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XVI. the army of the Potomac under Burnside and Hooker.

Gen. Burnside reluctantly, and with unfeigned self-distrust, succeeded1 to the command of the Army of the Potomac. The devotion to McClellan of its principal officers, and of many of their subordinates, was so ardent that any other commander must have had a poor chance of hearty, unquestioning support; and Burnside would gladly have shrunk from the ordeal. Having no alternative, however, but disobedience of orders, he accepted the trust, and immediately commenced preparations for a movement of his forces down the Rappahannock to Fredericksburg, which he had selected as on the proper as well as the direct line of operations from Washington against Richmond: masking his purpose, for a few days, by menacing an advance on Gordonsville. Lee soon2 penetrated his real design, and commenced a parallel movement down the south bank of the river; while J. E. B. Stuart, raiding3 across at Warrenton Springs, entered Warrenton just after our rear-guard had left it, obtaining ample confirmation of his chief's conclusions; whereupon, the residue of Longstreet's corps was moved rapidly eastward. Meantime, Gen. Sumner's advance had reached4 Falnouth, and attempted to cross to Fredericksburg, but been easily repulsed; the bridges being burned and our pontoons — owing to a misunderstanding between Gens. Halleck and Burnside, each of whom conceived that the other was to impel their dispatch from Washington — did not start so early as they should have done, and then experienced detention from bad roads. and grounded vessels on the way: so that they did not reach Falmouth till after most of Lee's army had been concentrated on the heights across the river, ready to dispute its passage.

Fredericksburg was summoned5 by Gen. Sumner: the authorities replying that, while it would not be used to assail us, its occupation by our troops would be resisted to the utmost. Most of the inhabitants thereupon abandoned the place, which was occupied by Barksdale's Mississippi brigade, sharp-shooting from behind houses; while Lee's engineers pressed the fortification of the heights behind it, and Wade Hampton dashed6 across the river above, raiding up to Dumfries and the Occoquan, capturing 200 cavalry and a number of wagons; and a like dash across was made below Port Royal, in boats, by part of Beale's regiment; taking some prisoners. Our gunboats having steamed up the river so far as Port Royal, D. H. Hill assailed7 them with cannon, and compelled them to retire; when he proceeded to fortify the right bank, so as to prevent their return.

The Rappahannock, above Port Royal, being generally narrow, with high bluffs often approaching it, now on one side, then on the other, Lee decided that he could not prevent its [343]


passage at points where the river was fully commanded from its bluffs on the north, while a considerable intervale adjoined it on the south; but the tenacity with which Fredericksburg was held by sharp-shooters compelled Burnside to dislodge them by bombardment from the Falmouth bluffs, whereby considerable damage was done to the buildings, though less than might naturally have been expected. What with firing on it from either side, however, and the often wanton devastations of our soldiers, it was ultimately reduced to a state of general dilapidation.

Our army being at length in position along the north bank, Burnside [344] commenced8 throwing over pontoons to Fredericksburg; also at a point nearly two miles below. The Engineer corps had laid the upper pontoon two-thirds of the way, when daylight exposed them to the fire of the enemy's sharp-shooters, which drove them off; and the work was completed by the 7th Michigan, who had 5 killed and 16 wounded, including Lt.-Col. Baxter. Supported and followed by the 19th and 20th Massachusetts, they speedily finished the job, having dashed across the river in boats;9 taking 35 prisoners. We lost 300 in all in laying our pontoons and clearing the city of the enemy.

Gen. Franklin, on our left, encountered less resistance — the make of the land being there favorable to us — and laid his pontoons without loss. Possession of both banks being thus secured, two other pontoons were laid at either point, and our army mainly pushed across during that and the following days.10 The next was that chosen for the assault on the Rebel position; whose strength, though under-estimated by Burnside, was known to be very considerable.

Lee's army, fully 80,000 strong, was stretched along and behind the southern bluffs of the Rappahannock from a point a mile or so above Fredericksburg, to one four or five miles below. At its right, the bluffs recede two miles or so: the Massaponax here falling into the Rappahannock; the ground being decidedly less favorable to the defensive. It was organized in two grand corps, whereof that of Stonewall Jackson held the right; that of Longstreet the left. A. P. Hill commanded the left advance of Jackson's corps; which was confronted by Franklin's grand division, about 40,000 strong. On our right, or in and before Fredericksburg, were the grand divisions of Hooker and Sumner, numbering at least 60,000. But, while 300 Rebel guns were advantageously posted on every eminence and raked every foot of ground by which they could be approached, our heavy guns were all posted on the north side of the river, where their fire could rarely reach the enemy; while they made some havoc among our own men until Burnside silenced them.

The weather had been cold, and the ground was frozen ; but an

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