Maj. Gen. George G. Meade
Union Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside designated Meade's 3,800 troops to lead
his attack on Marye's Heights in the Battle of Fredericksburg.
Meade's men, Pennsylvanians all, moved out in the misty half-light about
8:30 a.m. and headed straight for Stonewall Jackson's line, not quite
a mile away.
Artillery fire expoded to the left and rear of Meade's lines.Maj. John
Pelham had valiantly moved two small guns into position along the Richmond
Stage Road perpendicular to Meade's axis of march.
When Pelham exhausted his ammunition and withdrew, Meade continued to
approach. Jackson let Federals close within 500 yards of the wooded elevation
where a 14-gun batery lay hidden in the trees.As the Pennsylvanians drew
near tot eh Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad north of Hamilton's
Crossing, Jackson's concealed artillery ripped gaping holes in Meade's
A full-scale artillery duel raged for an hour, killing so many draft
animals that the Southerners called their position "Dead Horse Hill."When
one Union shot spectacularly exploded a Confederate military wagon, the
crouching Federal infantry let loose a spontaneous Yankee cheer. Meade,
seizing the momen, ordered his men to fix bayonets and charge.
Meade's soldiers focused on a triangular point of woods that jutted toward
them across the railroad as the point of reference for their assault.
When they reached these trees they learned, to their delight, that no
Southerners defended them.
In fact, Jackson had allowed a 600-yard gap to exist along his front
and Meade's troops had accidentally discovered it. The Federals pushed
through the boggy forest and hit a brigade of South Carolinians, who at
first mistook them for retreating Confederates. Their commander, Brig.
Gen. Maxcy Gregg, paid for this error when a fatal bullet hit his spine.
Meade's men rolled forward and gained the crest of the height's, deep
within Jackson's defenses. Jackson launched a counterattack. Southerners
raised a "Rebel Yell" and slammed into the exhausted and outnumbered
Pennsylvanians."The action was close-handed and men fell like leaves
in autumn," remembered one Federal.
-The National Park Service