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6th Vermont Infantry

Kimball Collection

From Frederick Kimball's Scrapbook
Other Material

The Part taken by the Vermont Brigade
in the late Campaign.

At length we are enabled to give a connected history of the part taken by the Vermont troops in the late campaign south of the Rappahannock, and in the vicinity of Fredericksburg, the facts in regard to which we glean from the several reports of Col. Grant. It is a noticeable fact that not one of the reporters of the city press, among the many following the army of the Potomac, gave our men more than a passing notice, and did we not know it to be otherwise we should infer from this that the part they took in the several engagements was merely secondary and unimportant. Reporters, however, in common with other men, possess that strong animal instinct which leads them to seek a place of safety during a battle, and it happened in this case that it was the reverse of safety to follow the fortunes of the Vermont troops. In the advance they led the van, never hesitating, never wavering, and on the retreat they brought up the rear, giving evidence of a most thorough discipline, and of a self-sacrificing heroism seldom witnessed. Their achievements stand our pre-eminently as the most brilliant of the campaign. At the point of the bayonet they carried the principal range of heights in the rear of Fredericksburg; by almost superhuman exertions and an indomitable bravery they prevented the enemy from flanking us on the left and cutting us off from the river, thereby literally saving Sedgwick's whole army from capture; and then as if this were not a sufficient trial of their courage and endurance, or rather because Sedgwick knew upon whom he could rely in the great emergency, to them was assigned the hazardous duty of holding the rear in the face of a strong and victorious foe while the retreating army crossed the river, being one of the most trying positions in which a body of men could possibly be place. Whatever they were set to do they did in such a manner as to win the unbounded praise of their commanding officers, and doubtless to the complete satisfaction of the rebels. Their behavior in this short campaign will form one of the proudest chapters in the history of our State.

But we took up our pen with the intention of giving a brief but connected account of the part taken by our troops in the several engagements in which they participated. On the evening of Saturday the 2d of May, the brigade crossed the river below Fredericksburg, and after resting a few hours on its arms moved forward before daylight on the Bowling Green road, (its right resting on a creek which empties into the river,) into the city, which had been previously occupied by Newton's Division. The plan of attack upon the heights in the rear of the city having been formed, to the Vermont Brigade was assigned the duty of capturing the higher and principal range of hills, while Newton's troops were simultaneously to move upon the lower range. The "lay of the land" over which the brigade was to move is very clearly given by Co;. Grant, as follows: "The lower range, or Mayree's Hill, is on the right of the creek and just in the rear of Fredericksburg. The higher or principal range of hills is to the left of the creek and immediately in front of the position occupied by this brigade. Between the Bowling Green road and the base of the principal hills is an open plain nearly a mile in extent, through which passes a railroad. Nearly parallel with the railroad were rifle pits; in the rifle pits and behind the railroad were posted rebel infantry. The entire plain was commanded by the enemy's guns upon the principal range of hills." Two lines were formed, the first consisting of the 33d New York, 7th Maine, and 21st New Jersey, and the second consisting of the 6th Vermont, 27th New Jersey and 2d Vermont, formed from right to left in the order named. At about 11 a.m. the column moved forward over the plain at double quick, driving the rebels out of the rifle pits and from the railroad. This accomplished, the first line of the column, followed by the 6th Vermont, bore off to the right to assist Newton in capturing the lower range of hills, leaving the 2d Vermont and 27th New Jersey to capture the higher range. The two regiments moved forward in the face of a terrible fire and soon gained the shelter of a steep bank, where they halted to rest, in the meantime the regiments changing positions in consequence of the unsteady behavior of the 26th. Moving on again they soon gained a deep ditch or rifle pit, where they again halted and called upon the 33d New York, which was down the creek near Mayree's hill, to come to their assistance. As soon as the 33d arrived within supporting distance the 2d Vermont charged up the hill in most gallant style, driving the rebels from their position and capturing the works on the right of the principal heights. The rebels rallied and the engagement continued for a short time, but the 33d New York and 7th Maine having arrived to the assistance of the 2d, they soon retired.

The 3d, 4th an 5th Vermont moved across the plain further to the left and carried that portion of the heights without difficulty.

The 6th Vermont, which was the second regiment in the enemy's works on Mayree's hill, the 6th Maine being the first, was retained in that portion of the field and sent to the front as skirmishers.

The heights having been carried the Vermont brigade was immediately moved forward on the plank road, to join the main army, the object being to form a junction with Hooker. The opposing forces were already engaged and the Vermont Brigade was ordered to take position on the left to prevent any flank movement in that direction. Five regiments were formed in line, the 2d being held in reserve, and in this position they rested during the night.

On the morning of the 4th it was found that the rebels had re-occupied the heights of Fredericksburg, which made it necessary for the forces to change front to the rear and facing the city. In the disposition of troops for the new line of battle the Vermont Brigade was placed in the second line, there being another brigade at some distance in front, most of whom, however, were skirmishers. Somewhat in front and on the extreme right was stationed the 5th regiment and the right of the main line was assigned to the 3d. The 6th, 2d, and 26th New Jersey, were placed next in the order named, and on the extreme left was the 4th.

The rebels commenced the attack at about 5 o'clock p. m., directly in front of the Vermont Brigade, but kept constantly bearing towards the river, with the intention of severing our communication and hemming us in. The battle raged furiously until dark, the enemy making repeated assaults upon our line, which they in vain endeavored to break. Our forces kept constantly pressing towards the river, and to counteract the movement of the rebels in the same direction were obliged to keep constantly changing front, forming new lines, advancing and retreating by turns, all of which evolutions were executed under a terrible fire with the coolness of veterans, and almost with the precision of a holiday parade. Darkness coming on the enemy ceased his attempts to turn our left, when the brigade formed a new line with its left resting on the river. "In this position," says Col. Grant, "the brigade held the front while the balance of the corps fell back to Banks' Ford, where bridges had been constructed across the river. The brigade then slowly retired, its skirmishers following in the rear. Upon arriving near the Ford the brigade formed a new line of battle and sent skirmishers far to the front (which had now become our rear.) The skirmish line being attacked, the 2d, 3d, and 6th regiments were sent our to support the skirmish line. The balance of the corps crossed the river, then these three regiments and the skirmish line followed."

Thus ended what is called the battle of Banks' Ford, and this is a brief account of the important part taken by the Vermont Brigade in that action.

The loss of the brigade on the 3d inst. Was 13 killed and 109 wounded, total 122. On the following day the loss in killed was 17, wounded 118, missing 44, total 179. Making a loss during the two days of thirty killed, 227 wounded and 44 missing; total 301. Some of those reported missing have already come into camp.




Letters to the Editor

Additional Material

Letters transcribed by Frederick's 2nd great-grandson.