Gen. Lee dispatched this morning early that the enemy were constructing three pontoon bridges, and that firing had commenced on both sides. At nine o'clock A.M. the firing increased, and Gen Lee dispatched for ammunition, looking to the contingency of a prolonged battle.
At three P.M., Gen. Lee says, the enemy had been repulsed in two of their attempts to throw bridges over the river; but the third attempt would probably succeed, as it was under cover of batteries which commanded the river, and where his sharpshooters could not reach the workmen. But, he says, his batteries command the plain where the enemy must debouch. We may speedily hear of a most sanguinary conflict.
Burnside must have greatly superior numbers, or else he is a great fool to precipitate his men into a plain, where every Southern soldier is prepared to die, in the event of failure to conquer! There is no trepidation here; on the contrary, a settled calm on the faces of the people, which might be mistaken for indifference. They are confident of the success of Lee, and really seem apprehensive that Burnside will not come over and fight him in a decisive battle. We shall soon see, now, of what stuff Burnside and his army are made. I feel some anxiety; because the destruction of our little army on the Rappahannock might be the fall of Richmond.
It is rumored that the President started two days ago for the West — Tennessee and Mississippi. No papers have been sent in by him since Tuesday, and it may be true. If so, he means to return speedily. I think we shall soon have news from the lower James River.
A letter from the Governor of Alabama calls urgently for heavy guns, and a reserve force, for the defense of Mobile.
Major Hause, the government's agent in Europe, has purchased, up to this time, 157,000 stand of arms, besides many cannon, much ammunition, quartermaster's stores, etc. A portion was lost in transitu, however, but not a large amount. Besides the large sums he has expended, he has obtained credit to the extent of $6,000,000!
They are calling for a guard at Petersburg against incendiaries. A factory was burned the other night. This is bad.
Scully and Lewis, condemned to die as spies, have been pardoned by the President, and are to be sent North.
Another dispatch from Gen. Lee, dated 3½ P.M., says the enemy has nearly completed his bridge, and will probably commence crossing this evening or in the morning. The bulletin boards in the city purport to give intelligence of the passage having been effected in part; but I do not see how the editors could have obtained their information.
At 6 P.M., passengers by the Fredericksburg train (which left, at 1 P.M.) report the shelling of the town, and a great battle in progress on this side of the river. I doubt both; and I saw but one excited man (a Jew) who said he was in Fredericksburg when the shelling began. I do not believe it. The cars were not within four miles of the town, and perhaps merely conjectured the cannonading they heard to be directed at the town. There were no ladies or children in the cars. But doubtless the enemy will cross the river, and there will be a battle, which must result in a great mortality.
SOURCE: John Beauchamp Jones, A Rebel War Clerk's Diary at the Confederate States Capital, Volume 1, p. 209-11