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THE BATTLE OF FREDERICKSBURG.
HAT assurance of success had General Burnside in
W carrying his plans into successful execution? By the
consolidated morning reports of the Army of the Potomac, it appears that, on the 10th of December, there was in front of the enemy an effective force of one hundred and eleven thousand eight hundred and thirty-four officers and men of all arms. The artillery consisted of three hundred and twelve guns of different calibre, mostly field pieces. Of the three grand divisions,* the left, General Franklin's, was the largest, consisting of fortysix thousand eight hundred and ninety-two officers and men and one hundred and sixteen pieces of artillery, and was composed of the first corps, General J. J. Reynolds, and the sixth corps, General W. H. Smith. General Reynolds's division officers were Generals Meade, Gibbon and Doubleday; General Smith's were Generals Newton, Brooks and Howe. The centre grand division, General Hooker's, numbered thirtynine thousand, nine hundred and eighty-four officers and men and one hundred pieces of artillery, and was composed of the third corps, General Stoneman, and the fifth corps, General Butterfield. General Stoneman's division commanders were Generals Sickles, Birney and Whipple; General Butterfield's were Generals Sykes, Humphreys and Charles Griffin. The right grand division, General Sumner's, numbered twenty-two thousand seven hundred and thirty-six officers and men and
*For the sake of convenience of reference the organization of the army is stated in detail, notwithstanding some of the particulars have already been given.
sixty pieces of artillery, and consisted of the Ninth Corps, General Willcox, and the second corps, General Couch. General Willcox's division commanders were Generals Getty, Sturgis and Burns; General Couch's were Generals French, Hancock and Howard. The brigade of engineers, numbering fifteen hundred and five officers and men, was under the command of General D. P. Woodbury, to whom was assigned the duty of laying the bridges for the crossing. The signal corps, under the command of Captain Samuel T. Cushing, numbered one hundred and fifty officers and men. General Patrick's Provost Guard numbered about two hundred officers and men. General Ingalls' Quartermaster's Department numbered one hundred and fifty officers and men, and the headquarters escort about two hundred officers and men. A certain portion of the whole army was occupied in guarding the railroad and performing picket and outpost duty. The cavalry was held in There was, probably, in round numbers, an available force of one hundred thousand officers and men, who were either actively engaged or held in support, and thus, in a measure, exposed to the fire of the enemy at some time during the day of the battle of Fredericksburg.
The time for action came. On the 10th of December, the army was concentrated along the river front, within short marching distance from the bank, but concealed as much as possible from the enemy by the undulations of the land. During the night the artillery was posted along the edge of the plateau, from Falmouth to a point opposite the mouth of the Massaponax. Orders were issued to the engineers under General Woodbury to be ready for work at three o'clock on the morning of the 11th, and a sufficient force of infantry and artillery was detailed to cover the crossings and protect the working parties. Three points were selected for throwing the bridges—the first at a short distance above the place where the county bridge had stood; the second opposite the lower end of the town, and the third about a mile below Fredericksburg nearly opposite the mouth of Deep Run and not far from
the estate of a planter named Bernard. At the first of these points two, at the second one, and at the third three bridges were to be laid. Upon these six bridges the army was to cross the Rappahannock, occupy the town and move rapidly to the assault. The left, by a vigorous and decisive attack, was to pierce the enemy's line near Captain Hamilton's crossing, seize the road in the rear and compel the evacuation of the works upon the crest. Then the right and centre, in support of the left attack, were to force the enemy from the heights in front and pursue along the telegraph or the plank road, according to the direction of the enemy's retreat. The success of the plan of attack was to depend upon the celerity and vigor with which the troops were pushed to its execution.
The morning of the 11th dawned raw, cold and foggy. The engineers-among whom were volunteers from the 8th Connecticut regiment of the Ninth Corps-were promptly at work upon the bridges. But little opposition was made to the operations of General Franklin's working parties below the town, and after considerable labor, his three bridges were laid, secured and strengthened. At eleven o'clock in the forenoon he reported to General Burnside that he was ready to cross his grand division. But operations immediately opposite the town had not proceeded so satisfactorily as General Burnside had hoped, and General Franklin was ordered to hold his bridges, but not to cross the main body of his troops till the upper bridges were completed. The latter work was destined to meet with considerable opposition. As the day came on the design of crossing was revealed to the enemy's forces in the town. About two thirds of the work of laying the bridges had been accomplished, when the sharpshooters of General Barksdale's Mississippi brigade posted in the houses and streets directed a destructive fire upon the working parties. Then our artillery opened along the whole line opposite the town. Amid the deafening roar of cannon, the shrieking and bursting of shells, the crash of falling timbers, as solid shot pierced the walls, our men attempted to finish the bridges. Soon the exploding shells
set several houses on fire, and a portion of the city broke out into flames. But the persistent sharpshooters of the enemy obstinately held their position, and poured in a withering fire. Our engineers were brave, but they were unable to work, exposed as they were to the deliberate aim of riflemen that rarely missed their mark. General Woodbury reported to General Burnside that the bridges could not be built. They must be built," replied the chief. "Try again." Once again our men engaged in the useless endeavor. Once again they were obliged to desist. Once again General Woodbury reported his inability to complete his task. Our artillery could not dislodge those Mississippian riflemen from their position in the town.
At noon the fog lifted, and the enemy's fire became, if possible, more deadly. General Burnside had been at the Lacy house through most of the morning, anxious and impatient to put his troops across the river. Upon receiving the last report of General Woodbury, he immediately went down to the riverside himself. He at once saw the difficulty. He also saw the remedy. Consulting with his chief of artillery, General Hunt and other officers, he decided to call for volunteers to cross the river in boats, drive out its defenders and hold the town till the bridges should be built. Soldiers from three regiments—the 7th Michigan, the 19th and 20th Massachusetts-sprang forward at the call. Men of the 50th New York were ready to take the place of oarsmen. With the flag of the Union floating in the van, the brave fellows turned the prows of their boats towards the enemy and pushed off from the shore. A few minutes' strong pulling through the storm of death, and the opposite shore was reached. A party from the 89th New York, of General Getty's division, crossed at a point where the middle bridge was thrown, and our troops soon had the enemy in flank and rear. They rushed eagerly up the bank, along the streets, through the rifle pits, into the houses, and in half an hour's time the city of Fredericksburg was in our possession. The remnants of the Mississippi brigade, with the exception of a few that managed to escape, fell into our hands as prisoners
of war. The engineers immediately proceeded in their work and the bridges were laid.
It was now four o'clock in the afternoon. The precious day had been almost wasted. Nothing more could be done than to cross a portion of the troops to hold the bridge heads. General Devens's brigade of General Smith's corps-the 2d Rhode Island regiment in advance-crossed by the lower bridges, and brushing away the enemy's skirmishers, held the position. Colonel Hawkins's brigade-the 46th New York in advance— and General Howard's division crossed by the upper bridges and occupied the town. By this time the night had settled down, and our troops, after establishing their picket lines well out towards the enemy, bivouacked in the streets and gardens of Fredericksburg. No soldiers were allowed to enter the houses, and the provost guard was vigilant. Still, some cases of plunder occurred, but they were so few as to speak well for the discipline of the army.
The 12th was occupied in crossing the remainder of the troops, with the exception of General Hooker's grand division, which was held in reserve on the hither side of the river. The residue of General Franklin's grand division, consisting of the balance of General Smith's corps, the whole of General Reynolds's corps, and General Bayard's brigade of cavalry, began the crossing at daylight, and completed it at one o'clock in the afternoon. The troops were put in position-two divisions of Smith's corps in line of battle and one in reserve near the old Richmond road, Reynolds's corps nearly at right angles with Smith's, en potence, as it were, his right resting on Smith's left and his left on the river. These dispositions were made in the face of a spiteful but almost harmless fire from the enemy's skirmishers and artillery. The road was bordered by an earthen parapet and ditch, but the ground was generally level. In front of General Reynolds's right was a considerable tract of forest land, traversed by the railroad, and bordered nearer the hills by the old Richmond road. General Sumner, on his part, sent across the river the remaining part of the right