Michigan In the Civil War: Fredericksburg

Dec 11, 2012

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s bloody battle at Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Michigan State University historian Roger Rosentreter helps us remember Michigan’s role in the Civil War from time to time. He tells WKAR’s Scott Pohl that the 7th Michigan Infantry was in the front lines of Union forces crossing the Rappahannock River.

"The 7th Michigan will actually use their rifle butts to try to paddle across this river." - Roger Rosentreter

President Lincoln had fired Gen. George McClellan after the battle of Antietam, replacing him with Ambrose Burnside. Gen. Burnside hoped to outflank the Confederate forces of Gen. Robert E. Lee and move aggressively on Richmond.

Things got tricky at Fredericksburg, where Burnside was forced to wait for construction of a pontoon bridge across the Rappahannock River. The wait gave Lee time to recover.

Confederate infantrymen fired on the unarmed pontooneers, and they fled.

The Michigan 7th Infantry led the attempt to cross the river without the pontoon bridge, using their rifle butts to paddle while under fire.

The Union forces took big losses over the next several days, with three casualties for every Confederate casualty.