Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Terrible would have been the fate of the 19th Indiana

Thinking today about Fredericksburg in December 150 years ago, and of  the Iron Brigade and Lt. Clayton Rogers:

Left behind a mile beyond what had been the Iron Brigade line in the retreat from Fredericksburg was the 19th Indiana, whose job it was to watch the Rebels and keep them at a distance. General John Reynolds had made the decision to abandon the Hoosiers to prevent an alarm during the withdrawal, but Colonel Lysander Cutler pleaded with the general and gotten permission to make an effort to save the regiment. When the Iron Brigade began marching for the bridges, Cutler sent his aide, Leutenant Rogers, with an order for the commander of the 19th Indiana to call in his pickets and march for the pontoon crossing. The splendidly mounted Rogers, a man with an eye for good horses, “rushed to the extreme left with no regard to roads but straight as a bee flies.” “The left once gained,” a friend wrote, “he moderates his pace and whispers into the ear of each astonished officer.” The order is passed by whispers and Rogers moved out to the picket line in a movement hidden by the stormy weather. A witness described the scene: “One by one our drenched boys are falling back and drawing in together. Silently as shadows the whole picket line steals across the plain. And now as the ranks closed up for rapid marching, ‘double double quick’ is about the pace.” One bridge remained at the crossing point, and engineers were standing by with axes to cut it loose. It is only after the last of the 19th Indiana has passed that the mounted Rogers, “grimly smiling,” rode onto the bridge himself. The rearguard of the regiment arrived a short time after the bridge lines were cut. They climbed into skiffs the engineers had held back for them and began paddling for the north bank. “[I]f we had been left as our head General at first designated terrible would have been our fate,” a private in the 19th confessed in his diary, “or we would have known nothing of the retreat, and when the enemy advanced the 19th is not the Reg’t to surrender without any fight.” The consequence, he added, “would have been a wiping out of the old 19th.”

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