2nd Manassas - Aug. 1862
Battle of 1st Fredericksburg - Friday, December 12, 1862
The Union Bombardment and Fredericksburg Ruins

Fredericksburg ruins.
In a hazy, wintry fog, Union engineers found themselves exposed to a brigade of Confederate rifles as they worked to lay pontoons across the Rappahannock River. While striving to complete the task which would allow the Union Army access to their foes beyond the town, Brigadier General William Barksdale's Mississippians fired from the homes of Fredericksburg, Virginia, thwarting the Federal engineers' determined efforts. In his official report, General Longstreet said of this effort, "Brigadier-General Barksdale with his brigade held the enemy's entire army at the river bank for sixteen hours, giving us abundance of time to complete our arrangements for battle. A more gallant and worthy service is rarely accomplished by so small a force" [11]

Years later, when James Longstreet sat to write his memoirs, he further described the scene on that morning.

"The first noise made by the enemy's bridge-builders was understood by the picket guards, as was all of their early work of construction, but a heavy mist along the water concealed them from view until their work upon the bridge was well advanced. As soon as the forms of the workmen could be discerned the skirmishers opened fire, which was speedily answered from the other side in efforts to draw the fire from the bridge-builders, but the Confederates limited their attention to the builders till they were driven off, when they ceased firing. Another effort to lay the bridge met a like result. Then a third received the same stormy repulse, when it seemed that all the cannon within a mile of the town turned their concentrating fire of shot and shell upon the buildings of the devoted city, tearing, crushing, bursting, burning their walls with angry desperation that must have been gratifying to spirits deep down below." [56]

Cannon at Chatham.In his book "History of Kershaw's Brigade", D. Augustus Dickert wrote of the artillery General Burnside situated along the river banks. "When Burnside became aware of the mighty obstacle of Lee's battalions between him and his goal, the deep, sluggish river separating the two armies, he realized the trouble that lay in his path. He began fortifying the ridges running parallel to and near the river, and built a great chain of forts along "Stafford Heights," opposite Fredericksburg. In these forts he mounted one hundred and thirty-seven guns, forty being siege pieces brought down from Washington by way of the Potomac and Aquia Creek, and lined the entire range of hills with his heaviest and long-distanced field batteries." [58] It was these guns that General Burnside ordered to target the houses sheltering the sniping Confederate infantry.

Major General Lafayette McLaws would briefly note the destruction to follow.

"It is impossible fitly to describe the effects of this iron hail hurled against the small band of defenders and into the devoted city. The roar of the cannon, the bursting shells, the falling of walls and chimneys, and the flying bricks and other material dislodged from the houses by the iron balls and shells, added to the fire of the infantry from both sides and the smoke from the guns and from the burning houses, made a scene of indescribable confusion, enough to appeal the stoutest hearts!...**Colonel Fiser himself had been knocked down and stunned by a portion of a falling wall, but, recovering consciousness, held to his post, and cheered on his men." [59]

D. A. Dickert of the 3rd South Carolina of Confederate Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw's Brigade would include in greater detail the effect of the Federal rain of iron.

"After making several ineffectual attempts in placing the bridge, the destructive fire of Barksdale's Riflemen forcing them back, the enemy attempted the bold project of filling the boats with armed soldiers, pushing out in the stream, and fighting their way across, under cover of their artillery fire. While the dense fog was yet hanging heavily over the waters, one hundred and forty guns, many siege pieces, were opened upon the deserted city and the men along the water front. The roar from the cannon-crowned battlements shook the very earth. Above and below us seemed to vibrate as from the effects of a mighty upheaval, while the shot and shell came whizzing and shrieking overhead, looking like a shower of falling meteors. For more than an hour did this seething volcano vomit iron like hail upon the city and the men in the rifle pits, the shells and shot from the siege guns tearing through the houses and plunging along the streets, and ricocheting to the hills above. Not a house nor room nor chimney escaped destruction. Walls were perforated, plastering and ceiling fell, chimneys tottering or spreading over yards and out into the streets. Not a place of safety, save the cellars and wells, and in the former some were forced to take refuge." [58]

View of Fredericksburg from Tyler's BatteryIn his report to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee would describe this action by writing, "The narrowness of the Rappahannock, its winding course, and deep bed afforded opportunity for the construction of bridges at points beyond the reach of our artillery, and the banks had to be watched by skirmishers. The latter, sheltering themselves behind the houses, drove back the working parties of the enemy at the bridges opposite the city, but at the lowest point of crossing, where no shelter could be had, our sharpshooters were themselves driven off, and the completion of that bridge was effected about noon on the 11th. In the afternoon of that day, the enemy's batteries opened upon the city, and by dark had so demolished the houses on the river bank as to deprive our skirmishers of shelter, and under cover of his guns he effected a lodgment in the town. The troops which had so gallantly held their position in the city under the severe cannonade during the day, resisting the advance of the enemy at every step, were withdrawn during the night, as were also those who, with equal tenacity, had maintained their post at the lowest bridge." [9]