AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT OF A CONFEDERATE INFANTRYMAN AT FREDERICKSBURG IN 1862

Stiles/Akin

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KILLING A MAN

AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT OF A CONFEDERATE INFANTRYMAN AT FREDERICKSBURG IN 1862

The battle of Fredericksburg proved that well-positioned artillery could lay a devastating deadly effect on the enemy from afar, but the infantry was still needed to take physical control of the battlefield. The following is an infantry soldier’s graphic recollection of the real and horrible reality of war as written by an anonymous Confederate veteran and published in a New Orleans newspaper after the war.

“They do not call it murder when men meet to slaughter each other in battle. They simply report so many dead, wounded and missing. When you fire into the smoke concealing the other battle-line you fire in the hopes to kill or wound. It is your duty. Battles cannot be won without killing, and the result of battles changes the whole system of governments. You load and fire- load and fire - move to the right or left - advance or retreat, and when the battle is over, you may have fired fifty rounds and yet you have not had a near sight of the enemy; you have simply fired at him, and you cannot vouch that one single of your bullets has found a living target.
[But then there is the emotional revelation of seeing one of those that you kill.] Here is a brigade of us in a battle line across an old meadow. We have erected breastworks, and the enemy comes marching down upon us. Our [artillery] field pieces behind us open fire on the enemy’s solid columns, but they are not checked. Under the smoke we can see the effect of the shells, but they cannot halt that mass of men. The grape and canister does awful execution, but there should be a dozen guns behind us instead of six.
They are going to charge us. Orders run along the line, and we are waiting until every bullet, no matter if fired by a soldier with his eyes shut, must hit a foe. I select my man while he is yet beyond range. I have eyes for no other. He is a tall, soldierly fellow wearing the stripes of a sergeant. As he comes nearer I imagine that he is looking as fixed at me as I at him. I admire his coolness. He looks neither to the right nor to the left. The man on his right is hit and goes down, but he does not falter.
I am going to kill that man! I have a rest for my gun on the breastwork, and when the order comes to fire I cannot miss him. He is living his last minute on earth! We are calmly waiting until our volley shall prove a veritable flame of death. Now they close up their gaps, and we can hear the shouts of their officers as they make ready to charge. My man is still opposite me. He still seems to be looking at me and no one else. I know the word is coming in a few seconds more, and I aim at his chest. I could almost be sure of hitting him with a stone when we get the word to fire. There is a billow of flame- a billow of smoke- a fierce crash, and 4,000 bullets are fired into that compact mass of advancing men. Not one volley alone, though that worked horrible destruction, but another and another, until there was no longer a living man to fire at.
The smoke drifts slowly away- men cheer and yell- we can see the meadow before us heaped up with dead and dying men. We advance our line. As we go forward I look for my victim. He is lying on his back, his eyes half shut and fingers clutching at the grass. He grasps, draws up his legs and straightens them out again, and is dead as I pass on. I have killed my man! My bullet alone struck him, tearing that ghastly wound in his breast, and I am entitled to that honor. Do I swing my cap and cheer? Do I point him out and expect to be congratulated? No! I have no cheers. I feel no elation. I feel that I have murdered him, war or no war, and that his agonized face will haunt me through the rest of my life.”
http://www.washingtonartillery.com/Killing%20a%20Man%20page…

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