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been fully advised. But, in truth, Burnside was not ready. He had hoped to see Lee retreat from before the powerful army which menaced him. He had expected nothing less; he was prepared for nothing else. Inasmuch as Lee, who could not possibly have asked for a stronger position in which to fight the impending battle, showed no sign of retreating, Burnside, in dire perplexity, wavered between one plan and another, now preparing to draw all of Sumner's troops down along the river bank, to join Franklin (which was what should have been done); now discussing the chances of a direct attack by Sumner, until night came. The next morning found the river, the town, and the plains beyond covered with dense fog, and still Burnside had no definite plans; yet, as the morning wore on, orders were issued from his headquarters which brought about a great battle, alike on the right and on the left. Let us first dismiss from our narrative the operations of Franklin. That officer advanced his troops against the enemy; broke for a moment at one point through Jackson's line, and was then driven back to the river with considerable loss. The battle here was on approximately even terms as to position. The attack failed, as Burnside asserted, because Franklin did not put in enough of his troops and did not press his advantage with energy. It failed, as Franklin asserted, because of unintelligible and contradictory orders.
On the right, there is no question of what was done that day or any complaint of want of energy and desperate determination, Yet the orders to Sumner were strange enough, as orders to fight a great battle on. They were to “push a column of a division or more along the plank and telegraph roads, with a view to seizing the heights in the rear of the town." Considering that six divisions of the Right Grand Division, with three from the Center, were to become engaged in a desperate battle, resulting in the loss of eight to nine thousand men, these instructions can scarcely be deemed explicit or comprehensive. At any rate, the thing ordered was attempted. At noon the skirmishers of French's (Third) Division advanced, driving before them the enemy's pickets; and in a few minutes more his brigades emerged from the town, in three successive lines, and made for the crest known as Marye's Heights, where a road from the river runs up over the hills. And now appeared the first of the fatal obstacles which beset this ill-conceived and ill-omened enterprise. As the Union lines, lashed with shot and shell from a half mile of batteries, made their way unfalteringly across the plain, they came upon the deep ditch, or canal, of which Couch the day before had given Burnside a warning that had been indignantly received as a false rumor. Over the two bridges, from one of which all but the string-pieces had been removed, our troops were
compelled to cross the canal, by the flank, in plain view of the enemy and within six or eight hundred yards of their works. A pretty beginning, this, for an assault by “a division or more" upon a position, strong in itself, heavily fortified, held by thirty thousand veteran soldiers ! Fortunately, a slight depression of the ground, part way between the canal and the hills, allowed French's shattered brigades an opportunity to re-form before their supreme effort. They waited only long enough to dress their ranks; and then, rising over the last crest, made bravely for the sunken road and the stone wall. Every officer in his place and every man in the ranks knew that the task set for them was impossible; but the word was “ Forward!” and forward they went, though now, in addition to direct and enfilading fires from batteries which Longstreet's chief of artillery had placed so that “he could rake the whole field as with a fine-tooth comb,” burst upon the devoted ranks a storm of bullets from the Confederate infantry, drawn up under complete shelter in the sunken road and behind the stone wall. Down went our men by hundreds, yet they pressed bravely on until the foremost ranks came within half smooth-bore range of the stone wall. Flesh and blood could do no more; the deadly volleys from the well-covered marksmen bore the leading brigade, as if by sheer weight, down to the ground. In vain French's
second and then his last brigade came up, leaving the plain strewn thickly with the dead and the dying in their advance. They could only fling themselves upon the ground with their comrades of the leading brigade, hold their riddled flags up into the enemy's fire, and wait for re-enforcements.
Hancock has been ordered to follow French closely in three lines by brigade. Hardly is French clear of the town when Hancock is at his heels; hardly has French's rearmost brigade closed up on the first when Hancock's division mounts the little crest beyond the canal. First comes the brigade of Zook, as steadily as on parade in Camp California where old Sumner trained them to arms; close behind press Meagher's Irishmen, with sprigs of green in their caps, a loud cheer rising from their ranks as they dash into the storm which bursts out afresh as Hancock, riding freely over the plain with his brilliant staff, throws his men forward against the stone wall. Behind march Caldwell's regiments, which, though last of all, are to lose most of all in the terrible half-hour to come. And now the First Division is all in view. Its foremost line has struggled up, over fences, over fallen comrades, against a steady sheet of flame from the stone wall now held by four solid ranks of riflemen, until it is but a little more than a pistol-shot away. The supporting brigades are fast closing up. Will they succeed ? Success, indeed, in any true sense, is impossible, for,
even should they mount the stone wall, now so near, bayonet its defenders and press up the slopes of Marye's Hill, what could become of them except to be surrounded and destroyed by the dense masses which lie in reserve beyond the crest ? But will they reach the stone wall ? For a moment it looks as though they would, so gallantly do they press forward, while generals and aids cheer them on. The last fence * is reached; in vain do Nugent and Kelly and scores of brave officers and men throw themselves upon it, seeking to tear up the posts or break the whole down by main force. Every minute a thousand bullets are hurled from the stone wall; every minute a hundred men go down.
That fence marks the line of the Union advance on that glorious and terrible day. A few reaches of it were broken down, and through the gaps some brave soldiers struggled singly on and tried to make their way up to the stone wall, only to fall dead at half-pistol shot; but through the fence no company passed; the faltering lines were swept backward by an irresistible weight of fire, and the men of Hancock's division threw themselves on the ground or retreated to the nearest crest. Of the 5,006 who had gone into action that afternoon, 2,013 had fallen, of whom not less than 156 were commissioned officers. Among those who fell were men brave that
*“ Each of these fences destroyed the unity of at least one brigade.”—Hancock's Official Report.