From John Hennessy:
I write this at 1:34 p.m. on December 11. One hundred and forty-eight years ago this moment, the town of Fredericksburg was under furious bombardment by the Union army. While many civilians had left in the previous weeks, some of them had returned prior to December 11, thinking that the feared battle would not in fact come off. Jane Beale and her family were among these. When the bombardment started that day, Mrs. Beale took her children and slaves to the basement of her house on Lewis Street. After a brief lull at 1 p.m., the firing intensified again. Beale wrote in her diary:
…The sound of 173 guns echoed in our ears, the shrieking of those shells, like a host of angry fiends rushing through the air, the crashing of the balls through the floor and upper stories of the house, I shall never forget to the day of my death, the agony and terror of the next four hours, is burnt into my memory with a hot iron. I could not pray, but only cry for mercy.
When the firing subsided hours later, Beale and many other trapped residents made their escape. Throughout the night and into the next morning hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand, refugees streamed out the roads leading south and west from Fredericksburg. A Confederate soldier from Georgia, writing the next day (December 12), left one of the very best descriptions. After reading this, it’s not hard to understand how and why what happened at Fredericksburg caused such outrage across the South. Indeed, few battles of the war engendered such bitterness as did Fredericksburg.
December 12—8 o’clock, p.m.
. . . The citizens, several hundred in number, who had returned to the town under the delusion that it would not be attacked, left it during the day, single or in families, and sought for refuge and safety in the country. They are now scattered about, some in cabins and some in the open air.
This morning I met two women, each with an infant and several little children, wandering along the railroad. The children were all barefooted, and it made the heart bleed to see their little blue feet treading painfully the frozen ground, blindly following their poor mothers who knew as little as themselves where to seek food and shelter. Nearer the town we saw three women with a number of children who had established themselves, in a three sided shelter built of rails, and covered and lined with wheat straw. The open side of the shelter faced the south, and the unconscious children, warmed by the genial rays of the sun, were playing as merrily as if there were neither war nor trouble in the world.
In two cabins, within a mile and a half of the town, between twenty and thirty women and children were crowded. An old gentleman, who was standing near one of the huts, informed me that at the time of the threat of the enemy to shell the town he had moved his household goods and personal property into the country, but that a few days ago, thinking there was no danger, he had carried them back. His house was burnt yesterday, and everything he had in the world consumed in it. I am afraid that a number of citizens have been caught in the same way.