The December sun drooped near the crest of Marye's Heights as Hooker
reentered Fredericksburg and directed Andrew A. Humphreys to lead his
division against the stone wall. Humphreysa short, graying
brigadier who had attended West Point with Robert E. Leecommanded
two brigades of Pennsylvanians, most of whom were nine-month militiamen.
None of his eight regiments had ever seen action before.
In front sprawled Howard's prone survivors, pinned behind their
own shallow terrace but this stretch of the Union front offered the
least conngestion: a short way to the left, the refuse of broken
divisions lay six on eight brigades deep.
Humphreys hurried ahead of his foremost brigade as it trotted out of
town into the same maelstrom that had tattered earlier divisions. Over
the bridges they marched, filing to the right into columns of assault
under the shelter of the millrace bluff. Humphreys tried to work his
formation to the right, to flank that part of the Confederate line that
had been thrown forward to the stone wall salient, but the millrace and
canal barred their passage there. The guidons on the right of
Humphreys's line did not pass beyond William Street. In front sprawled
Howard's prone survivors, pinned behind their own shallow terrace, but
this stretch of the Union front offered the least congestion: a short
way to the left, the refuse of broken divisions lay six or eight
Up at the stone wall, Joseph Kershaw had succeeded the dying Cobb,
and Kershaw's South Carolina brigade had reinforced Cobb's Georgians.
Confederate marksmen filled the Sunken Road, eagerly awaiting new
targets though their ranks had jumbled as hopelessly as those of the
Yankees who lay before them. Kershaw's brigade once included a
lieutenant named A. W. Burnsideone of the Federal commander's
South Carolina cousins.
CONFEDERATES IN THE SUNKEN ROAD (BL)|
General Humphreys kneed his horse and pointed his sword, leading his
first two thousand rifles over the bluff in double lines of two
regiments each. They jogged bravely forward with canister ripping their
ranks, but the first deafening crash of musketry struck them just as
they reached Howard's frayed line and most of them dove to the ground.
Humphreys galloped frantically about, exposing himself recklessly as he
tried to shout above the din. With a herculean effort he convinced his
hapless novitiates to stand up in the deadly storm and dress ranks for a
bayonet charge. Thousands of bullets had thinned the brigade fearfully,
though, and those who dared to press forward were too few to challenge
the wall. A battery to their right belched canister the length of their
line, and the musketry only intensified until they turned back to the
His horse had been killed under him, but the undaunted Humphreys
borrowed a courier's mount and rode back to the bluff, where he gave his
other brigade a hasty lesson in military tactics. If they did not stop
to fire, he told them, but merely sprinted past the prone brigades
toward the wall, they could leap in among the enemy and drive them off
with the bayonet before they lost too many men. The promiscuous masses
behind them would rise up and follow, and the day would be won. That
sort of thinking had cost the British dearly at Bunker Hill, and the
extra range of rifled muskets only worsened the odds, but such brutal
tricks still worked now and then: a different brigade led by the same
man who commanded this one, Frastus B. Tyler, had successfully charged
another stone wall at Kernstown the previous March, giving Stonewall
Jackson his only defeat.
(click on image for a PDF version)
GRIFFIN GOES IN: DECEMBER 13, 3 P.M.5 P.M.|
In an effort to weaken the Confederate line, Couch orders Hazard's
battery to the front to shell Marye's Heights at close range, where it
is soon joined by Frank's battery. Griffin meanwhile attacks the stone
wall head-on, supported on his left by Carroll's brigade of Whipple's
division. Getty and Humphreys move into position to join the assault. On
the Confederate side, two of Kershaw's regiments, the 3rd and 7th South
Carolina, take position on the hillcrest near the Marye house, while
Kemper's brigade hurries forward from Lee's Hill to reinforce the 24th
Georgia. The Washington Artillery runs out of ammunition on Marye's
Heights and is replaced by guns of Alexander's battalion.
Once again Humphreys posted himself alongside the brigade commander and
spurred his horse over the bluff, followed by 2,200 Pennsylvanians.
They, too, leaned resolutely into the firestorm, but as they neared the
firing line their comrades shouted that it was no
use, waving them down, begging them to take cover, and tugging at their
cuffs and coattails. Enough of the column succumbed to these pleas to
shatter the collective momentum. Those brave enough to surmount that
last deadly little shelf quickly fell or turned back. Humphreys lost his
second horse, mounted a third, and motioned the brigade back to the
millrace bluff to consolidate its thinned and jumbled formation.
"No campaign in the world ever saw a more gallant advance than
Humphreys's men made there," said Joe Hooker.
ANDREW A. HUMPHREYS (BL)|