December 11-12, 1862
Our ancestors, Charles and John Marshall Bills, cousins of our 1st great grandmother, Sarah Eunice Bills, wife of William Herr/Fidel Herr Jr/Fidel Herr Sr/Blasius Herr/Marcus Herr, had their baptism of Civil War fire at the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 11, 1862.
Their unit, the 24th Michigan Infantry, had been formed with exclusively Wayne County, Michigan men the previous June – August, 1862 and had been joined to other Wisconsin and Indiana Regiments in the famed Iron Brigade to make up for that brigade’s casualty losses at South Mountain and Antietam the previous September, 1862.
The Iron Brigade was distinguished by its tall hats, but the 24th Michigan was shunned and not allowed to wear those hats until they showed their battle mettle at Fredericksburg by crossing the Rappahanock River on small boats along with PA and NY brigades before the main battle commenced to take out snipers shooting the Union pontoon bridge builders from shoreline houses, behind fences, boulders, and other buildings.
Later in the main battle of Fredericksburg, the 24th Michigan went against Stonewall Jackson on the right flank of the Confederate line on Prospect Hill where they broke through and for about an hour almost helped win the day for the otherwise devastated Union Army, whose General Burnside was sending his soldiers up Marye Heights eight times before learning it was futile.
In his pension records, Charles Bills described the Union Army’s retreat through Fredericksburg back across the Rappahannock at the battle’s end. He survived the war to live in Caro, MI to a ripe old age of 88, but his cousin John Marshall Bills was not so fortunate having been captured at the North Anna River crossing in May, 1864 and dying a few months later at the infamous Confederate prison Andersonville at the rage of 21.
In the photo folder, the 24th Michigan reenactors are shown crossing the river, and taking out Confederate snipers in buildings, obstacles, that were standing 150 years ago during the battle.
Other photos show the futile charges up Marye Heights, and the terrain of Prospect Hill, where the 24th Michigan almost beat Stonewall Jackson’s crack Confederate brigades.