National Park Service black bar with arrowhead logo
NPS History E-Library
 
 

Civil War Series

The Battle of Fredericksburg

   

STURGIS'S ASSAULT

Another shell exploded directly in front of a Massachusetts regiment, knocking down the whole color guard except the sergeant who carried Old Glory. . .

Orlando B. Willcox waited at the lower end of town with the Federal Ninth Corps. Willcox had seen no progress on the center or right, and he mistook the movement of the two North Carolina regiments for an attack on Couch's left, so he sent forward Samuel Sturgis's division, one brigade at a time. Like those that went before, the first brigade met artillery fire the instant it emerged from the city. Green recruits in a new regiment gasped when a shell took one man's head off, showering them with jets of blood. Another shell exploded directly in front of a Massachusetts regiment, knocking down the whole color guard except the sergeant who carried Old Glory; after the blast he still stood, dazed and helpless in the acrid sulphur haze, clasping the flag to his breast with the bleeding stumps of his forearms. The man who took the staff from the handless sergeant was himself killed in a few moments, as was the one who took it from him.

His first brigade failed to gain any ground, so Sturgis swung his second one even farther to the left, increasing the length of open ground it would have to cover and bringing it within range of guns along the Confederate center. Beyond the railroad tracks sat a knoll cloven for another set of tracks that had never been finished, and when the front rank reached that cut it tumbled in. There it stayed in apparent safety, but the cut pointed like an arrow toward General Lee's command post, where squatted a 30-pounder Parrott rifle. This long-range gun started tossing shells into the cut, and frantic Union officers pushed, ordered, and begged their men to abandon that false refuge. The second rank also fell into that trap, and Longstreet's artillery chief positioned a battery of Napoleons to rake the man-made ravine. Finally the shelling drove the last of Sturgis's men out, and they pressed on toward the stone wall. A few regiments in this second brigade did manage to work their way around the bend in the Telegraph Road, technically flanking the Georgians and Carolinians in the Sunken Road, but the steep slope neutralized their firepower.

ANDREW HUMPHREYS LED HIS PENNSYLVANIA DIVISION AGAINST THE WALL IN ONE OF THE FINAL ATTACKS OF THE DAY. ALTHOUGH APPROACHING TO WITHIN ONE HUNDRED YARDS OF THE WALL, HUMPHREYS WAS DRIVEN BACK, ADDING AN ADDITIONAL 1,000 NAMES TO THE MOUNTING CASUALTY ROLLS. (LC)
Previous Top Next


 

History and Culture