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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 nad fallen, of whom not less than 156 were commissioned officers. Among those who fell were men so brave that language fails rightly to tell their story, justly to sound their praises. In sixteen battalions which Hancock carried into fight, twenty-five officers had been killed or wounded while in command, regiments having seen their second, their third, and even in one case their fourth commander shot down. The regiment which at the close of the day had its fifth commander at its head was the Fifth New Hampshire, destined to lead the roll of all the infantry regiments of the Union armies, East or West, in the aggregate number of its "killed in action." Of the five officers of Hancock's personal staff present in the field, four had had horses shot under them; three had been wounded.
* " Each of these fences destroyed the unity of at least one brigade."—Hancock's Official Report.
It needs not here to describe the further actions of this memorable day; how Howard's division, which had held the right, advanced to the support of its hard-pressed comrades; how the Ninth Corps fought gallantly on the left of the Second; how Butterfield brought up the Fifth Corps, and Humphreys hurled his division of nine months' troops against the stone wall, while sheets of flame swept his men away and he, the knight without reproach or fear, rode back last of all; how Burnside from the other side of the river looked down on the useless sacrifice of his troops which, even then, he failed to apprehend in its true proportions, and again and again declared that the crest must and should be carried; how night fell at last over a field where more than eight thousand men had shed their blood in a vain and hopeless struggle; and the great battle of the right at Fredericksburg was over.
The men of the Second Corps, especially of Hancock's division, still held most of the ground they had gained in their advance and lay there, faces downward, awaiting the word of command. After dark they were withdrawn to the town, where two days passed, often under severe shelling from the heights, until Burnside could be persuaded to retire altogether from the enterprise upon which he had embarked with so inadequate a conception of its difficulties. The camps to which Hancock's division returned on the night of the 15th of December, after an absence of five days, were, alas! far too large for those who were left with the colors. Out of every group of five men, two had fallen in the desperate assault on Marye's Heights. There was room enough now, and to spare, in the little huts which the troops had constructed out of mud and logs, roofed in with "shelter tents." Here the command was destined to remain for four dreary months after the disastrous action which has been thus hurriedly and rudely described. From the hills around, the men of the First Division could survey the field on which two thousand of their comrades had fallen in that short winter afternoon, while, beyond, still frowned the Confederate batteries. The spectacle was not an inspiring one; nor had our troops at any time come near enough winning to make them wish to try the thing over again. The discipline of the army had in no degree been impaired by the hideous losses it had sustained; but its confidence in Burnside had gone forever. The utter lack of anything like a definite plan of operations before the crossing of the nth; the vacillation of the 12th; the senseless orders for the attack on the 13th; the dispatches to Washington about ground gained and still held; the weak bluster about a renewal of assault—all these things had combined to show the shrewd soldiers in the ranks that this was not the man who could lead them to victory. The general feeling was that a change must come; and the dash and daring, the fine soldiership, the aggressive energy and soaring ambition of General Joseph Hooker, while in command of a division or a corps, had made it almost certain that the choice would fall upon him. Only the most thoughtful asked whether it could really be that so much of boastful self-assertion did not indicate a weakness of character which, in the crisis of some severe and protracted trial, might prove fatal.
But Burnside, though professing his willingness to be relieved at any time, could not altogether give up the hope that some fortunate combination of circumstances might yet redeem his reputation; and during the later days of January, 1863, he actually undertook a movement round Lee's left flank, which,