No. 181. Report of Brigadier General George Sykes, U. S. Army, commanding Second Division.
HDQRS. SECOND DIVISION, FIFTH ARMY CORPS, Camp near Falmouth, Va., December 20, 1862.
SIR: My division broke camp on Potomac Creek at daylight on the 11th instant, and shortly after bivouacked, under cover of some ravines, near Falmouth.
It remained in this position until 2 p.m. on the 13th, when I received orders to establish it at the head of the upper bridge, leading over the Rappahannock. This was immediately accomplished. During its execution, the First Brigade suffered some casualties from the enemy's artillery. Subsequently the division crossed the river and marched to the southern edge of Fredericksburg, where two of the brigades (First and Second Regulars) were formed along a slight embankment, within easy range of the enemy's riflemen.
At 11 p.m. these brigades moved to the front, relieved the troops in advance (General Howard's), and held their ground until the same hour the following night. The position assigned these troops was one of extreme peril - in an open field, within 100 yards of the enemy, who was securely sheltered behind stone walls and
rifle-pits. They remained under constant fire for twelve hours, and could offer in resistance only the moral effect of that hardihood and bravery which would not yield one foot of the line they were required to protect. No better test of the qualities of troops could be shown than that displayed by these brigades. Patience, endurance, discipline, and courage were conspicuous.
On the 15th, my infantry and artillery occupied the portion of the city intrusted to their defense. At dusk strong working parties were detailed, and, though very few tools were to be had, the main avenues leading from the enemy to the town were barricaded, and the entire crest between Hanover and Amelia streets (our front) made secure by rifle-pits and other obstacles. General Warren, who had the chief control of this work, planned and executed it with his accustomed skill, and in an unusually short space of time. I respectfully refer to his re port in connection with this duty.
At 4 a.m. on the 16th, I was directed to cover the withdrawal of the army from Fredericksburg with my command. Simultaneously the pickets of Griffin's, Humphreys', and Whipple's divisions were recalled. Those of my own division being nearer the bridges, and holding the most important front, retained their line until the last moment. The artillery of the various commands, and the command themselves, except a portion of the Second Division, Fifth Army Corps, preceded the retiring of the pickets, and passed safely to the northern bank of the river.
At 8 a.m. most of the skulkers, stragglers,&c., having been driven in, my pickets (Fifth New York Volunteers), in skirmishing order, were thrown in rear of Buchanan's brigade, crossed the river, and were immediately followed by that brigade. Small detachments under Captain Winthrop, Twelfth, and Lieutenant Kent, Third U. S. Infantry, were left to protect the removal of the bridges, but the enemy not following, these detachments joined their regiments. The pontoons, &c., were rapidly removed, under direction of General Woodbury, and the entire movement effected without loss or disaster. The few remaining stragglers who showed themselves were brought off by the pontoon boats.