Finally, on Monday afternoon, Dec. 15, 1862, Gen. Burnside called for a truce to bury the Union dead and, as independent historian Shelby Foote wrote in his narrative trilogy of the war, “relieve such of his wounded as had survived two days and nights of exposure without medicine for their hurts or water for their fever-parched throats…”
It was a good day for it, being sunny and warm, as the Spartan Band’s William H. Hill recorded in his diary. “The two Armies occupy the same position they did yesterday. Neither manifests any disposition to advance.”
The complete retrieval of the Union wounded and the burying of the dead took three days, according to Hill, though most of the Union army retreated across the Rappahannock River on Monday night under cover of a rain storm.
According to Foote, Gen. Lee wrote his wife, “They came as they went—in the night. They suffered heavily as far as the battle went, but it did not go far enough to satisfy me.”
The 13th and 21st Mississippi Regiments moved behind the retreating Federals, marching down into the battered and looted colonial town, where they had made their stand on Dec. 11, for a new period of picket duty.
On Tuesday, the Union burial details were still at it, and Private Robert A. Moore of the 17th Mississippi, which was still in line of battle on the ridge, recorded sarcastically:
“We were somewhat surprised at learning that the enemy had withdrawn his whole force to the other side of the river last night. I assume Gen. Burnside did not like his little experience of [Saturday] last on his way to Richmond.”
On Wednesday, Hill wrote: “The officers of the enemy belonging to the detail for burying their dead acknowledge that they have suffered a serious defeat in the late battle and express themselves as very tired of the war.”
Hill said that the burying was finally finished on Thursday evening and the Spartan Band had good news from home that would keep them, at least, from scavenging any more Union dead.
“K.R. Hooker of Company H returned this evening from home with clothing for the Company,” Hill wrote. “I received a letter from Ma and also some winter clothing.”