Church bells in Fredericksburg tolled 3 a.m. on December 11, 1862, as Union engineers wrestled pontoon boats toward the river's edge. They intended to use the boats to construct two of the six floating bridges that the Army of the Potomac would need to cross the Rappahannock. For two hours the engineers toiled in darkness, trying to complete the spans before Confederate sharpshooters on the opposite bank spotted them.
At 5 a.m. Confederate musket fire burst from cellars and windows across the river. Those engineers not shot down scrambled for cover on the shore. Union cannon atop Stafford Heights responded with an eight-hour-long bombardment that ravaged the city but failed to silence the Confederates. Only by ferrying troops across the river under fire was the Union army able to drive the Confederates from the town and complete the bridges.
The 1st and 2nd United States Sharpshooters were the elite of the Union Army. To qualify each man had to be able to place ten shots (with a rifle of his choice) in a circle of 10 inches in diameter from 200 yards. A sharpshooter also had to posses a good eye and calm nerves.
They were issued the breech loaded Model 1859 Sharps Rifle (which was specially designed for them) forest green frock coats, pants and forage caps instead of the standard blue union uniforms. This uniform was very effective when the berdans were in cover but in the open field it made them easy targets.
As the war progressed and casualties mounted the two units were consolidated and many were forced to switch over to the standard blue uniform of the Union Army.
At the end of the war casualties between the two units was 532 Men killed, wounded or missing.