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236

LAYING BRIDGEB OVER THE RIVER,

CHAPTER XXVI.

Laying of the Bridges. — A solemn scene. — Bombardment of

Fredericksburg.- Gallantry of the Seventh Michigan and other Regiments.-Crossing of the left Grand Division.

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T length everything was in readiness, and during Wednesday evening, December 11th, the advance movement was begun. All night long, the rumbling of artillery could be heard, as numerous batteries moved to the Rappahannock and

were planted along the bank. One after another, the long, phantom-like pontoons descended the hill-sides, and were unloaded near the points designated for crossings. Four bridges were to be thrown, the first a few yards above the Lacey House, which fronts the main street of the city, the second several hundred yards below, and the third and fourth about a mile still further down the river. The right and centre Grand Divisions were to cross on the first two, and the left on the remaining two. General Burnside

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A SOLEMN SCENE.

237

designed to have all the artillery in position by eleven o'clock, the pontoons thrown by two A. M., and a large force across by sunrise. Owing, however, to numerous delays, none of the boats were launched before four o'clock.

The writer stood at the upper crossing. It was a most solemn scene, those brave Engineers (50th New York) pushing their pontoons out upon the ice, and fearlessly moving them around in the water, to their proper positions. Any moment might terminate their existence. They were upon the very threshold of eternity. Pacing along the opposite bank, or grouped around the picket fires, were to be seen the rebel sentinels, almost within pistol-shot. Occasionally they would stop a moment to view our operations, then resume their beat as unconcernedly as if nothing unusual was transpiring. The bridge was headed directly for one of their fires.

Nearly one quarter of it was completed without interruption, when, suddenly, as the Court House clock struck five, two signal guns boomed away in the distance, and were immediatedly followed by a sharp volley of musketry. Lieutenant-Colonel Bull, two captains and several men fell dead; others tumbled headlong into the water and sank to the bottom, or were rescued by their brave comrades and brought bleeding and dripping to the shore. We were not unprepared for this. Before the enemy had time to re-load, our artillery planted on the bluffs overhead, and infantry drawn up along the river's bank, returned a heavy fire upon the buildings in which the sharpshooters were secreted.

238

BOMBARDMENT OF FREDERICKSBURG.

Boom, boom, went the cannon, crack, crack, went the rifle, for one long hour, until the silence of the rebels terminated the duel, and the pontoniers resumed operations. But they had hardly reached the ontermost boat, and turned their backs to place an additional one in position, before another murderous fire was poured in upon them, and the fierce duel was renewed. After another hour's delay firing ceased, and again the builders stepped forward, but were again compelled to fall back. New batteries now opened rapidly upon the buildings, but failed to dislodge the sharpshooters, who, crouching down in their hiding places, fired upon the pontoniers as often as they ventured from the shore. About ten o'clock General Burnside appeared and gave the order, “Concentrate the fire of all your guns upon the place, and batter it down." One hundred and forty-three, cannon of various calibre, from 10-pound Parrots to 41-inch siege guns, were immediately trained upon the doomed city, and for fifty minutes rained down a perfect tempest of solid shot, shell and canister. Through the mist and dense clouds of smoke, bright fires appeared bursting forth in different parts of the town, and adding to the terrible grandeur of the spectacle.

When the cannonading ceased and the smoke cleared away, the destructiveness of our fire was apparent. Whole rows of buildings along the river side were rent and riven, as if by the thunderbolts of heaven-roofs gone, doors and windows smashed to atoms, and great hideous gaps through the walls ;

A BRILLIANT COUP-DE-MAIN.

239

shade trees shorn of their limbs or twisted from their trunks; fences stripped of their pickets by canister, or lying flat on the ground; streets furrowed with solid shot, and strewn with household effects; elegant up-town residences in flames; we had literally swept the city with the besom of destruction.

It did not seem possible that any animate thing could have survived this bombardment; and there were in fact no signs of life visible; but no sooner had the engineers again resumed operations, than they were greeted with a fresh shower of bullets. How the sharpshooters had managed to live through all that fire and smoke, was to us almost a miracle. Yet they were alive, and as plucky as ever, and our gunners returned to their work.

General Burnside now almost despaired of effecting a crossing. Nothing but some brilliant coupde-main would accomplish it. He accordingly decided upon sending a body of men over in boats, who should rush suddenly upon the concealed foe, and hunt them from their holes. The Seventh Michigan and Nineteenth Massachusetts were designated for this purpose. The gallant fellows never flinched from the duty assigned them, but taking their places in the pontoons, pushed bravely out into the stream, regardless of the rapid volleys of musketry which were poured into them. In a moment they had gained the opposite shore, and fearlessly sweeping up the bank, dashed into the houses, and shot, bayoneted or captured the small force which had occasioned us so much trouble and delay. A

240

CAPTURE OF PRISONERS.

hundred dark, swarthy Alabamians and Mississippians were brought back, amidst the wildest cheers of the spectators who had witnessed the heroic act.

Fredericksburg was now ours, and no further trouble was experienced in laying the bridge. The second was completed in a similar manner; about ninety men belonging to Colonel Fairchild's New York Regiment being taken over in boats, and returning with 110 rebels. Owing to the fact of there being no buildings to screen them, the enemy could offer but little resistance to the engineers at the lower crossings, and they were completed much earlier in the day.

The pontoons now being thrown, the right and centre Grand Divisions moved down in columns to cross, halting around Falmouth Station. The left, which had marched from White-Oak Church early in the morning, was massed during the day on the plain below. For some reason, General Burnside decided to cross but a small force that night, and the Sixth Corps drew back from the plain, and bivouacked in the adjoining woods. Leaving the vast army

A multitude like which the populous North

Poured never from its frozen loins"sleeping along the banks of the river, and in the groves beyond, let us briefly survey the scene of its operations during the four days which followed.

Directly in the rear of Fredericksburg is a plain, about one quarter of a mile wide, extending back to a low range of hills, along the crest of which was

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