“Wake up men!”
My eyes slowly opened and then reality dawned on me as a cold lump in my stomach. We knew this morning was the moment that we had been preparing for, when the Union engineers finished our pontoon pathway so we could cross the bridge to Fredericksburg- and then travel to the capital of the South, Richmond. In my heart, I knew that something was going to fail- but as a private of the Union Army of Potomac, I was to hold steadfast.
I slowly sat up and heard a chorus of groans with mine. With my right hand I grabbed my forage cap and with the other- my enfield rifle. We all pushed ourselves up and stood facing who had woken us up, shivering in the cold mid-December air.
“Men, our job as the UNION...” the man (an assistant of the general I figured) said- emphasizing ‘Union’ probably to remind us of what we were fighting for, “...is to take down the Confederates and claim their capital as our own!” Most of the men remained silent, and some of the men cheered -but even their cheers were half hearted. War was not a pleasant game.
“Burnside had ordered us across the bridge into Fredericksburg,” he continued. “We need to have faith” And that was all. The army replied with silence and we prepared. We reloaded our weaponry, adjusted our assets… and made our way to the riverside.
We knew that the Confederates were in Fredericksburg already. Our bridges had been more than two weeks late and the Union engineers were under fire half the time during it’s construction. The decided course of action was to get about 150 men to fire their guns right into the heart of Fredericksburg before crossing ourselves.
I aimed my gun above the Rappahannock River and over a hundred others did as well. Once we were all loaded and aimed, a firm voice far behind me called out, “READY? AIM... FIRE!” and we all pulled the triggers. I watched as the bullets flied into the air and started to angle down into the city. Without warning, the bullets began to explode. Some right above the town shattering into fire bits, and others on buildings or in the streets... the city was lit up with a red glow. There was no response from the Confederates.
The town seemed to be mostly abandoned, so after a few minutes- we started to cross the bobbing bridge. It seemed a bit too easy. The boats were narrow so we marched in rows of five, which made us extremely vulnerable. I couldn’t help but expect to be shot down at any moment, or walk right into a trap, but before I knew it- I was back on solid ground. The rest of the Union were soon hopping off the bridge behind me.
Of course, we had to make sure. Union Soldiers were branching off left and right into fire ruined buildings and down the street, and i heard some gunfire farther down the road, which stopped eventually. Soon, household items were being tossed into the street like garbage, valuables were looted from stores and houses, and the rest of the army made it’s destructive way down the empty littered street.