1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Fredericksburg
FREDERICKSBURG, a city of Spottsylvania county, Virginia, U.S.A., on the Rappahannock river, at the head of tide-water navigation, about 60 m. N. of Richmond and about 55 m. S.S.W. of Washington. Pop. (1890) 4528; (1900) 5068 (1621 negroes); (1910) 5874. It is served by the Potomac, Fredericksburg & Piedmont, and the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac railways, and by several coasting steamship lines. The city is built on a series of terraces between the river and hills of considerable height. The river is here spanned by iron bridges, and just above the city is a dam 900 ft. long and 18 ft. high. By means of this dam and a canal good water-power is furnished, and the city’s manufactures include flour, leather, shoes, woollens, silks, wagons, agricultural implements and excelsior (fine wood-shavings for packing or stuffing). The water-works, gas and electric-lighting plants are owned and operated by the municipality. At Fredericksburg are Fredericksburg College (founded in 1893; co-educational), which includes the Kenmore school for girls and the Saunders memorial school for boys (both preparatory); a Confederate and a National cemetery (the latter on Marye’s Heights), a monument (erected in 1906) to General Hugh Mercer (c. 1720–1777), whose home for several years was here and who fell in the battle of Princeton; and a monument to the memory of Washington’s mother, who died here in 1789 and whose home is still standing. Other buildings of interest are the old Rising Sun Hotel, a popular resort during Washington’s time, and “Kenmore,” the home of Colonel Fielding Lewis, who married a sister of Washington. The city was named in honour of Frederick, father of George III., and was incorporated in 1727, long after its first settlement; in 1871 it was re-chartered by act of the General Assembly of Virginia.
The battle of Fredericksburg in the American Civil War was fought on the 13th of December 1862 between the Union forces (Army of the Potomac) under Major-General A. E. Burnside and the Confederates (Army of Northern Virginia) under General R. E. Lee. In the middle of November, Burnside, newly appointed to command the Army of the Potomac, had manœuvred from the neighbourhood of Warrenton with a view to beginning an offensive move from Fredericksburg and, as a preliminary, to seizing a foothold beyond the Rappahannock at or near that place. On arriving near Falmouth, however, he found that the means of crossing that he had asked for had not been forwarded from Washington, and he sat down to wait for them, while, on the other side, the Confederate army gradually assembled south of the Rappahannock in a strong position with the left on the river above Fredericksburg and the right near Hamilton’s Crossing on the Richmond railway. On the 10th of December Burnside, having by now received his pontoons, prepared to cross the river and to attack the Confederate entrenched position on the heights beyond the town. The respective forces were Union 122,000, Confederate 79,000. Major-General E. V. Sumner, commanding the Federal right wing (II. and IX. corps), was to cross at Fredericksburg, Major-General W. B. Franklin with the left (I. and VI. corps) some miles below, while the centre (III. and V. corps) under Major-General Joseph Hooker was to connect the two attacks and to reinforce either at need. The Union artillery took position along the heights of the north bank to cover the crossing, and no opposition was encountered opposite Franklin’s command, which formed up on the other side during the 11th and 12th. Opposite Sumner, however, the Confederate riflemen, hidden in the gardens and houses of Fredericksburg, caused much trouble and considerable losses to the Union pioneers, and a forlorn hope of volunteers from the infantry had to be rowed across under fire before the enemy’s skirmishers could be dislodged. Sumner’s two corps crossed on the 12th. The battle took place next morning.
Controversy has raged round Burnside’s plan of action and in particular round his orders to Franklin, as to which it can only be said that whatever chance of success there was in so formidable an undertaking as attacking the well-posted enemy was thrown away through misunderstandings, and that nothing but misunderstandings could be expected from the vague and bewildering orders issued by the general in command. The actual battle can be described in a few words. Jackson held the right of Lee’s line, Longstreet the left, both entrenched. Franklin, tied by his instructions, attacked with one division only, which a little later he supported by two more (I. corps, Major-General J. F. Reynolds) out of eight or nine available. His left flank was harassed by the Confederate horse artillery under the young and brilliant Captain John Pelham, and after breaking the first line of Stonewall Jackson’s corps the assailants were in the end driven back with heavy losses. On the other flank, where part of Longstreet’s corps held the low ridge opposite Fredericksburg called Marye’s Heights, Burnside ordered in the II. corps under Major-General D. N. Couch about 11 a.m., and thenceforward division after division, on a front of little more than 800 yds., was sent forward to assault with the bayonet. The “Stone Wall” along the foot of Marye’s was lined with every rifle of Longstreet’s corps that could find room to fire, and above them the Confederate guns fired heavily on the assailants, whose artillery, on the height beyond the river, was too far off to assist them. Not a man of the Federals reached the wall, though the bravest were killed a few paces from it, and Sumner’s and most of Hooker’s brigades were broken one after the other as often as they tried to assault. At night the wrecks of the right wing were withdrawn. Burnside proposed next day to lead the IX. corps, which he had formerly commanded, in one mass to the assault of the Stone Wall, but his subordinates dissuaded him, and on the night of the 15th the Army of the Potomac withdrew to its camps about Falmouth. The losses of the Federals were 12,650 men, those of the Confederates 4200, little more than a third of which fell on Longstreet’s corps.
See F. W. Palfrey, Antietam and Fredericksburg (New York, 1881); G. W. Redway, Fredericksburg (London, 1906); and G. F. R. Henderson, Fredericksburg (London, 1889).