Fredericksburg, Battle of

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Fredericksburg, Battle of (1862).After repelling the Confederates at the battles of Antietam, Perryville, and Corinth, the Union forces in the fall of 1862 renewed their offensives against Richmond, Chattanooga, and Vicksburg. President Abraham Lincoln replaced Gen. George B. McClellan with Gen. Ambrose Burnside in November 1862 in command of the Army of the Potomac. Burnside proposed to move toward Fredericksburg, Virginia, as a preliminary to an offensive against Richmond. Moving quickly, his army covered 40 miles in two days, leaving Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee guessing as to its destination, but confused orders and bureaucratic bungling delayed the arrival of pontoons for bridging the Rappahannock River for a week. These delays and Burnside's own indecisiveness allowed Lee to concentrate his forces and establish strong defensive positions on the hills behind Fredericksburg.

In the early morning of 11 December, Burnside's engineers began laying pontoon bridges. A heavy artillery bombardment and a crossing on the upper bridges by a Union brigade drove out the Confederate defenders. On the evening of 11 December and throughout 12 December, Federal troops moved into position in Fredericksburg. For the next several days, the soldiers thoroughly sacked the city.

On 13 December, Burnside ordered William B. Franklin to attack the Confederate right. However, carelessly drafted orders and Franklin's own lack of initiative led to delay and a weak assault with only one division. Despite these problems, however, George Gordon Meade's men poured through a gap in Gen. Thomas Jackson's line. A vigorous Confederate counterattack drove Meade's unsupported division back, and twilight ended the fighting on this part of the field.

While waiting impatiently for news of Franklin's attack, Burnside ordered Edwin Summer to take Marye's Heights in the rear of Fredericksburg. Around noon, William French's division moved through the streets toward a sunken road and stone wall at the base of Marye's Heights. French's brigades were thrown back by well‐placed Confederate artillery fire and what many participants described as a “sheet of flame” from Georgia and North Carolina infantry stationed behind a stone wall. Assaults by parts of five more Union divisions proved equally disastrous. Several generals talked Burnside out of leading the Ninth Corps in a desperate attack the following day, and by 16 December the Army of the Potomac had been withdrawn from Fredericksburg.

Although the battle had cost the Confederates over 5,000 casualties, the Federals had lost nearly 13,000. Historians have long criticized Burnside for both rashness and indecisiveness, yet the Union general was badly served by several subordinates. Some believe his battle plan stood a reasonable chance of success if properly executed. Whatever the merits of this argument, the results of the battle in the North were demoralization and political recrimination. For the Confederates, a relatively easy victory added to public confidence while producing fresh rumors of foreign mediation and peace negotiations.
[See also Civil War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]


Frank A. O’Reilly , “Stonewall” Jackson at Fredericksburg: The Battle of Prospect Hill, 1993.
Gary W. Gallagher, ed., Decision on the Rappahannock: Causes and Consequences of the Fredericksburg Campaign, 1995.

George C. Rable

Fredericksburg, Battle of

views updated May 08 2018


FREDERICKSBURG, BATTLE OF (13 December 1862), the scene of a decisive Southern victory against great odds. After the defeat of Union General George B. McClellan at Sharpsburg, Maryland, command of the Army of the Potomac was given to General Ambrose E. Burnside, who made Richmond, Virginia—instead of the Army of Northern Virginia—his objective. General Robert E. Lee outmarched him to Fredericksburg and placed his army of about 78,000 on the high ground from one to two miles south of the Rappahannock River. Lee's lines roughly paralleled the river for more than six miles. Burnside slowly concentrated his 122,000 troops on the northern bank, with difficulty drove the Confederate sharpshooters out of Fredericksburg, and crossed to the southern bank, where he drew his lines for battle on 13 December. The Confederate right flank was unprotected by any natural obstacle, but Burnside launched only one major assault on the exposed line during the entire day, and this was repulsed. The main battle was fought at the base of Marye's Heights, where a sunken road provided a natural breastwork for the Confederates. Wave after wave of Union infantry was broken and rolled back by the devastating fire from this road. Nightfall ended the battle along the entire line, with 10,208 Unionists and 5,209 Confederates killed or wounded. Burnside planned to renew the attack on 14 December but was dissuaded by his commanders. His plans frustrated by his defeat, Burnside withdrew his demoralized army north of the Rappahannock during the night of 15 December, and on 25 January 1863 he was relieved of his command, which was given to General Joseph Hooker.


Gallagher, Gary W. ed. The Fredericksburg Campaign: Decision on the Rappahannock. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Sutherland, Daniel E. Fredericksbsurg and Chancellorsville: The Dare Mark Campaign. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

George FrederickAshworth/a. r.

See alsoAntietam, Battle of ; Army of Northern Virginia ; Chancellorsville, Battle of ; Civil War .


views updated May 18 2018

Fredericksburg City on the Rappahannock River, n Virginia, USA. Planned in 1727, the many historic landmarks make it a major tourist attraction. It is particularly associated with the American Revolution and Civil War. From 1760, the Rising Sun Tavern was a meeting place for American patriots. Many sites are connected to George Washington, including the site of the signing of a 1775 resolution of American Independence. The US Civil War battle of Fredericksburg (1862) was a victory for the 72,500-strong Confederate army of Northern Virginia, led by General Robert E. Lee, over the 114,000-strong Union Army of the Potomac, led by Major General Ambrose Burnside. Nearly 13,000 Union troops were killed or wounded. In comparison, the Confederate troops of Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet lost about 5300 men. Industries: tourism, clothing, shoes, cement, cinder blocks. Pop. (2000) 19,279.

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