When Charles Bright, a 90-year-old Port Charlotte, Fla. World War II veteran was a child, his great-aunt gave him a “Valor Certificate” written, signed and presented to Capt. Herbert Thomas, his great-grandfather, by his battalion commander, Col. Jacob G. Frick after the Civil War.
The captain was twice wounded leading his company, part of the 129th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, against Confederate forces dug in behind an impregnable rock wall on Mary’s Heights during the Battle of Fredericksburg, Va. The “Valor Certificate” Bright has was given to his great-grandfather in 1898, 36 years after the historic defeat of Union Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s troops by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s forces at Fredericksburg.
On Dec. 12, 1862, the federal army crossed the Rappahannock River into Virginia on five pontoon bridges. The following day, Burnside ordered a frontal attack on Mary’s Heights and Prospect Hill, held by Confederate troops. Union forces sustained staggering numbers of killed and wounded.
When Burnside called off the ill-fated attack two days later, he had lost 17,929 soldiers. Confederate casualties totaled 4,576 for the three-day battle.
It was Col. Frick’s troops who lead the right front during the fruitless multiple attacks on the wall. Although Union forces repeatedly tried to breach the enemy’s line of defense behind the wall, it held.
Gen. Tyler, their regimental commander, wrote in an official report about the 129th Pennsylvania Volunteers’ efforts at Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, “The battalion officers discharged their respective duties creditably and satisfactory. Their voices being heard above the din of battle urging on their men against the terrible shower of shot and shell and the terrific musketry as we approached the stone wall.”
Capt. Thomas was presented with an elaborate parchment scroll, festooned with an American eagle with wings spread and a half-dozen American flags citing his bravery and devotion to duty, on March 18, 1898, by Col. Frick.
“This is to certify that Herbert Thomas served as Captain of Company D, 129th Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry, Volunteers, Army of the Potomac, War of the Rebellion,” it begins.
“Capt. Thomas was mustered into the service of the United States at Harrisburg, Pa., August, 1862, as a Captain of Company D and served under my command until by cause of wounds received at the battle of Fredericksburg, Va., Dec. 13, 1862, he was compelled to retire from the service. During the whole period of his service, he discharged his duties in camp as well as in the field and in battle with great intelligence, courage, zeal and ability. In person, Capt. Thomas was stalwart and courtly, and his disposition that of kindest of natures, always and at all times and upon all occasions that of a Christian gentleman.
“In battle he was in the forefront and always displayed great gallantry and bravery.
“Capt. Thomas’ ability as a soldier, his education and gentlemanly deportment soon attracted the attention of Maj. Gen. Humphreys, commanding 3rd Division, 5th Corps, Army of the Potomac, who appointed him Inspector of the 3rd Division on his personal staff. He performed his position in this important place with great intelligence and credit and to the extreme satisfaction of the most exacting Superior Officer; a Martinet of the severest character.
“Capt. Thomas served in the capacity of Inspector on General Humphrey’s Staff until the close of the battle of Fredericksburg. In that disastrous and futile attempt to scale Mary’s Heights and carry the enemy’s position. When the column of attack was formed to make the last attack of the day by Tyler’s Brigade 3rd Division, Capt. Thomas was in the front of the line with his Superior Officer and with him participated in the charge amid the most furious fire of shot and shell.
“Before the charge was half over the horse of Capt. Thomas was shot from under him and thus unhorsed he sought out his own company and bravely led it up to the very muzzle of the guns in the hands of the enemy behind the Stone Wall, where he was seriously wounded and carried from the field.
“This was his last service to my regret under my command. His wound entirely incapacitating him from other service, which he reluctantly had to abandon.”
Signed: “Jacob G. Frick, Colonel 129th Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry Volunteers.”
After the war, Thomas became a prosperous lumberyard owner in Jeffersonville, Ind. He lived until he was 72, passing away in 1900.
This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, Aug. 12, 2007 and is republished with permission.
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