The New International Encyclopædia/Fredericksburg, Battle of

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The New International Encyclopædia
Fredericksburg, Battle of
Edition of 1906. See also Battle of Fredericksburg on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

FREDERICKSBURG, Battle of. An important battle of the Civil War in America, fought on December 13, 1862, at Fredericksburg, Va., between the Federal Army of the Potomac, numbering about 116,000, under General Burnside, and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, numbering about 78,000, under General Lee. On November 15th Burnside, who, on November 7th, seven weeks after the battle of Antietam, had superseded McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac, then stationed near Warrenton, Va., started down the left bank of the Rappahannock with the intention of crossing at Fredericksburg, where he expected General Halleck to have pontoon bridges in readiness, and of marching thence on Richmond. The Right Grand Division under Sumner arrived at Falmouth, near Fredericksburg, on the 17th, but could not effect a crossing, owing to the absence of bridges, and was accordingly stationed on Stafford Heights, opposite Fredericksburg. Hooker and Franklin, commanding the Centre and Left Grand Divisions, arrived soon afterwards. Meanwhile, Longstreet, acting under orders from Lee, hastened to Fredericksburg by forced marches, reached there on the 21st, and immediately took up a position on the hills back of the town, which he proceeded with great energy to fortify. Jackson's corps arrived from the Shenandoah Valley about November 30th, and Jackson assumed command of the right of the Confederate army, the whole Confederate line ultimately extending for more than six miles, though it was broken in several places by streams and ravines. Burnside was not ready to cross the Rappahannock until December 11th, and on that day and the 12th the Right and Left Grand Divisions succeeded in passing to the other side, though the former, which crossed directly in front of Fredericksburg, met with considerable opposition from Confederate sharpshooters concealed in a cluster of brick and stone houses on the opposite bank. Hooker's Centre Grand Division crossed on the morning of the 13th, and was broken up to assist the Right and Left. After much hesitation and vacillation, Burnside, bewildered and confused by a task far transcending his ability, finally decided upon a plan of battle, in accordance with which, about noon on the 13th, Franklin, facing Jackson at the weakest point of the Confederate line — their extreme right — ordered Meade forward, with a single division, supported by two other divisions under Gibbon and Doubleday, to seize one of the opposing heights. Meade succeeded in penetrating the Confederate line, but along with Gibbon was soon forced back; so that this movement, which was the only one made by the Federal left, resulted in nothing but loss. Meanwhile, on the Federal right, Sumner six times attacked the almost impregnable Confederate works on Marye's Hill, but was each time driven back with terrific loss, the Federal troops, however, displaying in each attack wonderful steadiness and gallantry. The hill itself was heavily fortified. At its base, and parallel to the line of battle, ran a sunken road protected by a stone wall, behind which a large force of Confederates was stationed; and the approach was such as to expose an attacking force to an irresistible rain of shot and shell. At the end of the day's fighting, the Federals had lost in killed, wounded, and missing 12,653; the Confederates, 5377. Burnside contemplated repeating his attack on the following day, but was dissuaded by his officers, and withdrew unmolested to the left bank of the river on the night of the 15th. Consult: Official Records, vol. xxi.; Johnson and Buel (editors), The Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, vol. iii. (New York, 1887); Ropes, The Story of the Civil War, vol. ii. (New York, 1898); Palfrey, The Antietam and Fredericksburg (New York, 1882); Nicolay and Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, vol. vi. (New York, 1890); Allan, The Army of Northern Virginia in 1862 (Boston, 1892); and Henderson, Campaign of Fredericksburg, November-December, 1862 (London, 1886).