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150 Years Ago: Thursday, December 11, 1862


Building Pontoon Bridges to city of FredericksburgSource: Library of Congress

Building Pontoon Bridges to city of Fredericksburg
Source: Library of Congress

At midnight, Union engineers quietly haul 189 wagons of pontoon bridges down to the Rappahannock River and begin putting the pieces together. At 5am, the engineers hear the order “Fire!” come across the river and C.S.A. General William Barksdale’s brigade begins attacking the engineers. Work on the bridges to the south of the city proceeds rapidly, but the work on the bridges at the city comes to a halt. At 10am, U.S. Commanding General Ambrose Burnside orders a massive barrage on the city to stop the sniping on his engineers, but the barrage fails. Finally, three Union regiments cross the river using the pontoons as boats and force Barksdale’s men back. As the day ends, Oliver Howard’s division enters the city in force and Barksdale withdraws. Burnside now occupies the city of Fredericksburg that he has been staring at across the river for several weeks.

U.S. Major General John F. Reynolds is moving the rest of Major General William Franklin’s Left Grand Division across the bridges three miles south of the city. Reynolds approaches the owner of a nearby plantation home, owned by Mr. Barnard, who refuses to leave the premises so the Union can use his home for their operations. It is unclear what Reynolds says to Barnard – he is usually a man of few words – but as Franklin arrives he sees Barnard escorted by two soldiers towards the pontoon bridge. Franklin sets up his headquarters at the Barnard home, which overlooks the river and is less than a mile south of the bridges.

Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes and his fellow 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers leave their camp at Falmouth in darkness; his men will cross the bridges south of the city:

Franklin's Crossing (taken May 1863)Source: Library of Congress

Franklin’s Crossing (taken May 1863)
Source: Library of Congress

We left our camp about two o’clock in the morning and just at daylight reached the banks of the Rappahannock River below Fredericksburg. The river is narrow and for about five hundred years back the ground is nearly of a level with the river. Back of this plain are high bluffs and here we had nearly two hundred cannon in position. These cannon were constantly firing and the roar was tremendous. The air was filled with shot and shell flying over our heads and into Fredericksburg. The Rebels did not often reply but would at times land a shot over onto our side. Just at sunset the 2nd R.I. was ordered to cross the bridge at a place now called Franklin’s crossing. It is opposite a plantation owned by A.N. Barnard and is about three miles below the city. Companies “B”, “I” and “K” first charged across the pontoon bridges with arms at a trail while the balance of the Regiment followed with loaded guns. As we reached the other side of the river the three companies rushed up the bank and deployed as skirmishers. The Regiment followed and as we reached the high ground received a volley that wounded two of our men. The Rebels retreated and we followed for a short distance. Night now came and as the remainder of our Brigade crossed the bridge they gave “Three cheers for the Regiment first over.” Our entire Regiment was deployed across the plain in a semicircle from river to river and remained through the night. General Devens said to us: “Boys, you have had a hard time, but Rhode Island did well.” The Army was looking on to see our crossing and we felt that we must do well.

In the Western theater, C.S.A. Cavalry officer Nathan Bedford Forrest and his men leave Columbia, Tennessee with the main goal to disrupt U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s line of communication as his men march south into Mississippi towards Vicksburg. If Forrest can leave Grant in the dark, he will have no choice but to stop the forward movement and retreat back to a point where he has communication capabilities.

U.S. Brigadier General John G. Foster begins what has been nicknamed the “Goldsboro Expedition”, in which Foster and his men will push into North Carolina in an attempt to sever railroad supply lines to Virginia. They start their march from the port city of New Bern, North Carolina and move west.

The Richmond Dispatch newspaper writes a column called “Competition of negro with White Labor”, giving reasons why whites shouldn’t worry about the loss of jobs as black people will not work unless forced to:

In his late miserable Message Lincoln declares that the emancipation of negroes will not increase the supply of labor so as to interfere with the white labor of the North. Probably, the only truth he has ever uttered is contained in that declaration.–The idea of freedom entertained by “American citizens of African descent” is simply freedom from labor of any kind. So far from intending to compete with the white laborers of the North, they expect to live in ease and luxury at Mr. Lincoln’s national table, to be received on terms of entire social equality by himself, Seward, Chase & Co, and to intermarry, if it should be agreeable to them, with their female kith and kin. Freedom to work or starve is a view of liberty that they have never entertained.

That, for the present generation, an influx of free negroes into the North would seriously impair the value of white labor, may be very true, but Mr. Lincoln is speaking of the permanent results. He knows, because all experience proves it, that the free negro soon becomes the victim of debauchery and laziness, and disappears from the face of the earth. It is with Satanic hardness of heart that Lincoln contemplates the fate of a race whose welfare he professes to desire. So much for the Negro in the North. But, in the South, we are told the negro will continue to labor, his master paying him wages, till new homes can be found for them in “more genial climes.”

No man knows better than Abraham Lincoln; native of Kentucky; and familiar with the negro character, that the freed negro, as a general rule, will not work even for wages, a fact which has found striking illustrations in both Jamsiea and St. Domingo. The latter country, once the richest island of the world, has become, by successful insurrection, a wilderness; and the former, with the advantages of gradual emancipation, and the presence of white proprietors of estates, is little better. If Mr. Lincoln will consult the master of any Yankee steamer which has ever coated at a Jamaica port, he may inform him that the coal is brought on board by negro women, the men lolling in the shade under the trees, and at night taking from their wives the wages of the day. It is to the condition of St. Domingo and Jamaica that Mr. Lincoln would reduce the South. We are not so idiotic as to imagine that such a prospect would at all distress him on account of the ruin it would bring to Southern proprietors, but, pray, what would become of that dear Union; that precious, heavenly, god like Union, which he is seeking to preserve by letting all the devils out of the infernal pit and turning the earth into a hell? He figures cut the colossal cost of emancipation and the means of paying it, and concludes that the cost would be cheap to save so valuable a commodity as the Union. But what is it that makes the Union valuable except the staples cultivated by negro labor, and if the labor is abolished and transported to other climes, what becomes of the staples, and of the commerce, manufactures and revenue derived from them? White labor cannot be employed in the cultivation of cotton, sugar, and tobacco, and therefore the “glorious Union,” would be beggared and rendered worthless by the success of Lincoln’s pet scheme for its preservation — cutting open the goose that laid the golden egg.

And yet, in a message composed of nothing but –catch arguments”–to borrow a phrase from the poor, Illiterate creature — he has the hypocrisy to snivel through his Puritanical nose, “In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity.”

About thecivilwarproject

Like many others, I have a passion for the Civil War era, and for decades have chosen to spend my much of free time researching this topic - particularly the people, as the human component is what I find most fascinating. The site is not a source of revenue for me, nor is it tied in with a company or individual behind the scenes. It is my own personal venture. It is because of this genuine bond of respect and affection I feel towards this period in our history that I created "The Civil War Project." If this is your first time visiting the site, I welcome you and thank you for your interest. If you have any feedback or questions, please feel free to contact me at thecivilwarproject@yahoo.com.

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