Saturday, Dec. 13, 1862, dawned warm and very foggy on the slopes of Marye’s Heights above Fredericksburg.
The 13th Regiment and the rest of the Mississippi brigade had slept in line of battle, in the center of the Confederate line.
They awoke to find the fog extending down to the river south of the town where the Union army—later estimated to outnumber the Rebels by four to one—was assembled, waiting to begin their attack. When the fog was all gone at 10 a.m. they did.
“It was clear the balance of the day,” Spartan Band quartermaster clerk William H. Hill wrote in his diary. “The enemy advance[d] and gave us battle. “
In addition to the infantry awaiting them were the great guns that Gen. James Longstreet’s chief of artillery, Colonel Edward Porter Alexander, had carefully emplaced on Marye’s Heights. Said Alexander: “A chicken could not live on that field when we open on it.”
In a paper for the Southern Historical Society in 1882, Alexander recalled:
“…[when] the melting of the fog exposed the plain to view, three long lines of battle and clouds of skirmishers were visible, already moving slowly across the plain, while [their] numerous batteries opened a tremendous fire upon the Confederate lines.
“[Nevertheless] no sooner did the deployment [of French’s division of Union infantry] on the line of the flags begin than the [Rebel] artillery, disregarding the fire of the enemy’s batteries, poured a storm of canister down the slopes, and the infantry, hitherto silent, opened so deadly a fire that the [Union] ranks were entirely swept away before the deployment was completed, and the flags were left standing alone and waiving [sic] over but a line of killed and wounded, while the Confederates jeered at their discomfited foes, and shouted, ‘set them up again’…
“Hancock’s division, with what had been rallied from French’s, mounted the hill, and passing over French’s fatal line of flags pushed more gallantly for its goal…[When] Hancock’s foremost ranks were within one hundred yards…the murderous [Rebel] muskets were again turned on the line already roughly used by the guns on the hill…which fast broke into fragments the Federal assault…in twenty minutes, these coverts being probed by shells, the bloody field was again deserted.”
And so it went, charge after charge, all day long, as the Union army fruitlessly threw away more than twelve thousand of the boys in blue.
“…until long after dark,” Winston Guards Private William Little Davis later wrote home, “the battle raged furiously on both wings but our center still remained untouched. [It was] one of the bloodiest of the war. It is all together a one sided affair. The enemy loss is tremendous while ours is slight…our brigade was not engaged…it being posted in the center of the line which the enemy did not attack.”
“We repulsed them with terrible slaughter at all points,” Hill recorded. “The field is covered with their dead and wounded.”
Added Alexander: “….the ground was so thickly strewn that from the base of the hill it seemed in places to be carpeted with blue.”