Illustrations of the War in America.The Illustrated London News, vol. 42, no. 1186, p. 126.
January 31, 1863
This act of the Federals, which took place on the 11th of December last, began the late hostilities on the Rappahannock which continued for five days and ended, as our readers are aware, in a decisive victory for the Confederates. At the time chosen by our Special Artist for making the accompanying Illustration (on page 116) the Federals had over 150 guns directed on the town from the heights on the opposite side of the river; and it was under cover of this tremendous cannonade that their troops commenced crossing by three pontoons. Their dense masses can be seen in the distance winding down to the river. The town is on fire in various places from the shelling, but 300 Mississippians still hold their ground as sharpshooters on the Confederate bank, annoying the heads of the columns as they appear on the bridges. General Lee's plan, however, as is now well known, was to let the enemy cross and attack him in the strong position in which he had ensconced his forces. The infantry moving along the road in the foreground are proceeding to rifle-pits in front of the battery seen on the hill on the left, which was the first of the Confederate defences, and held by Colonel Walter's Washington artillery--of which position more anon.
The attempt of the Federals to carry the first of the Confederate positions on their right--the battery of the Washington Battery, on Marye's Hill, commanded by Colonel Walton--was, as our readers are aware, totally unsuccessful, and most disastrous to them. Immense masses were hurled at intervals on the hill and works, shown in our Illustration; but at each attack they were driven back with immense loss. "From the point where I stood, with Generals Lee and Longstreet," says our Special Artist, writing from the Confederate camp, "I could see the grape, shell, and canister from the guns of the Washington artillery mow great avenues in the masses of Federal troops rushing to the assault, while the infantry, posted behind a breastwork just under the battery, decimated the nearest columns of the enemy. In the distance, Franklin's corps is seen deploying into line of battle on the Federal left. They have some field-batteries thrown forwards shelling the Confederate positions on the wooded range of hills. A portion of Fredericksburg is seen in the rear of the attacking forces, and beyond is the range of heights on the opposite side of the river from which the Northerners have heavy guns playing on Marye's Hill to cover the advance of their men. Numbers of their shell are bursting over the Confederate soldiers in the breastwork. It was here General Cobb was killed, and it is his brigade acting as sharpshooters. At the back of this hill a South Carolinian had a portion of his head carried away within four yards of myself by a shell from the heights alluded to above. After the battle, I counted 660 dead lying on a small plot of ground, scarcely four acres in extent, at the foot of the hill shown in the Illustration; and, altogether 1493 were buried between the hill and the town. Eight hundred were buried on that part of the field occupied by Franklin. These were all Federals. This makes the Northern dead on the right and left amount to 2293. The Federals, besides this, buried many within their own lines on the night of the battle."
The Southern correspondent of the Times, in his letter from Richmond, written shortly after the battle of Fredericksburg, has some remarks on the important post at Marye's Hill, and of the dreadful slaughter of the assaulting troops, to whose bravery he bears no niggard testimony. He says:--"By far the most important position was occupied by the Washington artillery, commanded by Colonel Walton, of New Orleans, and posted on the heights in the immediate neighbourhood of Fredericksburg, not more than 400 yards from the town. These heights, which are precisely of that altitude which is most favourable for the play of artillery, are surmounted by a brick house, now riddled by round shot, belonging to Mr. Marye, and are commonly called Marye's Heights. At their base a road winds, protected on one side by the hills and on the other by a solid stone wall, about four feet in height, over which a brigade of Confederates, themselves perfectly sheltered, poured the deadliest and most effective of fires. . . . The battle which had dashed furiously against the lines of Generals Hood, A. P. Hill, and Early, was little more than child's play as compared with the onslaught directed by the Federals in the immediate neighbourhood of Fredericksburg. The impression that the Confederate batteries would not fire heavily upon the Federals advancing in this quarter, for fear of injuring the town of Fredericksburg, is believed to have prevailed among the Northern Generals. How bitterly they deceived themselves subsequent events served to show. To the Irish division, commanded by General Meagher, was principally committed the desperate task of bursting out of the town of Fredericksburg and forming, under the withering fire of the Confederate batteries, to attack Marye's Heights, lowering immediately in their front. Never at Fontenoy, at Albuera, or at Waterloo was more undoubted courage displayed by the sons of Erin than during those six frantic dashes which they directed against the almost impregnable position of their foe. That any mortal men could have carried the position before which they were wantonly sacrificed, defended as it was, it seems to me idle for a moment to believe; but the bodies which lie in dense masses within forty yards of the muzzles of Colonel Walton's guns are the best evidence what manner of men they were who pressed on to death with the dauntlessness of a race which lies gamed glory on a thousand battle-fields, and never more richly deserved it than at the foot of Marye's Heights on the 13th day of December, 1862."
The same correspondent, in a subsequent letter written on Dec. 20, thus returns to the subject of the loss of life resulting from the attack on Marye's Hill:--"A glance at the long slope between the town of Fredericksburg and the foot of Marye's Heights gave the best idea of the magnitude of the toll which had been exacted for the Federals' passage of the Rappahannock. A ride along the whole length of the lines told also a sad tale of slaughter; but when the eye had once rested upon the fatal slope above mentioned the memory became fixed upon the spot, nor for fifty years to come will that scene ever fade from the memory of those who saw it. There, in every attitude of death, lying so close to each other that you might step from body to body, lay acres of the Federal dead. It seemed that most of the faces which lay nearest to Colonel Walton's artillery were of the well-known Milesian type. In one small garden, not more than half an acre in size, there were 151 corpses. I doubt whether in any battle-field of modern times the dead have ever lain so thick and close. By universal consent of those who have seen all the great battles of this war nothing like it has ever been seen before."