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Chapter 21: events at Falmouth.

Capt. Charles M. Merritt, who had been reported absent without leave was restored to the rolls of his Company, A, by order of the Secretary of War, Nov. 17, 1862. First Lieut. Elisha A. Hinks, of Company E was assigned to the command of Company B as special duty.

Chaplain Ezra D. Winslow, who had been reported as absent without leave from Nov. 1 to Nov. 17, was assigned to duty at the Convalescent camp, Alexandria, Va., by S. O. 350, A. of P. for 30 days from Nov. 17.

Of the surgeons, assistant surgeon Josiah M. Willard was absent sick and Dr. Vertulen R. Stone had been appointed assistant surgeon by Gov. Andrew on Nov. 6.

Three other changes were made in the regimental officers during November. Capt. James D. Russell and First Lieut. Albert Thorndike had resigned because of wounds and had received their discharges, while Second Lieut. Michael A. McNamara had been discharged.

A number of men had left the regiment on recruiting duty during November, being sent to Massachusetts. These were as follows:

Co. A.Corporal William Young.
Co. B.Sergt. Moses Shackley.
Co. C.Private Stephen Armitage.
Co. D.Private C. P. Crane.
Co. E.Sergt. D. Corrigan.
Co. F.Sergt. Charles R. Hazen.
Co. G.Corporal William H. Clark.
Co. H.Sergeant A. C. Douglas.
Co. I.Corporal Charles S. Palmer.
Co. K.Sergeant Thomas P. Manning.


Dec. 1st. Hewed timber for our tent, as we were ordered to prepare winter quarters.

Dec. 2nd. In the forenoon drilled in the bayonet exercises which we are obliged to do every day.

Dec. 3rd. Nothing going on today. Paid 25 cts. for a loaf of bread.

Dec. 9th. My feet have been wet for three days and today are quite sore. My shoes have given out and my toes are on the ground. Don't know but I shall freeze them.

The news that Gen. Burnside had completed preparations for making the long contemplated crossing at Fredericksburg was not long in reaching the camp of the regiment. Extra rations were issued, together with extra rounds of ammunition. The arms were given an exceptional inspection and everything indicated that there would be a movement at daybreak.

An interesting incident occurred in the camp of the Nineteenth Massachusetts during the evening of Dec. 10. John Thompson of Company F, who was on special duty went to Lieut. Hill and said, questioningly ‘The boys are going into a fight tomorrow?’

‘It looks like it, John,’ was the reply.

‘Well, Lieutenant, please let me fall in with them.’

He was told that he could not be spared from his post as cook.

‘I know, Lieutenant, but I want to show 'em the stuff I've got in me. Won't you let me go?’

He begged so hard that he was finally permitted to fall in, the most pleased man in the regiment.

During the period of waiting, Burnside had sent a summons across the river for the surrender of the city and his demand had been refused.

Then, in accordance with the plan of the commanding general, on the morning of December 11, an attempt was made to lay the pontoons from near the Lacy House on the north bank, directly to Fauquier Street, the main street of Fredericksburg which ran to the river. Two more were begun a third of a mile down the stream and two others a mile and a half farther down, near the house of a Mr. Bernard. Sumner and Hooker were to use those opposite the town and Franklin those farther [165] down. 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. [166]

The heavy columns of the Ninth Corps swept rapidly to the front. French moved his division to the heights of Stafford, Hancock followed close and just at dawn the gallant division of Howard moved up.

Word that the Engineers had succeeded in laying the bridges below the city and that Franklin and Hooker were crossing was received, but the bridge over which the Third Brigade was to cross could not be laid in time. About two hours before daylight the brigade marched down to the river bank, and found but a small section of the bridge laid. There was about an inch of snow on the ground and the fog was so dense that it was impossible to see across the river. The Nineteenth Massachusetts regiment was deployed as a skirmish line along the river bank at the west side of the bridge, with the Seventh Michigan doing the same service on the east side, while the 179 guns on the hills behind them kept throwing shells over into the city. The men could feel the hot air from these shells as they flew overhead. Later, the regiment was ordered to the rear of the batteries so that they could depress their pieces.

After the fruitless attempt to dislodge the enemy by artillery and a waste of many hours of valuable time, the brigade commander sent for the regimental commanders late in the afternoon and informed them that it was proposed, after shelling the banks, to make a crossing in pontoon boats by volunteers, as the nature of the work was to be hazardous. The commanders of the Nineteenth Massachusetts and the Seventh Michigan, who were the only ones that had arrived at this time, tendered their services and were immediately ordered to conform as nearly as possible to the orders of the night before.

During the day the heavy mist over the river had been dissipated by the sun and the city was clearly visible. The houses seemed to be untenanted and nothing appeared to have life but one poor, lonely cow which wandered up and down the river bank. But once in a while there would be a flash, a puff of smoke, followed by a report, denoting the spot where some rebel sharpshooter was concealed. To step upon the bridge meant instant death.

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