The 21st Connecticut Infantry played a very minor role at the Battle of Fredericksburg. They crossed the Rappahannock River late in the afternoon the day before the battle and slept in the evacuated houses or streets of the city during the night. The next day, they were held in reserve till late in the afternoon, stationed on a street running parallel with the river and near the pontoon bridge. Here they watched as wounded men, some in ambulances, some hobbling along by foot, made their way back from the heights beyond town where the battle raged for hours.
As the sun began to set, they were finally ordered forward through the streets until they came to the edge of town and deployed in battle formation, facing the enemy. Marching forward, the lead elements were stunned by the explosion of a caisson, hit by an enemy shell just in their front. The men did not get far before they were halted and took shelter as night fell. The next morning, they were withdrawn before dawn back to the city where they spent the next two days before retreating back to the north of the Rappahannock River.
For the men of the 21st Connecticut, most of whom had never been in battle previously, the sights and sounds staggered their senses and many who had imagined themselves brave soldiers found themselves cowering before the enemy.
Col. Arthur Henry Dutton, commander of the 21st Connecticut, unmercifully published the following newspaper article to shame the following members of the 21st who did not remain with their comrades:
Head Quarters, 21st Regiment
Opposite Fredericksburg, Va.
December 26, 1862
Believing that sneaks should not share the credit to which brave men are entitled, I respectfully request you to give publication to the following list of soldiers in the Twenty-first Connecticut Volunteers, who voluntarily absented themselves from the regiment on the 12th of December to avoid crossing the Rappahannock:
S. M. Kimball, O. F. Luce, and J. W. Hyatt, of Company A.
George Barker of Co. B.
J. F. Putnam and C. H. Starr of Co. C
George Hutchins, W. Robinson, W. B. Stimpson, Frank Tucker, C. Nicholas, and ____ Whitehouse of Co. D
E. S. Brown, J. Pitcher, and _____ Billings of Co. G
David Brown and Francis Pratt of Co. H
List of soldiers who deserted the regiment while in Fredericksburg to avoid going to battle:
George K. Sargeant of Co.
Thomas Bailey of Co. C
Samuel Denison, Fred Tucker, George Newberry, Amos Hancox of Co. E
Aug. Terwilliger of Co. G
J. Hack and J. Belsford of Co. I
The above lists have been publicly read at parade and to avoid injustice, one week has been given for each individual to exculpate himself. Other papers are requested to copy. I am, gentleman, very respectfully, your obedient servant. — A. H. Dutton, Col. Commanding 21st Connecticut.