Welcome to "Remembering the 142nd PVI". The purpose of this site is post pictures, information, and the final resting places of this regiment of the American Civil War. It seeks to tell a "bottom up" history, straight from the common soldiers themselves. If you have any information concerning the 142nd, please email me at bmonticue@gmail.com. Thank you and enjoy.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

150th Anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg

Today marks the 150th Anniversary of the bloody battle of Fredericksburg, VA. Confederate forces held the town, and for two days, Federal forces under the command of General Ambrose Burnside had been building pontoon bridges across the Rappahannock River.

General Ambrose Burnside, of facial hair fame.
As the 142nd PA Infantry waited across the river from their first battle, they were doing so without their commanding officer, Col. Robert P. Cummins, who was sick in the hospital in Washington, DC. They were being commanded by Lt. Col. Alfred B. McCalmont. The regiment was part of a larger group of Pennsylvania units in Gen. John Reynold's First Corps. On the afternoon of Dec. 12, 1862, the 142nd crossed a pontoon bridge near Deep Run Creek, and spent the night on the Fredericksburg side of the river.

Most scholarship on the battle of Fredericksburg has centered around the Federal assault on the stone wall at the base of Marye's Heights that resulted in the destruction of so many Union troops. The 142nd was not involved in this action however. They were involved in an assault a few miles south of town, on what is now known as the Slaughter Pen Farm.

Battle map of Slaughter Pen Farm action, Dec. 13, 1862.  142nd is part of Magilton's Brigade .  PhotoCredit:www.civilwar.org

The boys woke up on the morning of the 13th knowing that they were going into their first battle. Company F's 1st Sgt. Jacob Zorn wrote extensively about the preparations for battle in his diary:

"At Seven oClock. we moved forward to the Left & front about a half mile when we were ordered to unfling Knapsacks. about this time the Reb Shells began to find us. which excited more than a little. Im sure we dodged when the Shells went high above our head. after unflinging knapsacks we moved forward. crossed. Bowlin green Road about 40 Yards beyond the Road and about twenty Steps in the Rear of our batterys we were ordered to lay down. after lying here Some time Col CUMMINS came riding into the field when least expected as he had been sent away Sick. hearing of the advance of the Army the Col left a Sick bed inorder to get to his Regt in time of nead but when come into the field the Regt gave three hearty cheers."

Further north, at Marye's Heights, Federal commanders kept sending wave after wave of troops to assault the stone wall that the Confederate forces used as cover. They never came close to breaking through the Confederate lines. The Slaughter Pen Farm was the only time the Union troops broke through southern lines. Under a helpful cover of dense fog, Federal troops under Gen. George Meade crossed the open fields and the railroad tracks. Sgt. Zorn wrote that "...the way the field was raked with Schell and canister is entirely beyond description."

The Union breakthrough was short lived, and soon the Federal troops were pushed back by the Confederate artillery batteries on the high ground. The 142nd  fell back away from the field of battle to the spot the occupied two days prior.

Federal losses for the day were high: 12,600 casualties to the Confederates 5,300. The 142nd PVI lost 270 men, killed, wounded, or missing.

Two days later, they would cross the pontoon bridges and settle in Culpeper, VA for their winter camp as combat veterans. In 1889, at the unit's second reunion,  the 142nd's final commander, Col. Horatio N. Warren spoke about his regiment's first battle:

"Here, my comrades, let me say, is where our first genuine experience of war commenced - here is where we passed the first ordeal that was calculated to try men's souls - here is where we heard the first rattle of musketry and knew and realized the leaden missiles, screaming past our ears, coming directly from the muzzles of well-aimed muskets, in the hands of our common enemy, must deal death and destruction to our ranks, and summon many a good friend and comrade to lay his life upon the altar of his country and manfully meet his God."

The Union loss at Fredericksburg was but the first faltering step taken by the 142nd PVI. This step would lead to a run that would end in Appomattox Courthouse, VA two and a half years later.