John Charles Currier of the 11th New Hampshire Infantry Recalls the Battle of Fredericksburg
The 11th New Hampshire Infantry entered Federal service in September 1862 and was assigned to the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Division in the Union Army’s 9th Corps. The regiment first saw action at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. The 9th Corps was part of Major General Edwin Sumner’s Right Grand Division and the 11th New Hampshire was one of the units that took part in the costly assaults against the Confederate defenders at the stone wall below Marye’s Heights on December 13th.
John Charles Currier was a 2nd lieutenant in Company I of the 11th New Hampshire at Fredericksburg. Years later, his memories of the fighting were still vivid as he wrote about his experiences:
And now comes the ringing command of our colonel–fall in Eleventh New Hampshire. To say that my heart got right up into my mouth don’t half express it, but we respond; we move out of the shelter of the buildings, deploy into line and the whole scene bursts upon us. Before we hardly realize what we are doing the whole regiment is firing at the breastworks in front of them just as fast as they can load and fire…Forward! steady, keep cool–and in we go to that seething hell. Down they go to the right and left by dozens, but still they press on. The ranks are mown by the rebel artillery….
In the smoke of our guns and that of the enemy we push on, still on, towards the base of that hill. Great gaps are torn in the ranks; men are falling all around us; another and another line of battle comes charging up behind mingling their forces with ours; we struggle towards that stone wall that is belching out its hail of iron and fire; but all in vain, we cannot reach it. The line wavers suddenly, stops and shivers like some great ship that is beaten by a storm and recedes. Lie down is the command. We did not need any further orders, we just dropped to the ground and clung to the earth to escape that shower of lead…The warm sun had softened the earth so that it was nothing now but mud and water, but I don’t think we cared what it was, we only wished it was deep enough to cover us entirely, so that those devilish guns that were ripping and tearing the ground just behind might not reach us…Maryes Hill was one sheet of flame. Our batteries were compelled to remain silent for fear of hitting their own men. But see, one has crept to almost our front line and has opened fire…
My spirits, which had been at a very low ebb while lying there that long afternoon, immediately rose; but alas! it did not last long. The enemy concentrated their guns upon that devoted battery with deadly effect, and for ten minutes it seemed to me that the end had come, as though the earth had opened and hell itself was right before us. So terrible was that concentrated fire that in a few moments every horse had been killed and most of the cannoneers; the others fled precipitately, abandoning their guns…
Night and dew fell upon the battlefield, and we were enabled under the sheltering darkness to retire to a more protected position. All over that field as we stumbled along we came upon heaps of our brave companions lying as they fell.
–John Charles Currier, From Concord to Fredericksburg: A Paper Prepared and Read before the California Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States February 12, 1896.
The 11th New Hampshire had casualties of 19 killed, 151 wounded, and 25 missing. Twenty- one of the wounded later died of their wounds. Although he had survived the Battle of Fredericksburg unscathed, Currier was shot in the face twice in later battles–once at the Battle of the Wilderness in May of 1864, and once at Poplar Spring church in September that same year. He was honorably discharged as a captain on January 18, 1865.
(Additional information from A History of the Eleventh New Hampshire Regiment by Leander W. Cogswell.)