“Wiz, Wiz, Wiz,” or, Frank Hall’s Account of the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 1862
The more time I spend reading his letters to Fannie, the more my admiration and respect for Frank Hall grows. This is the third installment of his letters and we are only beginning to scratch the surface. Frank’s stream-of-consciousness experiences were written in daylight, in moonlight, by firelight, and even while mounted on Zollicoffer. By the time he mustered out of service in May 1863, he had penned 109 numbered double-sided pages. I had hoped that we would get all the way through the battle of Fredericksburg in this installment, but Frank simply has too many observations to share. We might not event make it all the way through the battle next issue. Without further ado, here’s Frank.
Well I was going to say the Major [Frank Palmer] and I yesterday morning [December 11, 1862] on the march went down an icy decent to water our horses in the brook. Old Zollicoffer fell down flat. I got off at once and patted him and soothed him and he rose most beautifully. I have sent off Frank, one of the hospital boys, to tell Edo to get me some more paper from the men…
The cavalry has come in and the 16th has advanced; we are now in a ravine. Oh, what an immense plain there is above; most suspect for a battle field. They think the enemy are in the hills far beyond. The batteries have gone forward on the vast plain above when our regiment was in position. I stood with old Zollicoffer in the center of the regiment.
The Colonel [Joel J. Seaver] is a splendid old fellow. He had the men draw up in camp (just before leaving) to have service but the order came to move so we moved and are here now.
Well to return to the Major and myself on the hill yesterday. Soon the order came to call in the pickets and march on as rapidly as possible. The cannonading had ceased for a time and we began to fear that they had not put the pontoons across the river. I had just completed the last prayer meeting with the farther company on the left when the Major rode up and asked me if I would but see if all the pickets were in and to hurry them.
So I put spurs to old Zollicoffer and rode along the pickets line about a mile or mile and a half to the end and hurried up Captain [Albert M.] Barney’s Company and the rest were all up on the road.
The regiments are advancing all the while. There are regiments laying under cover of the hill top just in advance of us and the 16th are below in the same. The Major and myself are in the end here with Dr. [Charles C.] Murphy and Colonel and there now the west line of our infantry is advancing with the army up to the front.
Oh, what a sight, the whole line is moving. The sound of cannon several miles up on the troops line. A rebel cannon has just discharged on the hill. Wiz, there goes the opening ball of today. It passed nearly ten or fifteen feet over head. Wiz Wiz. There goes another, wiz another. I thought it nearly struck right in our regiment. Wiz Wiz, here they are exploding all the while. We have gone down in the ravine. Now they are firing right over our heads.
Oh, the battle of today the 2nd day is begun. The balls and shells are striking and exploding all around, solid shot and shells…The artillery and men are all down here under the hill; there is one shell burst in the air and a boy of my drill has handed me a piece of the broken plug. One fellow is wounded hurt in the arm. We can’t attend to him till the troops get out of the valley.
There goes old Chaplain Adams. There is a hole in the ground about fifty feet off made by solid shot, was right under a house. We have all gotten off of our horses now; Zollicoffer is held by Edo. There goes General [Thomas Hammond] Talbot.
It is most remarkably strange, but it has already become monotonous. The sergeant of the battery just gave orders for another man for they are hurt in the hand. I am with Dr. Murphy and Pardy [Charles J. Pardee, assistant surgeon]. Now the firing has ceased and the troops are preparing to advance and what I can see is of course compared to the whole, of a mere handful. One of our guys here just brought me an unexploded shell and there goes another one, wiz over head.
Now I must go back to yesterday. We marched up towards Fredericksburg and somewhere wheeled up in the woods (the commanding is now going on farther up the line. We don’t know, but we may have a hundred thousand men here and a front of ten miles).
Well we wheeled into the woods, I say yesterday, and then when they bivouacked and had taken a lunch Pliny Moore, Dr. Wallen, and the Major, and myself were off to see the shelling of Fredericksburg. The Major went with us as far as he could leave the regiment and then Pliny and Wallen and myself went in opposite to the city and sited ourselves between two of the batteries and they were firing on each side of us and oh what a sight. They ploughed right into the buildings, racking them to pieces and setting them on fire. It was fearful, but the rebels did not reply at all; we had it yesterday all our own way. One building they had a particular spite upon, because sharp shooters had troubled them from it.
Well we could not stay long so we marched back through the mud to camp and reached there just as the regiment was moving. The men were falling in and soon we marched off down upon the plain to cross the river as I previously told you and there was the rest of the army – the army of the Potomac and the flames of Fredericksburg in the distance and the signals on the hills. Soon came the order to countermarch and we return to the woods.
The battle has commenced this morning [December 13] on the extreme left before ten. Commenced suddenly with the rattle of musketry and there soon came the cannon and now they are sounding. It is very foggy.
Last night I road at will old Zollicoffer around the forward regiments and leaped a few ditches. He leaps splendidly. On my way back, I met little Pete, the Major’s boy, going out to an old barn beyond to get corn stalks for our bed. I joined him and found the soldiers coming out with beer. “Well chaplain,” says Pete, “you try and then I will try.” So I made a rush and after nearly loosing my half succeeded in getting an armful and then Pete did and we came back flying, taking the ditches on the way.
The Major and I went out to a straw heap on the plain and had the boys gather us some straw and soon we brought it back and made up our beds and laid down on the blankets and our heads in the hollows of our saddles and went to sleep as near spoon fashion as possible…A cavalry man was killed half way between our pickets and the enemy’s and they were fighting for the saddle of the horse.
In the night after Dr. Murphy and I had been talking side by side on our backs looking up to the stars (the Major lying on the left of me) I heard a gun fire and perhaps the desire for the saddle may have caused a man a death. A young officer had offered $15 for the saddle. Oh, the shells are wizzing at the left. They make such shrieks through the air. It is thought we will have a greater fight here than Antietam. Here is a shell burst in the air right over here. The corps stretchers, a while ago, came winding down into our ravine so we may have wounded brought in soon. Multitudes have been killed already. There go the stretchers out. They carry cots with handles, a man at each end…
[Major] General [William B.] Franklin commands our grand division the left wing. [Major General William F.] Smith our corps. [Brigadier General William T.H.] Brooks one subdivision. Babbitte our Brigade and Colonel Seaver our regiment…We are the 3rd regiment from the extreme right of our general division. They seem to be trying to turn our left. We are now supporting a battery (not yet engaged) on the hill. We are the second line of infantry behind and the shots are going briskly.
I have just been sweeping the hills in front with a glass and see the rebels thick all along the crest…Now we see a rebel signal flag, white with a red center, waving…An officer has gone, dashed off to report it now on a redoubt on the hill.
Now the cannons have commenced on the right, heavy guns. I am standing on a ridge and can see our regiments lying down under crests of hills all around. And there back of us we see our immense line of infantry moving (with flags flying) towards the left while guns are yet firing on the right…
The soldiers of our regiment have given me many letters to put in [the mail] after the battle and to write “all well” or if not well. They are at our left and right now…
There is a balloon up held with four ropes. It is in the direction of Fredericksburg. Fifty thousand troops had crossed the pontoon bridges by three o’clock yesterday and it is one continuous stream all the time. We now hold Fredericksburg and we being the 3rd regiment from the right of the left wing are near the center grand division. There now, the right and extreme left are now engaged and the firing brisk with cannon and occasional musketry. Oh! How immense this army of the Potomac is. The vast ravine is full of infantry under cover. I am now sitting on the crest looking down at our regiment. Now they have opened a battery on the hill opposite again. Wiz there goes a shell exploded in our valley. Wiz, how they come. There goes one right into the bank. There is another. Oh, that was a terrible one. The men are crawling up the hill under more cover. Now it is a roaring of the musketry off on the left that is telling. It is an unknown roar of musketry. On how it smokes on the left and the roar and now our battery in front is moving a little to the left.
Lightly Edited by John Krueger