Battles & Leaders photo
The Vermont Brigade crossed on pontoon bridges that spanned the Rappahannock River.
The following article and attached letter appeared in an edition of the Rutland Herald from late 1862.
We make the following extracts from a letter written by a surgeon in the Vermont Brigade engaged in the battle of Fredericksburg. Vermonters will read with pride that our Green Mountain boys acquitted themselves with their accustomed gallantry in the fearful fighting of that day. The letter from which we quote bears date, “Camp near Fredericksburg, December 17th,” and says:
“The news of the battle near this place has long before this reached you through the papers; there are many incidents, however, which will be of interest, particularly to Vermonters, who are all anxious to know, what part the Vermont boys played in the affair, and how they played it.
On the morning of the 11th we left camp and marched down to the Rappahannock, about one mile to the left of the town, where the pontoon bridges were being laid by the pontoon corps. We stood on the bank all day, surrounded by the incessant fire of our artillery above, below and around us. Night coming on, we were moved back to the woods nearby and encamped. The next morning we again approached the river and crossed over with molestation. All day there was a constant stream of soldiers coming on to the field which constituted our battleground to the rear of which was a line of hills, where the enemy have entrenched their batteries for miles. The position of the enemy was a very strong one, as we have found out, at the expense of the lives of thousands of as brave men ever drew a sword or faced an enemy. On the morning of the 13th (Saturday) the fighting began on the left, where our corps was placed.
The Vermont Brigade was in the front all day, except the 6th Regiment, which was on duty the day before, and I think, was not in the Saturday fight. The 2d Regiment was skirmishing all day in front, and lost — heavily. Also, the 4th, which shot away all its ammunition — 60 rounds — and was supplied with more on the field. The 3d and 5th were supporting a battery on the crest in the line of battle. About two or three o’clock the fighting became quite general along the whole line, and shells and bullets from the enemy flew all around our position.
At this point the 3d Vermont was ordered to advance to a small crest, nearly sixty rods in advance of the battery it was supporting, which it did, moving with great caution to keep as much as possible out of sight of the enemy.
It was interesting to see them crawling up through the weeds and dry grass, and forming in line of battle in the horizontal posture, awaiting the foe. I took my position a few rods to the rear, under a bank, with my hospital force ready to take charge of the wounded as they should be brought to me. We waited in that position an hour or more, when it was evident the Rebels were approaching. Three regiments of North Carolina troops advanced upon the position of the 3d Vermont. Our boys’ heads could be seen by the enemy and they fired upon us, killing and wounding five of the 3d. This was a time of intense excitement for the boys were eager to spring upon the enemy, but they were not yet near enough. Soon the order was given for them to rise and fire. They did fire, and that was last that was seen of the advancing enemy. They turned and ran without stopping to fire again, as I believe for all of our loss occurred before the regiment rose from the ground. This was said to be the handsomest thing done that day, although other Vermont regiments had more fighting and lost largely, but this volley from the 3d stopped and repulsed the Rebel line advancing in front of our position.
I do not believe there was an officer or soldier in the Vermont Brigade that day who did not discharge their duty fearlessly or faithfully, and as they were in the front through the whole engagement, great honor belongs to them.
I heard an officer high in command say, after the fight was over, that he never wished to command any other than Vermont troops, and I can truly say that I am proud of them.
I did see Union troops run, but they were not Vermonters.
The losses in the Vermont regiments, as near as I can get at them, are as follows:
2d, 5 killed, 53 wounded.
3d, 2 killed, 6 wounded; 1 since died.
4th, 12 killed, 44 wounded.
5th, 1 killed, 4 or 5 wounded, on the fourteenth.
6th, 1 killed, 2 or 3 wounded, on the twelfth.
We remained on the field two days more without fighting, when we retired to the opposite bank of the river after dark on the fifteenth.
The health of the army is good, and the boys are cheerful and ready for any duty, however hard or dangerous.”
Donald Wickman is an author and historian who lives in Rutland.
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