|from The |
| THE FIFTEENTH AT FREDERICKSBURG
U. S. General hospital
Dear Spy, After each great battle, people at home listen eagerly for the faintest sounds that echo away over hill and valley, to the remotest part of our great land, from the roar of contending artillery and the rattle of rifle and musket, on the bloody plains and hard fought fields, here in Virginia. Each separate city, and village, and hamlet, asks after the personal experiences of “our boys.” Knowing, then, the interest with which our friends turn away from the generalities of battle, to inquire for, “what did you see, and do, and hear,” I venture, at the risk of appearing somewhat egotistical, to narrate the part the 15th Massachusetts acted, in the battle of Fredericksburg.
For some time previous to the battle we had been unusually busy, in building log cabins, under the impression we were going to spend the winter on the east bank of the Rappahannock. Many of us had completed buildings on which we had bestowed labor and thought enough, at least, to have constructed a home for a lifetime; and now, just as we moved in, we could but be somewhat disappointed to hear a rumor that we were on the point of moving. Many resolutely refused to believe it anything but a camp rumor, and declared that congress ought to pass stringent laws against the propagation of such false stories, whose only object was to retard our work, and make us uncomfortable.
Thus disposing of the matter, we lay down on the evening of the 10th inst., determined not to be disturbed, and consequently rested quietly, until the “wee sma’ hours ayont the twa.” Although we had settled the matter so much to our own satisfaction, the powers above were not disposed so to let it rest. The result was, that early on the morning of the 11th we were awakened and ordered to be ready to move at daylight; and accordingly, as the sun came up over the eastern hills, we found ourselves on the way.
Presently---bang! bang! bang! bang! bang! bang! for a moment startled us, as we counted the heavy booming of a full battery, with as much regularity as if firing a salute. We felt then that we had work to do, and as we wound over the brow of a hill to get into position, many anxious glances, were cast across the valley, as if to see how hard a job it was to be. Our artillery did not have to wait long for its reply.
Here and there we caught little glimpses of a little puff of thick smoke, that rapidly dispersed itself in the in the clear cold air of that winters morning, along the hills, over the river, and a moment after came the well known whiz! bang! and flutter! that we had learned to know so well on the peninsula and at Antietam. It told us our foes were awake and ready for us.
Presently we took up our position under cover of a hill, directly opposite to the upper part of the town, and then we lay all day listening to the quick heavy boom of the cannon, that swept back and forth across the valley, and echoed and rolled and echoed back again, until it seemed we were breathing an atmosphere of sound. In all my experience,---at Yorktown, in front of Yorktown, at Malvern Hill, or in the late campaign in Maryland---I have not heard any such cannonading. It seemed one continued sound throughout the livelong day.
Just at night came the order “attention,” and our brigade was quickly in motion, marching rapidly towards the pontoon which had just been completed. the enemy saw us as we emerged from our shelter, and sent the swift messengers of death over our heads. Thank god that were over our heads, and we were soon across the bridge, and in line of battle just at the waters edge. Dana’s brigade had preceded us in boats, and were engaging the enemy in the streets. The rattle of their rifles was fearfully distinct, and occasionally we could detect the humming of the enemy’s balls, reminding us of the time when we stirred up bee’s in the days of childhood.
These bee’s have a sting to them, as I knew from experience. But of that furthermore. T’was ticklish business laying there in the dim of evening, and I could but feel anxious. Would we be able to hold our footing in the town? Was Ball’s Bluff to be re enacted and we driven into the river?
Such thoughts would intrude themselves upon the bravest hearts; but as night deepened, the tired soldiers lay down on the river bank and slept. For myself I wandered thro’ the deserted streets, stumbling occasionally over the bodies of friend and foe and citizen, as they lay in that sleep that knows no waking regardless of the hardness of their couch and the winters cold.
At last I laid me down and quickly joined the sleeping throng. Morning came cold and cheerless. Our men were quickly under arms, and filing out into the principle street of the place awaited the progress of events. We felt sure that this was to be the day of battle. We were mistaken, for the day was occupied with getting out troops across the river, and placing them in various positions, so as to have them, like the old ladies broom that lay in the middle of the floor, “handy.” One incident came under my notice during the day that may serve to illustrate the destructiveness of shell.
As one of our long columns was deployed through one of the streets, a soldier stepped from the ranks to pick up something that had attracted his attention on the sidewalk. A shell burst directly in front of him, and blew his body to atoms. His head flew up, and came down on the pavement with a heavy “thud,” while one of his arms passed over the heads of his comrades to the opposite side of the street. The remainder of the corpse could hardly be found. to use a western expression, “he was pretty effectually wiped out.”
That night we again slept on the sidewalks of Fredericksburg, but the boys “couldn’t see the point” of laying on the icy stones, and so they quickly transferred the warm feather beds and soft mattresses from the adjoining buildings, to our line of battle, and then we slept, many said better than they had done since we left dear old Worcester.
Before the sun had dispelled the fog on the morning of the 13th inst., we moved forward, and took our position as pickets behind the town. Bear in mind that we were near the upper part of the town, on the right of our line of battle, and the rebels had been driven entirely out of that part of the town, on the evening we first entered, though they still held a few streets farther down toward our left. Our picket duty was short, however, for some time before noon an Aid(e) ordered us to fall back in squads of half dozens, so as not to attract the enemies fire so much as we should to move in a mass.
This occupied some time, and long before we could be reformed under cover of the friendly terrace where we had spent the preceding night, we hard heavy firing from both rifles and artillery, down on the left, that told us we must prepare for work, for well we knew, that whenever their was fighting to be done, there would be the 15th, bearing our torn and bloody banner, that we are so proud to say has never been disgraced.
It looks far more beautiful to us today, albeit so mangled and ragged that it can scarce be unfurled without loosing some of its parts, than it did when all untried,, we received it from the fair hands of its generous donors. We cannot forget that this mark on the staff was got at Ball’s Bluff. That bloody stain at Fair Oaks, this mark at Yorktown; that tear was received in the woods in front of Richmond, that mark was left on it at Savage’s Station; and that at White Oak Swamp, or Malvern Hill; that mark at Centreville, and that, at Antietam; and now at Fredericksburg it is again to be borne at the front, in the midst of bloodiest scenes. I repeat, we are proud of the old rags, and should we ever be permitted to bear them through the streets of Worcester again, it shall be returned unsullied, as pure from dishonor as the fame of its fair givers. Passing rapidly down the street we halted for a moment to breath, and then moved forward to act our part.
And now my narrative must stop, for just as we were entering the engagement I received a disabling wound, and so was obliged to leave the ranks and seek surgical treatment. a quick sharp sting, (these buzzing bees have stings,) and I see the crimson tide that tells me more than pain that I am wounded.
It don’t hurt much to be shot, indeed I suffered scarcely anything until the inflammation set in, and every movement reminded me of the old saying that : "a sore finger is always in the way.” Passing off the field I saw our surgeon, (Dr. Haven,) who had ventured too much so that our wounded might be speedily relieved, himself lying dangerously injured. Poor fellow, he has gone, another victim to this dreadful war.
Further on I saw another of our brave boys, who, much against his will, had remained out of the fight, owing to sickness. Seeing me he exclaimed in the rich brogue that proclaimed him a countryman of Gen. Meagher and his fighting brigade, “och and are ye hurted.” I showed him the bloody proofs, which seemed to inspire him with new strength. Seizing his musket he rushed to the front, and , not finding the 15th, entered the ranks of the 19th Massachusetts, and shortly after came from the field with the loss of a part of his right hand. As he was having it dressed he turned to me and said, “Faix, I gave them a round or two, anyway, “ and this reflection seemed comfort enough.
Passing across the pontoon, we (my command and I) app(roached?)---------------- ---Lacy house, in front of which stood Gens. Burnside and Sumner, and others, overlooking and directing the progress of the conflict. I tried to read the story of our success in the face of the commanding general, but it was so calm and still, I could detect no sign of either pleasure or pain. Not even when at dark an orderly rode up and delivered the message, “the left is driving all before it”, could I see any change. As light faded the rapid musketry died away, and only the booming of the heavy guns on the hill beyond the town told of the bloody work that had been going on during the day. I passed a sleepless night, and the next day took the cars for Aquia Creek, glad to get away from the sight and sound of war. Yours, & ect. Lankton.
Camp Near Falmouth Va. Dec. 23d, 1862
Thursday morning at 4 o’clock, we had orders to pack up, take our blankets and shelter tents (this is light marching order) and report near the railroad bridge. three-fourths of a mile from Fredericksburg, that we might be ready to cross the river as soon as the bridge was laid. We arrived at the point designated about 8 o’clock A. M., and remained there ( concealed from the enemy by a hill ) till nearly sunset, and then crossed the river.
We were the second brigade to cross, and had no fighting that night, but laid in our arms on the banks of the river. The boys made so much noise that we could get but little sleep, some of them out on pillaging expeditions returning somewhat the worse for the liquor they found. Friday we remained in the city until noon, and then went out on picket duty, and were out till 9 A. M., on Saturday, when we were relieved and located ourselves once more in town ------ ------. ,
but we did not stay there. At one P. M. we marched on to the battlefield, and while we were going out a shell came into our ranks, killing our surgeon (Haven,) and wounding a number of others. We did not go to the front until nearly dark, but laid at the canal all ready. While in this position we lost several men in killed and wounded, among them Major Philbrick, wounded in the ankle.
Just before dark we went to the front, but hostilities had ceased for the night, and we did not have occasion to fire a gun. We remained there until 11 P. M., when we were relieved and took our old position in the city. But we were destined not to have a night’s rest while we were over the river, for on Sunday evening we had to go out on picket, and remained there until Tuesday morning. At one o’clock, the city being abandoned, we returned to our old camp at Falmouth.
The loss to the regiment is about thirty in killed and wounded. Monday was a day long to be remembered by the 15th regiment. it was the longest day I ever knew. We were on picket for thirty hours in succession, and this whole time we had to lie on our faces to keep them from being shot by the enemy. they did not dare come out of their entrenchments to attack us, and if we raised our heads we were sure to get shot at by rebel sharpshooters. We lost a number of men in this way.
The batteries on the heights to our right would open upon us, occasionally enfilading our line; and besides, it was a great source of annoyance to us, to be obliged to take the enemies fire without returning it. How long we shall remain here, or what course will be taken next, I of course cannot tell.
Yours truly, S.