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A Union Officer Sheds New Light
on the Battle of Fredericksburg, with Schematic Drawings
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Mainer Edgar Alphonso Burpee describes the Battle of Fredericksburg, providing previously-unknown details regarding order of battle, Union movement through city streets, “unbecoming” ransacking of civilian property, and Confederates shelling Union-occupied parts of their city. He also includes drawings of the city’s streets.

[CIVIL WAR]. EDGAR A. BURPEE. Autograph Letter Signed, to Alexander Burpee. Fredericksburg, Va., December 15, 1862, 12 pp., 5 1/8 x 7¾ in.

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Partial Transcript

“Being our orderly, I summoned the company at 4 o’clock and gave them my orders...a report of a gun was heard that sounded like thunder. It was a signal gun and to us indicated that something was in process of being done. Then another was heard, and immediately after that musketry and some other guns....we stacked arms and lay down waiting the order to move forward...waiting for the pontoon bridges to be laid so we could pass...guns of both forces were constantly being fired and such a roar I never heard before. It seems as if the very heavens were filled with thunder and it was very stirring that our forces were engaged in shelling the city....Then later at double quick we crossed the pontoon bridge and set foot in the doomed city for our first time. We filed into the street that runs along the river bank, having the honor of being the first regiment of our brigade in. As we entered, marched up the street some 5 or 6 rods in front of us, skirmishing and the bullets of the rebels came whistling thickly over our heads and around our ankles....

The streets are laid out in regular squares (I shall draw you a plan). Because skirmishing was going on in the next street above us, we were protected from the rebel shots.... the rebel sharpshooters were about six rods away in the houses...their sharpshooters rapidly picked off our men....Our batteries too poured into the rebels showers of shells so that they completely riddled the homes nearby killing a large number of the enemy....By this time (7 o’clock) the firing had ceased...our men commenced...ransacking the houses and stores, tearing down fences & out buildings....It was alarming to see the scenes of unbecoming behaviors around us....All this time the dead and wounded were being brought down the street. The surgeons were busy attending to those badly wounded....On going up the street we would stumble over the dead of both sides, some shot in the heads with shells, still there were others killed by bullets. Some wounded would crawl off to some place of shelter....It was indeed a sad scene....

Morning came...we formed into line of battle....We were ordered to lie low or march in a stooping position....The ambulance corps were also engaged in carrying off the dead & wounded....In the street where we were, two or three rebels lay. One had his whole side and his arms shot off. Another had the top of his head and brains carried away...Towards morning [December 13] when it became light enough for the rebels to see our men, they began to shell us and the pieces would fly...About 12 o’clock skirmishing commenced on our left....The streets were now filled with moving lines of soldiers....We could see and hear nearly the whole field and our brave men as they advanced under heavy fire from the enemy’s batteries and musketry fire....Gen Howard marched often along our line & encouraged us by his words and presence. A balloon was in the rear of the city to observe all movements....About 4 o’clock our brigade was ordered in and down the street with a rush we went....bang went the rebel guns and whiz came their shells at us....Our regiment remained firm...Gen. came along after dark and said ‘men of the 19th reg., you have done nobly. Your consistency deserves great praise.’ To be continued - Ed.”

Edgar A. Burpee (1839 – 1919) of Rockland, Maine, mustered into the 19th Maine Infantry on August 25, 1862. He rose to captain’s rank, was wounded at Gettysburg, and was captured at the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road, Virginia, in June 1864. He returned to Rockland, married Annie Farwell, and eventually joined his family’s funeral business.


Fine. Written in light pencil. With some separation at edge of folds.


“American Civil War Research Database,”

“U.S. Adjutant General Military Records, 1631-1976 Record for Edgar A Burpee,”

“The Farwell family : a history of Henry Farwell and his wife Olive (Welby) Farwell of Boston, England, and Concord and Chelmsford,”

“History of Thomaston, Rockland, and South Thomaston, Maine,”

“Burpee, Carpenter, and Hutchins Funeral Home.”