No. 89. Report of Colonel Norman J. Hall, Second Michigan Infantry, commanding Third Brigade.
HEADQUARTERS THIRD BRIGADE,
Camp near Falmouth, Va., December 17, 1862.
CAPTAIN: In compliance with orders, I have the honor to make the following report of the operations of the brigade under my command during the late battle in and before Fredericksburg, Va.:
On the evening of the 10th instant, my command was designated to take the advance of the army, as soon as the bridges should be built, on the following morning. On arriving at the point where the head of the column was to rest, I received orders to report with the brigade to Brigadier-General Woodburry, commanding Engineer Brigade, at the Lacy house. The bridges were not being advanced on account of the deadly fire of the enemy's sharpshooters, posted behind buildings and in cellars and rifle-pits along the opposite bank. Two regiments were deployed (the Seventh Michigan and Nineteenth Massachusetts Volunteers) along the bank of the river to cover the bridge-builders by their fire as skirmishers, but afterward withdrew them, to enable the batteries to fire shell. After some hours of delay, Generals Hunt and Woodbury consulted with me upon the practicability of crossing troops in boats, and storming the strong points occupied by the enemy, so as to protect the heads of the pontoon bridges, of which but one had progressed to any extent. It was arranged that, under cover of a heavy artillery fire, the engineers should place boats at intervals along the bank, and provide men to row and steer them.
Lieutenant-Colonel Baxter, commanding Seventh Michigan Volunteers, was informed of the plan, and his regiment volunteered to be crossed and storm the town as proposed. Captain Weymouth, of the Nineteenth Massachusetts, also volunteered to support the Seventh Michigan, if required, crossing in the same way.
The first-named regiment was deployed, and took post along the bank, while the latter lined the river as sharpshooters, together with Captain Plumer's company of sharpshooters (independent), which was ordered to report to me for this object. At a signal, the batteries opened their fire, and continued with great rapidity for over half an hour, the engineer troops failing to perform their part, running away from the boats at the first fire from the enemy and seeking shelter.
No prospect appearing of better conduct, I stated to Colonel Baxter that I saw no hopes of effecting the crossing, unless he could man the oars, place the boats, and push across unassisted. I confess I felt apprehensions of disaster in this attempt, as, without experience in the management of boats, the shore might not be reached promptly, if at all, and the party lost. Colonel Baxter promptly accepted the new conditions, and proceeded immediately to arrange the boats, some of which had to be carried to the water. Lieutenant C. B. Comstock, chief engineer, Army of the Potomac, directed the embarkation personally, I believe. Before the number of boats fixed upon had been loaded, the signal to cease the artillery firing was made, and I thought best to push those now ready across, rather than to wait till all were filled, and to allow the enemy to come out of his concealment from the cannonade.
The boats pushed gallantly across under a sharp fire. While in the boats, 1 man was killed and Lieutenant-Colonel Baxter and several men were wounded. The party, which numbered from 60 to 70 men,