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LAYING OF PONTOONS BELOW FREDERICKSBURG. 281
Leaving the now grass-green crest, where so many pleasant weeks had been spent, the Regiment wended its way down the sloping sides, through the fields on the left, and crossing the main thoroughfare near White-Oak Church, entered the forest. An hour's march brought them to a small clearing, where a halt for a few moments was ordered, and the men stretched themselves out on the green turf. Again entering the woods, they pursued a circuitous course, through dense thickets, across deep ravines and over treacherous bogs, until the Division was overtaken at dusk, close to the spot where the Regiment had encamped after re-crossing the river in the winter. Fires not being permitted, the men were obliged to dispense with coffee, and sup as best they could on "hard tack" and ham, after which the light shelter tents were spread and, they betook themselves to rest. The “Light Brigade” of the same Division was employed during the night in getting the pontoons down near to the river.
Instead of being drawn on noisy, rumbling trucks, as heretofore, they were quietly conveyed on the men's shoulders, who tugged away lustily at them until between three and four o'clock in the morning, Wednesday, when they were launched in the river. So stealthily had the operations been conducted, that the enemy's pickets did not sound the alarm, until they saw boat loads of armed men approaching. They had time to fire only two or three volleys, and then fled. Russell's Brigade was the first to reach the opposite bank, and rapidly clambering up its sides,
GEN. WADSWORTH SWIMMING THE RIVER.
started in pursuit of the astonished rebels. The officer of the picket line was found fast asleep in bed, and on being brought over, entreated us not to exchange him, “ for if you do,” he said, “I shall surely be shot for having been caught napping.” Col. Irwin, of the Forty-ninth Pennsylvania, and some eight or ten others, were wounded in the crossing. Two bridges were lain, in the identical positions occupied last year, and Brooks Division of the Sixth Corps thrown over.
Later in the morning, five companies of the Fiftieth New York, Engineers, proceeded one mile and a quarter below, and commenced throwing two other bridges. Troops from Meredith's (Iron) Brigade of Gen. Wadsworth's Division, First Corps, dashed over in boats, and charging up the bank, took nearly all of the enemy prisoners, who were firing from behind earthworks and rifle-pits. The Twenty-fourth Michigan, Col. Marrow, led this gallant charge, followed by the Sixth Wisconsin. Some of the rebels who escaped took refuge in a house close by, but our guns immediately being turned upon it, they scampered from the building as fast as their legs could carry them, provoking round after round of laughter from our boys. The whole of Wadsworth's Division crossed, the General not waiting for the bridges to be completed, but fearlessly swimming his horse over. Troops now began to debouch at various points from the forest, and reaching the flats along the river, halted and stacked arms. The Thirty-third, together with the other Regiments of Howe's Division, breakfasted early, and descending to the plain about nine
o'clock, halted at the same spot where it had lain during the day preceding the crossing last year under Burnside. The sky was of a leaden, wintry gray, and a stiff breeze was blowing.
The whole of the Sixth Corps, with the exception of Brooks' Division, now over the river, were massed here, and the First Corps, with the exception of Wadsworth's Division, near the two lower bridges, while the Third, Gen. Sickles, remained back on the hills and in the woods in the rear.
Can it be? was the question which trembled on every lip, that we are again to be recklessly hurled against that amphitheatre of hills, before which five thousand of our number fell last year? So it seemed. The three entire Corps could not be designed for a mere feint movement? But when no more troops were crossed over, and on the following day a series of marches and countermarches were ordered, all gloomy forebodings were dispelled, for we then knew that the appearance of the three Corps here was for a ruse, though on a large scale, to attract the attention of the enemy, while the force above moved to their rear. The appearance by noon of two heavy lines of the enemy on the old battle-field, now a beautiful carpet of green, proved that the strategy had been successful.
As fast as their numerous regiments arrived from above or below, they descended the hills and formed in line at the foot to receive us. There they remained in position for hours; but seeing no disposition to advance on our part, large numbers, dropping back in the woods, swarmed like bees in