This is the second of two articles devoted to the Donaldsonville Artillery Battery. Previously, I wrote about the unit itself and the part it played in the Battle of Fredericksburg (here). In this post, I shift my focus to the individuals who were touched by the battery.
It is seldom that one event appears in the written narratives of both Confederate and Union accounts. Here is one that involved the Donaldsonville artillery battery on the Confederate side and on the Union side, the forces of Generals Howard and Humphreys. These accounts took place on the afternoon of Saturday December 13th during the Battle of Fredericksburg. I feel this one small event within the battle itself encapsulates the drama of the entire battle.
I start with a portion of the report of Captain Victor Maurin, the battery commander of the Donaldsonville artillery.
“…Captain [O.] Latrobe, of General Longstreet’s staff, came and suggested the propriety of dislodging two or three regiments standing behind a steep hill, which not only protected, but also concealed them from our men, on whom they were evidently preparing to make a charge. But my 10-pounder Parrott could not be brought to bear on them without taking it out of the bastion, and, to do this, were to meet almost certain death from the guns in front, which had by this time obtained a perfect range. However, the suggestion was no sooner made than Lieutenant Landry ordered it out, and, together with Captain Latrobe, helped the men to pull and put in position. It was scarcely out, and not yet in position, when Cannoneer [Claudius] Linossier fell, dead, pierced to the heart by a piece of shell. The fate of their comrade seemed to inspire my men with renewed determination, and, undaunted by the shots of the guns and bullets of the sharpshooters, which were flying thick and fast around them, they behaved with the calm courage which deserves the highest praise. The piece was loaded and fired with such precision that not one shot was lost, but every one telling with frightful effect. It was loaded for the fourth time, and was ready to fire, when it was disabled by a shell, which broke a wheel, and at the same time wounded 3 men-Corpl. Thomas Morel, whose skill as a gunner cannot be too highly prized, Cannoneer Dernon Leblanc, whose foot has since been amputated, and F. Perez, severely wounded in three different places. But the object was accomplished; some fled, some were killed, and the remainder dared not leave their cover. At night the broken wheel was replaced, and the piece relieved…”
Lieutenant R. Prosper Landry tells us that the location where they placed the gun was “three feet higher and twenty feet to the right of the gun emplacement.” It gave them a clear shot at the packed Union troops in the field below.
There were four Union regiments impacted by Landry’s gun. Two were from General Tyler’s brigade of nine month volunteers new to battle; 91st and 126th Pennsylvania. The other two were from General Sully’s brigade of seasoned veterans. Both had experienced war at its worst at Antietam; 34th and 82nd New York.
The after action reports from General Sully and his regimental commanders speak of the boisterous and undisciplined nature of the Pennsylvanians as they took position in mass behind Sully’s brigade. Sully’s veteran New York troops had avoided southern artillery fire until Tyler’s troops arrived.
Their accounts follow:
Report of Lieutenant Colonel James Huston, Eighty-second New York Infantry. “We were then marched to the right of the field, where the action was going on [assaults against the Sunken Road] , and took position without attracting the attention of the enemy’s artillery, until a brigade came on the ground in our rear in rather noisy manner, and making a good deal of display before they were in a position to do any service. This drew on us an enfilading fire from a battery of the enemy, intrenched, but which we lost 4 killed and 7 wounded.”
Report of Colonel James A. Suiter, Thirty-fourth New York Infantry. “About 5 p.m. General Tyler’s brigade came upon the field with loud cheers. This attracting the attention of the enemy, they opened upon my line with shell, killing and wounding many of my command. General Sully, coming upon the field at this time, caused this brigade to again move off, which they did, in great confusion… “
Lieutenant Chapin of the 34th collected the following account which had been published in a home town newspaper, the Mohawk Courier, shortly following the battle. It was written by a member in his regiment, a soldier-correspondent. Chapin accounted for six killed either out right or of wounds received and eleven wounded, most of which were directly attributed to Landry’s fire.
“We suppose there were seven or eight thousand men massed under that bluff. Perhaps an inscrutable Providence could study out what this move was for; but your correspondent has never yet heard a decent theory stated. Scarcely two hundred feet away [700 yards or 640 meters], on this bluff, was a rebel redoubt with a cannon behind it. An officer on a white horse was riding around giving orders. You may be perfectly certain he had from seven to ten thousand deeply interested spectators. Not a moment elapsed before there was a puff of smoke from behind that redoubt, and a shell from a six-pounder [Landry’s 10-pound Parrott rifle] went screaming over our heads. It never hit a man. Another and another followed, with the same result. It was evident that the piece could not be depressed sufficiently to rake us without the muzzle hitting the front of the redoubt. Then this pale horse and his rider [Captain Latrobe] came out from behind the redoubt, and surveyed our position, and went back. Then four men took hold of the piece, and rolled it out from behind the earthwork. … Now they have us for sure. The very next shot is sure to fetch us. Of all the thousand s of men huddled there, every eye was fixed on that gun. The cannoneers take their positions, the process of loading and priming is gone through with, and then every head is bowed in silence, waiting for the awful messenger. It comes, like the shriek of an incarnate demon, it plowed its way into our ranks, burying us all in the dirt. Another and another followed in rapid succession, each one bringing death and destruction into our ranks. The air is filled with the groans and cries of mangled men. Every man of those thousands is clutching the earth, and trying to make himself thinner. It is a good thing, at times, to be a spare man. No one, then, wanted to be fatter. The first shot fired, after the gun was moved out, passed directly over our company (K); the next, coming in exactly the same line, fell a little short, striking just ahead of us, and doing terrible execution. Then the orderly sergeant, Jim Talcott, lying by my side, and trying to make himself thinner, said: Now, boys, it’s our turn. And sure enough, with an ugly scream, that might have been heard up in Herkimer County, the next shot landed squarely in our company. Every inch of the ground was covered with blue men; but this ugly auger bored a hole right through. Deep into the earth it went, and then exploded. Scarcely a man in the company but received some souvenir. And all this time we were compelled to remain inactive, not firing a shot in return. There was not a man on all that blue field but would have volunteered in an instant to dash up that height, and had there been someone in high authority to authorize the movement, that one gun would have been silenced or captured in a moment. But, anyway, the slaughter was destined not to continue for long. All this time, from the north side of the river, far away, our own cannon were booming, and the moment this one piece was rolled out from behind the breastwork, it became the target for all our artillery… [The artillery] came down fair and square on the top of this mischievous little six-pounder [Landry’s 10-pound Parrott rifle], and that instant exploded. The gun and carriage were destroyed, and all the men near it knocked out, including the white horse and his rider. Then all those ten thousand men rose, and shouted with a great shout.”
“As soon as we could pull ourselves together, we began to look about, and take an account of our assets. They were a sorry lot. Poor Adam Moyer; he had but just arrived from the north, a new recruit. This was his first touch of fire. Both legs were torn off, hanging only by the shreds. How short he looked, as we laid him on a blanket, with the stumps by his side. And little Andrew A. Smith, a sweet-faced boy, slender, but every inch a man; a leg and an arm both gone. Both these died in a little while. As Andrew was being carried from the field he said: “Tell my mother that I died like a man.” It is strange how these boys always think of their mothers at such a time. Like the boy that was wounded back at Fair Oaks, and was taken prisoner, and to Richmond. All the long days he pined and wasted to a shadow, and died at last, though he had but a little wound, crying and calling “Mother, mother.” Poor Andrew Smith. At the battle of White Oak Swamp, when he had fallen with the heat and exhaustion of the march, still he would not give up, and rose, and went with the men into the fight. But now his time had come, for the bone was driven up into his body. And Corporal John Hurley, of Company I, dreadfully killed. And what a lot of maimed men, all about us. Lieutenant Ransom, with a badly shattered leg; he died a week later. And Lieutenant Finnegan is so badly hurt, he has seen the last of his service with the regiment. Orlando Fosket, with a leg shot off; and William DeForest, and Alexander Comins, both, badly in the legs.”
“Other regiments around us suffered as much, if not more, than the Thirty-fourth, though none were more exposed. The battle continued all about us until fairly dark, and about midnight we were relieved…”
Tyler’s brigade of General Humphreys’ Division numbered 2,100 men and 99 officers. The amount of land required to hold this number of men, each lying down, is considerable.
Tyler’s own report simply mentions that his first position, to the right of Hanover Street, was enfiladed by enemy batteries. Losses were not stated other than to say they were included amongst his 83 missing. His main focus of his report was the action of his brigade during the last Union attack of the day by his green troops and how well they did under fire.
The accounts by his men, talk of being packed together in the swampy land of Gordon’s Marsh. All describe seeing a horseman (Latrobe) followed by a gun being manhandled out of its fortification. Their respective terror at realizing that that gun would soon be firing on them, that they had no effective way of changing their circumstances and having to lay there waiting for the shelling to begin.
Their accounts follow:
Report of Colonel Edgar M. Gregory, Ninety-first Pennsylvania Infantry. “…About 3.30 o’clock the regiment, along with the brigade, moved off to the battle-field, via one of the main roads leading from the city toward the …[fighting]… when we were ordered to move to the right of the road [Hanover Street], beneath a hill (beyond which the enemy’s batteries were posted), our right resting in the meadow, near a tan-yard. While in this position the enemy moved a gun from one of the earthworks on our right, and placed it in position to enfilade our lines. They immediately commenced shelling our position, and I have to report the following as the casualties in this regiment, in consequence of the fire of the rebels at this place,viz: One lieutenant severely wounded, since died, 6 men killed, and 1 man wounded.”
Report of Lieutenant Colonel David W. Rowe, One hundred and twenty-sixth Pennsylvania Infantry. “With the remaining nine companies, about 530 men and 24 commissioned officers, the colonel moved with the brigade to the front. While the brigade lay massed on the right of the road [Hanover Street], in the first position it took upon the field, the enemy planted a battery on the hills in a position to enfilades us, the second shot from which killed 3 men of Company A and wounded several others.”
This last piece is taken from a letter written by Seth Dickey of Company C., 126th Pennsylvania. It was published in 1869 by the Franklin County Soldiers Memorial Association.
”Camp near Fredericksburg, Va., December 19th 1862.
My dear Mother:
“We got out on the pike and went about a ¼ of a mile and turned into a kind of a swamp on the right of the road. Our brigade was crowded up as close to each other as we possibly could get – we all laid down in the mud never thinking what a dangerous position we were in until we saw 4 or 5 Rebels push a cannon out from behind a large earthwork and fire a shell at us. It struck in the 91st Reg’t knocking off Major Todd’s leg and wounding several others. The next shot, they struck in our company killing 3 and wounding 2. Poor Dave Washabaugh (Emma Washabaugh’ brother) had his head torn off. The other 2 that were killed was Abram Reitzel and Frank McGlaughlin. I shall never forget that time if I live one hundred years. It was the most horrible thing that ever I saw. They fired 2 or 3 rounds more, we had to get out of that as quick as we could.”
Frank O’Reilly, National Park Service historian, in his book on the battle of Fredericksburg, comments that the damage done to Tyler’s brigade was more psychological than real. Before Tyler’s green troops were moved south of Hanover Street, they took some losses. At least two of Tyler’s four regiments which received the shots from Landry’s 10-pound Parrott rifle, were un-nerved. General Tyler and his officers had some difficulty getting his troops in formation and prepared to make his attack on Marye’s Heights as night was drawing in.
This was a truly dangerous place to be on the day of the battle. During this brief encounter of only about 15 minutes, the participant casualties accounted for were; Union: 19 killed and 21 wounded, as well as Confederate: 1 killed and 3 wounded.
Alexander, Ted, editor, The 126th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Shippensburg, Beidel Printing House, Inc. 1984, p 128.
Chapin, Louis N., A Brief History of the Thirty-Fourth Regiment N.Y.S.V. New Your, published by the author,1903. p. 80-82. http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc2.ark:/13960/fk7pn8xw44;view=1up;seq=6
Landry, Prosper, Southern Historical Society Papers, vol. 23, p. 201.
Marshal, Michael, Gallant Creoles, A History of the Donaldsonville Canonniers, Lafayette, LA, Louisiana State University Press, 2013. p 144.
O’Reilly, Francis Augustin, The Fredericksburg Campaign, Winter War on the Rappahannock, Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 2003. p 396-7.
______________, Slaughter at Fredericksburg, Lees’s Most Resounding Victory, Blue and Grey Magazine, vol. XXV, no. 4. p. 56 & 59.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. (Washington D.C., 1890-1901. Series 1. http://ehistory.osu.edu/books/official-records
No. 80. Report of Brigadier General Alfred Sully, U. S. Army, commanding First Brigade. OR 21, 268-70.
No. 85. Report of Colonel James A. Suiter, Thirty-fourth New York Infantry. OR 21, 274-5.
No. 86. Report of Lieutenant Colonel James Huston, Eighty-second New York Infantry. OR 21, 275-7.
No. 197. Report of Brigadier General Erastus B. Tyler, U. S. Army, commanding First Brigade. OR, 21, 436-8.
No. 198. Report of Colonel Edgar M. Gregory, Ninety-first Pennsylvania Infantry. OR, 21, 438-9.
No. 199. Report of Lieutenant Colonel David W. Rowe, One hundred and twenty-sixth Pennsylvania Infantry. OR 21, 439-41.
No. 298. Report of Captain V. Maurin, Louisiana battery, Donaldsonville Artillery. OR 21, 620-1.