American Battlefield Trust's map of the Battle of Fredericksburg - Fighting in the Streets
In the pre-dawn hours of December 11, 1862, Union engineers worked feverishly to complete the pontoon bridges across the fog-choked Rappahannock River. Suddenly, as the fog lifted, the opposite bank erupted in flame. With orders to delay the Federal river crossing, Mississippian’s and Floridians under Gen. William Barksdale began to pick-off the unarmed bridge layers. In response, Union artillery pounded the city at rate of 100 shells per minute. When hours of bombardment failed to drive Barksdale from the water’s edge, Federal infantry crossed the river in pontoon boats and landed on the opposite shore in the first opposed river crossing in American warfare. Barksdale’s men withdrew from the riverfront, but they were still determined to stall the Union advance in the city of Fredericksburg itself. Columns of Yankees advanced up the narrow streets and alleyways only be to cut down by Confederates hiding behind houses and in windows. Darkness and the arrival of fresh Union troops compelled Barksdale to gather his scattered troops and withdraw to the heights beyond the town, but the Mississippian had bought the Army of Northern Virginia precious time to prepare for the grand Union assault that was sure to follow.