On the night of December 10th 1862, the 23rd PA crossed the pontoons at Franklin Crossing, two miles below town, near the Benard Mansion, and were part of the skirmish line that drove back "Stonewall Jackson's" skirmishers to Hamilton Crossing. While on this skirmish line a large portly man in civilians clothing came riding across the field holding his hat in his hands. When he entered our line he claimed to be the owner of the Benard Mansion and asserted that he was seeking his cattle. He was however sent back to General Franklin commanding the left Grand Division. The mansion referred to was burned down that winter while Confederate Officers were holding a ball. During the battle it was used as a field hospital. About 4 PM the regiment was relieved and massed with the division for a charge. Here it lay beyond the head of the pontoon bridge, subject to a constant Artillery fire, which fortunately passed over us doing very little damage. On the morning of December 13th, we were sent to support a Battery hotly engaged on the Bowling Green Road. To cross this road, the line went over with a rush as the enemy artillery were sweeping it reaching our battery, the men hugged the ground while the batteries had a duel at short range, our artillery blowing up one of the caissons of the enemy.
”Confederate Heights" December 13
About 4 PM, a tremendous fire was opened up on the line from the Confederate Heights, but they made no attempt to leave the works to attack, and we occupied the same position until night. On the way to occupy this position, we met the 19th Pennsylvania, which also had been engaged in the conflict. As Philadelphians the units knew one another and the men being hungry, the 23rd shared half of thier rations with them. In the early part of the Battle General Vinton of the Second Division, was shot and Colonel Neill who, a few days previous, was promoted to Brigadier General, bid the boys a hasty farewell as he left to take his new command.
Evening of the 13th. William J. Wray
On the night of the 13th, the regiment was sent to the extreme right of the Left Grand Division at Hazel Run holding this position until the Army recrossed the Rappahannock, on the night of the 15th. The principal incidents in this battle were the laying of the pontoon bridges in front of the town and the desperate fighting to get possession of it. This and the lower crossings gave a crossing for the Army. The enemy had the ridge and hills, well entrenched, while we had the plains which gave the Confederates the advantage. After the battle Burnside was succeeded by General Joseph Hooker. General Hooker at once began a reorganization of the Army. He ordered each corps to wear distinctive Corps Badges, that of the Sixth Corps was designated by a seperate color. The Twenty Third Pennsylvania wore the blue cross, being part of the Third Division, Sixth Corps.
The men of the Twenty Third Pennsylvania had been lying in support of a battery at Fredericksburg, until they became somewhat cramped and finally one and then the other got up to strech his legs, until there was too many of them standing up, which drew the fire of the enemies guns, as well as his sharpshooters. Of course we were under orders, close under fire, could not fire a shot, as our battery in front was doing the work. On the call of one of the Officers to lie down, all went down close to the ground except Dan Donnelly, or the old man Donnelly as we called him. At last the Captain ordered him down not wanting him to be shot. "Well Captain, I must obey your orders, but do you call this fighting? Give me fifty men and I will take the battery on yon hill for you." Dan laid down. But all the men knew he meant what he said as he had been well tested before.
William J Wray of Company F was shot through the eye and his his blanketmate Patrick Hickey in the arm. Hickey and Billy Craig helped Wray to the rear and then Hickey began to care for his friend saving his life. Wray was taken to Surgeon Roller to stop the bleeding. Wray and Hickey made thier way to the rear and finally on a train to safety. Wray ended up in a hospital in York, PA.
Though the losses of the 23rd PA were small in comparison to other units or in comparison of thier losses at Fair Oaks or Cold Harbor, they would make up for it at 2nd Fredericksburg in May of 1863.
The information to put this write-up together was taken from the following sources:
“Life of the 23rd Pennsylvania “Birney’s Zouaves” William J. Wray 1904, 1999,2004
Research and Studies of Frank P. Marrone Jr.
In 2003 Turner Pictures released a movie about the First two and a half years of the Civil War entitled "God's and Generals". It includes scenes from The Battle of Fredericksburg. It is 231 minutes long and availible on DVD and Video.
"God's and Generals" The Movie (Click for more info)