Wednesday, May 1, 2013

April 30th 1863, 150 Years Ago

     April 30th 1863 was a memorable day, not in a good way, for the 13th Mass.   General Joseph Hooker's army made a flanking march around the Confederate Army entrenched at Fredericksburg.  With 3 Corps, Hooker went north, west, then south, crossing the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers to get a good position to strike at the Confederate line.

     The 1st Corps and 6th Corps were left behind, opposite Fredericksburg, to divert the enemy's attention while the flank march was underway.  The 13th were in the 1st Corps.  John S. Fay recorded in his memoirs:

"The Rebels had artillery in position on the hills about a mile and a quarter back from the river, from which they was trying to shell us but they did not succeed in getting range of us.  It commenced raining in the afternoon and continued to rain at intervals during the night and most of the next day.  The rebels would try to shell us every hour or two, but without effect until about three o’clock in the afternoon, when they succeeded in getting range upon us with a battery of twenty pound guns. About two o’clock a dispatch was read to us from Gen. Hooker stating that he had succeeded in crossing the river at United States Ford…We now knew that our movement was only a feign to draw the rebels down the river from the fords above us.  Gen. Hooker’s dispatch was received with great cheering which so provoked the rebels that they opened a vigorous artillery fire upon us, and advanced their infantry and commenced to skirmish with the first division [across the river]. Our division was en mass, so if a shell fell among us it must hit somebody."

Then it happened, at about 15 minutes past 5 p.m.  George Henry Hill of Company B, recorded it in a letter  to his parents:

"My last letter was written opposite Fredericksburg.  About an hour after it was written the Rebels opened upon us with shell and after firing about a dozen which went over our heads one burst in our regiment killing Capt. Bush & Lieut Cordwell and wounding Corpl Fay of Co F.  They were all sitting just in front of [me] when two of us were playing chess and the brains of Lieut Cordwell scattered all over us.  his head was taken off.   A hairs bredth more elevation and we would have received the benefit of it"

Captain George Bush, Company F, pictured right, had just returned to the regiment from Boston and was giving the men some news when he was struck by the shell in the side.  He died a few moments later.

   Sgt. Enoch C. Pierce who was standing nearby used handkerchiefs to tie a tight tourniquet around Fay's arm using a stick from the shattered rifle to twist it tight until the bleeding stopped.  He did the same for Fay's leg.  Then Pierce and private Andrew J. Mann, carried Fay up a hill behind their lines to the division field hospital.   (Enoch C. Pierce, Pictured).

Fay wrote:

 "When they was carrying me to the hospital, I was satisfied that my leg and arm would have to be amputated, after they got me there and the doctors told me so I requested that Dr. A.W. Whitney of my Regiment should perform the operation. After waiting a few minutes for him to get through with another patient that he was at work upon when they carried me in.  They gave me chloroform and that was the last  that I knew until about half past  eight when I came out of the effects of it and found my right hand and right leg amputated."

Pictured is the Fitzhugh House, formerly Sherwood Forest, the estate of a prominent local resident used as a Field Hospital opposite Fredericksburg in 1863.  Surgeon Allston Whitney of the 13th Mass. had charge of the hospital.  It was here that Fay's two limbs were amputated in one of the front rooms.  Pictured below is the center hall of the mansion.  Photo was copied from the .Spotsylvania Civil War Blog

Fay would survive the trauma, with the dubious distinction of being the most seriously maimed man from the regiment, but his ordeal was not over.  The hospital was captured when the Union Army moved north during the Gettysburg Campaign.  Those that could be evacuated to safety in Washington were moved, but those still recovering  from serious wounds were not.   While still recovering from 2 amputations, Fay would have to endure several weeks captivity at infamous Libby Prison in Richmond.  Dr. Whitney would not abandon his patients and was also incarcerated at Libby - for 4 months.

 The 13th Mass. were again lucky, during the week that followed the shelling.  They were not heavily engaged in the Chancellorsville battles, which were even bloodier than Fredericksburg.  Samuel S. Carleton was killed May 4, and 6 others were wounded during an afternoon reconaissance.

The men  suffered from the usual exposure and had a fatiguing 22 mile march to the front, but in this way it was not unlike some of their other experiences in other campaigns.  One might wonder if April 30th was not the most  memorable event of the campaign for the veterans of the 13th Mass.  Especially since Fay lived a long life and was active in post war regimental activities.

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