Many authors of fact and fiction about the Battle of Fredericksburg have written about the startling appearance of the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, in the sky the bitterly cold night of Sunday, Dec. 14, 1862, when the battlefield below the Confederate ridge was still strewn with thousands of Union dead and wounded.
Shelby Foote, in his civil war trilogy, wrote of the spectacle:
“A mysterious refulgence, shot with fanwise shafts of varicolored light, predominantly reds and blues—first a glimmer, then a spreading glow, as if all the countryside between Fredericksburg and Washington were afire—filled a wide arc of the horizon beyond the Federal right…to one Southerner it seemed ‘that the heavens were hanging out banners and streamers and setting off fireworks in honor of our great victory.'”
But none of the 13th Mississippi’s diarists, men from the deep south who may never have seen such a thing, mentioned the phenomenon at all. Even the 17th Mississippi’s Private Robert A. Moore gave it only one brief sentence. “The Northern Lights were very brilliant…more so than I ever recollect to have seen.”
Even Gen. Alexander, twenty years later, kept it short. “A brilliant aurora illuminated the night and much facilitated the work upon the entrenchments…”
But the men of the 13th, reduced by a year of fighting to a regiment of no more than four hundred, had more to do than dig in for a possible Union renewal of the battle the next day.
Of the next morning, Dec. 15, 1862, Foote wrote, “The ground in front of the sunken road, formerly carpeted solid blue, had taken on a mottled hue, with patches of startling white…Many of the Federal dead had been stripped stark naked by shivering Confederates, who had crept out in the darkness to scavenge the warm clothes from the bodies of men who needed them no longer.”