It is Well That War Is So Terrible
It was warm Saturday morning, the 13th of December and a very unlucky day. Fog blanketed the city of Fredericksburg, Virginia on the banks of the Rappahannock River. At times, the fog was so thick that the infantrymen could not see their commanders. Just three months after the Battle of Antietam, the deadliest single- day battle of the war, the dying was about to begin again. It was supposed to be a glorious day or so many of the combatants believed. Before the slaughter ceased, 17,500 men would be dead or wounded.
The brigade of Brigadier General Edward L. Thomas, C.S.A., assigned to the command of Major General Ambrose Powell Hill's Division, Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's corps, was composed of the 14th, 35th, 45th and 49th Georgia regiments. The 14th Georgia was composed of ten companies, three from Middle Georgia: the Blackshear Guards, the Johnson Greys and the Ramah Guards of Wilkinson County. The Laurens Volunteers, the Wilkinson Invincibles, the Cold Steel Guards of Washington County and the Washington Guards were among the ten companies assigned to the 49th Georgia Infantry.
General E.L. Thomas moved his brigade from its camp at John Alsop's house to a point between the Military Road and the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad.
Just after noon, Hill's Confederates moved eastward to assault Gibbon's Federal brigade. Division Commander George Meade, who would later command the Union army at Gettysburg, launched a Union counterattack on the Confederate center, forcing a fatal gap between Pender's and Lane's brigades in the Confederate line.
The Confederates counterattacked. A second larger counterattack was cut short, when the Federals flooded the front lines with artillery fire. Gen. A.P. Hill reported, "Gen. Thomas, responding to the call of General Lane, rapidly threw forward his brigade of Georgians by the flank, and deploying by successive formations, squarely met the enemy, charged them, and joined by the Seventh and part of the Eighteenth North Carolina, drove them back, with tremendous losses, to their original position."
Hill would later say, "At the close of the battle, my brigades were still their original positions, except Thomas's Brigade, which was not recalled from the position it had so gallantly won in the front line." Thomas moved back to the railroad when he saw he had no support on his flanks.
General Thomas reported, "About midday of December 13, orders were received from Major General Hill to render assistance and support to any part of the front line requiring it." Soon after, an officer of General Lane's staff brought information that his brigade was hard pressed by overwhelming numbers. Thomas immediately advanced his brigade down the road, being unable, on account of the density of the undergrowth, to advance in line any further.
The brigade moved by the flank until near the scene of action, when the regiments were thrown into line of battle and advanced toward the enemy, who at this time had advanced into the woods.
Their advance was checked. After a stubborn resistance, this brigade charged them, driving them through the field and completely routing them.
"We pursued for some distance across the railroad, when, seeing no support either on the right or left, and my ammunition being reported to be well-nigh exhausted, I concluded to fall back to the railroad. Forming at this place the front line, I determined to hold the position, at the same time sending word to Colonel Edmund Pendleton, commanding a brigade, that I was deficient in ammunition, and requesting him to be in supporting distance," wrote Thomas.
That night, the brigade bivouacked in the edge of the woods, throwing out pickets on the railroad. They were relieved early the next morning by Col. E. T. H. Warren's brigade, and were placed in reserve.
At the bloody siege of Fredericksburg, Captain Thomas M. Yopp, commanding the Blackshear Guards, fell when a shell burst over him. His friend Bill Yopp rushed to his aid. Yopp, would later gain fame and recognition as one of the few true African American infantryman and the only African American Confederate to buried in the all white Confederate Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia.
Hill's Division suffered one half of the Confederate's total casualties and forty percent of Lee's Army's deaths.
"The Fourteenth Georgia under its gallant commander took an early conspicuous part. Unprotected by breastworks, it repulsed three heavy lines of battle. The losses of the regiment in the battle were twenty-four killed and eighty-eight wounded. After battle the regiment moved 10 miles south to Fort Gregg for the winter," wrote James Madison Folsom of Wilkinson County.
Laurens Countians killed in the fighting were: Carswell Davis, Uriah S. Fuller, Jonathan G. Hall, Among the wounded local men was: Charles Fulford, Henry Gay, Isaac Hall, Joel Hall, J.H. Herrington, Ebenezer Hilliard, James L. Jones, James W. Maddox, John McCant, R.H.C. McLendon, A.M. Nash, Aaron G. Odom, Terrell Perry, Elijah Register, Jethro Scarborough, Elijah Shepard, Martin Smith and James W. Stanley. Most of the casualties occurred among the Blackshear Guards of the 14th Georgia.
Hardy Bellflower was wounded and died from his wounds in a Richmond Hospital on Christmas Eve. It was duly noted that Hillary Wright, a native of Laurens County and a member of a Montgomery County regiment, had "part of his cheek bone gone."
The 49th Georgia regiment, which had a reputation for dash and gallantry, suffered the loss of 12 killed and 47 wounded.
The heaviest action, in the only battle of the war ever fought in the month of December, was to the north at the foot of Marye's Heights, where the Federals lost 6300 men in the one day struggle. Lee had won another decisive victory losing only one man for every two Federals.
After the Battle of Fredericksburg the Aurora Borealis could be seen from the battlefield that night. The Confederate army observing the ultra rare phenomena in the Virginia sky, took it as a sign that God was on their side during the battle, one hundred and fifty years ago this week.
The ghastly sight of so many thousands of dead and dying enemy soldiers prompted General Lee, from his observation point at the crest of Marye's Heights, to profoundly and somewhat sadly proclaim, "It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it."