Saturday, April 1, 2017

What Carnage
5 x 7 pastel on Uart 8 ply board

Today, a quiet pall embraces each individual who walks the small lane that in December, 1862 would serve to be one of the bloodiest events of the American Civil War, later described with two simple words by a member of the 19th Massachusetts: “What Carnage!”

Fredericksburg, Virginia is situated on the Rappahannock River roughly mid way between Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia.  Between the dates of December 11-15, 1862, two American armies, the Northern or Union commanded by General Ambrose Burnsides (his famous whiskers would provide us with the now known sideburns) and the Southern or Confederates commanded by Robert E. Lee (often considered one of the greatest officer’s produced by West Point Military Academy).

Heading southbound on US Route 1 in Lynnfield, Massachusetts, you would in today’s world find yourself driving over a portion of what was in the 1860’s a training ground for soldiers in the volunteer regiments of the State of Massachusetts. Men who would find themselves involved in one of the most defining periods of US history: The American Civil War.

One of the first units that would train in this location was the 19th Massachusetts.  The19th was comprised of men from many of the surrounding towns. They would fight extensively in the Eastern Theater of the war as part of the Army of the Potomac. On December 13, 1862, the soldiers, of this unit would find themselves involved in the Battle of Fredericksburg. Fredericksburg would be one of the more lopsided battles of the war, as wave upon wave of Union soldiers would approach this wall, only to be cut down by the Southern soldiers defending the position.

Of the position, and prior to the Union assaults, Lt Colonel Edward Porter Alexander an artillery officer in the Army of Northern Virginia would tell James Longstreet, “A chicken could not live on that field when we open on it.” 

Today because of urban sprawl and development it is difficult to get a full appreciation of Alexander’s quote and of the daunting task the Union soldiers faced attempting to assault and take that wall, something they would never accomplish. At this wall, the Union Army would suffer eight casualties for every one sustained by the Confederates. For the Battle, which included assaults on Stonewall Jackson’s position south of this location, the loss would be almost 13,000 for the north and approximately 5,000 for the South.

Captain Henry Abbott of the 20th Massachusetts would exclaim that this was “nothing but murder”. While a soldier in the 19th Massachusetts would refer to the events before the wall with just two words: “What Carnage!”

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