Thursday, December 13, 2012

Battle of Fredericksburg - Day 3

Saturday, December 13, 1862

General Ambrose Burnside ordered General William Franklin's Left Grand Division to strike Confederate Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson south of Fredericksburg, and ordered General Edwin "Bull" Sumner's Right Grand Division and General Joseph Hooker's Center Grand Division to assault Confederate General James Longstreet at Marye's Heights.

The Thirteenth New Hampshire was held in reserve along the banks of the Rappahannock River, about a mile away from the combat at Marye's Heights. All day long they could hear the thunderous pounding of artillery and gunfire and were aware that a fierce battle was raging. At 4:00 P.M., a report arose among the men of the Thirteenth New Hampshire that they were next in line for battle. As nighttime was about to fall, many of the men dismissed the report as an idle rumor. Thirty minutes later, the order resounded through their ranks: "Attention! Take Arms, Right Face, March!"

As darkness fell the Thirteenth New Hampshire approached the long, open field in front of Marye's Heights and witnessed the results of the day's terrible battle, a field strewn with the bodies of the dead and wounded. The Thirteenth formed a line of battle near the embankment of the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad, approximately four-hundred yards southwest of the stone wall at the base of Marye's Heights. Major Edward Jardine, commander of the Ninth New York regiment, assisted Colonel Aaron Stevens, the commander of the Thirteenth New Hampshire regiment, in leading the charge. Major Jardine, in a clear, strong voice, gave the order to attack: "Thirteenth New Hampshire, you love your country, you are brave men, and you came out here to fight for her – now, go in! Forward!"

The Thirteenth New Hampshire charged in the darkness toward an unseen enemy. Suddenly the flashing of gunfire from the Confederate stronghold at the stone wall illuminated their position. They were within twenty-five yards of the enemy line, so close that they could smell the acrid smoke of the rifles firing upon them and see the strained expressions on the faces of the Confederate soldiers. As the Thirteenth New Hampshire returned fire their position was revealed to the enemy, placing them in extreme peril. They were forced to retreat to avoid the annihilation of their ranks. The Thirteenth New Hampshire reformed their line at the railroad embankment and retreated to their camp along the Rappahannock River.

1S. Millett Thompson, Thirteenth Regiment of New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865 : A Diary Covering Three Years and a Day (Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1888), 45-62.

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