December 11-15, 1862 – Fredericksburg, VA

The huge Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg deserves so much more attention than I will be able to give it in this blog. As an Antietam guide, when I read and research about Fredericksburg, I am reminded of the immensity of it all on both occasions – how the more one learns, the more one knows he actually knows little relative to all that could be recorded.

BurnsideBriefly reviewed, upon replacing George McClellan, General Burnside’s plan was to move the Army of the Potomac quickly to Fredericksburg and then on to Richmond before Lee could successfully stop this action. It would be necessary to cross the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg, and to do that would require the engineering feat of the construction of pontoon bridges. These were truly an ingenious system and very capable for the task.  But administrative foul-ups and delays, along with very poor weather, delayed the arrival of the pontoons. Enough time was lost that Lee was able to post his considerable forces on the high ground above Fredericksburg on the south side of the river.

An overview of the dates of the battle:

Pontoon Boats

Pontoon Boats

11th and 12th – construction of the pontoon bridges and crossing of the river by the Union Army – along with urban fighting in the city of Fredericksburg.

13th – the actual date of the battle, featuring waves of Union attacks upon Marye’s Heights upon the Rebel left flank, and the planned giant attack of Franklin’s Grand Division of 60,000 men against Stonewall Jackson on the Confederate Right.

14th and 15th – while still in place, the armies starred at each other and collected the wounded, and Burnside was talked out of any further action – with the Union retreating from the field on the 15th.

Significant Facts about Fredericksburg:

  • The first opposed river crossing in American military history occurred.
  • The first urban fighting of the Civil War occurred – as Barksdale’s Mississippi troops engaged the Federals in severe combat in the ruined streets of the city.
  • Fredericksburg was the largest battle of the War in terms of total numbers of combatants gathered at one location – in the range of 200,000.
  • The Union lost over 13,000 casualties – 2/3 of which piled up in front of Marye’s Heights. Confederate losses were a more modest 4,500.
  • While viewing this scene, General Lee spoke the famous quote, “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”
  • A despondent Abraham Lincoln wrote, “If there is a worse place than hell, I am in it.”

I am going to include several personal accounts of the Battle of Fredericksburg over the coming days – tomorrow featuring a letter written by Clara Barton, and on the 13th giving the account of Frederick Hitchcock of the 132nd PA – which is quite a story.

fredericksburg pontoon bridges

Pontoon Bridges at Fredericksburg

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed 3-4 hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and am the editor of a Baltimore/Maryland sports blog called "The Baltimore Wire." My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with a Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

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