When Confederate sharpshooters blocked his efforts to span the Rappahannock River with pontoon bridges, General Ambrose E. Burnside ordered his artillery to bombard the town. For eight hours more than one hundred cannon, some as large as the 4.5-inch ordnance rifle behind you, hurled shot and shell into Fredericksburg from these bluffs, east of the river. In all, more than 6,000 shells rained down upon the doomed town.
Civilians fled Fredericksburg or sought shelter in cellars. Sharpshooters took over the abandoned houses and shops, turning each structure into a small fortress. Walls collapsed and buildings caught fire, but the Confederates stubbornly held their ground. As long as they remained, Burnside could not complete his bridges. If he wished to capture Fredericksburg, he was going to have to send troops across to do it.
"The roar of the cannon, the bursting of shells, the falling of walls and chimneys; added to the fire of the infantry on both sides, the smoke from the guns and burning houses, made a scene of the wildest confusion, terrific enough to appall the stoutest hearts." Private John H. Rhodes, Battery B, 1st Rode Island Artillery