Battle of Fredericksburg
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Location: Fredericksburg, VA
Dates: February 11-15, 1862
Union Commander:  Ambrose Burnside, Major General
Confederate Commander:  Robert E. Lee, General

Battle Summary:
In late September, 1862, the Union's Army of the Potomac, commanded by US Major General George B. McClellan, expelled Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, from Sharpsburg, MD.  On September 17, these armies engaged in what would become the bloody single day, in U.S. history, and would be named after a lazy creek that runs through Sharpsburg - Antietam. While the battle was essentially a draw, it was greeted in the north as a resounding victory, prompting Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

Lincoln's excitement turned to despair, as he tried to nudge McClellan into the offensive, while Lee's army was most vulnerable to attack.  Finally, in late October, 1862 McClellan put his army in motion, into Virginia, skirting the east side of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Unfortunately, he moved very sluggishly.  Lincoln, in an effort to speed McClellan, wired his commander that his army was closer to Richmond, than Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.  At the same time, Lincoln made an internal vow to remove "Little Mac" if he let Lee's army get between him and Richmond.  On November 7, Lincoln had had enough.  He sent US Brigadier General C.P. Buckingham, to McClellan's headquarters, at Rectortown, with orders to remove McClellan.  The same orders placed US Major General Ambrose Burnside in command of the Union's Army of the Potomac.

Ambrose Burnside, was a reluctant commander.  Friends, with McClellan, he preferred to have a supporting role in the east, rather than overall command.  Fearing the commanding role would devolve, upon his nemesis, Joe Hooker, Burnside accepted the new position.  Burnside would be the third commander of the Army of the Potomac, and was an 1847 graduate of West Point.

Burnside wasted little time.  By November 15, he had his army in motion.  His plan was to out flank Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, crossing the Rappahannock River above, and below Fredericksburg.  By choosing Fredericksburg, as his point to launch into the Rebel army, near Richmond, he would only have to cross the Rappahannock.  If he were to take the more direct route, he would have two formidable rivers to cross - the Rappahannock and the Rapidan.  A quick movement, would assure surprise, and would catch the Army of Northern Virginia, as it was falling back to protect Richmond.

Burnside also changed the organizational structure of his army.  While retaining the overall Corps structure, he organized his Corps into three grand divisions.  The Right Grand Division, commanded by US Major General Edwin Sumner would have II Corps (Major General Darius Couch) and the IX Corps (Brigadier General Orlando Wilcox).  The Center Grand Division, commanded by US Major General Joseph Hooker would have the III Corps (Brigadier General George Stoneman) and the V Corps (Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield).  The Left Grand Division, commanded by US Major General William Franklin would have the I Corps (Major General John Reynolds) and the VI Corps (Major General William Smith).

By November 17, the flanking move seemed to be working.  Sumner's Grand Division had arrived on the east bank, of the Rappahannock, and were at Stafford Heights, immediately opposite Fredericksburg.  The rest of Burnside's army arrived shortly afterwards.  Unfortunately, a mix up, at the war department, slowed the arrival of the pontoon bridging equipment, necessary to ford the Rappahannock.  Burnside would wait a week for his pontoons to arrive.  It was at this same time, that Lee's Army was also arriving at Fredericksburg, making Burnside's plan, for an unopposed crossing of the river, impossible.

The mighty Army of Northern Virginia was clearly arrayed behind Fredericksburg.  Facing Burnside, was the powerful 1st Corps of CS Lieutenant General James Longstreet.  His Corps was occupying the high ground, beyond Fredericksburg, known as Marye's Heights.  Fearing a feint at Fredericksburg, and a general movement downstream, Lee had position much of his 2nd Corps, commanded by Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, 20 miles downstream.  Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was close to 80,000 troops strong, facing a very impressive Union army of over 110,000 troops.

During the overnight hours, on December 11, Burnside deployed his engineers to build pontoon bridges at three crossings, the Upper, Middle and Lower.  Work went smoothly until the first rays of sun started to burn through the fog.  Once the engineers were visible, they became easy targets for the single brigade assigned to guard against such a crossing.  CS Brigadier General William Barksdale's Brigade, from Florida, and Mississippi, was posted in the lower downtown area.

After Barksdale's Brigade started its deadly shooting, Burnside determined to use his heavy artillery, posted at Stafford Heights, to force them out of town.  For over an hour, the big Union guns fired into the town of Fredericksburg.  All told, over 7,000 shells were fired by 150 heavy guns into the town of Fredericksburg.  Unfortunately, Barksdale's Brigade was unharmed by the massive bombardment.  When the engineers went back to work, they were picked off easily by the Rebel infantry.  Finally, it was decided that Federal infantry, would use the pontoons, as boats, to storm the opposite bank.  The small "shock" force quickly dislodged Barksdale's Brigade, pushing them through the streets of Fredericksburg, in some of the only urban, street fighting, during the Civil War.  Burnside's engineers quickly finished the pontoon bridges, occupying Fredericksburg on the evening of December 11.

In the meantime, Lee recognizing that there would not be a crossing, further downstream, recalled Jackson's 2nd Corps, to an area due south of Longstreet.  This line, stretching south of Fredericksburg, was naturally strong, as Jackson's troops could dig into the hillside, of a long bluff, under the cover of trees.  Jackson was confident that his position would be very strong.

On December 12, the majority of the Army of the Potomac crossed into Fredericksburg.  Unfortunately, the ransacked town was too much for the men, and looting, vandalism and drinking were common, through the streets, parlors and homes of Fredericksburg.  After the main battle, when questioned about how he would handle the Union debauchery, Stonewall Jackson said, "Kill them, sir, kill every man!"

On the unusually warm, and foggy morning, of Saturday, December 13, US Major General William Franklin's Left Grand Division, was tasked with assaulting the heights, south of town, held by Jackson's 2nd Corps.  Due to rather ambiguous language in Burnside's orders, Franklin was given discretion on how he would feed his division into battle.  With close to 60,000 soldiers, at his disposal, he determined to send in one division, commanded by US Major General G. Gordon Meade.  Later in the battle he would receive support, from divisions, under US Brigadier Generals Abner Doubleday, and John Gibbon.  Moving into position, to attack Jackson's line, Meade's division was enfiladed by one battery of Rebel cannon, commanded by CS Major John Pelham.  The fire from the guns was highly accurate, and destructive.  Gibbon would dispatch one brigade, of Wisconsin and Indiana troops to tangle with Pelham.  These troops, the only all Western brigade, in the Army of the Potomac, would earn the well deserved nickname, "Iron Brigade," during upcoming battles.

After dislodging Pelham's artillery, Meade sent his troops against Jackson's entrenched infantry, and artillery.  The area they struck was a sliver of woods, that crossed the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac railroad tracks.  While they had heavy casualties in crossing the open ground, to these woods, they did enjoy a breakthrough near the tracks.  In this area the Confederates would forever lose the services of CS Brigadier General Maxcy Gregg.  He would be mortally wounded during Meade's breakthrough.  Jackson, immediately funneled new troops into the area of Meade's breakthrough, and having very little support, Meade was forced to pull back, beyond the tracks, and the Richmond Stage Road.

The second phase, and the better known phase, of the Battle of Fredericksburg, against Longstreet's 1st Corps, started when Burnside observed Meade's repulse.  Originally designed to start when Franklin's Left Grand Division had started to roll up Lee's right flank, Sumner's Right Grand Division was to assault Longstreet's Corps, approximately 1/2 mile beyond Fredericksburg, on Marye's Heights.  Wave, after wave, of Union soldiers marched through Fredericksburg, across the open fields, the Canal Ditch and up the hill, only to be annihilated before they reach the stone wall, beyond which was the sunken road.  Here CS Brigadier General Thomas R.R. Cobb's Georgia brigade laid down a withering fire.  While Cobb would be mortally wounded, by an artillery shell, his brigade would mow down successive waves by brigade, after brigade.  Even the vaunted Irish Brigade would be chewed up trying to reach the Sunken Road.

By sunset, the fighting had sputtered to an end.  The weather, however, changed for the worst.  Soldiers who had thrown aside their jackets, and blankets, in the earlier balmy weather, were greeted with sub-freezing temperatures.  The area between Marye's Heights, and Fredericksburg, became a "no man's" land, where the slightest movement by a Federal soldier, would illicit a shot from the Confederates.  Besides dying from their injuries, Union soldiers also froze to death.  During this battle, Robert E. Lee was quoted, "It is well that war is so terrible - lest we should grow too fond of it."

Burnside, determined, to press his attack, wanted to lead soldiers to the front.  His lieutenants persuaded him against doing so.  The army would remain in the field, for two more days, before retreating across the Rappahannock, in a drenching rain, in the early morning hours of December 16.

Campaign: Fredericksburg

Outcome: Confederate victory

Troop Strengths
Union: 115,000
Confederate: 78,000

Casualties (estimated):
Union: 12,600 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
Confederate: 5,300 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)

Battle Aftermath:
The butcher's bill for Fredericksburg was very high.  The north was appalled at the waste of life, that occurred at Fredericksburg.  What made it worse was the fact that little, or no good would have been gained by a victory.  In January, in an effort to resuscitate his career, Burnside tried one more flanking movement, this time against Lee's left flank.  What would become known as the "Mud March" would further demoralize his army, and lead quickly to another change in commanders, for the Army of the Potomac.  Both armies would remain in their relative positions, for the remainder of the winter, before they would meet again, just a few miles west, at a sleepy crossroads called Chancellorsville.
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