dense growth the attackers become disorganized, and Root rides back to ask General Gibbon for help and further orders. Gibbon simply tells him to press on.
Up above on the crest, the Confederate reserves commanded by Early are continuing their furious counterattack against Meade’s troops, whose numbers have by this time been cut by more than a third. In the Federal rear at least 20,000 men stand idle, but none are ordered to support the increasingly desperate attackers as the Confederate brigades swarm down upon them. Perhaps Franklin is not sufficiently in touch with the battle and doesn’t know that reserves are needed. Perhaps his judgment has been clouded by Burnside’s indefinite and cautionary directive. At any rate, Meade’s men, then Gibbon’s, begin to yield ground, and soon are driven back over the railroad embankment and out onto the plain. The Confederate commanders have been ordered to pursue no farther than the railroad. Nevertheless, one brigade forgets the limitation in the heat of the moment and chases the Federals almost to the Old Richmond Road. Only then does Franklin’s reserve get the order to move into action. The audacious band of Confederates tear into two regiments, inflicting hundreds of casualties; for a moment it looks as though the Confederate spearhead will drive all the way to the river. But the grayclads are short of ammunition and unsupported, and before long they run into concentrated canister fire from eighteen guns. Now disorganized, the Confederates withdraw to the wooded ridge. Less than two hours after the first Federal infantry assault, both sides are back where they started. Franklin’s divisions have lost 4,830 men, with nothing to show for it but a few hundred prisoners. Jackson’s losses are also severe, 3,415 from a force of 30,000 men.
At 2:30 pm, General Burnside abruptly asserts his authority with an order to Franklin to renew the attack. But many of Franklin’s officers are by now utterly disheartened. They believed the assault to be hopeless from the outset; they had nevertheless punctured the Confederate line, only to see the advantage lost—along with thousands of lives. Many are furious with Franklin for not properly supporting Meade’s attack. Franklin, for his part, is demoralized. He has lost all faith in Burnside, and he proceeds to ignore the order to send his men into battle.
Stonewall Jackson, on the other hand, is more than ready to continue the contest. Later in the afternoon, when Franklin reforms his lines but sends out nothing more than skirmishers, Jackson decides to launch a counterattack and orders a preliminary movement by the artillery. But the movement provokes a furious response from the Federal gunners, and seeing that daylight is waning, Jackson reluctantly calls off the assault.
The Northern Flank
In Fredericksburg, soldiers are awakened by the frightening crash of artillery shells. The Confederate guns on the heights to the west have begun dropping shells into the fog-cloaked city in hopes of doing some damage to the Federal troops presumably forming in the streets. The result is “perfect pandemonium,” with shells screaming overhead and bursting among the houses; brick and metal fragments flying about, killing and maiming horses and men. Despite the shelling, the troops of General Darius N. Couch’s II Corps, of General Sumner’s grand division, stand in columns in the streets and wait for the order to advance. General Burnside’s orders to the grand division commander instruct him to send “a division or more” to seize the high ground beyond the town. Although Sumner craves action, he will not personally lead this assault. His habit of taking his men into battle is popular with the troops, but regarded by his superior as excessively rash for a grand division commander; Burnside has ordered Sumner not to cross the river. Thus, on the north flank, the two highest-ranking Federal generals—Burnside and Sumner—will be separated from the field of combat by the Rappahannock.
Once the fog lifts and the order comes to advance, the men will have to march through the town on streets leading westward toward the Confederate positions in the hills. The nearest of these is Marye’s Heights, a low ridge about 600 yards outside Fredericksburg. The intervening plain is mostly flat and open, but presents a number of obstacles to men advancing under heavy artillery fire. A few scattered houses offer some shelter, but the surrounding gardens and fences will only slow the troops. About 200 yards from the edge of town lies a canal, spanned by three narrow bridges; the men will have to form columns and file across the bridges under the very muzzles of the Confederate cannon. Worse, the planking has been torn up from one of these spans, and the advancing troops will have to pick their way across on the stringers. On the far side of the canal, a low bluff offers some cover, and about 350 yards beyond the bluff there is a slight incline, where men can get out of the direct line of Confederate fire by lying flat and hugging the ground. But elsewhere on the field, there is virtually no protection at all.
The Federal troops can see the enemy guns and troops looming on the heights, but they can only discern the outline of the closest Confederate position—a lane running along the foot of the ridge. The lane is protected on its forward edge by a stone wall four feet high. The Confederates have dug a ditch just behind the wall, packing the scooped-out earth against the stones on the exposed side for added protection and concealment. It is a nearly perfect defensive position; troops standing in what will be known as the Sunken Road can fire comfortably across the shoulder-high wall with minimum exposure to enemy rounds. The Confederate division commander on Marye’s Heights, Lafayette McLaws, has deployed a Georgia brigade in the Sunken Road, and a North Carolina regiment in trenches that extend the line northward 250 yards from the point where the wall ends. McLaws has 2,000 men on the line, with an additional 7,000 men in reserve behind the ridge. The Georgians are positioned behind the stone wall in two ranks; one rank is to fire, then step to the rear to reload while the other is firing. In addition, the Confederate infantrymen are strongly supported by artillery massed on the ridge above them. The approaches to Marye’s Heights have been so thoroughly covered that when the corps commander, General Longstreet, spots an idle gun and suggests that it be pressed into service, his artillery chief, Colonel E. Porter Alexander, casually dismisses his superior’s concern.
The fog lifts about 10 am, an hour later Sumner gives the order to advance, and the lead Federal division moves out shortly before noon. The men start off in a tightly packed column dictated by the need to cross the canal bridges, and the moment they emerge from the cover of the town their dense formation comes under murderous artillery fire. But the troops close up and press forward, trotting across one of the canal bridges toward the protective cover of the bluff on the far side. There the division forms a line of battle and, before advancing on the heights, fixes bayonets. In spite of the bombardment, General French’s brigades advance up the hill from the bluff in perfect line of battle. Kimball’s brigade, already cut up by the artillery fire, slogs grimly up the muddy slope until it is within 125 yards of the Confederate line. Suddenly a sheet of flame flares from behind the stone wall. Another Confederate volley follows quickly, then another and another. Hundreds of Federal soldiers fall dead and wounded in that awful, almost-continuous storm of lead. A few men make their way—firing, reloading, and resuming their advance—to within forty yards of the wall, and a few others run for cover among some houses nearby, but most reel back before the searing blasts and fall prone behind the incline, seeking cover from which to fire on the Confederate line. Within twenty minutes, a quarter of Kimball’s brigade has been put out of action. Kimball himself is severely wounded in the thigh and has to be carried off the field. French’s 3rd Brigade, under Colonel John W. Andrews, follows Kimball’s men into action. They reach the top of the incline and face the concentrated fire of the Georgians. There almost blown off their feet, staggering, the line holds its ground for a few minutes, then slowly and sullenly gives way. Retiring a few yards below the brow of the hill, there they lie down, clinging to the ground so desperately attained. In a little more than fifteen minutes, nearly half of Andrews’ brigade has been killed or wounded. Following closely at the double-quick, Colonel Oliver H. Palmer’s brigade gets no closer to the Sunken Road and suffers similarly devastating losses. French’s division has been shot to pieces. Now it is the turn of Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, whose division has been ordered to follow in support of French.
Hancock rides out with his staff—“as cool and brave as a lion”—giving directions and urging his men to the attack. Colonel Samuel K. Zook’s brigade charges up the hill with speed and determination. But “the losses were so tremendous that before we knew it, our momentum was gone, and the charge a failure.” The survivors fall back to the incline, which is now heaped with a grisly tangle of the dead, the wounded, and the desperate. Next comes Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher’s Irish Brigade. The men, advancing at the double-quick, carry a green flag and wear green sprigs in their caps to celebrate their heritage. By chance, they face a sector of the Confederate line held by the Irishmen of Colonel Robert McMillan’s 24th Georgia Regiment. The Confederates recognize their countrymen by their green emblems, and someone exclaims, “What a pity. Here come Meagher’s fellows.” Then the Georgians take aim and mow down their fellow Irishmen. The last of Hancock’s brigades to go into action is that of Brigadier General John Caldwell. As Caldwell’s troops advance, the two regiments on the left, commanded by 23-year-old Colonel Nelson A. Miles, are ordered to shift to the right. Miles marches his men laterally through the withering fire, and then forward to within 40 yards of the stone wall. Then they too are driven back with terrible losses.
The repulse convinces Colonel Miles that the Federal tactics are dead wrong. Against the awesome strength of the Confederate position, the infantrymen have been ordered to advance in the conventional manner, stopping at intervals to fire, reloading and then moving on. As they pause in the open, they make perfect stationary targets for the Confederates. Colonel Miles believes that a bayonet charge will at least give the men a fighting chance—and just might succeed if it involves great numbers, overwhelming the Confederates with sheer mass and momentum. He offers to make such a concentrated bayonet charge, but Caldwell denies permission, deeming it a “wanton loss of brave men.” While waiting for Caldwell’s answer, Miles receives a terrible wound, a bullet catching him in the throat and coming out behind his left ear. His comrades expect him to die at any time, but Miles remains conscious and full of fight, and takes his case for a bayonet charge back to Major General Oliver O. Howard. Gripping his bleeding throat, he staggers to Howard’s headquarters, delivers his message, and then faints away.
Along the front, the slaughter continues. When the carnage has continued for an hour, General Couch, the II Corps commander, comes to the same conclusion that Colonel Miles had reached earlier: The impregnability of the stone wall to advancing riflemen requires a change of tactics. Couch sends word to Generals French and Hancock to carry the enemy works by storm; if the Confederates cannot be shot out of their position, perhaps they can be driven out by overwhelming numbers and cold steel. Then Couch climbs to the steeple of the city’s courthouse to get above the smoke and haze and survey the field. He is appalled by the sight. The entire plain is covered with the wreckage of battle: dead men and horses, blueclad soldiers falling before the enemy fire, men running about aimlessly, the wounded streaming back from the battlefield. Fresh units coming up the hill are broken up by withering artillery and infantry fire, and those still able run to the houses and fight as best they can as the next brigade comes up. From Couch’s vantage point, it is obvious that French’s and Hancock’s troops are so badly mauled that they can never mount a bayonet charge. In fact, the futility of all frontal attacks is evident to him.
Committing his last division, Couch determines to try yet another tactic. He orders General Howard to try to work two brigades around to the right of French’s and Hancock’s men to turn the Confederate left. But before the order can be executed, both French and Hancock issue desperate calls for reinforcements at the center of the line, and Howard’s division has to be sent to their aid. His men advance over and around the troops felled in the earlier assaults. Colonel Joshua Owen takes his brigade up the hill, but there’s not much left of Hancock’s division to support—it has lost 2,049 men, 42 percent of its strength. Owen orders his men to lie down and fire only when they see a target. Then he calls for reinforcements. Another brigade and two regiments move up to support, but can make no headway. Another division attacks on the left, but is pinned down.
Four divisions have now tried to carry the position that Burnside expected to seize with “a division or more,” and all have been repulsed with heavy losses. After two hours of fruitless slaughter, the Federals pause to reform their shattered units.
On the other side of the stone wall, the Confederates remain supremely confident. Longstreet had been worried about what might happen to Cobb’s brigade at the stone wall if the weaker line to the north should be forced to withdraw; he even sent an urgent message to Cobb to fall back in the event that the Federals turn the left flank, but Cobb was having none of it. Observing the battle from a nearby hill, Robert E. Lee at one point also expresses some concern, and now it is Longstreet who offers reassurance. Nevertheless, Longstreet prudently hedges his bets. He has Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw move two regiments down from the ridge, and they join Cobb’s Georgians in the Sunken Road just as two reinforcing regiments sent by General Ransom arrive there. Cobb is deploying his men to meet the renewed assault when he suddenly gasps and falls to the ground. A sharpshooter’s bullet has struck him in the thigh, severing an artery. Stretcher-bearers rush him to a small house nearby, where a surgeon tries in vain to stop the bleeding. Within minutes, General Cobb is dead. General Kershaw takes command at the stone wall. With his reinforcements in the line, he now has four ranks of infantry behind the wall, capable of generating a concentrated firepower that Kershaw will describe as “the most rapid and continuous that I have ever witnessed.”
By early afternoon the Federal lines facing Longstreet on the north and Jackson on the south have fallen back with heavy casualties. The Army of the Potomac, its organization and will to fight rapidly disintegrating, desperately needs a fresh approach, but General Burnside’s stubborn streak reasserts itself. It has taken him the better part of a month to decide how to fight this battle, and now that he has committed himself he can neither give up nor change his course; he simply orders Franklin to renew his attack on Jackson—this the order that Franklin ignores—and directs Hooker, who has been holding his grand division in reserve, to cross the Rappahannock and put everything he has into a renewed attack on Marye’s Heights. While his troops are crossing the river, General Hooker does what Burnside has yet to do; he rides onto the battlefield, confers with officers on the scene, and assesses the situation. Hooker is soon convinced “that it would be a useless waste of life to attack with the force at my disposal.” And he goes back across the river to advise Burnside not to attack.
During Hooker’s absence, his V Corps commander, Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield, orders the 1st Division onto the field to relieve Sturgis’ troops on the left. Three brigades are sent, one by one, against the Confederate position. General Couch, watching the battle, can see Sturgis’ troops being cut down, and against the protests of his chief of artillery he determines to send a battery forward across the canal to a position only 150 yards from the stone wall to shell the entrenched Confederate line. The six-gun battery comes under heavy fire from sharpshooters and cannon the moment they begin to gallop forward. Many of the horses and men are shot down before the guns can even be unlimbered. The crews do manage to open fire, but for all their gallantry are unable to affect the outcome. The Federal troops remain pinned. Meanwhile, someone in Hancock’s battered division spots troop movements on Marye’s Heights and jumps to the erroneous conclusion that the Confederates are retreating, and General Andrew Humphreys is ordered to lead his division forward. He and his staff—including his son—lead his 1st Brigade in yet another gallant advance across the same bloody ground. They have no more success than the units that have proceeded them, and Humphreys, like Miles and Couch before him, realizes that nothing can be accomplished so long as the men continue to stop in order to take aim and fire at the Confederates. Returning to where his 2nd Brigade stand waiting their turn to attack, Humphreys orders his men not to load their rifles, but to fix bayonets and charge right over the masses of men prostrate on the little incline. Once again he leads the way into the storm of artillery and musket fire as Federals lying wounded on the ground call out for the attackers to halt and lie down or they’ll all be killed. Some of the wounded even reach up to clutch at the advancing troops to stop them. The Confederates wait until the Federals come within 50 yards, then their quintuple line rises up from behind the stone wall and delivers their withering fire. The first Federal line melts, but the second comes steadily on, over the dead and dying of the former charges, to suffer the same fate. With yet another 1,000 men dead and wounded since the fighting has been renewed, the Federal line falls back again, despite the efforts of Humphreys and other officers to hold it. A division is ordered to cover Humphreys’ retreat, are scarcely deployed before being caught in the Confederate fire storm, and like those before them find what cover they can on the open plain and remain there under fire.
Hooker returns at last from his fruitless meeting with Burnside; the commanding general has rebuffed Hooker’s objections and demanded that the attacks continue. Although the day is waning fast, Hooker orders Brigadier General George W. Getty’s division of IX Corps to launch an assault against the Confederate position on the left, at the foot of the section of Marye’s Heights known as Willis’s Hill. Colonel Rush Hawkins’ brigade draws the onerous duty. For a time the Confederates don’t detect Hawkins’ troops advancing in the twilight, but that only delays the inevitable and the defenders’ fire shatters and repulses Hawkins’ men as they have all the others.
Hooker orders an end to the fighting for the day; later he will observe that he has “lost as many men as his orders required.” Seven divisions have now been hurled against the enemy position on Marye’s Heights, at a cost of about 7,000 casualties; the Confederates there have lost only 1,200 men, and they have allowed not a single Federal soldier to reach the stone wall. When Sumer’s and Hooker’s casualties are added to Franklin’s losses down the river, the Federal toll comes to 1,284 killed, 9,600 wounded, and 1,769 missing, a total of 12,653 casualties for the proud Army of the Potomac. An estimated 114,000 men were engaged. For the Confederates, 595 have been killed, 4,061 wounded, and 653 missing, for 5,309 casualties of about 72,500 engaged.
The Aftermath and Elsewhere
Bitter cold descends on the plain with the night. Some of the Federal troops have been ordered to hold their position, and other units remain pinned to the ground for fear of enemy fire. The thousands of wounded still lying on the field suffer appallingly. They cry out for help, for water, for their mothers, and for death. As wounded men die, their bodies quickly freeze, and many are stacked up to form barriers against the biting cold for those who still live. Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, whose 20th Maine regiment is pinned down before the stone wall, sleeps between two such corpses for shelter, drawing a third crosswise to serve as a pillow and pulling a dead man’s coat flap over his face for warmth. Federal stretcher-bearers come and go, carrying off as many of the wounded as they can. Scavengers from both sides roam the battlefield, stripping the dead of their uniforms. After midnight, two brigades of Sykes’s Federals are ordered to a forward position on the field. During their march across the blasted plain they come across a low brick house, with light shining from an open door. Looking inside as they pass, they see a gaunt, hard-featured woman with wild hair and eyes, sitting with a smoking candle, staring past the six corpses lying across her doorway and at her feet into the darkness.
During the night, nature puts on an unearthly show, as if to emphasize the events of the day just past. The sky is emblazoned with the fiery glow of the Northern Lights, seldom seen so far south.
General Burnside spends most of the night visiting various units and conferring with their commanders, belatedly assessing the situation and agonizing over what to do next. He maintains a cheerful front, but as General Couch will later say, “It was plain that he felt he had led us to a great disaster, and one knowing him so long and well as myself could see he wished his body was also lying in front of Marye’s Heights. I never felt so badly for a man in my life.”
There is fighting elsewhere: at Leesburg, Virginia; on Southwest Creek, North Carolina; and a Federal raid December 13-19 on the Mobile & Ohio Railroad from Corinth to Tupelo, Mississippi.
At Murfreesboro, Tennessee, President Davis, on his Western inspection tour, reviews Bragg’s army and confers with his generals.
Governments—and corporations—believe free speech is a marvelous thing, so long as “free” is defined as “responsible” and “responsible” is defined by them.
In the United States we privatize everything, including censorship.