Category Archives: Fredericksburg Campaign

March to Belle Plains

Any thoughts of setting up camp at Falmouth were quickly put aside when Col. Morris’s Brigade was ordered to march about nine miles farther to a landing and depot on the Potomac River known as Belle Plains. It should have been an easy march, and the first three miles were covered without incident. But as had become all too common, an easy half-day march turned into a slog in lousy weather that lasted a day and a half. The last six miles were plagued with marching and counter-marching, and Sgt. Ben Hirst estimated the actual distance marched at twenty-two miles. Of course, the men blamed Col. Morris for the dual crimes of getting lost and fatiguing his men. And Col. Morris blamed the entire affair on a local guide sympathetic to the Rebel cause.

Sgt. Hirst made no secret of what he thought of his brigade commander, Col. Morris. The colonel didn’t give the usual commands while on the march. According to Hirst Col. Morris would order “Bunch Em Up” or “Straighten Em Out,” so the men started calling the colonel “Old Bunch Em.”

It was raining steadily when the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut finally arrived at Belle Plains late in the afternoon on November 18. Soaking wet wood made the lighting fires impossible, so the men bedded down for the night on the cold, wet ground and tried to get some sleep.

The stated purpose of the excursion to Belle Plains was to guard the landing and supply depot from Rebel attack, but of the three weeks they spent there, most days would be filled with the heavy labor of unloading was material of every kind from the many cargo vessels that tied up at the landing every day.


A Change at the Top

The men of the Fourteenth Connecticut marched through the town of Warrenton, Virginia on Saturday, November 8th. The day before they had seen the first snow of the season. It was also on the 8th the men learned that President Lincoln had relieved Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan of duty and elevated Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside to command of the Army of the Potomac.

Gen. McClellan reviewed the troops at Warrenton for a final time. Sgt. Benjamin Hirst reported, “I saw warriors weep as he rode by, while hats and caps were thrown high in the air by the men and officers.” Their beloved general was gone and few of the men had any confidence in his replacement. Gen. Burnside himself protested to President Lincoln that he was not the right man for the job.

The men camped near Warrenton until November 15th. Two days of marching brought them to Falmouth, directly across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg, where Sgt. Hirst penned this interesting entry in his journal: “I had a talk with a native Butternut. He told me there were not over 300 Rebels over the river at Fredericksburg and there was a good ford just below the dam. Our division of the 2nd Corps was in the advance and we fully expected to be ordered across and secure the city. Gen. Sumner and his staff had a talk at the head of the column, which resulted in our camping where we were.”

Once again, failure of commanders to sieze the initiative would cost the army dearly, and many, many more men would lose their lives or be greivously wounded.

On the Move…Finally

During the last few days of October, the Army of the Potomac started to move. One by one the many regiments left their encampments and joined the long slow procession southward.

The Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry left Bolivar Heights about noon on Thursday, October 30. They crossed the Shenandoah River near where it flows into the Potomac, marched along the Potomac toward Leesburg, Virginia, then marched south into the Loudon Valley. Progress was slow, sometimes only a few miles per day. The few roads were choked with men on foot and men on horseback, and thousands of horse or mule drawn wheeled vehicles—artillery pieces, caissons, ammunition chests, a multitude of wagons filled with ammunition, rations, officers’ baggage, and sutlers’ stores.

Whenever the army stopped for the night, units were sent out to guard the approaches over the Blue Ridge to the west. Troops stationed at the crest of these gaps reported the amzing sight of seeing thousands of Union campfires spreading out across the Loudon Valley to the east, and thousands of Rebel campfires spreading across the Shenadoah Valley to the west.

The Loudon Valley was a beautiful and verdant area of gently rolling farmland, cattle pastures, and horse farms, bounded by wooden rail fences. There were certainly abundant stores of good, nutritious food at every farm, but the Union army posted guards to prevent pillaging. Sgt. Hirst reported that when attempts were made to purchase food from the Virginia farmers, they would not accept Federal greenbacks, only Confederate money. With a hint of chagrin Hirst found some contentment in the steady supply of pork, hardtack, coffee, and sugar.

On November 3rd, Hirst also reported on the strength of the regiment—only about 460 men, a loss of over fifty percent of its fighting strength in little more than two months.