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1862 December 24: Losses at the Battle of Fredericksburg

December 28, 2012

This article on the Battle of Fredericksburg is from The Prescott Journal of December 24, 1862.

Account of the late Battle.


New York, Dec. 17.

The correspondent of the Tribune thus describes the carnage of Saturday:

It is not using too strong an expression to say that in this battle we were butchered.  The loss of the enemy in comparison with our own must have been insignificant.  More than half the division of Gen. French¹ were placed hors dn [sic: combat, before they had fired a shot.

Having orders to withhold their fire, charge bayonets and rush upon the entrenchments, they anticipated no obstacles until they should meet in hand to hand fight on the crest the first range of hills.

But how little they knew the foe they had to deal with!  Lying close upon the soft earth behind a low stone wall and half destroyed fence, which we had not taken into our calculations as obstacles, the enemy watched the approach of French until every man in line of battle came under aim of the best sharpshooter in the rebel army.

In an instant almost before the fence itself was discovered to be an obstacle, the smoke streamed above the fence and wall, and the moment the first volley was fired, sixty pieces of artillery charged with grape and canister sent their infernal contents straight through our advancing lines.  Ranking them in front and upon both flanks.

Destruction so terrible never before has been seen during the war.  French sent into the battle with 7,000 men.  Two days after the fight only 1,000 men had reported to him.

The entire loss of the corps of Couch [Darius N. Couch] consisting of the Divisions of Howard [Oliver O. Howard], French and Hancock [Winfield Scott Hancock], and which on the morning of the battle, contained forty regiments, old and new.  Amounting to at least 20,000 men, is now 10,000.  I think the official reports will not vary from this estimate more than 500 over or under.

The losses in Reynold’s corps of Franklin’s [William B. Franklin] grand division, which were at first supposed to be but 2,000 are now considered by some of Franklin’s staff officers to be nearly 4,000.


The following based upon official reports as far as made and upon estimates of those who have the est facilities for judging, is as near correct as can be obtained up to this time:


Second Corps. (Couch’s.)—Howard’s division, 980; Hancock’s division, 3,300; French’s division, 1,900.
Ninth Corps. (Wilcox [sic]3.)—Stugis’ [Samuel D. Sturgis] division, 925; Getty’s5 division, 400; Total 7,505.


Fifth Corps. (Butterfield’s6) Humphry’s [sic]7 division, 1,500; Graffith’s [sic]8 division, 1,300; Sykes9 division, 150; Total 2,950.


First Corps. (Reynolds10)—Gibbon’s [John Gibbon] division, 900; Mead’s [George G. Meade] division, 1,800; Doubleday’s11 division, 150; Total, 5,850.
Sixth Corps. (Smith’s [William F. Smith) 200.


Total Right Grand Division      7,055
Total Centre Grand Division    2,950
Total Left Grand Division         3,050
Aggregate losses                        13,055

It is believed that these figures will fall under rather than exceed official reports.

1. William Henry French (1815-1881) was a career military officer, a graduate of West Point and an aide-de-camp to several generals in the Mexican War. During the Seminole War, French argued with Stonewall Jackson and the two filed numerous charges against each other. French co-authored Instruction for Field Artillery, published in 1860, along with William F. Barry and Henry J. Hunt. In the Peninsula Campaign of the Civil War, he was engaged at the battles of Yorktown, Seven Pines, Oak Grove, Gaines’ Mill, Garnett’s & Golding’s Farm, Savage’s Station, Glendale, and Malvern Hill, and he received praise in official reports for his actions and leadership. French commanded the 3rd Division of the II Corps at the Battle of Antietam, making the first attack on the Confederate Division in the Sunken Road. He had just been promoted to major general in November, 1862 and led his division in the battle of Fredericksburg. He will also lead his division at the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, but his military reputation will be ruined during the Mine Run Campaign in November 1863 when Major General George G. Meade claimed that French’s corps moved too slowly to exploit a potential advantage over General Robert E. Lee.
2.  Hors du combat is a French term meaning, in this case, that the soldiers in General French’s command were unable to participate in the action, incapable of performing their military function. It becomes obvious as the article goes on that the reason for this was that they were wounded or killed.
3.  For a better listing of what is called the “order of battle” for Fredericksburg, see Wikipedia’s page “Fredericksburg Union order of battle.” It does not, however include the casualties for each division and corps.
4.  Orlando Bolivar Willcox (1823-1907), a graduate of West Point and career military officer.
5.  George Washington Getty (1819-1901), a graduate of West Point and career military officer most noted for his role as a division commander in the Army of the Potomac during the final full year of the Civil War.
6.  Daniel Adams Butterfield (1831-1901), who had little military background beyond part-time militia activities, became a brigadier general in five months of joining the military. He is credited with the composing “Taps,” probably the most famous bugle call ever written. Butterfield had just became commander of the V Corps for the Battle of Fredericksburg. His corps was one of those assaulting through the city and up against murderous fire from Marye’s Heights.
7.  Andrew Atkinson Humphreys (1810-1883), a graduate of West Point and career military officer and a civil engineer in the Army. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, his division achieved the farthest advance against fierce Confederate fire from Marye’s Heights. An officer with little combat experience, he inspired his troops with his personal bravery.
8.  Charles Griffin (1825-1867), a graduate of West Point and career military officer, his leadership abilities brought him steady promotion. Assigned command of a division in the V Corps, he served at the Battle of Fredericksburg and during the Chancellorsville Campaign.
9.  George Sykes (1822-1880), a graduate of West Point and career military officer.
10.  John Fulton Reynolds (1820-1863), a graduate of West Point, a career military office, and by the Civil War one of the Union Army’s most respected senior commanders. He will be killed early in the Battle of Gettysburg.
11.  Abner Doubleday (1819-1893), a graduate of West Point and a career military officer, he He fired the first shot in defense of Fort Sumter, the opening battle of the war. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, and the 6th and 7th Wisconsin Infantries, part of the 4th Brigade, were in Doubleday’s First Division. Doubleday will play a pivotal role in the early fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg. After the War, Doubleday obtained a patent on the cable car railway that still runs in San Francisco.

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