Thursday, December 13, 2012

Saturday, Dec. 13, 1862

Last night Lucy and Betty Gates came down and are spending the day here.

Peggy's notes:
Rufus Dawes continues his description of the battle of Fredericksburgh (Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers):
About daylight of the 13th, the troops were formed for the advance upon the enemy.  The battle field was covered by an exceedingly dense fog and nothing could be seen.  The brigade was formed in grand column by regiments, our regiment being second line from the front.  Thus we moved through the fog in four lines of battle.  The artillery of the enemy was firing vigorously at us and the shot and shell whistled and shrieked around us, but, owing to the fog, none struck in our columns.  The divisions of Generals Meade and Gibbon, belonging to Franklin's grand division, soon became heavily engaged.  We heard the crash of their musketry, and braced ourselves for the conflict we believed to be before us. But, after moving a considerable distance and no enemy having been encountered, the fog cleared away and we found ourselves on a great open plain, facing toward the Massaponax river on the extreme left flank of the army.  We were without shelter of any kind and during the entire day were exposed to a fire of the rebel artillery, posted on a hill near Hamilton's crossing.  The rebel cavalry under General J. E. B. Stuart, formed to charge the left flank of our army.  Diagonal squares were formed by the regiments of our brigade to receive a charge of cavalry, while a heavy fire of artillery was directed upon us.  Our squares were as formidable as those of Napoleon at the Pyramids.  The rebel cavalry wisely refrained from charging upon these squares, and I have always felt that the "Iron Brigade" was in the right place at Fredericksburgh.  It was the manifest purpose of General Lee to attack the left flank of our army with this heavy column of cavalry.
Late in the afternoon, the enemy opened upon us the concentrated fire of all his artillery on Hamilton's Heights, forty or fifty guns.  Our men lay flat upon the ground and took it with wonderful courage and patience.  I have never known a more severe trial of nerve upon the battle field, than this hour under that infernal fire.  With nothing to do but crouch close to the ground, our eyes were riveted upon the cannon on the hill firing point blank at us.  They seemed endowed with life in their tremendous and spiteful energy.  There would be a swift outburst of snow white smoke, out of which flashed a tongue of fire, followed the thundering report, in the midst of which the missile fired at us would plow deep into the ground, scattering a spray of dirt and bound high over us or burst in the air sending fragments with a heavy thud into the ground around us.  Like fiends who stirred infernal fires, the rebel artillerymen could be seen working around their guns.  Several times I saw the awful plowing of the earth in the very midst of our battle lines of men lying upon the ground.  There was instant death in the track of it.  We were relieved from this fire only by the darkness of the night, and our regiment was moved forward to the Bowling Green road.  Hearing this movement, the enemy began firing upon us with canister.  We could hear the sharp rattle of shot upon the ground.  As the night was very dark, the firing was necessarily at random, and the danger not great, but the sound of the shot striking the ground was frightful.  
This night was intensely cold.  We formed long lines of officers and men together, who would lie down on their oil cloths, spoon fashion to keep each other warm.  We would soon get so cold on the side next to the ground, that we would have to turn over.  The command, "About face," would be given, and the whole line of men would roll over together to lie a few moments on the other side.  At short intervals the rebel battery would blaze away with its horrible shot rattling on the frozen ground.  The shot seemed to fly about one foot above us, so that, while one was freezing as he lay down, he was tortured with the fear of being torn to pieces if he ventured to stand up or walk around. 

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