Slaughtered at Fredericksburg: A Voice from the 4th Ohio
Writing to his sister Estelle Richardson, newly minted Second Lieutenant Channing L. Pettibone of the 4th Ohio Infantry lamented the heavy and fruitless casualties sustained by his regiment at the Battle of Fredericksburg. “This is the first time I have had a moment’s time to write since the slaughter of our brigade,” he began. “Our regiment went into the fight with 90 men and had 45 killed and wounded. I was in the thickest of the battle and shot 60 cartridges at the graybacks and was not hurt. It was just like taking us to the slaughter to move us on those breastworks. We are in a log hut now with a cloth roof on it and a big fireplace in it; the beans are on, and I am hungry.”
Various reports differ as to number of men the 4th Ohio took into battle (90 being the lowest estimate, 115 being the highest), but five officers and 43 enlisted men were killed or wounded, roughly half of a regiment that was already dangerously small. Fredericksburg was, as noted by Whitelaw Reid, a “disastrous affair.”
Channing was amongst the earliest volunteers for the state of Ohio. He was only 19 years old, but was a sergeant in the Olentangy Guards militia company of Delaware, Ohio, and on April 21, 1861, he volunteered for service in what became Co. I of the 90-day 4th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. The regiment elected to change their term of enlistment to three years in June 1861 and soon were active in western Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. In November 1862, Pettibone was given a commission as second lieutenant but based on his letter below, it appears he continued to serve in the ranks as a sergeant. In April 1863, he was promoted to first lieutenant but was wounded in action May 10, 1864 during the battle of the Wilderness and died the following day. His body was brought home and is buried at Oak Grove Cemetery in Delaware.
Pettibone’s account of Fredericksburg appeared in the January 2, 1863 edition of the Delaware Gazette.
|First Lieutenant Channing L. Pettibone, Co. E, 4th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (1843-1864)|
Camp near Fredericksburg, Virginia
December 18, 1862
This is the first time I have had a moment’s time to write since the slaughter of our brigade. I was in the thickest of the battle and shot 60 rounds of cartridges at the graybacks and was not hurt. Our brigade crossed the pontoon bridge on the 11th and marched up the street about three squares and went into houses and got all the tobacco we could carry, all the different kinds of preserves and wines you could think of, sugar, potatoes, etc. We ate our dinners out of china dishes and silver cake baskets.
Captain John C. Jones thought he could capture a few Rebels in a rifle pit so 30 of us in Companies B,C, and I started farther up the street and crossed the canal when a whole volley was fired at us, a spent ball hitting me on the arm and knocking my gun out of my hand, but did not hurt me any more than being hit with a stone. We moved behind some houses and fired some time at the Rebels and went back and stayed all night in a theater, living on the best the cellars of the different richly furnished houses could afford. I was with Watson McCullough when he was shot. [McCullough would die of this wound more than three months later.]
On the 13th our brigade was deployed as skirmishers to drive the enemy to their works. When we got to the depot before we were deployed, the enemy opened a heavy fire on us and knocked over about ten of our regiment. Colonel James H. Godman and Peter Acham [Akum] of our company fell there and more out of other companies. We deployed as skirmishers and advanced, the shells bursting all around us, bullets and grape shot screeching through the air. About 20 of us gained a small hill, the rest of the regiment being farther to the right. Here our first lieutenant was wounded in the arm. We stayed here all day and were reinforced. Here I shot all my ammunition away and came very near being shot by some of our own men who were firing over our heads. Here I saw men blown up, brains knocked out, and men wounded in all kinds of style and manner all around me. When I went back, I could see dead and wounded lying in heaps all the way for half a mile.
Our regiment went into the fight with 90 men and had 35 killed and wounded. We stayed in town two more nights and on the night of the 15th we recrossed the river. It got colder and rained all night on us. It was just like taking us to slaughter to move us on those breastworks. We are in a log hut now with a cloth roof on it and a big fireplace in it. The beans are on, and I am hungry.
Tone Plant of Co. I was wounded in the leg and Peter Acham of Co. I died on the 15th; our lieutenant has gone to Washington. I have plenty of tobacco now. Give my love to mother and all.
Letter from Second Lieutenant Channing Lascelles Pettibone, Co. E, 4th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Delaware Gazette (Ohio), January 2, 1863, pg. 2
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