11/28/12 — Historian shares facts about battle

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Historian shares facts about battle

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on November 28, 2012 1:46 PM

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Historian Lynn Bull describes the fighting during the Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg on Tuesday night at Wayne Community College. The lecture was part of a series on the 150th anniversary of the war. Wayne County troops were involved in the battle.

While troops from other states were defending Goldsboro in December 1862, soldiers from Wayne County were in Virginia, helping hold back the main Union army from advancing on the Confederate capital of Richmond.

And on the hills of Fredericksburg, Va., just north of Richmond, Wayne County men were in the middle of the fighting in what proved to be a decisive victory for the South.

Civil War historian Lynn Bull described the Battle of Fredericksburg on Tuesday night at Wayne Community College as part of a lecture series on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

That December, Union strategy was to strike at several points along the Southern perimeter, so that one unit could not support another.

At Goldsboro, the strategy work well. On Dec. 17, troops advancing from New Bern burned the railroad bridge south of the city.

But 300 miles to the north, the South already had claimed a great victory at Fredericksburg four days earlier, when repeated Northern attacks were thrown back with huge losses.

Bull, a former Goldsboro High School teacher, has been deeply involved in Civil War history for many years. He has appeared as a re-enactor in several movies about the war, including "Gods and Generals."

He said the battle was the result of "a good plan gone bad," and "failed opportunities."

Both sides -- the Confederates under Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Union under Gen. Ambrose Burnside -- exploited weaknesses in the other but failed to follow them up, Bull said. The result was continued stalemate in the Virginia theater of war with the addition of more than 17,000 casualties -- twice as many among the Union troops as the Confederates due to the repeated failed charges against strongly entrenched rebels on a hill named Marye's Heights.

A sunken road near the bottom of the hill was protected by a stone wall, giving the Southern troops a natural fortification. Members of the Goldsboro Rifles were among the men behind the stone wall.

Standing four deep, the soldiers were able to keep a freshly loaded rifle in the hands of the front line, who mowed down the blue-clad attackers with ease.

The Union attacked the wall more than a dozen times on the afternoon of Dec. 13. All were failures.

"It was probably the best defensive position Lee held during the entire war," Bull said. "It wasn't war. It was murder."

Bull noted one extraordinary action by a South Carolina soldier. The man, devoutly religious, asked for permission to jump the wall and help as many wounded Union soldiers as possible. A statue to the bravery and compassion of Richard Kirkland stands on the battlefield today. He is remembered as the "Angel of Marye's Heights."

The next scheduled lecture in the series will be held Dec. 11 and it will focus on the battle for the Goldsboro bridge. A re-enactment of the battle is planned for Dec. 15-16 at the county-owned location of the actual battle just south of the Neuse River.