2nd Manassas - Aug. 1862
Battle of 1st Fredericksburg - Saturday, December 13, 1862
Waves of Union Assaults
"We thought you were killed."

The stone wall along the sunken road at Fredericksburg

As Union General Ambrose Burnside began his assaults on the Confederates waiting along Marye's Heights, few could anticipate the scale of the slaughter this day would bring. Wave after wave of blue lines would surge into the maelstrom, only to be violently thrown back. Fifteen times, Union forces would march towards the wall. Not one soldier in blue would make it to that wall. [44]

Colonel Frederick Hitchcock of the 132nd Pennsylvania led his men in their determined yet vain quest to reach the wall. Later when writing the history of the 132nd, he would discuss the ordeal of facing the deadly storm of lead and iron that awaited their approach to the southern forces sheltered confidently at the base of Marye's heights.

"In the midst of that frightful carnage a man rushing by grasped my hand and spoke. I turned and looked into the face of a friend from a distant city. There was a glance of recognition and he was swept away. What his fate was I do not know. That same moment I received what was supposed to be my death wound. Whilst the men were lying down, my duties kept me on my feet. Lieutenant Charles McDougal, commanding the color company, called to me that the color-guard were all either killed or wounded.

We had two stands of colors, the national and State flags. These colors were carried by two color-sergeants, protected by six color-corporals, which made up the color-guard. If either sergeant became disabled the nearest corporal took the colors, and so on until the color-guard were down. This was the condition when this officer called to me to replace these disabled men, so that the colors should be kept flying. He had one flag in his hand as I approached him, and he was in the act of handing it to me when a bullet crashed through his arm and wrist, spattering my face with his warm blood. I seized the staff as it fell from his shattered arm. The next instant a bullet cut the staff away just below my hand. An instant later I was struck on the head by the fragment of a shell and fell unconscious with the colors in my hand. How long I remained unconscious I do not know, possibly twenty minutes or more. What were my sensations when hit? I felt a terrific blow, but without pain, and the thought flashed through my mind, " This is the end," and then everything was black. I do not remember falling. It takes time to write this, but events moved then with startling rapidity. From the time we went forward from the embankment until the line was swept back could have been but a few minutes, otherwise all must have been killed.

The fields below the stone wall.

When I revived I was alone with the dead and wounded. The line of battle had been swept away. The field about me was literally covered with the blue uniforms of our dead and wounded men. The firing had very perceptibly decreased. I had worn into the battle my overcoat, with my sword buckled on the outside. I had been hit on the left side of my head, and that side of my body was covered with blood down to my feet, which was still flowing. My first thought was as to my condition, whether mortally wounded or not. I was perceptibly weakened from loss of blood, but lying there I could not tell how much strength I had left. I did not dare move, for that would make me a target for the guns that covered that terrible wall, the muzzles of which I could plainly see. Many of them were still spitting out their fire with a venom that made my position exceedingly uncomfortable. What should I do? What could I do? To remain there was either to bleed to death or be taken prisoner and sent to Libby, which I felt would mean for me a sure lingering death. To make a move to get off the field would draw the fire of those guns, which would surely finish me. These were the alternatives.

I carefully stretched my legs to test my strength, and I made up my mind I had enough left to carry me off the field, and I resolved to take my chances in the effort. I determined that I would zigzag my course to the rear so as not to give them a line shot at me. So getting myself together I made a supreme effort and sprang up and off in jumps, first to the right, then to the left. As I expected, they opened on me, and the bullets flew thick and fast about me. The first turn I got a bullet through my right leg just above the ankle. It felt like the stinging cut of a whip and rather accelerated my speed. About fifty yards back was an old slab fence to my right, and I plunged headlong behind that, hoping to find shelter from those bullets. I fell directly behind several other wounded men, two of whom rolled over dead from bullets that came through the slabs and which were probably aimed at me. This flushed me again, and by the same zigzag tactics I succeeded in getting back to the railroad embankment, where, to my great joy, I found Colonel Albright with what remained of the regiment. Colonel Albright grasped me in his arms as I came over, with the exclamation, "We thought you were killed." Sergeant-Major Clapp told me that he had rolled me over and satisfied himself that I was dead before they went back.

As I reached cover under this embankment I remember noticing a field-officer rallying his men very near us on our right, and that instant his head was literally carried away by a shell. So intense was the situation that even this tragic death received only a passing thought. Then came the Irish brigade, charging over our line as they did at Antietam. They came up and went forward in fine form, but they got but a few yards beyond the embankment, when they broke and came back, what was left of them, in great confusion. No troops could stand that fire. Our division and the whole Second Corps, in fact, were now completely disorganized, and the men were making their way back to the city and the cover of the river-bank as best they could, whilst the splendid old Ninth Corps was advancing to take its place."


Colonel Frederick L. Hitchcock
132nd Pennsylvania Infantry
"War From the Inside"
J. B. Lippincott Company, 1904

In the two photographs above, you can clearly see the difference in the appearance of the battlefield today in respect to the amount of open ground in the second image. If you look closely, you can see the steeple of St. George's Episcopal Church in both images.