Wednesday, December 12, 2012

December 11, 1862

December 11, 1862:


The Battle of Fredericksburg

(First Fredericksburg)



U.S.     Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside                  Army of the Potomac         114,000 men

C.S.     Gen. Robert E. Lee                          Army of Northern Virginia             75,000 men

Day 1:  As dawn breaks, Union army engineers are pulling pontoon boats into place and placing the stringers, and then planking the new bridges as they go, but even through the heavy mists and fog, the flashing lights of Confederate rifles firing began and men began to drop. 
 The engineers would drop on the bridge boards or even climb into the boats to escape the bullets.   Brig. Gen. William Barksdale and his brigade of Mississippi infantry infiltrated the entire riverfront, and brought the bridge-building to a halt.  Even though Gen. Burnside had placed 147 cannon to cover the engineers, the artillery were not as useful against sharpshooters---until Burnside ordered his artillery to shell the town, which they did.  Wooden houses went up in flames and brick and stone houses were knocked down.  The remaining citizens of the city fled in a panic.  Soon, it is apparent that Barksdale’s riflemen are still in place, so the Federals put several regiments---mostly the 7th Michigan and the 19th and 20th Massachusetts---on skiffs and rowboats and row them across the river.  These regiments land on the western shore of the Rappahannock and take the Rebels by surprise---who in turn fall back, but fight a vicious house-to-house action, street by street, making the Yankees pay dearly for each step forward.  
But now the engineers are able to finish the bridges quickly, and more troops cross as night falls.  The fighting in the streets intensifies, and the Rebels finally retire to their own lines above the town.  Barksdale has bought some time for Lee. 

---Confederate War Department clerk John Beauchamp Jones keeps in touch with the battle news by telegraph, and offers a rather creative picture of what the Southern men look like, considering that Jones has not set foot or eye on the scene around Fredericksburg:

Burnside must have greatly superior numbers, or else he is a great fool to precipitate his men into a plain, where every Southern soldier is prepared to die, in the event of failure to conquer! There is no trepidation here; on the contrary, a settled calm on the faces of the people, which might be mistaken for indifference. They are confident of the success of Lee, and really seem apprehensive that Burnside will not come over and fight him in a decisive battle. We shall soon see, now, of what stuff Burnside and his army are made. I feel some anxiety; because the destruction of our little army on the Rappahannock might be the fall of Richmond. . . .

---The ironclad USS Cairo, browsing the waters of the lower Yazoo, hits a “torpedo” (water mine) and sinks rapidly.  Most of the crew escape, but the ship goes directly to the bottom in short order.

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