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ruined city! Look at the farms and plantations laid waste ! Look at the complete paralysis of business ; the rich reduced to poverty; the men and boys with one arm, one leg, or one hand; the tens of thousands of graves ; the broken families ; - it is all the result of vanity! vanity!”.
He showed me the road to the Heights, and we parted on the corner.
FREDERICKSBURG stands upon a ridge on the right bank of the river. Behind the town is a plain, with a still more elevated ridge beyond. From the summit of the last you obtain an excellent view of the battle-field ; the plain below the town where Hooker fought; the heights on the opposite side of the river manned by our batteries; the fields on the left; and the plain between the ridge and the town, where the frightfullest slaughter was.
Along by the foot of the crest, just where it slopes off to the plain, runs a road with a wall of heavy quarried stones on each side. In this road the Rebels lay concealed when the first attempt was made to storm the Heights. The wall on the lower side, towards the town, is the “stone wall ” of history. It was a perfect breastwork, of great strength, and in the very best position that could have been chosen. The earth from the fields is more or less banked up against it; and this, together with the weeds and bushes which grew there, served to conceal it from our men. The sudden cruel volley of flame and lead which poured over it into their very faces, scarce a dozen paces distant, as they charged, was the first intimation they received of any enemy below the crest. No troops could stand that near and deadly fire. They broke, and leaving the ground strown with the fallen, retreated to the “ ravine,” – a deep ditch with a little stream flowing through it, in the midst of the plain.
“ Just when they turned to run, that was the worst time for them !” said a young Rebel I met on the Heights. “ Then our men had nothing to fear; but they just rose right up and STORMING OF FREDERICKSBURG
let 'em have it ! Every charge your troops made afterwards, it was the same. The infantry in the road, and the artillery on these Heights, just mowed them down in swaths! You never saw anything look as that plain did after the battle. Saturday morning, before the fight, it was brown; Sunday it was all blue ; Monday it was white, and Tuesday it was red."
I asked him to explain this seeming riddle.
“Don't you see? Before the fight there was just the field. Next it was covered all over with your fellows in blue clothes. Saturday night the blue clothes were stripped off, and only their white under-clothes left. Monday night these were stripped off, and Tuesday they lay all in their naked skins.”
“ Who stripped the dead in that way?”.
“It was mostly done by the North Carolinians. They are the triflin'est set of men !”.
“What do you mean by triflin'est ? ”.
“ They ha'n't got no sense. They 'll stoop to anything. They ’re more like savages than civilized men. They say "we 'uns' and you ’uns,' and all such outlandish phrases. They've got a great long tone to their voice, like something wild.”
“Were you in the battle ?"
“Yes, I was in all of Saturday's fight. My regiment was stationed on the hill down on the right there. We could see everything. Your men piled up their dead for breastworks. It was an awful sight when the shells struck them, and exploded! The air, for a minute, would be just full of legs and arms and pieces of trunks. Down by the road there we dug out a wagon-load of muskets. They had been piled up by your fellows, and dirt thrown over them, for a breastwork. But the worst sight I saw was three days afterwards. I did n't mind the heaps of dead, nor nothing. But just a starving dog sitting by a corpse, which he would n't let anybody come near, and which he never left night nor day;— by George, that just made me cry! We finally had to shoot the dog to get at the man to bury him.”
The young Rebel thought our army might have been easily destroyed after Saturday's battle, — at least that portion of it which occupied Fredericksburg. “We had guns on that point that could have cut your pontoon bridge in two; and then our artillery could have blown Burnside all to pieces, or have compelled his surrender.”
“ Why did n't you do it ?”
“Because General Lee was too humane. He did n't want to kill so many men.”
A foolish reason, but it was the best the young man could offer. The truth is, however, Burnside's army was in a posi. tion of extreme danger, after its failure to carry the Heights, and had not Lee been diligently expecting another attack, instead of a retreat, he might have subjected it to infinite discomfiture. It was to do us more injury, and not less, that he delayed to destroy the pontoon bridge and shell the town while our troops were in it.
The young man gloried in that great victory.
“ But,” said I, “ what did you gain? It was all the worse for you that you succeeded then. That victory only prolonged the war, and involved greater loss. We do not look at those transient triumphs; we look at the grand result. The Confederacy was finally swept out, and we are perfectly satisfied.”
“Well, so am I,” he replied, looking me frankly in the face. “I tell you, if we had succeeded in establishing a separate government, this would have been the worst country, for a poor man, under the sun." "How so ?”
There would have been no chance for white labor. Every rich man would have owned his nigger mason, his nigger carpenter, his nigger blacksmith; and the white mechanic, as well as the white farm-laborer, would have been crushed out.”
“You think, then, the South will be better off without slavery?”
“ Certainly, I do. So does every white man that has to work for a living, if he is n't a fool."
NEGRO WHO DID N'T SEE THE FIGHT.
“Then why did you fight for it ?”
“We was n't fighting for slavery; we was fighting for our independence. That's the way the most of us understood it; though we soon found out it was the rich man's war, and not the pore man's. We was fighting against our own interests, that's shore !”
There is a private cemetery on the crest, surrounded by a brick wall. Burnside's artillery had not spared it. I looked over the wall, which was badly smashed in places, and saw the.overthrown monuments and broken tombstones lying on the ground. The heights all around were covered with weeds, and scarred by Rebel intrenchments; here and there was an old apple-tree; and I marked the ruins of two or three small brick houses.
On the brow of the hill, overlooking the town, is the Marye estate, one of the finest about Fredericksburg before the blast of battle struck it. The house was large and elegant, occupying a beautiful site, and surrounded by terraces and shady lawns. Now if you would witness the results of artillery and infantry firing, visit that house. The pillars of the porch, built of brick, and covered with a cement of lime and white sand, were speckled with the marks of bullets. Shells and solid shot had made sad havoc with the walls and the woodwork inside. The windows were shivered, the partitions torn to pieces, and the doors perforated.
I found a gigantic negro at work at a carpenter's bench in one of the lower rooms. He seemed glad to receive company, and took me from the basement to the zinc-covered roof, showing me all the more remarkable shot-holes.
“De Rebel sharpshooters was in de house ; dat 's what made de Yankees shell it so.”
* Where were the people who lived here?”
" Dey all lef' but me. I stopped to see de fight. I tell ye, I would n't stop to see anoder one! I thought I was go'n' to have fine fun, and tell all about it. I heerd de fight, but I did n't see it!” "Were you frightened ?”