December 11th: A Day of Firsts in US Military History
December 11, 2012 7:17 AM Subscribe
posted by COD (40 comments total)
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On Dec 11, 1862 the Union Army was pinned on the Northern shore of the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg
, unable to cross the river and invade the town. This desperate situation led to two decisions by General Burnside of the Union Army that ultimately had wide ranging effects not just on the outcome at Fredericksburg, but on how the US would conduct war in the future.
The Confederate's strong positions in Fredericksburg made it impossible for Union engineers to build the pontoon bridges needed to get the army across the river. Frustrated by the ineffectiveness of the targeted shelling of the landing points and known Confederate positions, Union General Burnside ordered a general and widespread shelling of the town. That order represented the first time in US History that an American town was wantonly shelled and destroyed by American forces. This seemingly minor pivot in Union strategy would have repercussions not just for the Battle of Fredericksburg, but for the conduct of the war from that point on.
Later that day, frustrated by the inability to get the pontoon bridges built to enable the river crossing, Artillery Chief Henry Hunt (who earlier in the day argued against the general shelling of the town) suggested using the pontoon boats not as bridge pieces, but as landing craft. General Burnside asked for volunteers, as he felt he could not order the men to do something so reckless. Several hours later the Union Army completed the fist river crossing under fire in US military history.
That attack is the great-grandfather of the more famous ampibious assaults in WWII or at Inchon in Korea.
Once on shore, the 200 odd Union soldiers that crossed under fire were not done making history. The Confederates under the command of General Barksdale held strong defensive positions in the houses that lined the streets near the river. They had to be dislodged house by house in fighting very similar to the urban warfare more closely associated with the modern war on terror. Dec 11, 1862 also represents the first instance of urban combat in North America.