Crossing The Rappahannock

ON the morning of the 11th of December, 1862, about two hours before daylight, the regimental commanders of Colonel Norman J. Hall's Third Brigade, of Howard's Second Division, Second Army Corps, were assembled at brigade headquarters to receive preliminary orders for the approaching battle. Our brigade commander in-formed us that our regiment was to be the first to cross the upper pontoon-bridge, which was to be laid by the engineer corps by daylight, and that we were to hold and occupy the right of the town until the whole army should have crossed, when the Right Grand Division, comprising the Second and Ninth Corps, would charge the heights, supported by artillery in front and on the right flank. On our arrival at the river at daylight we found but a very small section of the bridge laid, in consequence of the commanding position which the enemy held on the right batik of the river, secreted as they were behind fences made musket-proof by piling cord-wood and other materials against them. After a fruitless attempt of eight hours' duration to lay the bridge where the enemy had absolute control of the river front, the idea was abandoned, and notice was sent down to us at the river that the enemy would be shelled from the heights, with orders to take to the pontoon-boats and cross and dislodge the enemy in order to enable the engineer corps to complete the bridge. The instant the artillery ceased firing, the 7th Michigan and 19th Massachusetts took to the boats and poled across the river under a heavy musketry fire from the enemy. The 7th Michigan was the first to make a landing, and marched up Farquhar street in a direct line from the bridge. They immediately became severely engaged, and the first two company's of the 19th Massachusetts that had crossed went forward and joined them. A few minutes later the remainder of the 19th crossed, formed in line on the bank of the river, left resting on Farquhar street, and advanced, deploying as skirmishers in order to drive back the enemy from the western part of the city. We were met with such resistance by Barksdale's brigade, very aptly styled by General Longstreet Confederate hornets," that it was nearly dusk before we gained the north side of Caroline street. It was now apparent that our thin line could not make any farther advance against the formidable barricades the enemy had erected on the south side of the street, consisting of barrels and boxes, filled with earth and stones, placed between the houses, so as to form a continuous line of defense, and the left of our line was forced to fall back down Farquhar street, fully one-half the distance from Caroline street. On reporting our position to a staff-officer our brigade commander ordered the 20th Massachusetts to clear the streets. They marched up Farquhar street in company or division front, and on reaching Caroline street wheeled to the right; but before the full regiment bad entered the street the enemy, from their snug retreats, poured such a deadly fire on them as to force them to retire with great loss.

This action of the 20th enabled our left to regain our position on Caroline street, which was maintained until Barksdale withdrew his command to the heights, about an hour after dark. At about 11 o'clock General Howard crossed over to learn our position. Informing him that the enemy had retired in our front, I asked him if we should move forward. After making some inquiries concerning our right, he thought nothing would be gained by doing so. We remained in this position until about noon of the 13th.