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The Rhode Island Gunners

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The Rhode Island Gunners
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Author(s): G. C. Sumner, J. A. Monroe & E. K. Parker
Date Published: 2015/11
Page Count: 232
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-474-9
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-473-2

Four accounts of Union gunners in action

Posterity has been fortunate in that many participants in the war between the states, the American Civil War, decided to write books about their experiences and also about the regiments or corps in which they served. Today, every perspective on those pivotal events is invaluable because, inevitably, the time has come when they are a finite resource for historians to study. However, there is nothing more important for historians than the cross-referenced detail in several books on the same subject, by different authors, to provide a verifiable and accurate view of events. This book, written by former members of the Rhode Island Artillery, brings together in a single volume four recollections of the Civil War the Union gunners knew. Battery D of the First Rhode Island Light Artillery saw much action in the course of the war notably at Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredricksburg, the Wilderness, Fishers Hill and Cedar Creek among other engagements.

Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

The Union Army at this time was 120,000 strong. Some precious time was wasted in its reorganisation. Instead of the old corps formation, it was now organised into three Grand Divisions, each consisting of two corps. Gen. Sumner was placed in command of the right. Gen. Franklin of the left, and Gen. Hooker of the centre, and a large reserve commanded by Gen. Sigel.
The plan as stated by Gen. Burnside was to concentrate the army at Warrenton, make a feint of crossing the Rappahannock, leading the enemy to believe that an attack was about to be made upon Gordonsville, and then move the whole army to Fredericksburg, and thence march rapidly upon Richmond; but here again some one blundered. To cross the Rappahannock, it would be necessary to construct pontoon bridges. Gen. Burnside supposed that the matter had been fully attended to, and that the pontoons would be on hand at the time of his arrival, Nov. 15th; instead of which it was the 25th of the month before they arrived, and the 10th of December before things were ready for throwing the bridges across the river.
In the meantime the enemy had discovered the plan, and on the 22nd Gen. Burnside and his division commanders had the mortification of seeing the opposite heights covered with the enemy’s batteries, and filled with his infantry. Gen. Lee’s army, some 80,000 strong, had all been brought up, and it lay in a semicircle around Fredericksburg, each wing resting on the river—its right at Port Royal below the city, and its left a short distance above it.
On the 10th of December, everything being ready. Gen. Burnside gave orders that the bridges should be thrown across at an early hour the next morning; three were to be constructed immediately in front of Fredericksburg, and two a couple of miles below. The morning of the 11th was cold and raw, a dense fog prevailed, amid which the work commenced.
The heights upon the Falmouth side were close to the margin of the river, which at this point is about three hundred yards wide. Upon these heights there were placed in position one hundred and forty-seven guns. The bridges below the city were laid without much opposition; but in front of the city a galling fire, from behind stone walls and from windows, was opened upon the bridge builders, driving them back, and effectually preventing further work upon them.
About six o’clock another attempt was made, with the same result. Then Gen. Burnside ordered the guns mounted upon Safford Heights to open fire upon the city, and batter it down if necessary. More than a hundred guns responded immediately to the order, and a roar commenced which could be heard miles away, and that fairly shook the earth, lasting nearly three hours.
In the midst of this firing another attempt was made to lay the bridges; but, strange to say, there still were sharpshooters to oppose them, and they were obliged to fall back; then volunteers were called for to cross the river and drive the enemy out of their hiding places. Three regiments responded to the call, were quickly conveyed across, and in a brief space of time the sharpshooters were driven away, nearly a hundred of them being made prisoners, and the bridges laid.
Before dark Sumner’s and a few of Hooker’s Division had crossed to the south side of the river. Considerable skirmishing occurred as the troops forced their way through the city and out upon the plains beyond.
Early on the morning of the 12th, the rest of the army crossed. and Battery D went with it. Our progress up the streets from the river was extremely dangerous, from the fact that the enemy had a perfect range, and succeeded in ricocheting shot after shot down the very centre of the street, obliging us to use the sidewalks. Occasionally they would explode a shell uncomfortably close; but we succeeded in reaching the upper part of the town without any serious casualty. Here we sought protection behind a large stone warehouse, where we remained all day, and until before light next morning, when we were moved up nearer the enemy.
All day of the 13th we lay under fire, protected by buildings. The enemy shelled Fredericksburg all the morning, and about noon the order was given for our infantry to advance upon Marye’s Heights. The mist had cleared, and every movement of our troops could be distinctly seen by the rebels upon the heights. Then commenced a most furious cannonading, followed in a few moments, as our troops reached the stone wall at the foot of Marye’s Hill, by volley after volley of musketry. So terrific was the fire from Marye’s Hill that our artillery could not be advanced, and the infantry had to fall back.
The men of Battery D were soon convinced of the terrible work that was going on in front, from the great numbers of wounded which passed them, going to the rear. In fifteen minutes, of the 5600 led into battle by Gen. Hancock, 2000 were disabled. All day and until nearly dark on the 14th our battery remained in the place we had moved into in the morning.
Just before dark we were ordered to move forward across the plain to the left of the city and shell the works on Marye’s Heights. We came into position on the edge of an embankment which was at least five or six feet high. We placed our pieces in position and then took our limbers and caissons back under the embankment, and when all was ready, we opened with a will. We thought we had quite a snap on our enemy, but in about three minutes they convinced us that we had “barked up the wrong tree,” for they just sent in a shower of shells and minies that made us seek cover. We laid close to the embankment until they let up, and then loaded all our pieces and gave them a broadside. We fired two or three rounds, and then they had their turn again; this was repeated three or four times; but at last we were denied the privilege of even getting in a round or two, as their fire was kept up for a long time, and they were putting their shells just in the right place. We afterwards found out that they had platted the ground in their front, and knew to a nicety every position, and could drop a shell into any of them; and then it became apparent to all of us that we were not wanted there anyway, so we limbered up and retired to the lower part of the city.
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