Philo Emery, 4 May 1863

In this letter, Philo Emery writes his mother of the assault on Marye’s Heights during the Second Battle of Fredericksburg in which the 2nd Vermont (part of the Vermont Brigade in Sedgwick’s VI Corps) participated. Only two Mississippi regiments, the 18th and 21st, under Brig. Gen. William Barksdale—about 1,200 men and eight guns—defended the entrenchments. Maj. Gen. Jubal Early’s Louisiana regiments and a brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. Cadmus Wilcox guarded the northern flank of the Confederate line.

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Private Andrew J. Wills of Co. E was wounded in the stomach by a spent bullet on 3 May 1863. Jeffrey S. Jones Collection.

After attacks on the flanks were repulsed, Sedgwick boldly decided to attack the center of the line—hard and fast—believing the lightly held, though strongly fortified position could be overrun if his men fixed bayonets and did not stop to reload as they charged up the slopes. He arranged for the assault to be made in three lines, the first composed of the 7th Maine, and two battalions of the 21st New Jersey and the 33rd New York. The 2nd Vermont was in the second line along with the 6th Vermont and the 26th New Jersey. The third line included the 3rd Vermont, 6th Vermont, and the rest of the 21st New Jersey.

In fifteen to thirty bloody minutes in the late morning of May 3, Sedgwick’s troops achieved their objective but lost 1,100 men in the process. This letter was written from the camp of the 2nd Vermont the morning after the battle before the regiment was marched out on the Orange Plank Road into the Wilderness where lead elements of Sedgwick’s Corps had met resistance at Salem Church the evening before.

Readers are referred to the excellent book by Paul G. Zeller entitled, The Second Vermont Volunteer Infantry Regiment, 1861-1865. Edson Emery’s Diary was referred to extensively by the author in preparing the manuscript.


Camp on the Battlefield near Fredericksburg
Monday Morning, May 4 [1863]

Dear Mother,

Yesterday at 11 A. M. our regiment charged the Rebels in their entrenchments & carried the works. Edson & myself are all right but our Regiment lost heavy. Fred Chamberlain & Corporal [Thomas R.] Williams of our company were killed & 7 wounded. I think our regiment lost over one hundred in killed & wounded. We took two brass cannon & many prisoners.

It was the most brilliant charge ever made by any regiment. We had ¾ of a mile to go to get on to the hill. The Rebels shelled us all the way. Fred Chamberlain was killed close by my side. He was shot through the throat. He lived about two minutes. We were both firing from behind the same tree. You can tell Mr. Bicknell’s folks about it. ¹

We have taken the city & advanced some. Do not worry about us. We shall try & do our duty. — Philo

To mother

¹ “Pvt. Frederick W. Chamberlain, a member of Co. E from Royalton, was hit in the neck by a minié ball that severed his jugular vein. He fell to the ground with a stream of blood spurting from his wound. Several of his friends gathered around him and told him that he did not have long to live, asking if he had any last words to send home. ‘Tell them that I was a good soldier,’ was his reply, and within five minutes he was dead. Pvt. [Wilbur] Fisk wrote, ‘He had been with the regiment from the beginning, and was never excused by the surgeon but five days during the whole time, and two of those days was in consequence of a wound received at Fredericksburg before.’ Sgt. Charles Morey wrote of his childhood friend, ‘he was one of the best soldiers in the company and he came to his end in the line of duty defending that ‘old flag which so proudly waves ‘ore the land of the free and the home of the brave.'” [Paul G. Zeller’s book, “The Second Vermont Volunteer., page 131]

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