Site Logo
Home | Battles | Descendants | Find A Soldier | Monuments | Museum | Towns | Units | Site Map

6th Vermont Infantry

Kimball Collection

Letter to the Editor

From the Sixth Regiment.
May 9th, 1863.

FRIEND EARLE :-It is with mingled feelings of sadness and pride that I take pen to address you. My heart beats proud in thought of the noble acts of our brave men, yet I am sad to know that our cause has suffered. The greatest anxiety I know must prevail at home, to hear of the fearful ordeal through which we have passed, and I feel it will be vain for me to attempt to portray in any degree the fearful struggle ; it beggars language to tell. Though we have many times before faced the cannon's mouth,-engaged in fiery storms of battle, yet we have never known or experienced anything equal to the late battles on the Rappahannock, in which we have participated. We moved, that is our corps, April 28th, Gen. Hooker had already crossed the river some miles above Fredericksburg, and was engaging the enemy. Our force struck the river at the same point we crossed last December, and the "Light Brigade" of our division crossed the river in the pontoons, surprised and drove the rebels from their entrenchments on the bank, thus a foothold being gained, two pontoon bridges were laid, and at early dawn Gen. Brooks was across with his whole division, while our division (Gen. Hovey's,) remained upon this side. In this position with the 1st corps two miles below us, doing likewise, we remained for three days, drawing the enemy's attention as much as possible, and thus keeping as large a force from engaging Gen. Hooker as could be, while he fought them on the right. Each day we could hear the roar of cannon, and see thick clouds of smoke rising over the scene of conflict. At last we received orders to advance on Saturday, May 2nd, after night had closed over the scenes of battle-but to give down to more terrible events, we crossed the Rubicon. That night, while the picket guarded our front, we slept upon our arms, and before day we were moving toward the right and toward Fredericksburg. Batteries were planted, and the day opened with the sound of cannon. Our position was in a wood between the fire of our entrenched foes-.Shells often burst in our midst, yet this we considered nothing. I never witnessed better artillery practice than was there displayed. Our guns tossed shell after shell into their entrenchments and forts, which were much higher than their positions, dismounting guns and throwing the enemy into confusion. This being kept up till nearly noon, the assault was made by part of our brigade and one other, and history fails to record anything much surpassing it. At 12 o'clock, noon, our star spangled banner waved upon the heights of Fredericksburg, which had so long been held by traitors, and which they considered impossible to take. We captured a number of cannon, and many prisoners. Our charge was over an open plain for more than a mile in extent, and all the way we were under a galling fire of grape and canister from the enemy. They poured canister into us till we were so near they had to fly. The 33d N. Y. charged in front of our regiment, yet we surpassed them and gained the heights first, while the 2nd Vermont and 26th New York charged upon the heights at our left. The 26th broke, and had it not been for the 2nd, they would have been taken, besides failing to capture the heights, The 2nd lost more than one hundred men in killed and wounded. Our regiment was more fortunate, though we lost some killed and many wounded. Lieut. Col. Hale had his horse shot from under him while making the charge. We left the heights not to fall back, but to follow a retreating foe ; we drove the enemy back about three miles, when they made a stand, and were met by Gen. Brooks division,-grape and canister together with musketry, were used with fearful havoc upon both sides. One of the Generals aids, Capt. Read, was struck on the shoulder by a piece of shell, which inflicted a severe wound ; we have learned that he has since died.

That night we lay upon our arms, with skirmishers in front, and at early dawn, we found the enemy moving round upon our left, and had already gained the first heights, (the statement given by some that they captured nearly all the hospital department, ambulances, trains, &c., that were in Fredericksburg, is false, for only a few that were out after the wounded were taken,) cannonading soon commenced, and we fell back toward the river to a chosen position, where we held the enemy all day ; cannonading and skirmishing going on most of the time. The enemy were strongly reinforced from Lee, Longstreet having reinforced him the night before, therefore more than twice our number were in our front. The 6th corps was all we had, the remainder was with Hooker. Reinforcements were expected at 3 o'clock P. M., but none came. Our Generals grew troubled ; they saw we could hold out but little longer, thus matters stood till about 6 P. M., when the rebels charged with a heavy force upon our whole line. The hour had come to tell our fate, we were to die or conquer ; every nerve was strained for the coming contest, the columns of that rebel horde poured on, the skirmishers were continually firing. Our batteries opened with shot and canister, and it was terrible to see the fearful havoc it made among them.-They were cut down like grass, still they poured on. I cannot say too much in praise of Capt. Martin's battery, every man stood at his post, and they manned the guns till the rebels were so hard on to them that they hit them with their rods while loading the guns. The commanding officer then came to our Colonel, and told him he could do no more, and left his battery for us to save or lose, (our regiment being its support.) Up to this time we had not fired a gun, but lay concealed from the enemy till they were upon us ; now the regiment rose, poured a volley of death among them, and then charged. The air was rent with the shouts of the conquerors and the cries of the conquered. We broke their line and drove them in dismay ; took a greater number of prisoners than our regiment itself, together with four Colonels, four Majors, and about twenty Captains and Lieuts. We charged more that 100 rods, and the ground over which we passed was literally covered with the dead and wounded of both sides. If we had a support at that time of one corps, we could, I believe, have annihilated the rebel army in our front, but as we were, with our whole force on the line, and no reserve, we had to fall back ; for had we remained there ten minutes longer, they would have came on with a heavy force and captured us all. We were obliged to leave all our dead, and most of our wounded upon the field. The force we met was a North Carolina brigade, and also that Legion, known as the Louisiana Tigers. Prisoners, that we took of the latter, said they were never whipped before, and that they had rather fight so many devils than the Vermonters, &c., but this is of no account, and I must hasten on for I am already writing more than one will wish to read. Gen. Brooks, Howe, and all who witnessed the charge made by our regiment, pronounced it to be the most daring thing they ever saw, or heard of ; that history fails to record anything more hazardous and fearful. I can scarce believe my own senses. The loss in our regiment was about 75 killed and wounded. Capt. Ainsworth was killed and Capt. Hutchinson, and Lieut. Crane were wounded. In the Orleans company, (D) Corporal Wm. Livingston of Albany was wounded in the arm, Corporal Hobart Bliss of Glover, was wounded in the shoulder seriously, and taken prisoner. My company had seven wounded, and one we fear mortally. Some regiments behaved shamefully, particularly the 20th N. Y., which broke and run ; many of them threw down their arms and run into the rebel lines. The 29th New York, which is in our brigade, did little better, though the officers were more to blame than the men. If I may be allowed to say it, and it is allowed by all, the Vermont brigade was the saving of the 6th corps. If we had broke, our fate was sealed, and all know it, and the struggle was therefore desperate. Our brigade held the enemy at bay, while the troops and artillery was removed to this side of the river. They expected to gobble us up, yet they missed of their game, and our batteries were got off without losing a gun. They pressed us hard from three sides, still we held them by a strong skirmish line, and they did not advance fast, not knowing what they might run on to. Our regiment and the 2nd, was the very last that crossed the bridge. They had already began to take up the pontoons before three companies of our regiment reached the river. We got this side about daylight May 5th ; on the skirmish line all night. The rebels shelled the bridge, yet little damage was done, we recrossed the river and Bank's Ford, some miles above Fredericksburg, and now here we are.

I will not speak of what Gen. Hooker did, for you already know more than I, although the chief plan was a failure, yet I do not consider it as wholly a defeat, we punished the enemy severely and they suffered a much heavier loss than our side. I never saw the army in better spirits than it is even now. We think we may move again soon.

I will give, before closing, some resolutions drawn up for publication. They are these:

WHEREAS, By the sad providence of battle, on the heights of Fredericksburg, Va., May 4th, 1863, God has removed from our midst our well-beloved brother, Capt. Luther Ainsworth, Co. H, 6th Vermont Volunteers,

Resolved, That we, the officers of the 6th Vermont regiment, do hereby express our deep regret at the loss we, in common with our cause and country, have sustained.

Resolved, That we cherish the memory of our fallen comrade, as a brave officer, an unpretending, generous, noble-hearted friend, who, by his uniform kindness and disregard of self, has won the love of his company, the esteem and kind remembrance of his regiment.

Resolved, That their names, written in blood on the banner we follow, shall incite us to emulate their brave deeds and noble sacrifice.

Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be forwarded for publication in the newspapers of Vermont : and also a copy to the orphan children of Captain Ainsworth, whom we commend to the kind and considerate care of all those who love their country and its cause.

I will here quote an order issued by our brigade commander, and read to the brigade as a token of esteem ;

Camp in the Field, May 6th, 1863
Officers and soldiers of the Brigade:

Your record is a proud one ; you have sustained the honor of your State and the glory of your revolutionary fathers. You have demonstrated that organized patriotism, discipline, perseverance and courage, can know no defeat. The events of the past few days will live in the nation's history, and the record of your deed of valor, will fill a shining page. The recollection of your heroic conduct will sustain you through the subsequent trials of life, comfort your old age, and swell with noble pride the hearts of those who shall rise up to call you blessed.

You stormed and took the heights of Fredericksburg, which it is believed was one of the most brilliant feats of the war. You took three pieces of cannon and many prisoners, and although you are not now in possession of them does not in the least detract from the credit due you for taking them.

At the Battle near Bank's Ford, you sustained the attack of a vastly superior force-no less than three Brigades, and repulsed the enemy with great slaughter, taking many prisoners, among them were several Colonels, Majors and Line officers. Your undaunted courage, unbroken front, steady aim and brilliant charge, give you title to the highest praise. The thanks of the Colonel commanding are freely given. In you he has the fullest confidence, and the greatest pride. Those of our comrades who fell in the unequalled but victorious contest, fresh sacrifices on the altar of our country, shall not be forgotten so long as deeds of valor are remembered. Their memory shall give us new courage and incite us to emulate their virtues

L. A. GRANT, Col. Commanding Brigade.

Here is an order sent to the regiment from our Colonel :

May 6th, 1863.
General Orders, No. 12.

It is with feelings of pride and pleasure, that the Col. Commanding reviews the actions of the 6th Vermont, from the crossing of the river, to the time when companies A, D and I, the very last of the corps recrossed. The gallantry with which you charged across the plain, and over the heights of Fredericksburg, has been noticed by the Gen. Commanding. The coolness exhibited by you while under fire awaiting the enemy's assault-the gallant manner in which you repulsed the enemy, and in turn charged him, the number of prisoners you captured, are all proofs of your unexampled bravery and intrepidity. Do as well in the future and your Colonel and State, may well be proud of you.

By Command of-Col. E. L. Barney.
S. H. LINCOLN, Adjt.

I can write no more. I have already prolonged this letter to a tiresome length. Let the historian record the events in which the Green Mountain Boys so freely participated. We can but feel to thank God, that we have been left unharmed through this fearful conflict. I remain yours truly,

F. M. K.



Letters to the Editor


Additional Material