No. 185. Report of Captain John D. Wilkins, Third U. S. Infantry.
CAMP NEAR HENRY HOUSE, VA., December 19, 1862.
SIR: I have the honor to report that the regimental left this camp on the morning of the 11th; marched to a point near Falmouth, Va., and remained in bivouac until the afternoon of the 13th, when it moved toward the upper pontoon bridge. On our arrival at the bank of the river we were delayed by meeting another division in the act of crossing. The movement the head of our column showed itself, the enemy commenced throwing shell and shot, and, while awaiting an opportunity to cross, the regiment lost 3 men wounded, 1 mortally. Soon after, I received the order to move forward, and crossed by the pontoon bridge. The regiment proceeded through Fredericksburg, previously halting in the streets and depositing their knapsacks. Shortly after, arrived at the outskirts of the town just at the moment the attack on the outworks of the enemy we repulsed, encountering a part of the fire of the enemy, by which 3 men were wounded. The regiment was then ordered to the right, and took position in a grave-yard. At about 12 o'clock at night we were ordered to advance and relieved a portion of Humphreys' division, our pickets relieving theirs. Our position was behind a building called the tannery, and our pickets extended some 300 yards beyond and to the right.
At daybreak I found the pickets entirely unprotected, and exposed to a murderous fire from the enemy's rifle-pits, and concealed sharpshooters in our immediate vicinity, the first information I had of their proximity and position. This was promptly reported to me by Lieutenant Eckert, in command of the pickets. I, however, declined to relieve them until orders were received. After 7 men of the pickets were wounded, I was ordered to withdraw them,they falling back by my order to the grave-yard, thus avoiding passing through a deadly fire of the enemy. The determined manner in which these pickets held their position (and I have no doubt they would have done so until every man was killed or wounded) deserves my highest commendation. Nothing of interest occurred until about 10 o'clock p.m., when I received intelligence that the enemy were advancing on my position. I immediately changed front to encounter their flanking party, and, whilst awaiting the enemy, was relieved by the First California Regiment, at 12 p.m., having held my position for twenty-four hours.
It may be well to remark that, on account of the mud and water covering the ground we occupied, it was impossible either to sit or lie down without becoming thoroughly wet, and the accuracy of fire was such that an attempt to attend to even the ordinary wants of nature subjected one to certain destruction. An entrance having been made at a latter part of the day into the tannery, enabled us to loop-hole it, and by our fire and that of the Fourth Infantry we were relieved in a measure from the fire of the enemy's sharpshooters. The conduct of the officers and men, under the circumstances, was all that could be desired.
After being relieved, we proceeded to the city, and were bivouacked in the neighborhood of St. George's Curch, where I lost 1 man, severely wounded by a shell. Whilst in this position Lieutenant Asbury and 30 men of the regiment were furnished, by order, for fatigue, without arms, and did not join us until after we had moved to the last position.