This American Civil War volume by Joseph Grant and Pardon E. Tillinghast brings together two accounts that today would be unlikely to see individual re-publication because of their short length. They concern the time the authors spent with their regiment of Rhode Island Volunteers during the conflict. Grant particularly was much concerned with the activities of the regiment and also became a significant contributor to the substantial published history of the regiment. The twelfth was one of the so called ‘Nine Month Regiments’ though it actually served for ten months. Whilst the regiment’s service was comparatively short it earned the appellation of ‘the Trotting Twelfth’ partly as a result of its incredible march from Nicholasville to Jamestown, Kentucky—some 100 miles under broiling sun—in six days without the loss of a single man. Indeed the regiment’s marching abilities became legendary and its name well earned as it pursued the elusive Morgan and his cavalry across Kentucky to prevent him raiding into Ohio. This included a lively affair with the notable Confederate raider horse soldiers at Green River, Kentucky. Grant’s view of the Battle of Fredericksburg is particularly useful and indeed he was responsible for the portion of the greater regimental history concerning it. At Fredericksburg in the closing month of 1862, Burnside had to ferry his army across the Rappahannock River in the face of fire from the enemy on the opposite bank and once across fight through the streets of the town before assaulting well prepared Confederate entrenched positions under Lee on Maryes Heights. The affair was a notable one-sided catastrophe for the Union Army which lost nearly 13,000 men killed, wounded, missing or captured—more than twice that of the enemy. Grant, Tillinghast and their Rhode Island comrades, irrespective of their short service, more than earned their right to proclaim themselves seasoned ‘veterans.’
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From the place where I stood in the ranks, I could see two defunct rebels, who were killed the day before, while our batteries shelled the city. I took the liberty to go close, and look at the one nearest me. A shell had struck him in the head, cutting the top of it completely off, leaving nothing above the eyes; killing him of course instantly.<br>
From this place I continued on to another street, to see a group of dead bodies. There were sixteen of them, all belonging to a Massachusetts regiment, and who fell the night before, while engaged in dislodging the enemy. They were laid in a row, and buried close where they fell. I could not help thinking, as I gazed upon the mournful scene, of the loved ones at home, who were waiting, watching, and praying for the safe return of these poor men, who, in the dispensation of a mysterious Providence, they never more could see on earth.<br>
I turned away from the sad spectacle to become acquainted with other features of this cruel war. I had passed along several streets, when the rapid firing of the enemy warned me to return to my regiment. The shells were bursting all about us, and I found the regiment on my return already in line, and soon after we moved and took a position in a less exposed situation, where we remained through the night. I went to a house close by, found some boards, returned to the street, where we were ordered to remain, placed one end of these boards upon the sidewalk, the other end resting in the middle of the street, and finding some straw in the neighbourhood, made my bed upon these, and “laid me down to sleep.”<br>
Early in the morning, the different regiments were all astir, preparing for the coming battle. The different companies of our regiment were drawn up in line, our haversacks were filled with three days’ rations, which consisted of crackers, pork, sugar and coffee, our canteens with water, and moving some half mile farther down the city, we rested on our arms, in readiness to take the part assigned us. While in this place, we were somewhat sheltered from the enemy’s shells, which were thrown at different intervals, several of them dropping and bursting in the river, directly in front of us, causing much dodging and twisting, throughout the different regiments.<br>
There was a space directly in front of our position, upon which there were no buildings, close upon the river. This space was occupied early in the forenoon, by the Irish Brigade, and I saw for the first time, Thomas F. Meagher, the general commanding this brigade, well known as the Irish patriot and fighting general. This brigade were called into action early in the day, and moved to the front at once. This was at about ten, a.m.<br>
The booming of cannon and the sharp cracking of the musketry, soon told us that the “ball had opened,” and at twelve o’clock, m. we were called upon. Our line was quickly formed, and we moved on. Filing to the left, we passed up a steep hill on the “double quick,” and soon came in sight and within range of the enemy’s guns, who immediately brought them to bear upon us. The firing becoming too hot for us, we were brought into line, and ordered to lie close to the ground. Down we went, accordingly, into the mud, and the firing partly ceased. Again we rose, and rushed ahead, the artillery playing upon us more furiously than ever.<br>
Gaining a trench, a short distance ahead, we again came to a halt and formed our line anew. Being partially sheltered from the enemy’s fire, we stopped long enough to catch our breath, then throwing off our blankets, passed up the bank, and hurried on. Some twenty rods ahead of this trench, the railroad from Fredericksburg to Richmond passes, making a cut some twenty feet deep. Expecting to find a shelter in this from the enemy’s fire, we sprang ahead. Upon gaining the bank, with one spring I ploughed to the bottom. I had hoped to find another breathing spell here, but found myself disappointed in this, as the enemy had a battery in position from which they threw shot and shell the whole-length of this cut, and it was here we first came under the fire of their musketry.<br>
We were ordered to gain the opposite bank as soon as possible. The ascent was very steep, and being out of breath, it required much effort on our part to reach the top. I never in my life strove harder than I did to gain the top of this bank. The distance from this place to the position we were to gain, was perhaps forty rods. And this under a scorching fire of musketry and artillery, at short range. We hurried ahead as fast as possible, knowing this to be no place to make long stops. Our regiment at this time was partially broken up, every man knowing the danger, exerted himself to escape it; and by a “double quick,” which at this time had become a run, we were fast gaining the position already occupied by the rest of our brigade, which was partly sheltered from the fire of the enemy.<br>
The report of the cannon, the shriek of the shell, its explosion in our midst, the sharp cracking of the musketry, and the whiz of the Minnie ball, (the different missiles ploughing and cutting up the ground in front of us,) furnished a terrible ordeal, through which the Twelfth were called upon to pass.