The following is a Texas soldier’s letter home after the battle at Fredericksburg in late December 1862, and his account of the North Carolinian defenders at Marye’s Heights. It is remarkable that after the utter carnage of this battle and the already vast number of dead since mid-1861 – that Lincoln did not call for peace between the two Americas. It was within his power.
The Irish Brigade Repulsed on Marye’s Hill
“Between the last houses of the town [of Fredericksburg] proper and the stone fence stretched a piece of level open ground about two hundred yards wide. Entering this, the Federals halted a second or two to reform their lines; and then, some shouting “Erin go bragh,” they and others the Yankee huzzah, they rushed immediately forward against a storm of grape and cannister that, as long as the guns on the hilltop could be sufficiently depressed, tore great gaps in their ranks.
But, wavering not, they closed together and rushed onward until within fifty yards of the stone fence, when in one grand, simultaneous burst of light, sound and death, came a blinding flash, the deafening roar, the murderous destruction of two thousand well-aimed rifles, the wild, weird blood-curdling “Rebel Yell,” and two thousand Irishmen sank down wounded or dead, and a cowed and demoralized remnant sought safety in inglorious flight.
Seven assaults were made on that stone fence during the day, and five thousand Irishmen were sent to eternity before Gen. Burnside convinced himself that Lee’s position was impregnable. Only two regiments of our division were actually engaged in this undertaking – the Fifty-seventh and Fifty-fourth North Carolina – both comprised of young conscripts under twenty as well as old men – all dressed in homespun and presenting to the eyes of us veterans a very unsoldierly appearance. Ordered to drive the enemy back, these two regiments not only charged with surprising recklessness, but kept on charging the enemy until Gen. John B. Hood recalled them.
As they passed our veteran brigade on their return, one old fellow halted, wiped the powder grime from his weather-beaten face with his sleeve, and wrathfully exclaimed, “Durn old Hood, anyhow! He jes’ didn’t have no bus’ness ter stop us when we’uns was a-whippin’ the durn blue-bellies ter hell an’ back . . .”
(The Irish Brigade is Repulsed on Marye’s Hill. A Soldier’s Letters to Charming Nellie, J. B. Polley. The Blue and the Gray, Vol. One, Henry Steel Commager, Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1950, pp. 242-243)