December 1862: 27th NC at Fredericksburg
Camp 27th NC Infty,
near Fredericsburg, Va.,
Dear Aunt Rob: According to promise, I will endeavor to give you some idea of the battle of the 13th inst. On Wednesday night, the 10th, we all went to sleep without one thought of a battle being fought at this place any time soon, but about three o’clock the next morning we were startled from our slumbers by the booming of our two signal guns, which we at once understood to be a call to arms, were were not long in getting in line, and shortly after daylight marched in the direction of Fredericsburg where we could hear the doleful sound of the Enemy’s Artillery battering down the city.
We were marched with one whole division to within half a mile of the city and drawn up in line of battle, where we remained about two hours and then were countermarched back to the Telegraph Road on top of a hill overlooking the city and the whole left of the battlefield. Here we bivouached for the day. On a high hill a few hundred yards in front of us where I went to get a better view of the City and the Yankee Army on the other side of the river, I found General Lee, Longstreet and Stewart, besides many other smaller fish, all congregated to observe the movements of the enemy.
General Lee was sitting on a stump with his glass, every now and then taking a look at the enemy. He was dressed quite plainly, and to a casual observer looked little like one who at that moment was cogitating in his mind the movements of a mighty army and planning to fight a terrible battle in which hundreds of thousands of men were to meet in deathly conflict — contrary he looked like a plain old farmer superintending some unimportant business on a farm.
General Longstreet was walking about with a shawl thrown over his shoulder, and as Jim Wilson remarked “looked like a large hog drover expecting his hogs to come up every minute.” General Stewart is a young dashing looking officer dressed in a fatigue suit with a roundabout jacket and a feather in his hat, and a fine looking man, but one would sooner take him for one of the fancy —— gentlemen than the great general he is.
But to return to my narrative. We left our — about 11 o’clock that night and were marched over in front of the city and again laid down in a ravine about 400 yards in rear of the position we were to occupy in battle. On Friday there was nothing done on our side except an occasional reply of our artillery to that of the enemy and some firing between our pickets. I took advantage of the opportunity and took a good look at the position selected for our Brigade to fight and found afterwards that my observations were of considerable advantage to me if in no other way it gave me the satisfaction of knowing that it was a strong position and we had comparatively a safe place to fight; during the cannonading we were under cover of a hill; but the shot and shell came sufficiently close to cause a rather uneasy sensation to come over us.
On Friday night we all laid down to sleep with the full conviction that next day would come the shock of battle. The next morning was a gloomy foggy one. Every- thing seemed quiet until about 8 o’clock when all of a sudden a furious cannonading and rattling of musketry commenced away on our right down the river. And we all began soon to congratulate ourselves that we would have no fighting to do on our part of the lines, but alas for human expectation. About 9 o’clock our pickets commenced firing occasionally and gradually increased their lick until about 11 o’clock when it became a continual rattle of musketry and the miserable little minnie balls began to come over our heads, making a very —— and uncomfortable noise, and then as if the racket was not sufficient to suit some of the more fastidious, nothing would do but they must go to shooting. When it was over I began to smell burnt powder and began to feel in a good humor with the Yankees.
A courier rode up to Gen. Cooke and asked for a regiment to support Gen. Cobb’s Brigade. General Cooke then said “Fall in 27th,” out I went; and, in less time than it takes to write it, the Regt was formed. At that moment, one of men from my old company (Robeson) was shot down by my side, mortally wounded. He was immediately taken off the field by the ambulance corps.
After General Cooke had given us some directions about where to go, he said, “Now, men, I want you to do this prettily; go on.” Off we went across an open field in the direction of the batteries of the Washington Artillery about 300 yards distant. The Regt moved in as steady and straight a line as I ever saw it on. When we got nearly to the batteries we could see the Enemy in great numbers before us and just below the artillery we could see the stone fence behind which we were directed to go. Then the Artillerists began to throw up their hats and cheer us, and, as if my intuition, the whole regt set up a yell and set off in double quick to the bottom of the hill. Fortunately for us the Enemy was in confusion as we came in sight of them and the fire was somewhat slackened. We lost some 6 or 8 wounded as we went into position, among them Col. Gibson with a painful flesh wound just above the knee. I also got a lick on my wrist by a minnie ball which however hurt my coat worse than it did my hide. After we started I dismissed all thought of getting hurt, and when we got behind the stone fence I felt pretty much at home for I knew I was safe unless I was foolhardy enough to unexpectedly expose myself above the fence — a thing I had but little inclination to do. Most of those who were killed and wounded after we got behind the fence did it by their own carelessness. One man in the Regt did not stop when he got to the fence, jumped up on the fence and hollered at the Yankees, “Here is your mistake!” Then very deliberately fired off his gun and got down behind the fence and went to work in earnest. The men all seemed cool and went to work as deliberately as if Genl. Lee had hired them by the job. The Enemy formed and advanced on us in heavy columns four different times, but the aim of our men was too much for them; each and every time they broke. At one time they ran off and left their flags lying on the ground. Our men were very anxious to go after them; but it would have been certain death to any number of men to have gone on that side of the fence. Their last charge was made about 20 minutes after dark (as we afterwards learned by Syke’s Regulars). After they formed and started, they set up a most terrible yell; and our men by way of expressing their contempt for them set up a counter yell which completely drowned their racket; but still they came on. We could not see them; but Col. Ruff of the 18th Ga. Regt. had a good glass by which he could see them, and he told the men when and where to fire; and at the very first volley they broke and ran which was the last of the ——. All of our Brigade and two regts. of —— were engaged.
If I had time I would try and give you a detailed account of the part taken by all the regts. All of them fought well. Only one other regt. of our Brigade (the 46, Col. ——) had the advantage of the stone fence for protection and even that regt. had to stop on the hill and let the Washington Artillery ——; consequently they lost heavily, but the 48th stood upon the top of the hill and fought 5 mortal hours where they had no protection whatever and being on a line with artillery they not only drew the fire of the Enemy’s infantry, but received all shelling from the Yankee artillery which was directed at our batteries. Those regts. suffered terribly notwithstanding our Brigade was more exposed and lost more men than any other Brigade. We have not been mentioned in Gen’l’s report or in any of the papers I have seen. On the contrary, the Ga. and S.C. get all the credit. It is true they fought well and did their part nobly, but it is very discouraging troops to fight as the N.C. Brigade in defending —— Hill and then see the troops of other states wearing all the laurels. I feel satisfied however that it will all ——.
Do write to me often. Your letters are such a treat to me. Alves been complaining a little but is not really sick. Give my love to everybody.
Your affectionate nephew,
“Civil War Letters To Robina Norwood (At Hillsboro, N C) From Joseph Caldwell Webb [These Letters Were Carefully Copied From The Original By Robina Mickle … and Presented To The Author]” From T.F. Hickerson, Echoes of Happy Valley (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Bull’s Head Bookshop, 1962), 70-72.
(Contributed by Dave Hunter)
For more information check out:
Roster of Company C, 27th NCT
Confederate Order of Battle for Fredericksburg
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