Thursday, December 13, 2012

The 48th/150th: "The only thing we want to see is the war over:" Lt. Curtis C. Pollock's Fredericksburg Account

One of the best accounts of the 48th's actions at the Battle of Fredericksburg was penned by Lt. Curtis C. Pollock, of Company G, on December 18, 1862.

Pollock was only 18 when he enlisted as a corporal in 1861, but he rose quickly through the ranks to the rank of 1st Lieutenant, of Company G. A brave young officer, Pollock was struck down and mortally wounded in June 1864 at Petersburg, Virginia.

Camp near Fredericksburg
December 18, 1862
My dear Ma
Today a week ago
[December 11, 1862] we marched off about half a mile from our present camp expecting to cross the river at once but were halted there. All day we laid in mud about three inches deep and listened to the artillery firing which was kept up incessantly all day. Towards evening we were ordered back to camp and hardly got there and our things off before we were ordered to fall in again and off we started to cross the river but we had not got farther than the place where we had lain all day when the order was countermanded again and back we went to camp. We slept very comfortably and were aroused before daylight to get ready to cross. We had not more than eaten our breakfast before the order came and on we started, this time in earnest. When we arrived at the bridge we found it already to cross. We crossed at the upper bridge, where they had two [pontoons] down. I see by the papers that this is called the lower bridge, but in fact it is the upper one being at the upper end of town. Well we got safely across, though the Rebs fired a few shells at us while crossing and though they fell into the river it was too far up to injure any of us.

As soon as we crossed we were formed in line of battle along the shore and afterwards we marched up into the street to let other troops take our places. We laid in the street about half an hour when we were again moved forward to the gardens behind the house, here we laid nearly all day and the men wandered all over town bringing in tobacco, etc of which they found in abundant supply in the town and as they were out of money and no way to get it, it was very acceptable. They also brought a number of books, some very handsomely bound and works of the best authors. Co. G got a complete set of Waverly novels, very finely bound in muslin. I have one of them. I did not run around much being afraid of the regiment moving. In one very handsomely furnished home a ball struck a piano and knocked it from the corner, in which it was standing to the center of the room and destroying it entirely.

Everything was apparently left in great haste and the men could be seen walking around with every imaginable article of household goods. One man brought into camp a large doll. . . others had lace, shawls, silk dresses and in fact everything. I was told that a man belonging to one of the batteries found a whole set of silver and carried it off.

About four o’clock we were marched down the street nearest the river to about the middle of the town and halted just in front of where a whole block of houses had been burned to the ground, nothing was left of them but the tall chimneys and the smouldering embers. Here we had orders to bivouac for the night and as we could not light any fires the men made their coffee and cooked their evening meal on the burning ruins. Soon after dark one of the chimneys fell down with a loud crash and as the men were lying all around under them at every little there was we all supposed two or three must be badly injured, if not killed, but by good fortune all the men got out but one, who was not seriously injured, he being near the bottom.

Soon after this I changed my bed, having made it close to the fire, and not wanting any [chimney] to fall on me, I moved to the other side of the road. It was quite cold, and I laid down to try and go to sleep. I do not know how long I slept, but I got awake feeling very cold, and, hearing a great deal of commotion around I got up and saw a crowd around one of the fires, and on asking what it meant, learned that another chimney had fallen down and hurt another man. I jumped up and went over. The doctor was there and I could tell by his face that he was seriously injured. He was carried off to the hospital but died before morning. It was too cold to go to sleep again so I sat up on a narrow drawer and fell asleep with my head on my hands, but I had hardly got to sleep before the drawer gave way and I fell into the fire and burned my wrist slightly. It did not take me long to get out of it, I tell you. Well, after that there was no more sleep for me that night.

Saturday morning rose as stated in the papers. About 10 o’clock we moved down the street to the lower end of town and laid there until about one o’clock. (The infantry firing commenced about 12), when we were moved out through town towards the firing. When we arrived at the outskirts of the town we were order to remain there in reserve, while the rest of the Brigade went out. We laid down behind a stable for some time, when one of the staff officers reported the rebels going to charge, and then we were ordered to support the men already out. We started off on a double quick across the fields and as soon as the Rebs saw us they commenced pouring in their shells thick and fast, but we kept on and by our going at double quick we escaped a great many of their shells, which otherwise would have fallen directly in our ranks. Gen. Sturgis complimented us very highly on the manner in which we went up and said it was the best line he ever saw go into a fight.

After a run of about a quarter of a mile we reached the place where the infantry was firing. they were posted behind a small hill and were firing over the hill at the Rebs who were behind a stone wall at the bottom of the hill, on the top of which they had their breast works, and near the stone fence ran a small creek between them and us. We were lying down behind the hill for a few minutes waiting for a Regiment to fire all their ammunition before we relieved them. When they were through we went up to the brow and commenced well, we fired away, but could not tell whether we did any damage or not. We were relieved by other troops who had come up while we were firing, and we went back out of the road. There was a regiment coming up soon after we were through firing (163 N.Y.) and as soon as they saw some of us some them fired right into us, taking us I suppose for Rebels, but after a great waving of flags on our part, they ceased firing and came up. They paid pretty dearly for their firing at us, for the Rebs seeing them stop dropped several shells right in their ranks and put them in great confusion. When they fired into us it killed two men, lying right at my feet, but never scratched me.

As soon as it was dark, we were marched back to town to get another supply of ammunition, and on the road we got mixed up with some other regiment and I lost my company. We went back to the place where we were the night before and, had hardly half the regiment but Col. Pleasants soon came up with the remainder. I went in the house that Col. J.K. Sigfried was quartered in and slept very comfortably.

Sunday morning we got up with the expectation of fighting again, and in fact it was rumored that Gen. Burnside had ordered the 9th A.C. to take the fortifications by storm, but we were lying around all day, in suspense afraid to leave for fear the regiment might move.

I slept in the same place that I did the night before, and the family who were living in the cellar came up occasionally and as there were two very pretty, and interesting young ladies who sang remarkably well, we managed to spend a very pleasant evening.

Monday morning came and we all were wondering what Burnside intended to do. We all thought it was folly to attempt to take the position which the Rebels held and we were getting anxious about lying around the town exposed to their artillery firing. The papers say so much about the men eager for the fray, but to tell the truth, you will not come across one man in the whole army who is not heartily tired of the whole thing and would like to see it settled any way at all. I thought I could see from the various movements about town that we were going to evacuate. The ambulance trains were running all day beside men carrying wounded men over the river on litters, old bed ticks, mattresses, chairs and in fact everything they could lay their hands on. This was kept up from morning until dark and I was told that the night before they were working quite as hard. Soon after dark we were marched off down the street the same way we went on Saturday and stopped at the same place. then the Colonel called the company commanders together and told us we were to go up to the outskirts of town and occupy the houses. We were to make loop holes through them large enough for one man to shoot through. From this I thought we were to direct the attention of the Rebs to the front while the remainder of the army went around and attacked them on the flank. but we had hardly got the work done when we were ordered to fall in again and marched back to town and over the same pontoon we crossed on before and marched up to our old camp. Thus ended the five days fight before Fredericksburg. There were some charges made on their fortifications but none got any farther than the creek. I was very glad we did not have to charge as we would have been almost entirely cut up. I believe that the position they hold is impregnable when attacked on the front.

We found our old shanty all knocked to pieces and for the first night we slept in with some of the men. But now we have one of our own again and much better and larger than the first. We have fine large fire places in it and warms it up finely. Lieut. Jackson was detailed to take a party over the river to bury the dead, and he tells us he has seen as much war as he wants to—He saw General Stuart and several other Rebel celebrities.

I commanded Company D and lost two men killed and two wounded. Co. G lost but one man wounded in the arm, not as the rebels could see, when each brigade left town and could have full sweep at them from that time until they got all the way up and under the shelter of the hill. Some regiments coming up you could see the shells bursting directly in their ranks and knocking men in all directions. Our regiment suffered less than most of the others and the reason of it is, I think that we went at it more systematically and did not get excited. Lieut. Jackson had a very narrow escape, a shell bursting directly in front of him and the powder burnt his neck and hands without doing any further injury.

It was quite cold last night but we slept very comfortably in our new house The weather was very mild all the time we were over the river, or the men would have suffered severely. We are getting along very well and are in good spirits, and the only thing we want to see is the war over. I think you will be pleased with this letter and about the only think that kept me at it so long was the thoughts of it pleasing you so much. I have had to stop and rest myself several times during the writing, but I have at last got it through and I am very glad of it.

With much love to all I remain your affectionate son,

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