Battle of Fredericksburg

Battle of Fredericksburg

Overview
The Battle of Fredericksburg was fought December 11–15, 1862, in and around Fredericksburg, Virginia
Fredericksburg, Virginia
Fredericksburg is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia located south of Washington, D.C., and north of Richmond. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 24,286...

, between General Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

's Confederate
Confederate States Army
The Confederate States Army was the army of the Confederate States of America while the Confederacy existed during the American Civil War. On February 8, 1861, delegates from the seven Deep South states which had already declared their secession from the United States of America adopted the...

 Army of Northern Virginia
Army of Northern Virginia
The Army of Northern Virginia was the primary military force of the Confederate States of America in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War, as well as the primary command structure of the Department of Northern Virginia. It was most often arrayed against the Union Army of the Potomac...

 and the Union
Union Army
The Union Army was the land force that fought for the Union during the American Civil War. It was also known as the Federal Army, the U.S. Army, the Northern Army and the National Army...

 Army of the Potomac
Army of the Potomac
The Army of the Potomac was the major Union Army in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War.-History:The Army of the Potomac was created in 1861, but was then only the size of a corps . Its nucleus was called the Army of Northeastern Virginia, under Brig. Gen...

, commanded by Maj. Gen.
Major general (United States)
In the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and United States Air Force, major general is a two-star general-officer rank, with the pay grade of O-8. Major general ranks above brigadier general and below lieutenant general...

 Ambrose E. Burnside. The Union army's futile frontal assaults on December 13 against entrenched Confederate defenders on the heights behind the city is remembered as one of the most one-sided battles of the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, with Union casualties more than twice as heavy as those suffered by the Confederates.

Burnside's plan was to cross the Rappahannock River
Rappahannock River
The Rappahannock River is a river in eastern Virginia, in the United States, approximately in length. It traverses the entire northern part of the state, from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west, across the Piedmont, to the Chesapeake Bay, south of the Potomac River.An important river in American...

 at Fredericksburg in mid-November and race to the Confederate
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

 capital of Richmond
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

 before Lee's army could stop him.
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Encyclopedia
The Battle of Fredericksburg was fought December 11–15, 1862, in and around Fredericksburg, Virginia
Fredericksburg, Virginia
Fredericksburg is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia located south of Washington, D.C., and north of Richmond. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 24,286...

, between General Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

's Confederate
Confederate States Army
The Confederate States Army was the army of the Confederate States of America while the Confederacy existed during the American Civil War. On February 8, 1861, delegates from the seven Deep South states which had already declared their secession from the United States of America adopted the...

 Army of Northern Virginia
Army of Northern Virginia
The Army of Northern Virginia was the primary military force of the Confederate States of America in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War, as well as the primary command structure of the Department of Northern Virginia. It was most often arrayed against the Union Army of the Potomac...

 and the Union
Union Army
The Union Army was the land force that fought for the Union during the American Civil War. It was also known as the Federal Army, the U.S. Army, the Northern Army and the National Army...

 Army of the Potomac
Army of the Potomac
The Army of the Potomac was the major Union Army in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War.-History:The Army of the Potomac was created in 1861, but was then only the size of a corps . Its nucleus was called the Army of Northeastern Virginia, under Brig. Gen...

, commanded by Maj. Gen.
Major general (United States)
In the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and United States Air Force, major general is a two-star general-officer rank, with the pay grade of O-8. Major general ranks above brigadier general and below lieutenant general...

 Ambrose E. Burnside. The Union army's futile frontal assaults on December 13 against entrenched Confederate defenders on the heights behind the city is remembered as one of the most one-sided battles of the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, with Union casualties more than twice as heavy as those suffered by the Confederates.

Burnside's plan was to cross the Rappahannock River
Rappahannock River
The Rappahannock River is a river in eastern Virginia, in the United States, approximately in length. It traverses the entire northern part of the state, from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west, across the Piedmont, to the Chesapeake Bay, south of the Potomac River.An important river in American...

 at Fredericksburg in mid-November and race to the Confederate
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

 capital of Richmond
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

 before Lee's army could stop him. Bureaucratic delays prevented Burnside from receiving the necessary pontoon bridges in time and Lee moved his army to block the crossings. When the Union army was finally able to build its bridges and cross under fire, urban combat
Urban warfare
Urban warfare is combat conducted in urban areas such as towns and cities. Urban combat is very different from combat in the open at both the operational and tactical level...

 resulted in the city on December 11–12. Union troops prepared to assault Confederate defensive positions south of the city and on a strongly fortified ridge just west of the city known as Marye's Heights.

On December 13, the "grand division" of Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin
William B. Franklin
William Buel Franklin was a career United States Army officer and a Union Army general in the American Civil War. He rose to the rank of a corps commander in the Army of the Potomac, fighting in several notable early battles in the Eastern Theater.-Early life:William B. Franklin was born in York,...

 was able to pierce the first defensive line of Confederate Lt. Gen. Stonewall Jackson
Stonewall Jackson
ຄຽשת״ׇׂׂׂׂ֣|birth_place= Clarksburg, Virginia |death_place=Guinea Station, Virginia|placeofburial=Stonewall Jackson Memorial CemeteryLexington, Virginia|placeofburial_label= Place of burial|image=...

 to the south, but was finally repulsed. Burnside ordered the grand divisions of Maj. Gens. Edwin V. Sumner
Edwin Vose Sumner
Edwin Vose Sumner was a career United States Army officer who became a Union Army general and the oldest field commander of any Army Corps on either side during the American Civil War...

 and Joseph Hooker
Joseph Hooker
Joseph Hooker was a career United States Army officer, achieving the rank of major general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Although he served throughout the war, usually with distinction, Hooker is best remembered for his stunning defeat by Confederate General Robert E...

 to make multiple frontal assaults against Lt. Gen. James Longstreet
James Longstreet
James Longstreet was one of the foremost Confederate generals of the American Civil War and the principal subordinate to General Robert E. Lee, who called him his "Old War Horse." He served under Lee as a corps commander for many of the famous battles fought by the Army of Northern Virginia in the...

's position on Marye's Heights, all of which were repulsed with heavy losses. On December 15, Burnside withdrew his army, ending another failed Union campaign in the Eastern Theater
Eastern Theater of the American Civil War
The Eastern Theater of the American Civil War included the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, and the coastal fortifications and seaports of North Carolina...

.

Background and Burnside's plan


In November 1862, President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 needed to demonstrate the success of the Union war effort before the Northern public lost confidence in his administration. Confederate armies had been on the move earlier in the fall, invading Kentucky and Maryland
Maryland Campaign
The Maryland Campaign, or the Antietam Campaign is widely considered one of the major turning points of the American Civil War. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's first invasion of the North was repulsed by Maj. Gen. George B...

, and although each had been turned back, those armies remained intact and capable of further action. Lincoln urged Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States as well as military commander during the Civil War and post-war Reconstruction periods. Under Grant's command, the Union Army defeated the Confederate military and ended the Confederate States of America...

 to advance against the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi
Vicksburg Campaign
The Vicksburg Campaign was a series of maneuvers and battles in the Western Theater of the American Civil War directed against Vicksburg, Mississippi, a fortress city that dominated the last Confederate-controlled section of the Mississippi River. The Union Army of the Tennessee under Maj. Gen....

. He replaced Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell
Don Carlos Buell
Don Carlos Buell was a career United States Army officer who fought in the Seminole War, the Mexican-American War, and the American Civil War. Buell led Union armies in two great Civil War battles—Shiloh and Perryville. The nation was angry at his failure to defeat the outnumbered...

 with Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, hoping for a more aggressive posture against the Confederates in Tennessee. And on November 5, seeing that his replacement of Buell had not stimulated Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan
George B. McClellan
George Brinton McClellan was a major general during the American Civil War. He organized the famous Army of the Potomac and served briefly as the general-in-chief of the Union Army. Early in the war, McClellan played an important role in raising a well-trained and organized army for the Union...

 into action, he issued orders to replace McClellan in command of the Army of the Potomac in Virginia. McClellan had stopped Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Antietam
Battle of Antietam
The Battle of Antietam , fought on September 17, 1862, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, and Antietam Creek, as part of the Maryland Campaign, was the first major battle in the American Civil War to take place on Northern soil. It was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with about 23,000...

 in Maryland, but had not been able to destroy Lee's army, nor did he pursue Lee back into Virginia aggressively enough for Lincoln.

McClellan's replacement was Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, the commander of the IX Corps. Burnside had established a reputation as an independent commander, with successful operations earlier that year in coastal North Carolina
Burnside's North Carolina Expedition
Burnside’s North Carolina Expedition was a series of engagements fought along the North Carolina Coast between February and June 1862. The expedition was part of Winfield Scott’s overall Anaconda Plan, which aimed at closing blockade-running ports inside the Outer Banks...

 and, unlike McClellan, had no apparent political ambitions. However, he felt himself unqualified for army-level command and objected when offered the position. He accepted only when it was made clear to him that McClellan would be replaced in any event and that an alternative choice for command was Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker
Joseph Hooker
Joseph Hooker was a career United States Army officer, achieving the rank of major general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Although he served throughout the war, usually with distinction, Hooker is best remembered for his stunning defeat by Confederate General Robert E...

, whom Burnside disliked and distrusted. Burnside assumed command on November 7.

In response to prodding from Lincoln and general-in-chief Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, Burnside planned a late fall offensive; he communicated his plan to Halleck on November 9. The plan relied on quick movement and deception. He would concentrate his army in a visible fashion near Warrenton
Warrenton, Virginia
Warrenton is a town in Fauquier County, Virginia, United States. The population was 6,670 at the 2000 census, and 14,634 at the 2010 estimate. It is the county seat of Fauquier County. Public schools in the town include Fauquier High School, Warrenton Middle School, Taylor Middle School and two...

, feigning a movement on Culpeper Court House, Orange Court House, or Gordonsville. Then he would rapidly shift his army southeast and cross the Rappahannock River to Fredericksburg, hoping that Robert E. Lee would sit still, unclear as to Burnside's intentions, while the Union Army made a rapid movement against Richmond, south along the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad
Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad
The Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad was a railroad connecting Richmond, Virginia, to Washington, D.C. It is now a portion of the CSX Transportation system....

 from Fredericksburg. Burnside selected this plan because he was concerned that if he were to move directly south from Warrenton, he would be exposed to a flanking attack
Flanking maneuver
In military tactics, a flanking maneuver, also called a flank attack, is an attack on the sides of an opposing force. If a flanking maneuver succeeds, the opposing force would be surrounded from two or more directions, which significantly reduces the maneuverability of the outflanked force and its...

 from Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson
Stonewall Jackson
ຄຽשת״ׇׂׂׂׂ֣|birth_place= Clarksburg, Virginia |death_place=Guinea Station, Virginia|placeofburial=Stonewall Jackson Memorial CemeteryLexington, Virginia|placeofburial_label= Place of burial|image=...

, whose corps was at that time in the Shenandoah Valley
Shenandoah Valley
The Shenandoah Valley is both a geographic valley and cultural region of western Virginia and West Virginia in the United States. The valley is bounded to the east by the Blue Ridge Mountains, to the west by the eastern front of the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians , to the north by the Potomac River...

 south of Winchester
Winchester, Virginia
Winchester is an independent city located in the northwestern portion of the Commonwealth of Virginia in the USA. The city's population was 26,203 according to the 2010 Census...

. He also believed that the Orange and Alexandria Railroad
Orange and Alexandria Railroad
The Orange and Alexandria Railroad was an intrastate railroad in Virginia, United States. It extended from Alexandria to Gordonsville, with another section from Charlottesville to Lynchburg...

 would be an inadequate supply line. (Burnside was also influenced by plans McClellan began developing just prior to being relieved. Aware that Lee had blocked the O&A, McClellan considered a route through Fredericksburg and ordered a small group of cavalrymen commanded by Capt. Ulric Dahlgren
Ulric Dahlgren
Ulric Dahlgren served as a Union Army colonel. He was in command of an unsuccessful 1864 raid on the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, and was killed in the raid.-Early life:...

 to investigate the condition of the RF&P.) While Burnside began assembling a supply base at Falmouth
Falmouth, Virginia
Falmouth is an unincorporated community in Stafford County, Virginia, United States. Situated on the north bank of the Rappahannock River at the falls, the community is north of and opposite the city of Fredericksburg. Recognized by the U.S...

, near Fredericksburg, the Lincoln administration entertained a lengthy debate about the wisdom of his plan, which differed from the president's preference of a movement south on the O&A and a direct confrontation with Lee's army instead of the movement focused on the city of Richmond. Lincoln reluctantly approved the plan on November 14 but cautioned his general to move with great speed, certainly doubting that Lee would cooperate as Burnside anticipated.

Opposing forces

Key Union commanders
Key Confederate Commanders


Burnside organized his Army of the Potomac into three so-called grand divisions, organizations that included infantry corps, cavalry, and artillery, comprising 120,000 men, of whom 114,000 would be engaged in the coming battle:
  • The Right Grand Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Edwin V. "Bull" Sumner
    Edwin Vose Sumner
    Edwin Vose Sumner was a career United States Army officer who became a Union Army general and the oldest field commander of any Army Corps on either side during the American Civil War...

    , consisted of the II Corps of Maj. Gen. Darius N. Couch
    Darius N. Couch
    Darius Nash Couch was an American soldier, businessman, and naturalist. He served as a career U.S. Army officer during the Mexican-American War, the Second Seminole War, and as a general officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War.During the Civil War, Couch fought notably in the...

     (divisions of Brig. Gens.
    Brigadier general (United States)
    A brigadier general in the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, is a one-star general officer, with the pay grade of O-7. Brigadier general ranks above a colonel and below major general. Brigadier general is equivalent to the rank of rear admiral in the other uniformed...

     Winfield S. Hancock, Oliver O. Howard
    Oliver O. Howard
    Oliver Otis Howard was a career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War...

    , and William H. French
    William H. French
    William Henry French was a career United States Army officer and a Union Army General in the American Civil War. He rose to temporarily command a corps within the Army of the Potomac, but was relieved of active field duty following poor performance during the Mine Run Campaign in late 1863.-Early...

    ) and the IX Corps of Brig. Gen. Orlando B. Willcox
    Orlando B. Willcox
    Orlando Bolivar Willcox was an American soldier who served as a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War.-Early life:...

     (divisions of Brig. Gens. William W. Burns, Samuel D. Sturgis
    Samuel D. Sturgis
    Samuel Davis Sturgis was an American military officer who served in the Mexican-American War, as a Union general in the American Civil War, and later in the Indian Wars.-Early life:...

    , and George W. Getty
    George W. Getty
    George Washington Getty was a career military officer in the United States Army, most noted for his role as a division commander in the Army of the Potomac during the final full year of the American Civil War....

    ). A cavalry division under Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton
    Alfred Pleasonton
    Alfred Pleasonton was a United States Army officer and General of Union cavalry during the American Civil War. He commanded the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac during the Gettysburg Campaign, including the largest predominantly cavalry battle of the war, Brandy Station...

     was attached.
  • The Center Grand Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker
    Joseph Hooker
    Joseph Hooker was a career United States Army officer, achieving the rank of major general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Although he served throughout the war, usually with distinction, Hooker is best remembered for his stunning defeat by Confederate General Robert E...

    , consisted of the III Corps of Brig. Gen. George Stoneman
    George Stoneman
    George Stoneman, Jr. was a career United States Army officer, a Union cavalry general in the American Civil War, and the 15th Governor of California between 1883 and 1887.-Early life:...

     (divisions of Brig. Gens. David B. Birney
    David B. Birney
    David Bell Birney was a businessman, lawyer, and a Union General in the American Civil War.-Early life:Birney was born in Huntsville, Alabama, the son of an abolitionist from Kentucky, James G. Birney. The Birney family returned to Kentucky in 1833, and James Birney freed his slaves...

    , Daniel E. Sickles, and Amiel W. Whipple) and the V Corps of Brig. Gen. Daniel Butterfield
    Daniel Butterfield
    Daniel Adams Butterfield was a New York businessman, a Union General in the American Civil War, and Assistant U.S. Treasurer in New York. He is credited with composing the bugle call Taps and was involved in the Black Friday gold scandal in the Grant administration...

     (divisions of Brig. Gens. Charles Griffin, George Sykes
    George Sykes
    George Sykes was a career United States Army officer and a Union General during the American Civil War.-Early life:...

    , and Andrew A. Humphreys
    Andrew A. Humphreys
    Andrew Atkinson Humphreys , was a career United States Army officer, civil engineer, and a Union General in the American Civil War. He served in senior positions in the Army of the Potomac, including division command, chief of staff, and corps command, and was Chief Engineer of the U.S...

    ). A cavalry brigade under Brig. Gen. William W. Averell
    William W. Averell
    William Woods Averell was a career United States Army officer and a cavalry general in the American Civil War. After the war he was a diplomat and became wealthy by inventing American asphalt pavement.-Early years:...

     was attached.
  • The Left Grand Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin
    William B. Franklin
    William Buel Franklin was a career United States Army officer and a Union Army general in the American Civil War. He rose to the rank of a corps commander in the Army of the Potomac, fighting in several notable early battles in the Eastern Theater.-Early life:William B. Franklin was born in York,...

    , consisted of the I Corps of Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds
    John F. Reynolds
    John Fulton Reynolds was a career United States Army officer and a general in the American Civil War. One of the Union Army's most respected senior commanders, he played a key role in committing the Army of the Potomac to the Battle of Gettysburg and was killed at the start of the battle.-Early...

     (divisions of Brig. Gens. Abner Doubleday
    Abner Doubleday
    Abner Doubleday was a career United States Army officer and Union general in the American Civil War. He fired the first shot in defense of Fort Sumter, the opening battle of the war, and had a pivotal role in the early fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg. Gettysburg was his finest hour, but his...

     and John Gibbon
    John Gibbon
    John Gibbon was a career United States Army officer who fought in the American Civil War and the Indian Wars.-Early life:...

     and Maj. Gen. George G. Meade) and the VI Corps of Maj. Gen. William F. "Baldy" Smith
    William Farrar Smith
    William Farrar Smith , was a civil engineer, a member of the New York City police commission, and Union general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

     (divisions of Brig. Gens. William T. H. Brooks
    William T. H. Brooks
    William Thomas Harbaugh Brooks was a career military officer in the United States Army, serving as a major general during the American Civil War.-Early life:...

    , Albion P. Howe
    Albion P. Howe
    Albion Parris Howe was a Union Army general in the American Civil War. Howe's contentious relationships with superior officers in the Army of the Potomac eventually led to his being deprived of division command....

    , and John Newton). A cavalry brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. George D. Bayard
    George Dashiell Bayard
    George Dashiell Bayard was a career soldier in the United States Army and a general in the Union Army in the American Civil War...

     was attached.
  • The Reserve, commanded by Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel
    Franz Sigel
    Franz Sigel was a German military officer, revolutionist and immigrant to the United States who was a teacher, newspaperman, politician, and served as a Union major general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

     of the XI Corps, was in the area of Fairfax Court House. The XII Corps, under Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, was called from Harpers Ferry to Dumfries, Virginia
    Dumfries, Virginia
    Dumfries is a town in Prince William County, Virginia, United States. The population was 4,937 at the 2000 census.-Geography:Dumfries is located at ....

    , to join the reserve force on December 9, but none of these troops participated in the battle.


Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had nearly 85,000 men, with 72,500 engaged. His organization of the army in corps was approved by an act of the Confederate Congress on November 6, 1862.
  • The First Corps
    First Corps, Army of Northern Virginia
    The First Corps, Army of Northern Virginia was a military unit fighting for the Confederate States of America in the American Civil War. It was formed in early 1861 and served until the spring of 1865, mostly in the Eastern Theater. The corps was commanded by James Longstreet for much of its...

     of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet
    James Longstreet
    James Longstreet was one of the foremost Confederate generals of the American Civil War and the principal subordinate to General Robert E. Lee, who called him his "Old War Horse." He served under Lee as a corps commander for many of the famous battles fought by the Army of Northern Virginia in the...

     included the divisions of Maj. Gens. Lafayette McLaws
    Lafayette McLaws
    Lafayette McLaws was a United States Army officer and a Confederate general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

    , Richard H. Anderson
    Richard H. Anderson
    Richard Heron Anderson was a career U.S. Army officer, fighting with distinction in the Mexican-American War. He also served as a Confederate general during the American Civil War, fighting in the Eastern Theater of the conflict and most notably during the 1864 Battle of Spotsylvania Court House...

    , George E. Pickett, and John Bell Hood
    John Bell Hood
    John Bell Hood was a Confederate general during the American Civil War. Hood had a reputation for bravery and aggressiveness that sometimes bordered on recklessness...

    , and Brig. Gen. Robert Ransom, Jr.
    Robert Ransom, Jr.
    Robert Ransom, Jr. was a major general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. His brother Matt W. Ransom was also a Confederate general officer and U.S. Senator.-Early life:...

  • The Second Corps
    Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia
    The Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia was a military organization within the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during much of the American Civil War. It was officially created and named following the Battle of Sharpsburg in 1862, but comprised units in a corps organization for quite...

     of Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson
    Stonewall Jackson
    ຄຽשת״ׇׂׂׂׂ֣|birth_place= Clarksburg, Virginia |death_place=Guinea Station, Virginia|placeofburial=Stonewall Jackson Memorial CemeteryLexington, Virginia|placeofburial_label= Place of burial|image=...

     included the divisions of Maj. Gens. D.H. Hill and A.P. Hill, and Brig. Gens. Jubal A. Early and William B. Taliaferro
    William B. Taliaferro
    William Booth Taliaferro , was a United States Army officer, a lawyer, legislator, and Confederate general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

    .
  • Reserve Artillery under Brig. Gen. William N. Pendleton
    William N. Pendleton
    William Nelson Pendleton was an American teacher, Episcopal priest, and soldier. He served as a Confederate general during the American Civil War, noted for his position as Gen. Robert E. Lee's chief of artillery for most of the conflict...

    .
  • The Cavalry Division under Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart
    J.E.B. Stuart
    James Ewell Brown "Jeb" Stuart was a U.S. Army officer from Virginia and a Confederate States Army general during the American Civil War. He was known to his friends as "Jeb", from the initials of his given names. Stuart was a cavalry commander known for his mastery of reconnaissance and the use...

    .


The two armies at Fredericksburg represented the largest number of armed men that ever confronted each other for combat during the Civil War.

Movement to battle



The Union Army began marching on November 15, and the first elements arrived in Falmouth on November 17. Burnside's plan quickly went awry—he had ordered pontoon bridges to be sent to the front and assembled for his quick crossing of the Rappahannock, but because of administrative bungling, the bridges had not preceded the army. As Maj. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner
Edwin Vose Sumner
Edwin Vose Sumner was a career United States Army officer who became a Union Army general and the oldest field commander of any Army Corps on either side during the American Civil War...

 arrived, he strongly urged an immediate crossing of the river to scatter the token Confederate force of 500 men in the town and occupying the commanding heights to the west. Burnside became anxious, concerned that the increasing autumn rains would make the fording points unusable and that Sumner might be cut off and destroyed. He squandered his initiative and ordered Sumner to wait in Falmouth.

Lee at first anticipated that Burnside would beat him across the Rappahannock and that to protect Richmond, he would assume the next defensible position to the south, the North Anna River
North Anna River
The North Anna River is a principal tributary of the Pamunkey River, about long, in central Virginia in the United States. Via the Pamunkey and York rivers, it is part of the watershed of Chesapeake Bay...

. But when he saw how slowly Burnside was moving (and Confederate President
President of the Confederate States of America
The President of the Confederate States of America was the Head of State and Head of Government of the Confederate States of America, which was formed from the states which declared their secession from the United States, thus precipitating the American Civil War. The only person to hold the...

 Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Finis Davis , also known as Jeff Davis, was an American statesman and leader of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, serving as President for its entire history. He was born in Kentucky to Samuel and Jane Davis...

 expressed reservations about planning for a battle so close to Richmond), he directed all of his army toward Fredericksburg. By November 23, all of Longstreet's corps had arrived and Lee placed them on the ridge known as Marye's Heights to the west of town, with Anderson's division on the far left, McLaws's directly behind the town, and Pickett's and Hood's to the right. He sent for Jackson on November 26, but his Second Corps commander had anticipated the need and began forced-marching his troops from Winchester on November 22, covering as many as 20 miles a day. Jackson arrived at Lee's headquarters on November 29 and his divisions were deployed to prevent Burnside crossing downstream from Fredericksburg: D.H. Hill's division moved to Port Royal, 18 miles down river; Early's 12 miles down river at Skinker's Neck; A.P. Hill's at Thomas Yerby's house, "Belvoir", about 6 miles southeast of town; and Taliaferro's along the RF&P Railroad, 4 miles south at Guinea Station.

The boats and equipment for a single pontoon bridge arrived at Falmouth on November 25, much too late to enable the Army of the Potomac to cross the river without opposition. Burnside still had an opportunity, however, because by then he was facing only half of Lee's army, not yet dug in, and if he acted quickly, he might have been able to attack Longstreet and defeat him before Jackson arrived. Once again he squandered his opportunity. The full complement of bridges arrived at the end of the month, but by this time Jackson was present and Longstreet was preparing strong defenses.

Burnside originally planned to cross his army east of Fredericksburg at Skinker's Neck, but Federal gunboats were fired upon there and balloon observers
Union Army Balloon Corps
The Union Army Balloon Corps was a branch of the Union Army during the American Civil War, established by presidential appointee Thaddeus S. C. Lowe...

 spotted Early's and D.H. Hill's divisions in that area. Now assuming that Lee had anticipated his plan, Burnside guessed that the Confederates had weakened their left and center to concentrate against him on their right. So he decided to cross directly at Fredericksburg. On December 9, he wrote to Halleck, "I think now the enemy will be more surprised by a crossing immediately in our front than any other part of the river. ... I'm convinced that a large force of the enemy is now concentrated at Port Royal, its left resting on Fredericksburg, which we hope to turn." In addition to his numerical advantage in troop strength, Burnside also had the advantage of knowing his army could not be attacked effectively. On the other side of the Rappahannock, 220 artillery pieces had been located on the ridge known as Stafford Heights to prevent Lee's army from mounting any major counterattacks.

Crossing the Rappahannock, December 11–12


Union engineers began to assemble six pontoon bridges before dawn on December 11, two just north of the town center, a third on the southern end of town, and three farther south, near the confluence of the Rappahannock and Deep Run. The engineers constructing the bridge directly across from city came under punishing fire from Confederate sharpshooters
Marksman
A marksman is a person who is skilled in precision, or a sharpshooter shooting, using projectile weapons, such as with a rifle but most commonly with a sniper rifle, to shoot at long range targets...

, primarily from the Mississippi brigade of Brig. Gen. William Barksdale
William Barksdale
William Barksdale was a lawyer, newspaper editor, U.S. Congressman, and a Confederate general in the American Civil War...

, in command of the town defenses. Union artillery attempted to dislodge the sharpshooters, but their positions in the cellars of houses rendered the fire from 150 guns mostly ineffective. Eventually Burnside's artillery commander, Brig. Gen. Henry J. Hunt, convinced him to send infantry landing parties over in the pontoon boats to secure a small beachhead
Beachhead
Beachhead is a military term used to describe the line created when a unit reaches a beach, and begins to defend that area of beach, while other reinforcements help out, until a unit large enough to begin advancing has arrived. It is sometimes used interchangeably with Bridgehead and Lodgement...

 and rout the sharpshooters. Col. Norman J. Hall
Norman J. Hall
Norman Jonathan Hall was an officer in the United States Army during the American Civil War, perhaps most noted for his defense of his sector of the Union line against Pickett's Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg.-Early life:...

 volunteered his brigade for this assignment. Burnside suddenly turned reluctant, lamenting to Hall in front of his men that "the effort meant death to most of those who should undertake the voyage." When his men responded to Hall's request with three cheers, Burnside relented. At 3 p.m., the Union artillery began a preparatory bombardment and 135 infantrymen from the 7th Michigan and the 19th Massachusetts crowded into the small boats. They crossed successfully and spread out in a skirmish line to clear the sharpshooters. Although some of the Confederates surrendered, fighting proceeded street by street through the town as the engineers completed the bridges. Sumner's Right Grand Division began crossing at 4:30 p.m., but the bulk of his men did not cross until December 12. Hooker's Center Grand Division crossed on December 13, using both the northern and southern bridges.

The clearing of the city buildings by Sumner's infantry and by artillery fire from across the river began the first major urban combat of the war. Union gunners sent more than 5,000 shells against the town and the ridges to the west. By nightfall, four brigades of Union troops occupied the town, which they looted with a fury that had not been seen in the war up to that point. This behavior enraged Lee, who compared their depredations with those of the ancient Vandals
Vandals
The Vandals were an East Germanic tribe that entered the late Roman Empire during the 5th century. The Vandals under king Genseric entered Africa in 429 and by 439 established a kingdom which included the Roman Africa province, besides the islands of Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearics....

. The destruction also angered the Confederate troops, many of whom were native Virginians. Many on the Union side were also shocked by the destruction inflicted on Fredericksburg. Civilian casualties were unusually sparse in the midst of such widespread violence; George Rable estimates no more than four civilian deaths.

River crossings south of the city by Franklin's Left Grand Division were much less eventful. Both bridges were completed by 11 a.m. on December 11 while five batteries of Union artillery suppressed most sniper fire against the engineers. Franklin was ordered at 4 p.m. to cross his entire command, but only a single brigade was sent out before dark. Crossings resumed at dawn and were completed by 1 p.m. on December 12. Early on December 13, Jackson recalled his divisions under Jubal Early and D.H. Hill from down river positions to join his main defensive lines south of the city.

Burnside's verbal instructions on December 12 outlined a main attack by Franklin, supported by Hooker, on the southern flank, while Sumner made a secondary attack on the northern. His actual orders on December 13 were vague and confusing to his subordinates. At 5 p.m. on December 12, he made a cursory inspection of the southern flank, where Franklin and his subordinates pressed him to give definite orders for a morning attack by the grand division, so they would have adequate time to position their forces overnight. However, Burnside demurred and the order did not reach Franklin until 7:15 or 7:45 a.m. When it arrived, it was not as Franklin expected. Rather than ordering an attack by the entire grand division of almost 60,000 men, Franklin was to keep his men in position, but was to send "a division at least" to seize the high ground (Prospect Hill) around Hamilton's Crossing, Sumner was to send one division through the city and up Telegraph Road, and both flanks were to be prepared to commit their entire commands. Burnside was apparently expecting these weak attacks to intimidate Lee, causing him to withdraw. Franklin, who had originally advocated a vigorous assault, chose to interpret Burnside's order very conservatively. Brig. Gen. James A. Hardie
James Allen Hardie
James Allen Hardie was an American soldier, serving in a number of important administrative positions in the Union Army during the American Civil War.-Early life:...

, who delivered the order, did not ensure that Burnside's intentions were understood by Franklin, and map inaccuracies about the road network made those intentions unclear. Furthermore, Burnside's choice of the verb "to seize" was less forceful in 19th century military terminology than an order "to carry" the heights.

South of the city, December 13



Franklin ordered his I Corps commander, Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds
John F. Reynolds
John Fulton Reynolds was a career United States Army officer and a general in the American Civil War. One of the Union Army's most respected senior commanders, he played a key role in committing the Army of the Potomac to the Battle of Gettysburg and was killed at the start of the battle.-Early...

, to select a division for the attack. Reynolds chose his smallest division, about 4,500 men commanded by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, and assigned Brig. Gen. John Gibbon
John Gibbon
John Gibbon was a career United States Army officer who fought in the American Civil War and the Indian Wars.-Early life:...

's division to support Meade's attack. His reserve division, under Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday
Abner Doubleday
Abner Doubleday was a career United States Army officer and Union general in the American Civil War. He fired the first shot in defense of Fort Sumter, the opening battle of the war, and had a pivotal role in the early fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg. Gettysburg was his finest hour, but his...

, was to face south and protect the left flank between the Richmond Road and the river. Meade's division began moving out 8:30 a.m. in a dense morning fog, which would not begin to lift until 10 a.m., with Gibbon's division following on its right rear. They moved parallel to the river initially, turning right to face the Richmond Road, where they began to be struck by enfilading fire from the Virginia Horse Artillery under Major John Pelham. Pelham started with two cannons—a 12-pounder Napoleon smoothbore and a rifled Blakely—but continued with only one after the latter was disabled by counter-battery fire. "Jeb" Stuart sent word to Pelham that he should feel free to withdraw from his dangerous position at any time, to which Pelham responded, "Tell the General I can hold my ground." The Iron Brigade
Iron Brigade
The Iron Brigade, also known as the Iron Brigade of the West or the Black Hat Brigade, was an infantry brigade in the Union Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War. Although it fought entirely in the Eastern Theater, it was composed of regiments from Western states...

 (formerly Gibbon's command, but now led by Brig. Gen. Solomon Meredith
Solomon Meredith
Solomon Meredith was a prominent Indiana farmer, politician, and lawman who was a controversial Union Army general in the American Civil War...

) was sent out to deal with the Confederate horse artillery. This action was mainly conducted by the 24th Michigan Infantry, a newly enlisted regiment that had joined the brigade in October. After about an hour, Pelham's ammunition began to run low and he withdrew. General Lee observed the action and commented about Pelham, age 24, "It is glorious to see such courage in one so young." The most prominent victim of Pelham's fire was Brig. Gen. George D. Bayard
George Dashiell Bayard
George Dashiell Bayard was a career soldier in the United States Army and a general in the Union Army in the American Civil War...

, a cavalry general mortally wounded by a shell while standing in reserve near Franklin's headquarters. Jackson's main artillery batteries had remained silent in the fog during this exchange, but the Union troops soon began to receive direct fire from Prospect Hill, principally five batteries directed by Lt. Col. Reuben Lindsay Walker
Reuben Lindsay Walker
Reuben Lindsay Walker was a Confederate general who served in the artillery during the American Civil War.-Early life:...

, and Meade's attack was stalled about 600 yards from his initial objective for almost two hours by these combined artillery attacks.

The Union artillery fire was lifted as Meade's men moved forward around 1 p.m. Jackson's force of about 35,000 remained concealed on the wooded ridge to Meade's front. His formidable defensive line had an unforeseen flaw. In A.P. Hill's division's line, a triangular patch of the woods that extended beyond the railroad was swampy and covered with thick underbrush and the Confederates had left a 600-yard gap there between the brigades of Brig. Gens. James H. Lane and James J. Archer
James J. Archer
James Jay Archer was a lawyer and an officer in the United States Army during the Mexican-American War, and he later served as a general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War....

. Brig. Gen. Maxcy Gregg
Maxcy Gregg
Maxcy Gregg was a lawyer, soldier in the United States Army during the Mexican-American War, and a Confederate brigadier general during the American Civil War who was killed at the Battle of Fredericksburg....

's brigade stood about a quarter mile behind the gap. Meade's 1st Brigade (Col. William Sinclair) entered the gap, climbed the railroad embankment, and turned right into the underbrush, striking Lane's brigade in the flank. Following immediately behind, his 3rd Brigade (Brig. Gen. Feger Jackson
Conrad Feger Jackson
Conrad Feger Jackson was a businessman and soldier from the state of Pennsylvania who served as a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was killed in action during the Battle of Fredericksburg.-Early life and career:Jackson was born in Alsace Township in Berks County,...

) turned left and hit Archer's flank. The 2nd Brigade (Col. Albert L. Magilton) came up in support and intermixed with the leading brigades. As the gap widened with pressure on the flanks, thousands of Meade's men reached the top of the ridge and ran into Gregg's brigade. Many of these Confederates had stacked arms while taking cover from Union artillery and were not expecting to be attacked at that moment, so were killed or captured unarmed. Gregg at first mistook the Union soldiers for fleeing Confederate troops and ordered his men not to fire on them. While he rode prominently in front of his lines, the partially deaf Gregg could not hear the approaching Federals or their bullets flying around him. He was shot through the spinal cord, dying two days later.

Confederate reserves—the divisions of Brig. Gens. Jubal A. Early and William B. Taliaferro
William B. Taliaferro
William Booth Taliaferro , was a United States Army officer, a lawyer, legislator, and Confederate general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

—moved into the fray from behind Gregg's original position. Inspired by their attack, regiments from Lane's and Archer's brigades rallied and formed a new defensive line in the gap. Now Meade's men were receiving fire from three sides and could not withstand the pressure. Feger Jackson attempted to flank a Confederate battery, but after his horse was shot and he began to lead on foot, he was shot in the head by a volley and his brigade fell back, leaderless (Col. Joseph W. Fisher soon replaced Jackson in command).

To Meade's right, Gibbon's division prepared to move forward at 1 p.m. Brig. Gen. Nelson Taylor
Nelson Taylor
Nelson Taylor was a U.S. Representative from New York and a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War.-Biography:Born in South Norwalk, Connecticut, Taylor attended the common schools....

 proposed to Gibbon that they supplement Meade's assault with a bayonet charge against Lane's position. However, Gibbon stated that this would violate his orders, so Taylor's brigade did not move forward until 1:30 p.m. The attack did not have the benefit of a gap to exploit, nor did the Union soldiers have any wooded cover for their advance, so progress was slow under heavy fire from Lane's brigade and Confederate artillery. Immediately following Taylor was the brigade of Col. Peter Lyle, and the advance of the two brigades ground to a halt before they reached the railroad. Committing his reserve at 1:45 p.m., Gibbon sent forward his brigade under Col. Adrian R. Root, which moved through the survivors of the first two brigades, but they were soon brought to a halt as well. Eventually some of the Federals reached the crest of the ridge and had some success during hand-to-hand fighting—men on both sides had depleted their ammunition and resorted to bayonets and rifle butts, and even empty rifles with bayonets thrown like javelins—but they were forced to withdraw back across the railroad embankment along with Meade's men to their left. Gibbon's attack, despite heavy casualties, had failed to support Meade's temporary breakthrough.
After the battle Meade complained that some of Gibbon's officers had not charged quickly enough. But his primary frustration was with Brig. Gen. David B. Birney
David B. Birney
David Bell Birney was a businessman, lawyer, and a Union General in the American Civil War.-Early life:Birney was born in Huntsville, Alabama, the son of an abolitionist from Kentucky, James G. Birney. The Birney family returned to Kentucky in 1833, and James Birney freed his slaves...

, whose division of the III Corps had been designated to support the attack as well. Birney claimed that his men had been subjected to damaging artillery fire as they formed up, that he had not understood the importance of Meade's attack, and that Reynolds had not ordered his division forward. When Meade galloped to the rear to confront Birney with a string of fierce profanities that, in the words of one staff lieutenant, "almost makes the stones creep," he was finally able to order the brigadier forward under his own responsibility, but harbored resentment for weeks. By this time, however, it was too late to accomplish any further offensive action.

Early's division began a counterattack, led initially by Col. Edmund N. Atkinson's Georgia brigade, which inspired the men from the brigades of Col. Robert Hoke
Robert Hoke
Robert Frederick Hoke was an American businessman, railroad executive, and a Confederate Army general during the American Civil War. Hoke and his division played a decisive role during the Battle of Cold Harbor in 1864....

, Brig. Gen. James J. Archer
James J. Archer
James Jay Archer was a lawyer and an officer in the United States Army during the Mexican-American War, and he later served as a general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War....

, and Col. John M. Brockenbrough
John M. Brockenbrough
John Mercer Brockenbrough was a farmer and a Confederate colonel in the American Civil War.-Early life:Brockenbrough was born in Richmond County, Virginia, and graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1850....

 to charge forward out of the railroad ditches, driving Meade's men from the woods in a disorderly retreat, followed closely by Gibbon's. Early's orders to his brigades were to pursue as far as the railroad, but in the chaos many kept up the pressure over the open fields as far as the old Richmond Road, where they were easier targets for Union artillery fire. The Confederates were also struck by the leading brigade of Birney's belated advance, commanded by Brig. Gen. J. H. Hobart Ward
J. H. Hobart Ward
John Henry Hobart Ward , most commonly referred to as J.H. Hobart Ward, was a career United States Army soldier who fought in the Mexican–American War and served in the New York state militia...

. Birney followed up with the brigades of Brig. Gens. Hiram G. Berry
Hiram George Berry
Hiram Gregory Berry was an American politician and general in the Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War.-Birth and early years:Hiram G...

 and John C. Robinson
John C. Robinson
John Cleveland Robinson had a long and distinguished career in the United States Army, fighting in numerous wars and culminating his career as a Union Army brigadier general of volunteers and brevet major general of volunteers in the American Civil War. In 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated...

, which broke the Rebel advance that had threatened to drive the Union into the river. Any further Confederate advance was deterred by the arrival of the III Corps division of Brig. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles on the right. General Burnside, who by this time was focused on his attacks on Marye's Heights, was dismayed that his left flank attack had not achieved the success he assumed earlier in the day. He ordered Franklin to "advance his right and front," but despite repeated entreaties, Franklin refused, claiming that all of his forces had been engaged. This was not true, however, as the entire VI Corps and Brig. Gen. Abner Doubleday
Abner Doubleday
Abner Doubleday was a career United States Army officer and Union general in the American Civil War. He fired the first shot in defense of Fort Sumter, the opening battle of the war, and had a pivotal role in the early fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg. Gettysburg was his finest hour, but his...

's division of the I Corps had been mostly idle, suffering only a few casualties from artillery fire while they waited in reserve.
The Confederates withdrew back to the safety of the hills south of town. Stonewall Jackson considered mounting a resumed counterattack, but the Federal artillery and impending darkness changed his mind. A fortuitous Union breakthrough had been wasted because Franklin did not reinforce Meade's success with some of the 20,000 men standing in reserve. Neither Franklin nor Reynolds took any personal involvement in the battle, and were unavailable to their subordinates at the critical point. Franklin's losses were about 5,000 casualties in comparison to Stonewall Jackson's 3,400, demonstrating the ferocity of the fighting. Skirmishing and artillery duels continued until dark, but no additional major attacks took place, while the center of the battle moved north to Marye's Heights.

Marye's Heights, December 13




On the northern end of the battlefield, Brig. Gen. William H. French
William H. French
William Henry French was a career United States Army officer and a Union Army General in the American Civil War. He rose to temporarily command a corps within the Army of the Potomac, but was relieved of active field duty following poor performance during the Mine Run Campaign in late 1863.-Early...

's division of the II Corps prepared to move forward, subjected to Confederate artillery fire that was descending on the fog-covered city of Fredericksburg. General Burnside's orders to Maj. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner, commander of the Right Grand Division, was to send "a division or more" to seize the high ground to the west of the city, assuming that his assault on the southern end of the Confederate line would be the decisive action of the battle. The avenue of approach was difficult—mostly open fields, but interrupted by scattered houses, fences, and gardens that would restrict the movement of battle lines. A canal stood about 200 yards west of the town, crossed by three narrow bridges, which would require the Union troops to funnel themselves into columns before proceeding. About 600 yards to the west of Fredericksburg was the low ridge known as Marye's Heights, rising 40–50 feet above the plain. (Although popularly known as Marye's Heights, the ridge was composed of several hills separated by ravines, from north to south: Taylor's Hill, Stansbury Hill, Marye's Hill, and Willis Hill.) Near the crest of the portion of the ridge comprising Marye's Hill and Willis Hill, a narrow lane in a slight cut—the Telegraph Road, known after the battle as the Sunken Road—was protected by a 4-foot stone wall, enhanced in places with log breastworks and abatis
Abatis
Abatis, abattis, or abbattis is a term in field fortification for an obstacle formed of the branches of trees laid in a row, with the sharpened tops directed outwards, towards the enemy. The trees are usually interlaced or tied with wire...

, making it a perfect infantry defensive position. Confederate Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws
Lafayette McLaws
Lafayette McLaws was a United States Army officer and a Confederate general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

 initially had about 2,000 men on the front line of Marye's Heights and there were an additional 7,000 men in reserve on the crest and behind the ridge. Massed artillery provided almost uninterrupted coverage of the plain below. General Longstreet had been assured by his artillery commander, Lt. Col. Edward Porter Alexander
Edward Porter Alexander
Edward Porter Alexander was an engineer, an officer in the U.S. Army, a Confederate general in the American Civil War, and later a railroad executive, planter, and author....

, "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."

The fog lifted from the town around 10 a.m. and Sumner gave his order to advance an hour later. French's brigade under Brig. Gen. Nathan Kimball
Nathan Kimball
Nathan Kimball was a physician, politician, postmaster, and military officer, serving as a general in the Union army during the American Civil War...

 began to move around noon. They advanced slowly through heavy artillery fire, crossed the canal in columns over the narrow bridges, and formed in line, with fixed bayonets, behind the protection of a shallow bluff. In perfect line of battle, they advanced up the muddy slope until they were cut down at about 125 yards from the stone wall by repeated rifle volleys. Some soldiers were able to get as close as 40 yards, but having suffered severe casualties from both the artillery and infantry fire, the survivors clung to the ground. Kimball was severely wounded during the assault, and his brigade suffered 25% casualties. French's brigades under Col. John W. Andrews and Col. Oliver H. Palmer followed, with casualty rates of almost 50%.
Sumner's original order called for the division of Brig. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock to support French and Hancock sent forward his brigade under Col. Samuel K. Zook
Samuel K. Zook
Samuel Kosciuszko Zook was a Union general during the American Civil War, killed in action during the Battle of Gettysburg.-Early years:...

 behind Palmer's. They met a similar fate. Next was his Irish Brigade
Irish Brigade (US)
The Irish Brigade was an infantry brigade, consisting predominantly of Irish Americans, that served in the Union Army in the American Civil War. The designation of the first regiment in the brigade, the 69th New York Infantry, or the "Fighting 69th", continued in later wars...

 under Brig. Gen. Thomas F. Meagher. By coincidence, they attacked the area defended by fellow Irishmen of Col. Robert McMillan's 24th Georgia Infantry. One Confederate who spotted the green regimental flags approaching cried out, "Oh God, what a pity! Here comes Meagher's fellows." But McMillan exhorted his troops: "Give it to them now, boys! Now's the time! Give it to them!" Hancock's final brigade was led by Brig. Gen. John C. Caldwell
John C. Caldwell
John Curtis Caldwell was a teacher, a Union general in the American Civil War, and an American diplomat.-Early life:Caldwell was born in Lowell, Vermont...

. Leading his two regiments on the left, Col. Nelson A. Miles
Nelson A. Miles
Nelson Appleton Miles was a United States soldier who served in the American Civil War, Indian Wars, and the Spanish-American War.-Early life:Miles was born in Westminster, Massachusetts, on his family's farm...

 suggested to Caldwell that the practice of marching in formation, firing, and stopping to reload, made the Union soldiers easy targets, and that a concerted bayonet charge might be effective in carrying the works. Caldwell denied permission. Miles was struck by a bullet in the throat as he led his men to within 40 yards of the wall, where they were pinned down as their predecessors had been. Caldwell himself was soon struck by two bullets and put out of action.

The commander of the II Corps, Maj. Gen. Darius N. Couch
Darius N. Couch
Darius Nash Couch was an American soldier, businessman, and naturalist. He served as a career U.S. Army officer during the Mexican-American War, the Second Seminole War, and as a general officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War.During the Civil War, Couch fought notably in the...

, was dismayed at the carnage wrought upon his two divisions in the hour of fighting and, like Col. Miles, realized that the tactics were not working. He first considered a massive bayonet charge to overwhelm the defenders, but as he surveyed the front, he quickly realized that French's and Hancock's divisions were in no shape to move forward again. He next planned for his final division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard
Oliver O. Howard
Oliver Otis Howard was a career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War...

, to swing to the right and attempt to envelop the Confederate left, but upon receiving urgent requests for help from French and Hancock, he sent Howard's men over and around the fallen troops instead. The brigade of Col. Joshua Owen went in first, reinforced by Col. Norman J. Hall
Norman J. Hall
Norman Jonathan Hall was an officer in the United States Army during the American Civil War, perhaps most noted for his defense of his sector of the Union line against Pickett's Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg.-Early life:...

's brigade, and then two regiments of Brig. Gen. Alfred Sully
Alfred Sully
Alfred Sully , was a military officer during the American Civil War and during the Indian Wars on the frontier. He was also a noted painter.-Biography:...

's brigade. The other corps in Sumner's grand division was the IX Corps, and he sent in one of its divisions under Brig. Gen. Samuel Sturgis. After two hours of desperate fighting, four Union divisions had failed in the mission Burnside had originally assigned to one. Casualties were heavy: II Corps losses for the afternoon were 4,114, Sturgis's division 1,011.

While the Union Army paused, Longstreet reinforced his line so that there were four ranks of infantrymen behind the stone wall. Brig. Gen. Thomas R. R. Cobb
Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb
Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb was an American lawyer, author, politician, and Confederate officer, killed in the Battle of Fredericksburg during the American Civil War.-Early life:...

 of Georgia, who had commanded the key sector of the line, was mortally wounded by a sniper's bullet and was replaced by Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw
Joseph B. Kershaw
Joseph Brevard Kershaw was a lawyer, judge, and a Confederate general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

. General Lee expressed concerns to Longstreet about the massing troops breaking his line, but Longstreet assured his commander, "General, if you put every man 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."


By midafternoon, Burnside had failed on both flanks to make progress against the Confederates. Rather than reconsidering his approach in the face of heavy casualties, he stubbornly decided to continue on the same path. He sent orders to Franklin to renew the assault on the left (which, as described earlier, the Left Grand Division commander ignored) and ordered his Center Grand Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker
Joseph Hooker
Joseph Hooker was a career United States Army officer, achieving the rank of major general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Although he served throughout the war, usually with distinction, Hooker is best remembered for his stunning defeat by Confederate General Robert E...

, to cross the Rappahannock into Fredericksburg and continue the attack on Marye's Heights. Hooker performed a personal reconnaissance (something that neither Burnside nor Sumner had done, both remaining east of the river during the failed assaults) and returned to Burnside's headquarters to advise against the attack.

Brig. Gen. Daniel Butterfield
Daniel Butterfield
Daniel Adams Butterfield was a New York businessman, a Union General in the American Civil War, and Assistant U.S. Treasurer in New York. He is credited with composing the bugle call Taps and was involved in the Black Friday gold scandal in the Grant administration...

, commanding Hooker's V Corps, while waiting for Hooker to return from his conference with Burnside, sent his division under Brig. Gen. Charles Griffin to relieve Sturgis's men. By this time, Maj. Gen. George Pickett
George Pickett
George Edward Pickett was a career United States Army officer who became a general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War...

's Confederate division and one of Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood
John Bell Hood
John Bell Hood was a Confederate general during the American Civil War. Hood had a reputation for bravery and aggressiveness that sometimes bordered on recklessness...

's brigades had marched north to reinforce Marye's Heights. Griffin smashed his three brigades against the Confederate position, one by one. Also concerned about Sturgis, Couch sent the six guns of Capt. John G. Hazard's Battery B, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery
Battery B, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery
Battery B, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery was an artillery battery that served in the Union Army during the American Civil War.-Service:The battery was organized in Providence, Rhode Island and mustered in for a three year enlistment on August 18, 1861 under the command of Captain Thomas F...

, to within 150 yards of the Confederate line. They were hit hard by Confederate sharpshooter and artillery fire and provided no effective relief to Sturgis.
A soldier in Hancock's division reported movement in the Confederate line that led some to believe that the enemy might be retreating. Despite the unlikeliness of this supposition, the V Corps division of Brig. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys
Andrew A. Humphreys
Andrew Atkinson Humphreys , was a career United States Army officer, civil engineer, and a Union General in the American Civil War. He served in senior positions in the Army of the Potomac, including division command, chief of staff, and corps command, and was Chief Engineer of the U.S...

 was ordered to attack and capitalize on the situation. Humphreys led his first brigade on horseback, with his men moving over and around fallen troops with fixed bayonets and unloaded rifles; some of the fallen men clutched at the passing pant legs, urging their comrades not to go forward, causing the brigade to become disorganized in their advance. The charge reached to within 50 yards before being cut down by concentrated rifle fire. Brig. Gen. George Sykes
George Sykes
George Sykes was a career United States Army officer and a Union General during the American Civil War.-Early life:...

 was ordered to move forward with his V Corps regular army division to support Humphreys's retreat, but his men were caught in a crossfire and pinned down.

By 4 p.m., Hooker had returned from his meeting with Burnside, having failed to convince the commanding general to abandon the attacks. While Humphreys was still attacking, Hooker reluctantly ordered the IX Corps division of Brig. Gen. George W. Getty
George W. Getty
George Washington Getty was a career military officer in the United States Army, most noted for his role as a division commander in the Army of the Potomac during the final full year of the American Civil War....

 to attack as well, but this time to the leftmost portion of Marye's Heights, Willis Hill. Col. Rush Hawkins's brigade, followed by Col. Edward Harland's brigade, moved along an unfinished railroad line just north of Hazel Run, approaching close to the Confederate line without detection in the gathering twilight, but they were eventually detected, fired on, and repulsed.

Seven Union divisions had been sent in, generally one brigade at a time, for a total of fourteen individual charges, all of which failed, costing them from 6,000 to 8,000 casualties. Confederate losses at Marye's Heights totaled around 1,200. The falling of darkness and the pleas of Burnside's subordinates were enough to put an end to the attacks. Longstreet later wrote, "The charges had been desperate and bloody, but utterly hopeless." Thousands of Union soldiers spent the cold December night on the fields leading to the heights, unable to move or assist the wounded because of Confederate fire. That night, Burnside attempted to blame his subordinates for the disastrous attacks, but they argued that it was entirely his fault and no one else's.

Lull and withdrawal, December 14–15


During a dinner meeting the evening of December 13, Burnside dramatically announced that he would personally lead his old IX Corps in one final attack on Marye's Heights, but his generals talked him out of it the following morning. The armies remained in position throughout the day on December 14. That afternoon, Burnside asked Lee for a truce to attend to his wounded, which the latter graciously granted. The next day the Federal forces retreated across the river, and the campaign came to an end.

Testament to the extent of the carnage and suffering during the battle was the story of Richard Rowland Kirkland
Richard Rowland Kirkland
Richard Rowland Kirkland, known as "The Angel of Marye's Heights", was a Confederate Army soldier during the American Civil War, noted for his bravery and humanitarian actions during the Battle of Fredericksburg....

, a Confederate Army sergeant with Company G, 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry. Stationed at the stone wall by the sunken road below Marye's Heights, Kirkland had a close up view to the suffering and like so many others was appalled at the cries for help of the Union wounded throughout the cold winter night of December 13, 1862. After obtaining permission from his commander, Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw
Joseph B. Kershaw
Joseph Brevard Kershaw was a lawyer, judge, and a Confederate general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

, Kirkland gathered canteens and in broad daylight, without the benefit of a cease fire or a flag of truce (refused by Kershaw), provided water to numerous Union wounded lying on the field of battle. Union soldiers held their fire as it was obvious what Kirkland's intent was. Kirkland was nicknamed the "Angel of Marye's Heights" for these actions, and is memorialized with a statue by Felix de Weldon
Felix de Weldon
Felix Weihs de Weldon was an American sculptor. His most famous piece is the Marine Corps War Memorial of five U.S. Marines and one sailor raising the flag of the United States on Iwo Jima during World War Two.-Biography:...

 on the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park
Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park
Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park is a unit of the National Park Service in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and elsewhere in Spotsylvania County, commemorating four major battles in the American Civil War.-Park:...

 where he carried out his actions.

Aftermath


The Union army suffered 12,653 casualties (1,284 killed, 9,600 wounded, 1,769 captured/missing). Two Union generals were mortally wounded: Brig. Gens. George D. Bayard
George Dashiell Bayard
George Dashiell Bayard was a career soldier in the United States Army and a general in the Union Army in the American Civil War...

 and Conrad F. Jackson. The Confederate army lost 5,377 (608 killed, 4,116 wounded, 653 captured/missing), most of them in the early fighting on Jackson's front. Confederate Brig. Gens. Maxcy Gregg
Maxcy Gregg
Maxcy Gregg was a lawyer, soldier in the United States Army during the Mexican-American War, and a Confederate brigadier general during the American Civil War who was killed at the Battle of Fredericksburg....

 and T. R. R. Cobb
Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb
Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb was an American lawyer, author, politician, and Confederate officer, killed in the Battle of Fredericksburg during the American Civil War.-Early life:...

 were both mortally wounded. The casualties sustained by each army showed clearly how disastrous the Union army's tactics were. Although the fighting on the southern flank produced roughly equal casualties (about 4,000 Confederate, 5,000 Union), the northern flank was completely lopsided, with about eight Union casualties for each Confederate. Burnside's men had suffered considerably more in the attack originally meant as a diversion than in his main effort.

The South erupted in jubilation over their great victory. The Richmond Examiner described it as a "stunning defeat to the invader, a splendid victory to the defender of the sacred soil." General Lee, normally reserved, was described by the Charleston
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is the second largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina. It was made the county seat of Charleston County in 1901 when Charleston County was founded. The city's original name was Charles Towne in 1670, and it moved to its present location from a location on the west bank of the...

 Mercury as "jubilant, almost off-balance, and seemingly desirous of embracing everyone who calls on him." The newspaper also exclaimed that, "General Lee knows his business and the army has yet known no such word as fail."

Reactions were opposite in the North, and both the Army and President Lincoln came under strong attacks from politicians and the press. The Cincinnati
Cincinnati, Ohio
Cincinnati is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio. Cincinnati is the county seat of Hamilton County. Settled in 1788, the city is located to north of the Ohio River at the Ohio-Kentucky border, near Indiana. The population within city limits is 296,943 according to the 2010 census, making it Ohio's...

 Commercial wrote, "It can hardly be in human nature for men to show more valor or generals to manifest less judgment, than were perceptible on our side that day." Senator Zachariah Chandler
Zachariah Chandler
Zachariah Chandler was Mayor of Detroit , a four-term U.S. Senator from the state of Michigan , and Secretary of the Interior under U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant .-Family:...

, a Radical Republican
Radical Republican
The Radical Republicans were a loose faction of American politicians within the Republican Party from about 1854 until the end of Reconstruction in 1877...

, wrote that, "The President is a weak man, too weak for the occasion, and those fool or traitor generals are wasting time and yet more precious blood in indecisive battles and delays." Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin visited the White House
White House
The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the president of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the Neoclassical...

 after a trip to the battlefield. He told the president, "It was not a battle, it was a butchery." Curtin reported that the president was "heart-broken at the recital, and soon reached a state of nervous excitement bordering on insanity." Lincoln himself wrote, "If there is a worse place than hell, I am in it." Burnside was relieved of command a month later, following an unsuccessful attempt to purge some of his subordinates from the Army and the humiliating failure of his "Mud March
Mud March (American Civil War)
The Mud March was an abortive attempt at a winter offensive in January 1863 by Union Army Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside in the American Civil War....

" in January.

Preservation efforts


In March 2006, the Civil War Preservation Trust
Civil War Preservation Trust
The Civil War Trust is a charitable organization whose primary focus is in the preservation of American Civil War battlefields. The Civil War Trust also promotes educational programs and heritage tourism initiatives to inform the public of the war's history and the fundamental conflicts that...

 (CWPT) announced the beginning of a $12 million national campaign to preserve the historic Slaughter Pen Farm, a key part of the Fredericksburg battlefield. The 205 acre (0.8296063 km²) farm, known locally as the Pierson Tract, was the scene of bloody struggle on December 13, 1862. Over this ground Federal troops under Maj. Gen. George Meade
George Meade
George Gordon Meade was a career United States Army officer and civil engineer involved in coastal construction, including several lighthouses. He fought with distinction in the Second Seminole War and Mexican-American War. During the American Civil War he served as a Union general, rising from...

 and Brig. Gen. John Gibbon
John Gibbon
John Gibbon was a career United States Army officer who fought in the American Civil War and the Indian Wars.-Early life:...

 launched their assault against Lt. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's
Stonewall Jackson
ຄຽשת״ׇׂׂׂׂ֣|birth_place= Clarksburg, Virginia |death_place=Guinea Station, Virginia|placeofburial=Stonewall Jackson Memorial CemeteryLexington, Virginia|placeofburial_label= Place of burial|image=...

 Confederates holding the southern portion of the Army of Northern Virginia's
Army of Northern Virginia
The Army of Northern Virginia was the primary military force of the Confederate States of America in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War, as well as the primary command structure of the Department of Northern Virginia. It was most often arrayed against the Union Army of the Potomac...

 line at Fredericksburg. Despite suffering enormous casualties the Federal troops under Meade were able to temporarily penetrate the Confederate line and for a time represented the North's best chance of winning the Battle of Fredericksburg. The fighting on this southern portion of the battlefield, later named the Slaughter Pen, produced 5,000 casualties and five Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed by the President, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her...

 recipients.

The Slaughter Pen Farm was considered to be the largest remaining unprotected part of the Fredericksburg battlefield. It is also the only place on the battlefield where a visitor can still follow the Union assault of December 13 from beginning to end. Nearly all the other land associated with Union attacks at Fredericksburg—either on the southern end of the battlefield or in front of Marye's Heights—has been degraded by development. The $12 million acquisition of the Slaughter Pen Farm at the Fredericksburg battlefield has been called the most ambitious nonprofit battlefield acquisition in American history.

In October 2006 the Department of the Interior awarded a $2 million grant based on the significance of the Slaughter Pen Farm. The money was provided through a U.S. Congressional appropriation from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The fund supports non-federal efforts to acquire and preserve meaningful American Civil War battlefield lands. The program is administered by the American Battlefield Protection Program, an arm of the National Park Service
National Park Service
The National Park Service is the U.S. federal agency that manages all national parks, many national monuments, and other conservation and historical properties with various title designations...

. In addition, the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (CVBT) committed $1 million toward the Slaughter Pen Farm fundraising campaign.

In popular media


The Battle of Fredericksburg was depicted in the 2003 film Gods and Generals
Gods and Generals (film)
Gods and Generals is a 2003 American film based on the novel Gods and Generals by Jeffrey Shaara. It depicts events that take place prior to those shown in the 1993 film Gettysburg, which was based on The Killer Angels, a novel by Shaara's father, Michael...

, based on the novel of the same name. Both the novel and film focused primarily on the disastrous charges on Marye's Heights, with the movie highlighting the charges of Hancock's
Winfield Scott Hancock
Winfield Scott Hancock was a career U.S. Army officer and the Democratic nominee for President of the United States in 1880. He served with distinction in the Army for four decades, including service in the Mexican-American War and as a Union general in the American Civil War...

 division, the Irish Brigade, Caldwell's
John C. Caldwell
John Curtis Caldwell was a teacher, a Union general in the American Civil War, and an American diplomat.-Early life:Caldwell was born in Lowell, Vermont...

 and Zook's brigades, and the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment
20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment
The 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment was a combat unit of the United States Army during the American Civil War, most famous for its defense of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1863.-Organization:...

.

American author Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott was an American novelist. She is best known for the novel Little Women and its sequels Little Men and Jo's Boys. Little Women was set in the Alcott family home, Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, and published in 1868...

 fictionalized her experience nursing soldiers injured in the Battle of Fredericksburg in her book Hospital Sketches
Hospital Sketches
Hospital Sketches is a compilation of four sketches based on letters Louisa May Alcott sent home during the six weeks she spent as a volunteer nurse for the Union Army during the American Civil War in Georgetown.-Summary:...

(1863).

See also



Further reading

  • Catton, Bruce
    Bruce Catton
    Charles Bruce Catton was an American historian and journalist, best known for his books on the American Civil War. Known as a narrative historian, Catton specialized in popular histories that emphasized colorful characters and historical vignettes, in addition to the basic facts, dates, and analyses...

    . Mr. Lincoln's Army. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1951. ISBN 0-385-04310-4.
  • Evans, Clement A.
    Clement A. Evans
    Clement Anselm Evans was a Confederate infantry general in the American Civil War. He was also a noted politician, preacher, historian and prolific author....

    , ed. Confederate Military History: A Library of Confederate States History. 12 vols. Atlanta: Confederate Publishing Company, 1899. .
  • Glatthaar, Joseph T. General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse. New York: Free Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-684-82787-2.
  • Hattaway, Herman, and Archer Jones. How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983. ISBN 0-252-00918-5.
  • Longstreet, James
    James Longstreet
    James Longstreet was one of the foremost Confederate generals of the American Civil War and the principal subordinate to General Robert E. Lee, who called him his "Old War Horse." He served under Lee as a corps commander for many of the famous battles fought by the Army of Northern Virginia in the...

    . From Manassas to Appomattox: Memoirs of the Civil War in America. New York: Da Capo Press, 1992. ISBN 0-3068-0464-6. First published in 1896 by J. B. Lippincott and Co.
  • Wert, Jeffry D.
    Jeffry D. Wert
    Jeffry D. Wert is an American historian and author specializing in the American Civil War. He has written several books on the subject, which have been published in multiple languages and countries.-Bibliography:...

     The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. ISBN 0-7432-2506-6.

External links


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