Thursday, December 13, 2012

Battle of Fredericksburg - Day 3

Saturday, December 13, 1862

General Ambrose Burnside ordered General William Franklin's Left Grand Division to strike Confederate Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson south of Fredericksburg, and ordered General Edwin "Bull" Sumner's Right Grand Division and General Joseph Hooker's Center Grand Division to assault Confederate General James Longstreet at Marye's Heights.

Around 1:00 P.M. General Oliver Howard's division, of which the Twentieth Massachusetts Regiment was a part, formed a line of battle and prepared for an assault on Marye's Heights. They witnessed the failed attempts of General William French and General Winfield Hancock's division during the late morning and early afternoon and were aware of the terrible carnage that befell these two divisions. They knew that their attack would be a desperate and futile attempt on a well-fortified position. Confederate artillery was securely positioned atop Marye's Heights, and the stone wall at the base of Marye's Heights afforded protection for Confederate rifleman lined behind the wall. The Twentieth Massachusetts had a slight advantage in that their division planned to attack north of the well-fortified stone wall at the base of Marye's Heights.

The Twentieth Massachusetts Regiment advanced along William Street toward the northern end of Marye's Heights. As they neared their objective they came under blistering rifle fire from Confederate infantry units that spanned William Street and were exposed to artillery fire from Confederate batteries atop Marye's Heights. Both exacted casualties in the Twentieth Massachusetts, who formed a line to return fire. Colonel Norman Hall realized the futility of the attack, but reformed his division for another assault which proved likewise futile. At their advanced position the Twentieth Massachusetts could not retreat but were forced to lie down on the ground and seek cover. As darkness fell they remained entrenched along William Street on their stomachs to avoid Confederate rifle and artillery fire as well as friendly fire from their own men positioned behind them.

Casualties were heavy among the Twentieth Massachusetts for the two days of battle at Fredericksburg. On December 11 and December 13 the regiment suffered one-third of its available strength in casualties. Among the wounded on December 13 was Private Oliver Stanton Bates of Company A.1

1Richard F. Miller, Harvard's Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Lebanon, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2005), 208-216. George A. Bruce, The Twentieth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry 1861 - 1865 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Riverside Press, 1906), 221.

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