Being an Army of the Potomac guy most especially, I often fail to think or read very long about the perspective from “the other side.” So, as I wrap up some thoughts on the Battle of Fredericksburg, I’ll conclude with some Confederate perspectives and statements.
It was on December 11th that the Federals began to push their pontoon bridges across the Rappahannock, finding the sniping of Barksdale’s men from the city of Fredericksburg to be especially severe. The Union artillery barrage upon the city of about 150 guns over 150 minutes wrought great destruction to buildings, as walls fell and fires were ignited. But Barksdale’s men re-emerged, being met by a Federal amphibious assault and house to house fighting. Barksdale asked in a message to Longstreet if the men should douse the fires, but Longstreet simply replied, “You have enough to do to watch the Yankees!”
The Confederate position in front of Marye’s Heights was of extraordinary strength, replete with pits and stone walls beyond a rising open plain. Lieutenant Colonel Porter Alexander described the artillery arrangement to Longstreet, saying, “General, we cover that ground now so well that we will comb it as with a fine-tooth comb. A chicken could not live on that field when we open on it.” After the battle he would add, “I never conceived for a moment that Burnside would make his main attack right where we were the strongest – at Marye’s Heights.
The day of the battle opened with a thick fog, and it was toward late morning before it lifted and the conflict opened. In advance of the action, Stonewall Jackson and Longstreet met briefly, with Pete jokingly saying, “Are you not scared by the file of Yankees you have before you down there?” Working up about as much humor as Jackson was capable, the grim commander said, “Wait till they come a little nearer and they shall either scare me or I’ll scare them.”
With wave after wave of Union troops falling before Longstreet’s lines, one had to wonder how long this could continue. Lee said to Longstreet, “General, they are massing very heavily and will break your line, I am afraid.” But Longstreet’s reply was, “If you put every man now on the other side of the Potomac on that field to approach me over the same line, and give me plenty of ammunition, I will kill them all before they reach my line. Look to your right; you are in some danger there but not on my line.”
Longstreet issued a congratulatory communication to his men five days after the battle, honoring them for their stand, saying, “you stood by your post and filled the field before you with slain.” Beyond that, he also solicited financial contributions from his troops for the residents of Fredericksburg.
Of course, the most famous of quotes from this day was that of Robert E. Lee, who said, “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”