An Engineer talks Fredericksburg

by Dan O'Connell on March 10, 2012 · 0 comments

As forewarned I will make my first blog on my pet project; engineers. This little seen letter comes from Captain Ira Spaulding of the 50th New York Engineers. It describes his experiences at Fredericksburg.

Head quarters Detachment of the 50th NY Engineers
Opposite Fredericksburg, December 20th (?), 1862

My dear Dunklee,
I have just received yours of Nov. 24th from Concord. Where the devil the letter had been all this time I cannot imagine. I begin to think that you like almost everyone else had forgotten me. I have not time now to write you a description of my doings since I wrote Mrs. Dunklee and up to my arrival here but will try to do it some time. When the attack was made on the enemy at Fredericksburg on the 11th instant I was to lay three bridges opposite the town and the 15th NY Engineers and the Regular Engineers each lay one about two miles below the town. The post of honor was assigned to me with my detachment of six companies, about six hundred men, but only four hundred for duty. The 15th and the Regulars were not attached while laying their bridges and lost no men. The enemy posted in the houses and behind walls and fences contested the construction of the bridges assigned me most obstinately and even with four regiments of infantry and about one hundred and fifty pieces of artillery to cover us we were repulsed three times. In the fourth attempt we succeeded in finishing two bridges and that night we finished the other. The army immediately commenced crossing. My loss was as follows;

Camp Pope Publishing

1 Captain killed 3 Captains wounded 4 total commissioned officers Enlisted men 7 killed 33 wounded 40 total privates and noncommissioned 44 killed and wounded this was out of about 120 men exposed over 1 in every 3 exposed.

I may say to you what I would not to everyone because it would look like boasting, that when my bridges were finished General Woodbury commanding our brigade shook me manly by the hand told me I had done nobly that I had exposed myself without glint and congratulated me on my success. During last night and this morning after having suffered terrible losses in the battles on the other side our troops evacuated Fredericksburg and after the rear guard had crossed we dismantled our bridges. We expected to have been attacked by the enemy while taking them up but were not. My bridge material is still in the water on the shore and just on the edge of the shore and in an attempt to remove it and put it on wagons we may suffer loss as the enemy are not likely to allow it to be removed if they can help it. I was to have removed a part of it tonight but on account of the passage of the flag of truce with the wounded the order was countermanded and we shall not make the attempt until tomorrow night.

You may have seen a paragraph in the papers which I understand went the rounds of all the Northern papers that “Major Spaulding and his officers were arrested for delays in bringing the ponton trains from Washington. The only notice I ever had of the arrest was contained in the newspapers and so far from being censured we were commended in high quarters for overcoming extraordinary difficulties. Someday I will try to write you a description of my trip.

The letter continues with the usual discussion of home affairs but Spaulding complains about the expense of being an officer in the following excerpt;

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I have not received any pay for nearly four months and am as poor as a church mouse. Besides all my other expenses being heavy my expenditure on horses is ruinous. I have used up several horses and in the attack on Fredericksburg I lost two horses with all their equipments.

It was a very tough month for Captain Spaulding.


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