Search billions of records on

89th Crossing the Rappahannock River, December 11, 1862

     When Gen. Burnside took command on November 5th, 1862, it was McClellan’s Army of the Potomac to most of the men.  An exception might have been to Burnsides' old Corps, the Ninth Corps. Burnside took time to arrange his command and his plan.  The officials back in Washington expected him to lead his army across the Rappahanock River northwest of Fredericksburg, Virginia, and then to move along its south bank.  Burnside determined that it could not be done by fording, and instead requested enough pontoons to create bridges to cross the river, to be supported by gunboats.  His plan was to do this at Fredericksburg.  However, he did not leave with his main body from Warrenton until November 15th.  By November 21st , when General Sumner’s portion of the army including the 89th was near Falmouth, there was only a small Confederate force holding the city of Fredericksburg just to the south. But, the pontoons did not arrive until November 25th, the gunboats could not move that far upstream, and by this time the movement of the army and movement of the pontoons was known to Lee, and he was hastening to counter.  When Burnside noted the concentration of the forces, he determined that a new plan was needed, this one to include a crossing in the face of opposition.  Unfortunately for the Union troops massing on the north side of the river, this created further delay until the 10th of December.  Morale in the camps of the Union soldiers was low.     Public opinion back home was many times against further fighting, the weather was getting cold and the camps uncomfortable, and many soldiers had not been paid in months.  Desertions, which were always an issue for the army, started to increase.  This increased rate also was seen in the 89th NYVI, when men such as James Cassidy, Pvt. of Co. H, Sherman Cook, Pvt. of Co. B; Henry and Moses Davis, Pvts. of Co.  H; Stephen Galloway, Pvt. of Co. K; William McConnell, Pvt. of Co. D; Russell Perry, Pvt. of Co. K; and Henry Wilson, Pvt. of Co. H all decided to risk the ultimate military penalty and fled their unit.
     Fredericksburg just across the river from them was a quiet, small city of about 5,000 people.  It also was strategically about half way in a direct line from Washington to Richmond.  By late November, Burnside had demanded the civil authorities of Fredericksburg surrender the city, and Lee had told them he could not protect the city, and had recommended its evacuation.  By the time of the battle it was all but deserted of civilians.  This was the setting for this great battle about to commence.  The valley at that location is not too wide, with sloping heights rising from both banks of the river.  Those immediately behind Fredericksburg were called Marye’s Heights.  By December 10th they were studded with formidable defenses of rifle pits, stone walls and multiple artillery batteries, all well placed for effective defense.  The Rebel artillery could not command the river itself, but south of the town was a gently sloping open field of about one half mile leading up to the heights, and clearly the artillery could command those approaches. 
     Finally, Burnside’s plan was ready on December 10th, and orders went out that day for movement on the 11th.  The plan called for three pontoon bridges to be thrown over the river nearly simultaneously on the early morning of the 11th.  Franklin’s Grand Division was to cross downstream, with the intent of skirting the heights, attack the enemy’s right, disrupt it, and when that had occurred, for Sumner’s Grand Division, including most of the Ninth Corps, having moved across the bridges into Fredericksburg proper, would attack the heights.  Franklin’s forces were the largest with about 36,000 men, Sumner’s about 26,000.  Backing both up was to be Hooker’s Grand Division, to move wherever needed.   The 89th was detailed in Sumner’s forces, Ninth Corps with General Orlando B. Willcox in command, the Third Division under General George Getty, the First Brigade under the command of Col. Rush Hawkins, of the Ninth NYVI.  There were five other regiments in the brigade, namely the 10th and 13th New Hampshire, the 25th New Jersey and the 9th and 103rd  NY regiments.
     Early the morning of the 11th of December with all in readiness, the pontoon trains arrived at their respective sites.  The work was to be carried out by the engineer regiments with infantry units crouched on the north shore to protect and cover their work.  The morning was cold and damp, cold enough to have thin ice on the river before them. In the course of the middle bridge deployment, sited near the railroad crossing, the 89th was selected to be the supporting infantry.  The work commenced before dawn, and was proceeding well.  The middle bridge was under construction by the 50th NY Engineers, but with light the sharpshooters and riflemen arrayed on the south bank, secreted in rifle pits, in homes near the shore, and in the basements of homes, began to annoy the work progress.  Before long, the work at first just dangerous became deadly.  In spite of artillery fire directed at the homes suspected of housing the Rebel riflemen, and the musket fire of the 89th infantrymen, there was little pause in the fire of the rebels.  The Union artillerists on the Stafford Heights reported difficulty directing fire accurately because of a fog that had formed in the valley that morning, combined with the smoke of burning buildings in the city.  The unarmed engineers ceased there work, waited for volleys of supporting fire, and then would try again, but only to meet the same deadly Rebel fire.  Finally in the afternoon, General Burnside ordered that Colonel Fairchild have 100 of his men, led by four officers, cross in boats to attack and dislodge the hidden sharpshooters.  The officers were Captains Hazley, Judd, and Burt, and Lieutenant Lewis.   Each officer had in his boat twenty-five men from the 89th, the boats being crewed by men of the 50th Engineers. These men in the pontoon boats faced murderous musket fire from the south shore, but managed to get across, leapt out of their boats, and led by the four officers, rapidly attacked and captured the hiding places of the sharpshooters.  In this action, four officers and sixty men from the Rebel emplacements were captured, and the south shore was secured in this area.   After the battle was over, there was talk in the camps that the men involved would be honored with medals.  Even officers claimed that General Burnside made that promise.  As history unfolded, there never were medals for these brave men, but the incident was a high, bright point in the annals of the 89th. 
     After the advance of the 89th had crossed and done their deeds, the remainder of the 89th crossed likewise in boats, while the middle bridge was being completed, then in relative safety.  The 89th was ordered to move into the city and secure it, and was one of the first units to occupy Fredericksburg.  During the afternoon and evening of the 11th, most of the rest of the Army crossed the bridges, and arrayed itself for the coming assaults.  The 89th was on the left of the Union line by the 12th.  During that day, the 12th of December, there was shameful looting and destruction of the homes and businesses of the people of the suffering City of Fredericksburg, largely uncontrolled by the officers of the Union army.  There was little military action that day as Burnside went over more details of the planned assault, and as Lee further fortified his defenses, and shifted his personnel to meet his foe most efficiently.     


This list was compiled through the efforts of Captain Burt (Company K) after the end of the war.   It  seems to be the most accurate one ever compiled, since the original was never found.

Company A

Sergeants: George C. Hughes, John C. Kirtland, and Mordecai Williams

Corporals: Henry C. Adams and Henry E. Rowley

Privates: Irving Agney, Edwin O. Bennett, Robert Cannon, Charles Colton, Abram M. Creque, Edwin B. Curry, Edwin S. Kellogg, John H. Peck, Thomas Sarsfield, William Tailby, and Albert J. Turner

Company B

Captain: James Hazley

Corporal: David Harris

Privates: Joseph B. Bovee and Reed F. Francisco

Company C

Sergeants: Daniel R. Banford and William T. Eddy

Corporal: Avery Gardner

Company E

Corporals: Samuel F. Balcom, William Y. Clinton, and Whitman Stratton

Privates: Francis C. Barnes, Ransom E. Church, David P. Dailey, Mordicai Evans, Charles F. Everson, Rodney A. Harvey, Jay Lewis, Leonard G. Lindsey, Joseph Lorio, Robert L. Nichols, John D. Poole, Theodore Rowlason, Sidney W. Smith, Barton Springer, Samuel S. Stevens, William Van Vleet, Charles R. Walker and Charles K. Weaver.

Company F

Corporals: Uriah A. Jeffries and Alex O. Sheppard

Privates: Nathan Fiske, George Isenburgh, Robert A. Oliver and Consider M. Yarns

Company G

Captain:  Seymour Judd

Sergeants: William Dusenbury, Aubert D. Hoadley, William O. Moore, and Irving A. Stringham

Corporal: Riley A. Heath

Privates: Cavunough Ayrers, Charles Blatchley, James H. Buchanan, Charles L. Doolittle, Nelson E. Doolittle, George W. Draper, Ransom H. Frost, George W. Haines, Hobart Haines, Robert H. Hall, George Mayo, William H. Mayo, Whitney A. Moore, Simon A. Parsons, Sanford L. Sperbeck, Robert G. Springsteen, and James E. Watrous

Company H

First Lieutenant: Wellington Lewis

Sergeants: Samuel C. Cole, William H. French, Simon Springsteen, and Henry Talmadge

Corporal: George W. Tillotson

Privates: Ichabod E. Bacon and Matthew W. Snook

Company I

Privates: William J. Gilbert, George W. Hitchcock, William S. Law and William Scott

Company K

Captain: Frank Burt

Sergeants: Albert C. Burt and Marvin Watrous

Corporals: Noah Bisbee and George W. Ferous

Privates: Elijah Atwood, Edgar Bagley, Charles A. Ball, George F. Crooker, Henry B. Crooker, Abram Covert, George Englis, Isaac Hughs, George Hurlburt, Silas W. Lacy, Hiram G. Meaker, Gilbert A. McKune, William N. Pencil, Leander S. Robinson, Charles F. Runkles, Perry Russell, William Smyth, George L. Tarbox, Frederick Thurston, George W. Van Horne, and John T. Welton

Return to Home