Battle of Fredericksburg


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The Battle of Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg, BATTLE OF. Robert E. Lee's evacuation of Maryland after the battle on Antietam Creek occurred on Sept. 19-20, 1862. Lee rested a few days on the Virginia side of the Potomac, and then marched leisurely up the Shenandoah Valley. McClellan did not pursue, but, after twice calling for reinforcements, he declared his intention to stand where he was, on the defensive, and "attack the enemy should he attempt to recross into Maryland." The government and the loyal people, impatient of delay, demanded an immediate advance.

The Battle of Fredericksburg

"The Battle of Fredericksburg" Volunteers Crossing the River

On Oct. 6 the President instructed McClellan to " cross the Potomac and give battle to the enemy, or drive him South. Your army must now move," he said, " while the roads are good." Twenty-four days were spent in correspondence before the order was obeyed, McClellan complaining of a lack of men and supplies to make it prudent to move forward. At length, when October had nearly passed by and Lee's army was thoroughly rested and reorganized, and communications with Richmond were re-established, the Army of the Potomac began to cross the river (Oct. 26), 100,000 strong. The Nationals were led on the east side of the Blue Ridge, but failed to strike the retreating Confederates over the mountain in flank or to get ahead of them; and Lee pushed Longstreet's troops over the Blue Ridge to Culpeper Courthouse, between the Army of the Potomac and Richmond, ready to dispute the advance of the Nationals. Quick and energetic movements were now necessary to sever and defeat, in detail, Lee's army.

Battle Map of Fredericksburg

Battle Map- The Battle of Fredericksburg

On Nov. 5 MeClellan was relieved of command, and General Burnside was put in his place. A sense of responsibility made the latter commander exceedingly cautious. Before he moved he endeavored to get his 120,000 men well in hand. Aquia Creek was made his base of supplies, and he moved the army towards Fredericksburg on Nov. 10. Sumner led the movement down the left bank of the Rappahannock. By the 20th a greater portion of Burnside's forces were opposite Fredericksburg, and their cannon commanded the town. Sumner demanded the surrender of the city (Nov. 21). It was refused. The bridges had been destroyed. A greater portion of the inhabitants now fled, and the town was occupied by Confederate troops. Lee's army, 80,000 strong, was upon and near the Heights of Fredericksburg by the close of November, and had planted strong batteries there. The army lay in a semicircle around Fredericksburg, each wing resting upon the Rappahannock, its right at Port Royal and its left 6 miles above the city. Pontoons for the construction of bridges across the Rappahannock were not received by Burnside until the first week in December. Then 60,000 National troops under Sumner and Hooker lay in front of Fredericksburg, with 150 cannon, commanded by General Hunt. The corps of Franklin, about 40,000 strong, was encamped about 2 miles below.

The Attack on Fredericksburg

The Attack on Fredericksburg

On the morning of Dec. 11 the engineers went quietly to work to construct five pontoon bridges for the passage of the National army. Sharpshooters assailed the engineers. The heavy ordnance of the Nationals on Stafford Heights opened upon the town, set it on fire, and drove out many troops. The sharpshooters remained. They were dislodged by a party that crossed the river in boats, the bridges were rebuilt, and by the evening of the 12th a greater portion of the National army occupied Fredericksburg, and on the morning of the 13th made a simultaneous assault all along the line. The Confederates, with 300 cannon, were well posted on the heights and ready for action. The battle was begun by a part of Franklin's corps, Meade's division, supported by Gibbon's, with Doubleday's in reserve. Meade soon silenced a Confederate battery, but very soon a terrible storm of shells and canister-shot, at near range, fell upon him. He pressed on, and three of the assailing batteries were withdrawn. Jackson's advance line, under A. P. Hill, was driven back, and 200 men made prisoners, with several battleflags as trophies. Meade still pressed on, when a fierce assault by Early compelled him to fall back. Gibbon, who came up, was repulsed, and the shattered forces fled in confusion; but the pursuers were checked by General Birney's division of Stoneman's corps.

Battle of Fredericksburg on Dec. 12, 1862


The Nationals could not advance, for Stuart's cavalry, on Lee's right strongly menaced the Union left. Finally, Reynolds, with reinforcements, pushed back the Confederate right to the Massaponax, where the contest continued until dark. Meanwhile, Couch's corps had occupied the city, with Wilcox's between his and Franklin's. At noon Couch attacked the Confederate front with great vigor. Kimball's brigade, of French's division, led, Hancock's following. Longstreet was posted on Marye's Hill, just back of the town. Upon his troops the Nationals fell heavily, while missiles from the Confederate cannon made great lanes through their ranks. After a brief struggle, French was thrown back, shattered and broken, nearly one-half of his command disabled. Hancock advanced, and his brigades fought most vigorously. In fifteen minutes, Hancock, also, was driven back. Of 5,000 veterans whom he led into action, 2,013 had fallen.

Howard's division came to the aid of French and Hancock; so, also, did those of Sturgis and Getty. Finally, Hooker crossed the river with three divisions. He was so satisfied with the hopelessness of any further attacks upon the strong position of the Confederates, that he begged Burnside to desist. He would not yield. Hooker sent 4,000 men in the track of French, Hancock, and Howard, to attack with bayonets only. These were hurled back by terrific volleys of rifle-balls, leaving 1,700 of their number prostrate on the field. Night soon closed the awful conflict, when the Army of the Potomac had 15,000 less of effective men than it had the day before. Burnside, intent on achieving a victory, proposed to send his old corps, the 9th, against the fatal barrier (a stone wall) on Marye's Hill, but Sumner dissuaded him, and, on the 14th and 15th, his troops were withdrawn to the north side of the Rappahannock, with all his guns, taking up his pontoon bridges. Then the Confederates reoccupied Fredericksburg.



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