Sunday, May 3, it dawned clear and warm, and the Second Battle of Fredericksburg began.
“The battle commenced at daylight,” Gen. Barksdale later reported. “A furious cannonading was opened from the enemy’s batteries in town, and along both banks of the river. Two assaults were made upon Marye’s Heights, but both were signally repulsed.”
The enemy requested a flag of truce to retrieve their wounded at Marye’s Hill, Colonel Griffin of the 18th Regiment granted it “and thus,” Barksdale reported, “the weakness of our force at that point was discovered.”
The Union’s next attack was pushed hard and, as Spartan Band diarist William H. Hill recorded, “after a desperate resistance [the brigade] was compelled to give back before a superior number.”
The 18th Regiment was overrun and the brigade’s long, thin line was broken. “A more heroic struggle was never made by a mere handful of men against overwhelming odds,” Gen. Barksdale concluded, of almost twenty to one.
The 18th retreated back up Lee’s Hill but “lost a small number killed and wounded and about 200 taken prisoner,” including Colonel Griffin, Hill wrote in his diary “The loss of the other Regiments was comparatively small.”
The 13th, according to casualty figures compiled by Jess N. McLean, had fifteen killed, forty-nine wounded, and sixteen captured.
The brigade regrouped and on May 4, a Monday, counter-attacked, drove the Union troops from Marye’s Heights and “took up their old position at the stone fence,” Hill recorded.