Private Charles C. Pike of the 11th New Hampshire Infantry Recalls the Assault on the Sunken Road and Marye’s Heights at the Battle of Fredericksburg
On December 13th, 1862, at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, wave after wave of Union troops attempted a frontal assault on the fortified Confederate position just west of town. Rebel infantrymen manned a stone wall that ran along a sunken road at the base of some high ground called Marye’s Heights. Confederate artillery on the Heights commanded the field. The Federals advanced along mostly open ground from the town, and suffered enormous casualties. The Confederates fought off each futile assault, and no Union troops even reached the stone wall. The defeated Army of the Potomac withdrew from Fredericksburg back across the Rappahannock River to Falmouth on December 15th. Union losses at the Battle of Fredericksburg totaled 1284 killed, 9600 wounded, and 1769 captured or missing.
One of the Union regiments involved in the assaults against the Sunken Road and Marye’s Heights was the 11th New Hampshire Infantry. Assigned to the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Division of the 9th Corps, the 11th New Hampshire suffered 195 total casualties, which included 19 killed, 151 wounded, and 25 missing or captured. Among the wounded was Private Charles C. Pike of Company F.
Pike was an 18 year old from New London, New Hampshire who had enlisted when the regiment was formed in August of 1862. After the war, Pike recalled the battle, his wounding, and his treatment and recovery for the regimental historian of the 11th:
We marched upon the railroad in full view of the rebel defenses, and just here, I think, the first man in Company F was killed, my dear camp-mate, Ben Nelson. We were talking together, and I had my hand on his arm, when spat! and poor Ben’s head sank lower, his frame slighly quivered, and he was gone, the bullet striking over his left eye and passing directly through his brain. We were ordered to advance, and advance we did, upon the “bloody acre.” It always seemed miraculous that anyone could get out of that hellish carnage alive. Every volley from the enemy would seem to mow our boys down, while we could do them little or no harm…
I had got three slight scratches by this time, but kept at work. I had replenished my cartridge-box twice from a dead or dying comrade’s, and was just getting up to get some more ammunition when a bullet struck me on the side of my face at the angle of the lower jaw, passing left through my mouth, cutting off about one half of my tongue, knocking out eight teeth, and coming out on the opposite side near the right ear. The hemorrhage was very free, and this, with the loss of blood from my other wounds, soon made things look dusky. I became unconscious soon afterward, and the next thing I knew the firing had ceased. It was dark and cold, and the air was filled with groans and moans of the hundreds of wounded who were lying about me. I am told that a large number of us who were severely wounded were allowed to be carried off the field when our boys came to bury the dead. I lost a large seal ring; I have a dim recollection of its being taken from my finger. My clothes were such a mass of blood and filth that my money, which was in my inside vest pocket, was not taken.
The next day I found myself in a tent with several others. I did not know how we got there, or when, or where it was, but I afterwards learned it was at Falmouth. Those who were too severely wounded to be moved were left there. I recollect that it was terribly cold. We had no fire and no blanket, and I lay on some straw. Oh, the intolerable thirst! My mouth was so swollen that I could not swallow but by turning water upon it. Some thoughtful, practical person came into out tent one day and covered me with newspapers, tucking them well in around me. I quite expect my life was saved thereby, for by and by, when at Washington, the skin peeled from my feet from having been frost-bitten at that time. A young, solemn looking man came into the tent one day. I at once made signs for him for water. He did not readily understand me, apparently not being very well up in sign language, but he got out a pencil and a notebook and I managed to write out the word “water”. He considered a few minutes (they seemed like long ones to me) and then kindly said that he did not have any water with him, but that he would gladly pray with me, which he proceeded to do, and a longer prayer I never listened to. Well meant, undoubtedly, but somehow it didn’t reach my case.
December 26th, thirteen days after the battle, I was sent to Washington, arriving the next day more dead than alive, and was placed in the Harewood hospital, where I received the most kindly and skilful treatment from both surgeons and nurses. After several months I became able to take care of the sick and wounded as they were brought in, and was afterward detailed as a hospital steward.
Private Pike recovered, but due to the severity of his wounds, he was honorably discharged on April 18th, 1863. Perhaps at least in part due to his experience in the hospital, Pike went on to graduate from the medical school at Dartmouth College and become a doctor, first in New Hampshire and later in Peabody, Massachusetts. He died of in Peabody of appendicitis on January 27th, 1894.
The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock by Francis A. O’Reilly
History of the Eleventh New Hampshire Regiment Volunteer Infantry in the Rebellion War 1861-1865 by Leander W. Cogswell
History of the New Hampshire Surgeons in the War of the Rebellion by Granville P. Conn