Yesterday a friend and I traveled to the Fredericksburg National Battlefield. One of our objectives was to try to develop a better understanding of the Danville Artillery’s role in the battle.
The Battle of Fredericksburg occurred on December 13, 1862. The Danville Artillery was in Jackson’s Corps, under the command of Captain George W. Wooding, a young lawyer when the war began, having graduated from Hampden Syndey College and the University of Virginia law school.
Jackson commanded the right wing of the Confederate forces, in an area known as Prospect Hill. Although far less well known that the fighting that occurred at Mayre’s Heights, the action at Prospect Hill was critical, and it was there that the Federal forces had their only realistic chance of success.
None of the maps I had seen online or in books were helpful in trying to place the location of Wooding’s battery as the battle began. Fortunately the very knowledgeable and helpful park rangers had detailed maps that enabled us to find the specific locations.
General Jackson’s line of battle was alongside or west of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac railroad, which ran across the fields that would become the battlefield. At an area along the center of General A.P. Hill’s line there was a rise which would shield advancing Federal infantry from Confederate artillery fire for about 800 yards as they approached the railroad. To cover this area, Wooding’s battery was deployed about 40 yards north of the railroad bed, along with Lt. George McKendree’s battery and a section from the battery of Lt. Edward Mayre (who ironically would not be a participant in the fighting occurring at his home, four miles to the north).
These batteries were in the most exposed position on the Confederate line. The 88th Pennsylvania Infantry advanced as skirmishers and began to fire into the batteries. Initially driven away by canister, the Pennsylvanians returned and from a position in woods to the right front of the batteries, sharpshooters began bringing down the Confederate artillerymen and their horses. Meanwhile the Federal artillery opened devastating counter-battery fire, with as many as 20 batteries concentrating their fire on the exposed Confederates.
The effect of the combined fire from federal infantry and artillery was devastating on the exposed batteries, which were taking heavy casualties. As his men continued to fall, Captain Wooding began helping service the guns himself, despite having been wounded in the hand. Just as Confederate infantry began to advance to support the batteries, Wooding was struck again–this time suffering a serious wound in his thigh. Finally, after battalion commander Capt. John Brockenborough suffered a debilitating wound, the men were ordered to withdraw.
A federal attack reached and crossed the railroad, driving back the Confederates for a while. But then a Confederate counterattack swept them back, defeating them here just as they were being defeated at Mayre’s Heights.
But the men of the Danville Artillery paid a high price for their part in the victory.
The wounded Captain Wooding was taken to the rear, to Belvoir, the home of Thomas Yerby, which was being used as a field hospital. Here he would linger for weeks, suffering painfully. He eventually died on February 1, 1863.
General Maxcy Gregg was also brought to Belvoir that day, mortally wounded. General Jackson visited him as he was dying, in a scene depicted in the movie Gods and Generals.
After his death Captain Wooding’s body was returned to Danville, where he was buried in the Green Hill cemetery.
His younger brother Harry survived the war and went on to serve as Danville’s mayor for nearly 50 years.
Twenty four years old when he died, George Wooding was never married.
At the County Court held for the County of Pittsylvania at the Court House thereof on Monday the 16th day of February, 1863
The following Preamble & Resolutions were, on the motion of Charles E. Dabney and by the unanimous wish of the bar, adopted by the Court and ordered to be entered on record.
Whereas, intelligence has been received of the death from wounds received at the battle of Fredericksburg of Capt. George W. Wooding of the Danville Artillery, a citizen of this county and a member of the bar, it is resolved
1st, That this Court as a representative of the county recognizing the propriety of expressing in some formal and authentic mode the high appreciation which the people of Pittsylvania have for those of their fellow citizens who have lost their lives in battle with distinction in defense of the Southern cause, doth with pleasure and pride bear testimony to the fact that Capt. Wooding has served faithfully & gallantly in the Confederate Army since the commencement of this war; that his conduct on the bloody battlefield where he received his death wound was so brilliant, soldierly and devoted as to elicit the applause of the whole of the Army; that it has filled the hearts of his fellow countrymen with admiration for his fame and sorrow for his early though glorious death.
2nd, That this court, the bar concurring, doth deeply deplore the loss of so gallant a spirit and doth offer to his bereaved family the assurance of their profound sympathy.
3rd, That the foregoing preamble and resolutions be spread on the records and that the Clerk of this Court forward a copy thereof to the family of Capt. Wooding and a copy to the Danville papers for publication.
L. Scruggs, Clerk
In addition to Captain Wooding, at least 15 other men of the Danville Artillery were wounded at Fredericksburg. I have only been able to identify six of them:
Benjamin Walton. A 25 year old carpenter. While home on furlough, recovering from his wound, he married Sarah Edmunds of Caswell County. He eventually rejoined the unit and was captured at Ft. Gregg in Petersburg in April, 1865 and sent to Point Lookout prison. After the war he returned to Pittsylvania County, marrying his second wife Tabitha in Pittsylvania County in 1872. He died in 1889.
Isaac Bowman. He returned to duty in September, 1863. He was captured in Farmville on April 6, 1865 and sent to City Point Prison.
George Skelton. He was struck in the hip by a minie ball. A 24 year old farmer, he was wounded again at Spotsylvania Court House in May, 1864. He was paroled at Appomattox when the army surrendered.
John S. Owen. A 21 year old stage driver, he was captured at Petersburg on April 3, 1865 and sent to Harts Island prison. He lived in Pittsylvania County after the war.
Lt. Joseph Jones. A 35 year old machinist, he was seriously wounded, but survived. After recovering, he served out the remainder of the war in the Ordnance Department and later as a blacksmith.
James K. Phillips. A 19 year old day laborer, he suffered a serious concussion early in the battle. He was again wounded at Mattahony Creek on May 24, 1864. After the war he went to college and became a lawyer in the Shenandoah valley. He married Emily Litten and died in 1908 at age 55.