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Fredericksburg: Horrors of War

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Source: Rutgers University Special Collections and University Archives.


Bivouac 15th N.J.V.


In a Ravine 1/2 mile


East of Fredericksburg, Va


Dec. 14, 1862


My Dear Father,


I received your letter and papers today and am much obliged for them.


I wrote to Mother from our camp near King George. We left there on the 11thand marched to the banks of the Rappahannock River two miles below Fredericksburg and encamped, heard the cannon roaring all day. Started across the pontoon bridge (or rather across one of them for there are five) and supported one of our batteries which was shelling the enemy after a while we were taken down into a deep ravine and made to lie down flat which we had no sooner done than the shells began to come down with their "W-h-i-a-baa-ng" a long continued, terrifying noise which makes a man involuntarily start. They fell pretty sharp and thick and threw the mud all over us and wounded one man in the 2nd N.J. Regt. At dark we came up the ravine to where we now lie.


The next morning we were ordered out on the outmost pickets posts and the ball then opened at about 9A.M. the shells flew all over us and around us but luckily hit no one.

In the afternoon the Rebel Pickets made a charge on ours and were met at 25 or 30 yards by a murderous fire from our boys. The left camp of our Regt. (F,K, G, & B) had it pretty hot now and in the skirmish Sergt. Maj. John P. Fowler was hit in the leg by a rifle ball and bled to death in 5 minutes. Maj. James M. Brown was struck by a spent ball in the leg but not badly. Capt. Slater of Co. G. was wounded in the leg by a minie ball and had it amputated. Co. F. lost a man and I believe Co. C., Co. B. had a few wounded. We (our Regt) lost 3 men killed and 10 wounded. The Rebels were eventually driven in.


The 4th N.J. made a dash and captured a rebel rifle, hit but could not hold it in the fight. Col. Hatch was wounded in the leg and it was amputated.


The battle on the Right and left wings was general but in the centre there were but few shots fired.

Our company was not disturbed at all and we were relieved this morning.They are now fighting on the right but not on the left wing.The enemy is in great force here and has every natural advantage.

Sergeant — Major Fowler-s body was at first captured by the Rebels and robbed by his watch and purse but not his saber and then relinquished and buried by our men.


I must stop now as it is getting dark. Get large 6's boots.

Write soon.


I expect we will be engaged in a big battle tomorrow and next day.


If I survive I will write you immediately.


Give my love to all and write soon to


Your loving,


Son Ellis

Col R. Hamilton Camden N. Jersey


  1. Establish historical empathy with Ellis Hamilton by reading his description of the Civil War skirmish near Fredericksburg on Dec 14, 1862. How does he describe the horrors of battle?
  2. This letter is a description of a skirmish rather than a major battle. How does our historical perspective of this differ from a soldier's perception of a skirmish?