On Nov. 25, 1862, a Tuesday, Barksdale’s brigade made the first of several abortive trips from their camp on the Heights into Fredericksburg for picket duty. It was raining.
“Can see the enemy pickets just across the river,” the 17th Regiment’s Robert A. Moore wrote in his diary. “Looks like a burlesque on souldiering. The river at this point is about 200 yrds. wide.”
Some of the Union forces across the river were made up of new recruits. It rained all night. Moore “slept near the river on a side-walk…Have traveled all over the city, do not like city life much.”
On Wednesday, the 26th, they were relieved by Cobb’s brigade and returned to the Heights. Five days later, on Dec. 1, the brigade went back to the city for more picket duty along the Rappahannock. Two days later, they went back to the Heights.
Moore again: “The enemy are busily engaged fortifying and drilling their raw levies.”
Gen. McLaws wrote his wife from his headquarters on Marye’s Heights on Dec. 3:
“Our pickets and those of the enemy are within speaking distance, and daily listen in silent contempt to the vulgarities of the Yankee soldiery….It was rumored today, from the other side[,] that King Abe himself was with the army on the other side and that he was urging an advance…
“The two armies must meet someday however and the shock will be tremendous. If however the winter storms should set in, the advance of the Yankees must of necessity be checked, as the roads soon become nearly impassible. Let us all put our faith in him who is always just, and hope that he will confound our enemies so that their advance will be checked, by either confusion in council, the valor of our troops or the impossibility to move.”
The weather turned colder and the rain to snow.
“Saturday,” Spartan Band quartermaster clerk William H. Hill recorded on Dec. 6. “Snowing and sleeting all day, snow 1 inch deep, very cold.”
Moore wrote in his diary: “Everything presents such a lovely appearance covered in a mantle of white snow. Mother Earth is now covered to the depth 21/2 or 3 inches with snow. One man from each [company] is to go home for [winter] clothing if Gen. Lee’s consent can be obtained.”
Hill recorded that the weather continued very cold and the ground was hard frozen.