Eve of Battle

The labors at Belle Plain had taken their toll. The Fourteenth Connecticut was able to muster only about 300 men, down from more than a thousand in the three and a half months since leaving Hartford. Col. Dwight Morris was one of the casualties. He fell seriously ill at Belle Plain and did not accompany the men of the Second Brigade when they marched through cold, heavy rain back to Falmouth on Saturday, December 6th. Col. Palmer of the 108th New York was given command of the brigade, a man whose performance at Antietam had been questioned by some.

That evening the rain changed to heavy, wet snow. The rest of the army had already built their winter quarters, often only a rustic log hut with a canvas or tent roof, but shelter all the same. For the men who had endured heavy labor and harsh weather for the past three weeks, they would continue to endure the elements until they could build their own huts.

But the war intervened. Before dawn on December 11th, engineers began building three pairs of pontoon bridges across the Rappahannock River. The men of the Fourteenth Connecticut started marching toward the river. By mid-morning, with the bridges about two-thirds complete, Rebel sharpshooters opened fire and cleared the Federal engineers from the bridges. Work was delayed several hours until Union infantry crossed the river and drove the Rebels out of the city of Fredericksburg late in the day. The bridges were finished that evening.

The men of the Fourteenth Connecticut were near the head of the long Second Corps column when it began to march across the river shortly after dawn on Friday, December 12th. The Fourteenth Connecticut at first occupied a portion of Sophia Street alongside the river, then later in the day moved one block further into the city to Caroline Street. Here they would spend the night, taking shelter from time to time in some of the homes vacated by the townspeople, and warming themselves by fires kept burning in many a basement kitchen.

There would be little sleep that cold night, because all the men knew what awaited them on the morrow. The Rebels had spent weeks preparing a warm welcome and every soldier in the ranks knew that, come morning light, he would be required to try out that welcome.

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