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Wayne Post
  • Historically Speaking — A peek at Palmyra’s past

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  • The date is Dec. 12 and we are following the 33rd into Marye’s Heights. The Rebels were fewer in numbers but the benefit of cover gave them a great advantage. It was bitter cold and although there was firing all around it just made it more difficult to fight. This battle lasted a few days and finally the 33rd had crossed the pontoon bridge. Now on the other side of the Rappahannock the 33rd did not engage but was told to hold and wait lying on the ground while the Rebel fire shot over their heads.
    It was more than 36 hours since the bridge had been completed and a steady volley of shots came from both sides. No official battle was engaged but with pot shots and sharpshooters continuing, it was evident that a military hospital needed to be procured. A location called Bernard House was turned into a field hospital. Now, fighting is spreading from Stafford Heights and Prospect Heights.
    A cold night awaited the soldiers on both sides preventing any sleep, when at 9 a.m. General Meade and Gibbon began their assault pushing the Rebels back almost one half mile. The 33rd was lead by General Howe and General Vinton, they were told not to fight or advance without orders. They watched as the 63rd, 68th, and 88th New York under General Meagher called the Irish Brigad was cut down. Who were the generals on the Rebel side you might ask? Well, if there was a force lead by incredible Generals this was it. With General “Stonewall” Jackson and General Longstreet readying their men, it was a great force to be reckoned with. General Robert E. Lee was the head of the army on the south and General Burnside the army on the north. During this event there were about 12,000 Union soldiers and over 5,300 Confederate killed or wounded.
    General Burnside’s support by the men in battle was quickly turning and the loss of life was put squarely on his shoulders. Burnside had “sacrificed” many Union soldiers and destroyed Fredericksburg. Finally, Burnside decided to pull back and all that had been gained was lost. The next day the skirmishers from both sides had made a truce and were intermingling, sharing local newspapers and other items. The dead and wounded were recovered and taken to the hospital or buried. The field hospital was quieter but the remnants of legs, arms, and bodies told the story of the days before.
    This all happened from Dec. 12 and up to the 19th. The Union troops were disheartened and saddened by the decisions of General Burnside. Through all this, only two of the 33rd were wounded. At Golding’s Farm also a part of this continuous battle the 33rd continued to make their mark. They all lived to fight another day. Truly the 33rd Regiment was watched from above. This was their preparation for Christmas in 1863 one hundred and fifty years ago. The discouraged Yankees of the 33rd went back to winter quarters at White Oak Church and rebuilt their mud cabins. Although the newspapers did not give the 33rd their due, it was clear that they were heroes during December of 1863. Why not write about the happy things at this time of year? I sometimes think that we forget the great sacrifice our troops make leaving their families, their homes, and sitting in some cold place with only memories and strangers to keep them company as they wait for word from home. Thank you all for your service and sacrifice. We at Historic Palmyra always honor your efforts.

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