Chapter 15 – Thursday, December 11 – Monday, December 15, 1862 – Dudley Digges Pendleton, Tippie’s Future Husband, Vividly “Paints” the Battle of Fredericksburg, Va. including His Own Heroic Act.
It has been said that the soldier never sees a battle, but many of us both men and officers, saw that battle while participating in it. Many who repelled the fierce and wonderfully determined attacks on Marye’s Hill, and those who occupied that day the corresponding hill across the ravine, through which passed the country road into the town, had impressed upon their memories a scene not often equaled for its terrible grandeur. Nor did any other battle of the war offer such a scene; for Gettysburg and the fierce conflicts around Richmond, from the nature of the ground, gave a much less comprehensive view to any observer, no matter what his position.
I happened that day to have charge of a big gun, cast in Richmond, which was placed in an earthwork on the hill above spoken of, to the right of Marye’s Hill, facing the town. Before the plans of the enemy developed, this gun was employed in firing at the innumerable wagon trains, and any batteries that were within its range on the opposite side of the river. We soon drew upon ourselves a very heavy fire, many of the opposing guns being beyond our range. These guns would throw rifled shells far beyond us into the woods as well as many immediately around us. After the battle began it was evident to the Federals that Marye’s Hill must be taken. So masses of troops were concentrated under cover of a prodigious discharge of artillery upon the batteries on Marye’s Hill and upon the gun in this fortification, and the attack was made under this protective fire. This Hill was often a point of observation for General Lee and other officers, giving as it did, a full view of the opposing army in its efforts to cross. The earthwork in which this gun was placed was so faced as to enfilade the railroad cut leading into the town and across which the enemy’s infantry had to pass in the charge upon Marye’s Hill. Between the cut and the heights was a plane nearly level until nearing the height when it became quite steep.
As soon as the first advance of the troops occurred, and they descended the steep side of the deep cut, we brought the big gun to bear upon the trench, filled as it was with men struggling into it on one side and up in the direction of Marye’s Hill on the other side. It was not a difficult thing to get a range that would play havoc with this mass of men. The only hindrance was the tremendous fire which the gun drew upon itself from the opposite side. Smoke at every discharge obstructed the view for a time, but by stepping aside partly behind the fortification, I could avoid this and follow the huge shell in its flight.
Things strangely dissimilar may resemble each other, and this fearfully destructive shell, as my eyes followed it, remind me of nothing so much as the rapid disappearance of a dove when its line of flight is directly away from the observer. The dark object could be followed until it reached the mass of toiling soldiers, when, if it burst, it seemed to empty the cut of men, and if it did not, a long red lane was to be seen as it passed through. Sometimes I fancied I saw parts of human bodies rising as the explosion occurred and then dropping back to the earth. The scene of the explosion of the mine under our lines at Petersburg served to convince me that this was indeed a reality and not a fancy. Odd conceits sometimes possess us.
The long cut, the moving mass, the lanes mowed through it, reminded me of wanton dealing death to hosts of ants as they constantly advance, unchecked by the ever-increasing pile of dead comrades. Our gun became so hot that we were forced to cool it frequently, but after doing service, which was proved good by our own observation, it burst. I had stepped aside to observe the effect of the discharge, when, instead of seeing the dove-like messenger of death pass from it, as before, the entire forepart of the gun, in front of the trunnion, went whirling over and over, down the hill in front of us. Small portions flew to each side, and the entire rear took the back track for the woods, following the Union shells. Strange to say, no one was hurt. As soon as possible we brought “Long Tom” into position. This gun had been used in forcing observation balloons to shift their position or come down somewhat further up the river than Marye’s Hill. There it had caused some very precipitate descents but now it was needed for surer work.
Among the generals who occupied the hill for observation was General Barksdale, whose brigade occupied the line in front of this earthwork, and to its right down the river. After the enemy despaired of forcing their way across the river here and determined upon the move to Chancellorsville, we had a lull in the storm of shot and shell. I used it to examine the effect of the grand charges upon Marye’s Hill. Not an inch of the surface of the bricks on the front of the house exposed to this fire was free from the work of a minie ball. Bushels of flattened ones were to be seen on the ground, while the woodwork was torn to pieces by them, independently of the destruction wrought by the cannon.
The level between the house and railroad cut was covered with the dead and dying. The pieces of wood used between the powder and ball in cannon were as thick here as I ever saw them during the war, except at a point between the lines at Spotsylvania Court House, where the breastworks of the two lines had been run very close together and each gun seemed discharging its contents into the throat of another, which in one instance, actually occurred. We sent this ball back to the enemy, with our compliments, but they had ruined a Napoleon gun for us. General Barksdale’s troops held the line until the advance on Chancellorsville. He was upon the hill at the time that Sedgwick’s troops came in sight. It happened that he had no attendant, all his staff being temporarily absent with orders.
I said to him: “General those troops are yankees.” He said: “Oh, no! It is impossible!” Presently, recognizing the uniforms, he exclaimed: “My God! who will save my regiments down there?” The ground below this hill was impassable for a horse, owing to brush, high-cut stumps and bushes, while it was difficult for anyone not light and active to get over it. Not wondering at this question I told him that I would go and warn the men. Of my war experience, that run over such rough ground and back again was the most severe. The regiments fell back in time to hinder the advance, but were not sufficient to hold the enemy. Therefore other troops on their way to Chancellorsville had to be recalled. My horse had fortunately not broken away from where it was tied and I was sent after some of these troops. I passed two or three brigades whose commanders refused to return unless other orders brought them. Next, I reached General Gordon, who immediately reversed his column, on hearing of the passage of these troops asking only that General Early be informed of the necessity of the case. But for his promptness in taking in the situation though he had no orders from the commanding General, I have always believed that the enemy would not have been driven back and the Confederate success at Chancellorsville very materially lessened. – (1).
Chapterette 15: Thursday, December 11 – Monday, December 15, 1862 – Dudley Digges Pendleton, Tippie’s Future Husband, Vividly “Paints” the Battle of Fredericksburg, Va. including His Own Heroic Act.
1. The Boteler Collection – courtesy Ms. Leslie Keller.