Work was begun at three o'clock in the morning, and the pontoon train moved across a ploughed field to the water's edge.
Everything was carried on quietly.
Across the river a rebel sentry could be seen by the light of a fire, patrolling the bank.
By daylight the work had progressed fairly well, considerable material had been carried to the river, and part of the bridge laid when the rebel sentry heard the crackling of the ice as the boats were pushed into the water.
Seizing a burning brand, he waved it over his head as a danger signal, and soon a brigade of sharpshooters,—Barksdale
's brigade of Mississippi
riflemen—were firing rapidly at the engineers from behind the rifle pits, fences, walls and from cellars on the other side.
They were able to pick off officers, particularly of the engineer corps, engaged in constructing the bridge.
Fresh men stepped forward to take the place of those shot, but the sharpshooters killed and wounded so many that it almost resulted in the destruction of the engineer detachment.
The artillery then began shelling the rebels from Stafford Heights
, but without effect, as they could not depress the guns sufficiently.
Meanwhile, the regimental commanders
of the Third brigade had been assembled at brigade headquarters to receive preliminary instructions for the approaching battle.
They were informed that the brigade would be the first to cross the upper pontoon bridge then being laid by the engineer corps; that the Nineteenth Massachusetts, then commanded by Capt. Harrison G. O. Weymouth
, would occupy the right of the city on Caroline Street, with its left resting on Fauquier street, its right extending to the large brick mill, or warehouse, which was situated on the bottom land of the river, a distance of more than half a mile.
They were instructed to hold this position until the right grand division, consisting of the Second and Ninth Corps, had crossed the river.
At about four o'clock in the morning the clear blasts of the bugle aroused everyone to activity.
The rude breakfasts were hastily eaten, the sick and disabled were hurriedly tolled off for the guard of the camp; the bustle of aides and orderlies increased, and at half past 4 the opening roar of artillery in front announced that the dread business had begun.