Shock Troops for the Union: The Pennsylvania Reserves at the Battle of Fredericksburg

October 26 to December 14, 1862

The fighting along Antietam Creek ended almost six weeks ago. The Confederate army returned to Virginia within days of the battle but the Army of the Potomac was still camped in the area of the battlefield waiting for replacements and supplies.

“I may safely say you of the North know nothing of war; you know nothing of an army. This immense army must be equipped, rations must be furnished, officers appointed, companies, regiments, brigades, divisions and corps re-organized, for let me tell you two or three hard battles disorganizes the best disciplined troops.”

The City of Fredericksburg
Fredericksburg, Virginia / 1863 Feb., c1865 / negative by T.H. O’Sullivan; positive by A. Gardner. Library of Congress.

Finally, Gen. George B. McClellan was convinced that his army was supplied and manned as much as Washington was going to allow so he ordered it to move south to meet Gen. Robert E. Lee again.

October 26 – About noon the Reserves took their place in the column A miserable day caused Cpl. Henry Leib (7th Pa. Reserves, Co. H) to note in his diary, “It poured rain all the time. Marched twelve miles and then camped for the night, it being dark and the men very tired. Got no sleep at all last night, it raining all night.”

Edward J. Haines
Edward J. Haines, Co. E, 3rd Pennsylvania Reserves. Haines kept a diary of his experience in the war, from which excerpts are used in this article.

Cpl. Edward Haines (3rd Pa. Reserves, Co. E) made a similar entry in his diary, “We marched 12 miles through a hard rain, with mud up to our ankles.”

October 27 – The next day Leib wrote, “Left this morning about 9 o’clock. Cleared off, very cold. The men are half frozen.”

The Reserves reached Berlin (present day Brunswick) on the Potomac River during the afternoon and for the next two days remained here while other units of the army crossed the river. Drying out and warming up, the regiments drew food and some clothing while mail was distributed.

October 30 – Early in the morning, the Reserves crossed the river on a pontoon bridge and entered the Confederacy again. After passing through Lovettsville, they continued about six miles before stopping near Waterford where the 7th Reserves were detailed for picket duty, even before fires for their coffee could be started.

October 31 – Coming off picket duty, the regiment mustered for pay. “The boys are commencing to growl about their pay. It is now four months almost since we were last paid. Change is getting scarce.”

The marching continued, the miles and the small towns passed but their destination was still unknown. Some days the marching was easy, on others it was the opposite story. “We did not stop long enough during the day to cook a cup of coffee, and did not halt until 11 o’clock at night. It rained during the whole day.”

Foraging became commonplace in all of the regiments as a member of the 11th Reserves commented, “In this state we buy nothing that we can take. I do not call it stealing because we don’t care who sees or knows it.”

A member of the 10th Reserves stated, ” …sheep and hogs being numerous and in prime condition; we fared as well as at any time during the service.”

One of the 7th Reserves admitted his regiment’s guilt, “During our halt, the fields around us became one vast slaughter shop: the boys were short of meat, and the cow, hog, oi sheep that escaped was very fortunate.”

A member of the 121st PA Volunteers (now assigned to the Division of Pennsylvania Reserves) related an incident “that was both strange and amusing.” On one long march late into the night that ended near White Plains, the Reserves were marching back and forth, apparently lost and unable to find their assigned camping area. “After their year of joint service, no doubt General Meade and his Pennsylvania Reserves understood each other pretty thoroughly, but to the men of the 121st who had not been used to such things, it appeared that the opinions expressed by the Reserves of their General – not in whispers, but in stentorian tones, easily heard by the General and those considerably farther away – were anything but polite, not to say in violation of military discipline and etiquette. On all sides they swore at and censured him for getting lost and going the wrong road, using such adjectives in the expression of their indignation as would scarcely bear repetition.” It was reported that Meade vowed to get even in the next battle, “but that was nothing to men who would at any time rather fight than march.”

November 6 – Leading the division as skirmishers while the column continued south, the 2nd and 13th Reserve Regiments “succeeded in scaring up a number of squirrels, but no gray-backs.”

Approaching Warrenton, the Reserves received a report the town was occupied by the enemy. The division formed its line of battle while the Bucktails, still out as skirmishers and supported by the 1st and 2nd Reserves, checked the town. A small skirmish cleared the town and the Reserves were ordered to set up a camp.

“The inhabitants of the town, if they really felt any delight at our arrival, certainly did not manifest it by any outward signs, the female portion keeping indoors, and the men looking on in silence. We passed, however, a number of wounded paroled prisoners, whose countenances were more friendly, they saluting us in an easy matter-of-course style.”

Unknown to the lower ranks, General McClellan was relieved of command and Ambrose Burnside was named the new commander of the Army of the Potomac. Until the change was completed, the army remained in camp.

President Lincoln and Gen. George B. McClellan in the general's tent
Antietam, Md. President Lincoln and Gen. George B. McClellan in the general’s tent, by Alexander Gardner. Library of Congress.

November 10 – The army formed in review to say good-bye to the departing commander. As McClellan passed each regiment, “There were no military formalities, but cheer after cheer went up from each regiment, not cheers ordered for the occasion, but cheers which made you feel that there was soul in them. The air was black with hundreds of caps, which men tore off, and threw high in the air, so great was the excitement. Twice since I have been in the service I have shed tears; once, on the evening of the battle of Gaines’ Mill, and next, at this review…”

The men loved McClellan because he took care of them; keeping them fed, clothed and never seemed to sacrifice them needlessly.

Sgt. Jacob Heffelfinger (7th Pa. Reserves, Co. H) continued, “To see the enthusiasm of the men composing the old regiments, whose numbers sadly thinned by battle and disease, told too plainly how faithfully they had done their duty, to witness at what pride they had dropped their soiled and bullet ridden flags, flinging their folds into the very face of their loved general, to notice the deep emotion so plainly traceable in his manly countenance, and then to think that he was about to leave us, touched a chord too tender, and the tears came… “

Several days later, from a comrade, “The army is very much down in spirits on account of the recent action of the government in removing our Major General McClellan.

Jacob Heffelfinger
Second Lieutenant Jacob Heffelfinger, Co. H, 7th Pennsylvania Reserves. Heffelfinger recorded in his diary his experience of the battle as he lie on the field as it unfolded, incapacitated by wounds.

The majority of the officers are resigning and going home – and I believe every private would do the same if they could get the chance “

Also watching the ceremonies, hidden by a convenient bush, was Confederate John

Singleton Mosby who wrote to his wife, “…I saw him leave his army at the time he was

superceded by Burnside.”  Actions such as this soon earned Mosby the name, Gray Ghost.

November 11 – The army continued to move at an erratic pace, some days easy, some days hard, towards Fredericksburg where General Burnside planned to cross the Rappahannock River to flank Lee’s army and put pressure on Richmond.

One of the 6th Reserves noted, “We have tough times now. We are marching through a country that has been laid waste by the soldier.”

November 18 – The Reserves arrived in the Falmouth area on the north side of the river opposite Fredericksburg. The weather was cold and rainy and the supply wagons couldn’t reach the men on muddy roads. “Here was a great scarcity of hard tack, the worst we ever experienced during cessations of hostilities.”

Fortunately for the 7th Regiment, Dr. Michael Steck managed to arrive on the muddy roads with his sutler wagon. “The boys pitched into buying right smart.”

Besides rations, “We have not got many clothes yet. We have not got any overcoats. We have got a few blankets so that every man has one but we are very destitute of shoes, socks and shirts.  Some of the men are barefooted, others nearly so. We have nothing but little shelter tents to keep off the rain and we have had no money to buy gum blankets.”

The warehouses in Washington were reported to be bulging at the seams with food and clothing yet the men, at times, were forced to buy their own clothes and equipment including boots, shoes, blankets, gloves, socks and even rifles.

For the next three weeks, the army waited in the cold and rain with short rations, performing picket duties and practicing drills when the weather permitted, while waiting for the overdue pontoon bridges needed to cross the river. These were the same pontoons used for the bridge at Berlin. A mix-up in orders caused these pontoons to stop in Washington instead of continuing to Fredericksburg.

Thanksgiving came but no special meal was served, just “bean soup, hard bread & coffee.” However, the paymaster, Maj. Gideon J. Ball, finally showed up “as he is in our debt two or three months pay.”

Meanwhile, General Lee guessed Burnside’s plan and moved his troops to the ridges south of Fredericksburg. The Confederates waited and hoped the Army of the Potomac would cross the Rappahannock River and attack them in their now well-fortified positions.

December 11 – General Burnside ordered just that when the pontoons finally arrived.

In the early morning darkness, “..passing camp after camp of the army wrapped in quiet slumber, (we) soon met the pontoon train, which revealed the object of the midnight march. The task had been assigned the division to force a crossing of the Rappahannock, and to cover the laying of the pontoons. Before daylight the river was reached, and the Bucktails and the Tenth Reserves were deployed as skirmishers along the bank of the stream.”

Fredericksburg, night of the 11th
Fredericksburg, night of the 11th, by Alfred R. Waud. Library of Congress.

Slipping on icy, rough roads, one of the Reserves complained, “…when bad, disagreeable weather comes, it brings marching orders with it.”

While the Union artillery shelled the town, “we arrived on the bluffs overlooking the town late in the forenoon…”

The 10th and 13th Reserves protected the engineers from the deadly accurate fire from Confederate sharpshooters while they placed the bridges in position. “The enemy’s pickets were quickly driven from the opposite bank and the two bridges soon completed.”

Attack on Fredericksburg
Union troops landing on shore of river, pulling up pontoon bridges and maneuvering in foreground; buildings burning in background. Library of Congress.

These two bridges, located several miles downstream from Fredericksburg, were going to be used by the Left Grand Division to cross the river and form their position for the impending battle.

After taking command, Burnside had reorganized the Army of the Potomac into three Grand Divisions; the Left Grand Division was composed of the I and VI Corps with some artillery and cavalry units:

Left Grand Division CommanderGen. William B. Franklin;

I Corps Gen. John F. Reynolds;

Division Commander Maj. Gen. George G. Meade;

1st BrigadeCol. William Sinclair – 1st, 2nd, 6th, 13th Reserves, 121st Pennsylvania;

2nd BrigadeCol. Albert Magilton – 3rd, 4th, 7th, 8th Reserves,142nd Pennsylvania;

3rd BrigadeBrig. Gen. C. F. Jackson – 5th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th Reserves.

The 2nd Brigade “…crossed the Rappahannock River on the pontoon bridge Friday, December 12, and formed in column of division front, on the west of the Bernard mansion, when they were marched to a point a short distance east of the mansion, and deployed in line of battle, the left resting on the Rappahannock River, where we bivouacked for the night.”

Corporal Leib also described the day. “Met no opposition till after we was across. The Rebs then opened a battery on us but was soon silenced by our guns. The Rebs opened fire on us in the evening again. We camped in a large field for the night. All quiet along the lines.”

December 13, 1862 – Battle of Fredericksburg

All during the quiet night, General Franklin waited for his orders from General Burnside. When they finally arrived around 5:30 a.m., Franklin read them but was confused as they appeared to be different from what he had previously discussed with Burnside.

These orders read in part, “The Commanding General directs that you keep your whole command in position for a rapid movement down the old Richmond road, and you will send out at once a division, at least, to pass below Smithfield, to seize, if possible, the heights near Captain Hamilton’s, on this side of the Massaponax, taking care to keep it well supported and its line of retreat open.”

Franklin told Gen. John Reynolds, commanding the I Corps, to prepare his division for the attack; Reynolds, in turn, gave this honor to Meade’s Pennsylvania Reserves. Gen.

John Fulton Reynolds
Brigadier General John Fulton Reynolds, commanded the First Corps in Gen. William B. Franklin’s Left Grant Wing.

John Gibbon’s division would be on the Reserves’ right flank and Gen. Abner Doubleday’s division would be to their rear in a supporting role.

In a dimly lit morning caused by a dense fog, the 7 Reserves “moved a few paces down the river, then by the right, stacking knapsacks close by the Bowling Green Road.  Crossing the road (which had a row of tall trimmed Cedars on either side) we halted in a Wheat stubble, within easy speaking distance of the road.”

The 2nd Brigade was aligned, from left to right: 7th, 3гd, 4th, 8th Reserves, 142nd Pennsylvania.  About 300 yards to their front was the 1st Brigade, aligned from left to right: 2nd Reserves, 121st Pennsylvania, 1st Reserves, with the 6th Reserves on skirmish line duty.  The 13th Reserves were supporting artillery units for the present time. The 3rd Brigade was to the left of the 1st Brigade, aligned left to right: 10th, 12th, 5th, 11th Reserves with the 9th Regiment forward as skirmishers.

A member of the 1st Reserves noted “that no period of a soldier’s life was so trying to his courage as the wretched waiting before engaging in the conflict. The excitement of the actual conflicts carried men almost unthinkingly through storms of danger, and made heroes of those whose nerves were all unstrung before the battle opened.”

The division’s artillery batteries were positioned in front of the Reserves’ line. As the fog slowly lifted in the late morning, the Union and Confederate artillery exchanged fire.

From Corporal Leib, “We laid under artillery fire for three hours…”

The Bombardment of Fredericksburg
The Bombardment of Fredericksburg, December 11, 1862 / R.F. Zogbaum ; Evans sc. Library of Congress.

From Pvt. Bates Alexander (7th Pa. Reserves, Co. C), “Our position being on level ground there was naught to shield the infantry from the fire of this battery, as we lay close in rear supporting our artillery.”

Another member of the 1st Reserves explained the reason for the accurate enemy fire.  “…they had driven stakes in the ground and when we came to them their artillery had the range on them and opened fire on us.”

When the shelling increased, a member of the 2nd Reserves observed this incident. “…prior to the charge, Private John A. Camp, Company A, Eleventh Reserves, was killed in the rear of our regiment, and General Meade, through some queer fancy, ordered one of our officers to have him buried. A grave was dug with bayonets and hands, and wrapping the soldier in his blanket he was laid in his honorable grave, while the shells were singing his requiem over head.”

As the fog continued to lift, the waiting infantry saw the area over which they must make their charge. First, there was an open plain with a ditch running parallel to their position about half-way across the open area, then a railroad track with an associated embankment, followed by a smaller open area before the first Confederate line was reached behind a stone wall. The Reserves on the right flank of the line had a small wooded area to their front which might give them some protection.

Meade finally ordered his brigades to make the attack. The 3rd Brigade started forward still under the enemy artillery fire from the ridge; but now they also received accurate artillery fire from Pelham’s Horse Artillery on the road to their left flank. Pelham’s guns inflicted heavy casualties before he was chased by Union artillery fire.

The men leaped the ditch and continued to the railroad track where they came under enemy rifle and musket fire. This heavy fire killed the brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Conrad F. Jackson, as he rode up and down the lines to rally his men. The lack of leadership and the enemy fire forced four of the regiments to seek shelter behind the banks of the railroad bed, a stone wall and other available cover and return as much fire as possible.

Conrad Feger Jackson
Brigadier General Conrad Feger Jackson, formerly commander of the 9th Pennsylvania Reserves, now commanded the Third Brigade of Meade’s Division. Jackson was killed leading his brigade on the 13th of December.

At this point, Col. Samuel M. Jackson (11th Pa. Reserves) realized it was suicide to advance any further and just as hazardous to remain at the railroad bed so he “double-quicked” his regiment to the right to join the men of the 1st Brigade.  His men “were tired of lying still and being shot at without returning the fire, and when the order came for us to advance, it was received with joy by all.”  The 3rd Brigade followed the other regiments (1st and 2nd Brigades) through the wooded area. By luck, their charge hit a gap in the enemy line.

From the Confederate side, we learn about the lay of the land over which the Reserves advanced and the reason for the gap in their lines. “About half-mile east of the railroad to the river, the ground was almost level and clear of woods except at one point.  There was a place about 1,300 yards north of Hamilton’s Crossing where a wooded ravine had its head just west of the railroad, running across the railroad easterly toward the river. It was in this marshy ground, uncomfortably cold and wet in the winter, that there was a 500 or 600 yard gap in Jackson’s otherwise solid line of troops. Everyone responsible seemed to know this ‘gap’ was there, but since there were troops on the high ground back of it, no one seemed to think this constituted a danger.”

Our Confederate narrator explained the fallacy of their thinking. “The Federal forces advancing toward the ‘gap’ found no opposition and continued until they were well to the rear of what should have been the Confederate line. This put into immediate jeopardy all of Walker’s Artillery”

Samuel McCartney Jackson
Colonel Samuel M. Jackson, commanded the 11th Pennsylvania Reserves. Library of Congress.

The 1st Reserves were on the enemy before they knew it. “They were cooking coffee and eating dinner. We captured all their guns that were stacked, also their colors on top of their guns.”

The 2nd Reserves came out of the woods and were able to circle an enemy rifle pit, coming on them from behind. They were soon joined by the 7th Reserves who approached from the front of the pit.

Joining the units of the 2nd Brigade a few minutes after the 1st Brigade advanced, Colonel Magilton explained, ” …we were ordered forward to attack the enemy, and in support of the First Brigade, then about 100 yards in front.”

From Private Alexander, “Soon after leaving our batteries we struck a deep ditch running obliquely to our line of advance.” After leaping the ditch, “we were now well into the enemy’s warm fire on this December day, the men inclined their heads somewhat as though moving against a driving rain. The familiar ‘chock, chock’ of balls striking the line was heard constantly to the right and left while men tumbled out of line in quick succession.”

Albert Lewis Magilton
Colonel Albert L. Magilton, commanded the 2nd Brigade in
Meade’s Division.

When the brigade reached a shallow cut along the roadbed of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad, they halted. “Here we lay for a few minutes listening to the roar of Yankee and Confederate cannon as they slam into each other.”

The heavy Confederate musket fire continued while the men hugged the ground.  “Many a coat received a hole through the back, when in that position, without convicting the wearer of cowardice.”

After catching a few quick breaths, the 4th and 8th Reserves faced to the right to deal with the enemy fire from this direction.

At the same time, the 3rd and 7th Reserves continued their charge into the woods while the first lines of enemy troops were pouring heavy fire into the advancing Union line.

The color-bearer of the 7th Reserves recalled, that a ” …ball buried itself into my belt…[and]…knocked the breath from me for a long time. My side was black and blue. The man (Henry Dilman) that took the flag from me when I was hit did not carry it ten steps till he was shot down dead.”

Sgt. William H. Eichelberger (7th Pa. Reserves, Co. H) also described the action, “Sergeant [George] Comfort fell in front of me, a short distance on the other side of the railroad at the edge of the woods. I saw him fall, and in answer to me whether he was shot, he replied, ‘Yes, Hicks, I am dying.’ After fixing his haversack under his head, to serve as a pillow, I passed on after the company, which was advancing very fast. “

The thickness of the woods, the swampy ground and the loud noise of the battle caused confusion in the ranks of many of the regiments. “The regiment was all mixed up, every man hunting Rebs on his own hook, getting a shot wherever he could find game…”

Getting behind some of the enemy positions caused temporary confusion in the Confederate lines as well. During this time, several hundred enemy prisoners were sent to the rear by the Reserves, some of them coming from a rifle pit surrounded by the 2nd and 7th Regiments.

“The enlisted men of Company A [7th Reserves], particularly, came out of the fight laden with spoils. Jacob Maloy found the sword of a Rebel captain; Edward B. Rheem received the sword from a captain of the First Kentucky Regiment, and a Virginia captain delivered up his sword into the hands of Henry Hyte. But more glorious than all, the battle flag of the Nineteenth Georgia was gallantly seized from the rebel color bearer by Corporal Jacob Cart, who immediately delivered it to Captain Beatty. Upon General Meade’s application, this flag was next day sent to general headquarters and officially recognized as the only trophy at Fredericksburg. The War Department afterwards awarded a medal (Congressional Medal of Honor) to Corporal Cart for his gallantry.”

(There is a controversy involving Corporal Cart and the flag of the 19th Georgia. The flag was originally captured by Charles Upjohn (2nd Pa. Reserves, Co. K) who was wounded as he returned to the rear with the flag and prisoners. Cart supposedly picked up the flag from Upjohn and was given the credit and subsequent medal for its capture.  Years later, E. M. Woodward, 2nd Reservers, was given the Medal of Honor for the capture of the flag but Cart’s medal was never revoked.  It has yet to be discovered as to why Woodward received the medal.  

Research is also being done by several individuals on the exact identification of the flag. It is theorized that the flag in question might possibly have belonged to the 14th Tennessee, instead of the 19th Georgia.)

The Reserves tried to continue their momentum but the enemy recovered from the initial shock and received reinforcements. When Confederate Gen. Jubal Early realized the situation, he ordered Lawton’s Brigade, commanded by Col. Edmund N. Atkinson, forward to fill this “gap.”

From Private Alexander, “We were advancing at a quick step, without regard to order, so far as alignment was concerned, and it seemed ‘we didn’t care for nothing,’ when a discharge of musketry, such as we had never before heard, greeted our ears. It sounded as one large gun.”

Unfortunately, the Reserves were on their own, no help followed them, so they were now the ones in confusion and forced to retreat. “Thus we fell back but not hastily, for we hated it badly enough to be obliged to turn our backs upon the enemy, without running away, even after having destroyed two of his lines and getting ourselves so nearly annihilated.”

From Confederate Col. Clement A Evans, “From this time the contest consisted of but a series of temporary halts made by the enemy, only to be driven away from their positions.

Clement A. Evans
Colonel Clement A. Evans, the confederate antagonist defending his position from the attack of the Pennsylvania Reserves.

At the railroad the enemy made their most determined resistance, and for a few minutes poured a heavy fire into our line. Seeing that a charge was the most effectual plan to dislodge them, the order was given, and so rapidly accomplished that many of the enemy were captured, and a few, in their attempts to get away, received the application of the bayonet.”

A member of the 15th Alabama Regiment described his unit’s charge, ” …we raised the ‘Rebel Yell’ and rushed on to the Yankees with the bayonet. They could not stand. They were not expecting such a deadly volley. They broke and we after them down the hill to the cut in the railroad where we overhauled a goodly number of them crouched down, waving white handkerchiefs to surrender.”

In the initial confusion of the Reserves, Pvt. David Curriden (7th Pa. Reserves, Co. A) “…became separated from the regiment, and in the countercharge of the enemy was captured. While in the hands of his captors, a lucky turn in the fight brought forward a force of Union troops, and the rebels, to their surprise, suddenly found themselves transformed from captors to captives.  Private Curriden not only regained his freedom, but had the honor of escorting to the Union lines as prisoners, not less than three rebel officers, one of whom gave his name a Colonel E. N. Atkinson, Twenty-sixth Georgia Volunteers, in command of Lawton’s Brigade.

Most of the Reserves were in full retreat but the enemy pursuit was delayed by some temporary resistance of the Pennsylvanians. Not all of the retreating 2nd Brigade were aware that the Confederates were not right behind them. “Arriving at the little old fence there was no time for graceful climbing so I, for one, cleared it at a bound. Orderly Sergeant Pete Leininger must have acted likewise, as he told me he was ‘trailing arms’ when his musket struck the fence discharging the ‘buck and ball’ past his ear, causing him to think the enemy was at his heels.”

David Curriden
Private David Curriden, Co. A, 7th Pennsylvania Reserves was a wartime correspondent back to his hometown newspaper.

In Company H of the 4th Reserves, Pvt. Alson T. Ely was wounded in the leg, and Pvts. James P. Gay and Theodore P. Mills were carrying him towards the rear when Ely was hit again, the bullet passing through his body. He told his comrades, “Let me down, boys, and save yourselves. There’s no use of trying to save me, for it is finished with me now!” Gay and Mills placed Ely against a shock of corn and continued their retreat.

After the 11th Regiment was pushed down the ridge, Lt. Daniel Coder (11th Pa. Reserves, Co. E) wrote, “Never did I look back for support with more anxiety than on that fatal day; for on seeing a single line advance I had anticipated the result. We lost color bearer after color bearer, I know not how many. I picked up the colors at three different times myself. The flag staff was shot off and the flag perforated in nineteen different places by rebel bullets.” One of the flag bearers was Pvt. James Fritz of Company E.

Capt. Daniel S. Porter (11th Pa. Reserves, Co. B) made a similar comment. “Our division charged in the face of rebel batteries and rifle pits, drove the enemy from them and gained the hill; but no support came to our assistance, and we were driven back.”

He later added, “The boys fought like heroes. They were too brave. I have little heart left, brave comrades have fallen without gain. We were butchered like so many animals.”

Just above the railroad track, Pvt. James H. Trimble was shot in the chest and killed. Captain Porter wrote to Trimble’s father, “The saddest part of my task as Captain was to see my brave boys fall and next to it was to convey the sad intelligence to bereaved friends.”

Daniel S. Porter
Captain Daniel S. Porter, commanded Company B of the 11th Pennsylvania Reserves.

Sgt. John S. Sutor praised his men, “We lost heavily; but the boys fought like heroes. We have no skulkers in Company B.”

Now the “rebel yell” could be heard on the ridge as the reformed Southerners were trying to press their advantage. However, Union artillery and other units of the Left Grand Division soon forced them back to their lines. The fighting was over on this portion of the line as the Right Grand Division advanced from the town.

Back on the ridge, behind enemy lines, Sergeant Heffelfinger laid on the ground, wounded and a prisoner. “It is my own fault, that I was not taken off the field, as there is always plenty of a certain class of skulkers, who do not like to be seen running away from danger, and are eager to help a wounded man in order that they themselves may get to the rear. The proper way, and only way to rightly take care of the dead and wounded, is to gain the victory. Thus, by refusing to be carried off by any one whose duty it was to be in the front, fighting, I was made prisoner, for when our men were driven out of the woods, each one had enough to do to take care of himself,… “

Capt. Charles D. Schaffle (5th Pa. Reserves, Co. D) wrote from Libby Prison, “I was wounded on Saturday, about two o’clock, and lay on the field until eleven on Sunday, when I was carried to a hospital, and had my wound dressed, I then lay out until Tuesday morning, when I was placed on the cars with a number of others and taken to Richmond.” He added in the same letter, “Do not feel alarmed for me; I will be with you soon.” Captain Schaffle died in prison.

Charles D. Shaffle
Captain Charles D. Schaffle, seen here as a 2nt Lt., commanded Company D of the 5th Pa. Reserves. He was mortally wounded at Fredericksburg and died in captivity.

Pvt. William McClendon, 15th Alabama, described the peril facing some of the left-behind Union wounded. “There was a little broom sage in our front and the fire from the enemy’s bombs (artillery) had set it on fire and several of the wounded Yankees were unable to get away, and the blazing straw swept over them like a hurricane. Those that were able fought the flames manfully with their caps, and those that were not able to fight was considerably singed.”

When the fires died down, Private McClendon was ordered forward. “I crawled as low as I could in the scattering broom sage as far as I thought I was ordered to go. I kept looking back to see if I could, how far I was out. I was in constant dread for fear I would crawl into the Yankee lines, for I knew they were nigh, and I had to be cautious.”

He crawled just far enough. “I was near enough to the Yankees to hear them cough and clear their throats. We had no orders to shoot unless they advanced. There was wounded Yankees lying between our lines sending up the most pitiful cries for help I ever heard. Some were calling for water, some calling the names of his friends, but none answered or went to their relief. Neither side could help. The night was cold and there is no telling how some of them suffered. Some of them may have died during the night by freezing “

William A. McClendon
William A. McClendon, 1st. Lieut., Co. G., 15th Alabama Infantry. Civil War Days & Those Surnames. Taken 1895.

For the survivors in the Pennsylvania Reserves, the rest of the day was spent around their fires, drinking coffee, eating hardtack and discussing their portion of the fighting. “Well, in fact, you can hardly call it a battle. It was more like a butcher shop than anything else.” Several days later, probably after more thought on the subject, our correspondent added, “I would sooner open the battle than come in the last for as a general thing the first do not fight as long as the rest.”

Sgt. J. F. Thomas (12-F) wrote, “In all my life I never saw such a fight. We fought over three hours in one of the hottest places men were ever placed, and to no purpose.

As he listened to the slaughter in front of Mayre’s Heights, a Bucktail noted, “The horror that permeated the whole battle is illustrated in the death of Henry Jackson. A shell tore off one leg at the knee, mangling the other. While the surgeons were preparing in the field hospital to amputate, Jackson remained calm and sitting upright, till a shell dropped by the table and exploding, killed him. Lew Jordan, who was acting a nurse, was killed instantly, and Dr. Crouch wounded in the head.”

Pvt. John V. Hafer (5th Pa. Reserves, Co. D) wrote to his aunt and cousin about his after-battle feeling.

“When I came off the field from that battle near Fredericksburg, I was quite hungry – and kind thought of the good things you sent me: may the good Lord bless you for your kindness.

Joseph F. Thomas
Sergeant Joseph F. Thomas, was a member of Company F of the 12th Pennsylvania.

December 14 – The fighting at Fredericksburg was over, but the usual aftermath remained. A truce was declared and details from both sides moved among the bodies laying between the lines, removing the wounded and burying the dead. Capt. Samuel King (7th Pa. Reserves, Co. H) commanded the 2nd Brigade’s detail and was also involved in the exchange of prisoners, including Colonel Atkinson of the 26th Georgia.

From Corporal Leib, wounded in the knee, “Lay out all last night in the cold. Was removed this morning about mile up the river in an open field. Still laying in the cold.” Unfortunately for him, it would be the night of the seventeenth until his knee received medical attention.

Samuel King
Captain Samuel King, Co. H, 7th Pennsylvania Reserves. King commanded 2nd brigade’s burial detail and was also involved in the exchange of prisoners.

The burial detail discovered that Pvt. John Westlake (9th Pa. Reserves, Co. A) had been trying to fulfill a pledge when he was killed. “Where his body was afterwards found, there were three or four of the company rifles which the boy soldier had gathered and endeavored to bring from the field, showing that the pledge given to the citizens of Pittsburgh who had presented those rifles to the company was, with him, no unmeaning obligation, but one in the fulfillment of which he offered up his life.”

Private Ely’s comrades returned and gave him a soldier’s burial on the banks of the Rappahannock River.

With their share of the details completed, in a cold rain, the Reserves moved back across the Rappahannock River to Belle Plain. Until the usual defensive positions were established, the 2nd and 13th Reserves covered the pontoon bridge crossing to keep the Confederates on the south side of the river.

Establishing their winter camp, “Our time has been kept busily occupied since our arrival, by the erection of huts, cabins and other non-descript habitations wherein to live.  They were now about completed and we will soon relapse into the old routine. Every five days however, the monotony was disturbed by a call for picket which means a walk of about two miles over rough roads and standing picket in the cold for twenty four hours…”

Colonel Jackson noted the continuing cold weather in his diary. “The men suffer with the cold. Almost frozen myself.”

Such is the life of a soldier.

The Meade Pyramid

The Meade Pyramid
“Usually thought of as a Union monument, the large pyramid in front of you was in fact erected by the Confederate Memorial Literary Society. In 1897, the society contacted Virginia railroad executives asking them to erect markers at historically significant sites along their lines. The president of the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad embraced the proposal, but rather than simply erected a sign, he constructed a stone pyramid modeled after the memorial to the unknown Confederate dead buried in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery. The monument here marks the point where General George G. Meade’s Union division penetrated the boggy gap in “Stonewall” Jackson’s lines on December 13, 1862. Over the years it has become known as the Meade Pyramid. The monument is not accessible.”
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Bill is the Chief Regimental Historian of the 54th (Co. L), 190th and 191st Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers and an avid researcher who focuses on the history of the Pennsylvania Reserves in the American Civil War.