Visiting Fredericksburg in 1989
Milo’s letters about Fredericksburg
In his letters, Milo described the first day of the battle of Fredericksburg hearing heavy firing to his right and his left. His position he said was “within a mile of Fredericksburg, in a valley or ravine… with a small rivulet running at the bottom.” From this, I estimated his position to be near the road between the two main points of the battle–near the middle of Lee’s line.
Finding Milo at Fredericksburg Ourselves
As we drove onto Lee Drive, cutting across the military park, we tried to sense where Milo had been, with the few clues we had to go on. As we descended a hill, Christl said she felt a great wave of sadness come over her–the kind she had sometimes felt while we were reading his letters together. Like me, Milo had married later in life. Like me, he had a little boy. Like me, he was an educated man who had come to love the South. Like me, he felt a compelling closeness to his wife and child and to the friends who made up their larger family. He was a passionate, idealistic intellectual, with a touch of the romantic poet in him. We felt a connection with him that went beyond the fact that he was my great grandfather.
I drove up and back down the road, then named the place I would pick for his location. It was within yards of the place Christl had chosen. We got out. There was a little stream, sloping down to a densely wooded hillside, into a little ravine that paralleled the road. Nearby were trenches with a sign that identified them with Kershaw’s troops. Still, we felt this was where Milo had been.
Finding Milo with help of the Ranger
We then went to Park Headquarters in Fredericksburg to see if the rangers could help us. Although the ranger did everything she could, she told us the man we needed to see was out. We looked through a few of the many books in the little store, then went out to take pictures of the stone wall.
Afterwards, while I was standing by the car waiting for the others, a ranger approached, talking to two men. They stopped in front of the car, a few feet away from me, finished talking, and the men left. I approached the ranger and told him what I was trying to find out, and found out he was the man I needed to talk to.
In his office, we went over Milo’s letters, looked through records, and came up with nothing on the Georgia 51st. Then I looked through earlier letters and found the name of Milo’s comanding officer, Col. Slaughter of Albany, Georgia. The ranger found Col. Slaughter’s name in “The Official Records of Union and Confederate Armies,” confirmed that he had led the Georgia 51st, and found that he had served under General Paul Semmes.
We then looked up Semmes’s position at Fredericksburg. It was just down the road, south of Kershaw’s, within yards of the location Christl and I had picked.
The ranger pointed out that Kershaw had sent some of his men to reinforce Marye’s Heights the second day, possibly leaving Semmes’s men to spread along the road and cover the positions they left. According to Lee’s Lieutenant’s, however, on the second day of the battle, the victorious Georgians of Cobbs’ brigade were replaced by Semmes’s brigade–which would have included Milo. Milo’s letters from the second day confirm his position behind the Stone Wall, in sight of the many Union dead, and expecting a second assault that never came.
At Fredericksburg, we identified Milo’s brigade–General Semmes–so we knew where to look for him at Gettysburg.