Engineers on the Rappahannock (Part 4) – Mapping Engineer Movement

Movement of the engineers prior to the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862 has been mired in a cloud of confusion and controversy. The question of which route(s) they took to get to the Rappahannock River on the morning of 11 December has also obscured with the passage of time.  In this blog I will explore both of these questions.

At 11:00 pm on 7 November 1862, General George B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac (AoP), was relieved of command for the final time by President Lincoln. His replacement was General Ambrose E. Burnside. While most armies do not attack in Continue reading

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Engineers on the Rappahannock (Part 6) – Army of the Potomac Withdraws from Fredericksburg

“The PRESIDENT.

[Copy to General Halleck.]

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, December 16, 1862-4 a.m. [Received 4.15 a.m.]

“I have thought it necessary to withdraw the army to this side of the river, and the movement has progressed satisfactorily thus far. “

A.E. BURNSIDE,

Major-General. “

With these words, Major General (MG) Ambrose E. Burnside informed his superiors in Washington that the Army of the Potomac (AoP) was on the east side of the Rappahannock River, no longer in contact with the Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee. This effectively ended the Battle of Fredericksburg.

In my past five posts (click here), I have looked at the AoP engineers and their pontoon bridges and how they crossed the river under fire. Now let’s look at how the engineers support the withdrawal operation.

Withdrawing from combat, especially when in contact with one’s enemy, is an extremely Continue reading

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Engineers on the Rappahannock (Part 5) – Burnside’s River Crossing Concept and 50th NY Engineer Casualties

BRIDGING PLAN:

We don’t know when General Ambrose E Burnside finally selected his plan of action for confronting General Robert E. Lee at Fredericksburg. We do know that by December 8, his Army of the Potomac Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Cyrus. B. Comstock, finalized the Memorandum for the Engineers.

MEMORANDUM. HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, December 8, 1862.

Two pontoon bridges to be thrown at site of old pontoon bridge, one of them to have approaches for artillery.

One pontoon bridge at site of old canal-boat bridge; approaches for artillery.

Two pontoon bridges just below mouth of Deep Run, a mile below Fredericksburg; one to have artillery approach. Major Spaulding to throw three upper ones; Major Magruder to throw the next, and Lieutenant Cross the lowest one. Continue reading

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Engineers on the Rappahannock (Part 3) – How to Build a Pontoon Bridge

So, how do you construct a pontoon bridge? It should be easy, right? After all you just get some pontoons, lay some boards across them, and then let your army march across. Anyone can do that? Or can they?

In this writing, I draw heavily upon the work of Captain James C. Duane, US Army. He wrote the instruction manual, following the testing of pontoon bridge systems conducted by the army in the late 1850’s. This manual was updated several times during the Civil War as the engineer units, regular and volunteer, gained practical experience during various campaigns.  The first was the Peninsula Campaign, followed by bridging the Continue reading

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Remembering the sacrifices of the 50th New York Volunteer Engineer Regiment

On this Memorial Day, 156 years after the event, I take time to mention the men of the 50th New York Volunteer Engineer (NYVE) Regiment who became casualties during the crossing of the Rappahannock River at the upper and middle crossings sites on 11 December 1862 at the start of the Battle of Fredericksburg.

The engineers were unarmed and fully exposed in the middle of the river, or on the river bank gathering bridging material. Two of the pontoon bridges, Captain Brainerd’s and Continue reading

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