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1862 December, The Second Wisconsin

Dec. 1st, late in the afternoon we fall back through the Wilderness, recross the Rapidan at midnight near Germania Mills. Distance seven miles.

Dec. 2nd are detailed to guard Mitchell's Ford, to which place we march, five miles.

Dec. 3rd, rejoin the division.

Dec. 4th, lay out a camp at Kelley's Ford and commence to build winter quarters. Remain here until 

Dec. 5th, quite a heavy snowstorm.

Dec. 9th, break camp, march about three miles southward across the railroad - Potomac Creek. The whole army is on the move.

Dec. 10th, change position to the left.

Dec. 11th, march to near Fitzhugh Crossing two miles.

Cornelius Wheeler’s diaries

Its situation on the Eve of Battle - Opining of the Bombardment of Fredericksburg - Plans of crossing - the Paymaster Visits the Wisconsin Men -t hey send Home four Months wages - "A touch of Nature makes all Kin."
(we are gratified to be able to give our readers in the following letter some recent intelligence from our brave boys on the Rappahannock. The money which they are sending home will give much needed relief to many a family.)


After several days of cold weather which has given us good roads in places of impassable mud, we have a softening, hushed ,hazy day as if winter were yielding to spring.
Last night we of Meredith's (formerly Gibbon's) brigade bivouacked in the serene moon light two or three miles from Fredericksburg. The anticipation of a great day confirmed by the orders from commanding generals and by the continual sound of pontoon trains and artillery moving to the front made us watchful. We took our coffee at 4 o'clock by the light of the camp fires and awaited the order to march.
Just as the day was announced by a few faint penciling of light in the east, the booming cannon in the fortifications - which were building along the river when I visited the locality last week, made it known that the day's work had commenced. The firing has been heavy and incessant. All the morning the bluffs reverberating the sounds, but now it slackens.
Our brigade lies a little back from the bluff waiting until the preparations for crossing can be completed. I am told that the attempt is making to throw across two bridges for each of the grand divisions; the points selected for the purpose being at Fredericksburg, a few miles below and a little distance above. The town is now on fire in three or four places in punishment for a destructive fire from concealed rebels, which was very fatal to a company of engineers who had nearly completed a bridge at that place.

Aqua Creek, Va.,
Friday Morning, 12th

It is reported that Gen. Smith crossed last night on the lower bridge which was successfully laid under the projection of a gunboat.
The long expected paymaster arrived just as we are about to move with something like $250,000 for our brigade and as the men do not like to go into battle with any considerable sum of money, I have been detailed to go to Washington and send to their friend what they can spare of their four months wages.
On the eve of battle a soldier will sometimes put his pocket book into the hands of the Chaplain with a word and a tear of a manner which expresses more than both. At such a moment hearts touch that had hardly recognized their kindred humanity before. Refinement does not separate itself from rudeness, even the pious and the profane have some heart throbs which are similar. In the immediate presence of a great common danger a man is simply and only a man except as trust in the Mighty One makes him greater; and it is found and felt that the most unworthy have something of their humanity left to which possibly the good may yet make its appeal not in vain.

Dec. 12, march to lower pontoon on Rappahannock River and several miles below the city of Fredericksburg, our arms in hand, all night in line of battle. Distance 4 miles.

Cornelius Wheeler’s diaries

Fredericksburg -
December 12 - 15, 1862

At Fredericksburg, in order to have the regiments of the brigade in the same uniform, I had ordered all to be equipped with the regulation black felt hats. In the battle of Gainesville, the men we took prisoners asked who "'Those black hatted fellows were" they had been fighting and after that the men were accustomed to refer to themselves as "The Black Hat Brigade." How or where the name of the "Iron Brigade" was first given I do not know but soon after the battle of Antietam the name was started and ever after was applied to the brigade.

John Gibbons


The brigade took part in the battle of Fredericksburg, December 12 - 15, 1862. Crossing the Rappahannock the 12th of December, with Franklin’s grand division, in the First Division, under General Doubleday, they occupied a very important position, on the extreme left, during the battle, but did not become engaged with the enemy’s infantry, except a little skirmishing with the supports of a battery, and also a brush with a portion of Stewart’s cavalry. A change of position during the battle, exposed the brigade to heavy artillery fire, but their range was inaccurate, and the loss of the brigade was very light. In the monthly reports of the Second Regiment, Corporal Arthur Rangott, of Company F, was reported killed. Ten were wounded.

Military History of Wisconsin, Quinter, 1866

Dec. 14th, lay in line of battle. 

Dec. 15th, still remain under arms and about same as two days previous. Scarcely a man but what breaths easier as he touches the north side of the river. 

Cornelius Wheeler’s diaries

The public will rejoice to learn that the remains of the late Col. Edgar O'Connor, of the 2d Wisconsin regiment have been found and buried in the congressional cemetery at Washington. The following letter from, W. Y. Selleck, Vice President of the Wisconsin Soldiers Aid Society, will be read with Interest:
Washington, Dec., 14th, 1862
Hon. B. O'Connor,
Dear Sir:- On Thursday last I started for Gainesville, Va. to recover the remains of your son, late Colonel of the 2d Regt. Wis Vol. Gen. Schurz had promised me that on my arrival at Centerville he would give me an escort to Gainesville: but on my arrival at Fairfax Court House, I was informed that Gen. Schurz ,with his troops, with the exception of some cavalry, had left to join General Burnside. Gen. Sigel, therefore, gave me a flag of truce to proceed with from Centerville. I spent Thursday evening at Centerville, and on Friday morning early started for Gainesville; or rather for the battle field a mile and a half this side. I had a team and driver and a young man, formerly a member of the regiment, with me to assist. On our arrival on the battle field we were unable by our diagrams (which proved mainly to be imperfect,) to find the graves of our Wisconsin soldiers so after a considerable search I drove in to Gainesville to make inquiry. I there found a man who was acquainted with the battle field and at my urgent request went with me to the place where your son was buried. On our arrival we found that both of our diagrams were wrong as you will see by alterations I have made. There were graves of our Wisconsin soldiers, on both sides of the one containing your son's body. 
There was one, having a board, with your son's name and Regt. on it, but on examination was found not to be the one; whereupon I picked out one which, from its appearance, I thought must be an officer's. We opened it and got to the shoulder, pulled aside the blanket and could see the eagle on the strap which satisfied me that it was the body of you son. After we took it out of  the grave, Mr. Taylor pulled the blanket aside and lifted the rubber blanket off the face which we found to be undecayed and as white as the day it was buried. I immediately recognized it as that of your beloved son, as would any one who was at all acquainted with him and familiar with his appearance when in life. It was twelve and a half o'clock when we secured the remains in the coffin (which was well made of black walnut) and started for Washington where we arrived at eleven o'clock that evening after having driven 46 miles during the day, twenty miles of which was a very bad road.
Yesterday I consulted with Gen. King, who is here attending on the Court Martial, about a funeral. We concluded to have a military escort. The General gave me a letter to Gen Heintzelman who has command of all the troops here asking a proper escort. To this Gen. Heintzelman responded by promptly ordering a regiment of infantry to report to me to-day at eleven o'clock, at which time the funeral took place. I went personally to all the members of our delegation here and invited them to attend, to which they promptly expressed their intention to do.  I obtained permission of the gentleman of the house where I was boarding to use his parlors for the general ceremonies. The funeral took place this morning at eleven o'clock; the services at the house and grave were performed by an Episcopal clergyman. Among those present were Senators. Howe and Doolittle, Representatives Potter and Sloan, Col. Havelock. (Brother of the late General Havelock of the British army.) Col. Harte, also several of the officers belonging to various regiments, Senator Howe's family, Messrs. Gordon and Goddard and several others from Wisconsin, Gov. Randall among them; together with a number of citizens of this city. The coffin was placed in the hearse and covered with the Stars and Stripes under which he had so gallantly fought.
The escort was by the 26th regiment of Maine Volunteers with their regimental band; there were six carriages filled with our Senators, Representatives and others who went to the grave. The procession went through Pennsylvania Avenue up by the capitol to the Congressional Burying Ground, where the remains now repose, encased in a black walnut coffin which is placed in a stout outside case made of thick pine.
Everything went off well and satisfactorily. It was my endeavor to have your son buried in a manner suited to his rank and which would be satisfactory and gratifying to you, his wife, mother and friends, also to the regiment which he commanded.
Hoping that my course in procuring and disposing of the remains of you son will meet with your approbation I remain.
Very Respectfully
Your Obt. Servt.,
Box 781.
W. Y. Selleck.

Dec. 16th, move back on heights, form line of battle. Distance four miles.

Dec. 20th, march to White Oak Church and bivouac on Buttard's Branch. Distance ten miles. 

Dec. 23rd., March down near Belle Plaine, landing for the purpose of going into camp. Four miles. From camp we have a pretty view of the Potomac River. 

Dec. 24th, when we break camp and march to Culpepper Court House, where we again build winter quarters about three-quarters of a mile west of village, and here we are strongly quartered for the winter.

We have now reached 1863.

Cornelius Wheeler’s diaries

January 1863