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HOW A DESEBTER ESCAPED. 251
Events succeeding the Battle.— A North Carolina Deserter.— The Bernard Estate.— Re-crossing the River.—The Thirtythird in its Old Camp.— Families on the Picket Line.— A Courageous Female.— Changes in the Regiment.
The dawn of Sunday found the left Grand Division arranged in much the same order of the day previous. The Thirty-third still held the position which it had occupied during the afternoon. An attack from the enemy was now hourly expected, but they made no demonstrations, and what was most inexplicable to Gen. Franklin and every one else, failed to open their guns planted along the crest, and completely sweeping every part of the plain. The men rested on their arms, and the day was spent in removing the wounded from the field.
Collected in the rear of the Bernard House were several of the prisoners, who were addressed by Chaplain Lung in the afternoon. Prominent among the number was a member of the Fifty-fourth North Carolina, mostly composed of conscripted Union men. Finding that he could not escape to the North, or avoid being impressed, he concluded to accept $1,200, to go as a substitute, and desert at the
252 THE BERNARD MANSION.
first favorable opportunity. He was caught in the act, and sent to Richmond and imprisoned. On the day before the battle, he was hurried up to Fredericksburg, with several others, and sent to the front with a gun. When the enemy gave way before Meade's charge, he remained behind, concealed in the bushes, expecting our soldiers would come up and rescue him. The charging force failing, however, to follow up their success, he was seized with the most intense forebodings. Knowing full well that he would surely be shot, if thus caught in the act of deserting the second time, in a moment of frenzy, he whipped out his jack-knife, and made two perforations, opposite each other, in his left leg, hoping thereby to make his officers think that he was wounded, and on this account lagged in the rear. He afterwards fortunately made his escape. The wound was a poor apology for a gun-shot hole, though it might have passed muster with the rebel surgeons if he had been taken, and thereby saved his life.
The Bernard House, since destroyed by fire, was a large, elegant stone mansion, built after the English style, and fitted up in a princely maimer. The spacious apartments were furnished with velvet carpeting, damask curtains, statuary, and paintings— everything which wealth could command. Several large libraries of choice volumes evinced a literary taste on the part of the occupants, while the well stocked larder, and spacious wine-cellar, testified no less to their epicurean proclivities. The proprietor,
SUCCESSFUL RE-CROSSING OF THE BIVEB. 253
A. N. Bernard, a corpulent bachelor of the genuine F. F. Y. stamp, was arrested when our forces first crossed, for conveying information to the enemy. He was, however, granted the freedom of his house, and wandered about from one room to another, almost distracted at seeing the "Yankees" carrying away his furniture and books, devouring his sweetmeats, and drinking, in Union toasts, his imported liquors. He had sown the wind, he was now reaping the whirlwind.
Monday passed in much the same manner as Sunday. The enemy could be seen erecting new batteries along the crest, but did not open upon us. "Why this failure to shell our forces, which lay for two days upon the open plain, exposed to the destructive cross-fire of their guns, remains a mystery to our Generals to this day. They probably desisted, hoping that we would renew the attack, or were afraid to fire upon them, lest, infuriated and exasperated, our troops would, as a dernier resort, recklessly charge up the heights, and capture their batteries, at whatever cost. <
Monday evening the retrograde movement across the river, which had several hours previously been determined upon, commenced. The three Grand Divisions began crossing simultaneously. A light rain and a heavy wind blowing away from the enemy, favored the perilous movement, and it was conducted in safety. A more masterly retreat from before an enemy was never executed. So secretly had all the preliminary movements been conducted, that
254 MAGNITUDE OF THE BATTLE FOUGHT.
when the various Regiments were quietly ordered to fall in, they supposed it was for a night attack. The Thirty-third re-crossed about 9 o'clock, and before morning the entire army was over.
Thus terminated the first battle of Fredericksburg, the greatest we had yet fought, and surpassing in magnitude that of Waterloo. General Lee had three hundred guns in position, and one hundred thousand men (see London Times' Correspondence); General Burnside nearly the same number of guns, and one hundred and thirty thousand men; whereas the combined forces of Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo, before the arrival of Blucher, amounted to only one hundred and fifty thousand; two hundred and forty pieces covering the whole amount of their artillery.
We were repulsed, but not dispirited.
Such brave, heroic fighting as the Union Soldiers performed on that bloody Saturday, has never been surpassed, and will ever redound to the glory of our arms. For nine long hours they stood upon an open plain, exposed to the cross fire of hundreds of hostile cannon, unprotected by shelter of any kind, and fought an enemy concealed in forests, behind breastworks and in rifle-pits. Had no delays occurred at the outset, the assault would undoubtedly have proved successful, but after the enemy had had time to withdraw all their forces from below and mass them in front, defeat was a foregone conlusion.
REBEL OFFICERS PUT TO FLIGHT.
Officers and men were disposed to believe that the movement had been peremptorily ordered from Washington, until the appearance of General Burnside's frank and manly letter, assuming the entire responsibility. From that time forward, the army questioned his military capacity, but could not refrain from admiring his qualities as a man.
After re-crossing the river, the Thirty-third bivouacked in the dense woods near by, where it remained two days. Tuesday morning, a squad of rebel officers rode down over the battle-field to the Bernard House. This brought them within range of
our guns planted on Stafford Heights, and Battery 0, Fifth Regulars, immediately dropped a shell among them, which exploding, killed two, and sent the others fleeing back to the hills. The riderless horses dashed down to the river, and were shot by our men, employed in digging rifle-pits on this side.