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    Battle of Fredericksburg. A Remarkable Letter Concerning the 1862 Battle with Schematic Drawings. Twelve-page autograph letter signed, 5 1/8" x 7.75", dated December 15, 1862, Fredericksburg, Virginia, from Edgar A. Burpee to his father Alexander Burpee. In this remarkably detailed letter, written on the last day of the battle, Burpee offered his father an account of the fierce fighting in and around Fredericksburg. Burpee began his letter with a description of activities on the early morning of Thursday, December 11, the day the battle commenced. See a partial transcription of the letter in the extended decription on line.


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    "Being act. orderlie [sic] I summoned the company at 4 o'clock and gave them the orders and all immediately commenced operations. At the appointed hour we were in the line and took up our line of march down the hill to the plain and found the whole corps in motion....Let me say however that that at about 5 ½ o'clock while we were busy with our work, a report of a gun was heard....This was a signal gun and to us, indicated that something was in the process of being done. At 6 another was heard and immediately after the rattle of musketry and some other guns intermixed with musketry fire...proceeded from our forces at the river engaged in laying the pontoon bridge....We were here waiting for the pontoon bridge to be laid so we could cross. This was done by the engineer corps supported by the advance of our Div. Our Division being in advance of the whole corps. All this time the guns of both forces were constantly being fired and such a roar I never heard before. It seemed as the very heavens were filled with thunder....About 4 o'clock we moved forward toward the city and came upon the river bank amidst the dropping of rebel shells and at double quick crossed the pontoon bridge & set foot in the doomed city for the first time. We filed out into the street that runs along the river bank, having the honor of being the first regiment of our brigade in...as we entered, marched up the street some 5 or 6 rods in front of us, skirmishing and bullets of the rebs came whistling thickly over our heads & into our midst."

    At this point in the letter, Burpee drew a schematic drawing of how Union troops entered the town, including a pontoon bridges. This is one of three drawings in the letter. Burpee continued his description of the action as witnessed by him, sometimes in graphic detail.

    "We lay on the 2d street till about noon waiting for other brigades to come over & during that time our men were sacking houses...for the inhabitants when they left the city did it in haste & most of them left everything they had in their houses without moving them as the men went into the houses & used their dishes-stoves-wood-flour etc. & a fine meal was prepared....The ambulance corps were also engaged carrying off the dead and wounded. As the rebs were in the buildings & fired from them it gave our men a very hard chance to make their shots effective. Consequently we suffered considerably, but about the streets many a dead rebel lay, showing our men had not fought in vain. In the street where we were two or three rebels lay - one had his whole side & his arm shot off. Another had the top of his head & brains carried away - both a which were shocking sights."

    By noon of December 11, the Confederate forces had moved to the outskirts of Fredericksburg as Union troops poured into the town. Meanwhile Confederate batteries unloaded a constant barrage on the Union soldiers from the surrounding hill.

    "About 12 o'clock skirmishing commenced on our left and in half an hour our troops became engaged in good earnest. Regiment men went out to reinforce the pickets. Soon brigades advanced-batteries came to the front and a general movement commenced along the whole line...the streets were filled with moving lines of soldering. Officers were busy riding with speed to different parts of the city. Orderlies from the headquarters of the generals commanding issued forth with orders and the different brigades were quickly formed in position to advance. The whole force moved...toward the toward the rebel batteries....We could here see nearly the whole field and our brave men as they advanced under the heavy fire from the enemies batteries and the musketry fire from the rifle pits which made our situation very critical. Our men suffered greatly. The wounded were brought in by twos & threes & in quick succession. The dead thickly lay upon the field and our lines became rapidly thinned and we seemed to gain but little ground. The rebels had a grand position. Their fire was direct & yet they could cross fire & their men were entirely concealed by their pits. Their lines of battle stood up on the hill ready for reinforcement and it appeared almost impossible for us to make any impression upon them....The shriek of the shells-the rattle of the musketry seemed to shake both heaven and earth. If a man's knees shook any he could well say he wasn't scared any it was only the ground trembling under his feet."

    As the battle progressed into the next day, December 12, Burpee's position changed from observer to participant, as his brigade joined in the attack on the Confederate position.

    "About 4 o'clock our brigade was ordered on....On came other regiments and we were formed into Division, I suppose this was with the intention of charging up the hill in this manner. We immediately lay flat upon the ground to keep out of the rebels sight but a shell from their plank battery soon convinced us that they saw us and they commenced a cross fire, which, had their range been perfect, would have cut us up terribly. They could not depress their gun enough to hit us and out the "buggers" came out of their earthworks & commenced to shovel away & then they could not bring their piece to bear correctly & then they run their gun out of the work on the top of the hill in plain sight of us commenced a rapid fire which sent the shells into our brigade nearly every lick....Our regiment remained firm and in their advance preserved their line perfectly and gained by their good behavior the praises of the general in command....We lay here with this battery playing upon us for perhaps 10 or 15 minutes when our batteries commenced to return their fire and soon silenced it. All the men were driven from the gun & we saw one shell burst under the gun & throw it up much as two feet but did not disable it I think. When our shell strike their earthworks the dirt flies high in the air and the rebs skulked out of that quickly."

    Burpee had so much news to relate concerning the battle, that he had to stop in the middle of his narrative and closed his letter with "to be continued - Ed", without providing additional details concerning the entire four days of fighting.

    The Battle of Fredericksburg was fought from December 11 to December 15, 1862 in and around Fredericksburg, Virginia, between the Union forces of General Ambrose Burnside and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General Robert E. Lee. The battle was a major defeat for Union forces, which suffered tremendous casualties in what proved to be a futile attack on entrenched Confederate batteries on the hills on the outskirts of the town. The battle is remembered as one of the most one-sided of the Civil War. By December 15, Burnside was forced to withdraw his army from the town.

    Edgar A. Burpee (1839-1919) of Rockville, Maine, mustered into the 19th Maine Infantry as a private on August 25, 1862. He was promoted to the rank of captain, was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg, and was captured at the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road, Virginia, in June 1864. After the war, Burpee returned to Rockland, where he married Annie Farwell and joined his family's funeral business.

    This is a tremendous letter, filled with extensive details about concerning parts the battle as observed by one who was in the middle of the action. The letter, on patriotic stationary with red and blue colored borders, is written legibly in pencil and is in fine condition. The letter is accompanied by a partial typed transcript.



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