In December of 1862, the Union marched 122,000 troops in to Fredericksburg under the command of the incompetent General Burnside who held command of the Fighting 69th regiment. At midmorning Burnside ordered General Thomas Meagher to his command post and ordered Meaghers Irishmen to flush the confederate sharpshooters from an impregnable position called Mayres ridge and from the few houses that surrounded it. Burnside was specific in his orders.
The Irishmen were to make a frontal assault on the position. The Brigade attacked the position twenty times and was pushed back each time until five regiments of men were reduced to 200 wounded souls. Burnside suicide order cost him his command.
Robert E. Lee wrote "Never were men so brave. They ennobled their race by their splendid gallantry on that desperate occasion. through totally routed, they reaped the harvest of glory. Their brilliant, though hopeless assaults on our lines excited the hearty applause of our officers and soldiers .
The highest compliment for their bravery, oddly enough, came from a war correspondent for the London Times. "After witnessing the gallantry and devotion exhibited by these men, viewing the hillsides for acres strewn with their corpses thick as autumn leaves, this spectator can remember nothing but their desperate courage. Their bodies fell but 40 yards of their object, the best evidence of what manner of men they were who pressed on to death with the dauntlessness of a race which was gained glory on a thousand battlefields, and never more richly deserved it then at the foot of Mayres ridge on the 13th day of December, 1862"