Battles & Leaders of the Civil War
A HOT DAY IN MARYE'S HEIGHTS
ON the night of the 10th of December we, of the New Orleans Washington Artillery, sat up late in our camp on Marye's Heights, entertaining some visitors in an improvised theater, smoking our pipes, and talking of home. A final punch having been brewed and disposed of,everybody crept under the blankets and was soon in the land of Nod. In an hour or two we were aroused by the report of a heavy gun. I was up in an instant, for if there should be another it would be the signal that the enemy was preparing to cross the river. Mr. Florence, a civilian in the bivouac, bounced as if he had a concealed spring under his blanket, and cried out, "Wake up! wake up!what that?" The deep roar of the second gun was heard, and we knew what we had to do. It was 4 o'clock. Our orders were that upon the firing of these signal guns we should at once take our places in the redoubts prepared for us on Marye's Hill, and await development. "Boots and saddles" was sounded, and the camp was instantly astir, and in the gray of the morning we were on the Plank road leading to the hill. The position reached, our nine guns were placed as follows: Two 12-pounder howitzers and two 12-pounder light Napoleon guns of the 4th Company, under Captain Eshelman and Lieutenants Norcom and Battles, were put in the work on the extreme right of the line next to the Telegraph road; two 12-pounder Napoleon guns of the 3d Company, under Captain Miller and Lieutenant McElroy, in the center; two 3-inch rifle-guns of the 1st of Company, under Captain squires and Lieutenant Brown, on the left, next to a little brick-house and in front of the Welford graveyard, and one 10-pounder Parrott rifle, under Lieutenant Galbraith, of the 1st Company next to the Plank road leading into fredericksburg.
The 2d Company, under Captain Richardson, with four Napoleon guns, moved on across the Telegraph road to the right, and reported as ordered to General Pickett for service with his troops. Without delay the men made the redoubts as sung as possible, and finding the epaulements not to their liking, went to work with picked and shovel throwing the dirt a little higher, and fashioning embrasures to fire through. The engineers objected, and said they were "ruining the works," but the cannoneers said, "We have to fight here, not you; we will arrange them to suit ourselves." And General Longstreet approvingly said, "If you save the finger of a man's hand, that does some good." A dense fog covered the country, and we could no discern what was going on in the town.
The morning of the 12th was also foggy, and it was lost until 2 P. M. that it cleared off, and then we could see the Stafford Heights, across the river, densely packed with troops. At 3 P. M. a heavy column moved down toward one of the bridges near the gas-works, and we opened upon it, making some splendid practice and apparently stirring them up prodigiously, for they soon sought cooler localities. While our guns were firing, the enemy's long range batteries on the Stafford Heights opened upon us, as much as to say,"What are you about over there?" We paid no attention to their inquiry, as our guns could not reach them.
At dawn the next morning, December 13th, in the fresh and nipping air, I stepped upon the gallery overlooking the heights back of the little old-fashioned town of Fredericksburg. Heavy for and mist hid the whole plain between the fog and mist hid the whole plain between the heights and the Rappahannock, but under cover of that fog and within easy cannon-shot lay Burnside's army. Along the heights, to the right and left of where I was standing, extending a length of nearly five miles, lay Lee's army. The bugles and the drum corps of the respective armies were now sounding reveille, and the troops were preparing for their early meal. All knew we should have a battle to-day and a great one, for the enemy had crossed the river in immense force, upon his pontoons during the night. on the Confederate side all was ready, and the shock was awaited with stubborn resolution. Last night we had spread our blankets upon the bare floor in the parlor of Marye's house, and now our breakfast was being prepared in its fire-place, and we were impatient to have it over. After hastily dispatching this light meal of bacon and corn-bread, the colonel, chief bugler, and I (the adjutant of battalion) mounted our horses and rode out to inspect our lines. Visiting first the position of the 10-pounder Parrott rifle on the Plank road, we found Galbraith and his boys wide-awake and ready for business. Across the Plank road, in an earth-work, was the battery of Donaldsonville Cannoneers, of Louisiana, all Creoles and gallant soldiers. Riding to the rear of Marye's house, we visited in turn the redoubts of Squires, Miller, and Eshleman, and found everything ready for instant action. The ammunition chests had been taken off the limbers and placed upon the ground behind the traverses close to the guns. The horses and limbers had been sen to the rear our of danger. We drew rein and spoke a few words to each in passing, and at the 3d Company's redoubt we were invited by Sergeant "Billy" Ellis to partake of some "cafe noir" which his mess had prepared in a horse bucket. Nothing loath, we drank a tin-cupful, and found, not exactly "Mocha," or "Java," but the best of parched corn. However, it was hot, the morning was raw, and it did very well.
At 12 o'clock the fog and cleared,and while we were sitting in Marye's yard smoking out pipes, after a lunch of hard crackers, a courier came to Colonel Walton, bearing a dispatch from General Longstreet for General Cobb, but, for our information as well, to be read and then given to him. It was as follows: "Should General Anderson, on your left, be compelled to fall back to the second line of heights, you must conform to his movements." Descending the hill into the sunken road, I made my way through the troops, to a little house where General Cobb had his headquarters, and handed him the dispatch. He read it carefully, and said,