Two Union officers discover bridging the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg is even more difficult while dodging bullets.
“[We] arrived about 3 o’clock on the morning of the 11th of December, unloaded the bridge material, and proceeded to lay the bridge. All went quietly until we got within about 80 feet of the dock in Fredericksburg, when we were opened upon by a body of infantry concealed on the opposite shore. We had two privates wounded this first fire. Our artillery on the left bank opened fire on the points where the cover….enemy were concealed, which, in about thirty minutes, silenced their fire. We went on the bridge once again, and commenced work, but, as soon as we were collected together, the enemy poured a very heavy fire on us….The range being so short and the fire so heavy, it was impossible for the men to work; they accordingly went under
Our artillery gave them round shot and shell for another half-hour, when their fire slackened, and finally entirely ceased. I then collected my men together and made another attempt to finish the bridge, but, as soon as I got fairly at work, we were fired upon, the fire being much heavier than either of the others. We lost by this fire 2 men killed and 9 wounded.
It was then determined to make another attempt to lay the bridge, and to throw a body of infantry across the river in boats, to dislodge the enemy, which was accordingly done.
—Lieutenant Michael H. McGrath, 50th New York Engineers
“It was arranged that, under cover of a heavy artillery fire, the engineers should place boats at intervals along the bank, and provide men to row and steer them. Lieutenant-Colonel Baxter, commanding Seventh Michigan Volunteers, was informed of the plan, and his regiment Volunteered to be crossed and storm the town as proposed.…At a signal, the batteries opened their fire, and continued with great rapidity for over half an hour, the engineer troops failing to perform their part, running away from the boats at the first fire from the enemy and seeking shelter. No prospect appearing of better conduct, I stated to Colonel Baxter that I saw no hopes of effecting the crossing, unless he could man the oars, place the boats, and push across unassisted. I confess I felt apprehensions of disaster in this attempt, as, without experience in the management of boats, the shore might not be reached promptly, if at all, and the party lost….The signal to cease the artillery firing was made, and I thought best to push those now ready across, rather than to wait till all were filled, and to allow the enemy to come out of his concealment from the cannonade. The boats pushed gallantly across under a sharp fire. While in the boats, 1 man was killed and Lieutenant Colonel Baxter and several men were wounded. The party, which numbered from 60 to 70 men, formed under the bank and rushed upon the first street, attacked the enemy, and, in the space of a few minutes, 31 prisoners were captured and a secure lodgment effected.
—Colonel Norman J. Hall, 7th Michigan Infantry
Originally published in the November 2012 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.