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6th Vermont Infantry
From Frederick Kimball's Scrapbook
The Gallantry of the Vermont Brigade.
We find the following interesting and graphic account of the part taken by the Vermont troops in the late engagement at Fredericksburg, in the Burlington Times of the 16th inst. After giving a description of the different positions held by our army at the time of the engagement, the correspondent, a member of the Vermont 6th, continues as follows :
At about half-past ten, (I guess at the hour, for it never occurred to me that I had a watch until we had halted to rest on the extreme heights, something more than a mile above the first works,) word was passed along the lines that we were about to storm the heights. And there was "hurrying to and fro," and the hearts beat quickly, but no man flinched.
We had but a moment for making preparations. Knapsacks were unslung and piled in the road by companies, and within three minutes from the first notice we were up and on our way.
In our front, and a little to the left of the 6th Vt., was the 3d brigade, Gen. Neil. On his left was the 2d Vt., supported by the 26th N. J. In the rear was the other Vt. regiments. The extreme right of the storming party consisted of regiments from the Light Division, viz.: 5th Wisconsin, 7th Me., a R. I. regiment and some others. Those regiments on the extreme right were the first to charge, and their loss was the heaviest.
First on the left of the Light Division came our own regiment, the 6th Vt. Moving up the road a few rods from where we had been lying concealed, we flanked to the left, and made directly for the heights.
Every man kept his place, and our line was almost as steady as if we had been on battalion drill. The first fifty rods was a smooth meadow; then came a low, wet spot in our front, for which the regiment broke right and left and closed round again in perfect order. Fifty rods further on, we crossed the old railroad; climbing its further bank, our line moved forward over a smooth field, past a small dwelling-house, into a deep ravine, full of brush, logs, and vines and briars, with a creek at the bottom, some twenty feet in width and two or three feet deep.
Wading this stream we formed again-spirits as light as ever, but clothing decidedly heavier.
A few rods further on and we were at the extremity of the famous "stone-wall" at the base of the heights, from which Burnside's brave boys were repulsed in the first attack upon the heights. Here we came upon another regiment, (the 5th Wis., I believe,) which had got somewhat broken up, and was rapidly forming again.
Passing the regiment, as we had several others before it, our line went steadily up the steep and gravelly heights, planting our colors the second on the heights.
At this time, the enemy were throwing grape and canister from several guns on the heights further to the left, and shelling us from one or two brass pieces on the second heights, about half a mile in front, and above us.
Deploying as skirmishers, we made for the brass pieces in front, which was supported by a regiment of infantry. The infantry abandoned the pieces for a moment, and it seemed as if we were to capture it; but they rallied again and returned, turned the pieces upon us again, and gave us several parting shots. By this time our batteries had gained the first heights and were replying to the enemy. Another regiment had deployed on the right of the 6th, and was approaching the gun from the right. Just here the enemy brought up several horses, and in a moment more the gun was wheeled out of our sight, its support following at a rapid pace.
Meantime, the 2d regiment had been fighting for a battery some distance on our left. Its infantry support stood their ground, the 26th N. J. came rather slowly to the aid of the 2d, and hence the 2d regiment lost heavily. They drove the enemy, however, capturing at least a very fine brass piece, which the enemy had loaded, but did not remain to discharge. The other Vermont regiments, meantime, had been coming forward under fire, but not suffering as did the 2d regiment.
Having lost his best position, the enemy made no further determined stand. Our brigade advanced to the extreme height, rested until relieved by Gen. Brooks, when we returned to the flats after knapsacks, &c. We rested only long enough to make coffee, when we marched up through the suburbs of the city, reaching the heights via the plank road before spoken of, as running up back of the city.
When we returned to the heights, we found Gen. Brooks had pushed on up the plank-road or turnpike, and was already hotly engaged with equal or superior numbers.
We immediately marched toward where he was fighting-which was about a mile and a half beyond the heights. On nearing the battle-field, we saw but too many of those "red rays" of which Oliver Wendell Holmes speaks, in "My Search after the Captain," which you doubtless read in the "Atlantic."
The wounded, pale, haggard and bleeding, came streaming along the road on which we marched, while stragglers were disgracefully numerous. In one ambulance which we passed, I noticed my friend Capt. Read, formerly Assistant Adj. General of our Brigade under Gen. Brooks. I hear that he has died of his wounds; if so, the services has lost a brave, faithful and accomplished officer.
When we reached the front, it was currently reported that the enemy were endeavoring to turn the left flank of Gen. Brook's position.
Our brigade was immediately moved to that flank, and I am told that at one time while we were getting into position, the enemy appeared in our front with a formidable force.
But night, the soldier's friend, was fast putting an end to the contest. The firing gradually slackened-like the lulling away of a fierce storm, when the electric shocks grow more and more seldom, until the elements assume the quiet and repose of peace. So after the battle; one by one the combatants ceased firing, the wounded knit their brows for a struggle with death-that quiet, unspeaking, sullen determination, too deep, profound and awful for utterance-seen only on the battle-field.
The dead, ghastly and staring, looked up to Heaven a mute protest against war.
The living, thankful for continued life, lay down to gather strength for the morrow's conflict. Anon the stars come forth, the moon went sailing on her way, and we were listening to the voices of the night.
Dogs were barking in the distance, cow-bells (ominous music sometimes, in rebeldom) were jingling in the fields, and the "whip-poor-will" made night lonesome by her plaintive, monotonous, but suggestive song.
In a word, I was on picket. It was the eve of a bloody battle-one which would carry mourning to many a home far away among the dear old hills of Vermont, and of which I have written.
It only remains to speak of our gallant dead, and another " Seven days' " battle will have passed into history.
Letters transcribed by Frederick's 2nd great-grandson.