This week marks the 148th anniversary of the sanguinary Battle of Fredericksburg. Located approximately halfway between Washington City and Richmond, Fredericksburg would be the focal point of significant action during the American Civil War. In December 1862, US Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, after having recently taken command of the Army of the Potomac, planned to reach Fredericksburg, crossing the Rappahannock River, before CSA General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia could block his route. Burnside believed he could steal the march on Lee leaving the road open all the way to Richmond, Virginia – the Confederate capital. While he did reach Fredericksburg well ahead Lee, a mix up at the United States War Department caused the pontoons and bridging material to not reach him in time. By the time the materials arrived, Lee already had his army entrenched on Marye’s Heights, just behind the town, with his lines snaking several miles south along the ridge that formed Prospect Hill.
The upcoming battle, on December 13, 1862, would be unique in several ways. First, it was the first battle of the war that either belligerent had to build a bridgehead across a stream, all the while under enemy fire. Secondly, the battle would witness significant street-to-street fighting as the Confederate army retreated through the streets of Fredericksburg ahead of the Federal army. Homes would be looted, pantries robbed and furniture torn up. But the most significant physical damage to the town would be caused by the artillery of the opposing armies. Many buildings would be totally destroyed. The battle itself was one-sided. While experiencing some initial success on his left flank, Burnside’s Army of the Potomac would be turned back there by the tactically brilliant defense of Prospect Hill by CSA Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s 2d Corps. With the assaults on his left flank turned back, Burnside would order repeated attacks against CSA Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s 1st Corps which was defending Marye’s Heights – immediately beyond Fredericksburg proper. With the Rebels protected by a stone wall, which guarded a sunken road, the Confederate infantry and artillery had plenty of protection to pour a withering fire into the Federal infantry. Charge after charge from the Union troops resulted in the same outcome: wasted life with not one soldier reaching the Confederate lines. At the end of the day the carnage was significant. Federal soldiers lay scattered all over the field – many dead. Overnight the temperatures plummeted so many of the wounded would freeze to death.
I was able to visit Fredericksburg recently and created a photo essay on my Flickr site. For those of you that are interested in a more detailed narrative of the battle, click on the following link for my essay.
Later this week I will publish my interview with Michael Aubrecht, co-producer of the recently released DVD, “The Angel of Marye’s Heights.” Enjoy!